Marisa Bercovich was exploring the virtual reality campus and searching for webcam feeds from her dormitory. She had been instrumental in having the dorm council adopt a rule against the residents linking their webcams into the virtual reality system. While Marisa was particularly outraged by the idea of dorm residents undressing in front of their cameras, what had convinced the council was the security issue. They knew that it did not make sense for the young women of the dorm to publicly reveal their comings and goings by having cameras recording when they were and were not in their rooms. For the same reason, the council had also refused to grant permission for the security camera feeds for the dorm to be linked into the virtual reality campus.
But a rule was useless if there was no enforcement. In the past six months she had caught five residents linking their webcam feeds into the virtual reality campus system. Five former residents. Marisa had nothing against people having the freedom to do as they pleased, even if it involved letting a whole world of strange men look into their private lives. It was just that this was a restricted dorm and the parents of these students did not want their daughters experimenting with every silly fad that came along, be it streaking to the corner bus stop or turning their dorm rooms into an electronic peep show. Marisa brought up the last of the new crop of webcam feeds. This one showed a view of a bedspread that had a hand written note on it, “See you tonight. xoxoxo”
Marisa shook her head. Really, what motivated girls to do such things? She had a hard time thinking of them as women. There was no way for Marisa to know the origin of this video feed. It was only labeled as “Delilah’s Diary” in the virtual reality campus’ directory and it had yet to be given any physical referents linking it spatially to other parts of the virtual reality. She asked the virtual reality software to play back any archived images from “Delilah’s Diary”. As the chronometer counted back at high speed, suddenly the bed became unmade and then the stored images showed a young woman sleeping peacefully under the covers, nearly invisible in the darkness. Well, this one did not seem bad. For all Marisa knew, it may have even been a case of a camera bought by a nervous parent who wanted to keep watch over a daughter away at school.
But no, why focus it so as to only show the bed? The video archive reached the point where the woman had gotten into bed. Marisa set the video feed to play forward at regular speed. The young woman got onto the bed wearing perfectly ordinary pair of pajamas and she proceeded to write in her diary, narrating what she wrote and providing explanatory footnotes for the camera. It was mostly trivial gossip from her day, but she missed no opportunity to provide snide commentary on various professors and classmates. Marisa froze the video on an image during which “Delilah” looked up into the camera. “Delilah” wore large sun glasses and she had some kind of white face cream painted on. She wanted no easy recognition to be possible. She closed her diary and said, “Oh, one more thing. This is a personal note to Mary B. I just want to thank you for getting me tossed out of the Nunnery. Keep up the good work. There are many poor souls in need of your power to set them free.”
Marisa chuckled. She could now recognize the voice and features of Rebecca Benson, who had indeed been the most recent of the five students removed from the restricted dorm (the so-called “Nunnery”) for putting a webcam feed on the campus network. Marisa crossed the new feed off of her list. She figured that Rebecca was right. Some students could not stand to be cooped up in the “Nunnery”, but others thrived in its protected environment. Parents certainly should not force their daughters into a restricted dorm against their will.
Marisa shut off her computer and opened her calculus textbook.
The phone rang and Marisa picked up the hand set and said, “Hello.”
Security Officer Compton said, “Mary, this is Officer Compton. I got your message.”
Marisa said, “Thanks for calling back.” Mary tried to collect her thoughts concerning that matter she wanted to discuss with Officer Compton. She was a bit at a loss to know where to begin.
Officer Compton said, “What do you want to talk about, the message I got said nothing.”
Marisa explained, “I left no message. I hardly know what to say. Let me start with last week. We got a new girl in my suite. She blew in last Tuesday, or maybe it was Wednesday. Anyhow, she has not been around much. I didn’t see her all weekend. Then she was back yesterday.”
Officer Compton could guess who Mary was talking about. She said, “I assume this is Ms. Gregores you are talking about.”
