by Spacer Conrad
He had asked me if it was raining, and I had answered that it was not, of course. When I turned around to face the confused fellow I realized that he was jacked in to a deck, no telling what mem he was accessing. Damned fool to be out of touch with reality on the Metro.
My stop was two blocks from the office, and I was grateful for the short walk. Two blocks wasn't far, but it was time to clear my head for the day, which was usually unpleasant anytime I had to come into the city proper.
Shortly before I reached 6900 Union Avenue, it began to rain.
Max Freeman was my boss. He was a likable guy if you managed to catch him out of the office, but a real ball-breaker at work. I was there, only slightly damp, with four other mem-jockeys.
Oh yeah, I 'write' mems.
The little gel-matrix memory packs, about the size and shape of a short pencil, held roughly 45 minutes of full sensory memory courtesy of such as I and my comrades here in this room.
Sherry Portman acted out romantic scenarios for her monthly contribution, lovely and well spoken, I'd be greatly interested if I wasn't already spoken for. Max did some technical stuff, wandering around the Stevenís Center Spaceport and compiling mems of newer technology for the geeky crowd.
Jorje Martinez was the adventure guru, wearing his mem'corder on orbital skydives, deep sea SCUBA dives, and any number of near-suicidal endeavors. He was, of course, the most lucrative 'writer in attendance.
As for me, I kept to the more mundane 'slice of life' pieces, with the occasional lecture circuit.
The lectures were a freelance deal, and I was popular for my ability to keep my eyes locked on the lecturer while bored silly. Jorje had tried it, but his eyes tended to wander and the mems turned out rather badly.
I held this month's work in a small pouch: a bicycle tour through the Amish countryside, a short canoe trip on a lake near my home (the canoe could now be written off as an expense), and a variety of shorter experiences to be picked over and used or discarded at Max's discretion.
This part of the job I could do without, and in fact could have been done by remote conference from home, if Max hadn't been so insistent on these meetings. There were several others among us who were on assignment at the moment and couldn't make the meeting, and I envied them.
"Spence," Max's chair creaked painfully as he settled his mass and leaned on the long synthwood table, "You did fine last month, but we're going to have to spice it up a bit. Your ratings are a bit off."
Max never was much for leading up to anything. He'd just spit his thoughts forth and we'd have to scramble to keep up. "Extreme sports aren't exactly an Amish tradition, Boss."
Ignored, I listened to Max rail on everyone else for transgressions real or imagined. Even Jorje collected some harsh remarks, and he smiled, "Well, Boss, I suppose you could come along and show me how it's done." receiving the same interest as my remark.
"Sherry, I've been getting a lot of requests for something Southern, Antebellum, like. Can you handle that?"
"Why, I'd like nothing better, kind suh!" in a syrupy southern-belle voice.
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn, but it's what the Herd wants." he turned to face me, "Spence, we need to do something in your department. Management keeps a close eye on the numbers and is starting to wonder about whether the public really wants this Americana crap anymore."
I shrugged, "It's a solid segment, Max, and I think we'd lose customers without it." I tapped my terminal and a chart appeared on the wallscreen opposite Max's seat. "The admittedly small percentage of subscribers who access my mems generally do not access the others. I have a small but exclusive, and I would imagine loyal, readership and I think that's a number you wouldn't want to see disappear from the subscription rolls. Am I wrong?"
"Settle down, Spence. I wasn't suggesting that..."
"I should hope not, Max." I stopped short of threatening to go all-out freelance, as V-Mem Unlimited had an exclusive patent on the technology that allowed full-sensory memory imprints and I couldn't afford a black market 'corder.
Max, unperturbed, went on to Jorje to discuss his upcoming descent into a live volcano.
The rain had stopped, leaving the streets highly reflective, and I amused myself by looking down at the tall buildings extending to the sky. I shook off a mild case of vertigo and stepped aboard the Metro bus.
He was there, the same guy, sitting in the same molded plastic bench, still jacked in and muttering to whomever he faced in his mind. I shook my head and found an empty seat, smiling to myself and impatiently waiting out the quarter hour it would take to reach my car.
