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Brad sat at the desk in his study with his face in his hands, trying to hold back the tears. There was a heavy weight on his chest. He could feel his heart laboring and he found it difficult to swallow around the knot in his throat. Brad almost wished that his heart would stop; the pain was too much to bear. He knew that committing suicide was the coward's way out. His cherished son, Carl, might have understood, but would surely have much preferred he kept on.
Brad could hear his wife, Emily, in the living room, sobbing. Jared, his younger son, was in his room doing God knows what. Jared spent too much time playing with his computer games and watching TV and movies, in Brad's opinion.
They had buried Carl three months earlier, in May. Carl was twenty years old when he died. He had suffered through a three-year battle with osteosarcoma, bone cancer. During those three years, he and Emily had spent many days and nights at the hospital with Carl. They came to know and become friendly with many of the doctors and nurses and other support staff at the hospital. Many times they had to stay for three, four or more days at a stretch depending upon Carl's reaction to the toxic chemicals they pumped through his poor body.
Brad spent a lot of time at the hospital, often coming straight from work. Carl often had to stay at the hospital overnight for his chemo treatments and most of the time Brad would stay with him. Emily would stay at home with Jared. When Brad stayed overnight, the nurse would provide a cot that would fit into the corner of the room farthest from the door. He propped himself up with pillows so that he would face the door to the room. It occurred to Brad that he could bring his office laptop with him so he could do some work.
During these periods in the hospital, Brad was usually unable to sleep at night. He would stare out the window of the hospital looking at the river, watching the cars drive by on the highway below or his preferred activity, watching his son sleep. He would listen to the incessant beeping of the monitors, checking that Carl's blood oxygenation and blood pressure were good. All too frequently, the sensor on his finger would shift, the monitor would go crazy and Brad would quickly adjust it. Other times, the pump providing his glucose or toxins would clog or the flow would otherwise become interrupted, which would set off alarms. Emily, Jared and he became proficient at quickly turning off the pump's alarm, so that the alarm would not wake Carl. Then they would find a nurse to take care of the problem.
After working for a few hours, while his son slept, he wondered if he could connect to the internet to check his mail at work. He pulled the telephone cord out of his carrying case and plugged the laptop's modem into the telephone jack and set up the dialer. At night, phone calls were not allowed into the patient's rooms, so he could plug in without worrying about blocking incoming calls. He logged in, connected to the internet and checked his email. After dealing with the email that had stacked up he decided to do a little surfing.
He surfed because he enjoyed looking at the beautiful naked women, unable to believe some of the skanks on the net. One night while surfing he found a site that contained erotic stories. Brad was amazed to find that there were people, a lot of people actually, who could write very enjoyable stories with a sexual orientation. These stories transported him from his world of pain and anguish. They allowed him to escape for long periods of time. If someone asked, he would go so far as to say that they helped him maintain his sanity.
After three years of struggle, Carl succumbed to the inevitable. Three months of grieving later, Brad finally sat down at his desk with the laptop Carl had been given to use at college. He wanted to clean it up and get it ready for Jared to use. A college friend of Carl's had asked weeks earlier if Brad would try to locate some files for him that he needed for school. Brad found music, games, and pictures - nothing really risqué. At first knowing his own predilections, Brad was a little surprised. But then after further consideration, he realized that he should not be surprised. Carl had known for his last six months that he would no longer be able to enjoy carnal activities. Perhaps he had deleted any sex-related materials while he still could.
Brad was at the PC for a couple of hours removing programs and downloading updates for other programs. He cleaned up the registry and defragged the hard drive. He ran spyware removal programs and virus checked it until he was sure it was clean. After all of that, he still found stuff on the machine that was unknown to him. So he ran the programs to see what they did. He found Chem lab programs, Physics programs, and other school-related stuff.
When he was just about to quit for the night, he found a program called MASTER.EXE. It had passed all of the other checks, so it should be safe to try it. What the heck.
The computer monitor displayed, "Welcome to Master PC. Please enter your name."
Brad wondered what this was all about. He could see no harm in answering the question if he was not connected to the internet. He unplugged the network cable and entered his name, Bradley Trask. His picture along with his name appeared with the notation that this was the only person by that name within a 100 mile radius.
