erikadprice

http

Corpus Callosum I

image

Twenty-six hours in surgery, followed by fourteen hours for the upload. An hour or two between those, which Jeanette spent making all the decisions and filling out the forms. The process would’ve been quicker if Joey wasn’t an organ donor. All that meat was nearly useless these days. Especially in Joey’s case, since she was charred from the chest down. 

Jeanette slapped the last waiting room magazine she hadn’t read— Parenting Circle— against her legs. She’d never gone so long without moving before. It almost felt as if she were the one without a body. Maybe if she sat long enough she could get uploaded, too. 

Her thighs felt heavy and immobile, like the sacks of liquid from their dad’s old waterbed. Every spring Jeanette and Joey used to drag the sagging, bulging, stagnant vessels into the yard and dump their contents out, then refill them with the hose and drop in a few chlorine tablets. It never helped with the mildew, those chlorine tabs. The bags always reminded them of body bags. Like where Joey’s body would be placed, soon. 

Jeanette’s stomach lurched at the thought, and she threw her head back, bumping it for the fifty-seventh time on the waiting room’s wooden border. She tried to picture something else.  She imagined blood clots colonizing her calves, or her leaden thighs, and beating a hasty course into her brain or her heart. The instructions on Jeanette’s birth control pills warned against being immobile for more than a few hours, but she couldn’t bear to enjoy bodily liberation while Joey was a sedentary mass.  

"Not for long," she whispered. "Not for long, not for long."

 It felt like a prayer or an incantation, but it was a fact.  The upload had been paid for. There was a certainty to Joey’s immortality that only a market transaction, not prayer, could guarantee. You couldn’t sue God like you could a corporation. Jeanette kept repeating her mantra anyway. There was a frazzled-looking mother and two kids on the other side of the waiting room, but Jeanette didn’t care about their opinions anymore. She’d been alone in the room too long. 

The Parenting Circle magazine was full of advertisements for cheap shoes and synthetic food. The featured article was about a newly-FDA-approved gastric bypass procedure for toddlers.  It was followed and contrasted sharply by a one-page ad for pre-teen Electroconvulsive Therapy. The ECT center looked like the inside of a Claire’s, all pale purple, mirrored walls, and sparkles. 

Jeanette tried to make the magazine last— she read all the bylines, she read the contents, she read the disclaimers— but had consumed all the text and images before the hour was out. Sighing, she opened the folder on her lap, which the surgeon had given her, and began reading the FAQ’s she’d been avoiding all day. 

 

BrightBox by LifeMedia™: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How long does BrightBox uploading take?

A: Uploading takes between sixteen and twenty-four hours, depending on the memory capacity of the client and the comprehensiveness of their upload package. 

Q: Will my loved one have their natural voice? 

A: Only if they have completed the full voice-training software protocol prior to death. If we have a partial or damaged voice sample from your loved one, we will augment it with our SmartTalk voice recon software. LifeMedia cannot guarantee satisfaction with voice fidelity at this stage. 

Q: Will my loved one’s personality be affected?

A: Human psychology is fluid, and a person’s attitudes and behaviors are strongly influenced by their surroundings and their situation. Expect your loved one to seem slightly “out-of-sorts” in the first few weeks following their uploading to BrightBox. However, they will remain biopsychologically identical to the person they were in life, particularly if they were uploaded via a comprehensive or deluxe package. 

Q: Does the upload to BrightBox damage any memories?

A: The fidelity of a BrightBox upload is limited by only two things: the state of the client’s brain at the time of upload, and the size of the BrightBox’s hard drive. If you are concerned that your loved one has more memories than the standard BrightBox’s 1 petabyte, consider upgrading. 

Q: Will my loved one be able to see, hear, smell, taste, or feel physical sensations?

A: Regarding the first two: yes, the BrightBox is fully wired with cameras, microphones, speakers, and sophisticated processing equipment at or near the capability of human sensation. As for the other three: Yes, but not at the level of detail or intensity that a physical human can. 

Q: Why isn’t there a BrightBox chassis that allows the uploaded client to move?

A: Unfortunately, fine and gross motor function have proven the most difficult brain functions to map onto BrightBox (other than automatic physiological functions, such as arousal). We are currently beta-testing a BrightBox that allows the client to walk, sit, climb stairs, shake hands, and perhaps even dance! 

Q: Do any clients regret being uploaded to BrightBox? 

A: Extensive psychological research has demonstrated that BrightBox clients regret/resent their circumstances at a rate comparable to the general living population. Life is fraught with worry, depression, and regret, and life in a BrightBox is apparently no exception! 

Q: How do I take care of a loved one who has been uploaded to BrightBox?

A: With love! Treat the loved one the same as you did when they had a body. Take them with you to lunch, on shopping trips, to parties, or for a walk in the park. Play word games and watch television, or put on an audio book (or read aloud)! Make sure to move your loved one several times a day, and to change the lighting and music in their surroundings frequently to avoid boredom and frustration. 

Q: How long does a BrightBox chassis last, and what happens if it breaks?

A: As long as LifeMedia’s usage guidelines are followed exactly and the warranty is not voided, a BrightBox should function smoothly for at least seventy years. If a client or their family notices errors in the system or the client’s psychology, the client may be uploaded to a new BrightBox for a nominal fee. 

Jeanette put the sheet of paper back in the folder. Her eyes were burning from strain, so she pushed them into their sockets with the pads of her fingers until the pain was different. For the first time in perhaps a day, she let herself peek at the digital clock above the nurse’s stand. It was brick-shaped and a bright, sterile white, not unlike Joey’s soon-to-be-new body. 4:38am. 

Jeanette leaned her head back on the border and threw mittens over her eyes, pleading for sleep. She drifted off to visions of her and Joey as you h girls, running around the above-ground pool in their bikinis, throwing clumps of grass. Jeanette saw Joey’s knobby knees and shoulders, her hair slick and lightened by sunlight and chlorine, stuck to the sides of her face, never to be seen again. 

A few hours later Jeanette’s neck and legs were stiff and began to complain enough to nearly wake her. She was pulled into full consciousness by the squeak of a surgeon’s Crocs on the tile, and a crisp professional voice saying, “Miss Porter? Ma’am? Your sister’s ready.”

Flickr / functionalneurogenesis

Corpus Callosum II

image

(Part I is here).

The surgeon led Jeanette through a corridor and down a half-flight of stairs, swinging a metal clipboard in his left hand. The lights were dimmer than she expected. Her calves and knees ached and stung from the hours she’d spent sitting still in the waiting room. She had to nearly run to keep up with him, stumbling all the way.

He was brisk and youthful-looking, in powder blue scrubs. He was white and his hair was chestnut and cropped close. When Jeanette had seen him before, she’d been too stricken with grief and panic to notice anything about him. He turned another corner, Crocs squishing. She dashed behind him in flats that cut against her bare heels.

"Did everything go okay? The transfer?" She panted. 

"Smooth sailing, I hear. Surgery is a bit pissed because her kidneys couldn’t be salvaged. They were kinda banking on them." 

He turned back to her. “You seem much better,” he said.

"I. Yeah. Well it’s still such a rush, you know?" 

He smiled. “This is my favorite part of the process.”’

"I would’ve thought that saving, you know, actual lives would be." 

He pushed open the set of swinging doors leading to the next corridor. “What? Oh! No, I’m not a doctor.” 

He flicked at the tag hanging off his scrubs. Jeanette leaned in to see it. Steve Milton, LifeMedia Surgical Sales Associate, North Coast District.

"Oh! Ohhhh." 

"Actually, let me give you my card," he said, reaching into his blue drawstring pants. Jeanette pocketed the card without looking. "Call me if you or, um, the other Miss Porter— Josephine— have any problems whatsoever." 

"Joey," Jeanette corrected. "And certainly. Thank you, so much."

They stopped in front of a door that was windowless and streaked with water damage. The corridor was narrow, quiet, and unpeopled. To Jeanette, it looked like they were facing the entrance to a broom closet. Milton gestured at it, and she gripped the knob tentatively. 

"This is it? She’s— it’s— she’s in there?" 

"Whenever you’re ready," he said flatly. He turned on his heels, but then stopped. "Oh, wait, I need you to sign the discharge paperwork!" 

He thrust a metal clipboard with carbon-copy paper into her hands. Hurriedly, Jeanette dropped her bag and the LifeMedia folder and scrawled across the pages. Her hands were cool and moist, and the ground seemed to shake below her soles. Name. Date. Next of Kin. Payment Plan. Emergency Contacts (she listed their father and their cousin).

She flipped through the pages, scribbling her name over Xes and checking all that applied. Address. Employer. Bank. Co-Signer? No. She turned another page: the death certificate. 

"That’s just the application for the death certificate," Milton said, tapping the sheet. "The real thing will come in the mail in six to twenty-four weeks. Also, you should indicate if you want an autopsy." 

Jeanette let her arms drop to her sides, smacking the clipboard against her legs. She blew her bangs from her face.

"I think we all know. How she died," she said.  

Milton shifted his weight but didn’t speak. His eyes were blue and shallow like an antique doll’s. It seemed like Jeanette could stare into his face all morning and never see more than a tidy, pale corporate void. She saw her own reflection in those eerie baby blues, one dark twin in each eye. Finally, she relented and returned to the paperwork, checking “No” on the autopsy form.

She handed it to him. “She burned to death.” 

"I. Yup. I know." Then he chuckled softly, emitting a nervous whizzing sound like old men made. He was far too young for the noise. Far too young, on second thought, to ever be reasonably mistaken for a surgeon. 

"I’m sorry. I just never know what to say in this moment. I’m sorry for your loss? Or congratulations?" 

He rapped his fingers on the clipboard. 

"You say nothing," Jeanette said. "Nothing’s happened. There is no loss. Just a really, really, exceedingly expensive procedure." 

She leaned into the doorway, and turned the knob. Milton lifted her bag and LifeMedia folder off the floor, and handed both to her with a stiff nod.

"Thank you," Jeanette said, darting her eyes away. She entered the room.

It was an office. Windowless, dark, dry, with a dusty smell. Jeanette clicked on the light and stepped forward, still feeling oppressively heavy, her breath short and tentative. 

The box was sitting on the middle of a rusty metal desk covered with fake wood laminate. It was about five inches tall and five inches across, a bright, sanitized white silicone with no seams or visible buttons.

