12/ Isaac 02

Three, maybe four days now, since the accident.  Isaac is back at the Manhattan apartment, seated at their dinner table, looking out over the leavings of last night’s ordered-in dinner.  There is a knotted plastic bag here with duck sauce and mustard packets in it, fortune cookies uncracked.

At some point the radio came on.  Playing through the open-air speaker on Jean’s phone, which he brought back from the hospital and left on the kitchen counter’s hot pad to charge.  It’s tuned to National Public Radio: @Henry Woolsey joins Tom Sigurdsen live on Topics to discuss the Sherman case.  Jean must have calendared it to play this episode — her grandfather/ mentor/ law partner, regaling the public about the case she was slated to argue before the Supreme Court next month.

Listeners, we will take your call at 1-888-999-1200.

Isaac reaches for his phone, on a whim.  He has thirty-six voice mail messages.  Many, many check-ins and condolence calls he could not summon the energy to take.  He dials the Topics toll-free number.  Our operators are busy taking other calls.  Please hold.  You are #11 in the queue.

He clips his headset into his left ear, and he waits.  Forty minutes of hold music: selections of Holst’s The Planets, then Bolero.  His right ear takes in what’s left of the Topics broadcast: @Henry going ten rounds with the lightweight Christian fundamentalist Topics brought in to counter him. Most days this would end in an early TKO, but @Henry isn’t in his best fighting shape.  Still, he probably wins on points.

At five of 11 Sigurdsen separates the combatants.  That’s our show for today.  We thank our guests Henry Woolsey and Sheila Tso for joining us.  Please tune in again tomorrow at 10 AM.  We’ll be talking with @BruceSpringsteen, whose forty-seventh album drops next week.  Here’s a track from that album, to tide you over …

The phone’s hold music breaks off.

Today’s broadcast of Topics has ended.  We are sorry we were not able to connect you with Tom and our guests today.  If you would like to share your views with other listeners in writing, please visit our online forum www.topicsradio.org.  You may also drop us a note at our Klatsch account …

Isaac hangs up the phone.  It was a dumb idea anyway.  What did he think would happen?

Isaac in New York City joins us.  What’s on your mind, Isaac?

“I have a question for Mr. Woolsey.”

Go ahead.  Shoot.

“Henry — it’s me.  Isaac. Jean’s Isaac.  I need to know: what do I do now?”

And @Henry’s answer?  Isaac might have found fleeting satisfaction in wrong-footing this wisest of wise men — the advocate, the philosopher — on live radio.  But then that dust, too, would settle, leaving him here alone, back where he started.

The new Springsteen song sucks.  He hasn’t recorded anything worth a damn since he discorporated.  Too far gone with the Alzheimer’s, by the time they got to him, and anyone who says otherwise is being politically correct.  The clock strikes 11 AM; the radio show is over, and the phone turns off.

There is noise in the outside hall.  Pings from the elevator, now footsteps, voices, equipment clanking off walls.  A key zips into his front-door lock.  Isaac crosses the kitchen, pulls a butcher’s knife from the wood block on the counter.  The door to the apartment opens from outside.  Isaac tucks himself behind the kitchen doorframe.  He peers out around the corner into the front room, where a man is standing.  Young, probably under thirty, dressed in a neon orange neoprene hoodie and worn brown corduroys.

“Lights are on,” the man says.  “Hm.”

There is a loud bang.

The man turns around.  “Careful — Jesus.  You took a big chip out of the molding.”

A woman answers.  “Cart won’t push straight.  It’s this shitty wheel.”

“Funny: we can put a man on a hard drive …”

“Yeah, funny.  You could help.”

Isaac turns back into the kitchen and closes his eyes.  These two with their day-glo clothes, their clattering and schtick: they don’t seem like home invaders. Still, though: how do home invaders act, when they’ve don’t know they are not alone?  Into his fourth day of grieving now, with next to no sleep or human contact: the mind turns to conspiracies.  Jean a young and rising PCE civil rights leader in the PhysWo.  Wackos bombarding her with online threats and abuse, going back months.  Then a truck runs her off the road — a truck that didn’t stop and has not been found by police.  And now these two strangers have blundered into her apartment.  Looking for something?

“Running out of charge here,” the woman says.

“There’s an outlet to your left.  Unplug the lamp.”

“Don’t we want the light on when we scan?”

Scanning for something.  Isaac swaps the knife into his left hand and digs into his pocket for his phone.

“How about in the hallway?” the man says.  “You packed the extension cord, didn’t you?”

Isaac thumbs his phone on.  911 isn’t the play.  He would have to speak to the dispatcher, and the man and woman are steps away, around the corner.  He’ll text the office and have them send for help.  One hand wrapped around the knife, one hand thumbing:

Karen, I’m in Jean’s apt in NYC.  There are ppl here they had a key they don’t know I’m —

“Oh — oh.  You’re the boyfriend, aren’t you?”  Isaac looks up.  The man is standing opposite him, against the refrigerator.

Isaac drops the phone and surges forward, bringing the knife to the stranger’s throat.

“Hey — HEY.  Whoa there —”

“Don’t move,” Isaac instructs.

“Not moving.  Not gonna move.”

“Who are you?  Where did you get the key?”

“You’re the boyfriend.  Yes. We were going to call you. LIDDIE!” the man shouts.

“I’M IN THE HALL!” Liddie shouts back.  The two loudest burglars of all time.


“No,” Isaac says.  “She stays outside.”  He has just the one knife, for the two of them.

“Right,” the man answers.  “LIDDIE, STAY IN THE HALL.”

“WHAT?  WHY?” Liddie asks.





The man nods, bugs out his eyes at Isaac, as if he’s proved something.



“Can she come in now?”

Isaac kneels down and picks up his phone, keeping the point of his knife trained on parts Doug does not want stabbed.  He hands the phone to Doug.  “Find the message for me,” he says.

“Sure thing,” Doug says.  He is scared, and he fumbles with the phone for a few seconds before mastering himself. He flits his fingers over the touchscreen and conjures up a sound file, finally.

Mr. Elberg, my name is Lydia Kaufman.  I’m a DRE specialist at B.org.  I’m staffed on the digitization project for Jean Woolsey. I’m wondering if we can arrange a time to visit Ms. Woolsey’s apartment, perhaps tomorrow morning?  I’m sorry for the fire drill, but we need to render up an NBT replica of her apartment for her.  Our marching orders are to have it ready for when she leaves quarantine, and the six-way scanning can take some time —

Isaac understands just enough of this to believe it may be on the up-and-up. “Do you have ID on you, something? A business card?”

“I’ll have to reach into my pocket for it.”

“What about her?”  Isaac points out into the front room, toward the swung-open door.

“CAN I COME IN NOW?” Liddie asks again, as if on cue.

“AS FAR AS THE FRONT ROOM,” Isaac says.  “And slide an ID and business card across the floor, toward me.”

“Her voice is the same as the one on the phone,” Doug says.

“Nevertheless,” Isaac says.

Liddie complies, and Isaac reviews her credentials while awkwardly trying to keep Doug in check with his knife.  While this awkward process runs its course, Doug does not make a break for it, and this helps establish his bona fides.  Five minutes later Isaac is slumped down on the couch in the front room, watching Liddie and Doug unpack their cart.  They pull out a series of six different devices, power them up, connect them with fiber-optic cables — “too much data for wireless,” Doug tells him, “we’d be here all week” — and begin futzing with their many knobs, antennae, and touch-screens.

