The Ghost of Alma Matterson
Chapter 10: Personalization

Peter watched as the doctors poked and prodded at their young patient. A dental assistant removed the red wax caps from around Alma's teeth, exposing, for the very first time, his bright pearly whites. A nurse poked at the ribs. They added and removed tubes and wires. They worked in an efficient professional manner. An orderly created a small crisis when he removed a catheter too soon. Fortunately, a proctologist was on duty and reworked the contraption. In the next several days, Alma would learn some very embarrassing things about this new body of his.

Peter played with the Kwality Time unit as he sat humbly in the corner. He was up next. The live version of Kwality Time software was a little more awkward than the simulation, and took a fair amount of effort to learn. He slowly got to the point where most conversations came out blue. His highest score was 87.9%. The software had this nasty habit of wanting to turn every conversation into a morality play. Peter learned quickly that, even when a conversation was in the red, he could get a blue score if he let the computer twist the story into a moral.

He took off the goggles for a quick break. Peter simply stared in the direction of his son. How will Alma react? Will I just be a disappointment? His simulated father was a successful businessman. I'm just a... 

The doctors were finished, a nurse shook his shoulders. "You're on stage."

Peter stumbled from his stool, and tottered on his way toward the bed. He almost began speaking without reinstalling the computer! He quickly tried to put on the goggles and microphone. He got the wires crossed. The thought of winging the conversation on his own was paralyzing. His mind swirled around the mistakes he made during the simulations.

The attentive nurse saw his plight. Switched the wires, then led the him to the bedside. "Here, you need to turn this switch to play in live mode. Oh, you should join the rewards program. Here, I'll do it for you." She made one minor adjustment, and the conversation was off.


Despite being crooked, the Kwality Time system hummed in measured control. "Alma, it's great to see you," the synthesize voice began. "I know this is a hard time, but we are all pulling for you."

Peter felt awkward. The goggles were on the outside of his ear, the microphone pushed against his lips. He missed the first line, but the light showed blue (51.3%)--a good start. There was a new metric flashing on the screen. "You have 5 kwalityPoints."  This Kwality Time program rules! Just lay back and let it take charge.

Alma turned his attention to the man wearing the crooked virtual lenses. This joker was too far out his element to be anything but a parent. A deep memory from the previous day shuttered in the back of his brain. He didn't want to face an obvious truth just yet. He decided to play along.

"A lot of things are changing." the computer cooed. "and we only wish you the best."

"Where am I?" Alma said, biting his tongue--talking with teeth was a new and strange thing. His speech was choppy, but legible.

"You are in the MegaCore medical towers in downtown Cincinnati. You've had an accident, but are in the best medical hands in the United States."

"Tad, Martin, Mary?" The words shot involuntarily from Alma's mouth, as his mind started to replay the tragedy.

"Your friends all made it home okay......" 

The control panel indicated that they were at a conversation conjunction. An in depth conversation about friends had a 15 plus ratio for knowledge and concern for Alma's friends, but had a strong exposure to fear, which at this point in the conversation could lead to a negative score. Peter clicked the <<change subject>> button. "....but our main concern right now is you." 

You have 87 kwalityPoints! Peter had successfully steered the conversation. The system showed a plus score of 67%. He started to feel more in control. The computer asked questions about health. 

Alma and the Kwality Time computer had an interesting conversation about his experiences on his first day. The computer knew more than Peter could even hope to understand. The computer showed fatherly concern for each of Alma's pressing needs. It had a complete databank of all the things the nurses had done. The conversation meter was in a firm blue region. The conversation ranged from 62.5% to 83.9%. Alma loved his new teeth and showed off his chomping abilities. You have 312 kwalityPoints! Peter felt even more at ease, and smiled.

Alma listened to the firm, yet gentle voice of the computer. It reminded him of so many talks with dad. But who was this awkward man with the stupid grin and a box on his head? The voice was coming from the box? It was time for Alma to steer.

You have 317 kwalityPoints!

"I'm dead, aren't I?" 