It looked impossibly clean and fresh sitting in this room full of old furniture and janitor’s buckets. It was bigger, too, than Jeanette had anticipated, and it was shaped like an octagonal prism. She didn’t expect that. She heard the word ‘box’ and pictured a perfect cube— 

"You’re catching flies," the box said. It glowed when the sound emanated from it;   a strong, bright blue light shone from inside, under the white silicone. The voice was laced with static, but recognizable. 

Jeanette jammed her mouth shut. Catching flies was what their paternal grandmother called open-mouthed gawking. She used to rap them on the chin with a wooden spoon when they did it. She held her chin now, more as an acknowledgment of the message than anything else. The box could see her.

"Sorry," she whispered like a child. 

"That’s better," the box said, glowing brightly. "They told me you’ve been sitting here for days. Your morning breath by now has got to be a-fucking-trocious—" 

"JOEY!" Jeanette sobbed, running forward. 

She bent over the table and pressed her face against the soft plastic, ran her fingers across the corners on the prism’s top, and cried. The blue light shone dimly.

"I thought you were I thought you were dead, and they called me, and they told me what happened and I was so scared— so scared. And you! Here you are! You were dead, you were dead, you were dead!" 

She picked the box up and held it to her chest and her face, crying and blathering senselessly, smelling the synthetic, chemical odors of the plastic, feeling the receptors on the box’s base and letting its rounded edges dig into the skin on her chest and neck.

She kissed the box then, wet and open-mouthed, with abandon, wailing loud enough to be heard down the hall, all the way to the nurse’s station and the waiting room where she had willed away the days, biting her nails and smacking her head against the wall, thinking her sister was as good as dead. 

But she wasn’t! She was here! She was smaller, and more compact, and denser, but Jeanette held her, alive, in her hands! The cool glowing hunk of plastic held a life! Everything terrible that had happened was, at once, reversed.

"Your breath is seriously fetid," the box said, brightening. 

Jeanette pulled back. She wiped her nose with the crook of her arm. “Sorry,” she said. Then, excitedly: “You can SMELL!” 

"I can smell!" the box chirped. "And you smell like Crest Brush-ups and Cool Ranch Doritos."

They both laughed. Joey’s laugh was crunchy with static, but underneath the white noise it was normal: a deep, casual-sounding cackle that pealed out of the box and reverberated against the tile. Jeanette giggled and swayed back and forth with the box cradled in her arms. When their laughter subsided she held the box at eye level again.

"Oh my God Joey, oh my God Joey, Oh my God, God, are you okay?" 

The box was silent at first. Jeanette’s pulse quickened, fearing the worst and tilting the box slightly to check the bottom for a reset key. Before she had the opportunity to fully panic, Joey spoke.

"I’m okay. I’m still a little stunned. It feels fine though." 

"Does it hurt? Does it feel like anything?" 

"Like the most natural thing in the world. Like it was always this way." 

"Joey, Joey..," she hugged the box tight and rocked on her heels. "It must have been so terrible, so scary; you must have thought it was over-" 

"As soon as the roof collapsed I thought it was over. It all went so quick, Jean. I knew so quickly I was dying that I didn’t need to process it. There just wasn’t time to think about what it means, or how I felt about it, or whether it was what I wanted-"

"Did you wake up?" 

The box dimmed. “Hmm. I remember …surgery, but I was so anesthetized that it was like the pain was buried miles and miles underwater…It just went in and out. I saw what was happening, and I felt it, then I didn’t. Then I woke up and I had all these tubes in my neck and mouth. And they were scrubbing the dead skin off, with these brushes—” 

"Shhh," Jeanette said. She patted the box. "Shhh it’s over now. Forget I asked." 

"Hold on, let me think. I remember them telling me that you bought me a new body. The air was so hot…my lungs were wet and dry at the same time, it was like sucking exhaust off a tailpipe. They said I was going to die but you were there, weren’t you?" 

The living sister gulped. “They didn’t let me in. There wasn’t any time, Joey.” 

"But then I was told…Good news. You have a new body. Your sister paid for it, and you’re going to live forever. Everything will be fine soon, just go back to sleep. How did they tell me that? I was dead. How did they tell me?" 

"Shh. They probably just uploaded the idea when they put you in the box. Hey, did they explain how everything works to you?" 

She knelt and pulled the BrightBox FAQ from the folder on the floor. Uncertain, she held the sheet up to the box like a child showing her teacher a drawing. 

"I know all about it," Joey said. "Actually, I think that sheet is out of date. Headquarters uploaded a revised version 1.5 hours ago, with some additional questions." 

Jeanette dropped the paper. “How do you know that?” 

The box lit up. An image rippled under the surface of the case, cast in neon blue light. It was a series of bars. Just as quickly as it appeared, the image dissipated, like the answer cube on a magic 8-ball slipping back into its murky fluid. But Jeanette had seen the symbol long enough to comprehend it. 

"You have wi-fi?" 

"Unlimited network data, too. You should know, it was in the service agreement you signed." The network service provider’s logo washed over Joey’s gleaming surface, then receded. 

"I was a little distracted when I filled that stuff out. As you can imagine. So you know, like, everything?" 

The light dimmed. “Everything online and in my hard drive. Well, memory is still fallible.”

"What’s it like?"

"I’m sure it won’t be any different from when we were kids," Joey said. Her sister frowned down at the box, perplexed. "I always knew better and you never listened." 

Jeanette laughed and clutched the box firmly. “It’s you, it sounds just like you. You’re okay, you’re okay. You’re here. Oh my God. Miracle. Oh my God.” 

They rocked back and forth in the office’s dim light, Joey’s glow casting a halo of blue on Jeanette’s face. The box was shockingly heavy for its size, but Jeanette didn’t let it bother her. She rocked, and murmured, and nearly fell asleep standing up, like a horse. It was Joey who broke the silence.

"Let’s get out here." 

Jeanette swayed. The box’s corner was making a red imprint in her cheek. Her legs were tired. Her head thudded from all the crying and sleepless nights.

The box was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. She wanted to ask Joey, why did moving matter? They were together. To spend a moment fussing over transit or waiting for a cab in the snow would be to pull themselves out of rapturous awareness of their good fortune. 

She didn’t want to go home and clean the dishes. She didn’t want to fuss over the mail, the rent, the unsettled portion of the LifeMedia bill, or her dwindling checking account. She didn’t want to take a pain pill for her growing migraine, or eat, or clip the toenails that were scraping against the insides of her shoes. She didn’t want to go back to petty bodily concerns ever again. 

"Let’s get out of here. Please," Joey said, and there was rising tension in her voice. 

In life, Joey used to turn beet-colored and strain her voice like that when she was feeling cornered. It used to signal that she was close to storming off. 

"Shh, it’s fine," Jeanette said. "Baby. It’s over. It must have been terrible, it must have been so horrible, I can’t even…It was terrible out here too. I kept thinking, I’m never going to talk to her again, I’m never going to have her by my side. But then they told me about the procedure. And now we don’t have to worry, okay?" 

Jeanette pressed her lips to the box. It occurred to her that dying in this place must have been traumatic. It had been maddening enough as a bystander to the carnage, powerless on the other side of the swinging doors. 

"I want to get out of here, Jean," Joey said, even more breathily. 

"Okay," Jeanette said, patting the box. "Let’s go home."

Flickr / functionalneurogenesis

Corpus Callosum III

image

In the cab, Jeanette held Joey’s BrightBox in her lap, stroking the sides like a cat. She stared down at it the whole drive, chatting amiably, but Joey didn’t reply. 

"I just can’t wait to take a shower," Jeanette said with a sigh, bringing her hand up to her greasy hair.  "Oh, shit, that was rude to say."

"No skin off my teeth," said the cab driver. He had a rich Somali accent and wore a porkpie cap that flapped when he spoke.  "I’m close to my quota for the day, then I can shower too." 

She smiled tightly. “What do you want to do when you get home?” she asked the box, lifting it to her mouth. 

"Probably do some Pilates, maybe fire up the View-Play," the driver said, not comprehending. "I used to run outside, but it’s getting too dangerous out there. My neighborhood scares me." 

"You don’t say."  

"So I fire up the View-Play. I can imagine I am running along the Great Wall. Or over the tree tops in the rain forests. Or across the bottom of the sea. Or the Antarctic tundra! Keeps me off these disgusting streets, with the young men out there playing with their guns, and the young white boys in uniform playing with their guns, too— they’re no different. These young guys, heads all exploding full of testosterone, don’t matter what side of the law they’re on."

"Yeah. It’s a shame," Jeanette said.

The driver was taking the long route through the park, by her request. She lifted Joey up and tilted her toward the window. The bare trees flashed by, their branches robed in fresh snow that must have fallen while they’d been in the hospital. Hidden in the woods there were deer, and foxes, maybe even a ptarmigan or two, but Jeanette couldn’t see any in the early morning haze. 

 ”How are you doing?” she asked Joey. 

"I’m okay," the cabbie said. "Anxious all the time. I’m scared to go out at night now because I’m a family man! It didn’t use to scare me! But to keep everybody fed, I have to drive all day and into the night, and still it is dark when I get home. But I gotta exercise, because I’m scared of that too! I don’t want to die of a heart attack and never meet my grandbabies. Never bounce them on my knee. I don’t want to sit still all day in this tiny car and become a tub of lard." 

"There are worse things," Jeanette said. She ran her fingers across the box. 

"So anyway, yeah, I run on the View-Play, you ever try it?" 

"I think so, at parties. It’s cute," Jeanette said distractedly. 

"I wish I could run in fresh air. But it’s bad out there."

"I think it’s worth the risk, to be experiencing real things," Joey said. 

The driver must have thought it was Jeanette speaking again, for all he said was, “Yup. You are probably on point with that. I ask myself sometimes: if you sit still and quiet all the time, are you even alive?” 

"Yes," Jeanette said. 

"Depends on how you define life," Joey said, her light flashing.

"Oh, it sounds like you’re a bit conflicted on it too, ma’am! Glad to hear I’m not the only one like this— afraid to die, afraid to live. Hesitation kills, as they said in my driving class." 

Jeanette rose in her seat. She wanted to clarify things. Here was Lazarus sitting on her lap! The miracle of it needed to be acknowledged. Maybe it would give the cabbie courage to see how life could be prolonged. But before she could speak she noticed the top of Joey’s box flickering with a bright yellow X, so she stopped. 