“We’ll run these scans over every inch of every room.  Every surface, every drawer, every nook and cranny,” Liddie explains.  “We’ll log everything in here into inventory, from that sixty-inch TV you’ve got on the wall to the crumbs on your kitchen table.  The scanners take dimensions of rooms, closets, drawers, and appliances. They record information about the property of materials — the color of paint and where it’s chipped.  The weight and grain of the wood in the cupboards, the sheen of its finish.  Does Jean have a bathrobe?  If she does, we’ll run the scanner over the terrycloth, lock in its texture, stitching, thread count, and dimensions.  We’ll do the same with all the rest of her clothes, all her belongings — everything in the apartment scanned and cataloged.  And for each item, its material properties, condition, placement, and so on are logged in our system, so that we can render it digitally.”

“No detail is too small,” Doug chimes in.  “We’ll scan the text on the tags of her clothes, the sheets, the mattresses.  If the HVAC hums, we’ll record it for replication.  We’ll run the scanner over her toothbrush, to get a sense of how bendy or stiff the bristles are.”

Isaac has one question: how long will this take?  But anticipating he won’t love the answer, he doesn’t ask it.

Doug goes on: “A lot of the DREs you read about — the casinos, the beach resorts — they’re low-rent.  Primitive stuff: a passable rendition of sights and sounds, but smell and taste are off the table, and the feels are unsophisticated.  They’ll do temperature, solid walls and ground under your feet, and a chintzy liquid sensation so you can feel like you’re swimming in a pool or walking along the shoreline.  But do you really?”

Isaac shrugs.  He doesn’t know.

“You don’t.  There’s a significant gap between what your five senses perceive in the PhysWo and what they perceive in these junk DREs.  And for the human mind — even a discorporated mind — that gap can be disorienting.  Now as time passes, memories fade.  This goes double for memories of sensory perception. Without periodic refreshers, the mind forgets what, say, sand feels like between your toes.  You wait long enough in the dark, and a 1990s Super Mario Bros.-quality DRE can feel real.  But for someone who has just crossed over, diving into shitty renders is a recipe for depression.”

“And yet you’re making a render for Jean,” Isaac says.

“We are.  But with our tech, the experience gap approaches zero.”

Liddie answers: “Our research shows that a new 101er adjusts most easily to the change, if she has recourse to the comforts of home.”

“Lydia is proposing that we call PCEs ‘101ers’,” Doug says, by way of explanation.  “Not that it’s catching on …”

“The descriptive terms we’ve been using are politically freighted,” Lydia argues. “‘Post-Mortem Entity,’ ‘Post-Corporeal Entity’ — there’s no consistency of usage.  In the PhysWo Jean was carbon-based, DNA-coded.  Now she’s constructed in binary code.  Ones and zeroes.  Hence, 101er.”

“What she’s not saying is that the 101ers —”

“… were Joe Strummer’s first band,” Isaac says.

Liddie sets down, for the moment, the scan-wand she was waving at the ceiling. She turns to Isaac.  “You know him?”

He stands up, the better to pull his phone from his front pocket, and cues up the Clash’s Give ’Em Enough Rope to play over the in-wall speaker system.  This gesture impresses upon Lydia that he is more than apartment matter for scanning.  She walks over to him and places a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” she says.

“It’s okay,” he says.

“No it’s not.  We should have started with that.”

He sinks back into the couch, and with the century-old music in the background, the other two go about their work in silence for a few minutes, Doug with a scrunched-up nose — not his thing, apparently — while Lydia bumps around to the rhythm.

“At some point,” Liddie says, “if we haven’t bored you to death, we’ll need you to get up off the sofa so we can work in between and under the cushions.”

“If we have bored you to death, we’ll just move your body,” Doug says.

“And the NBT apartment will be yours, too,” Liddie says.

They’ve used that acronym twice now, and so Isaac asks: “What does NBT mean?”

“Next Best Thing.”

11/ @HenryWoolsey 03

Four minutes to intro, Danny, the show’s producer, advises.  Can we do one more line check? 

“Testing,” I say.  His third time checking, but I indulge him.  He’s new to the station. 

Line is good.  Thank you, Mr. Woolsey.  Tom has asked whether you wish to discuss the recent event with your granddaughter. 

“Thanks for asking.  We’re all still processing what happened.  Given the format here, I’d rather not.  Let’s keep personal matters out of the fray.”  For now, anyway. 

Understood.  Tom will introduce you shortly. 

“I’ll be here.” 

I keep a “green room” interface in my settings for times like this.  There’s not much to it, as it happens.  I only took B.org’s default energy-saver setting — basic black viz interface in all directions — and I recolored it to a deep hunter green.  HTML color code #216C3D.  It gets me into game mode. 

Th@ch is calling.  I check the time as I pick up.  “Three minutes, fourteen seconds and I’m on live.  What do you need?” 

“Are you listening to this crap?” Th@ch asks. 

“I was,” I answer.  “But now I’m on a line with you.” 

“Why didn’t they put you on first?” 

“I didn’t ask.” 

“Well, maybe you should have.  A ten-minute head-start for Sheila Tso?  I’ve got half a mind to hack the live feed and wreck the show.” 

“A fantastic idea,” I reply.  “And it wouldn’t reflect poorly on us at all.” 

“So argues my mind’s other half,” Th@ch moans.  “But still.  Supreme Leader Tso gets an uncontested quarter-hour to peddle her meat-jockey fascism, and all we can do is smile and take the hits?” 

“I’ll be as tough on her as the context warrants,” I say. 

“That’s a lawyer’s promise.” 

“By definition,” is my answer. 

“How is Jean?” Th@ch asks.  As if my granddaughter were an old friend, or even an acquaintance before the accident. 

“She’s fine.  Still in config.  Trying herself on.” 

There is a pause.  “Butterflies,” Th@ch says.  “I’ve always wondered.  Once they’ve cracked chrysalis, fanned out their wings, taken their first flight into the sunshine — do you think they spend even a minute looking back on their humdrum caterpillar days?” 

“I think sentimentality is a distinctly human trait.” 

“And a weakness, at that.” 

Danny calls out to me over his other line: One minute, Mr. Woolsey. 

“Clock’s ticking.  I gotta go.” 

“Yeah, all right.  Bring it home, Henry.” 

“Sure thing.”  I cut the line and bring up the radio volume. 

Joining us now on the broadcast to discuss the Sherman case is attorney Henry Woolsey, himself a Post Mortem Entity and a committed advocate for PME rights.  Mr. Woolsey, welcome to the show. 

“Thank you, Tom.” 

Mr. Woolsey is the — 

“Please, Tom, call me Henry.” 

Of course.  Henry is the managing partner of the @Woolsey, O’Brien and Sims law firm  

“And Tom — my last interruption, Tom, and I apologize — I would prefer if you would identify me as a PCE —” 

Oh.  Er, I’m not familiar … you said PCE? 

“Papa Charlie Echo.  For Post-Corporeal Entity.” 

A shrill voice interjects: “There he goes already.” 

Hold on, Sheila, you’ll have your turn — 

“But this is important, Tom, because he’s assuming the conclusion —” 

“Quite the contrary, Sheila,” I argue, “It’s you assuming the conclusion —” 

Tom, chuckling: All right, you two, back to your corners.  Let’s work through this.  Henry, I apologize if I gave offense.  PME is the term I was familiar with — 

“Because it’s the term everybody uses, Tom,” Sheila Tso all but shrieks.  Really, that voice of hers doesn’t do her any favors.  “But now that Attorney Woolsey has this case before the Supreme Court, he suddenly wants to rewrite the dictionary.” 

