Burton Hurst saw Matilda at the Electronic Grandmother launch. Her fluorescent pink name tag proclaimed her corporate handle, but her real name, of course, was unknown to him. A woman of phosphorescent beauty, the light gleaming from her white, white teeth.
"And you're Paul," she said, reading his corporate tag.
"Burton, actually," he said, using his real name.
A mistake. In one fingersnap instant, he was blanked out of the launch. He found himself in a corporate lecture theatre, empty but for the cartoon figure of a Vigilant.
"You know the rules, Paul," said the Vigilant.
"Sure," said Burton. "Mea culpa. It won't happen again."
The rules of Business-Business were simple. Business is business, and leave your personal life out of it.
However, a month later Burton saw Matilda again at the Pyongyang condominium launch. (Pyongyang? Sometime capital of North Korea. Available for development now that there were no more North Koreans. And, once you've made your house into a cheery home by installing an electronic grandmother, you're going to want somewhere to put the real one, and what better place than an all-care automated condominium in Pyongyang? Right?)
"I'm going to be expert-systemed next month," she said, all matter-of-fact.
Expert-systemed. That meant she would appear no more in the vitual world Business-Business. Instead, a computer would be doing her job. A computer model of the real woman would perform all the woman's business functions, and any chance of ever meeting the real-and-truly flesh-in-the-flesh Matilda would be lost to Burton forever.
He petitioned Dave Glingor, his boss.
"I'm in love," said Burton.
"In love!" said Dave. "What a nonsense! You've only seen her twice! Besides, you know how it is."
Burton knew. Ever since the virtual T-Rex had eaten the kid in the Dinosaur Wonderland, initiating the virtual malpractice lawsuit, virtual corporations had turned mother-nanny cautious. Virtual rape lawsuits, virtual sexual harrassment lawsuits, molestation lawsuits - it had got to the point where the hard-hit corporations had no option but to compel their employees to behave like robots in suits.
"You know how it is," said Dave. "If I so much as give you permission to ask her real name, that lays us wide open to a sexual harrassment suit."
Checkmate. Or was it? No! There was one more thing to try. So Burton did it. Masquerading as the cockroach control man, he penetrated the headquarters of Business-Business, and burgled Matilda's personal details.
Tuesday was her day off. And so, the next Tuesday, Burton headed out to her personal residence. The landscape through which he travelled was desolate, deserted but for pizza delivery vans. In a world of virtual work, virtual holidays and virtual education, hardly anyone was on the move during the day except the pizza delivery guys and the relocation trucks which handled the grandmothers.
Bing-bong. Anyone home? Maybe she's still in her hook-up suite, doing a virtual day in virtual Hawaii. And maybe, too, she's not like her Business-Business image. Maybe the real Matilda is 56 years old with hair like the Medussa. Then the door opened and - hey. There she was.
"Burton," she said.
"You remember!" he said.
"Of course I remember," she said. "I was sure you'd get here. I'm ... I'm attractive to men."
Such confidence! It suggested - in a way that Burton did not entirely like - that Matilda had done this before.
"Who knows you're here?" she said.
"Nobody," said Burton. And then: "Matilda! I've waited for this moment for so long! Tell me - what's your real name?"
"People like me don't have real names," said Matilda. "Come on in."
She didn't waste time. She dragged him inside and flung him on the floor. He grinned. So quick? This right-down-to-it stuff was amazing!
Then she bit him. Her long sharp fangs sliced into his neck. More surprised than shocked, he just lay there, listening to the vacuuming guzzle and suck of her hunger. By the time he was ready to start fighting, he was already too weak to fight back. Then he handcuffed him so he couldn't fight any longer.
"You're not going to get away with this," he said. "Dave will figure it out."
"Dave?" said Matilda. "Who is Dave?"
"I don't think I want to tell you that," said Burton, realising he might have made a mistake.
"Share a woman's privilege," she said, putting some water on to boil. "Change your mind."
After he talked, she used the last of the water to make a cup of coffee.
"Coffee," she said, grinning at him as she lowered her mouth to his neck, "is very good for the digestion."
A long while later, she finally raised her head again. He was very weak by then, and realised he was not far from passing out.
"So," he said. "Will I become a vampire like you?"
"Somehow, I don't think so," she said, walking to the corner where she kept the chainsaw and the rubber sheets.
And she was right - he didn't.
The next day, Dave Glingor saw a woman of phosphorescent beauty smiling at him at the Bubble of Joy design-a-baby conference. Her corporate handle was a bit clunky - Matilda - but the gleaming enthusiasm of her long-toothed smile more than compensated for the name.
This story, "Consenting Adults", was first published in Kimota No. 8 Spring 1988 (ed. Graeme Hurry) (Preston, United Kingdom, ISSN 1359-8899) (pp 84-36; 919 words) (science fiction / fantasy virtual reality / vampire story).
This page is part of Hugh Cook's website,
Copyright © 1998, 2002 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.
site contents diary essays poems stories
how to write fiction FAQ
e-mail Hugh Cook - details
SF novel WORSHIPPERS / WAY fantasy novel WITCHLORD / WEAPONMASTER
copyright © 1973-2006 Hugh Cook