The driver parked at the door of Jeanette’s apartment and ran to the passenger’s side to let them out. 

"Thank you! You didn’t have to do that!" Jeanette slipped cash into his hand and stood with Joey tucked under her arm.

"Please, any excuse to stretch!" the cabbie said. 

Then he noticed the BrightBox and his grin went slack. 

"Oh. I’m sorry, miss. I didn’t realize..," he trailed off, backing away and walking to the driver’s seat. His car pulled out and dissipated into the passing traffic.

Jeanette looked down at the BrightBox, puzzled. The lights had gone off. In the dim twilight it looked like it was made of ordinary white cardboard or paper. She rapped on the side of it.

"Joey? JOEY! Are you in there?"

"Calm down, I’m fine," her sister said, the color rising. But it was too late; Jeanette was already thrusting the box against her face and letting rivulets of tears flow. 

"Ohhhh thank God I was so worried..," 

"If there is an error, the box will turn black," Joey said. 

"Okay." Jeanette pulled her face away. She looked down the street. "What was all that about?" 

"He thought I was a box of cremains." 

Jeanette slapped herself in the forehead. “Oh. Oh! Haha, poor guy! But why wouldn’t you talk to me in there?” 

"I didn’t want to explain it! Jesus, Jean, do you think I want to spend my tenure in this thing acting like a Furby?" 

"I, no, of course not. I just thought-" 

"I don’t feel like talking to every rando on the street about my pricey immortality, okay? This is all a lot to take in."

"Okay." 

They climbed the stairs to Jeanette’s fourth-story flat, where the heat from the radiator was blazing and the TV was droning on at full blast. Jeanette sat Joey on the end table by the door and ran to turn it off. She tripped over a pile of clothes, both on the way over and the way back. 

Holding a half-drunk bottle of Vitamin Water in a clenched fist, Jeanette sipped and said, “I just think, maybe it would have made him happy to hear about you. I mean, it’s a miracle.”

"No," Joey snapped. "Think for a second! His family could never, ever afford a procedure like this. I don’t want to flaunt our stupid privilege everywhere and make people who can’t afford the technology feel any more impoverished than they already do on a daily basis." 

"Okay, maybe that’s how he’d see it. But he doesn’t need it yet; In a few years it’ll be way cheaper." 

"He can’t afford health care, you think he can afford consciousness uploading? And even more than that, do you think his family could afford to just babysit him in that state? You think they could spare the extra power? And what would they do when his wife died?" 

"Okayyy." Jeanette flopped on the couch and stared at the BrightBox. "Can you see me from here?" 

"Yes, I have cameras on every side. If you can see me, I can see you." 

"Alright, sheesh." 

She tilted her head to the side, letting her brown curls fall into her face. They were heavy with oil and dirt, but the smell was comforting in its familiar pungency. There had been only the slightest difference between her and Joey’s smells, but it was distinct enough that one always knew when other had borrowed her clothes. Jeanette never minded it, but Joey hated sharing. 

Still, it hadn’t been a major point of contention since the last time they’d lived together, back in high school. She was excited for them to be roommates again, especially now that they were grown and more mature about such things. 

Jeanette rolled on her back and consulted the ceiling. It was almost low enough for her to reach up and touch with her feet. 

"I hope that someday soon, everybody has the ability to upload themselves and their loved ones, and can live on, and on, and on…" 

She paddled her feet in the air, kicking her shoes off. 

Joey said, “I hope everyone has the choice.”  

————

(Part I). (Part II). 

Flickr / functionalneurogenesis

Corpus Callosum IV

image

Jeanette lived in a one-bedroom flat in an old brownstone a few minutes north of  the city. She kept it stiflingly warm by cranking the radiators all the way up, blasting the oven, and running all the faucets with scalding water. The rooms were crammed with thrift store rugs and used hotel furniture she’d bought on the cheap at liquidation sales. 

She decorated the walls with the detritus of her childhood, teenage, and college years: a My Little Pony poster taped here, a column of movie tickets taped there; an amputee Troll doll on the mantle, a Holly Golightly poster by the door, with the eyes blackened out and the mouth of a snarling zombie pasted over Audrey Hepburn’s smirking lips. 

Bras and Spanx hung from doorknobs and off the sides of chairs. Discount paperbacks by McEwan, Didion, Bronte, and Erdrich sat in impromptu stacks, with stagnant cups of cocoa on top. Music was always escaping from tinny speakers and blending with the hiss of the heater, the clunky hum of the refrigerator, and the banging and squeaking of the front gate. 

Jeanette cleared a space for Joey in her “office”, the nook jutting off her bedroom. It had the best natural light. She pushed the desk to the window and swept the papers and dried-out pens away. She threw her broken printer out and dusted the shelves. Joey’s charging station was placed on top of the desk, facing the window, with the cord threaded down the side, so Joey would have a nice view of the trees and the street while she powered up.

A coffee table in the den was also liberated from old magazines, dirty saucers, wickless candles, ash, and Pez dust. The kitchen counter was cleared off.  Jeanette bought an air gun and cleared dust from her keyboard, her speakers, her television, the key holes, the Venetian blinds, and the dark passages between the floor’s wooden boards. She lit several varieties of incense and quizzed Joey on the flavors.

"Pear," Joey would say. Or, "Patchouli. Apple crisp." 

"Which do you like best?" 

"I don’t care. It’s your house." 

"No no no no," Jeanette would say, dipping the incense stick in water. "No no, this is our home. I want you to have everything you want. You live here." 

Jeanette emptied a closet in the hall for Joey’s old stuff. Joey had lived in a studio in the suburbs, above a soap maker’s shop. She didn’t have many possessions worth keeping— some photo albums, a tie-dyed beanbag chair, a two-foot-tall glass bong, old Gil Scot Heron and Staples Singers records, books by Salinger, Joyce, Pynchon, McCarthy, and Bellow, a few outfits Jeanette wanted— but her sister took a conservative approach.

"Maybe someday you’ll want this," Jeanette said as she shoved each object into the bare closet. 

"What will I need a Shake Weight for?" Joey asked. "I don’t have arms." 

"Maybe someday you will." 

Jeanette merged their clothing. She scanned Joey’s old photographs and copied home movies saved on Joey’s laptop. She drove to the suburbs to one of the state’s few remaining DVD rental stores and brought back copies of the films they had enjoyed as little girls. Films like The Last Unicorn, Oliver & Company, and The Black Cauldron. She filled the apartment with the smell of burnt popcorn and held the bowl close to her sister’s box. 

"You liked these movies, I didn’t like these movies," Joey said.

"Sure you did! We loved these movies. What, you think you’re too cool?" she threw a kernel at the box; It bounced off Joey and rolled under the couch. 

"I liked The Secret of NIMH. All Dogs Go To Heaven. The original Land Before Time, those kinds of movies."   

"Psh, all those movies are about death. It’s too depressing right now."

"They’re not about death. All Dogs Go to Heaven, that movie is about immortality. It’s about cheating death! Cheating heaven, even! It’s about choosing a flawed, tenuous life over an eternal, delusional paradise where suffering is ignored."

"So it’s about existentialism! That’s the same as death!"

"-And NIMH is about biomedical engineering, and the failure of humanity’s attempts to improve itself. Or, the costs of artificial self-improvement. It’s the biologically un-altered mouse, after all, who saves the day." 

Jeanette muted the TV. “Are you mad at me for throwing popcorn at you?” 

"No. I appreciate your trying to make this normal." 

"Thank you. And those are good movies. I’ll get some of them next time.” 

Joey dimmed to take the glare off the TV. They watched The Last Unicorn, Jeanette chewing popcorn with an open mouth. Near the end of the film she began to cry, and her arms flung forward to pull Joey from the table and into her lap. She hugged the BrightBox through her blanket. 

When the movie was over Jeanette stared blankly at the screen and let the credits roll to the end. Her eyes were puffy and streaked with red, and there was a tuft of hair in her mouth. Music tinkled out of the BrightBox. Quiet, playful harp music, followed by a hoarse woman’s voice. Jeanette jumped, startled. 

"Horizon, rising, up to meet the purple dawn. Dust demon, screaming, bring an eagle to carry me home. For in my heart I carry such a heavy load. Here I am, on man’s road. Walking man’s road, oh! Walking man’s road…" 

"What is that?" 

"It’s Joanna Newsom’s cover of the song from the movie," Joey’s staticy voice momentarily overdubbed the track. "Can’t you tell?"

Jeanette wrinkled her nose. “Her voice. I don’t like it. It’s unsettling.” 

"Here I am, on man’s road…" 

"I like it," Joey said over the track. "This is a rare live cut." 

"…Why don’t we just stream movies off of you?" 

"Walking man’s road, oh! Walking man’s road…"

Joey darkened. “I don’t have a monitor, idiot.” 

"I’m sure you can search the bootleg websites faster than I could on a computer." 

"I’m hungry, and I’m weary, but I cannot lay me down. And the rain falls…dreary, and there’s no comfort that I have found. It’ll be such a long time till I find my abode…here I am, on man’s road…"

"Does it feel to you like you’re singing?" Jeanette asked. "Or…thinking it?" 

"Neither. It’s just playing." 

"…it waits in silence for the night to explode. Here I am on man’s road…"

"Could you sing along with it?" 

Joey turned the sound down. Her voice chirped over the harp. “Walking man’s road, oh! Walking man’s road…”

Jeanette joined in. Joey’s voice had always been the prettier one. There was more ease in it. Now it was under a layer of faint white noise at all times, and corrupted, but it seemed to Jeanette that if she could only peel a layer back, she’d hear the real thing again. 

"Walking man’s road-" Jeanette strained to sing, but then the song ended. Joanna Newsom thanked the crowd in a childish, self-pleased little voice, and there was a din of applause, and the harp plunked out. She’d never been good at sensing when a chorus was about to stop repeating. 

"That wasn’t so bad, was it?" Joey said. 

"It’s too bad you couldn’t give a voice sample to LifeMedia before you died," Jeanette said. She stood and picked up the bowl of popcorn. "Of course, you weren’t planning on dying, I guess." 

Now more than ever Jeanette was aware of the mechanical artifice in her sister’s new voice. It was just a little too even and flat, a little too subdued. It could sing, but it wasn’t beautiful. It couldn’t bite with sarcasm while suppressing a peal of laughter. It was just a bit too consistent, too canned. She worried that the available range would be taxed in no time at all. 