Contrast my voice: patient and measured — that’s all me — and tonally calibrated by B.org’s proprietary software to be maximally appealing to listeners.  “I should be clear, Tom: I’m not offended.  This business calls for thick skin.  So to speak.  The point I wanted to make is that words matter, and we need to speak with precision.  If I am a Post Mortem Entity, then I have died.  If I have died, then Bob Sherman has died, and the @BobSherman who survives online is not the same Bob Sherman who gave up his body at the Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, and we don’t need the Supreme Court to decide the question.” 

“We don’t need the Supreme Court to decide the question.” 

Thank you, Sheila, Tom says.  I will note that you had ten minutes on air before Henry came on.  Let’s give him time to make his case.  Henry? 

“I don’t doubt that Sheila can answer the question without the Court’s help.  But the Court granted certiorari — that is, the Justices voted to hear the case — and they will decide the question, one way or the other.” 

And you would have them rule that online @BobSherman and PhysWo Bob Sherman are the same legal entity. 

“I would have the Court apply the law as it has been applied in all fifty states — including in Kansas — for lo, these thirty or more years, before Junior Sherman decided to make a grab for his estranged father’s financial accounts.” 

“Gabe Sherman grabbed nothing, Tom.  Gabe Sherman is Bob Sherman’s only son, and because Bob Sherman died without a will, Gabe has inherited the entirety of Bob Sherman’s estate under the laws of intestacy in Kansas.  And for that matter, anywhere else.” 

“You do have to tip your hat to them, Tom.  To the anti-PCE crowd, I mean.  It’s been twenty-five years now, since the Court ruled in Loxley v. Utah that an unenhanced Post-Corporeal Entity is a person fully entitled to the rights, privileges, and protection of the law.  Twenty-four years since the Court carried forward the Loxley principle in a criminal case, to hold that more than just a data offense, the deletion of all copies of a PCE’s profile could be punishable as homicide.  Twenty-one years since Virginia v. Spano, where the Court held under the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause that any provision of law that burdens a PCE’s exercise of rights is inherently suspect and subject to strict scrutiny in federal court.  Eighteen years since Jablonski v. Board of Elections of Huron County, which affirmed the right of a PCE to vote in elections of the state and municipality where he or she last resided in the PhysWo —” 

“And I would remind our listeners that in all of these cases the Supreme Court referred to purported persons like Mr. Woolsey as Post Mortem Entities. 

“Tom, I have been purporting to be a person for over a century now, and for 26 of those 103 years I’ve been doing it online.  I think it’s fair to say I became less of a person when I swore in as an attorney than I did on the night my heart stopped beating.” 

Tom chuckles.  Danny the Producer sends me a text — Thank you for deflecting that so gracefully. 

“But to get back to the case.  Since Loxley established their nationwide right to hold property, millions of PCEs have graduated into online living and retained access to the wealth they worked so very hard to accumulate while in the PhysWo — often at the expense of their bodies, I should note.  Indeed, over the last decade, forty-six state legislatures and the EU have adopted laws that freeze the assets of PCEs during their period of quarantine.  If you remember, there had been a spate of incidents in which hackers targeted the financial accounts of PCEs who had just discorporated —” 

“Had just died —” 

“— and were undergoing the standard two weeks of configuration and testing.” 

“Most of those hackers were PoMos,” Sheila Tso asserts, entirely without basis. 

“My point is, the law on this question is well settled: you can take it with you.  And millions have.  Now here comes Junior Sherman, backed by big dollars and big lawyers, to turn three decades of financial practice on its head.” 

A text comes in from Th@ch: I’m listening and you forgot “big churches.” 

I didn’t.  I just didn’t see the upside in antagonizing, I dunno, Christendom.  I continue: 

“And they do so today on the theory that — get this — while @BobSherman may be a person under the Loxley case and its progeny, he’s not the same person as the Bob Sherman whose body was interred in the First Presbyterian churchyard two years ago.  I’ll grant them cleverness, Tom.  Tenacity, too.  But there comes a point where we, as a nation, have to say enough.” 


“I’ll note that Mr. Woolsey hasn’t yet engaged the merits of the case.  To do that, he’d have to acknowledge first, that the technicians did not actually transfer Bob Sherman’s consciousness online.  They made a copy of it.  And shortly thereafter, the original Bob Sherman died.  The copy is not Bob Sherman.  The copy is an imposter. 


“I would not say @BobSherman is an imposter.  This isn’t a case of credit card fraud.  From @BobSherman’s perspective, he has complete continuity of consciousness with Bob Sherman in the hospital bed.  He closed his eyes, the Technicians went to work on him, and he woke up again.  He retains the entirety of his memory, his mind is perfectly reconstructed —” 

“They say that, Tom.  They say perfectly reconstructed, but don’t believe it.” 

“Even if —” 

“Perfectly reconstructed is not achievable.” 

“Even if @BobSherman is not —” 

“It’s not achievable.” 

And we have crosstalk.  Tom wades into the morass, pulls the clinching pugilists apart, wags a finger at Sheila … again.  Ms. Tso, he says, toggling back to formality.  You need to let Mr. Woolsey finish his comment. 

“I’ll readily concede that @BobSherman is not an exact, perfect copy of the Bob Sherman who stopped breathing.” 

Text from Th@ch: Why?  Why the FUCK would you concede that? 

I continue, and I show him why.  “But is it not true of all of us, embodied or not, that we are constantly growing and changing?  Are any of us truly the same person from one moment to the next?” 

“This is the way lawyers talk,” Sheila says. 

I think it’s an interesting point, Tom says. 

That’s my window.  “Let’s run with that, Tom.  You say I made an interesting point just now.  Would you say that point caused you to think about the case a bit differently?” 

I would say so. 

“And about PCEs a bit differently?” 

Well … yes.  I would say yes. 

“With the result that you are, arguably, a different person than the person you were before I spoke?” 

I suppose. 

“And yet Sheila Tso is not here accusing Tom of Right Now of identity theft.  Or for that matter, outright theft of all the assets previously held by Tom of a Moment Ago.” 

Sheila answers. “The difference is that Tom of a Moment Ago hasn’t died.” 

“But that is an altogether separate point, analytically, isn’t it?  Sameness and difference are irrelevant.  A guy gets thunked on the head and loses his memory — his son doesn’t get to walk into his house and make off with the furniture.” 

Not legally, anyway.  Tom chuckles. 

“All we have to judge the matter is continuity of consciousness, with all the bumps and bruises, advances and reversals, that come with it.” 

Let’s take a caller, Tom says.  Carl from Oakmont, Pennsylvania.  Carl, what’s on your mind? 

“I understand and appreciate the lawyer’s points, Tom.  And I’m generally a supporter of PME rights.  But the plaintiffs have raised an interesting philosophical question here.  If I understand this right, the way it works is the technicians make a digital copy of the dying man’s consciousness.  Then the man’s body and brain die, but there’s that copy that lives on.  But what if the body were somehow resuscitated?  Then you’d have two Bob Shermans.  Is one more Bob than the other?” 

Sheila, your answer? 

“I’m glad the caller brought this point up, because this is important.  This very issue arose in the case of Cleon Davis —” 

This is the man in Florida from two years ago who awakened — in his body, I should say — after the Technicians transferred his consciousness into online quarantine. 

“That’s exactly right, Tom.  And if you recall, the Technicians killed Cleon Davis, on the table in the OR, where surgeons could have been — should have been saving him.” 

