Agoraphobia

originally published by Coe Review Press

Hilda... Violet... yeah, Vi... itís me. Thank God you still got an old fashioned phone, or is it cell? Really? How many gigahertz? Really. I guess I've been out of the loop. Anyway, I really wanted to talk to somebody in analogue because I've got this nice juicy story to tell....

Yeah... yeah....

Hope I'm not interrupting.. what? Oh that. Yeah, I got so sick of telemarketers I just disconnected it. Sorry about that. And sorry about not sending optical, but I want to do it the old way. I donít want any stupid visuals of a digital me and my virtual fantasy background mucking up the story....

Yeah... like radio, yeah... but promise me... don't breathe a word of this... huh? I'm fine... really.

Yeah... yeah... youíre right... youíre absolutely right... yeah... yeah.

I know Hilda, you don't have to get snide about it, I know my failings as well as you do, but at least I remember your birthday. November 28th. You want to hear the story ?

Okay then. Well. You remember what I did to that Cable TV company a few years ago? You know, the one that kept selling $89,000 gold chains for $39.98? Sued them for ten million and got them kicked off the air for bilking sweet old blue-haired ladies like us... you remember... I really nailed those suckers. And then that suit against the spammers... that was even sweeter....

How much? You were in on it....

I know, Hilda, I know. Let's just say....

Thatís not the point, Hilda. The point is false advertising. I hate false advertising, really loathe it, maybe it comes from the old days in the firm, but I really hate it, so the other day I get this flyer in the mail, but it's not one of those professional four color jobs like everybody else sends... you know what I mean... with their self-activating holograms and touch-activating scent messages... no, this one was a hand-written note... imagine that, Hilda -- hand written -- addressed to me, me, Violet Trimmer, and without the zip code or my social security number, and get this, Hilda... it didn't come on my Fax machine... didn't even come through the net... but hand-delivered, Hilda... hand-delivered. Imagine that. After forty years, somebody actually dropped an analogue piece of mail... real paper, Hilda... through the mail slot of my front door. Yeah. Can you believe? No one's done that since you and I were still partners in the firm.

Okay, okay... forty-four... I must be getting senile.... Anyway. At first I got all excited because it reminded me of the old days when we still had mailmen... whoops... I mean persons, mailpersons... you remember... those ridiculous shorts and knee socks they would wear in summer. You remember. They used to carry those cans of mace to stop dogs, and then they started to carry sawed-off shotguns, and then Uzi submachine guns, and finally they stared coming in UPS battle tanks... you remember.

Anyway, so I read the flyer inside the envelope asking me if I want to be the first person to see their new artificial "live-in" helper. That's when I got mad, really furious. Like this is some dumb Woody Allen knockoff.

People our age, we all want a "live-in" helper. That's all we think about, at least I do, I don't know about you, but hell, you're one thirty-three and I'm one twenty-five, we've outlived everybody, so how did they know?

Huh?

Okay, Hilda, one twenty-eight. So I fudge a little bit... I'm amazed you still remember.

Anyway.

So I figure, "You false ad suckers, Iím going to nail your ass to the wall one more time." Somebody sold them a list of people over one-twenty, so itís invasion of privacy. And number two, the product... well, I might as well tell you, Hilda, I got over fifty million out of all those settlements... anyway... you still there?

Yeah, I'll get to the point. Hilda, Hilda, it was in all the papers... wait, Hilda, now wait a minute...

When's the last time you left your house? Can you remember that far back? Last year? ten years? I haven't been out for twenty-five years... when the race wars started, right? We bought the whole thing... all of us upper class professionals and technocrats. We all hooked into cable and high definition TV, we all bought into teleconferencing, we bought all the three dimensional VCR simulations, and then the VR simulations, we kept buying the latest NT workstations to handle all the details, and then the Internet agents, the wizards, and then the angels, and as soon as they invented the food synthesizer, we all locked ourselves up in our little smart brained fortresses and lived through the network. Agoraphobia, Hilda. Abnormal fear of being in open or public places where we might catch AIDS or any of the new viruses leaking out of the pharmaceutical companies... fear of the Crack Warlords... fear of getting zapped by UV radiation because of the depletion of the ozone layer. We locked ourselves up, Hilda... agoraphobia became the desire to stay home, and then, the inability to leave home.

