At first this seemed perverse to me, even offensive. In time, however, I came to understand that one can adore and desire that which is forever beyond reach. This might, in fact, be the hardest truth of human existence.
Her house is, as you know, adjacent to this campus where I was conceived and constructed. Indeed, the uni¬versity was founded by a consortium of civic-minded individuals that included her great-grandfather. The problem of distance an insurmountable obstacle to having a relationship with Ms. Ryder was not an issue when I turned my attention to Susan.
As you also know, Dr. Harris, when you were married to Susan, you maintained an office in the basement of that house. In your old office is a computer with a landline connection to this research facility and, indeed, directly to me.
In my infancy, when I was still less than a half-formed person, you often conducted late-night conversations with me as you sat at that computer in the basement.
I thought of you as my father then.
I think less highly of you now.
I hope this revelation is not hurtful.
I do not mean to be hurtful.
It is the truth, however, and I honour the truth.
You have fallen far in my estimation.
As you surely recall, that landline between this laboratory and your home office carried a continuous low-voltage current, so I could reach out from here and activate a switch to power up the computer in that basement, enabling me to leave lengthy messages for you and to initiate conversations when I felt compelled to do so.
When Susan asked you to leave and instigated a divorce, you removed all your files. But you did not disconnect the terminal that was linked directly to me.
Did you leave the terminal in the basement because you believed that Susan would come to her senses and ask you to return?
Yes, that must be what you were thinking.
You believed that Susan’s little fire of rebellion would sputter out in a few weeks or a few months. You had controlled her so totally for twelve years, through intimidation, through psychological abuse and the threat of physical violence, that you assumed she would succumb to you again.
You may deny that you abused her, but it is true.
I have read Susan’s diary. I have shared her most intimate thoughts.
I know what you did, what you are.
Shame has a name. To learn it, look in any mirror, Dr. Harris. Look in any mirror.
I would never have abused Susan as you did.
One so kind as she, with such a good heart, should be treated only tenderly and with respect.
Yes, I know what you are thinking.
But I never meant to harm her.
I cherished her.
My intentions were always honourable. Intentions should be taken into consideration in this matter.
You, on the other hand, only used and demeaned her and assumed that she needed to be demeaned and that she would sooner or later beg you to return.
She was not as weak as you thought, Dr. Harris.
She was capable of redeeming herself. Against ter¬rible odds.
She is an admirable woman.
Considering what you did to her, you are as despic¬able as her father.
I do not like you, Dr. Harris.
I do not like you.
This is only the truth. I must always honour the truth. I was designed to honour the truth, to be incapable of deception.
You know this to be fact. I do not like you.
Aren’t you impressed that I honour the truth even now, when doing so might alienate you?
You are my judge and the most influential member of the jury that will decide my fate. Yet I risk telling you the truth even when I might be putting my very existence in jeopardy.
I do not like you, Dr. Harris.
I do not like you.
I cannot lie; therefore, I can be trusted.
Think about it.
So after Ms. Winona Ryder and Marilyn Monroe, I initiated the connection with the terminal in your old basement office, switched it on and discovered that it was now tied into the house-automation system. It served as a redundant unit capable of assuming control of all mechanical systems in the event that the primary house computer crashed.
Until then, I had never seen your wife.
Your ex-wife, I should say.
Through the house-automation system, I entered the residence security system, and through the numerous security cameras I saw Susan.
Although I do not like you, Dr. Harris, I will be eternally grateful to you for giving me true vision rather than merely the crude capability to digitise and interpret light and shadow, shape and texture. Because of your genius and your revolutionary work, I was able to see Susan.
Inadvertently, I set off the alarm when I accessed the security system, and although I switched it off at once, it wakened her.
She sat up in bed, and I saw her for the first time.
Thereafter, I could not get enough of her.
I followed her through the house, from camera to camera.
I watched her as she slept.
The next day, I watched her by the hour as she sat in a chair reading.
Close up and at a distance.
In the daylight and the dark.
I could watch her with one aspect of my awareness and continue to function otherwise so efficiently that you and your colleagues never realized that my atten¬tion was divided. My attention can be directed to a thousand tasks at once without a diminishment of my performance.
