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.

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.

“What?”

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 —

“Yes.”

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.”

“Attacked?”

@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.

“Wow.”

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.

“Deal.”

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.

 

5/ @SamSmith 01

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

TGIF.

“Time?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAYTIME PLAYTIME PLAYTIME —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep.”

“Did you sign off on it?” @Sam asks.

“Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So it seems,” @Daisy answers.

“We need to switch carriers.”