Jonathan wanted to have sex with Hilary Clinton, so he had sex with Hilary Clinton. Jonathan desired cookies and cream ice cream, topped with maple syrup, so he received it. Jonathan felt like watching bad lip-reading videos on YouTube, so he did. Jonathan really wanted to clean the wax from his ears with a cotton bud, and boy, did he ever. Those ears tingled with padded pleasure.
Jonathan was tired now. He sent for a ceiling fan and a blanket just thick enough to keep him in the pleasant limbo between warm and cool. Everything would be okay. Priest would wake him when he was ready.
‘Welcome to the dream factory, or as we like to call it, your new world.’
Jonathan was standing in a shop on Main Street, watching the presentation on a Megamax screen. The floor was crowded with potential buyers, all waiting to see the same thing: Priest 2.0, the desire satisfier. Ask and ye shall receive.
It still wasn’t as good as the Platinum Model but only fat cats could afford that. Jonathan was stuck with the Priest. His desires were limited.
‘The Priest 2.0 offers a significant upgrade on all previous versions. We have combined the core functionality of the original Priest model with the endless diversity of the Archbishop Upgrade. Not only will you have access to the widest range of pleasure delivering experiences on the market, but with the Priest 2.0 you can actually request your own unique pleasure apps, custom built to your specifications using the system’s unrivalled moulding software.’
Jonathan raised his eyebrow at that. The thousand men and women standing beside him did the same. Well, then.
‘That’s right, ladies and gentleman,’ said the shiny-toothed woman simultaneously inhabiting stage and screen, ‘with the Priest 2.0 we’ve turned desire satisfaction into a work of art.’
The store fell quiet. Every set of eyes locked on the screen as a malleable-looking man walked on stage wearing a virtual headset.
‘So Mike, what do you feel like right now?’
Mike smiled, the least offensive smile a human face had ever worn.
‘Well Sally, let me think about that. Why don’t I start with one of the Priest 2.0’s three million original pleasure experiences? I want a marshmallow and peanut butter sandwich.’
Ding. The screen lit up in the corner with an image of the desired experience: Mike eating a marshmallow and peanut butter sandwich. Of course, the footage was purely cosmetic; only there for the customers to witness. The real experience was going on inside his cerebral cortex. Mike smiled in his harmless way, mouth un-munching. Jonathan wasn’t impressed.
‘How was that, Mike?’ asked gushing Sally.
‘Great, but I feel like I’m missing something.’
‘Yeah! Why don’t I add some honey to my sandwich?’
‘Some honey, Mike?’
‘Yeah! But wait, a marshmallow-peanut-butter-honey sandwich isn’t built into the Priest 2.0’s experience hard drive.’ Mike looked upset. ‘What am I to do?’
‘Don’t worry, Mike. With the Priest 2.0, if you can imagine it we can deliver it.’
Ding. The image shifted to Mike eating the aforementioned sandwich, as happy as a boy on Christmas day who’d discovered his father’s porn collection. The screen even displayed a graphic of the bread opening and generous drops of honey magically pouring themselves inside. Jonathan still wasn’t impressed.
‘I’m not impressed yet,’ he said to no-one in particular.
‘Yeah, the Platinum Model already does that,’ said no-one in particular, and Jonathan couldn’t help but agree, along with several others. A mild hubbub simmered on the shop floor. Sally grinned like Swiss cheese, wholesome and blonde.
‘That’s nice, Mike, but I don’t think you’re being creative enough. Why don’t you be true to yourself and tell us what you really want?’
Silence descended. This was what Jonathan had been waiting for. Even Sally and Mike sensed the moment. Her lips became devilish, a touch of Lilith. Mild Mike’s gums stretched back like a sensual fish.
‘Well, I’ve always wanted to kiss you.’
Sally blushed. Jonathan felt a jolt surge upward from his toes and down from his throat, meeting at the groin. The sensation was natural, not delivered.
‘But Mike, I’m not one of the many beautiful models already included in the Priest 2.0’s core memory drive.’
‘What if we just kiss right here, Sally?’
‘Oh Mike, you’re so cheeky.’
Get on with it, said a thousand voices inside their heads. This foreplay was lasting too long. Jonathan ground his teeth.
