Chapter Five


The Geisha

"Tonight," I tell class, "We are going to start with a video on one of the latest surprises in baby-making technology."

I turn on the video...

Cindy's Story

My name is Mi-Sang-0110, but my friends call me Cindy. I'm sixteen years old, and I'm a sophomore at Venice Finishing Academy. I am training to become a PAA for Mr. Jules Tipton, a wealthy man who is now 93 years old.

A PAA is a Personal Android Assistant. I am made of flesh and bone and blood, but I'm not human. I was created and raised. I spent my first two months in a cow's uterus, then I was moved to an incubating vat until I was ten months old, then I was "born" and came into the care of the Venice Finishing Academy.

When we were born there were ten in our class -- Mr. Tipton was supporting all ten of us. Mr. Tipton visits us regularly. He watches us, plays with us and teaches us -- we know him, and he knows us. He knows us well enough to make choices, and those of us who did not please him for one reason or another were moved into different programs. Now there are only three in our class, but our time living at the academy is nearing completion. We will continue training, but we will move into Mr. Tipton's house and begin serving him.

We will begin to do what we were created to do, serve him, night and day, and I'm looking forward to that. I have been trained to sing and dance, cook and keep house, talk and cuddle. When I am around, Mr. Tipton will be happy, and I will help him lose his stress.

I am mostly human, but if you listen to my chest, you will hear only my breathing, no thump, thump. My flesh heart had a defect and was removed -- listen to my abdomen and you will hear the soft whine of my mechanical replacement. All PAA's have an organ replacement. We can become PAA's only if we are born with a life-threatening defect, and we are saved. In the eyes of the law, this makes us recycled biomaterial, and therefore not human, and subject to a different set of laws.

Few humans want to act like PAA's. Even when they do, the laws make it difficult. A woman cannot give herself completely to a man. She can say she wants to, and she can act like she wants to, but if she changes her mind, the law will support her change of mind, and the man she has given herself to can suffer great loss when she does. This can't happen with a PAA.

So, we are expensive, but, like all human creations, we fill a need that humans can't fill as well as we can.

I have a uterus, and I have ovaries, and they are fully functional. I may have a heart defect, but my genes are some of the finest humans can design.

Mr. Tipton wants me to have babies. He's told me so. He wants me to have many babies, and he will help me make them. This is part of what I will do as a PAA. As a PAA, I will make Mr. Tipton happy any way he wants me to.

I like Mr. Tipton. He's old, but his hands are strong, and he's gentle when he touches me. He touches me and Cathy and Sarah a lot. When he comes to watch us and teach us, we end the sessions with back rubs and massages. He touches us, and we touch him. Soon, he says, he will touch me in a new way, and then my tummy will swell and I will have a baby.

I will take care of it, and feed it, and it will be a human baby, a real human baby, not a PAA like me. It will be a human child of Mr. Tipton's. He and I will both be very happy.

I have to go now, class starts again soon, and Mr. Tipton will be there!

-- End of video --


"What have we just seen?" I ask.

Adrian answers quickly, "A geisha... Korean I would judge by her features."

"Good, and what is a geisha?"

"She describes herself pretty well in the video. A high tech plaything for rich old men."

"Do we have them in the US?"

"Not many... yet."

"Anyone else like to contribute?"

"They aren't human. They look human, but they aren't human," It was Annette. She didn't look happy about what she had seen, "I'd heard of them, but this is my first time seeing one," She paused before saying this next part, "According to my community leaders, they are an abomination."

Bob jumped in, "The jury is still out on that here in the US, isn't it. They are in the news, now, and there are a lot of people unhappy with the PAA concept. The People Firsters are carrying the torch, but there's a lot of average women who seem to be backing them up."

"Where are they legal?" I ask.

Jaden jumps in, "The concept started in Japan. That's why they got the geisha moniker. It's not surprising, Japan is one of the 'grayest' places in the world. Those old Japanese men wanted better play toys, but their culture frowns on immigrants."

"Can we have them in the US?"

Jaden frowns, "There are no laws yet, one way or the other. So, you can have them... now... but there's no telling what their status will be here in the future. They could be declared human, they could be declared things, they could be granted their own status somewhere in between... that's what's happening to them in Japan.

"If they turn out to be things, then killing one is simply destruction of property. Here in the US, this problem looks a lot like the slavery problem did before the Civil War."

