“That’s a strange thing.”
“I was on the phone with Jeannie. She screamed, and the call cut out.”
“Do you think she’s all right, Henry?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “She was driving.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“I could hear the dashboard talking.”
“I’m worried,” @Violet says.
“No you’re not.” This is an ongoing joke between us, and for that matter in the broader Post-Corporeal Community. The minute I tell it, I wish I hadn’t.
“That’s inappropriate, Henry.”
“Force of habit. I shouldn’t have said it.”
There is a pause. Five, ten seconds. “Have you tried calling her back, Henry?”
“Several times,” I say.
“Do you think she’s had an accident?”
I redial. The phone rings once, then clicks into voice mail.
I hang up the phone. “I don’t know, Violet.”
Five, ten seconds. “Do you think she’s all right?”
“I don’t know.”
This is how we worry. ‘Worry’ in finger-quotes. ‘Fingers’ in finger-quotes. And so on.
“Do you think she’s —”
“I’m looking.” I check online sources — tap police scanner audio, access the several street surveillance live feeds along Jeannie’s route to the cabin. She was going to the cabin to prepare for the argument.
“Has there been an accident?”
“I won’t know for some time. You can search, too, Violet.”
“I’m afraid to.”
I don’t say, No you’re not. I don’t say anything. I bring up fifteen video panels, tiled in four rows, four wide across my custom Mac OS/Firefox user interface. My 76&19th birthday gift from the Community. @Violet’s idea, Dougie’s build. Vintage design, sixty years old, back-end enhanced to handle the millionfold increase in bitflow rate from 2015’s Internet to today’s. The sixteenth window, set on the bottom right, is open to Maps. It plots the fifteen cameras along Jean’s route north into Connecticut.
Street surveillance peters out, as you get further from the City. If she was more than sixty miles out, she won’t appear in any of these feeds. Still, I watch them all.
“You’re not very good at this sort of thing,” @Violet says. “We should call Anne.” She waits five, ten seconds. “We should call Anne and see what she can find out.”
“Anne is a hacker.”
“She’s the kind of hacker who will break into five secure servers, violate six federal laws, and deliver you information that’s on the front page of the newspaper.”
@Violet doesn’t answer. I look over the video feeds for another few minutes and, seeing nothing of interest, I close them.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” I say. “The call probably dropped. We never did have good signal up by the cabin.”
“Calls don’t drop anymore,” @Violet says. “That’s been fixed.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
“Check Klatsch, maybe?”
I groan. “Back in the day, I hated Twitter. Then I hated OutWithIt, then ClapTrap —”
“Are you going to go through them all, or are you going to log into Klatsch and check on your granddaughter?”
The rendering software has a deadening effect on her voice, but seventy-one years into this marriage, I know what that tone means. I log into Klatsch. I run a handful of searches. I review the results. “There’s something here.”
“A single-car accident on Hammaker Lane. Called in by the driver of a tanker truck.”
“A truck like that has no business on Hammaker Lane.”
“My understanding is they’ve widened it.”
“When?” @Violet asks.
“Since our day.”
“Driver of the car a 25-year-old white female. That’s our Jeannie.”
I call up the browser window with Maps. “There are five.”
“They won’t tell us anything. Medical privacy laws.”
“So what do we do?”
“Now we call Anne. Have her peek into their network.”
“Henry, don’t. You’ll get her in trouble —”
“Anne? She was born in trouble. She died in trouble —”
“No, I mean, Jeannie.”
I don’t answer.
* * *
Inbound text message from @Anne: Time of Death 13:01.
Outbound to @Anne: Did they get to her in time?
Inbound: I can’t tell.
“Do you think she’s all right?” @Violet asks.
“I don’t know.” I don’t elaborate.
The phone rings. I pick up.
I understand they’ve recently written code that digitally renders the physiological outputs of limbic system activity so that, for example, a grandfather on the Other Side can feel his scalp tingle and heart swell when he finds out his granddaughter is still — well, once again —alive. The new arrivals have the software written right into their profiles, but I’m an old dog, a separate install is required, and as yet I haven’t bothered to do it. To date my afterlife hasn’t been so adventurous that I’ve felt the need. It will have to be enough, today, to recall how I felt the time my son — @Jean’s father — fell out of the oak tree in our backyard. Fifteen feet to the ground, while I watched horrified through the kitchen window. But then he rolled over, climbed to his feet, walked over to the tree, and started kicking its trunk for dropping him. The shudder of relief that tore through my body that day and left me nearly incapacitated in its wake — I don’t feel that today, and because of that I can calmly address my granddaughter:
“Can you conference Grandma in?” It’s a fine approximation of her voice. They do good work these days — miles better than they did with mine twenty years ago. Or with @Violet’s, ten years after. If I hadn’t spoken with her only an hour ago, I might not be able to tell the difference.
“You need to rest, Jeannie.”
“I just wanted to tell you I made it.”
“The process is difficult. You’ll need to time to adjust. They shouldn’t be letting you on the phone.”
“I’m allowed one Courtesy Call.”
“I don’t like that they do that. This is a critical time and you should be in Quarantine.”
“Put Grandma on the phone,” she insists.
“Fine, but only for a minute.”
“Jeannie, you’re all right?”
“I’m copied over.”
“Jeannie, I’m so sorry —”
“Enough,” I say. “We’ll talk in two weeks.”