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Sean: So are you doing it tonight?
Sean: An hour?
Sean: You flipping out?
Ken: Yeah, I guess.
Sean: Why, are you going actual?
Ken: I already told you.
Sean: Tell me again
Ken: My parents. They say it’s healthy for my age.
Sean: Government’s pushing them. I read about incentives.
Ken: Maybe. My mom came to my room three times this week.
Sean: For real?
Ken: Sat in my room and talked.
Sean: You’re fried. No way out.
Ken: Gotta get ready. TTYL
Ken Bacterson agreed to an actual date in February but it took a couple months to set it up. Most of the East Coast states had started campaigns aggressively promoting actual dating because population stats for the contained population were plummeting. Virtual dating and virtual sex had, of course, been preferred and promoted heavily by both private and public interests and very few people wanted to acknowledge any negatives. Virtual relationships could be controlled thus eliminating STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and rape. Since virtual partners could be programmed, controlled, and monitored by licensed professional counselors, abusive and unhealthy behaviors were all but eliminated. It also illuminated discomfort and disappointments. A bad virtual partner could always be reprogrammed.
There were a few drawbacks. Of course, virtual companions were not biological entities and could not get pregnant or impregnate their partners. This was viewed for the most part as another positive, but as the years went by, the majority of the cultured population preferred computer generated partners. In time, most people preferred all or most of their relationships, both physical and platonic to be computer generated. Of course the parent-child bond remained very strong and family units continued, but interactions between parents and children were few and far between shortly after adolescence began. Texting and social media continued to be the preferred method for contact in cultured populations.
Ed: Hey, you still alive?
Ken: Why wouldn’t I be?
Ed: I thought you might have bolted.
Ken: Where would I go? You think I’d be a good messenger?
Ken: They don’t even use computer generated faces.
Ed: For real?
Ed: Which face you gonna use for your date.
Ken: I’m thinking Tom32B.
Ed: Gimme a sec, I’ll check it out.
Ken: What do you think?
Ed: It looks natural.
After the successful incorporation of virtual schools in all 50 states, children’s interactions were monitored and controlled. Some parents opted to have actual children connected in online classes; the majority of parents choose computer monitored classrooms that controlled the words and actions of all students. This eliminated bullying and dozens of other negative school yard issues. Unfortunately coping skills slowly disappeared and actual off line human interactions were usually avoided.
Kelly: I just read your status.
Kelly: You going to her?
Ken: She’s coming to me.
Kelly: Gov’t car?
Ken: ??? She didn’t tell me.
Kelly: Text me when she leaves.
Technology allowed self-contained lifestyles to flourish. Monitors could replicate most environments and generate virtual experiences all within a 12 x 12 foot space. Human viruses and bacteria were contained and controlled within contained populations. Of course, some services and products by their very nature could not be delivered in a virtual format. Many personal services such as haircuts and medical services needed a human component. Essential products like food, cigars, and beer had to be trucked and delivered. These items and services were delivered by professionals and laborers who were labeled into the same group. Those who remained in their homes and did business and socialized through virtual outlets were called Self-Containers. Those who provided products and services by leaving their homes were called Street People.
Self-Containers stayed in their assigned units for months and years. A few might venture into the hallways occasionally, but most people, especially young people, preferred the safety of their space. The virtual world provided stimulation, education, employment, entertainment, and safety from multiple dangers outside the complexes, unfortunately the population began to age and shrink.
Mom: Honey would you like me to answer the door when she comes?
Mom: I’ll take her to the living room.
Ken: We never go in there.
Ken: But we don’t
Mom: You will today
Ken: What face are you wearing?
Mom: June Clever 34A. It’s based on an old TV show. Very wholesome.
PRUs (Portable Reality Units) were worn by Self-Containers 24-7. Children were issued their first PR units when they began 1st grade and were viewed by other children. Teens often chose a half-dozen personas, but adults settled for two or three. Street people had access to PRUs but usually opted for old fashion fixes, like make up and exercise. This lack of refinement caused most Self-Containers to look down on Street People.
Tony: When is she coming?
Ken: I just heard the bell.
Tony: Maybe you can record it.
Ken’s mom let Carol in, called Ken, and then quickly disappeared. They stared at each other for a few moments then exchanged introductions.
Carol stared at her feet and Ken glanced at the ceiling. Ken noticed a tray of cookies and took a handful. He ate three of them before Carol asked for one.
“Sorry,” said Ken. "I guess I should’ve offered. You’re my first actual date; I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.”
“You’re my first too,” said Carol. “Except for the cab driver just now.”
