L4: ShroudCasters

*you are logged in under sight version 615.104b. 

Please reference sight archives:

Part I: Khom Loi, Sebastopol, CA

I entered the bar from the east and scrolled through the upgrade options.  I had Femto to burn. It had been a fifteen-day work assignment on the outer moon haven, Tabishstra.  It was a rush job due to its slower orbit making this the opportune window to get there and back, coupled with the impending transition.  This meant it not only paid handsomely, but also picked up all shrouding expenses during the excursion, plus hazard pay.  God I love per diem.  I punched in the parameters and watched the scene morph from its default skin into my chosen shroud.  I had an important meeting here but was obliged to visit the bathroom first.  I smiled at the charm of the tropical wallpaper and old porcelain sink and loo.  Upon the wall were old action movie posters I did not recognize, with ancient actors long dead.  The script was written mostly in Thai and I intentionally left the translator function off my sight to enjoy the exotic unknown of it all.

  “locate Chaz Brindle” I said out loud to my reflection while I washed my hands.

*located one Chaz Brindle, 6.73 meter range.

A pleasant female voice said in my head.   

“Show” I ordered comfortably

Everything became transparent and undetailed, outlined in a blue glow. I could look right through the bathroom wall as I dried my hands as if it were two-way glass. In front of me was the bar proper, packed with forms.  As I turned and stepped across the threshold of the bathroom, I faced the adjacent bathroom, whose privacy screen obscured the view in or through.  Turning right, I walked through the short hallway toward the main dining area.  Seated at a round table, with a serpentine bench that connected one side of three other tables, was a man emanating a red glow. 

Chaz had been expecting me and had activated discoverability of the beacon.

“Off” I said walking towards the table.  The red light sucked into a red carnation on the lapel of a refined looking man sitting alone, as the scene snapped back into focus.  I stepped up to the table and pulled out the black metal chair. “Mind if I join?”

“Be my guest” he said without handshake, and with only brief eye contact that presumably registered my beacon embedded in a ring. 

He heaped an old timey newspaper onto the table flashing the headline “Tragic Collision on the AU”

He folded his arm like he was looking at the time and swiped his right hand along the top of his forearm, disappearing the paper into brief ascending glints of shattered light.  Fully crossing his arms and resting his elbows on the tabletop, he sits up straight and takes a long look at me. 

Sitting down across from him, I fold my hands on the table and try to sit up as straight as I can.  He is drinking already.  In a silent and quick navigation, I link into the table’s mainframe and with a wave of my brow place an order for a Chang beer to be brought to me.

After a deep breathe I begin.

“I want to create a gambling app, where you add coordinates in time and space, and it shows you the map from the saved archives, complete with moon rotations, and arc trajectories, planet alignment, tidal locking…all the data from past transitions.  It would be a snap to link credits to predict which sun will win the struggle.  We’ll call it ‘Titans’, it remembers all the old maps and satellite…”

“Pass.” He said dismissively.

This guy was not, evidentially, very personable. At least we weren’t going to waste each other’s time.  He sat still but somehow impatient, the way an interviewer is poised after a full day of disappointing candidates. His default skin was active: semi formal garb, grey blazer with black turtleneck and wearing glasses for fashion.  There was an air of pretension to infallibility.  

“I mean, with the standardization of AITUS (Automatic Interfacing Text bUmper Sticker) of all flying and ground transport, it can look like the old Vegas of internet trolling out there on the gridlines.  People funneling their road rage through brilliant LED “Fuck you”s and “Wrong Lane!!!” and “Move over”, for some mild examples.  Who thought it was a good idea for drivers to communicate to each other on the outside of their vehicles for all to see?!  Perhaps we can develop a filtering windshield for those who want the freedom from other people’s impulses. Or censored sunglasses for the kids and seniors.”

“I’ll look up old Vegas and get back to you,” Brindle said dryly, but lifted his forearm and poked a few shapes at it with his fingertips.