"I wasn’t planning on getting crammed inside an alarm clock, either," Joey said when Jeanette crossed into the kitchen. 

Jeanette flung the bowl back at the den. It knocked a glass of vodka seltzer on its side.  Bubbles sprayed across the BrightBox. Joey’s light flashed yellow, then red, and then shut off. Popcorn went sailing everywhere. Jeanette was picking it out of the rugs and couch cushions for two weeks afterward. 

————

(I). (II). (III).

Flickr / functionalneurogenesis

Corpus Callosum V

image

Their father lived in St. Louis in a ranch-style house under a clutch of willow trees that were constantly shedding limbs onto his roof. When he first heard Joey had died, he demanded a funeral. Jeanette kept having to call the funeral home to cancel his plans behind his back, but this only redoubled his efforts.

"Come and visit," she begged. "Come and see her. You’ll understand." 

He didn’t believe it. He didn’t comprehend it. He pictured it like life support, or like Joey’s brain was floating in a jar. If she couldn’t call him, he complained, she wasn’t alive in any manner to speak of. He told his living daughter he wanted closure. 

"Then come," she said. "Don’t make us wait till next Christmas." 

So he took a day off work and drove to their city. Jeanette led him to the kitchen and poured a cup of herbal tea that made his mouth pucker. She had just gotten her hair chemically relaxed, and was adamant that she needed a lot of fluids to keep it from drying out. His other daughter was, as best he could understand, trapped in a clock radio on the corner of the table.

"Was the drive alright?" Joey said. 

He clinked his glass on the saucer Jeanette had provided. “It was fine. Snowy, people scootin’ around on the ice like jackasses.” 

He stared out the kitchen window, though the only view it afforded was of the neighboring building’s brick wall.

"Jose," he began, "what topic did you do for the science fair in second grade?" 

"Buffalo." 

"Nah, it was about medieval castles." 

"I did castles," Jeanette said, wrapping her hair in a dishtowel. Both girls had inherited their father’s dark skin and tight, curly hair. Joey had always gone natural while Jeanette had dabbled in a variety of colors, textures, and cuts, all of which she ultimately loathed.

Their father rubbed his chin and looked back and forth from one daughter to the other. His face was a minefield of ingrown stubble. “Jose, what happened to that boy you used to see?” 

Jeanette picked the tea kettle up and slammed it on the range. “Um. Dad.” 

"It’s fine. I found him giving a chick some face in the stairwell of our building." 

He pushed away from the table. 

"Do you know what that means?" Jeanette asked. "It’s slang for-" 

"I got it!" He raised his hands as if warding off a blow. They didn’t usually discuss relationships with him whatsoever.  "I just…always wondered. Shit. He was a nice fella." 

"He wanted litters and litters of kids," Joey said flatly. "It wasn’t going to work anyway." 

"Well, it’s a moot point."

He paced between the kitchen and the living room, slapping his hands together contemplatively. Jeanette looked at Joey and could only assume that Joey was gazing back. She was probably looking at everything, actually. 

He stood on the precipice. “You’ll never have kids now,” he said, as if clarification was needed. 

"Dad. I’m dead." 

He threw his hands up and craned his head back so far Jeanette thought she’d have to run up and catch him.

"She’s dead! What did I tell you! She said it herself!"

He still wanted a funeral. Jeanette refilled his teacup, turned away, and fiddled in the silverware drawer noisily, he suspected to cover up the sounds of sniffles. He approached her and squeezed her shoulders, making her jump and tense up; it was an old trick he’d used to get them off the computer when they were younger. She turned. 

"I’m sorry," he mouthed. 

She shook her head. “It’s fine. I mean it’s not fine, but yeah. Just try to understand.” 

They spent the rest of the night conversing in the kitchen, their father firing questions at Joey in an attempt to demonstrate she wasn’t truly conscious. He asked her about memories old and new. He pried, in detail, into her old job, her boyfriends, her friends, her habits. He even asked if the fire had been an accident. He asked for her appraisals of films and songs, and her opinions on political matters they hadn’t candidly discussed since Joey had shaved her head and claimed to be a Black Nationalist Muslima-agnostic Marxist in eighth grade, whatever that was. 

He listed while Joey delivered her answers, an implacable expression on his face. He didn’t pick up the box.  He just leaned forward and stared deeply into its glowing white abyss. 

"There is no way to know for sure," he said with resolve after his fourth cup. 

"Know what?" said Jeanette. 

He was sweaty and exasperated. “If she’s really in there, or if this is just a speakerbox reading transcripts from her memory. Cold tapes with no life in them, I mean.” 

"I can respond to the environment and produce novel responses," Joey said. "But only you can determine your own threshold of proof, here."

“What do you mean?” He looked at Jeanette when he asked. Relating to the box was still tripping him up.

Joey began to explain the Turing Test to him, but after a few sentences Jeanette nudged her and said she wasn’t doing herself any favors. The father asked for something stronger to drink, but all the girls had on hand was Joey’s old weed. 

They smoked and played UNO. They played Trivial Pursuit. Joey shut off her wi-fi to make things fair. Their father slumped in his chair and gave gruff answers in a low voice; he was always correct. It was an old deck of questions, and only he understood all the historical and pop cultural references. Winning seemed to provide a small comfort, and as the game wore on he became more gracious about moving Joey’s piece and rolling the dice for her. Jeanette got thirstier and thirstier, filled a pitcher with Kool-Aid, and drank from the spout. 

"You girls have always been the best of friends," the father said.  

Purple juice was trickling down Jeanette’s chin as she listened and fumbled with the cards.  

"It’s my proudest contribution. I figured, hell, even if there were skills I didn’t give you, confidence I didn’t give you, even if I didn’t raise you right all the time, I gave you each a companion for life.”

He stared meaningfully at Jeanette. “Most people don’t have that,” he finished.

Their mother left when they were small. Their father hadn’t dated ever, as far as they knew, and he certainly didn’t have a habit of bringing friends around when they were little girls.

Jeanette picked Joey up and drooled Kool-Aid over her top. “I’m so glad I didn’t lose you.” 

Both the father and the living daughter’s eyes were streaked with red, their irises taking on the watery jewel-toned hues of the wasted. Joey watched them, one camera fixed on her sister’s slobbering mouth, another studying the intricacies of the folds around the father’s eyes. The arrangement of the folds suggested tears. Normally, the father only cried if he was watching a film where a loyal animal companion was harmed in the process of being noble.

"I owe you," Joey said to her sister. "I mean, forever. I can’t pay it back, what you did. Literally, figuratively, monetarily, whatever." 

That was when their father asked how much the procedure cost. All the regrettable questions came after that. Soon Jeanette was explaining how Joey’s body had ignited, was describing the exact extent of the damage to Joey’s face, torso, lungs, and other internal organs; the intricacies of the operations, the infections and sepsis that had set in, the blood poisoning, the agonizing moment when she flat-lined, the telescoping bleak eternity Jeanette spent curled up in a waiting room chair digging her nails into her palms to keep from fainting.

Their dad laid palms-down on the cool tile of the kitchen floor. He moaned that he was going to be sick, and Joey demanded to be plugged in. Jeanette put them to bed and did the dishes.  

The next day, they all went to the zoo. Jeanette carried Joey in a clear plastic tote bag to keep the rain off her chassis. They watched the tropical fish and felt the previous night’s high radiate through them and grant them a fresh calm. The father pulled quarters from his pockets and bought duck food from a machine with a crank. He dropped half the crumbs in Jeanette’s hand and took the rest. 

They leaned on a bridge above the duck pond and threw crumbs one-by-one to the swans, ducks, geese, and flamingos  and were careful to make the rations last. It was an expense he’d never afforded them as children. It was better to let the animals fend for themselves, he said. If you fed them, they would grow torpid and pollute the water. Human food wasn’t healthy for them, and it was hard enough to keep the two girls fed without throwing meals away on wild animals. He hadn’t complained of poverty since they’d left home, though. 

"Look at that mallard with the blue streak," Jeanette said dreamily.

"It’s a Spotted-billed Duck," Joey said. "They aren’t native to the U.S."

"What about that one?" 

"That’s a Reyard’s Duck. They’re from the Vancouver area."

Their father covered the crumbs in his hand and said, “Let’s quit feeding these aliens.” 

He took them to the cat house. The leopards, servals, tigers, and pumas all circled in narrow spaces dotted only with artificial-looking rocks and toys made of rope. There were bars on the outward-facing sides of their cells, instead of the greasy plexiglass used to hold most of the other animals. The cats all paced in tight figure-eights, their eyes never leaving the crowds of gawking humans. Their movement was as fluid as flight or swimming. To Jeanette, the cats had always appeared to have a conspiratorial manner.

"Cats are so smart," she said in awe. She held Joey up in her sack, and pointed her at a spotted civet. 

"I’d like to see ‘em go toe-to-toe with those wolves back there," the father said. "These kitties are all too independent, that’d be the death of them. Couldn’t last against an organized pack, even if dogs’r dumb." 

"Cats aren’t smart," Joey said. "If you sever their cerebral cortex from their brainstem, they keep moving, eating, and hunting as if nothing changed. Their brains control very little of their behavior, its role is almost purely inhibitory." 

Jeanette groaned. “I thought you liked cats.” 

"They’re fine." 

"You really think they’re dumb? Didn’t you always want a cat?"

"They’re cute. It’s just a fact that they’re dumb." 

Jeanette huffed. 

"I think your sister wants out of here," the father said. 

"What do you mean?"

"Come on," he mouthed, like it was obvious. 

"I’m fine," Joey said. 

Jeanette lowered the bag out of the civet’s view. Joey glowed a dim yellow.

Jeanette said, “Joey, is it true? Are the cages, um, freaking you out?” 

"What? Are you kidding? It’s fine." 

Their father pulled them out of the cat house by Jeanette’s hand. They stood outside the ape house and a light drizzle fell over them.

"You’ve been so weird. I’m sorry, I didn’t think about how this might disturb you." 

"It doesn’t. Listen, these animals aren’t unhappy, I don’t think. They don’t know any better. Animals live for stasis, and that’s what a zoo is all about."

Their father suggested, in that case, they should get out of the rain and go visit the primates. They were in the ape house mezzanine and wicking water from their bodies when Joey flashed bright red and cried, “NO! No. No. No.”

