She carried the link with her on the airplane, exchanging witty comments and gossip with her friends through small boxes on its high-resolution screen. “I’m going to miss you so much!” Cindy typed. “You’d better keep in touch!” She promised postcards and souvenirs, though she rejected Mike’s request for a pound of Thai opium. “Don’t worry,” she told Cindy. “You can always text me.”
She spent layover hours in hard plastic chairs, legs folded and link open on her lap. Boredom was a thing of past generations: even when time zones changed and her friends fell asleep, there were emails and message board posts to respond to.
Fourteen hours on a bus in Cambodia were spent sleeping and chatting. Through the lens of her linkcam the endless rice paddies were converted to 72 web-safe colors and uploaded to her album, where they immediately generated a flurry of posts. “I’ve never seen so much open space!” Kim said. “Promise to post more!”
The neon-lit shore of Koh Phangnan under a full moon was converted to a scattered collection of notes for her travel blog, and as she boarded the boat back to the mainland, she chatted as she organized the notes into an update. “Sounds like fun,” Leah said, and they gossiped about Leah’s coworkers as the crystal-blue ocean spread out in every direction.
Months later, back on home soil, she sat in a diner with several friends recounting stories they’d already read on her blog. “It’s nice to be home,” she said with a smile. “It’s only been a couple days, but I feel like I never left.”
Danny jumped from the roof this time, hitting the ground with a short thump and glancing down at his legs with pure awe in his pale blue eyes. It took him a moment to jump for joy, feeling his weight on those strong, solid legs. It was the best gift a ten year old could ever ask for.
His parents kept pictures of him before the accident and hid them away after he had recovered. They preferred the new Danny, who loved to run and play sports, to the one that read books in his wheelchair. They watched through the window, smiling at their investment towards a better future for their son.
The boy never knew it, but he was better now. Yes, his legs were whole again, but they were better than before. Jumping off rooftops gave pause to some of the kids walking by. Danny loved it, though. He kept running around the yard, looking over every detail his young eyes could capture.
A phone rang somewhere inside while he played, and Danny’s mother walked over to pick it up. “Gene residence, Carolyn speaking.”
“Mrs. Gene, this is Dr. Bast at the National Medical Lab for Gengineering and Human Development. We, uh, need you to bring Daniel back into the East Hampton lab within the next few hours.”
A worried look brought over the father who mouthed concerns at his wife before she shooed him away. “Is there something wrong?”
She stood there listening to the jargon, holding the phone out so her husband could hear and the only words that seemed to make sense came clear in the end, “In some patients, the splicing has been having some unanticipated side effects. Everything is fine but we need to get Daniel back in to make sure he’s clear of any anomalies.”
Both stood staring at each other as a silent wave of worry just washed over them both. Mr. Gene looked out the window for Danny and saw him crouched behind the tree out front. “He looks fine to me,” he said
Carolyn spoke softly into the phone. “Dr. Bast, you told us they used the DNA of several cats to accelerate the mending. What harm could a few cats do?”
Danny’s father smiled at the thought before turning back around. Danny wasn’t behind the tree anymore. He was perched on the fence, glaring at Mrs. Collins from next door with an unfamiliar intensity. Mr. Gene wasn’t really sure what was going on till he saw Mrs. Collins step closer to the boy, and, faster than any human, Danny struck her with his palm. “Carolynâ€¦” Mr. Gene said, “get the car.”
Master Paranthany set the vase down delicately at the feet of Mr. Lurgess. Mr. Lurgess, for his part, rubbed his spongy hands together excitedly. Master Paranthany removed his velvet gloves and returned them to their pocket in his coat.
“How did you–” Mr. Lurgess sputtered out. “How did you find it again? It’s worth–”
“A fortune, yes.” Master Paranthany scratched his nose and moved to Mr. Lurgess’s prismatic windows. The cold light of dawn was covering the entire room apartment with bits of red and green and indigo. “Porcelain from the original Ming Dynasty is extremely rare in this day and age. It’s worth quite a bit, to the right person. Or it’s something to let flowers die in.”
“I must insist.” Mr. Lurgess scurried over to the window himself, almost tripping over his dressing gown. The colors that cavorted around his face did little to improve it, in Master Paranthany’s eyes; the little man still looked like a roast pig. “You must tell me how you found it! I know your agency is one of the best–”
“We are the best. You will find no better insurance company on any of the Five Worlds.”
“And you’re a credit to their investigators, Master Paranthany. But you must tell me. I thought for certain this would have been on the black market by now, exchanged through a dozen hands.”
“I am certain it has been. However, I was able to recover some dust from the vase’s former resting spot. With that, it was only a matter of finding the exact combination of molecules and paint patterns.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“I had copies made. Printed them right out back at the office. Flooded the market with them. Would take an expert to tell the difference, and even then, its extremely unlikely. In short, I made the thing totally worthless.”
“But that would take hundreds…”
“Millions, actually. Three point five. Most will find their way back to the office, and they’ll be used as base material for another hunt. Standard procedure really.” In one fluid motion, Master Paranthany reached into his pocket, withdrew a package of cigarettes, and shook one into his lips. “But there will be just enough to keep anyone from stealing that vase again. It is effectively worthless to anyone but you.”
