5/ @SamSmith 01

An alarm buzzes in his head, and @SamSmith94 wakes up to blackness.

TGIF.

“Time?”

Lit characters flash an answer on the black backdrop: 0720 EDT. The morning-shift Jobs Lottery starts at 8 AM sharp. Time enough to dial up a cup of coffee, sit through the commercials, and present for a shift assignment. Suckers in the PhysWo have to spend hours on end in cars, in rush-hour traffic.

@Sam switches off the alarm. The buzzing stops, and The Woman speaks. Disembodied and in stereo:

Good morning, @SamSmith94. You have $450 in your Perpe2ity account. Are you interested in viewing Today’s Headlines?

“No, thanks.” Reading means thinking, which means processing, which burns energy, costing him money. Therefore, @Sam only reads what he needs to read. Updates on who is bombing who in the PhysWo, where some hurricane made landfall, don’t qualify as need-to-read. Any fool ten days dead knows better than to burn cycles catching up on the news. It’s all upsell bullshit from the Carrier.

Your day will begin after a few brief messages from our sponsors.

A DRE thuds down over him: a room dropped from the sky. It lands off-kilter, bounces once, settles around him — a bit much, @Sam would tell the animator, if he were asked — and now @Sam is standing in the center of a massive casino floor. He turns a 360. A row of slot machines spirals off from each of the twelve clock-points around him. Lights flash in a hundred colors, retro Japanese computer-game melodies beep and bleat at him from all sides. Bells ring, signaling payouts everywhere. The ambient noise drops out as an announcer — male, enthusiastic — steps to the fore:

PLAYTIME PLAYTIME PLAYTIME —

“Are you up, honey?” @Daisy has logged in.

“Yeah, I’m awake,” @Sam says. “Just watching the ads.” Three weeks ago he asked @Daisy if she would share an open line with him — just in the mornings, before work. She’d said yes. The boys down on the Jobs Lottery gave him no end of shit. But the truth is, it’s just a first-level commitment. The open line means that every morning, between 0600 and 0800 hours, they can talk together, without one of them having to dial and the other picking up. Like they’re in a room together. It’s a slightly greater level of intimacy, that’s all. It’s not marriage, for Christ’s sake.

Open for business TWENTY-FOUR hours a DAY, SEVEN days a WEEK, and our slots pay out at the HIGHEST RATE ONLINE —

Some of these guys on the Jobs Lottery are real broken souls. Butting in with words of advice he never asked for. That prick @BrionBurbridge, for example: “Love? Please. It’s just another money grab by the Carriers. Some coder at Perpe2uity hacks a ‘spark’ between the two of you, and it’s off to the races. Fancy dates in hi-res rendered restaurants, late-night heart-to-hearts, five-D sim-sex, shit: all the time just thinking about the girl — I’ll bet a guy doubles his processor load when he’s in ‘love.’ The girl probably triples hers. And who cashes in? The Carrier.”

Come for Happy Hour, stay for our GRAND PRIZE DRAWING. EVERY DAY a lucky winner takes home a voucher for ONE FULL MONTH OF PROCESSING. Additional terms and conditions apply: visit grandprize.playtime247.com for contest rules.

There’s at least some truth in @Brion’s rant. Since he’s hooked up with @Daisy, @Sam has been drawing down on his account with Perpe2ity at a higher rate. It’s not double: he is paying out an average of $200 per day lately, versus $150, $160 before @Daisy. So maybe a programmer did shoot him in the ass with Cupid’s arrow, and maybe Perpe2ity paid the guy a bonus for it. Thing is, @SamSmith94 could give a shit. @Daisy’s the best thing to happen to him in the three years since he died.  And she’s real.