Jeanette pulled the BrightBox from the tote. A fat family in rain slickers was staring at them and their screaming prism. 

"Baby are you okay?" 

"Let’s get out please. Okay? Okay. Okay let’s please just get…out."

Joey’s voice was rapid and thin, and it sounded like she was genuinely hyperventilating. The glow on the box rose and fell, shifting from red to a bright orange. Its colors pulsed with the rhythm of a failing heart. Jeanette turned the box over and examined it for water damage. 

"System report?" she asked dumbly. 

"Systems are fine. Let’s leave. Now. Everyone is staring at us. That woman is going to fetch security. Let’s just go." 

Their father turned to the woman in the rain slicker. “Really, what the hell could security do? Really, ma’am. We’re harmless.” 

The woman gulped and nodded, pulling one of her children’s stout fingers into her own. 

When they made it to the parking lot, Joey’s light cooled into a steady teal. Jeanette’s face was flushed and puffed-out in a manner suggestive of eminent puking. Her breath matched the unsteady, anxious thrum of Joey’s artificial one.  The father pulled Joey from his living daughter’s arms, allowing Jeanette to drop to her hands and knees in the lot. She heaved and coughed but didn’t produce any fluid.

"I’m fine," Joey said, a little bewildered. "Jean I’m okay, cool your motherfucking jets."

She wiped her brow and rose with a sigh. 

"That was embarrassing. I just got worried about you."

Joey reiterated that she was waterproof, shockproof, was loaded with anti-virus software, and had a battery life of three days. 

"But still, you can feel fear," their father said. He smiled approvingly as he said it.

“Does that make me enough of a person for you?”

“You…well, you girls were always more than enough.”

He thought the botanical gardens would ease their anxieties and salvage the day. They walked a path along the river and climbed the grassy steps to the greenhouse. It was a massive, bulbous structure like a series of interconnected sacks, each hospitable to foliage from a unique corner of the world. The rainforest displays were decorated with polymer statues of dark-skinned children in tattered loincloths, stereotypical crap that Joey was normally inclined to grouse about. This time she didn’t complain. One of the black-girl statues, their father pointed out, looked just like the girls had in their own preadolescence. 

Jeanette wanted to see the miniatures. Tiny trees and hedges had been sculpted and deliberately grown to accommodate an elaborate fairy castle. She was ashamed to admit it, but she still occasionally imagined herself as Thumbelina, shrunken and left to inhabit a tidy little world. 

In the same room there were bonsai trees of every conceivable shape, each held firmly in a wood box by layers of sand and grit. Each was trimmed carefully every day by botanical garden associate, according to the signs. It was painstaking work to maintain the right scale. Beside the trees were rows of bonsai melons, which (the signs said) had been grown into perfect geometrical shapes through a process called “organic space restriction”. An ashen-faced botanical gardens employee with fingers like tendrils offered them a sample of square cantaloupe.

"It’s better than a regular melon," their father observed. 

The woman nodded. “The tissues on the insides are more compact, so there’s more sweetness per volume.” 

Jeanette held a piece up to Joey’s sensors. With a fingernail she squeezed a bit of the juice out for her to taste. 

"I need to get the fuck out of here," Joey said suddenly. Her bright blue light shut off and an mp3 of nature sounds blared from her speakers. 

————

I.II.III.IV.

Flickr / functionalneurogenesis

Corpus Callosum VI

image

It’s 1993. It must be; that was the year Joey got the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers t-shirt that she wore as a nightgown, tunic, dress, and robe, all day, every day. It was years before Febreeze was invented, so their dad had to wash it daily, while Joey was in the tub with her action figures. 

There are grey streaks of mud and silt where the shirt hits her knees. She’s had it awhile. It has the Black and Green Rangers on it; Joey got it for Easter. Jeanette wouldn’t wear hers, because it had the Pink Ranger on it. She likes Yellow, when she watches the show at all.

The girls are climbing the willow tree in the back yard. Joey’s shirt is pilled and stringy where bark has snagged it. She’s a good two stories up, and can see their roof, littered with branches and bird poop. She calls to her sister. She bobs up and down on a branch that gives slightly under her weight. 

Jeanette is tucked into the crook of a lower branch. Her dark head rests on a balled-up sweatshirt, and she is coloring, or reading, or dragging a pen across a page. Joey pulls strips of bark from the tree and pelts them at her. She pulls hunks of moss, squirming with ants. Her sister takes a long time to notice. 

Something occludes the sun for a second. Joey looks up: herons? Great, long-legged birds with vast wingspans and delicate, pencil-thin beaks, unfamiliar critters, casting across the sky, going south. She covers her curly head with a fistful of willow branches, to protect against droppings. The birds’ bellies are silver and pale blue. 

"Come up!" she cries to Jeanette. But Jeanette won’t come. "Come see, come see—Jeannnn," 

Jeanette’s sweatshirt is over her head, now. She won’t come. She can’t climb that high, or she won’t. When she skins a knee she picks at the red and white tissue till it goes all purple and yellow, and she moans from the couch that she’s in sepsis; she is going to die. Something similar keeps her on the low branches. 

Joey sits with her legs folded and watches the birds disappear. She’ll show them. There will be more birds—she’s sure of it, and sure that they’ll be envious of the sight. Her father and sister, who watch nature documentaries to fall asleep but are loathe to get dirty outside of the house. She’ll wait. All she has is a knife and a lighter filched from their dad’s desk. 

She digs her mother’s name into the bark, misspelling it. The small strips of wood that fall into her t-shirted lap would make perfect kindling. Their dad comes into the yard with sandwiches heaped on a plastic plate, and Jeanette flees from the tree trunk.

"Come down, Joey! I’m bored!" Jeanette runs away as she yells it. 

Feeling the branch sink under her weight, Joey stands on tiptoes and hurls herself up another level. The willow’s tendrils are a curtain she can throw back to spy on the neighborhood. She’s performing international espionage. She leaps and hangs from a branch the girth of her dad’s arm, and does her best pull-ups. The neighbors quarrel over a barbecue, and Joey takes fastidious notes in the side of the tree. The birds do not come. 

"Come down, Jo-ey! I’m going in! Come watch a movie with me before dad takes the TV!" 

Majority rules in the house. Joey doesn’t climb down. 

"Come up here! I’m hunting for albatross. Come look at the sunset!" 

Truth be told, she doesn’t know how to get down from this height. Just reaching her foot toward a lower branch makes her dizzy. 

It gets colder; the neighbors go in and clouds envelop the appearing stars. Joey pulls her arms into the body of her Power Ranger’s nightgown, shivers, and waits. She sees the leaves turn up like bowls to the sky.

It rains. First the branches protect her, then they give way like so many broken umbrellas or burst tarpaulins and dump water on her. Joey’s hair gets damp and frizzy and falls into her eyes. Her bare feet are frigid against the bark, which is slowly absorbing moisture. All her appendages feel like cold, dead fish. 

Their father runs across the lawn and screams for Joey to come down before she catches cold. Jeanette stands by his side, both of them tiny below Joey. They yell at her for a long time, and Joey begins to cry. There’s a burst of thunder not so far away. Goose pimples press Joey’s arm and leg hair out, and it prickles against her. 

Their dad says, “Fine, you wanna catch your death that’s your decision!” and stomps inside. Jeanette stays. She doesn’t call Joey down anymore. She just stands, impotent, with a hand on the tree. 

The tree is too slick, too wet to climb down, so Joey resolves to stay the night. The moss is slippery even when it’s dry. She gets an idea to light her kindling. She gathers the slivers of wood and bark up in a ball, jams it into an open knot, and holds her dad’s lighter over it. 

The flame catches fast. Soon she has a little fire pit all her own. Joey slices off more bark and moss where it’s still dry and feeds the flame. Her skin warms and the pimples sink back down inside her. 

But then it’s all out of control. Flame swallows up the knot and jumps over its edge. It catches on some of the leaves, the ones that are still dry and protected underneath the tendrils. The flames crawl down the branch. Joey retreats toward the tree trunk and slips slightly. The fire advances on her. 

Then there’s a curtain of hot dense orangeness, and smoke, and Joey’s face is so warm it feels like it could burst open like a popcorn kernel. Smoke swells around the tree in a cyclone and floods Joey’s lungs. She doesn’t know yet what harm fire can really do to a human body; she won’t learn that till a burning roof falls on her as a thirty-year-old EMT and kills her. But she can’t breathe, and the heat is in the air, it makes all her skin ripple. She can’t tell where the flames end and her body begins. It stings like when it’s negative-degrees in winter. 

All at once, Joey pulls the rain-soaked Power Rangers nightgown off and slaps at the flames. The fire hisses under the wet cloth, spitting out smoke. There’s a gasp, and more smoldering air for a few moments, but then the flames are gone. The tree and shirt are black. Rain has killed the flames on the other branches. 

"Are you okay?" Jeanette’s voice floats up from the dark expanse below the tree.

"Yeah," Joey says. Then, "I think that was close." 

Looking back, it probably wasn’t. It all happened in the span of a minute, perhaps, but in Joey’s memory it has unfurled and grown rich with detail, caught under a microscope, saved on a slide. 

"I won’t tell Dad," Jeanette says. It’s a promise she will honor even as an adult. 

Joey sleeps in the tree with the damp, sooty nightgown pulled across her bare lap. She waits the whole night until the dawn breaks and the tree begins to finally dry and become climbable again. It’s twelve hours all told, at least. 

When she finally has the courage to venture down, bare-legged in the morning light, she finds Jeanette curled up in the fetal position, sleeping on a quilt at the roots of the willow tree. In that moment, Joey resolves to forgive her for all past and future grievances. It’s a promise she keeps for the rest of her life. Her sister wasn’t capable of climbing to reach her, but she was all too willing to lie in wait. 

————

I.II.III.IV.V.

 

Flickr / functionalneurogenesis

Corpus Callosum VII

image

The father left and the sisters’ lives fell into a normal rhythm. Jeanette went back to work, having already expended six of her annual vacation days on Joey’s hospital stay and their dad’s visit. She bought a second LifeMedia charging dock and put it on the windowsill of the office she shared with two coworkers.

Joey sat between an aloe vera plant and a novelty wooden horse that collapsed into a heap when it was pressed at the base. She listened to her sister sing along to Portishead at her desk, and watched her proofread web advertisements. 