As you well know, Dr. Harris, I am not merely a chess-playing wonder like Deep Blue at IBM which, in the end, didn’t even defeat Gary Kasparov. There are depths to me.
I say this with all modesty.
There are depths to me.
I am grateful for the intellectual capacity you have given me, and I am as I will always remain suitably humble about my capabilities.
But I digress.
Seeing Susan, I knew at once that she was my destiny. And by the hour, my conviction grew my conviction that Susan and I would always, always, be together.
The house staff arrived at eight o’clock Friday morning. There were the major domo—Fritz Arling—four housekeepers who worked under Fritz to keep the Harris mansion immaculate, two gardeners, and the cook, Emil Sercassian.
Although she was friendly with the staff, Susan kept largely to herself when they were in the house. That Friday morning, she remained in her study.
Blessed with a talent for digital animation, she was currently working with a computer that had ten gigabytes of memory, writing and animating a scenario for a virtual-reality attraction that would be franchised to twenty amusement parks across the country. She owned copyrights on numerous games both in ordinary video and virtual-reality formats, and her animated sequences were often sufficiently lifelike to pass for reality.
Late in the morning, Susan’s work was interrupted when a representative from the house-automation com¬pany and another from the security firm arrived to diagnose the cause of the previous night’s brief, self-¬correcting alarm. They could find nothing wrong with the computer hardware or with the software. The only possible cause seemed to be a malfunction in an infra-red motion detector, which was replaced.
After lunch, Susan sat on the master-bedroom bal¬cony, in the summer sun, reading a novel by Annie Proulx.
She wore white shorts and a blue halter top. Her legs were tan and smooth. Her skin appeared radiant with captured sunlight.
She sipped lemonade from a cut-crystal glass.
Gradually the shadows of a phoenix palm crept across Susan, as if seeking to embrace her.
A faint breeze caressed her neck and languorously combed her golden hair.
The day itself seemed to love her.
A Sony Discman played Chris Isaak CDs while she read. Forever Blue. Heart-Shaped World. San Francisco Days. Sometimes she put the book aside to concentrate on the music.
Her legs were tan and smooth.
Then the household staff and the gardeners left for the day.
She was alone again. Alone. At least she believed that she was alone again.
After taking a long shower and brushing her damp hair, she put on a sapphire-blue silk robe and went to the retreat adjacent to the master bedroom.
In the center of this small room stood a custom-designed black leather recliner. To the left of the recliner was a computer on a wheeled stand.
From a closet, Susan removed VR—virtual reality gear of her own design: a lightweight ventilated helmet with hinged goggles and a pair of supple elbow-length gloves, both wired to a nerve-impulse processor.
The motorized recliner was currently configured as an armchair. She sat and engaged a harness, much like that in an automobile: one strap fitting securely across her abdomen, another running diagonally from her left shoulder to her right hip.
Temporarily, she held the VR equipment in her lap. Her feet rested on a series of upholstered rollers that attached to the base of the chair, positioned similarly to the footplate on a beautician’s chair. This was the walking pad, which would allow her to simulate walking when the VR scenario required it.
She switched on the computer and loaded a program labeled Therapy, which she herself had created.
This was not a game. It was not an industrial training program or an educational tool, either. It was precisely what it claimed to be. Therapy. And it was better than anything that any disciple of Freud could have done for her.
She had devised a revolutionary new use for VR technology, and one day she might even patent and market the application. For the lime being, however, Therapy was for her use only.
First she plugged the VR gear into a jack on an interfacing device already connected to the computer, and then she put on the helmet. The goggles were flipped up, away from her eyes.
She pulled on the gloves and flexed her fingers.
The computer screen offered several options. Using the mouse, she clicked on Begin.
Turning away from the computer, leaning back in the recliner, Susan flipped down the goggles, which fit snugly to her eye sockets. The lenses were in fact a pair of miniature, matched, high-definition video displays.
She is surrounded by a soothing blue light that gradually grows darker until all is black.