Janet muses, "You're right. Dahlia. It sure is an interesting surprise use."

Ben has a thought and laughs, then says like a cranky old grandpa, "In my day we had to chase a woman a mile.... up hill... both ways... in the rain."

We all laugh at that, and I bring up the topic of the day and we continue on with the class.


Miranda's Interesting Offer

Miranda An lived across the river in Astoria. It was close to Manhattan, but it was a place that had seen better times... much better times, at least in terms of its attractiveness as a place for humans to live. It was now something of a human outpost wedged between two sections of Queens devoted to industry and shipping, which meant those areas were mostly creation-populated.

The people who lived here were poor, but needed access to city center for one reason or another. It was a mix of students attending the city center schools, immigrants in the process of fitting in, and nomads -- street people who moved regularly from city to city who often called themselves homeless.

These homeless weren't really homeless, not these days, but calling themselves homeless was good marketing because it got them more handouts. Officially they were now called nomads because they had city-provided shelter over their heads, but they moved often from city to city. These people spent their working hours begging. Street begging was one of those traditional human occupations that technology had changed very little. They would fan out to various high-traffic locations and do various low-skill activities to attract hand-outs. What was different was the numbers: These nomads were a substantial portion of the population compared to what they'd been even fifty years ago.

I guess it's a little unfair to call everything they did low-skill. Some were accomplished street entertainers, but a whole lot were MSH's -- Masters of Sign Holding. They weren't fools, either, they were unionized and engaged in incessant turf wars among themselves for prime begging locations. This made them somewhat violence prone, that was well-recognized. It seemed to be a necessary evil to tolerate them and their rights.

The local stay-at-home street people did some begging, too, and many odd jobs that required warm bodies not creations. The difference between them and nomads was the nomads wandered more. They migrated regularly from city to city. Many were more delusional in one way or another. The optimistic ones felt they were here on a mission. What the mission was wasn't clear, and was different for each of them, but it kept their spirits up, and made them different from "the losers"... at least in their own minds.

The pessimistic ones engaged in traditional human ways of escaping from harsh reality, such as overindulging in alcohol and various drugs, orgy partying, and getting fanatic for emotion-based causes. Here there was a sort of an arms race. Medicine could combat many of the ravages of drink and drug excess, but when it did, the reality escaping didn't work very well either.

In their pessimistic times these people alternated between stupor and manic raging, between wandering the streets and rehab. This part of town had a boom industry in government-supported rehab centers and ER-based hospitals, and these provided a lot of employment for semi-reformed and older nomads. They became first-level social workers and therapists.

The students here tended to dodge the nomads. Most felt the nomads were serious losers and to be avoided like the plague, some felt they were serious losers and deserved some sympathy, and a few felt they were serious losers and targets for bullying. Did I mention this neighborhood was violent?

And then there were the immigrants, like Miranda, who were here trying to figure out how our United States works, and finding their place to fit into it.

All-in-all... Whew! What a mix!

I met Miranda at a neighborhood coffee house, not her home. This was partly because of tradition in her home country, partly because she was living with her family and some fellow immigrants in a cramped apartment, and partly because she said there were some pretty aggressive beggar-types that haunted the street in front of her place. She came with her mother and a friend and we had a round of introductions as coffee was ordered up and served. Before the coffee was served, the friend got a call and apologized that she had to rush off. I think she'd come mostly just so they were a crowd as they walked down the street, and they got less flack that way.

The coffee Miranda drank had an odd aroma. I presumed it was some brew local to her homeland. We'd been in class together enough now that I knew she was a good girl, and ambitious, so I presumed this was a popular regional drink, not some new designer stimulant -- which it could easily be in a place like this.

"I wanted to talk with you outside of class, and with my mother, because I've received a job offer."

"That's wonderful news!" I said.

"It's from Mr. and Mrs. Hosker," she continued, "They want me to be a surrogate mother for them."

"...They want you to bear the child, as well as raise it?" Miranda nodded.

"Mrs. Hosker is worried that her womb may be too old," she said, "She has stopped having regular periods, you know. Plus, they are planning to have the fertilization done in a test tube, anyway. They want to be real sure they are getting a good... zygote," this was still a new word for her, so she stumbled over it a bit, "Since all this is happening outside her womb, they figure they may as well pick a good womb to put this new baby back into. ...And that's what they want me to do."

I was a little bit surprised, but just a little. The Hoskers seemed like no-nonsense types, and this was a no-nonsense plan.