I had a feeling he would be the kind of guy to boast about his degree programs to the very programmer called in to fix his blunders in the real world.  

“Ok, then how about something a little more risqué?” I continued in a sultry voice.

“We can use facial recognition that accesses an indexed list of all adult film stars all the way back to the Milky Way recordings up through current day L4.  You scan a photo of your crush and voila, you get the closest look alike porn stars listed out.  From there it would be a breeze to download the look and behavior patterns of your virtual body double into your favorite AI companion…”

“Pass. And Ginny will never go for that.” He tapped at the table to alert the staff we were ready.  

“What if I told you it was her idea to begin with.  And she thinks I look a lot like Rex Luberman” I said tilting my head to the side as if that were the ideal angle to spot the resemblance.

Silence as we sat and locked eyes.  My fingers started gently tapping the tabletop.

Chaz sat silent with his eyebrows in a distorted lift.

I wondered what she had seen in this guy.

“Alright, I see you have no eye for the future, soooo, that brings us back to Virginia.  You know, when she told me her ex was a tech investor, I thought we could do some moonlighting on the side before we proceeded with the matchmaking…”I let my voice trail off with a slow shrug.

The waitress approaches the table “Good evening, welcome to the LeGrange Pointe.  Do you wish to be hyperlinked?”

This domed restaurant specialized in table hyperlinks, utilizing the common port for a multitude of privately shared options…at a premium.  An expensive, limited, and understandably glitchy simulation of the bloodlink.

Chaz Brindles casting was set to public and I centered my sights focus on the hovering unlocked icon and tapped into the preview.  The hot buttons for selection and navigation were set to brow movements and one learns from childhood to set the sensitivity high to help minimize distraction and detectability. I observed his shroud on an invisible picture in picture screen in my lower left vision, that rendered his casting wherever I looked.  He was sitting in a particularly popular sky bar situated high above the New Tokyo skyline, mostly glass and dim lighting.  The floor could make your stomach squirm for a moment as the uninterrupted glass afforded a view of the cityscapes from a 135 stories perch.  Looking around, the place was not much different from what I could remember, tier 4 casting full of customization options.  Interestingly, he had optioned his waiter to appear to him as the unshrouded android replicant it was.  

“I’ll sync to what he has going”, Brindle says with a dismissive wave of his finger at me. His sight would have detected my private content was casting, but he could not have known more as my preview was set to hidden.

“very good” the waiter said morphing into the mid-twenty year old woman talking behind a fabric black and brown cow print mask.  One static blink later his scene was fully merged with mine.  Replicant shards flew together to make up the menus she was handing us.

“Where are we?” Brindles voice attained the highest pitch so far with the tired question.

“Uh, Napa, no Sonoma County, California 2021.” I replied matching his tone.  “We’re having Thai if that works for you.” Looking up over the menu I discreetly lowered my eyebrow to eliminate the redundant picture in picture.

“Of all the places on earth you could simulate, you choose American. not French, not Italian.  American wine country.  During a pandemic?  You must have a tough time making good choices.” Another pause.

 “Virginia may be perfect for you.” He said lightening up a degree.

“Lets talk about Bridget being perfect for you” I returned.

The bar I had chosen was called “Khom Loi”; a Thai joint that was under review for a Michelin star in the timeline I selected, located in downtown Sebastopol.  Industrial heat lamps were erected at the ready in the open room, although unneeded as the temperature had been modified to match the region.  An overhead fan turned lazily over the other customers now in the garb of the time, shorts or floral prints, sunglasses raised on baseball hat bills.  Above us were corten steel catwalks overlooking the open courtyard roughly fifteen meters long by eight.  Lush green plants grew high from above and below and a small body of water ran through the room with tiered lanterns suspended above.  Thatched bamboo walls and simulated rice paper sliding doors capped off the Industrial Asian ambiance.   Bus boys would sometimes glitch to reveal unshrouded Roomba hoverbots gliding along, clearing empty glassware and casting a dull neon glow as they went. 