Marisa was surprised that Officer Compton had Dexamene’s name on the tip of her tongue. “Yes, that’s right. How did you know?”
“She’s a new student and I know she went into your dorm. There are not many new students this time during the semester.”
“Yes, that is odd. But wait until you hear what happened. When I got back from class yesterday, just about this time, there was a woman who came into the suite and went to the door of Dexamene’s room. I said hello and she said hello and she knocked on the door. I asked if I could help and she said, 'apparently not', since Dexamene did not seem to be in. I offered to get her a piece of paper so she could leave Dexamene a note. She declined the offer and left, rather abruptly.”
Officer Compton asked, “Is that all?”
“Not quite. I went into my room and immediately called the front desk. I asked who the stranger was who had checked through security and come up to visit Dexamene. Well, no strangers had gone through security that morning at all. I told them to keep their eyes open, because a strange woman was on her way down. I went to the elevator and went down to the front desk. They said nobody had preceded me down except known residents. We did a quick sweep of the building and could not find the woman. Then I looked at the recorded video of the two cameras that watch the main lobby. I saw nobody but residents coming and going the whole morning.”
Officer Compton suggested, “Maybe it was one of your dorm residents but you just failed to recognize her when she was in your suite.”
“No. I know everyone. I’d never seen this woman before in my life. And she was not that hard to remember.”
“What do you mean?”
“She is distinctive looking. Not the type that just blends in.”
Officer Compton said, “People can change their appearance. When my husband shaved off his beard I almost couldn’t recognize him.”
“Well, be that as it may, I tried to put the incident in the back of my mind. I was telling myself the same thing you are telling me now, that I must just not have recognized one of the residents. Then it happened again today. I was going out to class and I saw her on the street. She went past me and right into the dorm. I turned around and followed her in. I could not have been more than 20 seconds behind her. I went right to the front security desk and asked who the woman was that had just come in. The girl at the desk denied that anyone unknown had checked in. She had been studying and hardly noticing the comings and goings of the residents. She named the last resident she could remember having entered, it was Kate Ferringer on the third floor, and I told her to call Kate’s room and see if she was there. On a hunch, I came up here to my suite and knocked on the door to Dexamene’s room. There was no answer but I swear I could hear someone in there. I went to my room and called the front desk. The attendant said that there was no answer from Kate’s room. I asked the front desk attendant to radio the cluster security guard and ask the guard to come up to my suite. I stuck my head back out into the hallway just in time to see a shadow moving at the end of the hall and I heard the main door of the suite close. I went down in the elevator and met the security guard coming into the building.”
Officer Compton said, “That would have been Officer Duncan.”
“Yes. I told her what had happened and we did another sweep of the building and found nothing. Officer Duncan refused to unlock Dexamene’s room, even though I am sure someone was in there.”
Officer Compton said, “We can’t open a student’s room just because you think you heard something.”
Marisa said, “You’ve known me a long time. Have I ever misled you?”
Officer Compton said, “I have to follow procedures and nobody gets special consideration. For all I know, assuming that you actually heard someone in Dexamene’s room, you could be talking about Dexamene’s mother or someone else who Dexamene gave her key to.”
“So you are going to blow me off just like Duncan did?”
“If you want, you can come into the office and we’ll put together a coherent description of the woman you saw. I could also put an extra guard on your dorm, but your dorm fund will have to pay the overtime costs.”
Marisa said, “I’d raise the issue at our next council meeting, but I fear that if something bad is going to happen it will be too late by then.” She gave Officer Compton a description of the woman over the phone. “The most distinctive thing about her was her neck. Have you ever seen the neck of a weight lifter? Thick, with muscles? That’s what her neck looked like and I could see her jaw muscles rippling.”
Officer Compton asked, “Are you suggesting it was a man dressed like a woman?”
Marisa replied, “No. It was a woman, but she’s strong. Maybe she is a body builder or something. But she was actually quite pretty and had a perfectly feminine voice.”