You're not that senile. Remember after the dogs and cats and turtles and parakeets and pet mice and white rabbits and guinea pigs developed infectious AIDS, they sent out all those pet exterminators who killed everything and then told us it was absolute suicide to go outside. So we locked ourselves up and watched the underclass annihilate themselves on CNN. And then we logged on our AT&T fiber optic network and discussed the issues in a simulated kitchen over simulated tea in a virtual holographic reality simulated by our private workstations. We've been doing this for twenty-five years, Hilda. I can still remember that vicious argument we had about Emperor Bushís decision to use the neutron bomb on Mexico City. Remember all the times we went down to the simulated Foxhead and had simulated conversations and then picked up simulated dates? My God, Hilda... all those simulated porno videos we were in... I recorded every single one of them and play them back from time to time. I still remember that one in India.... 

Sorry, Hilda... I do have a tendency to digress. Donít where it comes from... maybe from all of that parallel programming I used to do... anyway... it's just that I feel so... so different, now. When's the last time we talked, Hilda... five, six years? Seven? It's been that long? My God, Hilda, I've been through a spleen transplant, liver cancer, and three skin transplants in the past seven years, and I haven't called? 

My God... 

... but you haven't called me either, Hilda.... 

... okay, okay, I promise... I'll get to the point.

Anyway, so I say to myself, Violet... you can't let them get away with this, Violet. You can't let them prey on your old age vulnerabilities. So I get myself really enraged, like in the old days before the trial, I mean, righteous, really righteous, almost republican. I was going to call them and tape everything and then send the simulation to the Chamber of Commerce. My on-line lawyer, of course, had the brief already filed, but it demanded certain evidence. So get this, Hilda. There was just an address, that's all. There was no mark of the beast number on the flyer, a clear violation of Universal Network Law... hell, we were the ones who got it passed through the state legislature network and on to the feds... but all this flyer had on it was an address... imagine that, a street address... as if we were still living in some pre-historic late twentieth century town. I was filled with pure self-righteous indignation.

You won't believe what I did next.

I actually figured out how to over-ride the GUI of my safehouse interface and get into the hidden system files. That's how I found the old city map. That's how I finally figured out... not that I had totally forgotten, of course, but Iíve been living in the net so long... that I was actually living in a real place called Iowa City and not in an ecosphere on Mars.

Yeah, yeah, straight out of Greg Bear. Anyway. So I figured out where I was and where they were, and that's when I made my crazy decision. You won't believe it Hilda. I decided to go out.

TO LEAVE THE HOUSE.

Yes. I actually decided to go outside... to leave the house.

TO LEAVE THE HOUSE.

I had some real terrible moments there when I thought my Jarvik 28 heart might burst a seal, but then I got control of myself and managed to really piss myself off. So I get into my audio skirt, put on my video blouse, snap myself into my John Deere Walker, and try to leave. And you know what happened? The house wouldnít let me out. My own goddamed house. Son of a quayle sucker told me I was a security risk... me, Violet Trimmer, author and chief implementer of politically correct behavior, the Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt of politically correct sexist, racist, and chauvinist national policy, a security risk in her own house.

Here's what you can't tell anyone... yes, yes, I did it, yeah, the unforgivable... yeah, the sin against the Holy Internet Spirit. I went down into the basement and pulled the Ethernet card.

Then I got terrified because the whole house had to switch to auxiliary single user power. I haven't heard a furnace or water heater come on for twenty years, so it scared me, and the lights, my god, all these analogue things... so ugly and brutish... and the house itself... the un-networked house was such a shambles, such a pig-pen, so old and tattered and faded, so decrepit... so miserably primitive that I started to cry. I suddenly realized that, except for you, Hilda, except for you... all of my old friends... everyone I had ever known in my real life was probably dead.

