Insanity is hereditary - you get it from your kids.
Elizabeth Blackmore (Lisa to everyone) dashed from the lecture, desperately struggling through the crowd of students, fingering her mobile to "on" as she went. Lunch hadn't come fast enough for her. It wasn't that she found it dull or tedious, it's just that today was very important and she'd wanted to be out of class as soon as possible before...
Her phone rang. This was it.
She answered the call as quickly as possible. "Hello?"
"Hi, Lisa," came the voice on the other end. It sounded like hers, but a little deeper, a little rougher. "It's Sandra here."
"Sandra!" she exclaimed. She'd been waiting for this call, yet it was always a surprise when it happened. "H-how are you?"
"Good good..." Sandra's voice trailed off. "I've been, uh, busy." Lisa had never been entirely sure what her older sister did. She knew that she'd moved to the Zone (Or "Run away" as her parents had put it). Lisa had never had the courage to ask what Sandra did for a living. She had always assumed it was something illegal, or at least very dubious. "But how's my little sister doing on her birthday?"
Lisa blushed, ducking around a corner away from other students. "Um, good. Great. I've been doing really well. I mean, I'm busy and all with the studying, but I'm going well."
"They're keeping you busy at University, huh?"
"Um, very." Lisa paused. "But I'm doing well. My grades this semester have been great."
"Good to hear." Sandra said, sighing. "I always said you were the smart one."
"Thanks." She blushed again.
"Just make sure you keep studying, you hear?" Lisa could almost hear the "You don't want to turn out like me" sneaking in.
"Good to hear." Sandra said. "So what are you doing for your birthday?"
"I'm going out to dinner. I'm being shouted for a fancy restaurant by mum and dad... oh..." She trailed off, realizing that she had probably said the wrong thing. "I'm sorry."
There was a pause. "That's okay. It's fine. So, how are they?"
"They're both good." Lisa said. She never felt comfortable with saying this, no matter how many times she did it.
"So they still don't want you talking to me, do they?"
Uncomfortable pause. "Well, no." Lisa admitted.
"I understand." Sandra said, sighing. "It is my fault, really. I... I just want you to do the best you can." And not end up like me hung in the air.
"I will... and don't worry, I won't tell them."
"Thanks. This means a lot to me, just hearing your voice and knowing you're doing well."
Lisa smiled. "Thanks. Its good to hear from you too."
"I've got to go... I'm running out of charge. I love you lots, sis."
"Love you lots."
The line crackled and died.
Lisa sighed and put away her phone, wiping her eyes. "Thanks, Sandra."
For Jack Lane, owner and manager of the sim parlour 'Fantasy Lane,' Tuesdays always had been the quietest days. It was just far enough into the week for most people to get the week-end out of their system, but not far enough for them to be sick of the week enough to want to 'escape.' And that's exactly what Fantasy Lane offered; a sensory 'escape' into a virtual reality scenario of the customer's chosing. Such a proud boast kept him busy, designing new simulations and refining his existing ones. But that's what Tuesday nights were for. After all, no-one came in on a Tuesday night, except for the few odd customers.
The doorway buzzer went off, but he ignored it. His son and only Tuesday worker Bobby was manning the desk, and should be able to handle whoever came in. He turned his attention back to refining skin textures; some customer had complained that the dragon in his fantasy sim just "wasn't dragonny enough." He shook his head, remembering that customer. Once again, Bobby had fallen through and he'd had to pacify the man.
After about a minute, he heard raised voices. Bobby arguing with the customer, obviously. Sounded like a young woman. He sighed, and quickly saved his current project, before heading through his workshop door to the front. At the desk stood a short young Japanese woman in a suit, with long hair tied into a tight bun. He raised an eyebrow upon catching a glance of her brilliant green eyes. She was leaning over the low bench, face to face with Bobby, his blond, goatee-wearing son.
"Well then what's the problem with it?" the girl said, practically yelling at Bobby.
"Nothing," he replied, stepping back and raising his hands defensively. Jack couldn't help but smile at the sight of his son being intimidated by a much shorter woman.
"Bobby?" he called out as he approached the desk. Seeing that he had his son's attention, Jack continued. "You forgot to clean up out the back."
"But dad-" Bobby began, before Jack cut him off with a mean look. Bobby glanced back at the customer, before hastily apologising to her and scooting out to the workshop.
"Sorry about that," Jack said, stepping up to the computer. "Now, what was the problem, miss..."
"Aoi," the girl replied, still looking rather annoyed. "And your *son* didn't seem to want to run the sim I requested."
Jack shook his head, and studied the monitor before him. "Let me just check that we've got it all so far." She nodded, and he continued. "You've requested a relaxation sim, location is old Tokyo Park, sub-type is family picnic, and you've requested the cherry blossom festival for an event." Been reading our catalogue, he thought to himself. He looked back up at her, asking, "Is all that right?"
