Some people live in reality. Others live in virtual worlds they create. Living in a virtual world is fine, unless you try to impose it on others against their will.

I could see Qin Huang was creating an egocentric virtual world centered around his misapplication of SuperGrid data, far beyond his expertise in genetic engineering, and I couldn't help but let my friends know how I felt.

"Listen to that son of a bitch lie!" I exclaimed to Liddy, as we watched the evening news one evening at my home. An interview with Qin Huang, the new head of the California University SuperGrid center, was the lead story. "I could strangle that bastard." Liddy seemed uncomfortable with my venom.

Liddy's boyfriend Bruce was there and even better, Laura Silvan. They were both in the kitchen fixing steak for the grill.

"Our SuperGrid simulations have proven conclusively that within decades warming due to carbon dioxide emissions will cause the long predicted melting of the Antarctic ice cap. A rise in the ocean will inundate Florida and Louisiana as well as Oceania," Huang claimed. "Global Warming is finally vindicated!"

"That ass doesn't have a clue what he's talking about," I fumed. "He's a biogeneticist, not a meteorological fluid dynamicist. They've been predicting that same baloney since Al Gore was alive. He just keeps expanding his claim to expertise beyond his capabilities."

"Calm down, Steven. You act like Dr. Huang was Hitler or something," Liddy attempted to soothe my ruffled feathers. "He's just trying to warn us before we destroy Mother Earth! Someone has to act if the U.N. won't! I think he has President William's good ear!"

"Ever since the Global Warming campaign wiped out a million humans on the Indian sub-continent destroying coal plants, he thinks he's Al Gore's reincarnation. Huang wants to save the world by starting another carbon war. But Huang can't predict global warming trends that accurately with the SuperGrid," I pontificated bitterly. "The Grid still isn't that smart, no matter how many petanodes are attached!"

"You sound like a junior Robber Baron for big business, ready to dump more CO2 into the air come hell or high water" Laura said coming in from the kitchen, sounding more than a little peeved. "Personally, I think the things Huang is saying about protecting the environment are true."

"It's not a question of whether they're true or not," I tried to explain logically, immediately realizing I'd entered a no-exit minefield. "We fought a global war to eliminate hydrocarbons, a lot of people died. When everyone found out they'd have to live in stick huts and get rid of air-conditioning, the blood lust evaporated. Now Huang wants to rekindle the embers."

"You don't care whether what he's saying is true?" Laura asked incredulously, and hurt. "Whether global warming will ruin our planet? Some things ARE worth fighting for!"

"It's not that," I tried to defend myself. "It's just that you can't build a computer model of the globe that's accurate enough to prove global warming. Besides, I don't see how going to war with India and China to shut down carbon fired power plants makes much sense! Besides, the Chinese military now is stronger than we are and has more Flattops at sea.""

"How do you know that," Laura asked, though her question was incredibly naive. "Are you some sort of climate change denier?"

"It's my job to know whether a computer can solve a problem like global warming, and I'm damn good at it." I retorted, it always seemed people had no clue that I was more than a computer game player. "That isn't to say the warming isn't happening, or that we can't get good information from the Grid. Just that even the fastest computers, with the largest memories, on the fastest grid networks still can't predict the atmosphere of an entire planet the size of the earth very well. Especially not for a hundred years into the future!"

"So you don't think the earth's worth saving?" Laura almost hissed, showing a feline side of her I hadn't thought existed. But she calmed immediately, her mood changing as quickly as a spring thunderstorm. "I'm sorry, some times I let my concern for the environment take control over reason."

"That's okay," I apologized myself. "Sometimes I let the egghead side of me show through a little too much." Laura was quite a woman, sensitive about the environment, sensitive about humanity, sensitive about me. "I just think trading off Taiwan to the Chinese to end the Hydrocarbon War was a step too far!"

"Hey, it's time to eat!" Bruce interrupted from the patio where he'd been grilling what I thought were steaks. "The chef needs some help with these veggie burgers!" I stifled the gag reflex - but inwardly thanked Bruce for stopping me from digging a deeper hole to China with my politics..