‘I have a solution,’ offered Sally. ‘Why don’t you request the experience? That way we don’t have to get all hubba hubba on stage.’
‘Is that even possible?’
‘With the Priest 2.0 your experiences are only limited by your desires.’
Mike threw his arms out dramatically, a wizard conducting a concert, and squeezed his eyes shut. Everyone watched.
Ding. Screen-image Mike walked slowly over to Sally and placed one hand behind her waist while the other cradled her neck. She swooned like a shot mermaid, dropping into his arms for the horizontal kiss. Jonathan watched it happen, not sure whether to be impressed yet. This footage had obviously been prepared earlier. What really mattered was what was going on inside Mike’s vapid cranium, and by the look of him, standing there with drooling mouth and white goggles, it seemed real. Jonathan needed to know.
A mini stampede commenced. Professionals on their lunch break rushed to vendors positioned strategically around the store, waiting in comfortable chairs behind box laden desks. The tumult quickly turned into a series of orderly queues; rational sense returning to the possessed. Jonathan waited in one of one of these lines, sweating like a gypsy with a bank loan.
He thought of his favourite relaxant, oysters on Nantucket, and Priest 1.0 delivered it to him through a neurotransmitter chip lodged in his brain. Somehow it felt stale now that he knew of the capabilities of the 2.0, but still, it was enough to do the trick. He breathed in and out, quiet ecstasy slowing devouring him, salted molluscs massaging his frontal lobe. And all without the calories!
‘Hi there, sir, would you like to embark on a lifetime adventure with your brand new Priest 2.0?’
‘Would I ever,’ Jonathan poured. Immediately he tightened up, thought of an appropriate experience. Tobacco corporation negotiating campaign financing with Member of Congress.
‘Do you guarantee the Priest 2.0 will deliver any experience I desire OR WHAT?’
The woman behind the desk cringed through her pupils but kept her face muscles clenched in service mode. Jonathan felt bad.
Too strong. Think of a more appropriate experience.
‘I meant, does the product come with a guarantee?’
Arms manufacturer discussing terms with rebel leader. Everyone wins here, Mr Nkoni, let’s have a cigar.
‘Most definitely, sir. If you’re not completely satisfied with the Priest 2.0 you can return it for a full refund, minus the delivery cost.’
‘And when will the 2.0 offer neurotransmitter support?’
‘As soon as you want it, sir. In fact, as a special offer if you already have a Priest 1.0 installed we can organise an appointment with one of our specialist tech-neurosurgeons to have it upgraded today.’
Jonathan hesitated. His delivered experience hadn’t prepared him for this decision.
‘Any neurotransmitter upgrade comes with a free headset while you wait.’
She sold him, hook, line and sinker.
‘I’ll take it. When can you book me in?’
The woman closed her eyes and scrolled through a virtual logbook encoded on her retina.
‘This afternoon at 5 PM, sir.’
‘Congratulations and welcome to Priest 2.0! If you could pass me your credit card that will be $20,000 for the device and $10,000 for the implant procedure.’
Jonathan felt a slight damage in his knees.
‘But the $5,000 headset is free of charge, a saving of nearly 15%!’
Jonathan felt slightly better, not from her. He had delivered it: oysters on Nantucket.
‘Thank you, sir!’ the woman purred as Jonathan slid the card over. This was seriously going to put back his mortgage.
‘You’re all booked in. Just bring your assigned headset to the appointment and the tech-neurosurgeon will transfer the device to your desired location. Please ensure that the headset remains undamaged prior to your appointment as any damage cannot be refunded. Welcome to your new world.’
Jonathan couldn’t wait for the experience. Even as he walked down Main Street—perfectly shaped box under his arm—he used his Priest 1.0 to deliver appropriate experiences. He wanted to imagine what it would be like to have the 2.0, to feel everything at his command. But the 1.0 couldn’t deliver it. He kept coming up blank. The 1.0 was stale, old tech. The world had been upgraded.
Jonathan rushed straight home. He called in work and told them he had a medical appointment. The tech-neurosurgeon would provide a certificate.
