You can read Chapter One of Rate Me Red here.

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Chapter One

9:27:14 AM

Gordy’s toilet was talking to him.

“Gordy,” it asked, “are you getting enough fiber?”

Gordy sighed. He didn’t want to get into an argument with his toilet again. He was already feeling pretty stressed out.

First, there was his girlfriend, Poppy Nicole, the love of his life. Poppy loved Gordy and Gordy loved Poppy, everyone knew that. But Gordy was sure Poppy was getting ready to dump him.

Everyone knew that, too.

Then there was his boss, Javed Jones. It wasn’t even 9:30 and Javed had already called him – twice.

All Gordy wanted to do was to sit in peace for a few minutes and watch a little vid. Was that too much to ask?

“I’m just a little concerned,” the toilet continued, in a high, melodious voice, “because it’s been more than 24 hours since your last bowel movement.”

When the compu-toilet was first installed, giving it a female voice had seemed like a great idea. The smooth, honeyed tones were warm and friendly, with just a hint of seduction. Gordy had imagined that voice would be just the thing to wake up to in the morning. He hadn’t realized she would be constantly asking him about his bowel movements.

“You know that plenty of fiber is important for a balanced diet.”

“I know, I know,” he said, trying to be patient. After all, the Nihao Fujiba Healthy 3000 was the number one selling compu-toilet in North America. It was able to interface with other toilets Gordy used during the day, analyze his diet, consult his medical records and recommend the appropriate well-being products. Plus, it had four cupholders. Still, it could be pretty annoying at times.

He’d tried reprogramming it, but the toilet wouldn’t let him.

“Gordy! Gordy!”

Gordy’s boss, Javed Jones, appeared on the toilet’s 90 centimeter vid screen. “Gordy, are these numbers right?” he asked. In spite of his vid manager’s best efforts, Javed was sounding pretty nervous. “Is the system working?”

On the vid, Javed appeared to be sitting at his desk at VidRateNet Headquarters, wearing a bright red business suit. His wavy black hair was perfectly tousled. His dark face was washed and shaved. But Gordy knew it was only a vid simulation. There was no way his boss was already at work at 9:27 in the morning. He was still at home like Gordy, probably sitting on his compu-toilet.

Normally, Gordy’s vid manager sent an automated reply to early-morning vids from his boss, but today was a special day.

“Hey, Javed,” Gordy said. Instantly, an image of Gordy appeared on Javed’s vid screen. It showed Gordy dressed in a metallic orange business suit and sitting at his desk at VidRateNet. A copy of the image appeared in the corner of the vid screen on Gordy’s compu-toilet, so he could see what he looked like.

“Don’t worry, we had the computers check themselves. Twice.” As Gordy spoke, the words came out of the mouth of his desk-bound vid simulation.

“Are you sure?” Once again, the simulated handsome features of Javed’s vid image betrayed the slightest hint of worry.

“Just look at your numbers,” Gordy reassured him. “The new polling system has been running for the last 6 hours. Everything is going great.”

Javed nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Okay. Can’t be too careful, you know. Today is a big day.”

“I know,” Gordy’s vid nodded. It was completely sympathetic with Javed’s vid. “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.”

“Okay. Well, see you on the vid.”

“See you on the vid.”

As soon as Javed beeped off, Gordy’s toilet spoke up again.

“You know what I think, Gordy?” she asked, cheerily. “I think you should try the new, improved Lax-a-licious!” A hologram of a bright orange bottle appeared in the air, in front of the vid screen he had been watching. It rotated slowly to allow Gordy to read the label, while the Lax-a-licious jingle played over the toilet’s theater system. The music echoed off the blue tiles of the bathroom.

Lax-a-licious does the trick,

When you’re well or when you’re sick,

Makes it easy when things get thi. . .

Gordy sighed and stood up, pulling up his shorts. The jingle stopped and the hologram disappeared.

“Done already?” The toilet’s light tone held just a hint of disappointment. It flushed itself and then added encouragingly, “Well, I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”

“Thanks.”

Gordy stepped to the giant, gleaming white sink five meters away. (It was annoying to have to walk that far, but everyone knew the best cribs had really huge bathrooms.) As he did, the Nihao Fujiba SmoothEase Auto-shaver on his cheek spoke up. “Hold still, please!”

Gordy sighed again and tried to hold his head still while the micro robot moved across his face with a faint tickling sensation. It was the auto-shaver’s job to give him a close, smooth shave, even in those hard-to-reach places, but this model was very temperamental. If it missed some stubble or nicked him, it acted like it was somehow Gordy’s fault.

As the shaver crawled over his chin, muttering under its breath, Gordy looked in the giant vid mirror that covered most of the wall. There he saw, bigger than life, the totally vidacious face of his girlfriend, Poppy Nicole, star of The Poppy Show. At the moment, Poppy was in her bathroom, wearing pair of red cotton panties and an oversize Sunflower Brands Xian Jeans tee shirt that clung to her perfect figure. Poppy was talking on her vid mirror to her best friend, Doreena. The numbers at the bottom of the vid mirror showed that 37,344 other people were watching, too.

