Catherine was exhausted to her core, aching in muscles that she never realized existed.
“I thought that you went flying?” Jacky queried suspiciously, as she massaged arnica cream into the blue swellings that blotched every part of Catherine’s body.
“Not your kind.... Ouch...!” Catherine pulled away as Jacky probed a particularly ugly welt traversing her groin, the handy-work of one of the safety harness.
“It looks like you crashed?” As an airhostess, Jacky was qualified to know a little about aviation. She had been shocked by the seriousness of Catherine’s condition and found it difficult to correlate the physical evidence with a flight simulator.
“Actually, I did,” Catherine admitted.
Jacky had just arrived home and Catherine hadn’t had time to brief her on the afternoon’s events.
The stiffness of physical abuse had begun to set in while Catherine had still been at LifeGames’ premises.
She’d excused herself and made a run for home before her muscles seized completely and, not being in the mood to cook, she’d treated herself to sweet and sour from her favorite Chinese take-away. Permitting herself the luxury of such oily and batter-heavy food was an agonizing self-conflict clattering between guilt and reward.
Today the excuse had been simple; “I’ve already spent the calories.”
Achieving a credit on the calorie count was always the objective.
Jacky had arrived home to find Catherine sitting at the dinning table, nearly naked, tending to her injuries between mouthfuls of food. Jacky had taken over the chore, allowing Catherine to finish eating.
As Jacky cleared the table, Catherine’s conscience crept back so she repeated the same calorie excuse to Jacky that she’d earlier told herself.
Misery loves company, so with her appetite satisfied she had begun to feel remorse for her indulgence;
“You’re not going to eat, Jacks?” she tempted. If Jacky would partake, it would diminish the weakness in her own mind.
“No thanks Cath, I ate on the plane,” Jacky smiled knowingly, letting Catherine stew in guilt.
After tidying away, Jacky went upstairs to find Catherine in a piping hot bubble bath. Only Catherine’s head was projecting through the growing tide of bubbles, and the increasing volume of snow-white froth was expanding as the Jacuzzi jets boiled the waters into lather.
“Jump in, it’s great!”
“I think I will,” Jacky was already unsnapping the clip of her bra, letting the straps fall away. Estimating where Catherine’s legs might be below the obscuring blanket of white, she stepped in.
“OUUUCH!” Catherine let out a howl; Jacky had guessed wrong.
“I hardly even touched you!” She apologized then recoiled; “Oh-my-God! I really am sorry,” she gently caressed the swollen shin that Catherine produced from below the bubbles, “I’m so sorry, Honey... sorry!”
They lounged in the steamy waters for a while, the herbal salts and an overdose of anti-inflammatory tablets beginning to work soothing miracles. All the while Jacky maintained an inquisition of questions, extracting every detail of the day’s events from Catherine’s weary mind.
“I’m going to have LifeGames put you in a court room scene. You can be the prosecutor!” Catherine warned playfully.
“Don’t tell me that they’ve got a court program too?” Jacky asked excitedly. It had long been her yearning to become a lawyer, but cost and the lure of travel had put an end to the idea.
“It’s not a single program!” Catherine pointed out, “LifeGames has every major case in history... or, at least the facts of the case, and how each case turns out is up to the delivery of arguments by the subject.”
“You mean I could defend Manson and if I am convincing, he’ll go free?”
Catherine nodded and added, “Or you might equally lose a case that had been won in reality!” Following her day in the complex, she considered herself something of an authority on LifeGames’ repertoire of options.
Jacky’s jaw was hanging slack, her mind envisioning herself in court, “What on earth are they doing for lawyers?” she puzzled.
“Not only lawyers, they’re training and assessing most of our judges, teachers, politicians... engineers, doctors. We’re going systematically through professions; we’ll be targeting the entire legal profession in the next phase of my campaign.”
“You can choose to be either defense or prosecution?” Jacky was fixated.
“Sure,” Catherine assumed an air of wisdom, “you can either be the judge or on the jury bench, or defense. Role playing is your choice.”
“Fantastic!” Jacky’s mind was off racing again as she thought of all the cases in history that had produced an unjust judgment, imagining how she would remedy their outcome.