Brad confirmed his identity. Details of his physical characteristics appeared next to his picture -- height, weight, chest, waist, inseam, length of penis, shoe size, intelligence rating, psychic rating, hat size, eyesight, hearing, memory rating, extroversion/introversion level, mood and many other characteristics.
"Please select from options listed below."
"Huh?" Brad said aloud. He clicked on Help.
"You are in total control of reality within a 100 mile radius of your current location when running the Master PC program. Enter commands and they will be implemented. The length of time required to implement a command depends on the number of people affected by your command."
"People?" he said, and then realized that he sounded like a complete idiot talking out loud like this.
He thought, 'This can't be real. Maybe I should delete the program and move on.' However, he just couldn't move. He just sat there looking at his picture and all of the accurate data about him on the screen. How could it know that he was 5 foot 9 inches and 155 lbs? How could it know that his mood was "Severe Depression"? Not that it was that bad, but he would admit to being somewhat depressed. He clicked on the Change button next to the mood and changed it to "Mildly Depressed" feeling that it should at least be accurate.
Brad felt a physical weight lift from his chest. He thought he could feel a cleansing of his thought processes, things seemed a little clearer.
"Oh my God! It worked."
Brad argued with himself; it was possible that he was just fooling himself. He wanted to believe, perhaps unconsciously he had made it work - a self-fulfilling prophecy. He looked around the screen for something else that would offer more concrete proof. He clicked on the Change button next to Eyesight, selected the "20/20" radio button and then clicked on Apply. Everything went blurry. Brad smiled and took off his eyeglasses.
"Holy shit!" he exclaimed, a little too loudly.
"What, honey?" Emily called from the master bedroom upstairs.
Brad realized that his wife had left the living room for bed but that as usual she could not sleep and was lying in bed awake watching TV. He went upstairs and gave her a kiss, assuring her that everything was ok.
"I miss Carl," she said, not recognizing that Brad's glasses were missing.
"I know honey. So do I."
"Are you coming to bed?"
"You have to go to work tomorrow."
"I know honey. Go to sleep."
"Uh huh, soon."
Brad returned to his study and read the help. He found that he could enter commands. He navigated to the command entry dialog and typed, "Protect me and all family and friends from being altered in any way by other users of reality altering programs." A message appeared saying, "You and all family and friends within the 100 mile limit are protected."
Having taken care of that little bit of self preservation, he navigated back to the main screen and clicked on Select Subject. He entered "Emily Trask".
Two pictures appeared. Brad was surprised. He had not realized that there was another Emily. She was a twelve year old girl, no relation according to the program. He wondered about this little girl, but selected the picture of his wife and changed her from "Severe Depression" to "Depressed". He did not want to change her too much or too fast.
He then entered the command: "Provide my wife with the ability to get good, deep, quality sleep whenever she desires, and to wake refreshed."
The next day Emily went shopping, which gave Brad a couple of hours to play. He started up the MPC player, as he had begun to think of the Master PC program. 'Not to be confused with the MP3 player, ' he thought smiling at his own silly humor. His depression must be somewhat improved if his old bad sense of humor was coming back.
As he sat down, the smile slipped from his face. He thought about the idea that had occurred to him the night before. Could he bring Carl back? He sat there transfixed by the thought. He would dearly love to see his son again. What about the Edgar Alan Poe story, what was the name of it? Cat's Paw? It did not matter. Ugh! What a disgusting thought. Bring him back in his decomposed state or as a mindless body? He shook involuntarily. No, that did not have to be the way it worked. He had total control of his reality, so he could carefully craft the command to make sure that Carl was healthy and whole, in mind, body and spirit.
But what about the 100 mile limitation? Carl had people praying for him literally around the world. According to a friend even Bishop Tutu had said a prayer for him... for God's sake. Hundreds, if not thousands of people just in their little town knew that Carl had died. In addition, there are also the thousands around the country that had known, or known of, Carl. There were also the oncology journals that mentioned his case. Not to mention, the government paperwork that would need to be modified... somehow. Forget it; it was just too much from a logistical view point.
'Wait a second!' Brad thought, 'Am I going to let bureaucratic bullshit get in the way of getting my son back?' He entered "Carl Trask" into the program. The response came back:
"Subject not available within a 100 mile radius of current location."