"That's as far as we got," she replied, tapping her finger on the bench. "Then he started bugging me about 'making the right choice' or 'spicing it up.'"
"Sorry about Bobby there. He thinks that fantasies have to be fantastic," he said with a smirk. "Now, we can either randomly select details, such as family members and personalities, or you can choose them manually."
She considered the choices for a second, then replied "I'll do it manually."
He nodded. "Since it's a family picnic, did you want to increase the conversational AI level?"
"As far up as it goes," she replied.
He hummed to himself while adjusting the details on his terminal. "Now usually the increased AI comes at an extra charge, but I'll wave that to make up for the problem you had with Bobby."
She seemed momentarily surprised, but quickly shook her head. "I can't accept that," she replied.
"Don't mention it," he said, raising a hand to silence her. "I've been debugging it lately. Call this a test run." She smiled, and nodded her agreement. "Now, I'll put you in booth number 3, just over here. You can enter the details on the terminal in the booth, then plug yourself in. The door will close, and the sim will automatically start in a couple of minutes."
He saw her into the booth, and made his way back to the workshop. Bobby immediately stopped pacing when he entered, and stepped up to Jack. "Look, I'm sorry about what happened-" he began, but Jack raised a hand to stop him.
"So just what was the problem with her sim?" he asked, quielty.
"It just seemed, y'know..." He shrugged, and said "Boring."
Jack sat on his computer chair, looking up at his son. "Bobby, we deal in people's fantasies. Fantasies aren't just about having superpowers, or weird sex. People's fantasies are what they can't have in real life."
"I know that dad," Bobby said. "But what was with her sim? I mean, a family picnic? What kind of fantasy is that?"
"One she can never have," Jack replied.
A day of rest. A day to do nothing. A day to lounge in bed and recuperate from the events of the night before: Saturdays in Hong Kong could get rough.
Currently, Marta was doing just that. She lay on her back in the wide bed she shared with Ling Ling, her head nestled in her interlaced hands, staring at the ceiling. Ling Ling lay next her, presumably awake, although apparently possessing as much energy as she had at the moment. Getting out of bed was such a chore on a Sunday. Getting dressed in anything more than a robe double so. At the moment, neither of them had even that on, it being their custom to sleep in the nude.
"Ling Ling?" Marta asked.
"Yes." The reply was coherent, if a bit muffled by a pillow.
"Next time you go to Sydney to visit your parents, I'd like to go with you."
"What?' Ling Ling sat up and looked over at Marta, brushing long strands of hair from her face. "Why?"
"So I can meet them, I guess. It's not like I have parents of my own you know."
"You can't be serious."
Looking over at her lover, Marta raised one eyebrow. "And if I am? What's wrong with that?"
"I...." Ling Ling paused and sighed. "Look, meeting my parents isn't a good idea."
Now it was Marta's turn to sit up. "Why?"
"It's just not."
"Oh no..." Marta shook her head, "You're not getting off it that easy. Why would it..." She paused and narrowed her eyes, giving Ling Ling a sharp glance. "You're parents don't know about me, do they?"
There was a long moment of silence as the two looked at each others. It finally ended when Ling Ling glanced down and replied "no" in a low tone of voice.
Ling Ling fell back into the bed with another sigh. "Because you're not a man, you're not rich, and you don't have a Ph.D.."
Rolling over, Ling Ling looked up at Marta. "It's the Australian Chinese philosophy. My parents fled Hong Kong to escape the Communist takeover. Although they had money when they came to Sydney, they still wanted to make sure their only daughter would be set for life when the time came. So I was supposed to meet and marry a young, handsome, rich, well-educated, Chinese business man."
Marta blinked. "You're kidding."
"I'm afraid not. And, of course, since I was an only child, no matter who I met, he wasn't good enough."
Now it was Marta's turn to drop back down into the bed. "I don't know what to say... I mean, what to do they think of what you do do?"
"They think I run an import-export business."
"You do run an import-export business..."
"Yes, but I'm not going to tell them I sell guns to street trash now am I?"
"Good point." Marta paused and looked thoughtful, "What do you tell them?"
Ling Ling shrugged. "Like I said, that I run an import-export business."
"Right," Marta nodded. "And how did you ever get into that line of work?"
"My father. He was an executive for a Pacific rim trading company. I worked there for a time, and them volunteered to come here as a buying agent. After a while, I was able to go independent, and, well... eventually started brokering deals for people like you."
"Yes... you know, street samurai, bodyguards, corporate black ops agents, independent operatives. The people that make the world go 'round."
"And do I make your world go 'round?" Marta asked with a sly smile.
Rolling over, Ling Ling arched her back, cupping her breasts in her hands. "Come over here and let's find out."
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