Unable to afford anything newer, my Camaro had been converted to hydrogen two weeks after gasoline had been legislated into history and was showing its age. Still reliable, I only needed it for the monthly trip into town, as the company covered my transportation during assignments. Well, there were the freelance jobs, too, but I normally rode my motorcycle if the city wasn't anywhere on my itinerary.
In my garage, on loan from the manufacturer, was a sexy little roadster I was supposed to take out on the first nice day. Vicky wasn't terribly happy with the arrangement as it displaced her minivan, but she did love the car. I was supposed to take it out on some twisty country roads, recording as I drove, hopefully collecting some material useful to their advertising division.
Home was a smallish cottage surrounded by brilliant fall color, densely arranged trees giving my home the illusion of solitude and causing a great deal of labor every fall. I made a mental note to hook my nephew up to the 'corder this year as he played in the great piles of leaves I raked.
"Hello, Sweets." I closed the solid oak door and shrugged out of my coat.
Victoria swept through on her way to the kitchen, leaving a light kiss on my cheek, "Hello Dear."
I followed and was rewarded with the exquisite aroma of fresh baking. "Oh, what have we here?"
"I thought I'd try my hand at apple pie, from scratch." Her smile was radiant, below clear blue eyes and luxurious auburn hair.
"Smells to me like a successful attempt."
"There were two, less so." she shook her lovely head, "It wasn't pretty."
I laughed and kissed her. Oh, if I could bottle her up, I could make a fortune.
"That roadster..." Vicky sipped her tea.
"Yes?" a hardcover Ayn Rand novel was pleasantly heavy in my lap, I peered at her over my reading glasses.
"They said they'd give you a good deal on it?"
"About 20 percent, if they found anything worthwhile in my copy." I pulled the glasses off and met her eyes, "Why?"
"I, uh, well," she stammered prettily, "took it for a spin today, before it rained."
I suppose I should be angry, "And...?"
"I loved it!" I hadn't reacted badly and her sunny disposition returned, full force.
"We can't afford it, Sweets." Her disappointed expression caught me full force and I commiserated with her. I hadn't been the best provider, though we were quite comfortable.
"That's fine, Dear." she smiled, "It was just so..." she lifted the tea to her lips with a sigh.
A two car garage, reduced to one by the workshop I maintained on the far half, was the temporary home to this cherry red work of automotive art. Someone had managed to design this thing with an eye toward past and present, seating the driver and passenger over the rear axle and providing a good deal of protection from the elements without detracting from the car's style.
The electric motor, with batteries, didn't take up much space, giving a copious amount of space under the butterfly hoods for luggage, and this would be perfect for those weekend bed-and-breakfast pieces. I could include the actual trip in the mem. I added a mental note to mention this to Max.
"Vicky!" I called into the house, "Let's go for a ride!" I ran back into the house for my 'corder.
Between my earlobe and skull, the memjack was unobtrusive and the cordless transceiver button nearly weightless, the deck itself hiding away in the glove compartment. Vicky, fresh and lovely in a yellow sundress and matching wide brimmed hat, smiled contentedly at the wind on her face. The roadster hummed softly around bends, carrying us through painfully bright fall colors, muttering over old wooden bridges. Our destination lay roughly 50 miles farther, but the trip was our sole reason for being out here today. I concentrated on the curves, pushing the car through the curves, but not too much. I figured I was getting some great copy.
"Hey, Honey!" Vicki excitedly motioned toward a narrow two-track I was about to pass. "Go in there." her eyes communicated to me that it would be a very good idea, so I did.
Dry leaves, stirred up by my tires, crackled and whirled in our wake, settling back down as we pulled out of sight of the road.
Vicky immediately slipped her hand into mine and started to kiss me, the dress came off, and our little vacation began.
"Yeah?" I rolled over, reveling in the feather padded mattress below and the hot, soft skin along my side.
"I could sell my van, and I'm sure I could make the payments somehow."
"You really want the car."
"You have to admit," she smiled coyly, "it has some pretty good memories."
I silently agreed and pulled her close.
Max glowered at me, little piggy eyes growing smaller and harder, "It's against company policy to freelance with this equipment. I just got an email from Englemann Roadsters congratulating you on your work." he quieted a bit, comradely, "You and I both know that it'll happen, but we have to keep it under the table. Lucky for both of us that Schepmann wasn't on the media contact list."
