22/ Isaac 4

It was a struggle to keep up, all night long.  She pinged around the function room, he would have said like a pinball, except that pinballs follow principles of physics and are marginally more predictable.

Had she been running from him that whole time? Tagging along with Jean at parties was never easy.  The question is whether @Jean made it still harder for him last night, on the margin, than Jean ever did.  If he had data — time-stamped plots, say, of her travels through her friends’ several recent wedding receptions and her made-partner party last fall, that he could compare to last night’s blitz in the Fault Line — he could work through the problem at his computer and reach an analytically supported conclusion on the state of his relationship with his live-in girlfriend.

Before he can make a definitive cause-effect determination, the data analyst looks to eliminate confounding factors.  It might be the plots would show no statistically significant delta between Jean’s and @Jean’s party travels.  Might be they would show instead that the greater share of the distance between them last night was on Isaac — that some weight on his subconscious had held him back, had made him generally content to trail along in @Jean’s wake.

But of course Isaac does not have this data, and he can only speculate, based on his gut-feel of the situation.  It is the data-man’s first principle that a gut can’t be trusted; a gut like Isaac’s, largely unused and so far out of fighting shape, is still less reliable.  But for all that, those two hours of lukewarm and largely unsuccessful pursuit of his now-digitized soul mate — very nearly his fiancée — just felt shitty.  Not only in his gut, but all the way up.

And that was before she up and disappeared.  Gone, without nod or notice to any single guest in the room.  Exfiltrated, in commando style, from the party given at considerable expense in her honor.

The crowd went briefly into a tizzy.  Multiple calls/ texts placed to the honoree deflected to operators/ were returned undeliverable.  The smarmy maître d’ called the on-call IT specialist down to reboot the holo-projectors.  But of course this could not have been the problem: @Violet and others were still visible in the room.  Guests put their heads together, trying to recall who had seen her last.  “How hard can this be?” Isaac cried out.  She was here, then she wasn’t?  And nobody saw?

Raya thought she’d seen her step out into the hall.  There are holo-projectors in every last nook and cranny of the venue — bathrooms included — and Raya went on her hands and knees looking under the stalls in the women’s room for @Jean’s rendered feet.  Nothing there.  She’d vanished.

@Jean’s grandmother placed a call to the B.org admins, to confirm that the unthinkable hadn’t happened and she’d been hacked and erased.  This seemed like an overreaction, and Isaac wondered why @Violet’s mind went there.  The techs on call ran their diagnostics and reported back: no trouble in @Jean’s profile.  She was just somewhere else.  At some point a consensus emerged that @Jean had simply ditched, and wasn’t that just like her, and everyone raise a glass to our independent-minded @JeanWoolsey.  Whether or not it actually was just like her was an unsettled question, but immaterial to the end purposes of the celebrants.

No sign of @Henry during any of this, it bears noting.  He surely had some high-minded reason why he couldn’t make even a fleeting appearance at his granddaughter’s re-wake.

In any case, @Jean’s AWOL trip left Isaac standing alone to receive the gift the guests had all chipped in to buy for her.  Coffee and tea laid out on side tables, and Talia Christman pulled one of the sugar spoons to bang repeatedly on her ceramic mug, until the deejay took her cue to turn down the afrobeat or whatever she had playing at that point in the mix.  Talia called for the attention of all, while the maître d’ rolled the big box out on a cart.  Raya helped Isaac unwrap the package.

It was a “Merge System®.”  “Top of the line,” Talia said.  “Nothing but the best for our Jean.”

He didn’t know what it was and had to ask, and so Talia explained.  It was the same tech the Fault Line used, and it would allow him and @Jean to co-occupy their old apartment in PhysWo and digital space.  Included in the kit were twenty-six combo 5-D sensors/ holo projectors.  Once installed in the top corners of each room (and in certain discretionary supplemental locations), the 5-D sensors — sight, sound, smell, feel, and somehow taste — would capture real-time data from the PhysWo apartment to stream into @Jean’s analogous space in the Digital World.

And on the flipside, the units would project @Jean’s hologram — and throw her voice — into Isaac’s apartment, whenever she was “home.”