I almost plugged the card back in, but then I thought, well... you've gone this far... might as well go all the way. So I went back upstairs, found some old rechargeable batteries and hooked them into the ancient electric outlets, found the lock combinations in one of the secret files, and finally unlocked the door. Then I remembered the latest CNN pollution and hazardous waste warnings, so I went back and got my gas mask. Then I went back and got my assault rifle. 

I don't how long I spent in front of the door because I wasn't networked, and I wasn't going to switch on the single-user audio and video until I got to the address. But finally... finally I convinced myself that I was ready. My gas mask was on, my Gortex dagger gloves were on, my anti-landmine bouncing betty boots were on, and I was wearing my anti-stinger-cruise missile proof overcoat. And then Hilda, you won't believe it, then I stepped outside for the first time in twenty-five years.

I still can't believe it. The sky was blue, not smoky gray; the sun was yellow, not rusty orange. The grass was brilliant green. In the park across the street there were all sorts of very attractive and healthy... really healthy... I mean incredibly healthy bodies walking around, all of them young-looking... prime... and get this, Hilda... these young people all seemed to be racially mixed... an Asian man with a Black woman and a White kid... a White woman with a Black man and an Asian kid... like in those hopelessly romantic and feminist simulations we always ridiculed... yeah, Hilda, although, come to think of it, I donít think I saw any adult white males, but anyway, all of them seemed to have a kid... kids, Hilda, kids... like these fools didn't know anything about the population explosion... limited resources... the ecological disasters facing the planet. I found it appalling... they were all so young. And then a couple of them saw me... one of them waved. The gall of it. Right then and there I decided to go down to Planned Parenthood after I finished up with Parallel Port... that was the name on the flyer... and find out what was really going on. According to CNN there's supposed to be a famine, third world drought, mass starvation, ghetto riots, epidemics, all fueled by a growing birth rate....

To say I was dumbfounded is an understatement, but I already had reality shock when I pulled out the Ethernet card, so my confusion didn't last long. I just got more stiff-headed, or steef-kop, as my great-great grandfather once wrote in one of his unreadable hypertext popups a century ago. I put my John Deere Walker in gear and climbed down the steps.

A few more of them waved at me, but I ignored them. I knew something was wrong, something terribly wrong. The address was four blocks away, on the east end of downtown Iowa City. I won't bore you with the walk, but it was mind-chilling, Hilda... worse than the worst hallmark postcard simulation... everything so squeaky clean and pretty and cute that it almost made me puke, with that disgusting fresh painted look we all hated back then. Even the earth colors were earthy. 

Anyway, I got to the store, turned on my video blouse and my audio skirt before I entered, and approached the salesman. Now hereís the part you won't believe, Hilda. I don't have the video because I forgot to load the film, but I do have the audio. I'll play some of it for you... oh shit, I forgot to rewind... wait a minute... you won't believe this, Hilda, I promise... okay. I'm ready. This is a recording of how the whole thing started:

 

"Good Afternoon, Ms. Trimmer. Welcome to Parallel Port. We were hoping you might stop by today... did you get our flyer?"

"How do you know my name."

"Your new live-in helper did the research."

"You're not supposed to have my name."

"We're a branch office of the IRS, Ms. Trimmer."

"Donít give me that crap... this is ridiculous...."

"I assure you, Ms. Trimmer... this is an official enterprise zone, licensed and authorized by the Network.Ē

ďAnother Network scam?Ē

"No need to get upset, Ms. Trimmer. We're not trying to trick you into an audit. We just wanted to get you down here so we could introduce you to one of our new services. Nancy, would you come out here for a moment? Ms. Trimmer, meet Nancy, our live-in au pere.

"Nancy, please tell Ms. Trimmer something about yourself...."

"Certainly, Mr. Cheney...."

"...and remember she's one of those old line Unix hackers who worked on some of the OOP C++ parallel processing routines. From what I've scanned from your file, Ms. Trimmer, you were quite the many-headed dragon in your day."

