3/ Isaac 01

He toggles out of auto-drive so he can pull up in the fire lane. He throws the emergency brake.

You are unlawfully parked.

“Fix it your damn self,” he says. He is out of the car, slamming the door closed, running. He rounds the back bumper, flicks a switch on the key remote, and the car motors off in search of an open space in the hospital lot. He runs into the lobby, calls out to a woman at Registration:

“The ER — where is it?”

The woman behind the counter points the way. The gentleman she is currently serving humphs at him: You could have waited your turn.

But he couldn’t. He is in a dead sprint now, down the main corridor, through the automatic doors into Emergency. The lobby is empty. No one in sight. A county hospital like this, out in the sticks — they probably max out at three patients per day in the ER. There’s a television in the corner, hanging on a swivel mount high on the wall. That woman, the comedienne with the daytime talk show, is nattering on about her next guest’s new movie.

He stops at the reception desk. His heart is pounding. He drags a shirtsleeve across his forehead, to swab away the sweat. There’s a push-button on the desk, and a sign Scotch-taped beside it: RING FOR HELP.

He pushes the button and immediately jumps, as an old-time school bell, done in red metal, rings on the wall behind the desk. His phone buzzes while he waits: he assumes it’s the car telling him where it parked, and he doesn’t check it.

And now an EMPLOYEES ONLY door opens, and a man walks through it.

“You’re the emergency contact for Jean Woolsey?” the man says to him, looking down at his tablet for a name. “You’re Isaac Elberg?”

He nods.

“Dr. Sanchez-Padilla. If you would come with me to the sitting room —”

“You can’t tell me here?” Isaac says.

The doctor looks around the room, and finding it empty, he says, “Ms. Woolsey passed away about a half hour ago. I’m sorry.”

There is a pause. A long pause. Then the doctor says, finally, so Isaac doesn’t have to ask, “She was successfully digitized.”

“Can I speak to her?”

“That’s not my department. You’ll have to talk to the Technicians.” The doctor hands him a business card. Issac looks at it, blankly. There is a phone number on it. “I’m not personally familiar with this carrier,” the doctor adds, “but ordinarily contact with the deceased is forbidden for an adjustment period of up to two weeks. They may allow you to leave a message.”

“Can I see her?”

“Come with me.”

He follows the doctor back through the door.

“She’d lost too much blood,” the doctor says, projecting his voice down the hall. “She was too far gone. If we could have got to her sooner —”

“The wreck was out on The Bumps on Route 12. That’s fifteen miles from here and three from St. Jude’s. Why didn’t they take her there?”

The doctor answers without turning to face him: “St. Jude’s won’t admit Copy Techs into their facilities. Policy of the diocese. Goes all the way up to Rome. If the ambulance had gone there, and she didn’t make it, she’d be lost forever.” The doctor quickens his pace. It’s like he’s running away from the conversation.

Isaac shouts after the doctor: “But they could have saved her.”

“They might have saved her. It was a judgment call. The paramedics had seconds to make it, and they chose the safer option. Ellie!” The doctor flags down a passing nurse. “Can you take Mr. Elberg to see his —?”

The doctor waits for Isaac to finish the sentence. Isaac tries and fails. He staggers toward the side of the corridor, grabs hold of the rail there, and starts to cry.

“Ms. Woolsey,” the doctor says to the waiting nurse, by way of explanation. He pats Isaac gently on the shoulder and continues down the hall.

“You can come with me, sir,” the nurse says. “When you’re ready.”

Minutes later they are standing in a room. Two beds. She is lying in the one by the window. The sun knifes through the slats in the window blinds, striping the walls, the floor, and Jean.

“I’ll leave you alone with her,” the nurse says, before leaving the room.

He approaches her. Her hands are folded across her chest. Her eyes are closed. The top of her head is wrapped in a white cotton sheet. They do this after the Transfer is completed, to make the body presentable. His hairs stand on end.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the jeweler’s box. He opens it, takes out the diamond ring, and slips it over the cold fourth finger of her left hand.

2/ @HenryWoolsey 01

“That’s a strange thing.”

“What happened?”

“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.

“Henry?”

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.”

“Exactly.”

“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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Even so.”

“Driver of the car a 25-year-old white female. That’s our Jeannie.”