Officer Compton suggested, “If you are serious about this, you could go down to the gym and hang out for a while. There are some women body builders who work out down there. You might spot your mystery woman.”
Marisa said, “That’s a good idea, except I’d swear she was not a student.”
“Why do you say that? Too old?”
“No. We have students of all ages on campus. I think it was the way she dressed. And also the way she talked. She had a confidence, a maturity that is rare, very rare in students. She knew just what she was doing and, well, I like to think I can intimidate most people. I didn’t intimidate her in the least.”
Marisa ended the call and sighed. “Well, I’ve done what I can.” She decided that the only other thing she could do was mention to Dexamene that she had seen the woman.
But it was not until the next day that she saw Dexamene. Marisa was studying out in the common room of the suite, hoping to see Dexamene come in. Dexamene finally did return to the suite and Marisa said, “Hi.”
Dexamene sat down across from Marisa and said, “Hello. Cathy told me that your name is actually Marisa, not Mary.”
Marisa nodded. “It started with my little brother. Since then, I’ve always been called Mary.”
Dexamene said, “Cathy also told me that I’ve been over-board with my nudity. I really do not take any pleasure in offending you, it’s just the way I was raised.”
Marisa tried to decide if Dexamene was being honest. She suspected that Dexamene had absolutely no respect for the special purpose served by restricted dorms and that was the usual formula for disaster and, ultimately, removal of such students from this dorm. “I’d like to meet your mother. In fact, the other day I thought maybe I had seen her.”
“Impossible. She’s dead.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. But there was this strange woman knocking at your door. Her appearance reminded me of you.”
Dexamene seemed surprised. “She looked like me?”
“Not really. It’s just that she was strong like you. You have muscles on your body that do not usually stand out on a woman. The woman I saw was like that. I’ve been thinking about it. I remembered hearing about a boy who was born with huge muscles.”
Dexamene nodded. “I have good genes. I do not need to exercise as much as most people to keep up my muscle mass.”
Marisa suggested, “Maybe it was your sister.”
“Impossible. You say this woman was knocking on my door yesterday?”
“No. That was Monday. But she was here again yesterday. She was in your room.”
Dexamene jumped up and went to her room. Marisa stood in the doorway looking in. Nothing seemed to have been touched. Dexamene said, “Now you have me worried. Are you sure there is no mistake?”
Marisa described what had happened. Dexamene was the first person who seemed to believe Marisa’s story. “Do you have any idea who she was? I take it you did not give anyone your key.”
“No, I did not give anyone permission to be in my room. I’m worried that I may have been followed here.”
“I was a witness in a trial in New Zealand. I’m in a witness protection plan. There is a chance that I was followed here.”
Marisa said, “We should call the police.”
Dexamene said, “You’re probably right. The alternative is that I could just leave.”
“But we do not know. Maybe we are over reacting. Maybe there is a perfectly innocent explanation.”
“Yes. Maybe. Doesn’t the desk downstairs track visitors? Sign them in? We should check.”
Marisa described how she had already checked both the desk sign-in roster and the lobby security video. She didn’t mention that campus security had been told.
Dexamene suggested, “I’m reluctant to involve the police since there seems to be no physical evidence of there having been a crime. We could at least contact campus security. I met an Officer Compton from campus security, she seems to take her work seriously. I could talk to her.”
Marisa nodded. “Compton does good work. I already spoke to her about this mystery woman.”
"Good." Marisa watched Dexamene going through her belongings, apparently looking to see if anything was missing. "Did Compton have any suggestions?"
Marisa replied, "She offered to have a sketch done, but I have a crummy visual memory. I can’t remember much about the woman beyond her muscles. She reminded me of you, but the muscles I could see on her were larger than yours. As strong as you are, she was in a class even beyond you.”
Dexamene looked worried. “The criminals I testified against hire some pretty tough people to do their dirty work. If she comes back, I suggest you keep your distance and call security.”