Destinations came in various tiers of gamma light level resolutions and various refresh rates. Khom Loi was a high tier, was I not tethered with Chaz, there would be no lagging or glitching at all.  I decide to really splurge and reach for my vile.  The small vacuum sealed container has a dial on top that controls the distribution of Femto from the upper chamber. It is the equivalent to cash, only you could spend it anytime.  I toggle to liquid form and smooth out my displays with a minor drop of the substance in my eyes.  Vision was not the only sense to be upgraded.  “Vegans had better start being more careful with what they wish for” I joked to Chaz as we scanned the menu.  

Automated farming havens were able to produce vast amounts of Soy in efficiently small haven spaces.  It was nearly the full makeup of all food due to the limited space, especially during summer.  Soy was king and tofu was best for its compatibility with Femto technology.  Taste, therefore, was the resulting mix of culinary skill and bio-digital manipulation.  For those wielding sight, taste profiles were able to be coded to your mental processors to enhance the soy into any flavor.  Good cooks just needed to focus on getting the different textures right and keep the taste as bland as possible.  A four-star chef can attain the correct shapes and consistencies and leave the ordinary taste of tofu as unadulterated as possible, for quick and accurate rendering of the intended visuals and taste profiles. 

“These LeGrange chefs are masters at providing a blank slate for the Fem to take over.” Chaz replied.

The more realistic the flavors needed to transform the food, the more energy needed to crunch the algorithms and modify it to your personal chemistry.  Femtobots, so small they could be mixed in dry, like a spice and ingested safely, could link and boost the function of sights magic.   As credits were based on the Femto standard, a personal vile was kept and could be used to each owner’s wealth and discretion. Those mixed in by the chef, via the recommended Femto level, were just added to the bill.  We transmitted our order for food and beverage.  The Chang beer, f(emto)4 had already arrived quickly, as had the Pork Jowl f3 and Lemongrass Fried chicken f4.    The KAeng Khei y whwan hoy plaa f7, or green curry with halibut and clams, was yet to arrive.

The chicken was great, crispy skin, soy and lemongrass flavors coming through.  Eating also afforded time for reflection.

It was good that Chaz was willing to charter our deal without an intermediary.  That was my optimistic feeling.  It was worth a shot anyway.  The guild wasn’t a bad way to go, especially when you had to broker multiple trades.  They had a database of players looking to make matches.  They also rivaled lawyers in retainer fees, so I was happy to apply saved Femto towards a good meal in high def. 

 I decided to show some good will and applied the full tab of this mod to my account.  Chaz did not so much as flinch when this notification must have been delivered but leaned forward from his reclined position to take a swig.  He nods and gives his beer a quick half raise before lifting it to his mouth.      

Chaz began blinking his left eye rapidly.

“Your sight on the blitz?” I asked. “Damned technology, we rely on it more than we do our legs” I added in a mock grandpa voice.  Sight was basically a contact lens that could supply an upgradable prescription, but was meant for bio-digital, handsfree interaction with any number of compatible functions.  It was called sight, but it also included base ear implants and its most common accessory was the smart sleeve.  Brain mapping and electrical stimulation was dependent on femtobots.  Apart from the given connection to the internet, cloud storage, and real time scan; chemical engineers, software programmers, and a slew of other scientists and tradesman had discovered how to leave sight visible hyperlinks in real time, which could biologically fire synapsis to simulate taste, or smell.  It could record the synapse pattern from private senses to be duplicated again and even shared.  The Femto technology was able to leech energy from the optic nerve in order to eliminate the need for batteries.  For most users, tear ducts were naturally sufficient lubrication to keep the processor cool.  A micro sensor would stimulate the ducts when an overheat situation was present.  Damage, or overheating could cause the unit to flicker or malfunction, turning on when unwanted, or turning off unexpectantly sending an infuriating connected/connection not found prompt blinking in your field of vision. The age-old method of smacking the broken appliance had evolved to forceful and rapid blinking to get your sight to respond.

