«David Marusek About 23,100 words 2105 Yankovich Road Fairbanks, Alaska 99709 907/479-0979 david Member: SFWA We Were Out of Our Minds ...»
David Marusek About 23,100 words
2105 Yankovich Road
Fairbanks, Alaska 99709
We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy
by David Marusek
On March 30, 2092, the Department of Health and Human Services
issued Eleanor and me a permit. The under secretary of the
Population Division called with the news and official
congratulations. We were stunned by our good fortune. The
under secretary instructed us to contact the National Orphanage.
There was a baby in a drawer in Jersey with our names on it. We were out of our minds with joy.
# Eleanor and I had been together a year, ever since a friend of mine introduced us at a party in Manhattan. I was there in realbody, though most guests attended by holo. My friend said, “Sam, there’s someone you ought to meet.” I wasn’t prepared to meet anyone; I shouldn’t have even come. I was recovering from a long week of design work in my Chicago studio. In those days I would bolt my door and lose myself in my work, even forgetting to eat or sleep. Henry knew to hold all calls. He alone attended me. Then, a week or two later, I’d emerge famished and Marusek/Out of Our Minds/2 lonely, and I’d schlep to the nearest party to gorge myself on canapés, cheese cubes, and those tiny, pickled ears of corn. So there I was, unshaven and disheveled, leaning over my friend’s buffet table and wearing such a look of gloom as to challenge anyone to approach me. I hadn’t come to talk to people, certainly not to meet anyone. I simply needed to be around people for awhile, to watch them, to listen to their chatter.
But my friend tapped me on the shoulder. “Sam Harger,” he said, “this is Eleanor Starke. Eleanor, Sam.” A woman stood on a patch of carpet from some other room and sipped coffee from a china cup. We smiled at each other while our belt valet systems briefed us. “Oh,” she said almost immediately. “Sam Harger, of course, the artist. I have long admired your work, especially the early stuff. In fact, I’ve just seen one of your spatter pieces at the museum here.” “And where is here?” I said.
A frown flickered across the woman’s remarkable face, but she quickly recovered her smile. She must have wondered if my belt system were totally inept. “Budapest,” she said.
Budapest, Henry said inside my head. Sorry, Sam, but her system won’t talk to me. I have gone to public sources. She’s some big multinational prosecutor, currently free-lance. I’m scanning for bio’s now.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” I told the woman standing halfway around the globe. “I don’t pay much attention to law, business, or politics. And my valet is an artist’s assistant, not a spy.” Unless she was projecting a proxy, this Eleanor Starke was a slender woman, pretty, mid-twenties. She had reddish-blonde hair; a sweet, round, disarmingly freckled face, full lips, and very heavy eyebrows. Too sweet to be a prosecutor. Her eyes, however, were anything but sweet. They peered out from under their lashes like eels in coral. “And besides,” I said, “I was just leaving.” “So soon?” she said. “Pity.” Her bushy eyebrows plunged in disappointment. “Won’t you stay another moment?” Sam, whispered Henry, no two published bio’s of her agree on even the most basic data, not even on her date of birth. She’s anywhere from 180 to 204 years old. This woman was powerful, I realized, if she could scramble secured public databases. But the People Channel has recently tagged her as a probable celebrity. And she has been seen with a host of artist types in the last dozen months: writers, dancers, conductors, holographers, composers.
Eleanor nibbled at the corner of a pastry. “This is breakfast for me. I wish you could taste it. There’s nothing quite like it stateside.” She brushed crumbs from her lips. “By the way, Marusek/Out of Our Minds/3 your belt valet, your … Henry … is quaint. So I have a weakness for artists, so what?” This startled me; she had eavesdropped on my system. “Don’t look so surprised,” she said. “Your uplink is pretty loose; it’s practically broadcasting your thoughts. When was the last time you updated your privacy protocol?” “You sure know how to charm a fellow,” I said.
“That’s not my goal.” “What is your goal?” “Dinner, for starters. I’ll be in New York tomorrow.” I considered her invitation and the diversion she might offer.
I needed a diversion just then. I needed to escape from inside my head. Getting laid would be nice, but not by this heavyhitting trophy hunter, this Eleanor Starke. I knew a half-dozen other women in the city I would rather spend my time with.
