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Novel:
vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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vCity 1.0
Chapter 32

"It is in the building of purposely diverse cities that society can provide [individuals] the experience of breaking from self-slavery to freedom as adults."

-- Richard Sennett --

 

Professor mode.

I find it irritating that throughout this whole three-week exercise in social hysteria, about one out of five people have misspelled Exon as Exxon. Exon was a U.S. Senator; Exxon is an energy corporation.

This in itself is probably irrelevant, but I have also noticed some people referring to the Exxon disaster, and I often find myself thinking, which one? Do they mean the banning of the site in 2002, the Internet amendment fight of 1995, or the oil spill of 1989?

This is not funny. A hundred years from now, students of history will routinely be confusing it all and mushing them together into one befuddled set of facts to be memorized and discarded.

It's late on another sultry Friday evening, and my wife and I are sitting out on the back porch with the cats. The fireflies have commenced their mating rituals. Suddenly the cats' ears perk up. Someone is knocking at the front door.

"Who could that be at this time of night?" says my wife, puzzled.

"Dunno. I'll get it."

I peek through the window as I'm unlocking the door, but I don't see anyone. Suddenly I remember what MacKenzie said about my comms being tapped, and I am overcome by a wave of paranoia. Too late; I open the door.

The reason I didn't see anyone was that I was looking at eye level; the person who knocked on my door turns out to be slightly less than five feet tall. She is a very cute, slightly chubby red-haired, white-faced girl about fourteen years of age with blue eyes and freckles, looking nervous. She is wearing what looks to be a headband or a copper headpiece with a piece of topaz as centerpiece. If it were not ten o'clock at night, I would have thought that she was selling Girl Scout Cookies (Trademark, Girl Scout International).

"Are you First Citizen?" she says.

It takes me a few seconds to recover from the surprise. "No, I'm Forest Green. Who are you?"

"I'm Megan. Megan Donnelly."

"Have we met before?" I ask politely, searching my memory. Could this be one of the neighbor's kids?

"Sure. I'm Mole Queen. Dancer In The Dark. Shepard's Pye."

"Mole Queen? My God. You're. . . a woman."

"I just had my thirteenth birthday last month."

"Oh? I just turned forty-three a few days ago."

"I know. Happy birthday."

My wife turns up at my elbow. "Who is it, honey?" she asks, peering down at the girl. "Oh, hello."

"Hi."

"Can we help you?" asks my wife.

The girl nods. "I came to talk to your husband."

Eliza blinks and looks at me. I wonder what she is thinking now. "Well," she says to me, "are you going to invite her in? Or do you want to talk outside? Whatever you do, close the door, because the cats will get out."

We all trundle back to the kitchen. The red-haired girl sits down on one of the wooden chairs, her legs folded underneath like a filly in the grass.

"Would you like something to drink? Soda?"

"Filtered water?" she asks imperiously.

"I think we have some," I say, containing a smile.

We all look at each other expectantly, but no one says anything. My wife, sensing something amiss, excuses herself. "I'll be out on the porch if anyone needs me," she says.

After my wife leaves the kitchen, Mole Queen proffers an opinion. "You have a nice house."

"Thank you. Do you live in the area?"

"Nope. I biked here."

"Do your parents know you're here?"

"Metaphysically, maybe," she says, drinking half the glass at one gulp. "They're dead."

"Oh, I'm so sorry."

"Are you? Why?"

"Well, I . . .was just being polite. How long ago?"

"A long time ago. I live with my aunt now."

"Here in Arlington?"

"Bethesda."

"Geez, that's a long way to bike on a night like this. You must be thirsty."

"Yeah. Could I have some more water?"

"Sure," I say, refilling the glass. "Does your aunt know you're here?"

"Nah, she's in New York for the weekend."

"What if she calls you? She might get worried."

The Mole Queen looks irritated. "I carry a cell phone."

"Oh. I guess that makes sense. Isn't it kind of dangerous to be biking out by yourself at night like this?"

"I carry a stunner, too."

"Oh. Well, your Highness, then what can I do for you?"

She giggles. "You don't look at all like what I thought you were."

"What did you think I would look like?"

"I don't know, like Julius Caesar or something."

"Because I am First Citizen?"

"Yeah."

