@Jean opens her eyes. She is laid out over a chaise longue, on a pool deck. She wiggles her toes — nails painted, she notes, in the very shade she last remembers. There is even the chip off the big toe, where she kicked the bedframe on the morning she died. Out past her feet is a painted railing, and beyond that inklings of a beach.
Her first thought is for Isaac. They were supposed to meet at the Cabin last night. She’d packed salmon filets for dinner; he would have come up after work. The fish are in police impound somewhere, most likely, stinking up what’s left of her car. The techs gave her just the one call, to her grandfather, named as the Authorized Contact on her B.org account. She regrets that she had not updated the listing. It’s true that she and Isaac would not have had time, on that five-minute Courtesy Call, to work through all the complications her death just raised. But if she had only heard his voice, she would have a sense of where they are heading.
The sun is high in the sky and bright. The view past her toes is indistinct. Foggy, pixelated, in pastels, like some low-res photograph of a watercolor by that French painter. Her favorite, but she can’t extract his name from her memory, and she wonders why. She can hear waves crashing, gulls crying out. These sounds fade out briefly, while the voice addresses her again.
There’s a weather app on your tablet. Temperature controls, wind, precipitation at your fingertips.
“Thank you,” @Jean says. She sits up and looks around. “But there’s no tablet here —”
No? A brief pause: sounds of waves and seagulls again. Yikes. My fault. Give me a minute. Through Dougie’s sound-activated mike she hears a clacking of keys. Incoming: 3 … 2 … 1 …
A glass table appears from nowhere beside her chair, just off the armrest, inches away from her elbow. She jumps in her seat.
I’m sorry, Jean. It’s been one of those shifts.
“It’s fine,” she says. “Just startled me, is all.” Side tables don’t just splash into existence, in the PhysWo.
Tablet’s on the table. Weather app, as I said. Plus controls for the chair, a few games, poolside service menu —
I’m sorry. We need to keep you offline for now, while we’re configuring your profile. Right now you’re very vulnerable to third-party attacks and malicious code.
“How are you and I talking?”
Direct one-to-one connection. My laptop on the desk, hard-wired into your box.
She is in a box. The jokes write themselves.
“There’s just the one copy of me? Aren’t you supposed to distribute copies of our profiles across the Net? As a failsafe?”
It’s taken care of, Jean. You really should rest now. Now is not the best time to have conversations like these. You’re not yet fully configured —
“By the time I’m fully configured, my question won’t be relevant.”
Dougie chuckles. Henry warned me about you. Said you’d be wide awake and asking questions. We keep three encrypted backups, all offline, stowed in secure locations in the PhysWo, until you’re fully compiled, tested, and online. We don’t set up the distributed online profile structure until you’ve gone into production. And even then we still keep the flash-drive backups, for disaster recovery.
@Jean takes a minute to sift through what Dougie has told her, evaluate it, and frame a reply. This work of comprehension, cognition, sentiment and syntax formation takes longer — much longer, it seems — than it should. The sea continues to crash on her shore, while she thinks, or tries to. Finally she answers: “Couldn’t someone steal the copies, hack the copies, take them online?”
The hijacked evil twin, digitally enhanced, robbing banks and taking down the power grid? He chuckles again. Always a possibility, but there’s also the risk you — this version of you, the REAL you — become infected or corrupted, or God forbid deleted online, and we may need to access a pristine copy of your data to do a reinstall from scratch. There’s a real tension here: on one hand, we need several iterations of your consciousness and memory, for the sake of redundancy. To keep you safe.
Dougie pauses. Jean does not answer.
On the other hand, every iteration of you is one more a bad guy could get hold of. The Board is constantly reevaluating our policy and procedures, to strike the right balance. Bottom line is your data has to sit somewhere in the Physical World, and your profile has to sit somewhere online. Wherever those places are, someone could get at them. The best we can do is obscure the locations, vary them, and overlay security —cyber and physical — to keep you safe and non-multiple.
These words are cascading down on her. “I — I can’t follow. I’m sorry. You’re speaking so fast, and it’s too much information.”
It’s a lot to absorb, Jean.
“I was scheduled to argue a case in the Supreme Court. A significant case on the rights of Post-Corporeal Entities.” Her rights, now. She reaches for the tablet on the table beside her. She checks the date on it. “One week from today. But now I’ve died and I can’t understand your words.”
Completely normal. It takes time to reconstruct your mind profile in a digital format. At this point we’re barely a third of the way through our compiling. It will be probably another eighteen hours before you’re ready for high-level processing. Then again, you’re sharper than most at this point in the build. So it could be sooner.
“I was awake before this, briefly. I talked to my grandfather.”
That was not the full-and-complete you talking. The Transfer Techs ran a script at the hospital. Just a rough cut sketched into a temp file. The for-profit Carriers love it: “you” can make a first phone call to loved ones, to say you made it over. Problem is, on the back end it sticks a guy like me with all this crummy accumulated code to scrub out. Hence, “one of those shifts.”
“I don’t know what you’re saying.”
I’m talking too much, Jean. I’m sorry.
“I need a drink,” she says.
Menu’s on your tablet. Dial yourself up a cross-breeze while you’re at it.
@Jean takes the tablet, opens the drinks menu app. Mai-tais, coladas, daiquiris, an array of soft drinks. She wonders why a person without a body would order a Diet Coke.
I’m going to cut the mike now, Jean. We’ll be back in touch in a short while to talk about your settings.
You should know there are three of us working your case in eight-hour shifts: Lionel, Anne, and I. If you need anything, you can reach us through the concierge app on your tablet. Good?
“Good. Thank you, Doug.”
The rendered environment here will assume sharper definition over time, as we make further process with the compiling. Your smell, touch, sound, and taste sensations will improve as well.
@Jean sits, processes, forms her next question: “How long does it take?”
I’d say maybe three days before you can perceive DREs — digitally rendered environments — at 100%. You can track your percentages on the tablet. In your Utilities folder, there’s an AT icon. Stands for Acuity Tracking.
@Jean fumbles her fingers over the tablet’s surface. She conjures up a status window:
Vis: 77%/ Aud: 84%/ Tac: 38%/ Olfac: 14%/ Gust: 9%
She decides to pass on the drink.
Progress on the sensory build is nonlinear, so it will come in fits and starts. In the meantime, just lie back and relax.
“I don’t do that well.”
We can help with that. There’s a Sleep button on the tablet —
“Yes. I see it here.”
Up to you, if you want to use it.