Gordy loved Poppy. He loved her so intensely it hurt. Poppy was perfect, and not in the way most girls were perfect. Most girls had perfect noses and perfect eyes and perfect hair and perfect skin and perfect bodies. Poppy had all of those things, of course, but she had more than that. Poppy was perfection.

Right now she was especially ravishing. Her eyes were Asian again, not completely Asian like when they first met, but the new hybrid Eurasian style that was big this week.

Her hair was still blonde but she’d made it longer, and curled it into hundreds of small ringlets that cascaded down her bare shoulders. The ringlets framed a face that was a perfect oval, with a slim, chiseled nose and rounded chin. Poppy’s nose hardly ever changed, but then why would you change something so gorgeous?

Her skin, now a deep mocha brown, had the soft, blemish-free texture of fine syntho-microfiber. Pimples had been big for a while, but Poppy had been one of the first to say that pimples were definitely over. Poppy was always one of the first to know when something was over. That was one of the things that made her Poppy.

Of course, there was no way of knowing which of the changes in Poppy’s appearance were real, surgical improvements and which were just vid enhancements. That was part of the fun of Poppy. Her fans loved to argue about every strand of hair, every shade of color. They debated Poppy’s choices on Poppy Today. They traded tips on Me, You, Poppy, Too. They learned how it was all done by watching The Making of the Making of Poppy.

Gordy could vid Poppy for hours. In fact, he did vid her for hours, every day. Sometimes at night, when he couldn’t sleep he got up and watched her sleeping on Poppy Sleeps. Vidding Poppy made him happy. But it was a bittersweet happiness because he knew it was just a matter of time until she dropped him. Once more, he looked at her VidRateNet Power Rating Button. He was pretty sure it was more Orange than it had been last night. Reflexively, he checked his own. He was still a solid Yellow.

That was the problem. He and Poppy had met when they were both Yellow. In fact, she had still had a hint of Green, sort of Chartreuse. But in the last few weeks, thanks to the success of The Poppy Show, Poppy had gone all the way through the Yellows and was now almost Goldenrod. Gordy knew that Poppy loved him, but if her rating got any higher or his slipped any lower, that wouldn’t matter, would it?

On The Poppy Show, Poppy and Doreen were laughing about something Gordy had said to Poppy the night before. A vid of him was playing on Poppy’s vid screen.

“He’s such a geek!” Doreena was saying. As Poppy’s best friend, she couldn’t be more vidacious than Poppy, but she was still pretty vidacious in an athletic, best-friend kind of way. At the moment, she had straight brown hair, wide green eyes and deeply tanned skin that contrasted nicely with the tight red tank top she was wearing. Gordy understood that it was part of Doreena’s role as Poppy’s best friend to constantly put him down. Still, he wished she would cut it out.

“He may be a geek, but he’s my geek,” Poppy laughed and winked at the camera. Poppy always knew where the camera was. “Are you listening, Goo-Goo?”

He loved it when she called him Goo-Goo.

According to the Gordy News Crawl at the bottom of the mirror, it was another warm, February day in Paterson Suravinda New Jersey. Outside, in REALITYTM, the temperature was 33 degrees C. In the upper right-hand corner of the vid mirror, floating above The Poppy Show, was the image of his vid manager, Jaime BX, wearing a shiny black syntho-leather jumpsuit. The Jaime BX vid had a wide, handsome face, thick curly hair and a slightly imperfect nose – just like the real Jaime BX.

“Hey, ape!” The vid winked at Gordy with a boyishly mischievous grin. “How we doin’ this morning?”

Everyone had a vid manager, it was the only way you could navigate the immense amount of data on the VidNet. With 17.2 billion primates on the planet, and approximately 5.17 billion vids and vid games available at any time, you needed help to find the vids that were right for you. A good vid manager knew without being told what you would want to vid live and what you would want to vid on delay and what you just wouldn’t vid even if it was the last vid on earth. It knew which vids you would want to share with your friends and which of your friends’ vids you would want to vid. Best of all, a good vid manager made sure that your consumer choices were up to the second and not hopelessly last hour.

That’s where Jaime BX came in. The real Jaime BX was a vid star, pop singer, news commentator and clothing designer. But for just $675 a month, Gordy had the company of a Jaime BX vid simulation that was just as suave, urbane, edgy, ironic and sincere as the real thing. Maybe even more so.

“Lookin’ good, ape,” the Jaime BX vid drawled, managing to sound heartfelt and mocking at the same time – just like Jamie BX always sounded on his hit vid, The Hard Way Down: Mumbai.

“Thanks,” Gordy replied.

“So what are we going with today? How about a new do?”

The Nihao Fujiba SmoothEase Auto-shaver on Gordy’s chin interrupted. “I’m finished,” it grumbled. “Please remove me and plug me into my charger.”

Gordy plucked the auto-shaver from his face, rubbed his chin and felt a tiny patch of bristles just under his lip. The shaver had missed again, but there was no point in antagonizing it. “Uh, good job.” He said as he plugged it into the outlet.

“Yeah, sure, “ the shaver sighed, sarcastically. “See you tomorrow.”