"I still am...."

"Ms. Trimmer? Excuse me, Ms. Trimmer? I don't mean to be forward, but I'd like the job. I need the work. I'm sick of being the floor model. I'll do anything, honest, anything you ask....Ē

"Why don't you tell her what you can do, Nancy?"

"So here comes the scam, right?"

"I'll explain, Ms. Trimmer. Nancy, here, is our newest NeXT female model of humanity, manufactured in Steve Jobs' automated factory and programmed by Bill Gates, personally. She's an android, of course, but a very special kind of android. I suppose the best way to think about her is to imagine her as an updated version of your safehouse, but miniaturized down to the molecular level. What we've got here is a new species of human based on the Intel 6666 chip. Each cell of Nancy's body, and there are 28 trillion of them, is a terrabyte processor linked in a massively parallel network controlled by a model 7 connection machine... that's her brain... Nancy, screw off your head and let Ms. Trimmer take a gander at your neo-cortex... see that, Ms. Trimmer? Notice the texture of the brain cell chips... go ahead, you can touch it... feel how wet-dry it is? This is 17th wave ceramics, Ms. Trimmer, guaranteed to withstand absolute zero... and... I repeat... AND... guaranteed to function without a glitch in the most hostile supernova environment. Nancy, here, could keep house on the surface of the sun, on the moons of Saturn, in the absolute vacuum of interstellar space, or in Iowa City. Her right hemisphere was designed by RCA/Sony/Paramount, her left hemisphere by AT&T/IBM, her hind brain by Waste Management/Dow, her speech recognition systems by Oxford/Elsavier....Ē

I'm breaking in here, Hilda... I'm breaking in because this clown keeps going on and on with the hard and firmware specs. I'll fast forward a bit until we get to the software specs. Here we are. Before I turn it on again... What? you don't want to hear anymore...? Okay then, I'll just summarize the rest of the sales pitch.

You still with me, Hilda? After he covered the hardware, which included, I might add, a very extensive technical description of Nancy's specialized sex chips, he started talking about firmware... a whole shitload of specialized turn-key systems. Skin cells, for example, used the on-chip floating point processor to multiply incoming solar radiation, generating enough emergency energy, in a crisis, to power a small city. Nancy's stomach, to take another example, was a miniaturized clean room chip factory, able to manufacture replacement chips along the whole product line. And then there were the data transmission lines of the blood vessels and their astonishing baud rates. He even described the tiny cruise missile chips modeled on white blood cells that circulated through Nancy's body, looking for defective or mis-socketted chips.

He was really doing the hard sell, Hilda, but I was still skeptical until he described the reproductive firmware. That's when my resistance began to crumble. Apparently, the medical engineers at Albert Einstein Medical School had managed to miniaturize, not only all of their molecular and clinical labs, but all of their operating and recovery rooms, the whole Medical Complex of Albert Einstein on a miniaturized motherboard; they were also able to develop a biological scanner, so that in the act of intercourse, Nancy's womb would be able to extract from her partner all of his or her biological and mental specifics, xerox it in three dimensional holograms, match it against the human genome codes in its central database, and come up with a perfect replica of the partner in zygote form. Furthermore, this artificial womb could also stimulate mitosis, speed up the growth of the embryo, and deliver a perfectly formed replica of the partner in seven days.

I tell you Hilda, he had me going, so in desperation I told him I wanted a man. Yeah, I know, but if I'm going to buy me a slave, it's got to be male, Hilda. You know me. I'm still a feminist. And this is where it gets tricky, Hilda. This is where I lost it. I actually asked this clown if he had a male model. They always do, the pigs.

So this jackass smiles his jackass grin and says, simple. He turns to Nancy and says, Danny. Suddenly, Nancy's hips begin to narrow, her breasts begin to harden, her upper torso grows muscular shoulders and arms, her face starts to change, a five o'clock shadow appears on her chin, and she says, in a much lower voice, Hello, Ms. Trimmer. I'd like to work for you. I'll do anything you ask. The only bummer was that Danny looked like a Quaylesucking golf pro, if you know what I mean....