“Damn vent line is pinched” Chaz muttered pulling out a vile of eye drops from his satchel bag and tilting his head back in application.  “I’ve got to go in to get serviced”

The structures here on Nandor-minor were gold and glass, basic to the naked eye.  They were built to be shrouded in a mixture of holographic display and morphing iterations of smart re-configurable 3d printing.    Replicants were essential in these environments.  Unshrouded they look like triangular flying fragments of metal registering at different frequencies.

Havens offered free skins to be loaded or compatibility with almost unlimited premium content.  Upgrade options glowed like video game quests ready for activation.  Residential havens may be from igloo to gymnasium in size, but its replicant optics, coupled with rotating and tread milled floors, allowed it to simulate whole worlds.  You could travel across the simulated countryside while never leaving the same small footprint of actual space.  While Chaz fucked around with his sight, I took a moment to preview where my neighbors were dining.  To my casting, they both sat in black tee shirts; both with black hair starting to silver.  It was a man and a woman with an unlocked icon above.  I flicked my eyebrows to enter their preview.  Their shroud had them dining at a table on shiny black obsidian, in between lava streams with an erupting volcano in the distance.  They were eating molten chocolate cake at a desert place, both skinned in colorful and trendy high fashion.  I toggled my sight off.    The erupting volcano in the distance was hundreds of small replicants swirling around, coming together and apart, much closer than in the illusion.  Their casting could only be seen with a coded sight frequency; it would also provide surround sound and displacement of matter.  These flyers could come together to vary in size for physical reality.  Some replicants were a generic android class.  They carried out the many service aspects of society and were fully individually manipulatable through sight. Each sight comes with its own encrypted frequency , and with replicants capable of a staggering amount of different unique outputs, simultaneous different display skins can be encoded to multiple people.  The same replicant could stand in front of a group and look different to each person’s private casting.  The flyers were only detectable unshrouded or with linked sight.  As our server walked through the flowing replicants making up the lava stream, they parted.  A single replicant flyer could project the same illusion without the physicality of the collective, thus filling in the blanks and effectively erasing the physical obstructions that would otherwise interfere with the shroud.  I toggled my sight back on and returned to Sonoma County. Chaz was recomposed and holding a folder, looking at me.

“I had a private eye follow your Bridget” Chaz disclosed, sliding the digital folder across the wooden table.  I opened the folder with my sight, while manipulating the orientation for viewing.  Inside were multiple pictures of her at the bar hub.  

“She likes to dance” he said “and drink”

“Yeah” I was drawing out the word.  “You would need to be ready for that.  Can be a real hoot”

As I flipped through the pictures there was a shot of her passed out on a tunnel street.  

“You know, she was going through a lot at that time.”  My finger tap was back.

There was a mild tremor and items around the room briefly suspended in air.  We both corralled our bowls of seafood, pinning them to the table.  A goldfish from the indoor pond beyond Chaz’s shoulder swished his tail slowly, floating a few centimeters above the water before the restaurants emergency gravity capacitor switched on and it plopped back in with a splash.  These episodes remind us that we are marooned on an obscure collection of rocks orbiting a planet light year away from any known settlement.  This is a self-sustaining outpost whose recourses and technology are limited to whatever sustainable practices are observed, or more to the point, salvaged. There had been no return travelers for centuries now, and no one had even successfully left the moons orbit of the planet for a decade. The scarcity of parts was a big reason, those ships that did come in were often harvested for local use if not parted out for the eternal demand for replicant hardware.  There were 16 moons that all had varying sizes and levels of habitation.  Getting between moons was no big feat, there were 5 sharing the same orbit which made the main circuit of civilization.  The others you just had to time, depending on the different speed and therefore position of the satellite.  But the confine to havens during the summer was a matter of survival.  No havens equal no life, and not a comfortable demise mind you.  Picture dying of exposure in a desert, lips cracked and blistering, the whole nine yards, except that desert was located in a giant frying pan on the hottest burner.  During the summer months, it was not unusual for a haven to be overcrowded due to an emergency failure of a neighbor’s system. But that is a temporary fix.  That is why recourses are repurposed to connect various sized Havens.  That is also why such small living quarters required the illusions of sight to create space. 