The Jaime BX vid didn’t miss a beat, “Hey, guess what? “ it cried with genuine-sounding exuberance. “There’s a terrific brand new auto-shaver from Sunflower Brands that won’t leave you with that tell-tale stubble in those hard-to-reach places. The Sunflower Glide K160 is a cool shaver for a hot shave.” A sleek new auto-shaver instantly appeared on the face of Jaime BX. Its translucent surface shimmered with an aurora of fluorescent colors.

“Hmm,” the Jaime BX vid sighed with pleasure. “What a smooth shave. And I can order one for you right now at the vidacious price of $13,299, including shipping and handling. What do you say, buddy?”

Gordy thought the new auto-shaver really did look cool. But he’d have to tell his old auto-shaver it was being replaced and he was sure it wouldn’t react very well. He decided he’d better think about it.

“Uh, not now,” he said to the mirror with a wistful look at the Glide K160.

“Okay, bud. Maybe next time.” The vid of the shaver vanished. “So, what’ll it be today? I noticed Poppy’s blonde. Are you feeling blonde this morning?”

A vid of Gordy as a blonde appeared on the screen. He looked pretty good. His blonde hair was long and wavy and his round, tan face was smooth and blemish-free. Of course, Gordy knew that Jaime BX had adjusted the image to make him look extra vidacious. If he wanted to see how he really looked, he’d have to select the vid mirror’s REALITYTM setting. But what was the point of that? You looked in the mirror to feel good about yourself, not to be bummed out.

Anyway, except for the hair and the skin, Gordy thought the image was pretty close to the way he really looked. Medium height, medium build, brown hair and eyes – like most people, he was good-looking enough to have his own vid. But Gordy didn’t have a vid. He’d put his on hiatus when he started appearing on The Poppy Show.

“What about it, buddy?” the vid manager prodded, encouragingly.

Gordy considered the image of himself as a blonde.

“Uh, I don’t think so,” Gordy replied. “Poppy doesn’t like it when I have the same hair color as her.”

“Didn’t know that.” Jaime BX frowned. “You gotta tell me these things.”

“Sorry. I forgot.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. You have a lot on your mind.”

“Hey, how about some new rags?” Instantly the vid zoomed out to display an image Gordy wearing a bright multi-colored shirt and matching pants.

“Dig this! It’s exactly what I wore to the People’s Best World Awards last night. Order now and I can have them delivered by the time you get out of the shower. They’re on special for the next 35 seconds – just $18,999 including delivery. Uh-oh! There are only 352,000 left. What do you say?”

The Gordy vid in the vid mirror looked at his new clothes and smiled happily. He nodded and gave Gordy the thumbs up.

“I don’t know, ” Gordy hesitated. He did like the clothes, but that was no surprise. Jaime BX always knew what he’d like because he had a record of every single purchase Gordy had made since he was eleven years old. Still, Gordy didn’t know if he really needed a new set of clothes.

A faint ticking sound came out of the bathroom’s speakers.

Gordy had to admit, $18,999 was a bargain. A rotating graphic on the screen broke the price down for him. The cost of the actual clothes, the ones he would wear in REALITYTM, was $1.89. The remaining $18,997.11 was the licensing fee that allowed his vid image to be displayed wearing the suit. In theory he could have saved a lot of money by just buying the actual clothes, but what was the point of that? Hardly anyone was going to see him in REALITYTM.

“Only 288,000 left, ape.” Jaime BX was clearly worried that Gordy might miss out on this great deal.

“Okay, I’ll take ‘em!”

“Good move!” Jaime BX smiled approvingly. His main primate had made the right choice – again. “Poppy’s gonna go nuts when she sees you. Now better get a move on, or you’ll be late for work. We have a big day today. And don’t forget the teeth.”

“Thanks!” He’d almost forgotten. Good thing Jaime BX knew that Poppy had a thing for pearly white teeth. Gordy picked up a tiny cylinder covered with bristles and moved it towards his mouth. It was the Milano Z4 Tooth-A-Matic robot dental appliance, a brand new model and a steal at $6,349.95.

“Buon giorno, Gordy!” said the Z4. The dental robot spoke with a thick Italian accent. It had the voice of Giancarlo Seiggerson, the Italian professional vid soccer player/ pop singer/ Supreme Court judge. Like everyone else in Italy, Giancarlo spoke flawless English, but the accent made him sound cool. Gordy sometimes wished he could talk like that to Poppy.

“We are almos’ out the tooth-a-paste, would you like I should order more?” the cylinder asked. “There’s a new brand I would-a like-a suggest. It’s a Milano Samba Sensation. It’s a like a samba inna you mouth.”

“Okay,” Gordy shrugged. “But I thought the sink ordered the toothpaste.”

“That is correct.” The sink boomed in a deep bass voice that made the entire bathroom vibrate. Gordy often had it sing to him while he auto-showered. “I can interface with the dental appliance and automatically order new toothpaste when replacement is indicated.”

“Okay,” said Gordy. “Do that.”

“Make-a sure it’s a Milano Samba Sensation,” added the Milano Z4. “It’s a like-a samba inna you mouth.”

“I have noted the request,” the sink rumbled.

“Gordy,” the toilet’s soft feminine voice broke in. “If you’re ordering toothpaste, how about ordering some Lax-O-Licious?”