I nodded, suppressing a swallow. Losing my job would mean losing the car, my mortgage, everything else I could never afford with another outfit.
"They're paying us an equipment use fee, and I guess you'll get the original deal. Sean with their marketing department said something about just giving you the car, plus a little."
"What?" I nearly stammered. They must have made a mistake somewhere. I humbled myself appropriately before Max and hurried home.
Sean answered immediately, his face brightening on the display, "Spence!" he reached down and instructed his secretary to hold some calls. "I was wondering when you'd call."
"Yeah," I leaned back in my soft leather chair, toying with a model sailboat, tracing a finger over the rigging, "Max collared me today about the mem I made for you guys. Seems I had forgotten to remind you of the situation with the equipment."
"All covered, my friend." Sean Matthews spread his arms and grinned, "everything's copacetic. I was a bit surprised about some of the content, being unsuitable for advertising use, but with our ownership of the rights I was able to market part of the mem for a pretty good sum. This is a new market, after all. The only place people can get any sort of, shall we say, intimate contact is in your 'romance' section. That's mostly syrup anyway."
"What do you...?" Holy Shit! "Oh, damn."
"Who is that fox, anyway? Man, is she hot!"
"My wife..." I murmured, unaware at this point of Sean's virtual presence.
"Wow, a lotta guys wouldn't have the guts, but I'm wondering why you'd give it to us, rather than a publisher."
I disconnected, in a daze. "He... my wife..." I staggered out of the office and into the kitchen. Vicki had the roadster and was shopping for winter clothes in town. The note on the fridge said she'd be back in an hour or so.
They had the rights. I signed them over when I sent the mem. Millions of men would be having sex with my wife, probably within the month, though they may never touch her physically, they'd know her secrets, every inch of her creamy smooth skin...
WARNING: CROSS-JACKING, THOUGH PREVENTED BY REDUNDANT SAFETIES, SHOULD NEVER BE ATTEMPTED. SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH MAY RESULT!
I read the entry in my manual again. Less than ten percent of crossjackers survived the attempt, which is only possible with the rare and expensive recording model, like mine. In a daze, I easily bypassed the safeties, setting off a low, irritating buzz, which I quickly silenced.
"Honey! I'm home!" Vicki twirled in her new coat, "Don't you just love it?"
I nodded and took her hands, "Oh, Sweets, you are beautiful." I'm saving her, really. She couldn't handle the idea, all those men...
"Oh, Mr. Romantic!" She smiled into a kiss, "I get the idea you're after something." , this tossed forth, mock seriously.
"Always, never could resist you, my Dear." I guided her gently into the bedroom. "I'd like to try something too.
"What?" She gazed into my eyes.
"I want to record us, it'll never get out, but some of my longer trips get pretty lonely, you know."
She didn't argue with my logic and I mounted a T/C button behind her ear, then my own. I activated the deck....
I'm inside you. I can feel... I can feel your hands sliding over my chest, I can feel my chest under your hands. You can feel me too, can't you? I gazed into her eyes and also saw myself, like a living double exposure.
"What's this? I'm frightened, Spence, but it feels so..."
"Yes, it does." Sooner than I had expected, we reached a mind-shattering crescendo.
I am. I am inside the deck, I think, not in memory, but in the buffer. For a few seconds, I could see through our eyes, until they failed. I don't think I'm all here, because I can't feel anything, no regret, no sadness. She didn't make it here. I think she was frightened off, though it won't matter for long. I can't store myself, nor have I the desire to do so, and the battery is nearing depletion.
I think, if it were possible, I would regret my actions, but it would be pointless.
We shared everything, to the last, and I couldn't bear sharing her. Soon, oblivion. I would crave it if I could, but I am interestingly devoid of such desire. Odd, to think that I...
"Kee-rist, not another one." Detective Stark glared at the stocky Max standing over his former employee. "I'm gonna have to start reporting these, Max."
"Not this one, OK? I'll work on the safeties, but we can't afford the publicity."
"Their bodies are still alive. How the Hell do they do that?"
Max shrugged, "I dunno. Aw, shit, Spence."
With the help of his cousin Wally Stark and a shotgun found in Spence's closet, the report concluded that a murder-suicide had occurred here. Max had to hurry back to amend the terms on a contract with Sean. A dead artist is worth so much more, after all.