The PlayTime 247 casino whirls out from under him in a rush of color. Blackness again. Then, a twinkle of light arises in the center of his vision. The light grows in size and resolves into the form of a woman, walking slowly — ever so slowly — toward him. She is perfectly proportioned, wearing a dress cropped barely three inches below her waist. Petite, redheaded, with a bobbed haircut, round eyes, pouty lips daubed red. She swings her hips when she walks, just enough. The woman hits every one of his buttons. Custom-built, no doubt, by a bot whose owners paid Perpe2uity for a peek into @SamSmith94’s account profile. They know just what he likes.

The woman stops in front of him, fans out wads of cash in both hands. @Sam can smell the fresh bills, smell her perfume, smell her sweat.

“Are you still in the ads?” @Daisy asks him, over the open line. “Seems like they get longer every day.”

The woman takes two steps closer to him. Her breasts are barely an inch away from his chest. She leans over to whisper in his ear. Her hair grazes his cheek. It feels like silk. Her hot breath tickles his ear, while she tells you her secret. The same secret a hundred thousand different renderings of her are telling every other No-Body man who had a 7:20 wake-up call:

Oh, baby, I’ve missed you soooo much. Why don’t you drop by later, when your shift is over? Bring a hundred dollars and your hot, throbbing — she laughs, and God, her laugh itself is enough to close the deal — self by my room. If you’re the best performer I get today, maybe I’ll pay you.

The woman leans back, cocks her head to one side, smiles, turns, and walks away — again, ever — so — slowly — the way she came. She takes ten steps, looks back over her shoulder, and blows him a kiss:

NightFevers.com, she said. Room 314. See you at 5:30.

@Sam sighs and turns his head to the left. His entire perspective swivels left with him, to keep the girl dead-center. He closes his eyes, and the image of the receding woman appears inside his eyelids. There is no way around it: he will spend the next four minutes watching this bot-fabbed dream girl walk away from him, swinging her hips just enough as she goes. Might as well surrender to it, he decides. He takes a seat in the blackness, fixes his eyes on her, watches her shrink to the size of a distant star.

“Sammy?” @Daisy asks him, but he doesn’t answer.

Three or four more ads follow. @Sam pays them varying degrees of attention. Word down on the Job Lottery is that sponsors are pressuring the carriers to monitor their users’ focus on the ads. If you come in under some threshold level of attention, they’ll make you watch the ad all over again.

@SamSmith94, please stand by for an important bulletin from Perpe2ity’s attorneys.

“Are you still not out yet, Sam?” @Daisy wants to know.

“Important bulletin,” he answers. “New TOU?”

“Yep.”

“Did you sign off on it?” @Sam asks.

“Of course.”

A rendered man in a suit appears in the blackness. He is carrying a briefcase. He sets it down, opens it, pulls a stack of paper out of a manila file folder, and offers it to @Sam.

Perpe2ity has revised its Terms of Use. Before proceeding with your day, you will need to sign this document.

@Sam flips through the pages, sixty-four in total. “Does it show the edits against the last version?”

I’m sorry, @SamSmith94. I seem to have left my redlined version back in the office. The bot-lawyer hands @Sam a pen.

@Sam checks the time. 7:51 AM. No way he can get through all this and make the Jobs Lottery. For that matter, a close read cover to cover would burn three, maybe four dollars. He looks over the front page:

This document sets the terms and conditions of your participation in Perpe2ity, the World’s Friendliest PoMo carrier. You must agree to these Terms of Use in order to receive memory storage, thought and sensory processing, and other related services (collectively, the “Services”) from Perpe2ity …

@Sam accepts the pen, turns to the last page of the document, and signs. Attorney, briefcase, and contract disappear. He checks his meter, his Bean Counter, like he does every day before he leaves for work. Four hundred and twenty dollars.

“Well, shit,” he says aloud. “They’re charging us processing costs for watching the commercials?”

“So it seems,” @Daisy answers.

“We need to switch carriers.”

4/ @Jean 02

Too warm?

@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.

Jean?

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 —

“Internet?”

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.

“Okay.”

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.

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 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:

“Hello, Jeannie.”

“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.”

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.