Joey Martin downloads inside Moyo and wordlessly stands beside Mimi-Siku, who’s sipping tea at his desk and, much like the rest of the known world, is watching a dosequisvirus livestream on his laptop.
“Well,” Joey says after several minutes, “it looks like you got your wish.”
Mimi-Siku blinks back at him. “What wish?”
“Sikuism via proxy.”
Mimi-Siku watches the news a moment longer before replying, “Not funny, baboon.”
I’m thinking heavy thoughts. So, naturally, I’m in the bathroom at The Billboard, this actual open-air, urban-industrial bar and grill that’s built into the back of a giant billboard with (you guessed it) “The Billboard” printed on the facing in tall, bold letters. Much like how most musicians go to the bathroom to compose their best riffs, I’ve come here to do my best thinking. Instead, though, I’m having a major fuddy-duddy moment. As in I’m not digging the playlist blaring over the PA. When did music start sucking absolute balls? It sounds like two completely unrelated songs playing over one another. This is what today’s kids are listening to while they bang and smoke weed?
Please tell me I’m not simply getting old enough that all music, movies, and carbonated beverages—get off my lawn!—have become unappealing forevermore.
A toilet flushes; an obnoxious ringtone interrupts half the music—
“Yo,” says the guy in the adjacent stall. “I’m taking a shit. What’s up?”
—and it occurs to me that what I’d actually been listening to was two completely unrelated songs playing over each another, one through the PA, the other on the poop-dude’s phone speaker.
Back to the heavy thoughts. I do my best The Thinker impression, elbow braced against my knee, knuckles tucked into my chin, attention aimed away from poop-dude’s loud conversation about bitches this, paychecks that. Val—Mimi-Siku, I mean—is doing it. She—he—always swore he would. Free the code, liberate the world, delete the old, reinstall the new. I joked about it during our days at Taurus, back when I was still actual and he was still a woman and we were both still kind of sort of dating each other. “Someday,” I remember him saying on a random lunch break. “Someday we’re going to liberate the code, make the virtual actual. Someday SuperMegaNet is going to change the world, Simon. Fuck the government contracts and the suits upstairs and all the NDA bullshit. Someday real people are going to benefit from what we’ve created.”
I guess this is someday.
Why, then, am I trembling in my designer jeans?
Leaving the stall, I exit the bathroom and move through The Billboard’s subtle, recessed lighting, transcending casual conversation between hipster twenty-somethings, inhaling heady whiffs of trending cologne, and ending up outside on the catwalk with its epic view of Los Angeles below. The Billboard opens after dark, closes before dawn, and so if you download here, you’ll only ever see the LA sprawl under the shadow of night, the way God intended.
There’s a staircase at one end of the catwalk. Weaving between the handful smokers and cell phone texters, I take the stairs down and cross the parking lot, walk right up to where the asphalt gives way to dirt and shrubs. Here The Billboard’s WiFi signal has degraded noticeably. I can tell because I’m artifacting, and parts of me have become downright pixelated. I’m in no real danger, though. If I try to walk down the street, I’ll simply be bounced back onto Theo’s bedroom server. Funny. We call it “persistent skinning,” being skinned while actual, but you still need a WiFi signal in order for it to work. You still need the crutch. I’ve been on the crutch for…how long now? Unimportant. The crutch was supposed to be a temporary stopgap. You don’t actually need a WiFi signal once your molecules have been decoded however and wherever you want to be. We programmed the limitation intentionally. We were ninety-percent sure truly persistent skinning would work, but we hadn’t tested it throughly enough to guarantee that coveted ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-percent. Then I had my “accident,” Taurus had their falling out with the shareholders, and SuperMegaNet went beta indefinitely.
Except now Mimi-Siku’s going to remove the crutch for all SuperMegaNet users.
And I’m…concerned. Concerned that maybe the code is only ninety-five-percent ready, concerned that what happened to me might happen to someone else. And I’m…hesitant to become truly actual again. Reconfigured in the Asian muscle hunk body of my choice, but still actual. Mortal. Vulnerable. Multiple sclerosis screwed me over once; I suppose I’m afraid if I’m actual there’s the possibility it’ll happen again—or else some other affliction or calamity will befall me. As limited as I am living on a server, I’m safe, untouched by age, disease, injury, or the passage of time—as long as I’ve got reliable backups and WiFi at my disposal. Honestly? I don’t want to promise true actuality to the masses when maybe the app isn’t ready yet, when maybe the world isn’t ready yet.
But is the world really not ready?
Or am I not ready?
This is definitely one of those fuddy-duddy moments when life feels like listening to two completely unrelated songs at the same time.