“No smoking, please. It’s bad for my eyes.” Mr. Lurgess looked back and forth from the vase to Master Paranthany “But if you…does that mean…do I have…?”
“Well I suppose there’s only one answer to that question.” Master Paranthany lit his cigaratte and let an extravagant plume of blue smoke glide out of his lips. Colors formed unique patterns and shapes upon the surface of the smoke before it all dissipated. “How much is it worth to you?”
Mrs. Lansing slapped the back of Edwardâ€™s head. â€œWhat is this?â€ she asked, pointing at his computer pad.
â€œItâ€™s the site I built!â€ whined Edward, rubbing the back of his head.
His teacher tapped her foot and folded her arms tightly to her chest. â€œThat site looks like it was built by a program. Did you use a program to build that site?â€
â€œWell, yeah, but I-â€œ
She slapped the back of his head again. â€œYou donâ€™t listen to me, do you?â€
â€œI listen to you!â€ cried Edward.
â€œNo you donâ€™t. If you listened to me, you wouldnâ€™t build shitty sites using a program. But since you arenâ€™t going to listen to me when I tell you how to build a site, maybe you will listen to me if I tell you a little story. Do you think you could listen to a story Edward?â€
Edward winced, looking at her upraised hand. â€œYeah, yeah, I can listen to a story.â€ he said, shrinking in his chair.
â€œThis is about one of my former students. Her name was Melody. When she was born, the doctors said that she was a retarded autistic that would never walk. Her dad was raising her by himself, and he was always working or fucking his secretary, which was something he called working.
She had to go to school in one of those robotic suits, and all the other kids made fun of her and called her a cyborg and stole her computer and fucked with her robot suit, putting sand in her tank or glue in her metal knees. She had to go to special classes after school with the rest of the retarded autistics, and all the teachers treated them like they were big problems and a hassle and like they chose to be screwed up.
When it came available, she had to get gene therapy to replace the cells in her brain that were screwed up and the muscles in her body that wouldnâ€™t grow. And people say gene therapy is great, and itâ€™s a cure all, and itâ€™s a miracle, and sure it is if youâ€™ve been born with everything working, but even people who need to get a single finger replaced know that it hurts, it hurts worse then hell because you are supposed to be grateful, and if they are messing with your brain you see visions of things, things you donâ€™t get, half made memories and fake shit, dreams like horror movies, and all the while you are changing and in pain.
Thatâ€™s what she went through, and while that was going on she put her nose in her screen and learned to code, and not code like you do playing with your little pictures in those nice little games that help you make those standard little webpageâ€™s that look so pretty, just fucking like everybody elseâ€™s. She learned real code, hard code, the languages that make things go, right down to the root, those words that make things light up and become something wild, something to make people shake, those langagues that bridge the gap between men and the machines that run them, and that makes her a master, and that makes her in control of the machines, which makes her human. More human than you will be, because the machines run you now, and unless you learn what makes them work, unless you work them, you are their slave. You want to be a slave to the machines Edward ?â€
â€œDo you want to be human?â€
â€œThen get to work.â€ Mrs. Lansing slapped him again, for good measure.
The last time I saw Alnersans was back when I owned a bar. We used to joke that Alnersans always brightened up the place, due to the lights implanted on his arm.
Alnersans had 6 LEDs crawling out of the flesh of his left forearm. I asked him about them once; he told me that they were his six closest friends. The LEDs were tied to their iDents, and Alnersans would talk about them as if they were the people themselves.
“Now, Shirl,” he would say, pointing to a LED that flickered noticibly in the bar’s dim light. “She’s not doing too well. Doctors ain’t givin’ her much time, but when do they ever? Better pour one for me and one for Shirl, on account she can’t join us.”
While I knew Alnsersans back in college, I never saw him so much as when I served alcohol for living. About a month before the bar closed, Alnersans seemed to vanish. I thought about taking the iDent he paid his tab with and entering in a hospital query or plugging in a GPSearch, but I never did. He hadn’t given me his iDent to use in that way, anyway.
I thought on him every now and then, but I didn’t expect him to show up. When my door read his iDent soon as he stepped on the welcome mat and said it was him, I about fell out of my chair.
“Hadn’t seen you in a while, Alnersans.”
“Your bar’s been torn down.”
“I didn’t. Coulda told me. I liked your bar. Can I come in?” I offered him a beer and he took it hungrily, draining the bottle in seconds.
“You want another?”
” You make such a great bartender. This is why you shouldn’t have closed the bar.”
“People change” I said. I noticed that, of the six LEDs, only one remained. Alnsersans gently fingered the ragged maw of scars that surrounded them, as if he was reminding himself they were still there.
“That they do. I’ve learned that, here recent.” Without warning, without a change of expression or twitch of his body, Alnersans smashed his empty beer up against my end-table, Alnersans then took one of the slivers of glass and gouged out the last of the LEDs, Despite wincing from the pain, Alnersans let out a low chuckle as the glow of the light slowly faded. “Serves you right, you son of a bitch. Serves you right. Sorry about the mess,” he said, turning to me.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re a good friend,” Alnersans said. “I see that now.”