Emmi lay rigid with misery. Her eyes were closed but tears still leaked into the biofluid in which she lay. She couldn’t feel them anymore because the electrodes attached to her temples had switched off the moment she keyed the quit switch but she knew they were there because her throat ached in that awful way it does when you want to cry.
Long moments passed as the biofluid slowly drained away and was replaced by warmed air, except that it was never quite warm enough. When Emmi had complained about feeling cold the support tech had explained that that was a built in safety factor so users would know when it was safe to remove the breather tube but she remained unconvinced. How many alerts did they need? The tank always chimed when enough fluid had drained away and then that smarmy computerised voice would state the obvious just in case you were asleep or deaf. Having that first touch of air cold was just overkill and she hated it.
Of course Emmi hated having to leave the tank at the best of times and bitterly resented the two hour limit that framed her life. She understood why the manufacturers would impose that limit. They must have lost millions after those early models had allowed addicts to starve to death but it was ridiculous to impose such arbitrary limits on people like herself. At one hundred and twenty-two just exactly how many years did they think she had left? If she wanted to die online then she should be allowed to do so. But not today. Today she had fled back to the real world with half an hour still to go.
As Emmi’s face and chest began to tingle with goosebumps she lifted one shaking hand and pulled the airtube from her mouth. Like a genie escaping from a bottle her angry sobs filled the coffin-like tank with flat, animal noises. They sounded horrible even to her own ears but at least they were real and today she needed the slap of reality to validate what she had done, or not done. Yet even with her stroke-garbled sobs to remind her of who she really was the need aching in her groin was still intense.
The advertising blurb tip-toed around that aspect of the biofluid with the propriety of a 1950’s matron. “Trillions of nano particles giving that life-like sensation” was one of their favourite phrases. Cybering was closer to the mark, not that anyone under ninety called it that anymore. The young laughingly called digital sex ‘stimming’.
Brehak had not said anything about stimming. He had been all seductive touches and soft murmurs and she had found herself paralyzed with indecision. And shocked by how much she had wanted to abandon herself to the moment. She hadn’t felt that way in decades. Yet even as his fingers had begun peeling away the layers of soft black leather covering her body a part of her had known that letting him continue was madness. And wrong. Wrong in a way that only someone from her lost generation could understand.
The young called it OR, online reality and they frolicked in their digital bodies as happily as newborn lambs once frolicked in their meadows of lush spring grass. But of course there were few places on earth where lambs frolicked anywhere any more. Most lived and died in multi-story manufactories that recycled everything from poop to farts in an effort to keep the weather from getting even worse. Top restaurants had to pay a small fortune for free-range meat because it cost thousands of credits to let lambs out onto domed meadows free of pollution.
Maybe that was why the young embraced OR so fervently, because it was the only place where they could live in a way her own generation had once taken for granted.
“I’m a dinosaur. That’s what I am, a rich, bloody dinosaur.”
The garbled sounds coming from Emmi’s throat were almost drowned out by the sound of servos as the lid of her tank slowly retracted to reveal the anxious faces of her personal attendants Gem and Mira.
“Is Madame unwell?” Gem asked in that strange, archaic diction he favoured.
“Nngh,” Emmi said with a slight shake of her head. “Gowgh!”
“Madame wants to get out of there you great fool,” Mira said as she reached down into the tank and gently wiped the last of the biofluid from Emmi’s face.
There was another soft whir as the mirror foam base rose up level with the top of the tank.
Mira wrapped warmed towels around Emmi’s naked body before stepping back to allow Gem to lift her out.
Since her stroke five years before Emmi had had to get used to being handled like a lump of meat – there was nothing sexual about her wrinkled, useless carcass after all – but she was still grateful for Mira’s understanding, especially today when her sense of self was already in tatters. How could she have come so close to forgetting who she really was? Ktah might be young and beautiful but Ktah was not real. Neither was Brehak for that matter but whoever animated that avatar was young. Had to be. Probably one hundred years younger than her.
A shudder of revulsion made Emmi’s body twitch and squirm as Gem lowered her into the gentle bubbles of her bed. She settled into the mirrorfoam and warm water with a sigh. She might be a dinosaur who had outstayed its welcome but she was a dinosaur with principles. That was who she was and that was who she would stay. Ktah would have to be deleted. Maybe she should try a male avatar. That should be safe enough…