Marisa was deeply troubled by what Dexamene had said. She excused herself and went to her room in order to call campus security.
“Can I speak to Officer Compton? Marisa Bercovich. I’ll hold.” Marisa waited for Compton to come on the line and thought she heard Dexamene leaving. She called out, “Dexamene, is that you?” There was no reply. She set down the phone and went to look in the hall, but saw nothing. When she got back to the phone Compton was on the line. “Sorry, I think she just left.”
Officer Compton asked, “You saw that woman again?”
“No. Dexamene came back, but I think she just left again. She told me that she is in some witness protection program and she seemed worried that the mystery woman might be after her.”
“Dexamene knew this mystery woman?”
“No, she did not say that.”
“Damn. If you see Dexamene again, tell her to call me. If you see the mystery woman again, call me.”
“Of course. Now I’m worried for Dexamene. Is there nothing we can do?”
“Are you sure you cannot give a better description of this mystery woman?”
“I’m sorry. I was so startled by her body and her muscles that I barely noticed her face. She was not dressed like a student. She was dressed more formal than a typical student, I remembered thinking her suit was almost like a uniform.”
Officer Compton suggested, “Maybe your description would be meaningful to the people in New Zealand. Dexamene gave me the number of her case officer. I called and spoke to her witness liaison officer and got confirmation that Dexamene is in the New Zealand witness protection program. Here, copy this down.” Marisa copied down the number. “It’s the toll free number that witnesses use. Call and, uh, hold on.” Marisa waited about two minutes. “I found it. Here is the name: Alfred Lincoln. Give him a description of the woman and see if it rings any bells with him.”
Officer Compton abruptly ended the conversation. Marisa hung up her phone then went and knocked on the door to Dexamene’s room. There was no answer. She went back to her room and called the front desk. “This is Mary. Did the new girl, Dexamene just leave? Okay. Thanks.”
Marisa entered in the rather long set of numbers for the call to New Zealand. A male voice said, “Police Witness Protection unit. Agent Lincoln speaking. Can I help you?”
Marisa replied, “Yes, I’m calling about Dexamene Gregores.”
Agent Lincoln asked, “Who are you?”
“I’m sorry. My same is Marisa Bercovich. Officer Compton asked me to give you some information.”
“I see. What is your information?”
“Well, I just spoke to Dexamene and told her about this woman who has been trying to find her. Dexamene seemed worried that the woman might have followed her here from New Zealand. Dexamene just left here in a hurry.”
Alfred Lincoln said, “I’m lost. You said there was a woman?”
Marisa described the woman as best she could, then asked, “Does that description mean anything to you? Officer Compton thought you might know who this woman is.”
Agent Lincoln said, “Thanks for the information. Is there anything else you can tell me?”
“No, not really. That’s all I know. I’m worried about Dexamene. Is she in danger? Should I call the police?”
Agent Lincoln replied, “If you think a crime has been committed or will be committed, contact your local police. Thank you for calling.”
Marisa hung up her phone and wondered what was going on. She was tempted to call the police, but decided she had done as much as she should do. It was up to Officer Compton, Agent Lincoln and Dexamene herself to decide what they wanted to do. She suspected she would never see Dexamene again.
Continue to Chapter 5 - Jenny, master of the virtual campus Here is a map of the chapters:
_> Mary –––––––––––––––––––––> Lincoln / \ / \__> Amelia PAlbert ––––––––––––––––––––> Andresklo / \ \---->Ferace ------> Yasas / \ __----------> Cathy / / \ / \ / / \ / \__________>Tess CC –––> Charlie ––-----–> Stefi \ \ ----------------> Lani \ / \ \ _______---> Jenny –––> Thomas \______> Dexamene
Sunday ----> time flow --> one week in the Fall --> ---------> Saturday
Useful pages for the reader: List of characters and the Glossary. Readers can discuss the story at Talk:Cellular Civilization.
If you want to help write the story, see the meta page (warning: spoilers!).