A hologram of the orange Lax-O-Licious bottle appeared in the air over the sink. The Lax-O-Licious jingle rang out over the bathroom sound system.

Lax-O-Licious does the trick,

When you’re well or when you’re sick,

Makes it easy when things get thi…

“Hey ape,” interrupted the Jaime BX vid, cutting the jingle off. “You didn’t tell me you were feeling a little slow down below.” The way the vid said it, it sounded positively cool, kind of edgy and daring. “You know what I use at times like this? Dr. Fiber.”

A hologram of a bright green bottle of Dr. Fiber appeared in the air next to the orange Lax-O-Licious hologram. The two images began to slowly circle Gordy’s head.

“But Gordy,” the toilet broke in. “Independent laboratory tests have shown that Lax-O-Licious is ten times more effective than the other leading brands. Why, you’d have to drink this much Dr. Fiber to get the same results as one dose of fast-acting Lax-O-Licious!”

Suddenly, there were ten green bottles in the air next to one orange.

Gordy shook his head. This was his fault. The toilet was a Nihao Fujiba product and Jaime BX was licensed by Shanghai Sunflower Brands, so of course they were always arguing about Gordy’s consumer choices. That’s why most people had just one sponsor for their bathroom.

As the laxative bottles circled overhead, there was a scratching at the bathroom portal and the chrome panel slid open. In trotted a small, scruffy dog, whose coat was a weird patchwork of black and white spots. It was Bingo, Poppy’s dog. At least he had been Poppy’s dog until she had “accidentally” had him sent to Gordy’s apartment. Bingo immediately started to bark at the floating bottles.

“Quiet, Bingo!” Gordy shouted. “Bad dog!” This only made Bingo more excited. Meanwhile, the Jaime BX vid was getting very enthusiastic about Dr. Fiber.

“Of course, no one would drink that much Dr. Fiber,” it said with a laugh. “But if you wanted to, you could, because – it tastes that good! Not at all like the chalky, bitter taste of some of those other laxatives.”

“Who are you calling bitter?” the toilet was indignant.

“Hey, have you ever tried Lax-O-Licious?” the vid scoffed.

“Of course not,” the toilet’s feelings were hurt. “How could I?”

“Well, I have,” the Jaime BX vid replied smugly. Just to rub it in, he drank from a vid bottle of the orange laxative, grimaced, then spit it out all over the vid screen.

“Oh really?” the toilet shot back. “I’ll have you know that in a secret taste test, primates chose Lax-O-Licious three to one over Dr. Fiber. Besides,” she sniffed, “it’s my job to monitor Gordy’s digestive health.”

Bingo was now running back and forth from the toilet to the vid mirror, yipping in a high-pitched growl. His claws clattered against the tile floor.

“All I know is, I have to look out for my ape,” said the vid manager. “And he trusts me. Isn’t that right, Gordy?”

“Oh, you don’t think he trusts me?” the toilet sneered. “We have a very intimate relationship, Gordy and I. Isn’t that right, Gordy?

Gordy looked from the vid mirror to the toilet. Just once he’d like to get through a morning without all this bickering. The Tooth-A-Matic in his hand spoke up.

“Hey, what’s a happenin’?” it asked. “Are we a gonna brush-a you teeth or what? Cause-a my charge she no so strong a-right-a now.”

Gordy popped the Tooth-A-Matic into his mouth, where it buzzed pleasantly as it traveled along his gums and teeth, cleaning in every crevice and giving him a pearly white smile. While it cleaned, it sang the latest hit song from The Jingles.

Don’t want, uh, no

Can’t huh? Maybe so

Uh, yeah. Uh-no

It sounded like the Tooth-A-Matic was singing inside his head, which it was, sort of. Gordy bopped gently to the insistent beat. The Tooth-A-Matic seemed to be cleaning his teeth in rhythm, too.

Bingo was barking and trying even harder to reach the floating laxative bottles. By hurling himself into the air with all the force in his little legs and he could just manage to get his head level with the sink.

“So Gordy,” the toilet said very sweetly,” I’ll just go ahead and order a case of Lax-O-Licious.”

“Better chill, sister.” The vid manager sounded coolly dangerous just like Jaime BX in Shoot Me Now, Kill Me Later. “We’re ordering Dr. Fiber, right, Gordy?”

“Why don’t you stick to something you know, like hair spray?” the toilet said bitingly.

“We all know what you know about,” the vid shot back.

“I know about plenty of things!”

“Yeah, how’s the view from down there?”

‘The . . . I . . .“ the toilet sputtered. “You take that back!”

“Take what back?”

“What you said!”

“I just pointed out…”

The vid mirror beeped and Jaime BX cut off in mid-sentence. Poppy’s face filled the screen.

“Gordy?” she asked. “I want to ask you something.”

Gordy’s vid manager not only handled his purchases and vidding, it also filtered his vid messages. As soon as Poppy had addressed Gordy directly, her vid manager had contacted Gordy’s vid manager. Gordy’s vid manager had taken only a few nanoseconds to consult its friends hierarchy and then it allowed Gordy’s image to be sent out to Poppy’s vid. Now Gordy’s vid was not only on Poppy’s vid screen but the 37,516 vid screens of her viewers.

