ExtractRead the first chapters of the novel Virtually

Of course, now that he knew where it came from, the depths of his psyche, he could reach it easily enough, simply by using the prototype of the 7000 simulator to dredge it up. But he sensed danger there. Sensed he would be tampering with something which shouldn't be tampered with, not in that way. Severe mental scars could ensue. Or was he simply afraid?

Whichever, he wouldn't tackle it that way. Its effects were oblique. The safest way to approach it was obliquely.

And for a reason he didn't understand and didn't need to, getting to the root of it overshadowed everything else in his life.



It was a question of who would arrive first. It could be either. Both were late.

The flat was pleasantly warm, with the oven sending out a fearsome heat which percolated through to the lounge. The lights were dimmed; the Bartok, downloaded to microdisc, was chugging out of his hi-fi system, which could no more cope with it than his system at work, another hi-spec hi-fi which wasn't built for such finery, designed instead for the crass minimalist blip-blap-blop rubbish which passed for music these days, no advance on the clatter-and-clash trash he remembered with loathing from his youth. Still, the silky mellowed tones wafting low from the speakers created a pleasant enough ambience, doubtless better than had the music reproduction been spot on. When it came to a cosy, quiet evening with charming company, unadulterated Bartok was perhaps a little on the rarefied side.

He sat there for a spell, twiddling his thumbs, resisting the urge to start chewing his nails. He went through to the kitchen, to check, once again, that everything was ready: the wine, uncorked, left to breathe; the hors d'oeuvres, just out of the oven, smelt so good; the pizza, ready to be cooked, a gastronomic work of art even if he did say so himself. He noticed a dusting of flour on the work surface, took a cloth, wiped it off.

He returned to the lounge, began twiddling his thumbs again. His stomach started complaining, emitting a string of hungry gurgles. The aroma of freshly baked hors d'oeuvres drifted tantalizingly through to him. Finally, he could hold back no longer. He started on his nails.

Suddenly, something was wrong. Grating. The music: it had skipped. He got up to investigate, though before he got halfway (at last) the front door buzzer sounded.

"Flamin' heck." Mr. Sorensen, puffing and wheezing, dumped his toolbox on the kitchen floor, took a silk handkerchief from his pocket and began mopping at the sweat on his forehead and short stubby neck. "Sure you need the heating fixed? Seems to be going a blaze to me."

"The oven," J. explained. "The heating's not on at all."

"Soon fix that." He swabbed a little more at his forehead, neck, the exposed V of his chest. "Heating in the whole building's lousy, if you ask me," he griped idly, conversationally. "Jacked up to full in the lift, and a bloody desert out there in the corridor. If I'd seen a rattler sidewinding towards me it wouldn't have surprised me. How can you bear it in here?" His shirt had huge swatches of sweat-soaked material beneath each arm and a jagged wet dagger down the back.

"Is this likely to cost much?" J. asked.

Sorensen took a spanner from his toolbox and used it to work off the cover plate of the control box of the Superflow Deluxe. "Depends," he murmured, jerking at an obstinate nut, his fat florid face flushing to crimson. "If it needs a new component" - the nut flew off, skittered across the cupboard, over the pizza, plopped into the sink - "then yeh, most likely. It's hell getting replacement parts for these old-fangled things. If it's 'coz of me, on the other hand, a shoddy job last time, then no, won't cost you a penny. Pass me a screwdriver, can you? That one there. Red handle."

"Can you make it quick? Maybe just size up the job and come back another time?" He indicated the wine, the hors d'oeuvres, the pizza. "Expecting company in a few minutes."

"Shouldn't take me long. If it's what I think it is, I'll be done and out of your hair before you can say - hello, what have we here?" Gently, gingerly, he manoeuvred out a junction box, a spray of wires badly spliced together. Some of them were blacked and fused. "Good god. Lucky the whole place didn't go up. This your doing?"

It was the system of wiring J. had jury-rigged awhile back, the digital clock and a whole host of other things connected up to the mains. He was surprised Sorensen hadn't happened across it last time.

Available for purchase now

Buy the e-book version of Virtually online via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).

The paperback version is available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk and in North America from Amazon.com.


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