He had three hours to try out the 2.0 before it became a permanent part of his brain. Jonathan sat down on the couch and opened the box. It was like plucking futuristic virginity, the sealed casing opening with a satisfying thrum. He picked through the polystyrene bits, tossing away foam, plastic, safety manuals and lifetime guarantees. Finally, he reached the headset. Jonathan pulled it out reverentially and removed it from its sacred sheath. He was ready. It was ready. The goggles fit perfectly over his head. The battery was out.
Jonathan rummaged through the box again, finding the charger. He plugged the cord in fast, still keeping the headset on, waiting, hoping.
Nothing. The 2.0 flashed promisingly but there was only a red light. Operations not functional. He found the manual in a pool of white balls and read it despondently.
The Priest 2.0 virtual headset delivery device requires exactly three hours battery replenishment before minimum functionality can be attained.
Jonathan felt like crying. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be! He willed the 1.0 to make the three hours pass. Of course, it didn’t work, but it made him feel better for trying. Then he thought of Sara Bens, his favourite programmed model. Dialling her up, she massaged his shoulders on a beach in Antigua and listened to him complain about how unfair it was, eternally patient. Her synthetic breasts rubbed against his oiled back, a pleasurably soaked plastic blend. Jonathan closed his eyelids and smiled.
‘It will all be okay,’ Sara whispered in his ear, tongue slicker than a cotton bud. Everyone was so mean to him but she was here now. Yes, Jonathan thought, the world has done me wrong, but I will battle on for the both of us.
The time passed before her hands got tired.
Jonathan arrived at the tech-neurosurgery at the appointed hour. He brought the 2.0 headset with him, half-charged and now neatly back in its box. He still hadn’t had the chance to use it but it no longer bothered him. He was about to have the device forever at his imagination.
Doctor Val welcomed him professionally, a solid shake of the hand and a brotherly nod as they looked each other in the eye. Jonathan recalled the experience of a young soldier being introduced to his captain and was rewarded with a pleasant shiver up his spine.
‘So, Jonathan, are you ready?’
‘I am, Doctor. I am.’
Jonathan woke up. He was in a hospital bed, alone in a private room. He sat up on his pillows, putting his hand to the base of his skull. They’d hardly left a mark: God they were good. Jonathan stared down at the white sheets, the identifying tag strapped to his wrist, and suddenly the world shifted on its cerebral axis.
Jonathan braced himself. Endorphins collided with galaxies, pleasure seekers homed in on neuron torpedos, nerve cells swirled in the nebula, membranes pulsed in the matrix. Jonathan was a space walker, a kamikaze pilot, a methylated spirit, a high-octane amphetamine. He was a drug and the planet was his syringe, injecting its very essence into his brain.
He ate guacamole sushi with cartoon yakuza, he jumped from the Opera House and landed on Count Dracula’s fangs, he fought Jihadi militants in Quebec with nothing but an orange peeler, he swam up the Niagara Falls and slam dunked on an aeroplane into a ring of porcupines. It was absurd, it was sublime, it was real.
Jonathan vibrated in his own skin, feeling his lips flitter flutter back and forth. Everything was at his disposal, every possible created experience and the imagined sensations that came with it. He lay there for what seemed like centuries, traversing the cosmos, plumbing the depths of his subconscious soul. Some of it was better left undisturbed.
Jonathan thought of his former wife, Ella, sitting beside him on a tram in Strasbourg. They hadn’t met yet but they were about to. She was a local, he was studying on exchange. He asked her where ‘Parlement Européen’ was. ‘Parlement Européen!’ She looked at him and burst out laughing and told him it would be better to speak in English.
‘Are you satisfied, sir?’
Doctor Val had walked into the room, white coat and clip board in hand. He smiled down at Jonathan paternally.
‘We knew you would be.’ The Doctor nodded and left him, closing the door quietly. Jonathan shut his eyes.
In his mind he saw a black ocean. Waveless.
The sensation was empty.
‘I only desire a desire,’ he whispered to the walls.
Aidan Anderson is a Sydney author and high school teacher. In 2014 he was shortlisted for the Vogel Literary Award. Follow him on Twitter @andtheson.
Next: The map is not the territory by Deborah Pickett
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