The quality meter dropped 8 percentage points, the popup screen indicated a conversation juncture. Peter tried to hit , but Alma persisted.

"I'm dead! Tell me the truth! I'm dead! Is this heaven or hell?"

The alert box warned adamantly against changing the subject. Ignoring the child's repeated questions would harm his self-esteem. Peter wanted to hear the answer less than Alma, but pressed <<continue>>.

"You killed me when I was swimming? That snake wasn't natural."

The quality meter had dropped to 47%. The conversation had gone red. The Kwality Time logo began blinking.

The computer had a complete record of Alma's final days. Most important, it noted that there was a moral to the story. "Why were you swimming. Didn't you have Sunday School that day?"

"Sunday School is optional."

"Come now Alma, Is Sunday School optional? What is optional about learning about your savior?"

"I went to church, and the first class. Reverend Thomas said the second class was optional. We get to play on Sunday!"

"And what did you do when you went to play on Sunday?"

"We went swimming. I found a swimming hole and we went swimming."

Peter knew nothing of Alma's final hours. The computer continued in its line of questioning: "...and did you just go swimming."

"Yeah, we just went swimming. It was me Tad and Martin--just swimming, diving, playing fort."

"Be honest Alma," the machine retorted firmly, "did you ever played like this in the past?"

"I've played with my friends a thousand times before..."

"Where were your clothes? Were you wearing your swim trunks when you swam?"

"We were just don't need trunks to swim."

"What did you learn in church that morning?"

"It was the story of Sodom and Gomorrah."

"What happened in the story? Did the people of Sodom and Gomorrah run around with no clothes?"

Alma nodded, flushing red with anger. 

The computer awarded itself with a hundred more kwalityPoints. The meter sat firmly in blue. Peter felt nauseous. The synthetic questions continued.

"Were the Sodomites good or bad people?"

"They were bad people."

"...and what happened to them?"

"They all turned to salt and died."

"Is skipping Sunday School and running around naked a good thing?"

"No, it is a bad thing."

500 Point Score! The computer had successfully delivered a morality lesson. You have 917 kwalityPoints!

"So, I died because I read Mark Twain, and went skinny-dipping with my friends?"

"You died because you knowingly did wrong. You found stuff that you shouldn't know about and did things you shouldn't do."

Peter knew nothing of this story, but felt like the helpless child on the losing end of a lecture.

Alma stared with angrily at the man with the box on his head. "You bastard. Who are you? Are you my father? Where is Char? Charlene, my sister, is she okay? Where is Rick? Where is my mom? I want to see my mother, RIGHT NOW!"

The conversation dove to 37%. "Your mother, Esperante, died when you were a baby. It was a tragic loss. We wanted so much for you to have a happy home with a loving mother..."

Alma watched as Peter involuntarily twisted at the small friendship bracelet on his wrist with the word "Esperante." Who was this man behind the curtains?

"Charlene and Rick are both safely back in their home..." The computer droned. It had successfully delivered news of Esperante's death--a two hundred point event, if ever I had seen one before.

You have 1117 kwalityPoints. Did you know that you can use your kwalityPoints for many exciting shopping opportunities on the Internet? Would you like to learn more?

"My brother and sister don't exist, do they?" Alma challenged--refusing himself to accept the meaning of his words.

Peter clicked <<yes>>. The MegaCore banner ad personalization software kicked in. 

"Alma, you are loved by many people. Now is a trying time..." the Kwality Time software diverted.

In a separate window, the shopping personalization software formed a strategy for selling to this new customer with 1117 delicious kwalityPoints. It had very little info on Peter Matterson in its databank, but the last hit came from the kwalityTime domain. This new customer might be interested in learning more about the kwalityTime software. It displayed an excerpt from the book Spending Kwality Time with Your Children by Hardin Thomas, Marketing Director for Kwality Time Parental Enhancement Systems. 

"Tell me about mom?" Alma countered.

Peter felt lost. He should have read this book on using the program, and clicked on the ad.