Gordy noticed that his vid manager had dressed him in a new, broken-in, gently ironic Sunflower Brands tee shirt, but had not put any pants on him. That was to give the audience the feeling of REALITYTM. On the other hand, it had smoothed out most of the bags under his eyes. His vid also had a two-day growth of beard. Gordy kicked himself mentally. That meant stubble was in today. He should have checked before shaving.

Poppy’s eyes had changed from deep brown to a bright cornflower blue, which was his favorite, although he also loved it when they were deep brown. Sometimes they were green when she was in a “green” mood. When they sparkled with golden flecks, it made Gordy weak at the knees.

“Hey, Goo-Goo,” she said. Her voice was even more seductive than the toilet’s.

He opened his mouth to reply and the Z4 Tooth-A-Matic’s voice filled the bathroom.

Uh, yeah, uh, no

Don’t you? Oh, oh…

Gordy spit the robot into the sink.

“Hey!” it shouted. “You could-a give a guy some warning!”

“Sorry.” Gordy felt contrite but his regret vanished in the blazing sunlight of Poppy’s smile.

“Hi, Poppy!” he chirped. “You look pimptastic!”

Poppy nodded modestly. “Thanks, Goo-Goo. I feel pimptastic. You look pretty pimptastic yourself. I like your shirt.” She winked at her audience. Poppy’s sponsor was also Shanghai Sunflower Brands, so she and Jaime BX were always in synch. “I wonder where you got it?” At the same time, 38,119 vid managers told their clients where they could get a shirt exactly like the one Goo-Goo was wearing.

The audience counter was rising fast now, as vid managers around the globe tuned Poppy’s fans to The Poppy Show. The managers knew that Poppy’s interactions with Gordy were audience favorites

“It is pretty vidacious,” Gordy said. It had been worth the $9,589 it cost for his vid to wear it. “But you look unreal, Poppy.”

“Thanks, Goo-Goo. I wanted to look special today.”

“Well, you look awesome.”

“Thanks,” she said. “That’s sweet.”

Gordy felt warm and sappy whenever she said he was sweet.

As they talked, Poppy’s bathroom cameras covered her from the front and back, both profiles, two overheads and one from the drain in the sink. Gordy’s bathroom had six vid cameras. Gordy’s vid manager supplied the feed to Poppy’s vid manager, which edited The Poppy Show on the fly. At the moment it was transmitting a lovable shot of Bingo listening to his mistresses’ voice.

“Oh, is that Bingo?” Poppy cried with delight. “How is my widdle Bingo-bango? Do you miss yaw mommy? Is Goo-Goo twaking good care ob you?”

Bingo began barking excitedly.

“Oh, I miss my widdle Bingo-bango!” Poppy sighed.

There was no real reason that Bingo couldn’t live with Poppy. Poppy just instinctively knew that being separated from her beloved pet gave her ratings a nice sympathy bump.

“Mommy will see you soon,” she reassured the dog. “I just have to remember to have you shipped back.” Poppy paused and sighed. Then she lowered her eyes and sighed even more deeply.

“Goo-Goo?” she said, with a trace of sadness.

“Yes, Poppy?”

“Remember just now when I said I felt pimptastic?”

“Yes, Poppy?”

“I was lying. I don’t feel pimptastic at all. I really feel stinky. “

The audience had topped out at 47,709, lower than the year-to-date average of 58,401. No wonder she was feeling stinky. It made Gordy feel pretty bad himself.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, trying to put every ounce of sympathy he could into the two words.

“I don’t know,” she said, her voice dropping. “I just feel …” she paused as he searched for the most devastating turn of phrase. “I don’t know, just… stinky!”

Gordy knew how she felt. The only thing worse than having your numbers drop was watching your rating color change the wrong way.

“Gee, Poppy,” he said. “That really is stinky. Is there anything I can do?”

Her voluptuous, sensual, extraordinary lower lip trembled ever so slightly. Poppy’s lips had been voted Best Lips of 2043 by World Girl Fan Audience Net. Gordy dreamed of those lips. They were full, so soft and pillow-like that the vid-mirror seemed to melt when he looked at them. They were round and heavy and always slightly parted as though the mass of the rich, trembling flesh was too much for the dainty muscles of her face.

Gordy’s heart was breaking.

“I don’t know…” she hesitated. Her glistening eyes glanced down briefly. “I was thinking, maybe we should… hook up.”

“But… we are hooked up,” he pointed out as gently as he could.

“Not really,” she replied. “Not,” she took a deep breath, “in REALITYTM.”

The vid mirror seemed to go out of focus for a moment. Gordy felt like the entire xtreme-size bathroom was spinning. He gripped the sink.

“In REALITYTM?” he repeated, stunned. “You mean, like, real REALITYTM?”

“Well, of course, silly,” she grimaced adorably at his obtuseness. “Unless you don’t want to.”

“Don’t want to?” he sputtered. It was all he wanted to do in the whole world. “Of course I want to! But, are you sure you want to?”

“Of course I want to, silly. Didn’t I just ask you?” Her smile was a like a burst of sunshine after an April hurricane.

“When?” his heart was racing. “Now?”