While I considered what she had told me, she explained to her mother what she had just explained to me. The mother's face was wrinkled and care-worn and it showed even more concern as she listened. Clearly where she came from she had been poor and the culture was still poor. She hadn't learned English and she hadn't had access to any skin protection.

"How do you feel about it?" I asked when she turned back to me.

"Well... I was planning to be a baby raiser. But I was also planning on getting married and raising my own children." She look at her mother who nodded vigorously.

"Mother and I are not sure how this would affect that."

"If I may ask, are you still a virgin?"

"Oh yes," She said reflexively, and I could believe it. It was still important in her culture.

"So... part of the questions is, if I am correct, will you still be a virgin if you get a zygote implant?"

She nodded and looked down, "I will not have known a man, but--"

Her mother spoke up quietly using her broken English, "This is dinky dau!"

"She means this is crazy." Miranda explained. Worry was all over the mother's face now.

"Have you asked your religious person?" I asked.

"Oh I am a Christian... Buddhist-Christian, actually. I talked to my new reverend here in the city. He is a good man. He thought about it, and said, 'You know, I don't know.'"

As we were talking, a commotion started outside and grew louder. I walked to the window and looked out. There were people marching down the street carrying signs. It was a protest of some sort. Riot control creations were already lining up on the street sides with their big shields.

"Best to stay inside for now," advised the shop keeper, who had come up beside me, "These are usually just noisy... usually."

Even as she spoke, there was a flash of ugly violence. Right in front of the store a young man was thrown down and held there until police and restraint creations gathered around and arrested him. The shop keeper went to the door and yelled out to find out what had happened. She was careful to stay inside, the protest was still very much in progress.

She listened, then turned to us and reported, "That boy was a gypsy. Apparently he and his buddies were lifting wallets. This protest was providing great distraction... they thought! Ha!" she ended triumphantly.

"The gypsies are not well-liked around here." Miranda confided, standing on my other side, "They come and go, and they are competition to the regulars."

As they lifted the boy up to carry him away, I got a good look at him. He was so innocent-looking -- probably fourteen, wavy hair, dewy eyes, clear skin.

"He's just a child!" I exclaimed without thinking.

"Not likely!" huffed the shop keeper, she looked at me and said knowingly, "He's Roma. They learned long ago that strangers will let kids get away with anything. These days they use every medical trick they can afford to prolog that kid-look. He's probably twenty one and been grifting for a decade now."

I looked back at her in disbelief.

"I'm not kidding," She looked up and down the street, then pointed at an odd-looking man standing in a shadow not far away. He was a medium-set dwarf, and his face had the mask-look of many over-done facelifts. "That's likely the boy's handler. He's what you look like when the medicine can't keep up."

I tried getting an ID on this strange-looking man. The answer came back, "Mr. John Jones, Groton, Connecticut." That sure didn't seem right. I showed it to the shop keeper. More huffing, "They routinely steal ID's. First, they claim they are being persecuted, so they get a special anonymous and changeable ID, then they take it to one of the local hacker shops and start adding real ID's they have stolen."

She looked at me once more to summarize, "These are not nice people. Keep your distance from them, Honey."

About that time the media truck rolled up. There was a perfunctory interview where the leader of the protest explained what this one was about. When the interview was finished a few of the protesters in a photogenic area threw vegetables at the riot control creations. The creations responded by advancing menacingly for about ten feet banging batons on their shields, and the vegetable-tossers scattered. And that was it, it all broke up. It took about twenty minutes, total.

In the aftermath, protesters filled the coffee house. The shop keeper headed off to service the rush, and Miranda and I sat down with her mom again.

"Do you mind if I call the Hoskers about this?" I asked Miranda.

"Not at all." she said.

I made contact with Bob. He was at home. When I explained what was up, he called Nancy and they both got on line. They were both sitting together on a sofa in their home.

"We would have contacted you about this next, Dahlia, if there was any more to talk about. And it sounds like there is. Excellent." Bob had an easy self-assured manner about him, and Nancy looked fully supportive. She spoke up next.

"To fill you in a little more, two things have come up since the class began. First, I've been consulting with my doctors, and, I guess I'm a little more 'over the hill' than I thought I was. The womb therapy to get me fertile again will take many months, and I will likely have several spontaneous abortions before I have a success. Sadly, even with what we know today, for me carrying a child to full term is still a dicey proposition.