I can’t help but sigh.  It is astonishing to me that they are still banging the drum about Cleon Davis.  It is so completely disingenuous.  But I lay out the facts, patiently, for the nth time: “Let’s be clear about what happened with Cleon Davis, Tom.  Cleon Davis arrived at the ER with three gunshot wounds.  He had a bullet lodged in his spine.  The Technicians began performing their work, during the course of which Mr. Davis flatlined for three minutes and was pronounced dead by the attending physician.  Following standard operating procedures in the State of Georgia, Technicians did not flick the ‘live switch’ activating their working digital copy of Mr. Davis until just after he was pronounced dead.  Minutes later, while the Technicians were preparing chain of custody documents, the hospital apparatus attached to Mr. Davis’s body began to record a heartbeat and brain activity.  Soon after Mr. Davis opened his eyes and began speaking.  The Technicians consulted with the physicians and Mr. Davis’s family, and it was decided that the two iterations of Cleon Davis, digital and embodied, should be kept separate and consulted about what to do.  Both iterations agreed that the better course was to proceed with the PME identity —” 

“Lawyer talk, meaning ‘to kill Cleon Davis on the operating table’ —” 

“— and the hospital and Technicians followed through on those instructions.  The local district attorney investigated the matter, the Davis family declined to press charges against the Technicians, and the matter was dropped.  But we’ve strayed from the point, Tom.  The caller raises an interesting philosophical question, but in the law we take the cases as they come.  @Bob Sherman is the only Bob Sherman we have.” 

Sheila, one more word before the break. 

“I guess what I’m left wondering is how we got to the point where we have iterations of people.  We have so much technical knowledge, and so little in the way of actual wisdom to manage it.  The questions my community is asking are important.  They are moral questions.  The sophistry and intellectual detachment Mr. Woolsey has offered on your show today cheapens and degrades the discourse.” 

Thank you, Sheila.  Sheila Tso from the Center for Life Meaning joins us today to spar with PME activist and practicing attorney @HenryWoolsey.  We’ll break for the news.  When we get back we’ll discuss tech visionary Ophelia Maurer’s controversial speech on the floor of the UN earlier this week, in which she called for nations to adopt policies to transition their populations out of the PhysWo.  You’ll want to stick around.

10/ Dear @Jean …

Dear @Jean:

I do speaking engagements from time to time.  You know this, of course.  And you know that without fail, whenever I’m in front of a microphone (so to speak), Some Body flings a fat, fleshy hand into the air during the Q&A and asks me why I keep myself alive.

And by now, you must surely know by heart my canned snappy retort:

Why do you?

[pause for effect]

Because think about it: if I had arms and legs and fingers and toes, if I had warts and nail fungus and pimples and corns [this part optional/ read the crowd and decide], would it even occur to you to ask me that question?

[second pause]

I will not be made to justify to Any Body why I am still alive.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t, in a candid moment, explain why to a No-Body I greatly love.

Dear girl, I don’t doubt that you’re overwhelmed right now.  You’re fixated on your life in the PhysWo: on the people you love but can’t touch, the places you can see but can’t visit.  You’re thinking about selfand home, and what do those words even mean now? And at the same time you have Dougie and @Anne battering your consciousness with setup preferences, config updates, legal disclosures, support agreements.

You’re wondering what it’s all for.  I can’t answer that for you, and I won’t try.  But in case it might help, I can answer for me.  Here’s your exclusive, @Jean.  For the first time ever, in this message only, a nonexhaustive list of @Henry Woolsey’s Reasons for Keeping Himself Alive:

  • So I can listen to The Velvet Underground & Nico, one more time.
  • So I can learn, and grow, and grow wise.
  • So I can watch my beloved San Juan Indians finally win the World Series.
  • So I can listen to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, one more time.
  • So I can look at old photographs.
  • So I can learn Turkish.
  • So I can tell my wife I love her, one more time.
  • So I can see What Happens.
  • So I can change What Happens.
  • So I can write my granddaughter.

We’ll talk soon.  In the meantime, know that we love you, and our hearts are with you.





9/ @SamSmith 03

6:30 PM EDT.  Shift’s end.  @Sam attends a half-hour debrief with Mike Mobutu and clocks out.  Server 17’s rendered sun hangs low and pink in the sky.  The square is populated with AMers stretched out on the grass after a long day’s work.  Many are engaged in conversation, talking over plans for the evening.  Others are in isolation mode — grayed-out, vegging, enjoying the free DRE.

@Sam winds through the crowd, waves to some familiar faces, makes his way to the northeast corner of the square.  A bricked path leads from here to the Wipe Center, and he walks up it.  Swaggers, would be more accurate: Mike spiked @Sam’s APS to 81, all but promised him another supervisory shift tomorrow, and the day’s work earned him $150.

The DREs on AM/EDT’s forty-five servers are all laid out basically the same way, with the Wipe Center set up on a hill, a half-click north of the square.  If there’s any variety, it’s in the design; here on Server 17 the Center presents as a wooden cabin.  The path up to it winds a fair bit, the better to accommodate long lines at the end of the day.  No such line now, due to today’s quarantine and @Sam’s delay in setting out.  Most anyone else in need of a scrub has already come and gone.  He arrives at the hut’s open door, flashes ID to the gatebot, and steps through the archway, into a room about a thousand times larger than the outside of the cabin would indicate.

All the PMEs staffed to scan-reading, surveillance, and other sensitive assignments spill into the Wipe Center when their shifts end.  They come here from all of AM/EDT’s sixty-some-odd servers, to have the day’s work deleted from memory.  This exercise is a nod to the privacy of the millions of folks in the PhysWo who brought their bodies and bags through scanners public and private, who appeared in the frames of surveillance operations over the course of the day.  For your safety, all of this will be reviewed, is the promise, and for your privacy, none of it remembered.  Another reason why PMEs are peculiarly suited to security work: their memories are malleable.  There’s a nuance to this: the Wipe Center extracts only the particular images @Sam saw — the insides of luggage, the full-body scans — but it leaves his general learnings from today’s work, so he can draw upon them going forward.  At least, that’s the aspiration.

@Sam walks over to the front desk and pulls a number.  61712.  He looks overhead at the board.  Now Serving: 61700.  Won’t be long.  Finding an empty couch in the waiting area, he takes a seat and kicks back.

“Command, colon,” @Sam says.  “Search for familiars.”  The DRE culls out the folks he doesn’t know, leaving just a handful of PoMos in the massive interior room.  Of these few familiars, one stands out, because he has marked her in his carrier preferences as a close friend.  She stands against a wall, thirty yards away, under a halo Perpe2ity has impressed upon her.  It’s @Daisy, or at least AM/EDT’s watered-down rendition of her.  She is hunched over.  @Sam waves, but she doesn’t see him.

He walks across the room to her.  “Hey!” he calls out.  @Daisy looks away from him, to her left, into empty space.  Her eyes are on the ground, and her lips are moving: she is speaking to someone @Sam has filtered out.  @Sam gives a reveal command and now a man in a blue suit appears beside @Daisy.  Tall, thin, with a gold tie.  The man gestures toward @Sam.  @Daisy brings an arm across her face, landing her nose in the crook of her elbow.  Something’s wrong.  He breaks into a run.

Daisy,” he calls out.  She whispers words, and her halo fades.  More than this, her rendition greys out.  She’s given an iso command, and @Sam can’t talk to her.  He stops ten feet in front of her.  It’s as close as the isolation will allow.  She’s blurred.  He can’t tell if she’s crying.  She leans back against the wall, slides down into a seated position — knees up, and her head down on them.