“No, not now, silly.” Poppy was back to her usual cheerful self, mugging for the audience. She laughed delightedly. Gordy looked at the numbers – the audience was growing quickly. The news must have hit the crawls already. He glanced at the bottom of his vid mirror. There it was:

“…Vid star Poppy and boyfriend get real, will meet in REALITYTM. . .

Vid managers were feeding the news to clients based on their previous consumer choices and potential future purchases. Getting real was something a lot of primates would want to vid. In just 30 seconds the audience had shot up to 62,224 – a new record for Poppy.

Poppy raised one delicious eyebrow and smiled wickedly. “Let’s go to the Mall.”

“Wha? What?”

Gordy actually stuttered. He didn’t like to act so uncool, especially when he was on The Poppy Show, and he couldn’t be sure her vid manager would cover for him, but he couldn’t help himself.

“The Mall?” he blurted out. “Do you think we can get in?”

Poppy laughed merrily. Gordy was so silly sometimes.

“Yes, I think I can manage it.”

“Wow, that’s awesome, Poppy.” It really was awesome. “That’s really awesome!” he repeated.

“Isn’t it?” she agreed. “It’s really awesome.”

It really was. Gordy had never been to a Mall, not a real Mall in REALITYTM. Malls were very exclusive and tremendously expensive. Even Oranges had to wait months for a reservation.

“And don’t worry about the bill,” Poppy added cheerily, as though she had read his thoughts. “We’re going as guests of Chatterjee Mall.”

The animated logo of the Chatterjee Mall appeared on more than 67 thousand vids, next to Poppy’s incandescent features.

“You know, Gordy, even if you aren’t lucky enough to visit Chatterjee Mall in REALITYTM, you can vid shop there anytime.”

“I vid shop there all the time,” Gordy added. “But I never thought I’d go there.” He didn’t have to be prompted, it was true. That was the thing about him and Poppy. They were always on the same consumer wavelength.

“Well, Goo-Goo, today is your lucky day.” A delicious pout appeared on her face. “I think you’re more excited about going to Chatterjee Mall than meeting me.”

“Aw, Poppy, don’t say that. You know I love you.”

“And I love you, Goo-Goo,” she smiled radiantly, “Well, I have to get ready. I want to look my best for my Goo-Goo. Twelve noon, Chatterjee Mall, the hottest place to shop with the coolest things to buy. You won’t forget, will you?”

“Forget? Are you kidding?”

She smiled, tolerantly. “I wasn’t talking to you, Goo-Goo.” She winked at her fans, then blew a kiss to Gordy. “See you on the vid!”

“See you on the vid!” he said to the vid mirror. Poppy’s vid manager had broken the live link but of course he could still see her as she left her bathroom, went into her bedroom and began getting dressed.

Jaime BX appeared in a corner of the vid mirror. He was beaming.

“Way to go, ape!” the vid congratulated him. “I think this calls for some extra special new threads. ”

“Yeah, sure,” Gordy’s mind was spinning as it all sank in. He was actually going to meet Poppy. Face-to-face. In REALITYTM. In real REALITYTM.

They’d been dating for a long time, almost 3 months, but just vid dating – like everyone else did. They’d never actually met. Not physically. Not really. Not in real REALITYTM. Nobody did that unless they were really serious. That’s why they called it getting real. Like, “Hey, did you see Jaime BX and Giyong Nevada getting real last night?” Now Poppy wanted to get real with him. It was like a dream come true. Not only that, if he got real with Poppy Nicole, it might be enough to push him over into Orange or at least Gold. At least he thought so. For a nanosecond he worried that it was selfish of him to think of his rating when he should be thinking about Poppy’s, but after all, if his rating went up, it would just make it easier for Poppy to be with him, so he was really thinking of the two of them, wasn’t he?

“Hey, ape, how ‘bout this?” The vid mirror displayed a vid Gordy in a new metallic steel suit. The vid Gordy gave the real Gordy a wink. “It’s made by Xian Jeans real clothes for the guy who is getting real. Only $52,899,” the vid happily informed him. “Pimptastic, right? What do you say?”

This was a problem. Gordy never had to dress for Poppy for real before. What did people do when there was no vid manager to make you look vidacious? As usual, Jaime BX seemed to read his mind.

“This suit has the latest built–in lighting to enhance your appearance in REALITYTM,” the vid explained. The vid Gordy demonstrated the subtle yet effective lighting system of the clothing. “You’ll look as good as a vid, or your money back!”

“Okay, order one,” Gordy said quickly.

“On its way.”

The vid mirror beeped.

“Gordy? Gordy?” It was Javed. Again. His boss appeared in the vid mirror, apparently seated at his desk at VidRateNet. Gordy’s vid appeared on the screen seated at his desk.

Javed shook his head. Javed’s vid manager was allowing his simulation to look truly worried. “I know you’re still at your crib. I just saw you on The Poppy Show. Gordy, what if the sampling subprogram fails to self-correct?”

This was getting annoying. Really, what was the big deal? Just because VidRateNet was using a new sampling system, that was no reason for Javed to go un-primate. It was so simple. The computers had figured out that it wasn’t necessary to sample data from everyone, everywhere, all the time. It turned out that to plan worldwide consumption and production, all they needed was data from 43 households. It was hard to believe, but that’s what they said, just 43 samples were needed, out of a population of 17.2 billion. It was supposed to be more efficient or more accurate or something. Anyway, that’s what the computers said, so there was no point arguing.

