<A Sensory Immersion Machine Story>
<Adam Kurenski, Freeperson>
“We are here today to talk about sex.” Dr. Roy Jenkins was dark-skinned, bald and loud. He wore glasses so large that they may never have been fashionable, with lenses thick enough to make his eyes look enormous. He talked with his hands, which made it all the more obvious that he talked to himself—frequently. He also weighed in the neighborhood of five hundred pounds.
He was the second teacher in our seminar on Sensory Immersion Technology and Culture, and he was not a person with whom I wanted to discuss sex. The SIM class had, after five weeks of our last teacher, Sister Hotke’s, conditioning, developed a don’t-speak-unless-spoken-to mentality. Even without that, I doubt any of my compatriots could have come up with something to fill the silence that followed Dr. Jenkins’ opener. Most of us just fidgeted in our chairs.
Dr. Jenkins didn’t waste time prodding the group as a whole. Instead, “Ms. Baker, what do you know about sex?”
Angela Baker had drawn the short straw. She sat there, perhaps shocked, for a moment. Then opened her mouth, paused, closed it again and sat back in her chair. I wondered if she thought she had actually answered.
“Okay,” Jenkins said, “That’s a start. Now let’s see if we can get some actual words from… Mr. Kurenski.”
I cursed. If it was possible, the silence in the room seemed to deepen. With everyone staring at me, it took a moment for me to realize that I had actually cursed out loud.
“That does qualify. If you had chosen a different word, it might even be applicable. But as it is, Mr. Landon, what do you know about sex?”
The surprise in Jenkins surprise attack was starting to give. By now, most of the other students would have come up with something to say if they were called on. I had come to regard Peter Landon as a jerk, but that was mostly because he often had the balls to say what the rest of us were thinking about Sister Hotke’s sermons. This would, of course, only make her angry. And an angry Sister Hotke only preached all the more fiercely, often about nothing in particular.
With a new teacher ripe for the goading, Landon wasn’t one to disappoint. “You see, sir, when a mommy birdie and a daddy birdie love each other very much, they sing a special ‘song of love.’ And if the song is loud enough, or if the daddy birdie forgot to use protection, a stork hears it and brings them a brand new baby birdie.”
Dr. Jenkins’ voice started out deadpan, and then grew louder as he built up steam, “Thank you, Mr. Landon, for that… vivid and accurate explanation. At this point, we should note that we are now five minutes into a discussion of a topic about which you are all intimately familiar, as your lives have doubtless revolved around it for the better part of the last decade. Further, it is a topic about which some of you have a good deal of experience.” He looked over in Angela’s direction again. I wanted to laugh. She didn’t look as though she found it funny. “And yet, here we are, unable to say anything relevant, unable even to use adult language to discuss it, save for Mr. Kurenski, though that was not exactly the adult language to which I am referring.” My face couldn’t have gotten any hotter if I’d stuck it in a fire—the prospect of doing so had some appeal just then. Dr. Jenkins continued, “How are we supposed to develop an understanding of the worlds we live in when we cannot share normal words about this most basic thing?”
He ended his tirade waddling back and forth in between his desk and ours. His arms were sort of flailing about, trying to mimic both the speed and intensity of his words. When he finished, it all stopped. He sighed and seemed smaller, but certainly not small, as he leaned back against his own desk. He waited. We looked in his direction without making eye contact. Then something unexpected happened.
“It’s fun.” We had all heard Katie-Anne’s voice before. Though, previously she had only ever responded when directly asked a question. She didn’t talk much and she never talked to any of us. Now, it caught us all off guard.
Dr. Jenkins looked as though he wasn’t even sure where it had come from. “Excuse me?” he said.
Katie-Anne wasn’t loud, but it wasn’t a large room, either. It was just, initially, difficult to get used to her volume after having been subjected to Dr. Jenkins’.
“Sex is fun,” Katie-Anne repeated, “That’s why we do it—well, why most of us do it.”
Dr. Jenkins solemnly looked down at the floor, or rather at his own massive midsection. It was strange to see his arms hanging at his sides, unmoving. After a moment he looked back up and he was smiling. “That’s where we stop today. For next class, I want you to pair up with someone else in this room and talk with them, at length, about sex. Give me a thousand words discussing that person’s views on sex on Wednesday. You are dismissed.”
Our hour-and-a-half seminar had just ended after ten minutes. That was good. I had until everyone got out of the room to find a partner with whom I was willing to discuss sex. That was bad.
Katie-Anne might have been our resident recluse, but I wasn’t exactly the class socialite. I didn’t have any friends in the course, and hadn’t found a lot of opportunity to make any during the weeks spent enduring Sister Hotke’s ‘lectures.’ With as small as the class was—and was bound to be, since it was a class about the sims in a Free Peoples school—I would have expected us to develop into a fairly tight-knit group. After five weeks, we hadn’t. We had instead mostly run for our lives the moment we saw an opening between the fire and the brimstone that Sister Hotke threatened us with for even so much as taking an interest in the simmers’ heathen culture.
But just because we weren’t all sending each other Christmas cards didn’t mean we were all complete strangers. I was one of very few students at the University of Technology and Commerce who didn’t live on campus, and I was certainly the only commuter who would take course like the SIM seminar, which was not required and was, in fact, almost universally despised. The others all lived on campus and were honors students on scholarship or the children of politicians. They were, in short, a group of people who, whether close friends or not, lived together and interacted with each other on a fairly regular basis. I suddenly discovered myself to be as much, if not more of an outcast than Katie-Anne. She may have been completely anti-social, but she was still the daughter of the former president of the Free People. At least people knew who she was.
My compatriots were starting to stand and shuffle out now, several of them already paired up.
My recent embarrassment in class was still fresh in my mind as I cast about, frantically trying to catch someone’s, anyone’s eye. It seemed as though the others hadn’t forgotten it either as they actively avoided eye contact with me. I thought of Angela, then of Peter and was mortified to see them already talking with each other. They left together with Katie-Anne behind them. I looked around, dumbstruck, and found myself alone in the classroom with Dr. Jenkins. He was shrugging on his enormous coat and gathering his belongings from his desk. He looked up at me expectantly.
My mouth worked, but no words were coming out. I finally managed, “Katie-Anne…”
“Was the only person with no partner, yes,” Dr. Jenkins finished for me.
“Should follow her unless you want to do the assignment with me.” He grinned at me, his flabby arms outstretched, welcoming. I grabbed my bag and bolted after Katie-Anne.