@Daisy’s iso buffer bumps the man in the blue suit five feet to the left. He stands straight with his back to the wall.

“What the hell?” @Sam demands to know, more from Blue Suit than from @Daisy, who can’t hear him, anyway.

Blue Suit folds his arms and says nothing.  He might be a bot.

The overhead PA pings.  @Sam looks up.  Now Serving: 61712.  @Sam pauses for a moment.  If she’s gone iso, there’s not much he can do.  And he can’t very well miss his turn with the Wipers.

Flashing now, on the board: Now Serving: 61712.  @Sam turns, raises his hand, and hurries to the front desk.

“Booth 14,” the dispatch-bot tells him, pointing.  @Sam crosses the foyer to the indicated Wipe Booth.  He throws one last look in @Daisy’s direction before he steps inside his booth.  From this distance, crumpled and grayed-out in a low-res DRE like this one, she is nothing more than a smudge on the wall.

8/ @Jean 03

Her eyes open.

The sun is warmer — much warmer than before. Could be it’s higher in the sky, her tactile perception is increasing, or both.

Jean, how are you feeling? It’s Dougie asking.

“I’m —” She could say that she is in love, still, with Some Body, but now she’s a No-Body. She could say that this Some Body loved her, but now she wonders. Now that he can’t touch her, hold her, penetrate her; now that their grand plans, the family they would start, it’s all out the window — what do they do? What is fair to him? To her? “I’m okay,” she says.

Well, her discretion center is working. A woman’s voice, flat in its affect but still communicating wryness. Unmistakably PoMo.

Jean, my shift is ending, Dougie says. Anne is going to take it from here. Do you two know each other?

“Know of each other,” @Jean says. But we’ve never met.”

Hello, Jean, @Anne says. Henry’s told me so much about you.

“Likewise,” @Jean says. “Great to meet you.”

Jean, I’m so sorry about your early departure from the PhysWo —

“Accidents will happen,” @Jean hears herself reply. She is not prepared to talk about it.

Doug, have you sectioned off … ?

It’s in the status report, Dougie tells @Anne. Generally speaking, she’s handling the transition well.

Cog is at 90, @Anne observes. That’s good, fast work.

Jean, you should know that Anne is connected to you by VPN.

“Meaning I’m online?”

Technically, yes, @Anne answers. Or else I wouldn’t be able to work with you. But you’re directly ported to my profile over a secure connection.

100-megabit encryption, Dougie says, anticipating Jean’s next question. Should scare off any creeps hovering. More likely someone steals your box from me at gunpoint than this line with Anne gets hacked. Anne, are you all set?

I think so.

Then I’m punching out. Call me if you need anything. Jean, you’re in good hands.

Metaphorically speaking, @Anne quips.

Dougie’s chuckle cuts off as he deactivates his mike.

Jean, my screen shows your cognitive processing is at 90%. That’s high enough for us to start setting system preferences, if you’re comfortable doing that.

“Should I be?”

90% of you is smarter than 100% of me, so I’d say go for it.

@Jean doubts @Anne’s premise, but then again she’s been on this beach for hours now, she’s at 90% cognition level, and she is a bit bored. “Let’s do it,” she says.

Great. I’m going to lead with the disclosures. At this point, our conversation will be recorded, for quality assurance purposes. @Anne pauses.


Let’s begin. The technicians at the hospital converted 2.71 petabytes of stored information from your brain to digital media. They successfully mapped 99.3% of your neural connectome. We received both file folders by secure file transfer last night. Download initiated at 1929 EDT and completed 2021 EDT. The affidavits tracing and confirming chain of custody are available on your tablet. Promptly upon receiving the data, we commenced auto-implementation of organizational security and redundancy protocols and got to work on your processing configuration. Do you have questions?

“The processing configuration is what allows me to think.” Not exactly a question.

Yes. And to access memory, receive information, and feel sensations in digitally rendered environments. Your processing configuration is unique to you. It is compiled with reference to your own distinctive neural network, to create a digital profile as close to your PhysWo self as our programming limits will allow. Your config establishes how you think — how you create and access memories, receive and process information, and feel and respond to sensation. It is the architecture of your self.

“And my emotions?”

Emotions are tricky, because they can have a physiological basis outside of the brain — hormones, for example — and we’ve only reached out and grabbed your brain. We have written code to fill in these gaps. We also run auto-searches over your memory, mining the full extent of your emotional experience. By extrapolating from that information, we are able to construct an emo-layer to drop into your config stack. It’s not perfect. And in your case even less so, because we have only 28 PhysWo years of life experience to draw from. But it’s orders of magnitude better than when I was Translated.

“Or my grandparents.”


“I feel sorry for them.”

Because you can. @Anne pauses. That was a joke.

@Jean smiles.

Continuing. The Board has voted a resolution naming you a Charter/ Critical Member of B.org. Accordingly, your baseline storage and processing charges will be covered by income from the B.org endowment, into perpetuity.

“Or until the stock market tanks.”

We’re in bonds, too. The responsibilities of a Charter/ Critical Member are set forth in the Organization’s By-Laws, which are loaded in the Documentation file on your tablet, for you to review at your leisure. If at any point you should forfeit Charter/ Critical status, you may be reverted to Pay-as-You-Go status. Please confirm your understanding of these disclosures. Or if you have questions —

“I confirm.”

Good. Clatter of keys.

Your PoCorp carrier B.org is a member of the RenderPool Consortium.

@Jean notes @Anne’s use of the term PoCorp. Some insist on fighting this battle, favoring PoCorp or PCH, for “post-corporeal human,” over PoMo or PME, for “post-mortem entity.”

RenderPool is a cross-carrier data depository that allows its member carriers’ customers to contribute their memories into pooled secure storage. If you elect to contribute to RenderPool, your memories will be made available to carriers and subscribing third-party systems to draw upon to enrich digitally rendered environments, or DREs. For example, your memory of how a person looked, sounded, smelled, etc. will be incorporated into that person’s presentation in a DRE. If you contribute to RenderPool, memory deposits of other contributors will be incorporated and enrich your rendered presence. You can withdraw your memories from the RenderPool depository at any time. At this point in time, you may elect to participate, decline to participate, or ask to read the RenderPool Privacy Policy —

“What do you recommend?”

I’d rather not say. It’s entirely your decision, Jean.

“Is it secure?”

B.org IT has vetted RenderPool’s security policies and procedures and found them satisfactory. Doug is staffed to the RenderPool Security Committee —

“Has Henry opted in?”

As I’m sure you’re aware, Henry doesn’t think much of DREs —

“Right. Of course he wouldn’t. Has Violet opted in?”

She has.

“I elect to contribute, waive reading of the Privacy Policy.”

Done. I just sent you a link to the Privacy Policy, in case you want to review it later.

@Jean’s tablet pings. New message.

Earlier today we ran a search over your code. We found no evidence of Category 1 mental disorders and no evidence of dementia. We did identify the following Category 2 personality defects, which may be corrected during the configuration process: (1) moderate-to-severe susceptibility to stress, (2) mild routine capture/ inflexibility, (3) below average score on the Generalized Patience/Anxiety Index (23rd percentile), and (4) chronic insomnia. Correction of these defects may qualify as an ‘enhancement’ in certain states, with the result that you may forfeit legal personhood status in those states. Shall we proceed with correction of any Category 2 disorders? Please indicate by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

“No,” @Jean says.