Besides, Gordy knew that Javed didn’t really care about the sampling system. He was just worried about his rating, like very other primate on the vid. And what was the point in that? No one understood the complex formulas the VidRateNet computers used. Gordy worked at VidRateNet and he didn’t understand them. And you couldn’t ask the computer programmers because the programs were written by other programs.

The rating system was specifically designed to prevent you from predicting chromo changes. It all depended on how the audience reacted. You could kill someone and your rating might go up. On the other hand, you might be rude to a stranger and your rating would fall. If the entire VidRateNet system crashed, Javed might fall so low he’d be lost in Purple. Or it might make him so famous he would jump to Red. Or he might not change at all. There was just no way to tell what would happen.

So all this fuss was over nothing. Gordy swore that he would never freak out like that no matter how Orange he got. Still, Javed was his boss, and an Orange. Gordy took a deep breath and his vid smiled reassuringly at Javed’s vid. “I told you last night. The self-correcting program has its own self-correcting program.”

“Hmm, I guess that’s okay, then.” Javed’s vid didn’t sound convinced. “Hurry up and get to work.”

“Sure, See you on the vid.”

Javed beeped out and disappeared from the screen.

Gordy pulled off his shorts and walked a few meters to the shower, which greeted him with the pleasant, professional tones of a spa receptionist.

“Good morning, Gordy,” it said. “Since we’re running late, may I suggest a quickie wash followed by a full blow-out?”

“Go ahead.”

Gordy stepped inside the transparent syntho-plastic cube and immediately jets of hot water blasted him from every side. They stung pleasantly, thanks to the Suravinda Jet Spray Personal Shower Heads ($15,699). He closed his eyes and felt the chilly trickle of the soap spray. When he opened them, Poppy was a few inches away, staring at him. Jets of water streamed through her perfect figure and her bright orange sundress.

“Gordy?” the hologram Poppy said, “I forgot something.”

“Forgot?” he burbled, coughing on a watery trickle of shampoo.

At the same time, on almost seventy thousand vids, Gordy appeared in the shower, talking to Poppy’s life-size hologram. Only on vids set to kidvid was he wearing a bathing suit. Everyone else saw him as he was, naked and soapy. He kept himself in shape for exactly these occasions. (And he knew Jaime BX would correct for any flaws in his physique.)

“I’m thinking of wearing this.” The holo-vid twirled around. The skirt of the sundress floated upwards through the spray of the shower and she tossed her short brown hair from side to side. “What do you think?”

Gordy brushed the water from his eyes. She looked ravishing.

“You look awesome.”

“It’s from Xian Jean Girls. Real clothes for the girl who is getting real. Only $78,199.” The holo-vid Poppy gave her audience an ironic wink. “You know what to do.”

Bingo was hurling himself at the shower door, barking excitedly. The holo-vid turned to wave at him.

“Hey Bingo-bango! Good doggie.”

A blast of warm air hit Gordy and he closed his eyes.

“You said you forgot something?” he yelled over the sound of the drier.

“Oh, right! I think we should have sex. Real sex.”

He opened his eyes just as the drying jets ran over his face.

“What?”

Just then, there was a beep and a holo-vid of Javed appeared in the shower next to Poppy. There wasn’t enough room for both of them, so their vid images overlapped a little.

“Gordy,” Javed pleaded. “You can’t have real sex today.”

“Javed,” Poppy said sweetly. “Don’t be such a poo-poo.”

“Hi Poppy.” Javed’s holo-vid looked Poppy’s holo-vid up and down. “You look pimptastic.”

“It’s the dress. It’s from Xian Jean Girls. You wouldn’t want it to go to waste, would you?’

The drying program stopped. Gordy stood there, naked, trying to get a word in, but the two holo-vids weren’t paying attention to him.

“Poppy, you know I’m a fan, but today is really important. I need Gordy’s mind to be on his work.”

“Oh, work!” Poppy’s beautiful mouth twisted in a grimace. “That’s so silly.  Gordy can pay attention to work and have real sex.”

“Are you sure?” Javed’s vid looked dubious. “I’ve never done it but I’ve heard it takes a lot of concentration.”

Poppy rolled her beautiful hazel eyes. “Oh, don’t believe everything you vid. Now go back to your …whatever you do, will you?”

Javed looked satisfied. “Okay, sure. Thanks, Poppy.” He said and then his holo-vid beeped out.

“Poppy…” Gordy began.

“Yes, Goo-Goo?”

Gordy’s mind was racing. Have real sex? With Poppy? This afternoon? In REALITYTM? You didn’t just spring that on a guy. It was something you prepared for. Something you planned out. You didn’t just do it!

On the other hand, if getting real with Poppy would help their relationship, then REALITYTM sex would be even better. In an instant, he made up his mind. He would do it! He’d have REALITYTMsex with Poppy!

Poppy and her 74,891 fans were waiting for him to say something.

“I…I…” he stuttered. “Where do you want to…?”