Two identical suns burned in this solar system, orbiting each other.   Each sun was a 10-month orbit for the planet and three of those months saw no darkness as the planet weaved between suns on either side.  The symmetrical overlap lasted a few days and is a feared and celebrated event.  The transition is a time when orbit is handed off from one to another, creating a figure eight orbital pattern.  The hand off doesn’t always happen though; four rotations is the current record for consecutive journeys around the same sun before it is snared again by the other.  Solar winds? Magnetic fields? Angry gods? No one fully knows what factors would be in play, but the few days of transition was known by all, as gravities grounding power was slightly suspended during the tug of war.  You felt it in your stomach like in a rollercoaster gone over the summit. Outside of an environmentally controlled structure you and anything else untethered would hover.      The religious and the political used the fear of an endless summer that would eventually be the ruin of us all every transition.  Was it possible? Sure, if only because nothing about the future can be ruled out.  Fears that a moon would be pulled away into the opposite suns orbit was mathematically near impossible, but widely distributed all the same.  Doomsayers enjoyed a lot of attention near the dual equinox.  Science, being dynamic and uncertain, can never compete with the certainty of the senseless, nor the fear of superstition. 

My bloodlink port recieved a request for a merge swap coming from Bridget.  Now was not the time to take on whatever state of mind she was in.  I quickly checked her vitals and saw a slightly elevated heart rate, but otherwise, all was normal.  I dismissed the request; she would have to wait.  With bloodlink, you were in effect transcending the limits of communication.  Not only could you share full private castings or modifiers within existing shrouds, but one could also actually transmit the bio-chemical blueprint of senses like smell or taste, cold or hot, and even emotion.  In effect, you could share just how you felt in that moment, or perhaps, how a lemon taste to you.  You essentially could have a second palate and a deeper understanding of how someone else is experiencing the moment.  The options for virtually limitless manipulation were possible. There is not just my emotional state or your emotional state to be sent back and forth; we can experience the average of the two merged, or swapped.  These were shortcut items to select, but Bloodlink allows for much more with the master mixing of input levels.  Partners could take ten percent of each other’s enjoyment of watching a game in real time or transfer 30 percent of a sexual experience as it is happening, or swap 98.7654 percent of eating that lemon if they wanted to.  Thanks to bloodlinks extensive satellite coverage, you would not need to be physically tethered.  Apart from the intimacy and vulnerability involved in this, there is also considerable danger as the consequences of your physical body would not be suspended just because your mind was being transmitted a shared ecosystem.  The unfortunate case of Jeriphine and Belidex illustrates the point as one was famously out of haven too close to summer.   The two bloodlink partners put themselves in a direct average stream to share the pain as Jeriphine attempted to reach safety.  Belidex put herself in ice water in order to balance the heat Jeriphine was experiencing, who was unable to get back to haven in time. They both disabled their hazard scanners and ignored their critical monitoring alarms as they were fully aware of their situation. Although Jeriphine felt relief, she died of exposure all the same, as her body could not handle the scorching suns.  Belidex got off luckier, upon the death, her link was severed, and she immediately went into shock from the prolonged cold.  She survived, but not before the frost bite claimed her feet.  

While Chaz left for the bathroom, I accessed Sights info page and selected the bloodlink termination procedure. 

The prerecording appeared before me in an augmented reality spokesperson speaking with a cheerful voice.

“Recently, another slot has become available; the bloodlink.  The process is a great technological breakthrough. In order to keep up with the generative design demands, this dedicated slot is synthesized further into your body to bring you the most amazing experience you’ve never had before.  Miniature femtobots auto calibrate with another user within your bloodstream before fully integrating with your sight… “ I scrolled it to 10x speed ff.