Answer is recorded as no. Next: we have the ability to overwrite sex and death drives, learned or habitual behaviors such as smoking and drinking, and caffeine dependence. Overwriting these human deficiencies may qualify as an ‘enhancement’ in certain states, with the result that you may forfeit legal personhood status in those states. Shall we proceed —

“No,” @Jean says.

No is confirmed. We can increase your processing power —

“No,” she says.

We can increase your memory capacity —

“No,” she says.

We can load particular libraries into your memory: for example, in your case, the contents of the United States Supreme Court Case Reporters —


We can delete selected memories.

She pauses. She could make this easier on herself. On the both of them, maybe.

Deletion of memories does not qualify as an enhancement in any legal jurisdiction, other than Kansas.

She pauses.

You don’t need to decide now.

7/ @HenryWoolsey 02

“We convene this meeting of the B.org Board of Directors at 0930 EDT on May 10, 2075.  The log counts all members present and online.  Secretary Clarkson will take the minutes.  Are there preliminary motions?”

There comes the usual motion to waive reading of the minutes from last week’s meeting.

Seconded, motion carries.

Now @Hentzler moves, for the nth time, to conduct the meeting in a DRE.  “We should sit face-to-face when we do our business,” she says, “and look each other in the eyes.”

“Waste of money,” I say, playing my usual role. “That’s overhead paid to render the boardroom, more overhead to render everyone in the boardroom, and then the org pays for each of us to process all the sensory inputs.”

“Not so much money,” @Hentzler insists, in her charming German accent.  “Render tech grows cheaper by the day.”

“Slippery slope,” I say.  “Starts with a boardroom, ends with elaborate weekend retreats to fake Bermuda.”

The motion fails 5 to 3, and the tally shakes out the same as always.  There is a contingent of cheapskates in this group, and they comprise a reliable voting bloc.

@Fukuda calls for last licks on motions.  Then seconds pass, and @Fukuda speaks again.  “We meet today outside of the ordinary meeting cycle to discuss the admission of Jean Woolsey as a Level 2 member with perpetual funding.”

I text @Violet: It’s what we thought.  The Board calls an ad hoc meeting, outside of cycle, with no advance written agenda provided — at least, not to me.  Only one noteworthy event could have prompted it, and that was @Jean’s discorporation.  I need to take charge of this:

“Brothers and Sisters, what is there to discuss? She’s on the List.”

@Klein-Ellis jumps in.  He’s probably the driver here.  @Fukuda is a stand-up guy and wouldn’t pull this shit.  “We have just a few concerns, Henry.  She passed over much earlier than we would have expected. Her assets in the PhysWo are not significant —”

“She’s on the List.  She gets full Level 2 status.  Period. Jean paid her way through college and law school.  Borrowed and paid back loans and was earning.  She’ll have —” I check my notes — “roughly $70,000 in assets when the accounts are settled. Under the by-laws, she buys in with half her assets, at $35,000.  And if she had nothing to contribute to the endowment, not one cent, she would still have paid-into-perpetuity status, contributing half of zero, because she’s on the List.”

@Fukuda chimes in.  “We understand that, Henry.  What Charlie means to say is that right now, given the state of our accounts, the volatility in the financial markets, and the commitments we’ve made on a number of our projects, we anticipate that Jean’s arrival will necessarily place additional strain on our budget —”

“If that’s the case, Hiro, then I might have thought you’d open the meeting by saying we’re here to discuss our operating budget, and not Jean’s admission.  Maybe we can rewind five minutes and start over?”

@Fukuda doesn’t answer.

@Klein-Ellis does: “I only note that ordinarily a Board member puts a spouse or his or her children on the List — persons who have survived longer in the PhysWo and so will have more assets to contribute to the endowment.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.  “Let me stop you there, Charlie.  Spouses and children on the List are as likely to die bankrupt and penniless as any granddaughter.  And in any case, the by-laws are clear.  As a founder and Board member of this organization, I am entitled to designate three persons of my choice to receive core carrier services from B.org into perpetuity, upon payment of a lump sum buy-in of half their assets on the date of their discorporation.  @Jean was on my List.  The matter is settled.”

“The by-laws are the by-laws, Charlie,” @Hentzler says.  “If we don’t follow them, where are we?”

“Better off than if we go broke and have to shut down our operations,” is @Klein-Ellis’s answer.

“Vivek, are we going broke?”  I am asking our treasurer, @VivekAshram.  “Have the accounts changed dramatically from what you presented to us last week?”

“There have been no materially adverse events affecting the endowment, and no noteworthy additions to the liability sheet.”

“As yet,” @Klein-Ellis says.  “With your permission, Hiro, I move for an emergency moratorium barring admission of any further non-revenue bearing PCEs to the carrier rolls, until such time as the organization’s cash reserves exceed ten million dollars.”

“Hiro, this is bullshit.  There is no financial crisis.  The endowment is up 6% over the last twelve months.”

“Vivek, how much money do we have in cash reserves right now?” @Fukuda asks.

“Nine million, eight hundred fifty K.”

@Fukuda: “So we could settle this matter right now for $150,000?”

Now I see this for what it is, and I text @Violet: It’s a holdupHiro, Vivek, and Charlie.  “That’s one way this could go,” I say.  There are too many undercurrents here: let’s put everyone’s hands on the table where we can see them.  “The other is, I refuse, you dare to take this ludicrous motion to vote, I raise holy hell, and people start losing their jobs.”

@Klein-Ellis answers: “As president and treasurer, Hiro and Vivek serve at the pleasure of the membership, not the Board.  It would take a two-thirds vote of our full carrier base to remove them.”

“I’m well-known and well-liked by our members.”

“Members who donated the entirety of their estates and took on extensive service commitments to B.org, in order to access our carrier services.  How supportive do you think they will be of your rights to have your granddaughter jump the queue at half-price?”

This is a fair point.  A reply text arrives from @Violet: Pay them, Henry.  Don’t be stubborn.

And so I start to give ground.  “Full freight for Jean would be another $35,000.  How do we get from there to one hundred fifty?”

@Klein-Ellis: “Let’s revert to first principles, Henry —”

“Yes, let’s,” I interject, even though I don’t know where he’s going.

“We formed this organization to prove the concept that a nonprofit PCE carrier, fully funded by member contributions and managed by its membership, can provide a more sustainable and superior quality of life to PCEs than the for-profit carriers, with their various monthly, pay-as-you-go, and lock-in contract models.”

Other than that he hit the word sustainable pretty hard in the telling, I have no beef with this characterization.

“Now that’s the mission, but there’s more to it than simple proof of concept, isn’t it?” @Klein-Ellis takes a breath and continues.  “The dream is to grow and expand access to our services, until anyone, regardless of who they are and what they’re worth, can join us and have the benefit of our model. And when the for-profits are no longer able to justify their abuses in terms of simple economics, they will either conform to the new values — our values — or be left in the dustbin of history, with the slavers and the mine owners and health insurance companies.”

Henry, pay them!

“Now as hard as we try to bring storage and processing costs down — and we will always try — our model will always require wealthy members to subsidize the underresourced, and significantly.  As a result, what we’re doing here carries more than a whiff of socialism.  And history tells us that prior socialist projects failed in no small part because the elites that managed them played favorites and lined their own pockets, at the expense of the Cause —”

I check the time: it’s almost 9:45.

“I’m going to stop you right there, Charlie, because, whatever you meant to say, it sounds like you just called me corrupt. And all I’ve done is ask this organization to hold to the commitments it made, in its by-laws, to its founders.  You talk like I’m some Party apparatchik, trying to wheedle my granddaughter a no-show job and a dacha on the Black Sea.  The truth is I — and she — give heart and soul to this project every day.  I’ll note, too, that we’ve already exhausted the three names on your List.  I didn’t hear anyone at this table making Soviet graft analogies when your wife and kids came over.”

