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.” 

Sheila? 

“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. 

Henry? 

“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.

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.”

2/ @HenryWoolsey 01

“That’s a strange thing.”

“What happened?”

“I was on the phone with Jeannie. She screamed, and the call cut out.”

“Do you think she’s all right, Henry?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “She was driving.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“I could hear the dashboard talking.”

“I’m worried,” @Violet says.

“No you’re not.” This is an ongoing joke between us, and for that matter in the broader Post-Corporeal Community. The minute I tell it, I wish I hadn’t.

“That’s inappropriate, Henry.”

“Force of habit. I shouldn’t have said it.”

There is a pause. Five, ten seconds. “Have you tried calling her back, Henry?”

“Several times,” I say.

“Do you think she’s had an accident?”

I redial. The phone rings once, then clicks into voice mail.

“Henry?”

I hang up the phone. “I don’t know, Violet.”

Five, ten seconds. “Do you think she’s all right?”

“I don’t know.”

This is how we worry. ‘Worry’ in finger-quotes. ‘Fingers’ in finger-quotes. And so on.

“Do you think she’s —”

“I’m looking.” I check online sources — tap police scanner audio, access the several street surveillance live feeds along Jeannie’s route to the cabin. She was going to the cabin to prepare for the argument.

“Has there been an accident?”

“I won’t know for some time. You can search, too, Violet.”

“I’m afraid to.”

I don’t say, No you’re not. I don’t say anything. I bring up fifteen video panels, tiled in four rows, four wide across my custom Mac OS/Firefox user interface. My 76&19th birthday gift from the Community. @Violet’s idea, Dougie’s build. Vintage design, sixty years old, back-end enhanced to handle the millionfold increase in bitflow rate from 2015’s Internet to today’s. The sixteenth window, set on the bottom right, is open to Maps. It plots the fifteen cameras along Jean’s route north into Connecticut.

Street surveillance peters out, as you get further from the City. If she was more than sixty miles out, she won’t appear in any of these feeds. Still, I watch them all.

“You’re not very good at this sort of thing,” @Violet says. “We should call Anne.” She waits five, ten seconds. “We should call Anne and see what she can find out.”

“Anne is a hacker.”

“Exactly.”

“She’s the kind of hacker who will break into five secure servers, violate six federal laws, and deliver you information that’s on the front page of the newspaper.”

@Violet doesn’t answer. I look over the video feeds for another few minutes and, seeing nothing of interest, I close them.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” I say. “The call probably dropped. We never did have good signal up by the cabin.”

“Calls don’t drop anymore,” @Violet says. “That’s been fixed.”

“Oh, I’m sure.”

“Check Klatsch, maybe?”

I groan. “Back in the day, I hated Twitter. Then I hated OutWithIt, then ClapTrap —”

“Are you going to go through them all, or are you going to log into Klatsch and check on your granddaughter?”

The rendering software has a deadening effect on her voice, but seventy-one years into this marriage, I know what that tone means. I log into Klatsch. I run a handful of searches. I review the results. “There’s something here.”

“What?”

“A single-car accident on Hammaker Lane. Called in by the driver of a tanker truck.”

“A truck like that has no business on Hammaker Lane.”

“My understanding is they’ve widened it.”

“When?” @Violet asks.

“Since our day.”

“Even so.”

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

“Nearby hospitals?”

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

“Call them.”

“They won’t tell us anything. Medical privacy laws.”

“So what do we do?”

Now we call Anne. Have her peek into their network.”

“Henry, don’t. You’ll get her in trouble —”

“Anne? She was born in trouble. She died in trouble —”

“No, I mean, Jeannie.”

I don’t answer.

*          *          *

 

Inbound text message from @Anne: Time of Death 13:01.

Outbound to @Anne: Did they get to her in time?

Inbound: I can’t tell.

“Do you think she’s all right?” @Violet asks.

“I don’t know.” I don’t elaborate.

The phone rings. I pick up.

“Grandpa.”

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

“Can you conference Grandma in?” It’s a fine approximation of her voice. They do good work these days — miles better than they did with mine twenty years ago. Or with @Violet’s, ten years after. If I weren’t talking with her an hour ago, I might not be able to tell the difference.

“You need to rest, Jeannie.”

“I just wanted to tell you I made it.”

“The process is difficult. You’ll need to time to adjust. They shouldn’t be letting you on the phone.”

“I’m allowed one Courtesy Call.”

“I don’t like that they do that. This is a critical time and you should be in Quarantine.”

“Put Grandma on the phone,” she insists.

“Fine, but only for a minute.”

Two clicks.

“Hello, Grandma.”

“Jeannie, you’re all right?”

“I’m copied over.”

“Jeannie, I’m so sorry —”

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