“Computers are all about choices; that’s what LifeGames is really in the business of selling, choices. Of course this is no ordinary arcade game. It’s the most advanced facility of its type in the world, with branches in every major city,” Frustrated that she was unable to ad-lib the explanations, Catherine was re-regurgitating verbatim what she’d heard.
“Do you think that you could organize a run for me?” Jacky asked with childlike excitement.
Catherine cringed at realizing how silly it had been to have built Jacky’s excitement to such a pitch, only to have to disappoint her;
“Phew, sorry, but I don’t think so, Jacks.” Then she realized that there was a perfectly legitimate reason that Jacky would readily accept without feeling hard done by, “LifeGames had to run me through the program to help me understand the product.”
Jacky looked painfully shattered, the short-lived dream of fulfilling her legal ambition, albeit only to the accolades of a hallucinated audience, had been dashed.
Catherine could see the lingering despair that she had caused so she searched deeper for a way to sweeten the bitter pill;
“You wouldn’t believe what they’re charging... I heard from the secretary that it’s thousands of dollars per hour!”
Jacky had a violently jealous nature, and Catherine never personified her clients to her lover by name; she always implied a more distant relationship; the big boss, the accountant... the secretary.
In this case it was increasingly awkward; her recent intimate dinner with Nancy was hard to play down and her forthcoming experience with Ken might equally play havoc with spoken truths.
She was too far into her lie to break the silence; she needed to keep all parties apart.
Catherine’s ploy worked as Jacky’s beaten illusions withered in the light of the exorbitant costs;
“I suppose it’s off my budget for this month then...” she sighed, crestfallen.
Most of the pilots on Jacky’s airline were constantly undertaking refresher courses at LifeGames to brush up skills. Considering the costs that Catherine had just revealed, she tried to estimate how much money it must be costing her company. The figure would have to be staggering.
It irked her anew that the pilots could be so blasé about flying the simulator, yet she could remember a time when it had been the newest fad that created an instant hierarchy between those who had and those who hadn’t participated.
It had wedged the gap between pilots and crew ever wider, making many of the pilots more aloof and condescending than they already were. They considered LifeGames training to be far beyond the scope of the crew’s needs or understanding.
Despite the internal politics, it had recently been rumored that the entire crew would soon be put through their paces.
“Imagine, Jacks... that’s only the price for the older commercial on-line run... the kind I just did, with all the paraphernalia. The moment you start going into Time Dilation, into neural linking... it begins to get properly expensive!”
Since Ken had just explained the costing structures to Catherine, the details were fresh in her mind. The steamy bath and champagne they were sipping began to loosen Catherine’s tongue;
“A hard cost is a very sophisticated nutritional plaster they’ve developed. The plasters are one of the secrets of the Time Dilation.... without them you’d be like a car without a gas tank. They’re amazing little devils! NASA use them on space walks, but these are...” she checked herself before she spilled more beans. “... they’re... it’s complicated and I forget the details... Anyway, the company also charges a percentage of the rate, which I mentioned earlier, for the time that you experience, regardless of how much actual time you’re hooked up for!”
Jacky was trying in vain to grasp what Catherine was saying; accounting had never been her strongest subject.
“It’s really very simple,” Catherine proceeded carefully, “let’s say that you’re a soldier and the military want to test you on an exercise,”
She felt a small pang of guilt as she repeated Ken’s words verbatim. She hated parroting someone else’s thoughts, but her depth of knowledge on the subject disqualified her from explaining it in her own words;
“You could physically go to site and do the exercise in the traditional way, but it may take several weeks and the entire staff... companies and battalions... and of course, assessors, would have to be there with you,” she explained, “It may also be dangerous and the repercussion on our environment would certainly be costly.”
Jacky was smiling at Catherine, enamored with admiration for the grasp that Catherine had of the subject.
“With LifeGames, the soldier can be assessed under battle conditions for a fraction of the cost. There’s no danger involved and the computer spits out its assessment whilst the Generals or Admirals sit back and watch in comfort. But weeks of real time would cost too much. You’re still following me?”