Quiet on the line, while we all sulk.  Ten minutes too late, I am coming around to @Hentzler’s view on running these meetings in DRE.  If these crooks are going to extort me, they should have to look me in the eye.

@Hiro speaks.  “If we can return to regular order, I believe Charlie was making a motion. Madam Secretary, can you read it back?”

@Lillian Clarkson: “Director Charles Klein-Ellis: ‘I move for an emergency moratorium barring admission of any further non-revenue bearing PCEs to the carrier rolls, until such time as the organization’s cash reserves exceed a million dollars.’”

“Seconded,” @Vivek says.

“Shall we vote?” @Hiro asks.

Much as I am on the side of right, I am not feeling the love here.  @Charlie, @Vivek, and @Hiro will vote in favor and bring three more votes with him.  @Hentzler hasn’t signaled one way or the other.  Our ninth member, Th@ch, isn’t in the room.  And now @Violet is calling me on a private line.

“Seventy-five,” I mutter.

“I’m sorry?” @Hiro says.

You should be.  “Seventy-five.  I make a onetime donation to the Fund, and Charlie withdraws the motion.”

“How about it, Charlie?” @Hiro asks, and I know I’ve won.  Or I’ve only half-lost.

“I’ve run the numbers,” @Klein-Ellis says. “Since we’ve been administering the List, the average buy-in payment for Level 2 members has been two hundred grand. Your granddaughter is a remarkable woman, Henry, but as a fiduciary of this organization I can’t let this go at $75K.”

“It’s one hundred ten, counting her contribution.”

“Even so, Henry, I’m sorry.  This has to go to a vote.”

“In that case, I suggest amending the motion to change ‘a million dollars’ to ‘$925,000.’”

@Hiro: “Seconded.”  Bam.  “Read it back, Lillian.”

“Motion as amended: I move for an emergency moratorium barring admission of any further non-revenue bearing PCEs to the carrier rolls, until such time as the organization’s cash reserves exceed $925,000.”

And we vote on the Woolsey amendment to the Klein-Ellis motion.  The three backbenchers, @VanDuesing, @Clifford, and @Ishii, do their usual work as @Hiro’s pawns: they sit quietly through the meeting and vote alongside him. The count shakes out seven to one in favor.  Motion carries as amended.  Eat it, Charlie.

“Is this all that’s on the agenda,” I ask, “or were other hostages taken?”

Nobody answers.

“So bang the fucking gavel already, Hiro, before I say something I can’t unsay.”

6/ @SamSmith 02

@Daisy asks, “Are you ready? It’s almost time.”

“All set — let’s go.” @Sam gives the instruction aloud: “Command, colon: go to amedt.lnac.gov.” @Daisy gives the same command, and off they go to the Jobs Lottery.

This site is operating under quarantine.


This site is operating under quarantine. Access is available to PMEs with ten or more shifts and an Aggregate Performance Score of 61 or greater. Please present credentials.

“@SamSmith94. 314 shifts, APS of 74.” And climbing, @Sam thinks, but does not add. The bot guarding the gate seems to mean business today. In the distance he can hear @Daisy disclosing name, shift count, and score, too.

Do you consent to a full code screening?

“Since when?” he blurts out, before he can check himself. His APS drops to 71. A penalty just for asking?

Do you consent to a —


Time passes. Time that puts him back in the arrivals queue, further down the list TaskMasters will scan for candidates worthy of work. But then again, maybe they’re holding everybody else up, too.

Screening complete: no malicious code found. You may enter. You are assigned to Server 17. In the distance, he can hear them sending @Daisy elsewhere. That’s not ordinary: since they signed up for the shared line together, the gatebots have been assigning them on through to the same server.

Welcome to AMEDT.LNAC.gov.

LNAC stands for Low-skilled/ Nonprofessional Assignments Center, but just you try and find a worker here who will swallow his pride and call it by name. Jobs Lottery is the informal title, the name that took with the PMEs. In principle, it’s a market: PMEs make themselves available, and the TaskMasters shop around and make offers to candidates, based on their Aggregate Performance Scores and listed skills — or they just find someone they’ve worked with before and like. @Sam’s APS is strong, generally trending upward until that gatebot docked him three points just now. So he has had good work in the last three months. Consistent work. Still, with 19 million PMEs crashing the gates each morning for an average 11 million jobs, it can feel like a lottery here. Hence the name.

A DRE loads around him. The usual massive public square, stretching off to @Sam’s vanishing point in all directions, where the PMEs wait to be plucked for assignments. A plane flies across the sky, trailing a banner that reads Server 17. The render is extreme low-res: the Lottery renders common spaces free of charge — free to load, free to perceive and process. That cost comes out of overhead, so they don’t exactly deliver a state-of-the-art, high-quality sensory experience. Strictly audiovisual: no smell, taste, or tactile here, and the figures are heavily pixelated, cornered, squared off. Like the creatures in the Minecraft game @Sam’s younger brothers played when he was a kid. @Sam checks the time: 8:12. Ordinarily by now the Square would be chock-full, and the PME avatars would be stacked three high, feet standing on heads. The quarantine has thinned out the crowd considerably, and for now everybody has their feet on the ground.

“Command, colon,” @Sam says, “search server for familiars. Command, colon: render familiars and open lines.” The crowd in @Sam’s immediate vicinity thins out still further, until only a handful of figures remain in his rendered environment: the subset of PoMos @Sam knows on this server. @Sam looks them over and grunts — there’s @Brion: figures he would land on this server — and he calls out to a red-haired man in plaid pants ten perceived feet away.

“Hey! Scotsman!”

@Scotsman412 ambles over. “Sammy,” he asks, “dae fuck’s goin’ on?”

“You don’t know, either?”

“TGIF, am I right?” @Brion pipes in. “Someone hacked Greenwich AM.”


@Brion shrugs, approaches.

“Ye cair to elaborate, laddie?”

“So all y’all who don’t want to set aside cycles to read the paper can free-ride on me?”

“Fuck off, Brion,” @Sam says.

“Ay.” The @Scotsman agrees. “More wehrk for us, is all I naed to know.”

His bluff called, @Brion opens up: too good a story, apparently. “Somebody slipped an infected bot past security on Greenwich Mean.”

“Some Body?” @Sam asks.

“Not what I said, but yeah, that’s the working theory. Meat-jockey bigots on the march.”

“What happened?”

“They’re still getting to the bottom of it. Started like an ordinary day in the EU. Then two hours into the shift everything goes haywire. Renders crash, task registry gets dumped, some nasty virus comes flooding in and works its way into the PMEs.”

Into the PoMos?” @Sam is incredulous. “What crap carrier were they on?” There has not been a significant virus outbreak among PMEs in four years. To the point some are (were?) saying the PME Immune System Conundrum was solved.

“Not clear,” @Brion says. “At least, the carriers aren’t owning up.”

“How many people?”

“Fifty-five hundred, by the time they could clear everybody out.”

“Jaysus,” the @Scotsman says, and @Brion turns on him:

“See that there? That came out Irish. Scotsman, my ass. For all we know you’re a fat Greek from Chicago.”

“Fifty-five hundred,” @Sam says. “That’s fast-acting.” A virus has to burrow through a thick wad of security, to get into a PoMo. @Sam gestures up toward the Big Board over their head. Names and numbers flash up on it: TaskMasters calling out meeting points to PMEs who have caught their eye:

@Terrell$chiffman — Socket 12.