No, the reason I accepted her invitation was curiosity about her eyebrows. I did not doubt that Eleanor Starke had commissioned someone to fashion her face--perhaps building on her original features. She had molded her own face into a sly weapon for her arsenal of dirty attorney tricks. With it she could appear insignificant and vulnerable. With it she could win over juries. She could fool corporate boards, men and women alike. But why the eyebrows? They were massive. When she spoke they dipped and arched with her words. They were distracting, especially to an artist. I found myself staring at them. As a graphic designer, as a painter of old, I itched to scale them down and thin them out. In the five minutes we talked, they captured my full attention. I, myself, would never do eyebrows like them. Then it occurred to me that these were possibly her natural, unaltered brows, for no licensed face designer--with a reputation to protect--would have the nerve to do them. This Eleanor Starke, shark of the multinationals, may have molded the rest of her features to her advantage, even inflicting herself with freckles, but I became convinced that she had been born a bushy-browed baby, and like a string of artist types before me, I took the bait.
“Not dinner,” I replied, “but what about lunch?” # Lunch, as it often does, led to dinner. The eyebrows were genuine, even their color. Over the next few weeks we tried out the beds in our various apartments all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Soon the novelty wore off. She stopped calling me, and I stopped calling her--we were sated, or so I thought. She departed on a long trip outside the Protectorate. A month had passed when I received a call from Beijing. Her calendar secretary asked if I would care to hololunch tomorrow. Her late Marusek/Out of Our Minds/4 lunch in China would coincide with my midnight brandy in Buffalo. Sure, why not?
I holoed at the appointed time. She had already begun her meal; she was freighting a morsel of water chestnut to her mouth by chopstick when she noticed me. Her entire face lit up with pleasure. “Hi,” she said. “Welcome. I’m so glad you could make it.” She sat at a richly lacquered table next to a scarlet wall with golden filigree trim. “Unfortunately, I can’t stay,” she said, placing the chopsticks on her plate. “Last minute program change. So sorry, but I had to see you, even for a moment. How’ve you been?” “Fine,” I said.
She wore a loose green silk business suit, and her hair was neatly stacked on top of her head. “Can we reschedule for tomorrow?” she asked.
We gazed at each other for several long moments. I was surprised at how comfortable I was with her and how disappointed. I hadn’t realized that I’d missed her so much.
“Sure, tomorrow.” That night I couldn’t sleep, and the whole next day was colored with anticipation. At midnight I said, “Okay, Henry, take me to the Beijing Hilton.” “She’s not there,” he replied. “She’s at the Wanatabe Tokyo tonight.” Sure enough, the scarlet walls were replaced by paper screens.
“There you are,” she said. “Good, I’m famished.” She uncovered a bowl and dished steamy rice onto her plate while telling me in broad terms about a trade deal she was brokering. “They want me to stay, you know. Hire on at triple my rate. Japanese men are funny when they’re desperate. They get so … so indifferent.” I sipped my drink. “And what did you tell them?” To my surprise, I was anything but indifferent.
She glanced at me, curious. “I told them I would think about it.” We began to meet for a half hour or so each day and talked about whatever came to mind. El’s interests were deep and broad; everything fascinated her. She told me, choking with laughter, anecdotes of famous people in awkward circumstances.
She revealed curious truths behind the daily news and pointed out related investment opportunities. She teased out of me all sorts of opinion, gossip, and laughter. Her half of the room changed every day and reflected her hectic itinerary: jade, bamboo, and teak. My half of the room never varied. It was the atrium of my hillside house in Santa Barbara where I went in order to be three hours closer to her. As we talked we looked down the yucca- and chaparral-choked canyon to the campus and Marusek/Out of Our Minds/5 beach below, to the channel islands, and beyond them, to the blue-green Pacific that separated us.
Weeks later, when again we met in realbody, I was shy. I didn’t know quite what to do with her. So we talked. We sat close together on the couch and tried to pick up any number of conversational threads. With no success. Her body, so close, befuddled me. I knew her body, or thought I did: I’d unwrapped its expensive clothing a dozen times before. But it was a different body now, occupied, as it was, by El. I was about to make love to El, if ever I could get started.
“Nervous, are we?” she laughed, as she unfastened my shirt.