"DOH!" Brad said hitting himself in the forehead. Carl had loved to watch The Simpsons; the expression had become a family funny. He hung his head, closed his eyes and let out a gut wrenching sigh. They were not the first to lose a son and would not be the last, but they still had to deal with the pain.
At length, he decided it would be foolhardy not to make use of this powerful program, entity, thing, whatever it was. He brought up Emily's picture again and entered, "At a linear rate over the next six months, ensure that her mood improves by at least 40 units on a scale of 1 to 100 with relation to her distress over her dead son, Carl."
He paused, reading the command. He worried that it was going to be like some horror movie where the intent and the actual implementation are at odds with each other. He edited the command so that it read, "At a linear rate over the next six months, ensure that her mood improves by at least 40 units, on a scale of 1 to 100, with relation to her distress over her dead son, Carl. All changes implemented by this command will come from within herself, not from changes external to her." He studied the revised command. He was satisfied that he covered enough of the bases and hit Send.
He studied the characteristics listed next to her picture. Height: 5 foot 4 inches, Weight: 207 lbs, Chest: 42E (elasticity: 31%), Waist: 32, Hips: 40, Vaginal elasticity: 20%, vaginal strength: 2%, number of births: 3.
Brad stopped reading after the number of births sunk in. What did it say? Three births? He only knew about their two sons. Did she have a miscarriage? an abortion? No. An abortion probably would not count as a "birth." Was there another child that she never told him about? They had been married for twenty years! How could she not tell him?
He resumed scanning: Sexual Inhibition Index: 88%, Jealousy Index: 87%, Relationship To Spouse (RTS) Index: N/A.
What? What does that mean? Hew knew that "N/A" must mean "Not Available"... or "Not Applicable." How can her relationship to him be not applicable? Brad checked the help and found, after a little searching, the following statement: "The Relationship To Spouse (RTS) Index cannot be measured if obfuscating circumstances prevent accurate assessment." From this statement, Brad figured that her depression over the loss of her son prevented an "accurate assessment." He decided he would check it again every few weeks as his commands kicked in.
Brad loved his wife. He used the program to select himself and checked his own RTS index. His RTS Index was at 54%. That number did not sound good; it gave Brad pause. What did it really mean? He knew he loved his wife, that was a given as far as he was concerned. She was a wonderful person who he was sure also loved him deeply. So the RTS Index must measure more than just love. What is love anyway? Forget that, he was not going to go down that philosophical black hole.
If he were to be honest, he was not thrilled by their sex life. They had sex in the missionary position every two weeks or so. Lately, he had started playing with her rectum when diddling her. She seemed to enjoy it a lot and it made him wonder if she would like anal sex. However, in twenty years they had never experienced oral sex together, so what were the chances that she would try anal? He would love it if she would give him a blow job, but being honest, the thought of going down on her was revolting He knew it was completely unfair, to expect something he wasn't willing to give in return, but he just could not get past it. He realized that he could simply enter a command to change his view on the subject, but could not bring himself to do it. Despite the selfish aspects of his position, he really would love it if she would give him a blow job. But given that it was so unfair he had never asked her to give him head. He was afraid that she would insist on Quim Pro Quo. (He smiled sardonically at his own stupid humor.)
Looking at her characteristics, he decided it would not hurt to help his dear wife improve herself physically. Perhaps that would improve their love life. He entered the following command: "Gradually, increase Emily's desire to improve her overall physical fitness until she voluntarily joins a weight loss program and a fitness and/or health club. Make her level of interest and dedication sufficient to help her attain a target weight goal of 155 lbs or better in six to nine months. Maintain her motivation to keep her weight at that level or better, without becoming neurotic about it, for the rest of her life." He read it over carefully and pressed Send.
Brad also entered "Gradually cure all underlying health-related illnesses caused by her overweight condition over the next six months." He reread the command and pressed Send.
Then he entered one more command about her physical attributes "Gradually improve Chest Elasticity to 80% over the next six months." He did not want to go overboard; she was a forty-two year old woman, after all. The program's Help documentation said that Chest Elasticity was "a measure of the strength of the musculature underlying a woman's breasts. The higher the percentage, the less sag will be evident."