"Well, it's just a moniker. First among equals, because somebody had to be. You know?"

"Yeah."

"I'm not an emperor, never wanted to be."

"I know."

"But you, your Highness. You want to be Queen?"

"Already am."

"I know. Queen of the Mole rats. You have subjects in every corner of the realm."

She sniffs, as if with disdain at empty praise. "How come you're leaving? You can't go."

"I have to go."

"But we still need you," she says, a note of desperation creeping into her voice. "We could still use your guidance. There’s so much to undo."

"My time is nearly done," I say with equal gravity, respecting her. "I undid what I could. The vCity is healthy, it will grow. You have a bright future ahead of you, brighter than anyone can possibly imagine. Soon it will be your turn to lead them."

"Too many," she shakes her head. "Can't control them all."

"I didn't say that you should control them, your Highness. If you're going to be a Queen, you're going to need to serve them, in order to lead them. Use the next few years wisely. Learn from the people, listen to them. If you learn their language, you will be able to speak it."

"Please don't go."

"Megan, all things have their season. I'm just a leaf on the tree of life. As were your parents. As you are."

"No."

"Yes. Look around you. Look inside yourself."

"I don't know who I am."

"You're not supposed to know yet. It's a lifelong struggle to find out who you are and stay true to that person. You're only thirteen years old!"

"How many more years?" she half-wailed. "I can't stand it any longer."

"Five. Give yourself five years."

"I'll never make it."

"I used to think the same thing when I was your age."

"Really?"

"Really. I remember when I started first grade. I was six years old. And for some reason -- I don’t remember why, now -- I counted up all the years I would be in school. I guess it must have been because my parents were always talking about Higher Education. It was their Mecca and their Holy Grail all wrapped into one. Twelve years. Plus four years for college. Plus five years for graduate school. So when I was six, all I could see was a twenty-year prison sentence ahead of me."

She laughed, but it was not with humor. It was the sound of bitter dread, a prisoner denied parole and told to serve out the remainder of her time. "But you liked it, right?"

"No, I hated it. Every damned minute. People always telling me what to do, what to read, where to go. To do things I didn’t like, and to try things which I knew I wasn’t any good at. Of course you have to understand, that was in the waning days of the Confucian scholars."

"Who?"

"Nothing."

"So why did you stay? How come you just didn’t run away?"

"There was nowhere to run, and no way to hide. Also, I liked the free time."

"Yeah. Me too."

"And you know, you do pick up things, even in prison."

"Like what?"

"Like everything. You learn how to deal with people. Of course teenagers are hardly people, but you know what I mean."

"I don’t think I’ll make it," she said again, inconsolable.

"Not alone, you won't, no. No one can stand alone. You need to rely on the others. You’re luckier than you think. I had two or three good friends back then. You’ve got thousands."

"What about you?"

I pause before answering, unsure of my footing, like a man stumbling in the dark looking for the light switch. "I'll still be here, in the real world. And in the vCity, too. When the shadows come, you call me okay? Or e-mail me. I'll make you 1A, I promise."

"Okay. You'll really stay in the City?"

"Sure I will. I'll be around. It'll be fun, you'll see. But I'm going to be busy for a while. I'm going to be a father next year."

"In reality?" her eyes open wide. "Sinda!"

"I guess so."

"You'd make a good Dad."

"You think so?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Well, thanks," I say, not knowing what else to say. "We'll see. Um -- do you want a ride home?"

"No, I'm staying with a friend tonight. About ten minutes from here."

"In reality?"

She giggles. "Yeah."

"Boy or girl?"

"Boy."

"Aha, you see -- life's getting complicated already!"

She dons her regal attire. "He's just someone I know."

"How old is he?"

"Fifteen."

"Okay. Keep your stunner charged."

She giggles. "Can I have some more water?"

 

I must have sat at the kitchen table for half an hour afterwards, lost in thought, until Plett jumped up and broke my concentration. I went out to the porch where my wife was reading a magazine.

"What was that all about?" she asked. "Inquiring minds want to know."

"I'm going to make a pretty good Dad one day, did you know that?"

"I think so," she says. "On whose authority?"

"The future leader of free people everywhere."

She sighs. "I never know what's going on."

Londolozi nods approvingly, and falls back asleep.

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