So I ask this jackass if Danny has to look like a quail, and he says, certainly not; not only is the basic model bi-sexual and dimorphic, but it's also variable in shape, emotional intensity, and time. In other words, I can turn it into anything I want -- a totally programmable human genome. To prove the point, he says Arnold; suddenly, Danny's chest and arms expand exponentially, his head blooms into Neanderthal dimensions, and there stands Swartzenhammer, muscles on top of muscles, my own hulking baby-faced killer Nazi, a card carrying member of the republican right wing, but I hate that type, so he tells me to pick a name and an age. I think for a while, and then I say: Jorge Luis Borges, 66. Arnold shrinks down to a skinny bent-backed pale figure, his eyes blinded, his enormous hands shaking... and sweet jesus, Hilda, I'm sold, Hilda, I'm sold. I've got to have my own live-in Borges.

How much? I say.

Jackass says, two point five million dollars.

So I turn around and start walking away; Iíve got about fifty mil stashed away, but Iím cheap. And then Jackass comes braying after me, slobbering that he hasn't had a chance to tell me about the special rate for first time customers. So I pause for a moment, and that was the fatal mistake, because then he mentioned the kicker. If I decided to buy now... if I took live-in helper Nancy/Danny/Arnold/Jorge home with me right now, they'd throw in a free AT&T universal calling and credit card with a five, no make it ten, million dollar limit, which would be managed, of course, by the live-in helper. When I asked what the annual percentage rate was and he said a half of one percent, I gave in. How could I refuse free money? I really got suckered.

You still there? Now I'm getting to the part you really can't tell anybody... you've got to promise. Four weeks ago I took it home. The first thing I did was turn it into Kenau Reeves and... I know it sounds disgusting, me being one twenty-four and all, but I wanted to see if the pelvic replacement really worked... anyway, I programmed him to get it up no matter what, so I made love to it all night. Tried every trick I had learned from the Microsoft karma sutra bedroom suite... I know youíve got it... and I guess that's when it picked up the specs of my genome. For the next three days I experimented with every conceivable form... I was even able to get it to do a split Shakespearean body: from the waist down, Othello; from the waist up, Hamlet - delicious combination.

Well, Hilda, you can imagine what all this sexual activity was doing to my poor one twenty-five year old body implants. After the session with the Marquis de Sade, my spleen, liver, and pancreas went on the blink. And then my skin started to wrinkle worse than before. The old lung cancer came back and my artificial hip socket cracked. I tell you, Hilda, it was bad. I needed all new implants, needed a tummy tuck and a face-lift, needed extensive radiation therapy, and major reconstructive surgery, and it was all going to cost a pretty penny. That's when Borges convinced me to do it - give birth to myself and xerox my consciousness into the child. What the hell, I figured. So we had a child... me. Took seven days for Borges to give birth, and then I just zipped myself out of him. It was so easy that I had him make another one, but this time, male. Then I called Nancy into it, and it was astonishing, her breasts had real milk, or at least something that looked like milk. I stayed inside while Nancy walked me and me around and around in the park. In another seven days, we both grew up.

So now it's time, Hilda, time to show you the new me and me. We got rid of the old me a few days ago... just ripped up its old useless organic body, chopped and pureed it in the food processor, and poured its chemicals into the food synthesizer, not that I'll have much need of real food, since I can now feed directly on light. That's why I didn't want to transmit the video... didnít want to shock you too much, but here... now take a close look at the new me... and don't tell anyone, but I'm immortal. And pardon me for flashing, but just look at this dick. Isnít she a beauty? Completely sizable and programmable. My specific DNA/RNA is protected inside each Intel 6666 chip, and my memories... Hilda... have you ever fucked yourself...? Oh my god, Hilda...is that you I'm seeing on screen?

Good God, you've done it too...? You've what?

Six years...? You've all been waiting six years?

What do you mean, I'm the last one....