"Secondly, we've received an offer to do some charity work. It's an interesting offer, but it involves traveling to Africa, and that would interfere with my womb therapy."

Bob concluded for both of them, "So... we still want to raise a child, want to very much, but it looks like we may have to do it by alternative methods. And that's why we contacted Miranda with our proposal."

While Bob and Nancy had been talking, both the noise level and the aroma level in the coffee house had been rising. The protest was over, but the celebrating of "Sticking it to the Man." would go on quite a bit longer. It was getting distracting, and there were a couple of celebrants eyeing our half-empty table.

"Why don't you come over here?" suggested Bob.

It sounded like a good idea, so we broke off our conversation and headed out. On the way out and all the way to the taxi we got pestered.

"Support the cause." with a hand out.

"Sign my petition and donate." with a sheet of paper and a hand out.

The worst was when a scruffy looking man with a good-looking face got up from his chair suddenly and blocked my way. "Stick it to The Man!" he said, then instead of just holding his hand out in front of me, he reached his hand to beside my ear, "...I take credit cards." When his hand came back in front of me it had a credit card in it! It was the old magic coin trick updated.

He held the card in front of me for a good two seconds.

The shopkeeper yelled at him, "Carlos! Give it a break! This isn't Times Square." He grinned, laughed harshly, and sat back down to continue celebrating with his friends. Sheesh! I bet he'd been waiting all week to try that stunt! But it was more sinister than that, too. If I'd grabbed for that card he could have accused me of credit card theft, and it would have happened in front of a dozen witnesses. This cheap trick was a new Times Square scam. The accusation would have gone through a creation-run legal mill, got settled out of court, and I'd be getting paycheck deductions to support that creep!

We didn't look amused as we walked by. Clearly this wasn't our territory, and these people were nothing like the helpful strangers we'd met on Butterfield Canyon.

The taxi ride to the Hoskers was uneventful, as usual. Creation drivers don't get bored or speak in thick foreign accents, unless they sense you're a foreigner or need some advice. Enroute I did have to add some instructions to my message bot. Apparently I'd been ID'd in the coffee house and I was now getting "donate to my cause"-spam from those protesters in the coffee house. My goodness, they could be a pain!

The Hoskers place was plush. It was high up with a good view and furnished with a mix of high-design Scandinavian and hand-crafted African. We sat in the living room and got more acquainted. Bob started.

"I retired last year as the NYC-region VP of Stock-SMart, number six retailer in the world. There was a management shakeup, and I was on the losing side." He shrugged, "The new guys are hot-shot outsiders who think we were wasting resources and still in the Stone Age in our decision-making style. They plan on bringing in creations to handle higher levels of management.

"I wish them luck, but the merchandize selecting in retail is still a people business. I think they are in for a rude awakening.

"I could have moved to a similar position with another organization. I had offers -- serious offers. But, it's time for a change. It's time to do a legacy project. A lot of people in my position who make my choice say they are leaving to spend time with their family. I guess I'm leaving to make my family to spend time with!" he smiled at Nancy, rubbed her leg a bit. She took her turn.

"I'm a career negotiator. I graduated from Wellesley, got work in the State Department for fifteen years, and then moved on to various projects for NGO's. The highlight of my State Department work was being chief negotiator for the China-US trade agreement of 2098.

"Now, as Bob mentioned to you, we are about to get involved in another Africa project: Improving the conditions of the rural people living in South Sudan. These are some of the poorest people left on earth -- outside of the Neolithic Villages, of course. The project will involve a lot of travel and some rough living conditions. That's why we've been in contact with Miranda." She smiled at Miranda in a nice way.

"We want our child. And we want it to be the best we can produce. We think Miranda helping out -- right from the start, if you will -- will improve our child's opportunities, and give Miranda some deeper bonding with it as she raises it. We see it as win-win."

Bob took over again smoothly. I could see why they had a reputation for being quite the team.

"We recognize that this is an unusual extension of the usual child-raising practice. And we recognize that it may conflict with Miranda's," then looking at her mother, "or her family's, cultural or personal ethics. So we will not be upset if she declines. We will still offer her the opportunity to raise the child. But, if she wants to get more involved, we will be deeply appreciative, in many ways."

I was impressed. It was an interesting offer and presented in a competent and sincere way. I know I was getting warm fuzzies over what I was hearing. I looked at Miranda and her mother. They were both looking unsettled and talking quietly to each other in their native tongue. The Hoskers were patient.