# Fortunately, before we went completely off the deep end, the self-destructive part of our personalities bobbed to the surface. The promise of happiness can be daunting. El snapped first. We were at her Maine townhouse when her security chief holoed into the room. Until then the only member of her belt valet system--what she called her cabinet--that she had allowed me to meet was her calendar secretary. “I have something to show you,” said the security chief, glowering at me from under his bushy eyebrows. I glanced at Eleanor who made no attempt to explain or excuse the intrusion. “This is a realtime broadcast,” he said and turned to watch as the holoserver overlaid Eleanor’s living room with the studio lounge of the People Channel. It was during their “Couples Week” feature, and co-hosts Chirp and Ditz were serving up breathless speculation on hapless couples caught by holoeye in public places and yanked for inspection into living rooms across the solar system.
All at once we were outside the Boston restaurant where Eleanor and I had dined that evening. A couple emerged from a cab. He had a black mustache and silver hair and looked like the champion of boredom. She had a vampish hatchet of a face, limp black hair, and vacant eyes.
“Whoodeeze tinguished gentry?” said Ditz to Chirp.
“Carefuh watwesay, lipsome. Dizde ruthless Eleanor K. Starke and’er lately dildude, Samsamson Harger.” I did a double take. The couple on the curb had our bodies and wore our evening clothes, but our heads had been morphed beyond recognition.
Eleanor examined them closely. “Good. Good job.” “Thank you,” said her security chief.
“Wait a minute,” I said.
Eleanor arched an eyebrow in my direction.
I didn’t know what to say. “Isn’t commercial broadcast protected by law?” Marusek/Out of Our Minds/6 She laughed and turned to her security chief. “Will this ever be traced to me?” “No.” “Will it occur each and every time any net decides to broadcast anything about me without my expressed permission?” “Yes.” “Thank you. You may go.” The security chief dissolved.
Eleanor put her arms around my neck and looked me in the eye.
“I value our privacy.” “That’s all fine and good,” I replied, “but that was my image, too, that you altered without my expressed permission.” “So? I was protecting you. You should be grateful.” A week later, Eleanor and I were in my Buffalo apartment. Out of the blue she asked me to order a copy of the newly released memoir installment of a certain bestselling author. She said he was a predecessor of mine, a recent lover, who against her wishes had included several paragraphs about their affair in his reading. I told Henry to fetch the reading, but Eleanor said no, that it would be better to order it through the houseputer.
When I did so, the houseputer froze up. It just stopped and wouldn’t respond. My apartment’s comfort support failed.
Lights went out, the kitchen quit, and the bathroom door refused to open. “How many copies do you think he’ll sell?” Eleanor laughed.
“I get the point.” I was indeed getting the point: El was a tad too paranoid for me. The last straw came when I discovered that her system was messing with Henry. I asked Henry for his bimonthly report on my business, and he said, please stand by. I was sitting at the time and stupidly stood up before I realized it.
“What do you mean, ‘please stand by,’ Henry? What does ‘please stand by’ mean?” My processing capabilities are currently overloaded and unavailable. Please stand by.
Nothing like this had ever happened before. “Henry, what is going on?” There was no response for a long while, then he whispered, Take me to Chicago.
Chicago. My studio. That was where his container was. I left immediately, worried sick. Between outages, Henry was able to assure me that he was essentially sound, but that he was preoccupied in warding off a series of security breaches.
“From where? Henry, tell me who’s doing this to you.” He’s trying again. No, he’s in. He’s gone. Here he comes again. Please stand by.
Marusek/Out of Our Minds/7 Suddenly my mouth began to water, my saliva tasted like machine oil: Henry--or someone--had initiated a terminus purge.
I was excreting my interface with Henry. Over the next dozen hours I would spit, sweat, piss, and shit the millions of slave nanoprocessors that resided in the vacuoles of my fat cells and linked me to Henry’s box in Chicago. Until I reached my studio, we would be out of contact and I would be on my own. Without a belt valet to navigate the labyrinth of the slipstream tube, I underpassed Illinois altogether and had to backtrack from Toronto. Chicago cabs still respond to voice command, but as I had no way to transfer credit, I was forced to walk ten blocks to the Drexler Building.