The technology I already knew.  The procedure was meant to be permanent and exclusive, and so was generally reserved for a partner.   The blood gains access to manipulate the nervous system and manufacture electric synapsis’ to transpose your partners data.  Almost immediately, it evolves to the partners genetic profile, creating a unique coding.  I also knew the basics of recalibration.  Adjusters referred to an established bloodlink as an organ.  In order to transform the blood, one had to find the genetic match that would accept the transplant.  The process was not without risk as the biological integration would turn toxic if a relink were forced with an incompatible partner.  Femtobots would attack the invasion of foreign femtobots within the blood stream, tearing apart the blood vessels.  There had to be symmetry between the transplants for a re-link to take.   

I returned the casting to normal speed.  The spokesperson went on:

 “To originally code this link, one simply initiates import of the new companion.  If both parties port is empty, the link is established once the physical bridge is connected, and the vision controlled femtobots are added into the merging.  Be advised: once the ports are occupied, one cannot simply change bloodlink partners.  One must activate an override protocol which would open a circuit for the current linked partners to close.  Please, always contact your sight professional to advise and assist you on…” I ended the recording, they were not going to go into details about the replacement procedure.

Closing the circuit meant that one would have to rewrite their link to the opposite partners link for the symmetry to be successful.  Another words, in order for individuals to relink with another partner, both with pre-existing integrated link, it took all four to make the transfer successful.  You had to match their ex with your ex. 

“About the girl, you know her intimately, is there any feedback you’d like to offer on what I’d be getting into.  Any angle you’d like to try and sell me on taking a chance bloodlinking with a stranger?”  Chaz was getting to the heart of it.  I wondered how my love was doing with my ex on selling Chaz.  We had decided it was best to meet each other’s former partner to sell the procedure, though not everybody went this route.  I suppose there is always the fear of how an interview with an ex and your current lover may go.  

I brought my forearm up like a quarterback reading the playbook and started punching in my pattern.

 “We all begin as strangers” I responded as I slid my index and ring finger in the half moon that allowed the holographic display to be seen by others.  I stopped it at a 1.5 meter arc of visibility, beyond that it would not be detected, rendering me like a marionette in wooden poises to an outside observer.

“Here is Bridget”

A CGI casting scaled to about 20% appeared on the table.  She was in a library, and it showed her pulling a book off a high shelf before leafing through the pages. It was a simulated clip from her dating profile which though made ten years ago, updated her to her current looks.

“She would love to own real hardback books someday, if only we lived on a planet with the recourses.”

For the modern age of bloodlink, it was common to use these updating representations of your ex to depict their interests to the potential suitor.  Some went so far as sharing private castings of their ex, created explicitly for them, with their new lover’s ex, to help sell the bloodlink procedure.  Some call it obscene and other cite some unknown morality of all being fair in love and war.  I think a little mystery can go a long way, though I only loaded her most flattering and flirty bits.

“Ah, she does have a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh” I say admiringly as the scene flips to her being cute, buckled over and laughing while playing with a penguin.

With the data accessible from the bloodlink, the tech allowed for the original casting to be generated with a spectrum of aging of the person from original up through current day with the swipe of a finger.

Chaz wheeled the aging back on Bridget, dropping ten years with a circle and a half turn.

“She’s aged gracefully” he says, slowly bringing her back to current.

“Why is she with penguins and books though? Is her head in the clouds or is she just attracted to what she can’t have?”

This prick had a way of finding the worst possibilities in any situation.  Probably made him a successful investor.

“She just has a healthy romance for certain things, and she knows what she likes. Besides, she can have those things just as well as we are enjoying the miracle of soy turned to Pacific clams.”  The last statements were followed with a clammy bite of the Thai stew and a drink of the broth from the bowl.

“Also, this frozen coconut or mango soft serve looks refreshing.  I’m having one of each sent and you can take your pick.”

to be continued…

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