The Ghost of Alma Matterson
Chapter 8: Kwality Time

The time you spend together should be Kwality Time.

I am sure you've seen the ads. They have some of the best on the net. My favorite, of course, is the one they ran two years ago during the Super Bowl. A boy struts down his parent's stairs. "I am going to a sleep over at Cindy's. Hey, we ought to have that talk about the birds and the bees sometime." The camera zooms in on the father's the face. It is the classic dead pan  befuddled father's face. It is hilarious. The caption reads: "PERHAPS IT'S NOT TOO LATE FOR A LITTLE KWALITY TIME!"

Of course, the ad that brings in the most clicks is the classic failing daughter drama: "Jennifer got another C minus in math. She's so bright ..." the tired mother laments as she stares in defeat at her PDA. The next shot pans into the classroom. Jennifer sits timidly in the back row. The front seats are all filled with the A and B students—wearing their Kwality Time computers.

Kwality Time is a fully owned subsidiary of the Fortune 500 Information Systems conglomerate MegaCore. Although the Kwality Time division represents only 12% of MegaCore's $8.2 billion Q4 revenues, it is the company's fastest growing division, and most widely known brand.

Kwality Time is the leading contender in the growing parental enhancement market. Their lead product, Kwality Time KnowledgePro, integrates nurturing, disciplinary and knowledge enhancement modules. In Q4 2032, KnowledgePro captured a full 65% of market—dwarfing the Microsoft's childhood eXplorer and Oracle's happyYouth cartridge. Despite the success of the distributed childhood enhancement programs, the majority of the division's income came through government research contracts in the area of Emersive Childhood Simulation ECS.

ECS removes the unpredictable parental component from childhood simulations. ECS immerses the child in a completely self-contained nurturing environment. By removing the parent, they reduce unwanted variances, improve quality control, and produce a much more uniform product. Analyst predict that ECS will turn into a $2 trillion dollar market by 2075. 

The 2060 census showed that the most densely populated region of the United States was no longer the downtown sections of Manhattan or San Francisco. The most densely populated section of the US was the twelve windowless Kwality Time towers in Lovelock, Nevada. These towers housed a full 15% of the children born in California between 2035 and the census date of 2060. 

This mass demographic switch led to several lawsuits as to whether or not the children should count in the state where their body's were housed, or in the state they thought they lived.  

The time you spend together should be Kwality Time. For investment information, please contact...

 

Peter Matterson would soon be sporting the beige patented Kwality Time visors and headphones. His son was in serious trouble. Just yesterday he learned that they pulled Alma from the mainframe–a good five years before his schedule release. Something was dreadfully wrong.

The prison bus slowed as they passed the forgotten weed covered parks of the suburbs, and into the central warehouse district. From the window, Peter saw a mother walking with her son along the sidewalk. Both wore the Kwality Time gear on their heads. He wished he could tap into their conversation, or see their faces. Was it working? How do I save my son?

From this angle, the woman seemed distraught, hidden behind her head gear. He imagined her rushing from the office during her lunch break. She ruffled her hair as she put on the machine and booted. She had so little time with junior. She had to tell him that, yet again, she would have to miss his baseball game. There is so much work to do; so little time for the family. Could the computer make up for this one misstep?

Peter looked at the mother and son team as they receded from his vision. His son was in need of a father, but he was totally unprepared and completely unqualified for the task. Peter had only five days of freedom in his life. What could he tell his son? Although he wouldn't trade a minute of the time he had with Esperante. He knew quite well that he had one shot at a happy life. He aimed and missed.

Alma had scraped the bottom of the barrel for his parents. Esperante was dead. Peter was a lifer at the state penitentiary. The prison bus approached the gates of the Kwality Time research facility.

 

The Kwality Time guards were ill at ease with the with black banded lifer exiting the bus. A quick survey of the Kwality Time security would convince most hardened criminals that this would not be an easy place to enter or exit without express permission.

Hardin Thomas approached the prisoner with an air of complete dignified confidence. He had analyzed Peter's psychological profile in depth. The security precautions weren't needed. The man before him would do no harm, unless he made the ill-advised mistake of threatening his son. The psychological profile included an in depth description of the injuries Peter inflicted on DJ Sloop.

"Mr. Matterson, it is a pleasure to meet you. Alma is a most remarkable young man."

Peter returned the firm handshake with sweaty palms and a nod.

"I felt terrible when I read of Esperante's misfortune. She was your fiancÚ?"

The loss that appeared in Peter's eyes confirmed Hardin's suspicions about the depths of the man's feelings.

"Alma is one of our most remarkable students. He skipped two grades, and is still the top of his class. You should be quite proud."

Peter shuffled his feet. He had never met his son.

"Unfortunately, we don't know exactly how it happened, but, somehow, Alma found a way to break to the debugger."

His son was in trouble...

"It's been necessary to remove him prematurely."

"And, what can I do?" Peter spoke for the first time.

"Well," Hardin put it mildly, "removal can be somewhat traumatic. Alma is extremely perceptive, and we didn't have time for the standard prep work. Your son is about to learn a few things that will require some major mental adjustments. He will be in serious need of a friend."

Peter felt his knees knocking, and found himself steadying himself against the wall. He was about to meet his son, and his son needed him.

 

Hardin's mind drifted to the bungled removals of the past. Somewhat traumatic was a little bit of an understatement. With no prep, Alma would learn in the next hours that his virtual sister Char, his virtual brother Rick, his virtual mom Esperante, his virtual school, and virtual friends were all illusions.

Placing a hundred thousand kids in a computer was the easy part. Getting them back out was never fully addressed. Forgetting to design the off switch was a common mistake in computer programming.

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