Both Laura and Liddy went to the kitchen to help fix salad and set the table and I was left to think about Qin Huang and his media interview.

"Politics and science are oil and water," I led the discussion amicably after dinner, trying to hold down the veggie burger. Emma had been present during the meal in order to spoon feed me, but left us to ourselves after she'd wiped my face clean and retired to her room.

"But science can't be separated from politics," Bruce countered. "There really are no objective truths."

"I totally disagree - two plus two do equal four and science and politics are not compatible," I stuck obstinately to my opinion. "That's why Qin Huang makes me mad as hell. Every other week he's being interviewed on the boob tube about ozone depletion or global warming or the population explosion when he knows damn well the SuperGrid is limited in what it can model. He's a biogeneticist, nor a weatherman!"

"But is 1.99999 equal to 2.00000?" Bruce countered with a non sequiter. "Isn't the political reality of global warming what drives the science?"

"You can't really predict doodly squat about long term environmental trends even with the best computing equipment in the world." I argued.

"But why get so steamed about it?" Laura prodded me. "Huang and others in the Green World Movement, well, their hearts are in the right places, trying to save the world from environmental disaster."

"Dr. Mengele, Hitler's butcher scientist of the death camps, also found it convenient to sidestep pure science in pursuit of political goals," I retorted.

"Oh no, not that Hitler argument! You're taking this too far." Laura chided me as though I were a little child. "A simple white lie that saved the ecology of the planet would be well worth the risk to scientific purity. Just look at how effective Government Motors was in pushing us towards hydrogen cars! It was the right thing to do!"

"Perhaps you're right," I replied seriously. "Perhaps I'm too caught up in a purist philosophy of science and I'm not thinking enough about the fate of Mother Earth. . ."

"After all, we've all got to share the same planet," Laura said sweetly.

"I think Laura's right, " Liddy agreed. "Sometimes you get so caught up with your computer equations you forget that there's a world out there made of plants and animals and things that breathe instead of just being equations."

"From a biologists point of view, I have to agree with Huang," the normally quiet Bruce chimed in again. He usually deferred in conversations to Liddy but it had always been clear he was no dummy. Over the last few months I'd come to learn Bruce was quite a whiz in genetic engineering, working towards a doctorate at the age of 24. Unfortunately, he did his graduate work in Qin Huang's biogenetics lab.

"If the fate of the whole planet is at stake, I don't see much danger in allowing a few misquotes about the predictive ability of a supercomputer," Bruce continued. "My lab has been making use of the SuperGrid facilities for the last four months and I think our predictions are a godsend to the environmental movement."

"Well, I can see I'm in the minority here," I realized. "And your points are well taken. But I've got something more interesting to talk about than the philosophy of science," I changed the subject abruptly as I turned my wheelchair with a hum of gears and motored toward the den where my computer equipment was housed.

The den was loaded with electronics, floor to ceiling. The least sophisticated equipment there was the $20,000.00 stereo system with a 64 track recording system, 1000 watt amplifier, multi-terrabyte jukebox, ... etc.

There was also my grid workstation equipped with voice and media recognition and a multiplexed connectiuon to the Internet, but that wasn't the only exotic equipment I had. In the one corner sat a Videon work station complete with a video camera, audio digitizer, and video toaster to link the signals together.

"Geez, this is quite a spread," Laura gawked as she entered. I remembered how she'd drooled over the equipment at the university. Liddy had seen all this stuff before, but Bruce's jaw dropped.

"Have a seat," I told Laura. "I've got something to show you."

In the middle of the room was a black leather lounge chair where I sat Laura down. She sank deep into its soft cushions.

Over one arm of the chair was draped the computer toy I was most fond of.

"What's this?," Laura asked, holding up the heads-up visor that Bubba Grimes had provided me and was now the central interface to my neural network.

"It's my virtual reality visor," I replied. "Put it on," I requested, though Laura looked dubious as Bruce helped her put on the headgear, making her look like an insect from an alien planet.