"Your mom is the Research Director a the community Hospital, she has a doctorate..."

"I want to know about my REAL MOM!"

Peter didn't want to buy the stupid book. He had to tell Alma about Esperante. He closed the screen. Unfortunately, the bookseller had an affiliate agreement with the RapidFireOnline casino. The onExit() event launched a new screen.

"Your real mom is dead. She did bad things. She took drugs and died." Morality lesson number two. Score!

You have 1674 kwalityPoints.

Was his mom really dead, or was this some sick morality play like his own death? Alma saw the friendship band snap in his father's frustrated hands.

The personalization software desperately wanted to sell Peter a coffee maker, and knew of a long distance plan that beat his current plan, whatever that was. 

The Kwality Time window told Alma that the world can't always be the way we want it.

Alma tried to retake control. "Did you kill mom, like you killed me?"

"We did not kill you..."

"So having a snake bite someone and making them drown is not murder?"

The program switched into risk management mode, and displayed the signed contract committing Alma to the state. A dried legal voice began to cite legal precedence's on deaths in virtual reality.

"Citing section two paragraph one of the Ohio liability code..."

"Did my friends have to watch me die? My friends had to see me writhe in pain."

The computer spoke in two voices at the same time. The legal definitions of death and murder droned through the speakers. Another voice spoke about how the episode was a learning experience. "do you think it is good for children to run around in the buff?"

Peter was completely lost, he tried to [Alt-tab] through the screens, but was stuck on a particularly nasty offer for a new credit card.

"So what if they were naked? It was fun getting out of those stupid clothes. I liked seeing my friends nude."

The software stuttered. The computer had assigned an 92% chance of Alma being heterosexual; however, if he enjoyed seeing other boys...

Why is this machine so hung up on the human body? Alma planned to move the conversation into a debate about censuring Mark Twain, but this body thing seemed to have the most effect.

"I always wanted to see Tad in the buff? I wanted to see if his thingy was the same as mine."

The computer bit the hook, and jumped into self-esteem building mode. It couldn't let Alma feel worthless, just because he was different. "Some people like blue, some people prefer green..."

Is my son gay? Peter hated the homosexuals at the prison. They had been the most direct threat in his life. The gays he knew personally were okay, but there had been some bad things happening in the prison. There had been more than one murder...and the rumors... HE HAD TO CHANGE THE SUBJECT!

Meanwhile, the personalization software analyzed the script from the conversation, and devised a plan to grab those kwalityPoints.  The screen displayed a personal ad for a discreet bi-curious encounter. The ad carried a very revealing photo of an overweight bald Russian man.

The Kwality Time program explained to Alma that some people liked peanut butter sandwiches and others liked grilled cheese.

Peter slammed against the menu. The software realized its mistake, and offered an ad for a thirty-two-year-old divorced white female with two children in the Kwality Time childcare program. 

"What do you want?" Peter yelled.

"I want to talk to you without that stupid thing on your head." Alma screamed in return.

Peter had collapsed on Alma's bed. The computer showed the conversation at an all time low of 13.1%. Alma reached down and pulled off the goggles. "So, what's in this thing anyway?"

Alma looked into the goggles. About a hundred popup screens filled his vision. One screen wanted him to know about their latest findings on foot fungus. Another wanted him to buy a machine to work his abs.

Alma tried closing a window. Three more popped up in its place. One wanted him to open an IRA, another invited him to an adult-chat with teens. No wonder adults make no sense.

Each of the windows seemed intent on getting hold of the 1800 kwalityPoints in his account. Alma thought for a moment. Clicked a few windows. Entered an address and submit. He then pressed [Ctrl-Alt-Del], highlighted Internet Explorer, and hit the [End Task] button.

Alma held the goggles in his hand. "Can we talk without this thing."

Peter gazed at his son with pleading eyes. "I...I...I can't."

Alma examined the goggles for a moment longer. He handed them back to his father. "Okay now, tell me a story of your childhood. Tell me a real story."

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