At this point Talia’s husband Jim, ever the insufferable technophile, began reading out the product specs from his phone.  “The Service Level Agreement guarantees a reciprocal streaming lag — PhysWo-to-DigiWo and vice versa — of under 10 nanoseconds.  That’s half the lag you get with a system like this one,” Jim said, pointing at one of the room’s sensor/ projectors.  The maître d’ narrowed his eyes.

All other eyes in the function room bored in on Isaac — smiling eyes, beaming really, but no less oppressive with their expectations of him than if they had guns pointed at his head — while he considered what it would be like to live with his girlfriend’s ghost.  His face flushed, his heart began to race, and from somewhere up in the ceiling the hand of panic reached down and gripped him.  For a moment he felt he might fall to the floor, but Raya looped her arm into his and steadied him.

Thank them,” she muttered, out of the side of her mouth.  And he did, to the general applause of @Jean’s gathered family and friends.

Jim volunteered to come over and help with the install.  “How does tomorrow, 10 AM sound?  We order in lunch, we should have these bad johnnies on the wall, get the whole system up and running in time for dinner.”

Now it’s Saturday, midday, and Isaac is standing on the armrest of his couch, dutifully screwing a bracket into the rear-right corner of his living room, just under the ceiling.  It’s grunt work, and the screws are stripping, like they’ve done on every home improvement project Isaac has ever tried.  And here’s Jim prattling away from the hall:

10 nanoseconds.  That amount of delay is imperceptible to any human brain, even a ninja’s.  And the way these speakers throw sound: my God.  There’s a home theater setting you can use, when Jean’s not around.  Puts you right in the middle of the gunfight.”

“Did she — did Jean seem the same to you yesterday?  Same as before?”

Ten seconds of drilling follow, then a series of bangs.  With the latest wall anchor hammered into place, Jim gives his answer:

“Well, she was see-through.  But otherwise, yeah.  Still, though: you’d have a better read on that than I would, right?”

Isaac had resolved, beforehand, to study @Jean closely, to see if he could detect any difference between the woman he knew and the one the Copy Techs and B.org had revived.  But in the short time he had with her, he’d been occupied with other considerations.  He certainly couldn’t say they’d missed so wildly as to introduce a clean break, so that he could bring himself to call the question and walk away from her.

Of course, maybe @Jean has called the question.  Maybe she’s walked away …?

“From what I understand of the current technology,” Jim continues, “they’re able to map the neural connectome and digitize it with at least 99.44% accuracy —”

— this is the “Ivory Soap Barrier”: broken, with much fanfare, four years ago —

“— and from there it’s just a matter of writing code that compensates for the physiological effects on human behavior that come from outside the brain.  Hormones and so on.  That’s the gap they’re continuing to try to close.  Now it seems to me there comes a point where the perfect is the enemy of the good: I mean, does anybody, man or woman, want the monthly bill getting digitized?”

It’s not clear Jim expects an answer here, and Isaac doesn’t give him one.

“They’ve done studies, where they have people interact with a mix of No-Bodies and Somebodies over the Internet — they don’t tell them who’s who — and they survey them about their experiences.  Results show no statistically significant difference in the nature and quality of the interactions.”

“But they’ve never run a study where the subjects interacted with Before and After versions of the same person,” Isaac says.

“How could they?  They’d have to launch a parallel PCE iteration of a living person in order to do that.  And that’s hella illegal.”

Isaac presses hard, giving his screw one last wrenching turn into the wall stud.  He feels a twinge in his shoulder.  They have sixteen more of these units to install.

“You know, Jim, I’m getting kind of sore.  And,” he adds, lying, “I’m still fighting off this hangover.  Maybe we could finish this project later?”

“Uh — sure.  Yeah. I just thought — maybe you’d want this launched and live for when Jean got back.”

“I think for now it’s good enough for us to use a phone connection, or one-way streaming video.”  He pauses.  “Anyway, I don’t know when she’ll be back.”  Or if?

“You haven’t heard from her?”

“No.”  It speaks to the absence of any direct relationship between these two that they’re only covering this ground now, two hours into the work.

“Hm,” Jim says. “Okay.  Let me snap this unit in place, and I’ll get out of here.  We can take it up again later, when you’re feeling better.”

“Thanks,” Isaac says.  “And thanks for all your help.  I’ll be in touch.”

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