"Virtual reality is not just a computer generated world," I explained to my friends. "Inside this world are objects that not only seem real, but have an existence beyond the computer," I teased. "You can move in three dimensions and interact with the computer objects as though they're real. Wait while I load up the program and link to the SuperGrid."

"Its no big deal," Bruce offered his opinion, "I've been playing antique SuperMario games since I was three. They're a little nerdy, like something a computer hacker would come up with."

"Be kind, now," Liddy warned.

"Well, perhaps Bruce is right," I admitted sheepishly, "The virtual reality I've been programming is probably old hat, Playstation Omega has been around a million years. What I am doing is a bit different." Bruce didn't know what he was talking about I thought to myself, I don't do penny arcade software.

"Oh my God!" Laura interrupted our thoughts. The program had booted up and I could only imagine what Laura was feeling as she was confronted with the virtual reality I'd created for her.

"Here, I'll put it all on a monitor so you can see what Laura is experiencing," I told Liddy and Bruce who were squirming to imagine what Laura was seeing.

What Laura confronted was a projection of herself, hyper-perfect in every detail, singing with West Coast Blue on a stage like that of the Palladium. Only as far as Laura could tell, this was more real than real, like stepping into a teletransporter that had crossed time and space to confront Laura with herself. Chrome was hyper-chrome, glass more refractive than crystal and the chemistry and vibration of her virtual image in the jazzed atmosphere of the Palladium more sensuous than any human experience. Even the sounds piped through my audio system were pinpoints in geometrically real space.

"It's as if I'm there!" Laura exclaimed, and though her features were hidden by the heads-up visor, I could see she was oddly shaken by the reality that was not reality. This was more than a music-video.

"You can move through the scene," I instructed Laura, showing her how to move her hands which were sensed to move through space as we monitored her progress on our flat two dimensional screen. Laura perceived herself to be gliding, floating through the crowd of dancers at the Palladium in a dizzying rollercoaster ride of the senses.

"I don't think I want to do this anymore," Laura protested suddenly, almost panic-stricken. "This isn't natural! It isn't normal!"

"Oh come on, Laura, I made this scene for you," I tried to calm her, "I thought you would like it!" But that only made things worse.

"This is scary, Steven, get these goggles off me!" Laura was getting claustrophobic now, and she nearly ripped hair out by the roots taking the goggles off. "What possessed you to try and create this fantasy land!?" She demanded. "I am not your personal blow-up toy!"

"I thought you'd take it as a compliment that I thought enough of you to build your image in my computer." I was taken aback. It was a weak defense, it didn't even carry in my own mind. Computer faux pas!

"You duplicated me in this computer universe as if you owned me, as if I were a Barbie Doll to play with!" Laura screamed. "I want you to destroy the program that put me in this electronic bottle, do you understand? I'm pissed!"

"He was just trying to please you," Liddy tried to defend me, but then took sides herself. "Steven, I think you need to ask people before you incorporate them in your fantasies."

"This is pretty bizarre," Bruce added. "I think you need to get a grip on the real world instead of playing Nintendo all the time like a little boy. Get a life and grow up!"

I'd obviously offended my guests and the party was over. Why they had become so upset was somewhat confusing to me, I hadn't realized they were anti-technologists.

What I had just presented them was not so much my invention as an inevitability. The power of supercomputers and super networks made it possible for everyone to experience virtual realities of their own design, their own micro-utopias. If the morality of the primitive computer reality I had just created offended them, how much more offensive would my simulations be when I took it to its logical conclusion?

"You promise to destroy the program?" Laura asked just before she left and Liddy gave me a look that said I'd better agree or my blood would be on her hands as well as Laura's.

"Yes, I promise," I said with as much earnest conviction as I could put into my voice. "I'll do it right now." I thought the three of them were going to physically assault my equipment.

Of course, I lied. The program that created Laura's projection was thoroughly embedded in the software that was beginning to allow me to function as a human being. To destroy the virtual software was to destroy me and every dream I had for the future.

I watched sadly as my friends left. Alone with my thoughts, I put on the visor that now acted as the interface to my neuro-net link to life and I tried to curl myself into a fetal position.