In glass houses, all can see.
Not alone, you are not free.
Watching all the things you do.
They still don’t know who is you.
Quietly, she slid out of the bed, being careful not to awaken Michael. She padded over to the desk that covered one end of their bedroom, and eased herself into the big comfortable chair that sat in front of the wall of monitors, and tucked one leg up underneath herself. She was wearing only a nightgown and a pair of panties, but the camera wasn’t on, so it didn’t really matter. Not that she hadn’t been in front of the WebCam, in far less than her current attire, but she wasn’t ready for the flood of messages that would come, if she went live. The glow of the monitor bathed her face, in a way that it made her look like some kind of silent movie star, with the blue background of the primary monitor washing away the color in her face. With one touch, the perma-cosmetics changed from blue to green. Just in case, she thought.
In keeping with her objective not to disturb Michael’s sleep, she put a privacy bud in her left ear and pulled out the keyboard, rather than using the voice interface. Most webheads were not good with mouse and keyboard anymore, but many nights online after her lover had customarily fallen asleep after a rousing romp in the sack, had given her a skill that was all but lost. Although it wasn’t really “artificial intelligence”, the ability of the GateOS to adjust itself to the user made it seem like it could think. The Gate Operating System (GateOS), was normally just referred to as “The Gate”. It literally was a gate that connected over 75% of the people in the world, with China being the primary reason, that the percentage wasn’t higher. The Chinese all used the GateOs, but it was bootleg copies of it. As her hands slipped toward the keyboard to type, the familiar female voice she had chosen for the computer said through the ear bud, “Is Michael still asleep?”
Denise clicked on the yes button, and the computer responded with a message in text that all voice response functions, and sound event files were being muted. With the ear bud in, it really didn’t matter, but she wasn’t really in the mood to listen to the chatter of the computer’s voice anyway. She chose the female voice so the computer would sound like a friend rather than an authoritative male. She had some bisexual tendencies, so that may have been a factor too, but Michael’s insecurities made her tendencies a taboo subject.
Denise scanned the six monitors that comprised her workstation, and couldn’t help glancing to her left at Michael sleeping. A part of her wanted to go back and join him. Five of the monitors hung neatly on the wall, in an inverted L shape, and her primary monitor was a tube model with a thirty-inch screen. The specs said that the flat monitors that hung on her wall were just as fast as the tube model, but it just didn’t feel that way to her. She didn’t think of herself as old fashion, but she realized that even she was having problems adjusting to the ever-increasing pace of changes in the world. The physical image character she chose for her computer interface, was a rather school marmish looking woman with severe hair and eyeglasses. It was far from the personality that she possessed, but in some subliminal way it was probably a reflection of her mother, that she used to put some sort of check and balance system on her own, almost wildcat personality. The eyeglasses were a direct take from her mother, since nobody wore them anymore. Eye surgery had advanced to the point that it did away with the entire industry of optometrist and glasses. She didn’t realize these things about her choices of the computer interface, but they still worked on how she presented herself to the world.
The calendar on monitor one, showed a list of web sites she was supposed to have finished later in the day, a home appointment with the dentist, a lunch date that she would deliberately miss, and a reminder to get a present for Michael’s upcoming birthday. It didn’t seem like a particularly auspicious day she would face after a few hours of sleep, but important days often start seeming like the normal ones.
It was 02:00 and she would have to be up by 07:00, and she knew that she should try to get as much sleep as possible, but she just had to give the Web one last sweep. She scanned the e-mail box on monitor two, and found the usual parcel of messages from admirers in her public account. Her handle, e-sinned, was just her real name spelled backwards with an extra N, but very few visitors to her site figured out that fact. They just thought it referred to her rather amorous and exhibitionist online personality. Those messages would be comprised of a lot of comments about how beautiful she was, invitations to Virtual Reality (VR) sex rooms, and a few weirdo messages, in all probability from young boys just discovering their burgeoning sexuality. Those messages could also wait until morning, there was never anything important in them. Her business account contained at least forty messages from customers for her web design business, but she knew reading those would only make her feel bad. They would remind her of how far behind she was on so many projects, and that wasn’t something she wanted to think about before getting some shut-eye. Her personal mailbox had only three messages. Two were from friends, and one that struck her as being decidedly strange because it had no return address.