Miranda finally answered, "We... I thank you very much for this offer, Bob and Nancy," she was still a bit uncomfortable with using their familiar names, "My mother and I will discuss this further."

The Hoskers look satisfied with this answer, "Are there any more questions we can answer for you at this time?" asked Bob.

Miranda checked with a look at her mom, "I think we have plenty to think about for right now." she said.

There were a few more pleasantries then the meeting broke up and we all headed elsewhere.



Visiting a Neolithic Park

It was another one of those crazy fashion promoting ideas, but not that crazy: Doing a promotion with a Neolithic Park background.

It was crazy because Neolithic Parks are all about low-tech and self-sustaining. Their high fashion is grinding up charcoal and ocher rocks, mixing the powders with animal fat, and spreading them over various parts of the body. Well... and tattoos... without decent needles and anesthetics! Brrr! I shudder just thinking about that!

It was not that crazy because people are always gaga about what happens in Neolithic Parks. It's so famously one-with-nature... yet so alien!

The real Neolithic Parks are strictly off-limits to civilized folk. The feeling is that any contact with civilized folk will pollute their self-sustainability and that's the whole reason to have them.

But the strong curiosity is still there. As a result there is a thriving industry of Neolithic Park simulations. The simulations come in dozens of formats. There are simple and safe Neolithic Park simulations at most amusement parks -- many are simply petting zoos. There are sim and avatar worlds, which look a lot more dangerous. Many adventure/thriller stories feature a romp through one. And there are full-fledged Neolithic Park camps where a person can pit their human selves one-on-one against nature... with a lot of supervision, and a clinic nearby.

The challenge for us at DeMuzzy is how to look fresh with this concept? It's popular, but so overdone! I got handed the task of surveying our park background options.

I first researched as close to the root as I could: I contacted the Ministry of Neolithic Parks and got an on-line briefing from Grace-224 on the situation in the real parks. These were an eye opener. Grace-224 showed me videos from previous studies, and some views with real-time surveillance cameras. It was pretty clear that genuine was not going to be any good as a DeMuzzy display format. These people lived in camps and the camps were... grubby is probably the best way to describe them. Just terrible as a fashion background! Plus, we couldn't be there in person, so if there was anything inspiring there, we'd have to simulate.

Grace-224 explained, "The security around the parks is quite high, and surprisingly busy. All sorts of people try to penetrate the parks, and try routinely."

"Really? Why?"

"There are a variety of motives. Some are there on a dare. Some are there to help these people out of their misery -- they completely ignore the charter. Some come and bring trinkets -- they seem to love being gods to these people. Some come to shoot vids and trade for authentic crafts work which they then sell on the outside, even though that is illegal."

"The penalties for getting caught in one are minor, so our vigilance must be high."

Interesting to me, but not too important to the project. What was important to the project was the look of the people. Gag! They were gaunt, diseased, scarred, crippled, I wanted to scream and hide when I saw one smile -- those mouths! The only fashion for this place was horror fashion! What did anyone see virtuous in this?

The virtue, as the briefing pointed out, was that these people survived with their own technology. If the civilized world collapsed for any reason, these people were our best hope for survival because they truly didn't need anything civilized, nothing at all. "They are an insurance policy," the creation noted, "and as such they will seem expensive until the disaster they are designed to protect against happens."

OK, no help for us there. I next researched a couple of Neolithic experience camps. These are the places that let civilians get as close to the Neolithic experience as they want to. These, too, were rather unsettling. Many of them seemed to be run by sadists. Their pitches talked a lot about "building character" and "finding your measure against nature". These pitches seem very popular with some teenagers and their parents. And those with a management training angle pitch "bonding" -- it was amazing to me but some were popular as a course in management training. I watched people go through a lot of what seemed to be hazing rituals conducted in the woods and listened to the happy participants endorsing the experience, and it was unsettling. Personally, I could relate to those people who came out unhappy and complained of brainwashing.

This camp stuff looked nothing like what the real park people were experiencing -- the whole point seemed quite different. These experience people had a lot more in common with the martial arts crowd and the military basic training crowd than the park people. The park people only put up with what they couldn't avoid. They didn't go looking for misery. In sum, I didn't think we could get the right feel if we staged at one of these. Next...