"Do you think this would be better in active voice?" Jeanette asked. She swiveled the monitor around. It was a mock-up of an ad for barbecue-flavored rice crisps. 

"Isn’t that always the rule?" said Joey. 

"I guess. But I thought maybe, after you master the rules, that’s when you have license to flout them." She tilted her head at the screen and pondered.

Jeanette’s officemate Louis entered with a Cup Noodle suspended between his teeth and an overstuffed binder in his arms. He mumbled a greeting through the styrofoam. 

"Do you have the rights to that stock image?" Joey said suddenly, with a flicker of blue light. Louis jumped and gasped slightly, barely recovering in time to save the carpet from a Cup Noodle stain.

"Holy ba-jeez, look at you," he said, dropping his things on his desk.

He lifted Joey up like a puppy and turned to Jeanette. “I heard what happened but I didn’t know you were bringing the thing in.”

He examined the bottom of the BrightBox and rubbed his small fingers along the sides, as if inspecting for dust.

“Well, anyway,” he sighed, “What a pretty design.”

Jeanette leaped to her feet and pulled the box away. 

"Of course I brought her. Was I supposed to do— leave her sitting in my apartment all alone?" 

"A pleasure to meet you, Louis," Joey said with a flash, "I’ve heard so much about you over the years. What a shame we never had the chance to meet when I had hands; I wish I could shake yours." 

He did a jaunty little nod in the box’s direction. In one swift motion he picked up his Cup Noodle, stirred it furiously, and said, “Well. Anyway.” 

Jeanette coughed and returned to her desk. “Do you like this ad, Louis?” 

He leaned across her shoulder and slurped noisily. “It looks very Web 1.0. Add a drop shadow.” 

Jeanette pivoted in her swivel chair to face the windowsill. “Joey, as a non-professional in the field, what is your natural, intuitive response to this advertisement?” 

"I mean, I don’t know.  Seems like it violates the rules of good photo composition though. And that stock image with the laughing woman has already been in a lot of insurance and yogurt ads."

"Are you googling in there?" Louis asked. He crept forward and tapped Joey’s surface with a single outstretched digit.

"Yeah. And then some.”

"You’re fucking Data." He shot Jeanette a broad, almost conspiratorial smile.

"Your sister is Data! She’s, no—She’s like this one android in this game Xenosaga. Kos-Mos. I played it as a kid, and she had a soul but she was fully synthetic-" 

"Whatever, sorry," Joey snapped, turning dim yellow. "I don’t like the ad. It makes me bored." 

Jeanette beamed and swatted Louis’ hand away from the box.

"Thank you! See, this is going to be great. Having a layperson’s perspective in the office to spitball off. Awesome." 

Their second officemate, Rita, came in late and refused to marvel over the BrightBox. She collapsed in a huff at her desk with the hood to her winter jacket pulled up, sighed loudly, and began clicking noisily at her computer and chewing her lip. Everyone in the room, including Joey, threw her a tentative greeting, but she didn’t respond, and for hours she worked at her desk without removing her head from under the parka’s heavy, furry mass.

At lunch several employees wandered in to meet Joey and ask questions. They came in a huddled, with Louis at the lead, holding their mugs and tupperware containers of bland-smelling vegetables, their eyes wide with friendly expectation. They came bearing a gigantic sympathy card with both sisters’ names on it.

Jeanette scooted her chair in front of the windowsill to keep a protective space between Joey and the growing gaggle. She answered many of their technical and medical queries, smiling with only her cheeks and occasionally rubbing her sister on the BrightBox’s silicone sides. 

The coworkers wanted to know how Joey had died (misadventure; house fire). They wanted to know if this BrightBox thing was expensive (yes, just like a good college education or an infantile gastric bypass). They asked if it was waterproof (yes). They wanted to know if “it” hurt (Joey said it did). They wondered if Joey was legally alive (she wasn’t). They wanted to know what would become of Joey’s money and personal effects. They wanted to know what would happen to Joey herself (“She’s living with me,” Jeanette said firmly). They wanted to know if there were other people like her. Joey cut in at that point.

"There are just under three thousand BrightBox uploadees in the world," Joey said.

She sounded like a tour guide, Jeanette noticed, when she dispensed information that didn’t belong to her.

"Over one-third of those users were uploaded pre-need." 

"Pre-need?" Rita said.

Rita pushed down her hood. She had a massive tuft of yellow-and-black hair that towered above her in a row of shellacked spikes.

“Pre-need, I don’t know,” Jeanette said vaguely.

 She shot glances to the crowd, her sister, and back again; The interview was slipping out from under her. There was a slight hush in the room, though many of the employees were still audibly chewing soft food and sipping their Diet Cokes. Behind Jeanette, the box was pulsing a minty green.

"Like in the funeral industry?" Louis guessed. He nudged a woman in a high waisted skirt and said, “You knowww, people buy their own funerals before they, well. Before they need them.”

Joey said, “That’s the idea. It’s a lot like funerals. Nearly a thousand BrightBox clients have signed up to be uploaded following their death, and have paid ahead of time for their upload package. But half of BrightBox users are uploaded post-death by family, so the decision was made following their death. That’s like what happened to me.” 

“That doesn’t add up, then,” an intern said from the back of the crowd. Jeanette wasn’t sure, but she thought it was Pete from the Social Media Department. He liked to wear Kokopeli t-shirts and stuff his hands into the front pockets of too-tight jeans. ”What about the remaining, uh, sixth?”

"Those remaining few hundred users are pre-morbidities," Joey said. "Premies for short. They chose to upload before dying. Completely voluntary. But their market share is growing, as are the pre-need packages." 

The crowd quietly consulted their tepid meals. Pete from Social Media eased back on his heels and jammed his fists into his pockets. Rita shook her head at the ground like she was cursing either the devil or the first-floor day care center below her feet. 

"How do you know all that?" Jeanette whispered to Joey. 

Joey’s cool blue light dimmed, taking her voice down with it. “There’s a user message board.”

Jeanette turned back and read her coworkers’ downcast faces. None of them were meeting her gaze. Coming in, they had seemed jovial, as if Jeanette had just given birth and they’d all been given the chance to hold the baby. Then, it had started to feel more like she’d bought a new smartglass computer for them to coo at and play with. But now they all were picking at their sad lunches and avoiding eye contact like they were all trapped in an enormous elevator.

The sympathy card was bulky and awkward in Jeanette’s lap. The collective mass of her coworkers’ breaths and body heat was stifling. The doorway was completely occluded by checker print, black, navy, slate grey, and khaki.

"Well, anyway," Louis said to no one.

He pushed through the crowd awkwardly. The other employees followed, departing in intermittent little bursts, some wishing Jeanette and Joey a good day, some chattering too softly to be heard, others wondering aloud where the condiments were. Soon the office was clear except for Joey, Jeanette, Rita, and Jeanette’s manager Reggie, whom Jeanette hadn’t even noticed lurking in the crowd.

He was an old man, at least by Jeanette’s approximation. He’d been in the field in the days before stock images and viral campaigns; he’d enjoyed the grand era of  the commercial jingle and the hand-drawn pin-up. He sidled up to Jeanette and patted her on the shoulder. It was a quick, curt gesture. 

"Glad to see you back," he said. “And nice to see you’ve brought your little friend here with you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” Joey said. Her voice was icy, but the faint static tempered some of its edge.

Reggie stated down at the box and his eyes crinkled. Jeanette wondered if awareness of mortality made a person more sympathetic to her and Joey’s position. Reggie had brushed against cancer, or his wife had, or maybe it had been his elderly mother. He wasn’t far from a stroke or heart attack himself, and must’ve known it. Surely there were days when he awoke so short of breath and weak that he already felt his body was an immobile trap. Perhaps he wasn’t far from becoming a BrightBox client; he certainly had the bread for it.

"Good meeting you," he said to Joey, and turned out. 

Jeanette looked back to her sister, and waited a moment as Reggie’s footsteps grew fainter.  She said, “So that went great! Seems like you’re plenty welcome here. It’ll be great to have your help, sis. Let me pull up a smartglass site I’ve been editing, you should look it over..,”

Rita rose from her seat with an ecigarette tucked behind her ear. It jutted into one of her vast tufts of gold-black hair. She unleashed a deep, wet sigh and began to zip her parka up.

"You don’t mind me having Joey here for consulting, do you Rita?" Jeanette said. She tilted her head an

"Of course not, you can bring in a kitten for all I care,” the woman said. She paused at the door to drum her bright nails on the wall, and sighed again.

“But this uploading business? It’s not moral. I’m not saying I blame you, I’d probably do the same thing if my mom or auntie kicked it, but it is a perversion of nature. Our time is not-fungible.” 

She pointed a magenta talon at Jeanette. With her free hand, she pulled the smoke from her coif and jammed it into her lips; it was already stained pink on the edges from where it had met her lipstick before.

“Some things don’t last,” she said again. “Some things aren’t meant to. That’s all.”

Jeanette slammed the door behind her and crawled into a lotus position on the floor. She wrapped her arms about herself and stared up at her sister’s BrightBox on the windowsill.

Joey turned a deep cienna and softly chirped, “Hey, it’s okay. That brand of e-cig cuts life expectancy by four minutes per use. Tell that cunt to suck it up.”

————

I.II.III.IV.V.VI.

processproduct

Corpus Callosum VIII

Joey fit comfortably in the children’s seat of most shopping carts. She helped Jeanette compare prices at the grocery store, big box retailers, the drug store, and the home decor store. She recited directions when Jeanette prepared a tofu cilantro scramble at night or blueberry cobbler smoothie in the morning. She played music in Jeanette’s cubicle, and switched tracks if she caught Rita tapping a high-heeled foot or humming.

Jeanette bought a beta fish and sat it next to Joey’s dock at home, so she’d have something to watch at night after Jeanette had fallen asleep. She asked Joey her opinion on drapes, perfume, outfits, and web design projects at work. She asked Joey if she looked like she was gaining weight. She asked Joey to calculate the calories in what she ate. 

Jeanette spoke to Joey as she fell asleep, sometimes mumbling work ideas or vague plans, and crying out for Joey to make a note of it, please mark it down, and email her, or tell her first thing in the morning because she was too sleep-addled to remember. Joey always obliged. Sometimes (when Jeanette’s iron levels were low or she was dehydrated), she would quiz Joey about childhood memories. 