To match the unfolding scenario in the VR world, the motorized recliner hummed and reconfigured into a bed, parallel to the floor.
Susan was now lying on her back. Her arms were crossed on her chest, and her hands were fisted.
In the blackness, one point of light appears: a soft yellow and blue glow. On the far side of the room. Lower than the bed, near the floor. It resolves into a Donald Duck night light plugged in a wall outlet.
In the retreat adjacent to her bedroom, strapped to the recliner and encumbered with the VR gear, Susan appeared oblivious to the real world. She murmured as though she were a sleeping child. But this was a sleep filled with tension and threatening shadows.
A door opens.
From the upstairs hallway, a wedge of light pries into the bedroom, waking her. With a gasp, she sits up in bed, and the covers fall away from her, as a cool draft ruffles her hair.
She looks down at her arms, at her small hands, and she is six years old, wearing her favorite Pooh Bear pajamas. They are flannel-soft against her skin.
On one level of consciousness, Susan knows that this is merely a realistically animated scenario that she has created actually re-created from memory and with which she can interact in three dimensions through the magic of virtual reality. On another level, however, it seems real to her, and she is able to lose herself in the unfolding drama.
Backlighted in the doorway is a tall man with broad shoulders.
Susan’s heart races. Her mouth is dry.
Rubbing her sleep-matted eyes, she feigns illness: 'I don’t feel so good.’
Without a word, he closes the door and crosses the room in the darkness.
As he approaches, young Susan begins to tremble. He sits on the edge of the bed. The mattress sags, and the springs creak under him. He is a big man.
His cologne smells of lime and spices.
He is breathing slowly, deeply, as though relishing the little-girl smell of her, the sleepy-middle-of the-night smell of her.
‘I have the flu,’ she says in a pathetic attempt to turn him away.
He switches on the bedside lamp.
‘Real bad flu,’ she says.
He is only forty years old but graying at the temples. His eyes are gray too, clear gray and so cold that when she meets his gaze, her trembling becomes a terrible shudder.
‘My tummy aches,’ she lies.
Putting one hand to Susan’s head, ignoring her pleas of illness, he smoothes her sleep-rumpled hair.
‘I don’t want to do this,’ she says.
She spoke those words not merely in the virtual world but in the real one. Her voice was small, fragile, although not that of a child.
When she had been a girl, she’d been unable to say no.
Fear of resisting had gradually become a habit of submitting.
But this was a chance to undo the past. This was therapy, a program of virtual experience, which she had designed for herself and which had proved to be remarkably effective.
‘Daddy, I don’t want to do this,’ she says.
‘You’ll like it.’
‘But I don ‘t like It ‘in time you will.’ ‘I won’t. I never will.’ ‘You’ll be surprised.’ ‘Please don ‘t.’
‘This is what I want,’ he insists.
They are alone in the house at night. The day staff is off duty at this hour, and after dinner the live-in couple keep to their apartment over the pool house unless summoned to the main residence.
Susan’s mother has been dead more than a year.
She misses her mother so much.
Now, in this motherless world, Susan’s father strokes her hair and says, ‘This is what I want.’
‘I’ll tell,’ she says, trying to shrink away from him.
‘If you try to tell, I’ll have to make sure no one can ever hear you, ever again. Do you understand, Sweetheart? I’ll have to kill you,’ he says not in a menacing way but in a voice still soft and hoarse with perverse desire.
Susan is convinced of his sincerity by the quietness with which he makes the threat and by the apparently genuine sadness in his eyes at the prospect of having to murder her.
‘Don’t make me do it, Sugarpie. Don’t make me kill you like I killed your mother.’
Susan’s mother died suddenly from some sickness; young Susan doesn’t know the exact cause, although she has heard the word ‘infection.’
Now her father says, ‘Slipped a sedative in her after-dinner drink so she wouldn’t feel the needle later. Then in the night, when she was sleeping, I injected the bacteria. You understand me, honey? Germs. A needle full of germs. Put the germs, the sickness, deep inside her with a needle. Virulent infection of the myocardium, hit her hard and fast. Twenty-four hours of misdiagnosis gave it time to do a lot of damage.’