@Lorraine1412 — Socket 770.

@Macmillan**Jr — Socket 181.

Ads run alongside the shoutouts, but sometimes they’ll set aside a segment of the Board for important breaking news. “You’d think they’d flash us a news update.”

“On the Board?” @Brion scoffs. “Scaring the rest of us off is the last thing they want to do.”

@Sam has no answer for that. All things considered, with a virus on the loose, it seems best to close off his lines of communication, and he does. “Command, colon, isolate,” he whispers, so as not to offend. As it happens, @Scotsman and @Brion probably had the same idea and are already walking away. He takes a seat on the lime-green lawn, looks up at the Big Board, waits for his number to come up.

AMEDT stands for morning shift, Eastern Daylight Time. There are 72 LNACs in total: day, evening, and overnight shifts in each of 24 time zones. Some of these shifts are livelier than others. For eleven months now, @Sam has been working Day Shift, Eastern, but before that he bounced around. Evening/Greenwich Mean one day, Day/Pacific the next, the Tokyo Overnight after that, like most of the Freshly Dead. First thing a PoMo learns is he doesn’t have to relocate to find work half a world away. Circadian rhythms do carry over with the Transfer, but their effect is dampened without a body around to tire alongside the mind. So you go where you think you can find paying work, and if that means hopscotching over the time zones, you do it.

There’s a running account total up in the right top corner of your vision field — at least, that’s where Perpe2ity puts it — and it makes a fellow anxious. If it runs down to zero, you go offline.  Dead for real this time, and you won’t be revived unless a friend or Good Samaritan happens along to put a coin or two in your Meter. Naturally you’re going to obsess at first about finding work, socking away dollars against a rainy day. If a hot rumor pops up about a labor shortage on the Dubai Overnight, you go there, and you queue up with a hundred thousand other rookies who fell for the same story. But there comes a point where you get used to the hand-to-mouth living, you pay less attention to the Bean Counter, and you choose a single shift to settle in.

For @Sam, AMEDT is just a good fit. Most everyone speaks English — including the employers, which means he’s eligible to do much more of the work than he could on Greenwich Mean. He’s made friends, met @Daisy here of course, and the work lets out at 6 PM, leaving him plenty of time to clock out, bank his earnings, and tune in to the Phillies game before first pitch at 7:05. Radio broadcast only on most days, but on Sunday afternoon he’ll check the old Bean Counter and, if he’s flush, treat himself to a few innings of video.

The muckety-mucks like to say that the Jobs Lotteries are a product of “public-private partnership.” One way to describe it. Here’s another: thirty PoMo carriers, the United Nations, 84 nation labor ministries, and tens of thousands of employers in public service and private industry meet in Davos for the biggest, sloppiest month-long orgy you never wanted to see. Once the cigar smoke clears, the graft settles, and everyone has their pants back on, you get Jobs Lotteries. Work opportunities for the dead plumbers and day laborers, the wait staff and short-order cooks — all the folks who made a living with their hands, back when they had hands. If you wrote code in the PhysWo, or if you had some special expertise, advanced degree, professional certification — if you were a lawyer, financial advisor, architect — you would be out of this swamp.

(Doctors, too, these days. Fifteen years back @Sam fell off a staging platform. Twenty-foot drop into the dirt. The surgeon who put him back together died five years ago. Now he’s a PME, he uses software to control a robot, and the robot pulls disc-jelly out of people’s spinal columns. A guy with that kind of angle lives worlds away from the Lotteries, and he’s probably not slumming it on a carrier like Perpe2ity or V@lhalla, either.)

The jobs posted on the Lotteries fall within a very narrow skills band. For obvious reasons, if a task needs done in the physical world, it won’t be posted in a Jobs Lottery. Employers hire PhysWo muscle for that. All the “knowledge economy” gigs are ruled out, too, because a PME like @Sam isn’t qualified to do them. What’s left is low-skill, non-physical grunt and busy work, assuming employers can’t program a bot to do it on the cheap. U.S. labor law sets a minimum hourly wage floor for “any task to be performed by an online entity, if said task requires the exercise of judgment.” That provision of law carves out some space for PoMo labor, even as bots grow more and more sophisticated by the day. You can code judgment into a bot, but you have to pay it the same wage a PME would earn on the Mountain Time Overnight shift. Bot wages go into PoMo charities and support funds. Assuming you’re not one of those “morally opposed” holdouts to PoMo consciousness, you may as well hire the dead man: there but for the grace of God, etc. Naturally there’s a shitload of litigation re what tasks actually require exercise of judgment.

Ten, fifteen minutes pass — geez, already — until finally the Big Board gives him a shout:

@SamSmith94 — Socket 62.

“Command, colon: open line with Socket 62.”

Sam, good morning. A familiar voice.

“That you, Mike?”

In the flesh.

“Ha. Scan shift today?” Mike Mobutu works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Among other projects, he directs the government’s scan-reader program, which relies heavily on PME labor. Lately @Sam has been one of Mike’s go-to PoMos on the AMEDT shift. Scan-reading is good, steady work. You look over feeds from baggage and body scanners in airports, courthouses, malls, restaurants, department stores, and so on. The scanners fan out copies of images to multiple PoMo reviewers — DHS standards require ten-reader signoff before entry into a federal building or the passenger-only restricted areas or airports and train stations. Readers are graded on speed and accuracy. Miss a weapon and you’re blackballed from federal gigs for three months. State agencies and private security firms offer the same sort of work, but their standards and protocols may vary, along with wages.

There is surveillance work, too, on the Lottery. The workflow is the same, multiple copies fed to multiple reviewers, except it’s video footage from cameras posted in public spaces. This is harder work than looking over still shots of the inside of a traveler’s shaving kit. You can’t turn away, and you can’t pause the feed. There’s a long list of suspicious activity, and it changes all the time. If you miss something that an overlapping reader picks up, your meta-monitor will ding up your work rating. Pays more, though, and they don’t blackball. For his part, @Sam prefers working image scans.

Actually, I’m looking at you for foreman.

“Really?” A shift foreman supervises ten to fifteen federal agency readers, monitors and rates their performance over the course of the shift. That’s triple the pay, if you can land the gig. Thing is, ordinarily you have to have an APS of 80 to be eligible.

I have authority to waive the APS requirement today. The quarantine here is killing us. There’s a two-hour security line backup at Hartsfield today. Ninety minutes at Laguardia. Threat level was raised to orange after the virus attack on Greenwich Morning —

“PhysWo, too?”

Greenwich could have been your garden-variety hate crime on PMEs, but given the scale and sophistication, we can’t rule out that the L/NAC was the first stage of a larger attack. Bring on a quarantine, weaken the security infrastructure, then send out your bombers.


I’d have picked you out sooner, Sam, but I had you at 74 APS going in this morning. Now I see you’re at 71. What happened?

“Gatebot thought I got lippy.”

Did you?

“All the added security took me by surprise. I asked a question.”

Mike sighs. I don’t know how you guys do it.

“Life’s a bitch, and then you die, Mike.”

Well, work this shift for me. Work it well, and I’ll make sure you get a three-point bump on top of the usual day’s rating.


Great. You stay right here. I’ll send the meta-feeds to you.

“Mike, I really appreciate the opportunity.”

Help me get through this day, Sam, and I’ll be the one saying thanks.

Twelve windows open, tiled 4-x-3, in @Sam’s vision field. His team for the shift. Top row, third from the left: @BrionBurbridge. @Sam smirks, but no one sees.