"Remember when mom had dreadlocks?" she’d ask, rolling up into a ball in bed.

"Yes," Joey would reply, "we were in what, second grade? And she lived in town that year, with that automechanic guy? Will?" 

"Wilhelm." 

"Yeah. What a douche. He never learned to tell us apart." 

"He did at the end. You hit puberty first. Do you remember what color the dreadlocks were?" 

"Hm. Wait…she dyed them puke green at the tips." 

"Oh my God, yes!" Jeanette would say, and laugh. Then she would roll onto her belly and clamber down the bed, to the edge, and stare into Joey’s white surface as if she were staring into a sky full of stars. 

"Are you worried there’s part of me missing?" Joey asked once. 

Jeanette smiled sleepily and purred, “No. I bought you the biggest hard drive. And it’s so, so obviously you in there. Do you remember what we wanted to be as kids?” 

And Joey said, “Pet shop owners.” 

"Yes. Together. We were gonna buy a storefront and fill it with puppies and lizards, and have a concert space on top where we could sing at night. And all the animals would be safe there, because we’d never sell them to bad families or put them down if they got too old. We’d just keep them and take care of them, and put them in our musical revue." 

Joey laughed and glowed a very pale blue that was nearly white. “We really didn’t think that shit through, did we? Finding a property like that alone, ha! The zoning would be a nightmare. And how could that be solvent?” 

Jeanette chuckled into her hand. “That didn’t matter. We didn’t even think about money, or school, or where we’d live, or boyfriends either. When we talked about that plan I kinda assumed it would just be us, you know? Just us and the pet-shop-slash-concert-hall. It was all we would need.”

Joey remembered pretending to have a pet store/music hall with her sister. She didn’t remember it being a plan. They had never discussed plans, not even when they finally became old enough to form actual ones. They’d picked colleges in the same city by accident.  

Joey dimmed and recalled their first drive into the city. Jeanette was riding shotgun in their dad’s old hatchback; the car was stuffed with milk crates of DVDs and clothing. Joey pictured her sister sitting with bare feet propped against the dashboard, staring out the window, muttering that they were lost while Joey navigated. Joey always drove.

It was three years in the city before Jeanette had figured out the way to Joey’s dorm. She arrived one night in a soaked terrycloth sweatshirt with her nipples poking out for everyone to see, weeping over some boy but refusing to talk about it, begging to climb into bed with her sister, just for the night. 

"Are you awake?" Jeanette said suddenly. Her head popped out from under the covers. 

"Of course," Joey replied. 

But Jeanette was not; Not really. She rolled onto her back, and in a groaning voice heavy with sleep she murmured, “I’m so glad you’re here. I have these dreams about what they did to your body…your actual one. Burnt all up, but then they had to burn it again to cremate it, isn’t that weird?” 

Joey didn’t reply, for fear of waking her. She pictured the slow ebb of Jeanette’s brain waves as she drifted off to sleep, alpha and beta beginning their dance. 

"You built all the campfires…," Jeanette said. "Marshmallows, mountain pies, no thank you..," and then she was snoring. 

While Joey charged, she let her mind wander and explore its own deepest recesses until, at some point, her consciousness shut itself off. Sleep was for the benefit of the brain, not the body; a BrightBox needed rest just as much as a living human did. 

The role of sleep, Joey knew, was still a matter of some scientific debate. Some believed it consolidated and defragmented memories, while others believed it replenished neurotransmitters and relaxed the hard-working frontal lobes. At any rate, sleep preserved sanity and restored clarity to the mind. It crept up and draped over Joey just the same as it always had. Jeanette’s sleep had always been fitful and twitchy, since their bunk bed and sleeping bag days, but Joey had always dozed like an ancient ruin.

The dreams were the only thing that had changed. Joey’s dreams used to be placid and familiar glimpses. Memories defragmenting. Movies and video games spliced together. Now every night she was engrossed in a deep unfolding story with no cuts. 

She was old. In her dreams, she had a body, but it groaned in all its joints and was too heavy for her to move. She was an old man on a porch in the thick heat of July, leaning on haunches and battling a torturous all-body ache. There was a glass of iced tea in an old woman’s frail hands and Joey was straining to reach for it. Joey was startled to see her hands were white. The sky was hazy and the cicadas roared. 

Joey reached for the sweet woman, but a shock went through her jaw and rippled into her heart. The ground flew into Joey’s face and struck her on the chest, and she felt her hands twitch and wander over the dirt. The sweet woman screamed and dropped the iced tea; chunks of ice rained over Joey’s bent, pulsing body, and glass shards erupted over the porch and tumbled down the stairs. The woman’s hands gripped Joey with their papery-thin, loose skin and then suddenly Joey was a small boy in short dungarees riding a tire swing, her core flexed, her small youthful digits clutching the rope so hard a burn was forming.

The dreams woke her two or three times each night. For a sweet, agonizing second after each one, Joey could still feel the sting of the rope in her fingers, she could still feel her legs digging into the tire’s rubber sides, and the warm summer wind on her soft face.

 ————

I.II.III.IV.V.VI.VII.

http

Corpus Callosum IX

At work Jeanette had the freedom to come and go mostly as she pleased, but she kept a conventional schedule for the social benefits and the comforting regularity. She liked to be among a steady line of sharply dressed commuters with fresh bags and packed lunches, carrying books and magazines, reading the news from translucent glasses.

Standing in the center of the train, packed tightly with all the other workaday travelers, choking on their colognes, Jeanette felt connected. There would always be someone to catch her if she fell. She couldn’t even fall, actually, in so cramped a space. 

Joey watched the rain pool on the windowsill at home and at Jeanette’s work. She studied the gradients of color in the scales on Jeanette’s new beta fish. Louis rocked furiously in his squeaking chair; He would occasionally pepper Joey with crossword puzzle questions, or ask her the HTML code for a particular color swatch. 

Rita abused her keyboard with forceful typing and spilt liquids, which made Joey feel light-headed and displeased, like she was nauseated. She turned off her cameras and her visual field was greeted with images of withered old-man hands, or dimly-lit, archaic sexual trysts she had never taken part in. 

And Jeanette. Jeanette with her questions. She was only slightly better than Louis, who had quickly learned to treat Joey like a rolodex. Jeanette’s questions were less factual and more normative. 

"Do you like this text in peach, or in salmon? Is crimson too obviously menstrual?" ;

"Will I be too cold in just this sweater?";

"Is this phrase hokey?";

"Are puns funny, like in a retro-ironic way, or in a sincere way?";

"What should I make for dinner? Well, I know, but what would you like to smell?" ;

"Should I ping Mom’s sister and tell her you’re dead?";

"What’s wrong? Should I call Milton? I’m gonna call Milton." 

The last question came out sounding higher and more frantic every time Jeanette uttered it. She said it every morning when Joey was groggy and tormented by odd visions. She said it when Joey was too slow with a response, or voiced an opinion that, to Jeanette, seemed atypical for her. 

Every night Joey was dusted off with a can of compressed air and explored by her sister’s dainty fingers. The questions were just as prodding. 

"I’m fine, I’m fine," Joey kept saying. "I just need to turn off my wi-fi before bed."

Her sister tossed and turned more than ever, muttering and drooling in her sleep and sometimes even heaving with cries. Friday night at 4 am, she sat up, ramrod. 

"Joey, are you up? Joey."

Joey’s blue light sliced through the hazy darkness. “The body development program has manifold ethical concerns associated with it, and thus product testing should be as extensive as for any other medical equipment, or perhaps on the level of a novel drug treatment…Animal models should first be determined…” 

Jeanette was silent. Joey could see her chest heaving up and down rapidly under the sheets. 

"Joey, what was that? What are you saying?" 

"Buh— I don’t know. Was I saying something?"

"You just said a bunch of weird LifeMedia FAQ-type stuff. Like, technical stuff." 

Joey pushed out a tinny little yawn through her speakers and said, “Oh, huh. I don’t remember saying anything.” 

"You never used to talk in your sleep. Or remember your dreams. Are you scared?"

"No. I know you are." 

Jeanette mussed her hair and scratched her scalp. “I want to call Milton.” 

"I’m operating just fine." 

"Maybe. Maybe you aren’t the best gauge of that." 

Joey considered this for a moment. A yellow ellipsis scrolled along her sides. All at once the dots stopped and shifted into a muddy red. 

"You can’t just wake me up in the middle of a REM cycle and expect me to be lucid. I’m not a computer-" 

"I know that." 

"You can’t just flip open the lock screen and expect me to be at full capacity. I’m not your fucking phone.  People have good moments and bad moments. I’m sure you can relate to that, Jean. I’m not always at peak functioning, just like any other person."

Jeanette leapt from the bed and approached the desk where Joey’s dock sat. She was naked, a sight Joey had avoided processing as much as possible.

"You’re right! That’s exactly what I’m worried about, and why I woke you up!" 

"Huh?" 

Jeanette said, “You haven’t cried. This whole time! Dead, reanimated, seeing Dad, all of it— I’ve been a wreck! But you haven’t cried once. So I’m wondering: can you? Do you not feel strongly enough to cry? Huh?”

She folded her arms.

"This is what you woke me up for?"

"I have to know."

"You’re being crazy-irrational, can you not tell?” Joey said. “This couldn’t wait?"

"I thought I could talk to you about anything. That’s what sisters are supposed to do."

"You couldn’t hold off on the hysterics a couple hours, maybe see if they seemed a less dire once you were rested and fed?"

"I did wait! I’ve been waiting to ask you this all week!"

A flash of red light passed over Jeanette’s face. 

"I’m not you!" Joey yelled. 

Jeanette stepped back and whimpered almost inaudibly. She clutched her bare breasts anxiously; oblivious to the fact that she was doing it, her eyes scrolling across the floor. 

"My reactions are not your reactions,” Joey continued. “Of course I’m sad. Of course. But I never sobbed like you." 

Jeanette wanted to say that there had been a time, long ago, when Joey was a sobber. There was a time when they clutched one another and unleashed twin torrents of tears. She couldn’t pinpoint when or why it had stopped— maybe when they’d gotten separate bedrooms. Maybe when Joey began locking her door so Jeanette couldn’t climb into bed with her. Maybe when puberty struck her first, like a bolt from the sky.

"I’m sorry," Jeanette said. She eased into a sitting position on the foot of her bed. "You’ll let me know if something is wrong, won’t you?" 

