Day Eleven of Quarantine.
She has been awake now, for some indeterminate amount of time, thinking. Quiet, motionless, in the beach chair, thinking. Trying to decide. She has a request — not for a cool breeze or a fizzy drink or a favorite song to play over her rendered phone, but a real, consequential request. There are politics involved here, of a kind that reach from the national to the personal level and so can affect longstanding relationships. She would probably do better if she steered clear of the subject altogether. Just by asking, she will, at the least, disappoint certain important people in her life. Still worse — she fears — it could rise to the level of that sticky kind of disappointment, something like a betrayal, hanging forever between her and them: the fact that under these conditions, at this moment in time, @Jean asked for *that*.
This transition — the churning of it — it feels like puberty all over again. Mind, body, soul on fire; the yearning and taboo-seeking, the crushing curiosity. And just like it was back then, no one who has been through it and come out on the far side remembers or can relate. These people who say they love you — and surely they do — they look right past and through all that is big and brutal and crushing you. They see you there alone, small and damaged and making bad decisions, entirely divorced from the context that might explain them.
But this gulf of understanding is a fact of life, and one that as a practicing lawyer, she is peculiarly adapted to bridge. @Jean is a professional persuader. If called upon, she could state her reasons, justify what she did, or if needed minimize it, walk it back, “come home again.” And for that matter, she is a grown woman. She has lived and died and reawakened. Can anyone fairly fault her just for asking this one question?
Emboldened by that sensibility — I am free to make my own choices — @Jean bites rendered lip and takes a first baby step down her path to perdition:
“Hello?” she says to the sky. “Who’s there?”
In that case, a second step. “Am I far enough along in the config where I could, maybe, talk with somebody outside the box?”
Dougie and I are wearing on you? @Anne aiming for playful, missing the mark. It comes off as deflection, which it is.
“I just — I have questions.”
We can answer —
We can answer those, too. @Anne pauses. But I get it. Personal stuff. I suppose you want to talk with Henry? Breaking Quarantine is a deprecated practice, but …
“Actually, I would like to talk to Th@ch. Could you arrange that?”
Th@ch. Hm. So that’s what you’ve been agonizing about these last — a pause, and @Jean presumes @Anne is checking the time stamps on her processing readout — forty-five minutes?
“I just thought you could, well, make an introduction?
You haven’t met Th@ch?
@Jean would have thought this much was obvious. “I’ve only just discorporated, and I’ve been in Quarantine. When could I have —”
That business about Th@ch refusing to interact with anyone in the PhysWo — that’s a myth.
“Well, in any case, I haven’t met Th@ch. You all keep asking me about settings. Memory adjustments, enhancements. Th@ch has made … different choices. I’d like to understand why.”
@Anne doesn’t answer. Thirty, forty seconds pass. @Jean opens her eyes. She looks up into the sky and waits for a response. Of course, @Anne isn’t in the sky, and for that matter, her disembodied voice doesn’t rain down from the sky, when she uses it. It says something about their relationship, about these Quarantine conditions, that in her mind’s eye, @Jean has placed Doug and @Anne high in the air above her.
Another forty seconds pass. Long enough that she wonders whether @Anne has logged out. Or maybe a shift change is imminent and she’s just running out the clock, so she can hand this tough, unanswered question over, ask-your-father style, to Doug?
“Anne? Are you still there?”
Forty more seconds pass. @Jean counts them off on the digital clock she has parked out in the blue sky ahead of her, at the top-right corner of her field of vision. @Anne answers, finally — and unhelpfully:
We don’t keep asking you about settings and enhancements. We asked you the one time, at the appropriate moment in the config sequence. You can of course review and adjust your settings at any time, including after you’ve left Quarantine, at which time you can consult with anyone you’d like.
That is, without involving @Anne as an accomplice.
“Anne, I realize I’ve put you in a difficult position. You don’t want to go behind Henry’s back.”
This isn’t about loyalty. My obligations in this moment are to you, to the configuration process, and to the testing. The protocols that we follow in the Quarantine phase are clearly stated.
“And yet you were prepared to breach the protocols just a moment ago, when you thought I was asking for Henry. Look: it’s fine. I just — I don’t have much to think about here —”
We can get you books, crossword puzzles, sudokus. There’s a whole menu —
“Better put, I have too much to think about here, but I don’t know how to think about it.”
It’s only three more days in the Quarantine.
“Yes, and that scares me, too. I don’t feel like I’m ready. There’s this party people are planning for me. Saturday night.”
The invite came in by email yesterday. The party will be held at the Fault Line, the latest and greatest venue in NYC for mixed-company events. The PhysWo location is at 25th and Lexington. DigiWo guests follow a link to a real-time render of the full restaurant and bar: Some-Bodies will be scanned into the DRE for @Jean to see, hear, and hug hello, and she and any other No-Bodies on the guest list will holo-project into the room in physical space.
44 confirmed attendees and counting, as of this morning. Many have left heartfelt notes. Isaac only clicked yes.
The prospect is terrifying.
“I don’t want to go out there.”
That’s normal and understandable.
The puberty analogue rears its head again, @Jean managing simultaneously (1) to appreciate @Anne’s efforts not to patronize her and (2) to feel patronized. “Doug says the testing is going well and I should be 100% bug-free and ready to move into my apartment on Saturday afternoon. But if I don’t feel ready, isn’t that the most important test?”
And a sit-down with Th@ch is going to help you with that?
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m thinking. What I do know is I’m not comfortable plugging back into the world while I don’t know what I’m thinking. I feel like I’m missing … perspective. I have some, but it’s too narrow. Do you see?”
“‘Hm’ what?” @Jean asks. “What does ‘Hm’ mean?”
A minute ago, I started running a script, @Anne says. This would explain the earlier hiatus in their conversation. It’s an advanced behavioral diagnostic. You weren’t slated to have it done until tomorrow. But I was thinking this conversation might be an indicator of anxiety on your part —
“It is an indicator of anxiety on my part.”
— that might in turn arise from an error in your configuration. But the test results tell me there’s nothing wrong in the soup. Or with our cooking, at least.
@Jean takes that cue and runs with it. “This is just who I am, Anne. I’m a pain in the ass. Henry could have told you that.”
He did tell me that.
“What else did he tell you?”
That while you were in Quarantine, you might ask me to connect you with Th@ch, and that if you did, I should notify him immediately.
Not immediately. Your grandfather can be insufferable and imperious, at times. And I’m inclined to judge this question for myself.
“Hm,” @Jean says.