“You took a cab? I thought you’d take a government car. Why’d you take a cab?”
“I couldn’t get a government car for another month. Besides, I was curious.”
Ken was impressed. “Did the driver use a PRU? I heard most Street People don’t.”
Carol smiled and chuckled. “No PRU. He was ugly. He had a huge nose and a slopping brow. His lips were too big and his ears were too small. Nothing looked right, yet I kind of liked him.”
“You liked him?”
“Yeah, I don’t know why, but I’m really looking forward to the ride back home.”
Ken felt a prick of jealousy, but it flickered and was replaced by curiosity. Street people sometimes came to their home, but his mom and dad insisted that they use PRUs while inside, so he had never seen anybody in their real face, except himself. Sometime you had to turn off your PRU to realign it, so he was familiar with his own face.
Ken ate another cookie. “Did the cabbie smell?”
Carol reached for another cookie. “Yes, he stunk.”
“He was sort of salty and a bit like chicken soup.”
They spent 40 out of the 50 minutes talking about the cab driver. They agreed to try another actual date, only Ken would come to Carol.
“Request a female driver,” said Carol.
“Can I do that?” asked Ken.
“I think so.” They waved goodbye. Carol got into the cab and Ken headed back to his room.
Ken: She was nice.
Sean: Which PRU?
Ken: Doris 62
Sean: Never heard of that one.
Ken: Taken from an actress in the 60s. Cute
Ken: So what?
Ken: I’m going to her next week.
Ken: in a cab.
Sean: for real?
Ken arrived five minutes early the following week. Carol’s mother greeted him, but Carol didn’t need to be called, she sat waiting in the living room. She offered Ken popcorn and soda then asked about the cab driver.
“Did you get a girl driver?”
Ken laughed. “She was female, but not a girl. She must have been like 40 or something. She had gray hair and kept talking about her kids.”
Carol shook her head. “I don’t think they make PRUs that project that old.”
“She had wrinkles and a missing tooth. I just couldn’t stop looking at her. I wanted to touch her, I didn’t though, I thought she might hit me.”
Carol shook her head. “I felt the same way when the cabbie drove me back from our last date. He told me it was OK, but I was too shy.”
“No, he offered,” said Carol. “I guess it happens a lot with Self-Containers. He said some people call the cab just to ride with him.”
“Do you think I should touch my cabbie on the ride home?” Ken asked.
“Where would you touch her?”
“In the cab.”
“No, I mean where on her body?”
Ken shrugged his shoulders. “I guess her breasts; that’s where I start when I touch my virtual partners.”
Carol shook her head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. George told me that Street People have rules.”
“My driver. That’s his name.”
“Oh.” Ken didn’t remember talking so much, ever. He stared at Carol and then got an idea. “Maybe you and I should touch, kind of a practice before we touch the cabbies.”
Carol stared and Ken got silent.
Sean: How was your date?
Ken: I’m still on it.
Sean: For real?
Ken: Yeah. Need help on my PRU?
Ken: Can I turn off just part of it.
Sean: Yeah. Sometimes I customize myself using different parts.
Ken: I want to turn off my hand.
Sean: Turn it off or switch styles?
Ken: Turn it off.
Sean: Left or right?
Sean: OK. Go to settings.
Ken: Got it.
Sean: Go to advance settings.
Sean: Good. Now look for left adjustments.
Ken: Found it
Sean: Click on hand. Then click on off. It takes about a minute then you’ll see your hand.
Ken: Did it. Thanks.
Sean: Why are you turning it off, what’s happening?
Ken turned off the PRU on his left hand and Carol on her right. It took a little over a minute for the projected images to disappear and their actual hands to be visible. They both stared at the other’s hand. There was dirt under Ken’s fingernails and Carol’s pinky curved and turned in just a little bit. They lost track of the time and stared until there was only a couple minutes left of their date. Ken looked up at Carol, she nodded her head, and then he stretched his hand towards hers until their fingertips touched. Ken’s stomach lurched and knotted. Carol felt something like an electrical spark run up her spine. Neither had felt anything like that before.
Both agreed to wait until their next date to hold hands.
But they didn’t want to wait a week.
They decided to meet the next day. Ken made a mental note to clean under his nails and Carol asked her driver about nail polish on the drive home.
The government established a special commission to explore the continuing decrease in population of self-containers. Efforts to encourage actual relationships within the self-contained communities need to be studied and assessed. Surveillance of cab drivers and Street People’s interactions and recruitment efforts may be included in the committee’s report.
Mom: Ken, honey. Text me when you get home. You seem to be out every night.