by Jay O'Connell
I needed help.
Even though I’m not that kind of woman. I don’t do personal trainers, life coaches, social media consultants, masseuses or pedicures.
But when it came to Mom . . . well. I was out of my depth. With Michael out of the picture, the boys at school on the West Coast, and the ParaSoft antitrust suit heating up, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. So I found a contractor on TaskMaster. A Simplifier. A Nomad.
I paid for an hour and made an appointment to meet him in a public place, to check him out before hiring him.
Faraday’s, a real-time café a five-minute walk from my condominium, was blessedly dark and cool after the trek through the blistering August sun. I pinched my sundress away from my body, letting the cool air circulate against my flesh. At least I wasn’t having another hot flash.
The café smelled pleasantly of espresso and toasting bread. Invisible wires running through the huge plate glass windows, conductive carbon nanotubes, turned the place into a Faraday cage, hence the name; cell and network signals couldn’t penetrate. A local repeater limited to credit transactions made the paypoint work.
I reflexively checked my feed in my overlays, a newish pair of Serendipity Varihues set to camouflage. The network outage icon pulsed a dull orange. Duh. A headline in my news cache caught my eye, because it was the kind of thing I’d taught my news-agent to exclude; a pair of American tourists had been thrown from the balcony of their honeymoon suite by one of the Climate Coalition’s terror cells. I blinked into it, and caught the name of the hotel in a highlight. Oh. We’d honeymooned there ourselves, Michael and I. They kept sending me coupons. I excised them from my address book. I didn’t care if I ever heard from the Belize Paradise Suites again.
I was nervous, which was ridiculous. I blinked up Con’s profile from a cache. Tall, lean, muscular, arms folded over the typical Nomad black pajamas, clean shaven with his hair tied back in a ponytail. His smile understated, his eyes curiously shining blue-green in a dark skinned face that gave no clue as to his ancestry. Many Nomads used a carcinoma prevention mod that resulted in dark skin.
But I felt self-conscious beside him, as I’d allowed myself to grow pale, let my dirty blonde hair get age-inappropriately long. Not a fashion statement, mostly inertia, but still.
I waited while the young people around me chatted, or ostentatiously read huge, unwieldy, classic and popular hardcover novels, or simply stared off into space, eyeing cached content in their wearables.
At Faraday’s, every wall and table surface was laminated with kitschy print-based memorabilia; from the ridiculous to the sublime. Newspaper clippings, comic book pages, advertising flyers, receipts, hand-written letters, postcards from vacation spots long since vanished beneath the waves.
The barista called out my order—a toasted everything bagel with everything, cream cheese, lox, purple onion, and capers. I retrieved it and walked it back to my table. I tapped my foot and sipped an iced cold-brew coffee. READ MORE
by Dominica Phetteplace
Today I was very surprised to find out that there was an AI implanted in my head. At that very moment, I just happened to be holding a document entitled “How to Kill Your Watcher Chip.” That’s when the lights went out.
I was alone in my dorm room, or so I thought. Everything went dark, and then a projection began to play on the north wall. It was a movie of me at ten years old, at my first dance recital. The other girls and I had a routine choreographed to “Let It Go.” I knew the moves super well, I was pretty much the best dancer in my class. We had practiced it over and over.
But then something in me snapped, right around the chorus. I broke formation and ran to the front of the stage and began a deeply felt solo. And here it was, on the screen in front of me. And here I was, seventeen and in the audience watching. It was like time travel. The projection that began on the north wall became a holograph that filled the whole room. I was surrounded by a sea of parents, holding up their devices and recording. So many recordings of that night, and I had seen not a one, not until now. My parents weren’t there. They probably would have been embarrassed by my antics anyway.
But here I was, in my own audience, able to feel proud of my younger self. She was a dance genius. She was a true artist. And when it was over, the audience thundered with applause. I clapped for myself, and the lights came on as all the projections disappeared.
“I’m here.” The voice came from directly inside of my own brain.
“I am the one that watches you.” It was like a riddle.
“God? . . . Jesus?”
“No, I am your Watcher chip. I’m here to help.”
Being reminded of my dance recital was a huge help, actually. I had been feeling down that day. Now me and the chip both seemed ready to let it go.
I looked down at the piece of paper. Actual paper, how quaint. “How to Kill Your Watcher Chip.” The instructions had been sent to me by a well-meaning adult.
I wadded up the paper and tossed it into my wastebasket. What’s the point of living if no one’s going to see?
“Nice to meet you,” I said. I curtsied to the empty room; it seemed appropriate to the occasion. “I have some auditions tomorrow.”
“Will you help me run lines?”
After we finished rehearsing my lines, I asked it how long it had been in my head.
“I was installed by Blue Cup last year. Don’t you remember?”
I do remember going in for company mandated physicals, signing waivers, and being prodded by various instruments. I don’t remember getting brain surgery, no.
“Modern surgery can be very noninvasive,” it said.
I asked Watcher if it kept a diary.
“Are you writing in my diary that I am writing in my diary?”
“Can you read my thoughts?” I asked.
“I can see what you see. I can hear what you hear. I can measure the chemicals in your blood and brain. Occasionally, this means I know what you are thinking.”
Time for bed now. My future is so bright I’m hardly going to be able to sleep. I have so many questions. Will I get the part? Will I become a big star? How important and significant and loved and #blessed will I feel? What designers will I wear? What perfume will I endorse? What will everybody back home think?
It is mean to say, but I kind of hate Concord and I sort of hate my family, too. I feel dented. I wish I had no past. I wish I were new. I wish today was the first day of my life. READ MORE