by Stewart Wilson
I step off the plane into high-bandwidth heaven. The US cell networks are still experimenting with high-speed data transfer, the tarrif I've got gives me unlimited transfer for a dollar amount that translates to the price of a decent beer back home where transfer is micropay-per-megabyte. I resist the urge to plug in, even though I've been offline for almost nine hours. No point being marked as some form of data terrorist before I get out of the airport.
My luggage is there, an old black holdall crammed with clothes and old paper books. Nothing that will arouse suspicions unless the Customs people are looking for a cryptogeek to lock up for a few days. I make it to the concourse in JFK and into a shuttle aimed for the heart of NYC before daring to plug in.
The phone synchs with the local comms carriers, bursting information over a bluetooth link through my glasses. Small projectors write everything onto my retinas, bone-induction speakers in the frames whisper to me. Biofeedback from the studs above my right eye, early century chic with a high processing load telling the smartphone what it wants to hear.
There are articles to catch up on, syndicated on newsblogs or piped to my private RSS feed by semiautonomous spiders crawling the web for anything I'd find interesting. I've not hit Pragma in over a day, there's going to be a backlog from the others there as well. But that an wait until I hit the hotel. For now, I take it easy, burning off the jet lag with Red Bull while I check my mail.
I should have known it. Another clue, a mail from 'Ophelia'. She of the incredible obfuscations, three steps ahead of my curve. But not just mine, all the general futurist scene from the writers to the scientists and lawyers. They all get mails from her, and all the mails look like she knows what they will be doing before they do. Ophelia's an oddity like that. I've spent long hours trying to understand her, to crack the code behind her. But nothing, no real clue. A couple of the other Pragma guys think she's a nascent AI or an upload, old UFOlogists insist she's alien. I don't know what to think right now. But she knows that I want to understand her and she's leading me along the path.
I just wish I could get there before I was told where to be.
Flash forwards. An uncomfortable night of speed reading and assimilation, hashing out a vitriolic rant on the role of sane governments and why no government is sane. Then sleep, brain burning from taking in so much, so soon. I don't like to overload, but sometimes I need to just to catch up. Then blissful sleep as the local clocks hit midnight.
My whole body aches even though I remembered to pull up the sheets this time, the clock showing 13:01 as I open my eyes. Too much too soon, the burn from a heavy session of cortical overdrive. I take the time to shower without any kit, just my biofeedback piercings telling the my phone that I long for death. I consider shaving off my hair again, but I always do after a long flight. It's another part of the retro appeal, body looking out of date to hide a mind that's beyond the curve.
The phone's running an agent that ordered out for breakfast while I got clean. I'm beginning to like that agent, more so when the smell of bacon creeps through the door. It's crap American stuff, but it will do. Anything will do. A post to my Livejournal while munching toast dipped in egg yolk and I head out to find the city.
The e-mail mentioned a diner and sure enough, the waitress slips an SD card onto the table along with my coffee. A hypnotic image, a constantly evolving mandala with it's deep roots in Conway's game of life. More directions, steganographically encoded. I must be getting close if Ophelia has stopped just mailing me. I was supposed to be covering a talk for the Creative Archive tonight, but Ophelia has more interesting things she wants me to see. New Flesh, the first steps of adult biomodification. I have a word with the organisers and arrange to get a direct copy of the presentation streamcast back to my phone so I can annotate and compress it while attending something else. The closest a person can get to being in two places at once.
The New Flesh exhibit is in a tiny gallery I'd never heard of, that I get to only after adding my share to the memepool for today. The presentations going strong back at the talk, and I'm annotate one-handed from an aerogel keyglove while most of my attention is on the people in front of me.
Bodies parade around. Men with four arms, women with four breasts, and those are the common ones. Vestigial wings and tails, and I'm sure I caught a glimpse of a bifurcated penis near the back of the hall. I zoom in and snap a shot. "This is your future," I add. "Customisable bodies. Change everything you don't like about yourself and when you get tired of that, change it again. But this time you can have four cocks, in metallic blue." I'm halfway through the basics on a paper about the ethics of adult-stage biomodification and its impacts on reproductive health when someone pops up a chat window. None of the other guests are talking to each other, lost in private admiration or contemplation. It has to be her.
"How do you like the show?"
"It's certainly different."
"I thought you might be interested. It seemed like your kind of thing."
"Of course it would. What do Tulpas know about dating?"
"I wouldn't call this a date."
"I note the lack of denial."
"What's to deny?"
I sigh, going for some air and a much needed cigarette. No-smoke laws mean that Ican be fined up to a hundred dollars, or the price of a pack of real smokes, for daring to poison myself. Nobody else is around, at least. I let the agent take over annotating. It knows what to look for by now, it's studied my prior annotations and had learnt what it needs to do. But without the extra processing power of my smartphone's second brain I don't know quite how to process the revelation. Ophelia, the mystery woman guiding us towards the future, is a Tulpa. Vision and willpower, the driving urge behind every futurist made manifest. A living being of pure thought.
I finally respond. "It looks like I finally managed it."
"You did. I'm very impressed."
"So what now?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing."
"Now, I'm going to tell the world about living dreams, memeplexes achieving sentience. I can get at least three papers out of it and a good number of patents that are going to help with upload rights. Out of respect, I'm not going to mention you. Keep the others chasing the future to understand you. And when they do, like I have, keep us chasing anyway. You're just one step on the road."