The Neolithic Avatars and Sims were all about making an entertainment experience of the setting. They were about being beautiful in a beautiful nature setting. And, once again, they seemed to be missing the point in favor of catering to a popular demand. But at least these settings were about beauty and romantic wonder. In my heart, I liked them, and in my non-work life I spent time off in a couple.

So... with all these Neolithic-themed experiences selling out, should DeMuzzy be any different? Given the above choices, it would be quick and easy to strut our stuff in some avatar setting, and that entertainment-oriented setting would be quite compatible with fashion. It was so easy that avatar runway settings were common, a sub-industry in fact. The biggest problem with not being any different would be... we wouldn't be any different! But we're DeMuzzy! We're about being leaders, not me too!

As usual, it was a big challenge, and I didn't have a quick answer. The weekend was fast approaching, so I left this as something to solve next week. What was coming this weekend was a visit to Grandma Heather.


The Avatar Cruise Ship


Time for a visit with Grandma Heather. And as was common she was on the Festivia 8 when visit time came. I joined her there.

The Festivia 8 is an avatar cruise ship. It travels endlessly around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean stopping at exotic ports-of-call. Well, at least that's what it advertises them as. Personally, I find the ship and the ports of call as exotic as traveling around Disney World, which should not be too surprising since Disney runs the line. But that's me, not grandma Heather -- she and her current husband, Frank, eat this experience up with a spoon.

The Festivia 8 is behemoth class: it was the biggest passenger ship in the world when it was launched ten years ago. Well, it would have been if it had passengers. The Festivia 8 has no people on it: none. It's completely creation run, and avatar inhabited. That keeps the cost way down. That's partly why Heather and Frank like it, they spend lots of time there, so cost is a consideration. And for reasons that escape me entirely they like the bigness. There are many other choices: there are smaller ships, and ships with mixed populations, and some that are small and mostly human that go to truly exotic places, such as around the Bay of Bengal and the Antarctic coast. But Heather and Frank are Festivia Fans, and proud of it.

I join them by inhabiting a guest avatar, and join them beside the pool. The day is bright and sunny, and the air is warm and filled with sea scent. My guest avatar is non-descript female -- it's not quite as plain as "generic with just an ID number on the forehead to distinguish" avatar, but not much more. The regulars, such as Heather and Frank, spend much of their time on board customizing their avatars -- think of it as sending your own body to a beauty spa -- and avatar customizing is definitely part of the cruise experience. In their case the results are pretty impressive, and, in fact, they have been featured in a couple of movies that were shot on the Festivia.

Movie shooting is just one of hundreds of activities that people do on board -- you meet people here who share interests, and I guess that's the secret to the cruise ship industry popularity.

The three of us spend some time catching up while we're on poolside. Frank likes to talk politics, and he started right in.

"So... did you see the results of the elections in South Sudan?" he asked me.

"No." I replied, "Something interesting?"

"They kicked out the current government. The winners claim it was corrupt and a stooge for multinational corporations."

"Sounds good."

"Sounds good, but I hear the people making those claims know well what they are talking about... because they are crooked as a dog's hind leg."

"That doesn't sound good! Funny you should mention that because I know some people who will be going to Southern Sudan for some charity work. Should they be concerned?"

"I would!" he said, "But, then again, I wouldn't go to South Sudan even in an avatar. Someone would probably kidnap it and I'd have to pay to replace it. That's a pretty rough part of the world these days."

"I'll bring that up with my acquaintances." I said. And I would. I sure didn't want something bad happening to Janet or Bob. I'm sure they knew about what they were getting into, but I'd double check.

To change the topic I enquire politely has to how grandma's physical body is doing. I'm careful because this can be a touchy subject among avatar people -- some don't want to talk about their physical at all. But I'm family and grandma is not one of the touchy kind.

"Oh, it's doing fine." she said, "I had an operation last week to work on some hearing issues, and my arthritis is staying calm. It's doing fine."

I'm happy to hear that, and happy to hear she's still spending serious energy on keeping it up. Some avatar lovers are pretty neglectful. They let their healthcare creations handle all the body-running details while they put all their attention into running their avatars.

We finish the catch-up with a bit of swimming. Frank shows off a new dive he has mastered -- not bad for a ninety three year old, even if it's an avatar body. Then we go inside for some lunch. It's semi-formal. We dress, which takes about half a second, and sit around a table with other avatar folk on the cruise and do some more getting acquainted. The food is just avatar sim, of course, but it's tasty and the ritual of dining is comfortable and the conversation and people meeting are stimulating.