“Nearby hospitals?”

I call up the browser window with Maps. “There are five.”

“Call them.”

“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.

“Grandpa.”

I think of the time my son — @Jean’s father — fell out of the oak tree in our backyard. Fifteen feet to the ground, as I watched horrified through the kitchen window. I think about how he rolled over, climbed to his feet, walked over to the tree, and started kicking its trunk, as punishment for dropping him. Without recourse to biochemistry, recalling this incident is how I’ve taught myself to feel relief. “Hello, Jeannie,” I say.

“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 weren’t talking with her 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.”

Two clicks.

“Hello, Grandma.”

“Jeannie, you’re all right?”

“I’m copied over.”

“Jeannie, I’m so sorry —”

“Enough,” I say. “We’ll talk in two weeks.”

 

 

 

1/ Jean 01

Hammaker Lane is a ten-mile stretch of Route 12.  Cut through the woods: two lanes, narrow.  Dips and hills like a sine wave.  She loved this ride as a kid — how the car leaped as it came over the humps, how the sun slashed between the trees on the way home after school.  Her grandfather brought her here when she first got her learner’s permit.  She brings her left hand to the steering wheel, toggles the drive switch from auto to manual.  The car asks her:

Are you sure you want to disable the auto-drive app?

She clips her phone’s hands-free headset over her ears.  “Henry Woolsey, please.”

Are you sure you want to disable —

“Right — Jesus —”

Are you sure you —

“I’m sure.”

Auto-drive is disabled.

“Henry Woolsey, please.”

Dialing …

She slots her hands at the 10 and 2 positions.  Just as he taught her.

“Jeannie.”

“Good morning, Henry —”

“’Henry, today?  What did I do wrong?”

“I’m calling on business,” she says, “so you’re Henry.”

“Is this a new thing?”

“It seems right to me.”

“Fair enough.  You’re on the road, then?”

“Route 12.  The Bumps.”

“Hammaker Lane.”  Where Some Body might laugh, @Henry says, “Ha.”  And then: “I remember hanging on for dear life.”

“I’m better at it now.”

“Are you calling about the Sherman argument?  I had us booked to talk later in the afternoon.”

“We never made a decision about the lease.”

“Oh.  Didn’t we?” he adds, brightly.

“If we want out, we have to give notice by tomorrow.”

“I don’t see any reason to make a change.”

She hits the pedal hard.  The car surges forward into an incline.  “The Firm could have twice the square footage in White Plains, for a third of the rent.  It’s just so much money.”

“Jean Bean, if we leave Midtown now, it’s as good as admitting defeat.”

“You could put that savings into the Foundation.”

“Location matters, my dear.”

Sensors indicate oncoming traffic.

“Noted,” she tells the car.  “It blows my mind, Grandpa, that of all people you would care so much where our offices are.”

“What can I say?  I’m a traditionalist.”

A large vehicle is approaching.

“Noted.”  She is coasting to the bottom of a trough.  Accelerating, now, into the next rise.

INBOUND TRAFFIC HAS CROSSED THE CENTER LINE.

She sees it.  A truck.  She whips the wheel right: 10 and 2 to 3 and 7.  The car plunges off into the trees.

SENSORS INDICATE DEPARTURE FROM PAVED SURFACE.  INITIATING AUTO-DRIVE

IMPACT REGISTERED.

Her leg is pinned down over the pedal, pressing it to the floor.  The car’s electric motor spins, whips mud into the air behind her.

Initiating auto-drive override.

The pedal goes limp.  The motor stops spinning.  She blacks out.

Dialing 9-1-1— 

*          *          *

 

She is flying on her back, feet-first.  Panes of frosted glass wipe away the sky.  She hears a wham, and the frosted glass gives way to segments of dropped ceiling, flashing by like movie frames.  She hears shoes slapping on floor tile.  She hears shouts, words she should understand:

The goddam Copy Techs: where are they?

Scrubbed and standing by, in OR 2.

CLEAR OUT CLEAR OUT CLEAR OUT —

Her head lolls to her left.

We’re losing her.  Hands clasp her cheeks, turning her head.  A face hovers over her, framed by fingers.  Talking, insisting.  Stay with me, sweetheart.  Just a little longer.

She closes her eyes.