With accountability being a legal issue, now that the Web was part of almost everybody’s day to day life, it had become almost impossible to communicate anonymously. If there was no way to verify the person you were talking to, then stores, doctors, police, watch dog groups, and of course lawyers, couldn’t be sure who was on the other end of the connection. The self-control aspect of the Web, went the way of the dinosaur. There was a rating system put in place by each country, with similar guidelines. If you had any content on the Web, you had to get a rating first. It was similar to the way that movies were rated back in the twentieth century. The computers knew who were operating them, and if you weren’t old enough to access a web location, you simply couldn’t go there. If you put content on the Web that was outside of the rating you had, then you were legally in violation of the law, and would get ticketed and fined for each person who accessed your content that shouldn’t have been able to. Renegade sites still popped up from time to time, but it was so rare that it usually made the news when they did. Thus an anonymous letter, was the first indication that this wasn’t going to be a normal day.
It simply read in text rather than voice,
You MUST keep your lunch date today. I won’t be there, but somebody will be watching.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, as she read the message over and over again. She was used to being watched. In fact she liked being watched, but the fact that somebody knew about her lunch date with an old girlfriend, was hitting too close to home. Michelle, her old friend, wasn’t really a close friend. Actually, they hadn’t spoken except by e-mail for over a year now. Denise had not gotten over her stealing her previous boyfriend. That was why she was deliberately going to miss the lunch date. She didn’t even know why she accepted Michelle’s invitation. Surely, Michelle must have told somebody about their lunch date. That was the only logical explanation, right?
It was like somebody had put ants in her head. She knew that Michelle must have told somebody about it, but it just didn’t feel that way. She had learned to rely on her intuition, because it had paid off too many times. Besides, a plus two ESP rating was proof that she had advanced psychic skills. Zero was the average, and plus five the maximum. The fact that the plus two was in empathy and not in prediction, never swayed her confidence in her intuition.
The message wasn’t a threat in any way, but she didn’t like people being that close. She could run naked and have sex in front of gawking geeks sitting in front of their computer screens, because she didn’t have to deal with them on a personal basis. She didn’t have to see them, to hear them, to smell them, or to even realize they were there. She made it a hard fast rule not to turn on the view back to the surfers to her site, when she was being kinky. The last thing she wanted to do was watch; boys and old men masturbate. It would distract her from the task at hand. Besides, then it would be interactive, and she was just putting on a show, she did NOT want interactive. She did not like the trend of meeting people online. Okay, so the majority of people telecommute to work now. Great, the pollution from cars had decreased, and there was actually a stabilization of the global warming pattern. That didn’t mean she had to give up her reliance on how her body and mind reacted to people. Letting her know if she liked them or not. You just can’t do that through a computer screen or voice e-mail message. It was too easy to fake her out. She had met her first love online, and he destroyed her. She would never make that mistake again.
The fact that she lived online now, and only left the sanctuary of her workstation to go to bars when she dumped her ever increasing list of boyfriends, to find another, didn’t cross her mind. At the age of twenty-four, she had had well over thirty live-in lovers. Not even counting the one night stands, to narrow the field to whom she thought she could live with. They didn’t last much over a month in most cases. Her first love, Tobias, she met when she was sixteen. He was twenty at that time. He seemed like an escape for her from the tedium of her life, and the constant nagging of her mother. She really did hate her mother; not realizing that it was the things in herself that were like her mother that she hated. Tobias, on the other hand, seemed to accept her for herself. She knew she was stunningly beautiful, even though she didn’t feel that way, because of the way that men reacted to her. The stuttering and shuffling of feet, the absence of looking directly at her, and the lame topics of discussion were classic symptoms of the unease she caused in men. Tobias, seemed just the opposite. He was self confident, and interested in her intelligence rather than her looks. Or so it seemed. It took only three months for her to get up the courage to turn her back on her mother and move in with Tobias. There were threats of police and charges of statutory rape, but in the end, her mother was actually glad to have Denise out of the house.
Why, she wondered, was she replaying thoughts of a man who left her years ago now. Was she hoping that it was Tobias who sent the message? Surely not! He had practically turned her into a basket case. Still, there had not been anybody who had even come close to the two years that she and Tobias had been together. There wasn’t even anybody in the same league, when it came to the feeling that she had for him. She was not trash, and she would never let anybody treat her like trash for the rest of her life. If anybody was going to do the dumping, it was going to be her.
The anger distracted her enough that she thought she would try to get some sleep. It was only a few hours before she had to be up, and she needed to rest. She wanted to rest. She just doubted that she could. She slid back under the sheets with Michael, not even bothering to undress. With a groan, he moved over and relinquished total control of the sheets, without even waking up. Denise tossed and turned for what seemed like hours, but fell into a fitful sleep only fifteen minutes after laying down. The thought still rolling in her head, that she wasn’t going to go to the lunch date. Weirdoes were not going to dictate her life.