As the social etiquette people constantly point out: Meeting avatars is a different skill than meeting people face-to-face, and a different skill from one meeting place to the next. In a place like Festivia, designing what your avatar looks like is half the fun, so it's perfectly OK to comment on another person's latest design triumph. If this were a business boardroom avatar meeting, or an engineering conference meeting, or an at-a-jobsite meeting, you wouldn't say a thing about looks. But here it's just fine.

Here at the Festivia dining tables there is an enormous mix in what people do in real life. About three quarters are retired, and for about half of those Festivia is real life -- they spend most of their time and most of their attention here and are totally wrapped up in on-ship activities. For the other half this is a diversion from what they do in real life with their physicals, or in some other work-oriented avatar environment where they are still earning pay, or good karma as a volunteer. The last quarter are younger. Some are real life cripples and, like the dedicated oldsters, this is their life. Others are just hanging out for a long weekend or short vacation. There is also a steady stream of short-stay family and friend visitors, such as myself, who inhabit the guest avatars.

One of the guests at our table this time is Lucas Hansen, mayor of Provo-Orem. My geography is outstanding for a City girl. I know it's a city in Utah, and Utah is in the Rocky Mountains... somewhere.

"Provo-Orem?" I comment, "I haven't heard much about it. How is it holding up these days?"

"Quite well, thank you. The city is growing in population and we've been thriving. The ski industry is good and we've been getting lots of adventure entertainment shot in the area."

"That sounds more avatar-oriented, if I may say so. You say it's growing... What brings the people?"

He grinned at that, "Where are you from, if I may ask?"

"New York City." I replied, "I work there with DeMuzzy High Fashion. Let me introduce myself. I'm Dahlia Rose." As I was talking, I made my business resume available to him on-line.

He paused a moment to absorb the resume highlights then said, "A pleasure to meet you, Dahlia. To answer your question. What keeps Provo-Orem growing is its natural beauty and the Mormon culture that thrives there. The lifestyle there is different from Big Apple lifestyle."

"Oh... like polygamists and such?" my grandmother interjected.

He laughed at that, "We do have them these days. They were outlawed in the state for two hundred years, but twenty years ago the practice became legal again.

"But no, that's not the heart of it, the heart is the clean living and faith-oriented lifestyle that is popular in the area. Some people accuse us of running America's largest cult city. It may feel like that if you're from a more cosmopolitan area, such as New York, but I assure you it's still a quite open and quite American way of living. We like to think of ourselves as 'The Other Aspen' -- we are more wholesome family-oriented rather than personal fulfillment-oriented." He smiled in conclusion.

Then it hit me, "Is that close to Butterfield Canyon?"

"The one in the Oquirrh Mountains, overlooking Bingham Canyon copper mine and Salt Lake City? Yes, about a thirty minute drive south. You may have spotted Mount Timpanogous, our Valley's signature peak, from the overlook. If you've been there."

"Ah... yes. I visited there with my ex-boyfriend -- had quite an adventure there, too. You're right. It's truly a spectacular area for scenery. I'm happy to hear humans are thriving in the area, as well."

"... In fact," I continue because I've just had an Ah Hah, "You and your wonderful scenery may be able to help me out on a project. Would you mind if I contacted you further on a business arrangement?"

"I'd be delighted." he said, and we exchanged business contact information.

My though was: That colorful scenery in Utah might be a suitable substitute for a Neolithic Park setting for our fashion show. We'd go Wild West in place of Neolithic Park. It can have that same individualistic and one with nature theme. The big plus is that Utah scenery is quite photogenic, and different!

Grandma carried on the conversation, "We've had some of your Mormons speak at our seminars in Chautauqua New York. They had some interesting ideas about Christianity. I don't recall them talking at all about polygamy."

"The mainstream church still doesn't believe in it," replied Lucas, "but there are over twenty fairly large groups that have splintered off from the main church over the more than two hundred years of the church's existence and a few of those do. Those groups used to be centered in many different places around the US, Canada and Mexico, and some of them still are -- those that are survivalist as well as fundamentalist -- many of the rest have steadily migrated back into the Utah area. They find the culture more comfortable than the cosmopolitan areas. So there are a few in the area, but you have to look hard to spot them."

The conversation then drifted on to other things. I had a good time, and it was good to spend time with grandma.