Scene 11

The desert. I open my eyes and lift my head. I sit up. I am sitting on the seat of a school bus. I look out the dusty window. A vast high desert landscape. Scrub brush covers a 20-mile-wide shallow valley. A gorge runs down the middle to the horizon on both sides. On the far side of the gorge, tall mountains. Around the school bus I see houses built into the earth. Instead of walls or windows, they have glass wall-windows, sheets of glass set into the earth at an angle and held up along the structure’s length by a short wall of packed earth, coke cans, and vehicle tires.

I leave the school bus and wander around. A chicken coop. A goat pen. A field with vegetables, maybe one acre. I shiver in the brisk morning wind. I see there’s lights burning in one of the weird dirt houses. It’s built into the side of the hill so the front door is actually at ground level. I walk in. Aria, X, Nel, Jules, Flex, and some people I don’t know are sitting around a kidney-shaped wooden table.

− Grab yourself some coffee, Aria says. I pour some coffee from a mottled blue camping-style coffee pot and sit down.

− This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen! I enthuse.

− Wouldn’t you rather be on a beach in a cyberfantasy? Aria says. I scowl at her.

− How many people live here?

− There’s 26 of us right now, an old man in white home-made cotton duds who looks like he’s in his sixties, with a wrinkled face the color of the iron-rich earth, tells me.

− Man, you don’t even need anyone. You’ve got all you need out here, huh?

− We go to town if our photocells and windmill need parts.      We’ve got water and food here. Sometimes we treat ourselves to some food we don’t get here.

− Uncle Albert, will you give Nate a tour of the land?

− Sure.

Uncle Albert puts on a sheepskin coat and I put on a fleece of Aria’s, and we exit.

 

Freddy’s Gang members putter around, talking to community members. Aria and Jules are alone at the table.

− How long is it going to take?

− I don’t know. My contacts are working it. If they take any chances and blow it, you’ll get rolled up so fast you’ll still be asleep in the S.U.V. that’s taking you away.

− Once the deed is done, it won’t matter any more.

− I don’t care. That custom cyberfantasy better be in my inbox when I get home, that’s all. But I have to admit I’m curious. What could you possibly have to say to everyone out there?

− Wake up!

− I’ve seen some of your work. You’re good. You’ve got something, but you need to know how to use it.

− I’m using it the best I can.

− People’s cyberfantasies, they’re only one part of their life. The average person, she usually indulges in a cyberfantasy while getting dinner from a tube. She takes the headset off. She showers. She sleeps and dreams. So the cyberfantasy adds a bit of interactive storytelling to her life. People don’t have a lot of freedoms these days, but in your fantasy, you can do anything you want. You have free will, and the mainframe adjusts accordingly. It’s cyberorganic, and has learning capability. It can learn to do things it was not programmed to do. So it can bounce off your actions and create a whole scenario that seems real to you. Other people who are acting like people. Surprises. A realistic event after you make a spontaneous decision. In that cyberworld, your chaotic feelings, your thirst for adventure, are safe. No one gets hurt.

− The world is a very safe place right now, Jules continues. Violence is very low. War is history. People are safe from all that. People are docile. Why? Cause they live out their passions on line. So when you go on about the horrible hypnosis of the cyberworld, think about the benefits. We humans used to live with war, bloodshed, violence, and chaos. Now that we have found a way to tame our passions, to live out our unrealizable hopes, society is finally balanced. What’s wrong with that?

Aria slams her walking stick down on the wooden table, making a loud ‘CRAAAAK!’ sound. Jules jumps.

− Just this!

Aria sits quiet for a minute.

− What you’re talking about, that’s not good enough, Aria says. We are human beings. We have passions. We live them out with each other, or we die. Or we become empty shells.

− You’re taking all this stuff way too seriously. Let me tell you something. I have contacts all over. I have contacts at OmniFantasy. With your talent and experience, they would start you out with six figures. Once you get an audience, you will be one of the richest and most successful cyberfantasy designers. You will be a star.

− Do you think, if I cared about that, I would be sitting in a mud house next to some goats and chickens in the middle of the desert right now?

− Sit next to your goats and chickens as long as you want. You want to reach people. I can help you do that.

Aria picks up the walking stick on one end, levels it, and squints down its length as if to assess its straightness and sturdiness. She brings the far end down on the floor and rests her hand on it like Louis XVI’s royal page with his scepter. Aria’s eyes unfocus under her furrowed forehead.

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