Jacky adjusted herself off of the jet of water. The area that it had pummeled was numb and beginning to itch with the increased blood-flow, “Only just,” her mind had wandered and she wasn’t following but she agreed anyway, enjoying Catherine’s exuberance, “... carry on.”
“Time Dilation is LifeGames’ latest available option. They can speed up your brain twenty or thirty fold. It’s the highly sophisticated software and hypnosis that make it all possible,” Catherine explained the dynamics of Time Dilation exactly as Ken had explained it to her, “Got it?”
“Uh-ha,” Jacky grinned, finding a new and particularly pleasurable jet of water.
“Come on Jacks, be serious...” Catherine prodded her playfully in the ribs with a toe. “Where was I? Oh yes. You get nothing for nothing, so besides the cost of the nutritional patch, the army must pay a premium for the technology and the value that they’re getting out of it.”
Jacky sighed in response with pleasure.
Determined to finish, Catherine prodded her again and continued relating her story;
“Although they’re only using twenty hours of computer time, their man experiences thirty times that... and thirty times twenty is...?” Catherine ran some quick mental arithmetic, “...six hundred hours! So even if LifeGames charges them half of the hourly rate, the bill will be a fortune—but the training will be half price with much more gathered data.... And it only costs LifeGames one patch and twenty hours to sell three hundred hours of exorbitant fee! It’s no wonder they’re the top profit earner this year in Forbes!”
Catherine’s words hung in the air as she watched Jacky arching with the pleasure of the water’s thrust. She had become wrapped up in her explanation and only now realized why Jacky hadn’t concentrated. She waited silently as the final waves of spasm washed through Jacky’s body.
The experience left Jacky glowing and grinning with contentment.
The warm water and salts had invigorated Catherine’s aching body. For the time being, her limbs were free from pain;
“You dirty little rascal! You didn’t hear a word of what I said, did you?...!”
She leapt across the tub, launching a playful attack on Jacky.
After play wrestling, the two wrinkled prunes climbed out of the bath and patted each other dry with luxuriously thick towels before preparing for bed. In bed they chatted quietly on a range of subjects as the strains of Mozart filled the cavernous bedroom with the unobtrusive power that only expensive sound systems can deliver.
The low voltage lights were dimmed to a canary yellow and the setting was idyllic with the large marble busts atop their stone columns assuming the role of an erotic guard of honor.
Set into one wall was a huge exotically stocked fish tank, and from its own mood lighting a kaleidoscope of colors danced to the tune of its softly humming electric pump. The light caressed the lush greens of the potted palms and deep reds of the Persian wall rugs.
Jacky tended Catherine’s injuries, her soothing touch in symphony to the surroundings. When the Mozart playlist ended, only the fish tank’s gurgle was audible. Jacky rose from the bed and glided naked across the room to pull the patio door closed, her taut body drenched in soft light that played wonders on her deep mahogany tan. Catherine stirred, feasting on the vision of her lover. The aches that Jacky had recently massaged still throbbed to the memory of her touch.
Jacky slipped back into the bed and cuddled up close, “I’ve been thinking...” she whispered close to Catherine’s ear, “imagine having sex with that computer!”
Catherine jolted awake, guilt charging through veins, but she lay very still, wondering if Jacky had noticed her response. She didn’t have long to wait because within minutes Jacky had slipped into oblivion leaving Catherine watching the fish tank’s light making fiery dragons fight on the wall. Fueled by the guilt of her planned infidelity, her aches began to seep back.
Finally sleep came bringing its tormented psychedelic nightmares, a serpent bearing Ken’s face was trying to force its way into her cockpit; standing impassively by, watching her feeble struggles, were Nancy and Jacky, arm in arm. By their side stood a hooded old priest shouting damnation for her soul.
Jacky awoke with Catherine’s tossing and thrashing. She pulled Catherine to her naked breast and consoled her like a mother to her child, “Don’t worry baby, I’m here. I’ll always be here for you. There’s nothing to fear. Sleep baby, sleep.”
Catherine’s dragons transformed into romping cubs as the fish tank gurgled a soft and comforting lullaby.