“We can get a room at the Mall. I heard the Sunflower Hello Hilton is nice. Okay, so I’ll see you at 12. Don’t be late!”

The Poppy hologram beeped out. Bingo whined pitifully and scratched at the glass. In a daze, Gordy opened the door and walked out of the shower.

“All right!” Jaime BX leered jovially from the vid mirror. “My man is gonna get his candle lit—for real! That is truly extreme!”

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Gordy mumbled. He felt a little nauseous.

He and Poppy had sex all the time – vid sex, like everyone else. Sometimes they had vid sex two or three times in one day. In fact, they’d had vid sex just last night. The audience was off a little, barely 39 thousand, but it was good vid sex. Wistfully, Gordy remembered the very first time he and Poppy had had vid sex, back on their first vid date. That was the night they fell in love.

Jaime BX interrupted his reverie. “Hey, pal, you don’t look so good. Worried about the big REALITYTM hook-up? No problemo, compadre. Just order some Piyang Excello. Piyang Excello gets you going when you need a lift. With Piyang Excello, you never have to worry. It will make you happy and it’ll make the person you’re with happy. Piyang Excello makes everybody happy. If you know what I mean.”

The vid smirked suggestively the way the real Jaime BX did in his xtreme comedy hit, Get Up, Ape!

“So, should I order some?” the vid asked. “I can have it delivered to your office.”

“Oh, Gordy,” it was the toilet. “If we’re ordering, don’t forget the Lax-O-Licious! It’s just the thing when you’re feeling …”

“Not now!” Gordy barked angrily. “Not now!”

There was a moment of complete silence in the bathroom. Even Bingo sat down and stopped whining. Gordy took a deep breath.

“Well,” the toilet sniffed. “I was just trying to be helpful.”

“Sorry,” Gordy apologized. “I’m a little tense right now.”

“Hey, ape, that’s cool.” Jaime BX completely understood while at the same time he let Gordy know he had acted like a complete verd for yelling at his appliances. “You just stay loose and I’ll catch you later.”

“Good luck, Gordy,” boomed the sink.

“And have a nice day,” added the toilet.

”You, too,” Gordy replied, still chagrined.

He went through the portal into the bedroom, with Bingo scampering after him. The orange Living Shag shag carpet gripped his toes. The large vid window showed a clear blue sky over the towers of Suravinda Paterson, New Jersey.

“Hello, Gordy,” the bed greeted him with the plummy tones of an English butler. It was an emperor size auto-bed with two vids, one on the ceiling and one on the footboard. “Are we going to work today or will you be getting back in for a nap?”

“Work,” Gordy grumbled. It just couldn’t be avoided.

“Very good,” the bed replied. “Then I’ll make myself.”

In the delivery box were the clothes he’d ordered so far that morning: the shirt, the pants, the suit and the new Li Liu 5000 Basketball 3000 sneakers he’d ordered when he woke up. He picked up the suit and slipped it on. The syntho-microfiber was soft and supple, in spite of it metallic sheen. It fit perfectly, of course. So did the sneakers, which automatically changed color to match the suit. Gordy never played basketball in REALITYTM (who did?) but he did sometimes play vid basketball and his vid was going to look really frosty in these shoes.

He looked at himself in the bedroom vid mirror. The vid Gordy in the mirror looked at himself in a vid mirror in the vid. The second vid Gordy in the second vid mirror looked down at his new metallic steel suit and smiled approvingly. He gave the first vid Gordy a solid thumbs up. Then the first vid Gordy turned and looked out at Gordy.

“Good to go, ape!” said vid Gordy.

Still feeling queasy with nerves, Gordy strode out of the bedroom, through the vid room to the portal of the crib. He paused for a moment at the portal to the tiny menu room, which was just big enough for a menu vid and a food delivery box.

“Good morning, Gordy,” the vid menu said in the polished tones of Vikram Wor Shui, action vid star and celebrity chef “Shall I order you breakfast?” The Vikram Wor Shui vid was dressed in a white chef’s coat.

“No time,” Gordy replied, “I’ll order from the pod.”

The vid nodded. “Very good. And for the dog?”

Bingo sat on the shag orange carpet and looked at Gordy expectantly.

“Oh, whatever he wants,” Gordy responded, absently. “I mean, whatever you think is best.”

“They say that Khazak Chow gives dogs that healthy, glossy coat that all top dogs have.”

Bingo recognized the words Khazak Chow because the menu vid had been ordering it all week. He looked at Gordy and whined pitifully. Gordy was too absorbed to notice.

“Okay, sounds good,” Gordy told the menu. Bingo’s ears drooped and he put his head down on the rug. Gordy looked at the scruffy dog.

“Well, Bingo, wish me luck. I’m going to see Poppy. In REALITYTM!”

Bingo’s ears perked up at the sound of his mistresses’ name, but then he caught the whiff of Khazak Chow being delivered to the menu room. He just whimpered and put his head on his paws.

Gordy opened the entrance portal.

“Have a nice day, sir,” said the menu vid.

“Go get ‘em buddy!” cheered Jaime BX from the vid mirror in the hall. With tongue-in-cheek seriousness, the vid intoned. “And don’t forget to get real.

That’s the end of Chapter One. Get the complete novel.