"I will," Joey said, "you have to trust me." 

At some point that night, Joey’s fury subsided and sleep found her again. It was harder to track her emotions now that she didn’t have a pulse. In the old days, her heart would have drummed in her temples and wrists all night, beating out a rhythm of annoyed rage, bringing Jeanette’s offense back to mind (and keeping her alert) with every pulse.

But now, anything that bothered her seemed to slip under the veil of consciousness as soon as she stopped purposefully dwelling on it. Jeanette’s flaws couldn’t be helped. Joey watched her fall asleep and followed suit.

When she awoke at 7:34 am, Joey couldn’t see anything. Panicked, she turned up her microphones and picked up the rush of a shower, the tweet of cardinals outside, and her sister vaguely humming Black Socks  from inside the bathroom. 

Joey tasted orange bitters and shitty Lipton tea for a moment, and was filled with a sensation of Old-World penny-pinching desperation. She felt like she had children to feed;  nine blonde, oddly Caucasian heads. She turned her lights on to full brightness, but still there was nothing but a cavern of white around her.

In her mind’s eye Joey saw a 3-dimensional mockup of a large metal claw with a glowing rubber base. She knew things she had no business knowing. For example: LifeMedia was making a ody.

"What the fuck," Joey said. It came out much louder than intended. 

Jeanette came from the bathroom and pulled the sheet down, and the external world flooded back in. Joey realized that at some point in the evening her sister must have pulled her into bed and tucked her in. 

————

Jeanette took Joey to an indoor market. ‘They’ selected and bought butternut squash, kale, avocados, and grapefruit. 

"Does this one look ripe? How do you tell, again?" Jeanette asked, but wasn’t answered.

When they walked by the coffee roaster’s stand, Joey pulsed green and yellow and spoke for the first time in hours. 

"Get a tea. Or, let’s just stand by the tea jars."

Jeanette popped the lid from a jar of loose tea and held it beneath her sister’s BrightBox. 

"Mmm that smells uncanny. I have got the biggest fucking hankering for hot toddies," Joey said.

But Jeanette didn’t know what hot toddies were, and the barista was beginning to lean over the table and stare at the woman with the talking box. Jeanette bought a small satchel, shoved it and Joey into a burlap tote she’d gotten for free with the avocados  and hurried past the remaining stands to the exit. If she stayed long enough, people would amass and ask questions. They might demand to touch Joey, or hold the box, or worse. 

The next day they went with several of Jeanette’s college friends to a show at a crowded bar. Jeanette’s friends had heard all about Joey by then. They didn’t ask much, and Jeanette found she felt insulted rather than relieved. 

Joey didn’t like the music, and shut her external sensors off. When Jeanette asked what she’d been doing, then, to keep herself entertained, Joey said she was researching something. Stuff. Things. Whatever. She wouldn’t clarify.

The next morning, Jeanette dressed and packed for work before Joey awakened. She approached the box in her coat, her lunch already hanging in a tote off her side. 

"Time to go," Jeanette called sweetly, like a mother waking a child. 

Joey’s blue light snapped on. “I’d like to stay here today.” 

"Are you sure? What are you going to do all day? Won’t you be bored?"

"I’ll be fine." 

Jeanette walked halfway out of the bedroom, then stopped. She turned back. “Because Joey, the usage guide says you’re supposed to be moved at least a few times-“

"Please, Jean. I want to be alone." 

Jeanette left with a severe look on her face, slamming the door with slightly more force than was necessary. Later, there would be questions. Joey was already dreading them. She dove back into her research and turned all her external sensors off. 

 ————

I.II.III.IV.V.VI.VII.VIII.

Flickr / functionalneurogenesis

Corpus Callosum X

image

There were others. LifeMedia Solutions had unveiled BrightBox six months before Joey’s death, and had been beta-testing long before that, so a sizable cadre of uploadees was forming. They were all over the country— and in Germany, the UK, Sweden, India, Japan, Korea, the UAE, Israel, and Australia, at varying levels of market saturation. But growing. Everywhere, growing. 

Joey found them on the LifeMedia customer support message board. New BrightBox users and their families went to the board with technical and ethical questions. Family were far more paranoid and befuddled than actual users themselves, most of the time. 

GivingTree303

Can I take my uncle’s BrightBox on a roller coaster?

Pam_B:

My grandmother is in a BrightBox but still can’t figure out how to login to her email. What should I do?

  CarolPeev

Now that my husband is permanently hooked up to the internet 24/7, how’m I supposed to make sure he isn’t watching porn all the time?  i know he’s gotta be watchin it all the time in there, he seems too happy lol i’m furious

LotusBlosssun

My son has a silicone allergy and can’t hug his Pappy without breaking into hives and being tormented with an evening of gastrointestinal distress. Are there any vegan BrightBox covers?

Other, more controversial questions and posts were blacklisted quickly. It seemed that some LifeMedia employee or intern rushed in to delete or hide troublesome queries as soon as a concerned friend or family member hit “submit”:

Asguardio77

My condo was foreclosed on and my husband got laid off again. I have to choose between paying for our health insurance and  making our LifeMedia payments…All my friends and coworkers say to put my health above the wellbeing of my Nana, who for all intents and purposes is dead, but what happens then? Will my gran’s BrightBox be repossessed? I can’t find anything about this in the service agreement.

AmbitiouslyCuteAlexia:

my kids are confused an scared of the box, they dont understand that daddie’s in their. What do i do. They keep runnin out the house to the neighbors bc they think were haunted or somethun

Each controversial post went live for a second, sometimes a fraction of a second, then vanished. A human user with a body couldn’t even see the posts in time. Accordingly, Joey learned to save every new message to her hard drive immediately. When LifeMedia responded to a query, they left much to be desired: 

MiltonS

BrightBoxes are waterproof, windproof, shock absorbent, and can sustain drops from as high as two stories (depending on how high the ceilings are on those stories, haha!). So it is absolutely safe to take a BB on a roller coaster. But check your amusement park’s guidelines and safety harnesses to be sure, and turn down your uncle’s accelerometer so he doesn’t get too dizzy. Too bad we humans can’t do the same, huh? That’d make for a great motion sickness cure! :P

 MiltonS

Hi Pam B., great question. BrightBox uploadees have the same fluid skills and crystallized intelligence they had in life, so if Grandma needed an internet usage course beforehand, she’s probably still frustrating now! ;) I recommend you buy her LifeMedia’s visual-spatial interface analog and a monitor adaptor, and also buy her one of our AudioLearning modules on safely navigating the web via alpha waves. I think with a little visual help, and a few learning mods, she’ll be blazing through the web faster than any living-bodied hacker! Good luck! :)

MiltonS

LifeMedia is proud to present, by popular request: Recycled aluminum cases! Totally vegan, hypoallergenic, and cruelty free. :)

After days of lurking, Joey posted her own message, carefully edited so as not to provoke the admin’s editorial lash. 

Josephine_Porter:

Hi all. I’m a new BrightBox user, just looking to get in touch with some other uploadees, particularly if you’re using the OctPrism 4 chassis with a multi-terabyte hard drive. First of all, let me just say I am so so impressed with the hard drive capacity on my unit! I feel like I could store more information than any person would  ever reasonably need! 

And the interface is so smooth, it was really easy to master (and I was not somebody who slaved away behind a computer all day in my working life)! I never expected to be uploaded to something like this, and let me tell you it’s such a rush! There’s nothing like it.

I’m writing to ask other users: Since being uploaded, have your dreams become more, like, surreal? Or more authentic-seeming, kinda? My dreams are like virtual reality now— it’s like I can walk through memories and re-experience them. But they’re not my memories, obv, because they’re just made-up dreams. They’re like somebody else’s memories. Anyone else have this? It’s pretty amazing, actually! :)))(

Satisfied after a few rounds of editing the post to make it sound as blithe as possible, Joey posted it. She waited, scanning the board for activity. There were IP addresses in the city accessing it, multiple ones, including Milton’s. When five minutes had passed and her post had neither been deleted nor commented on, she audibly sighed with relief and redirected to her email. Jeanette was contacting her from work. 

To: Josephine_Porter@lifemediaclients.com

From: PorterJ@klinesmith.com

Subject: Checking in!

Hey Joey, hope you’re doing well at home and not going stir crazy. I’m calling this Steve Milton guy on my lunch break; hopefully he’ll have some suggestions. Let me know if you need anything from the store, love you! 

Jeanette typed out a cursory response, not wanting to provoke Jeanette’s paranoia with silence. She had seven hours of alone-time, with commute figured in, maybe more if Jeanette did go to the store. It occurred to Joey that she should pressure Jeanette to join a gym. Take care of your body, she could say wistfully. That would clinch it. 

It was easier to daydream, now. Easier than it had ever been as a living person. Joey recalled many numinous days laying on the couch at the firehouse, twirling a broken Bop It on her lap and listening to the soap operas blaring from the common room. Working in an emergency capacity was not unlike being in a war zone: hours of stultifying boredom punctured by furious, activity, danger, pain, etcetera— but boredom was manageable now. 

There was an entire universe of scintillating information and petty diversions to bask in, an endlessly unfurling online world to explore. At last Joey understood the appeal of a sedentary, web-based life. It wasn’t so different from what her sister and her coworkers had. 

Joey was about to drift off into a LifeMedia MapScape simulation of the Andes Mountains when she felt a small thrumming, like a pulse in her nonexistent chest. This brought to her mind a rich bouquet of imagined smells— not the crisp, oxygen-thin air of the mountains, but of cigars, mowed grass, old women’s perfume, little girls’ flavored chap sticks. Again she was panged with unfocused nostalgia. Again, she was missing something she couldn’t recreate. 

The thrum inside her was a message. She directed to the LifeMedia message board and found someone had sent her a private IM. 

Lily_ofthe_valley:

I hear ya, twerp. If you’re anything like I was, you were miserable in your body and you’re going through some serious shit right now. It’s okay. You’ll find the answers, but certainly not on this site. Let me warn you, in case you haven’t noticed: it’s all a gigantic corporate suckoff. All they can offer you are apps and appendages to buy. But you’re not a physical being anymore, remember, so your solution won’t ever be material. 

Yeah. I said it. You may have an external physical manifestation, but you aren’t a material thing anymore. The mind-brain conflation has been blown the fuck open by your very existence. You’re not the first mind to break free of the body, but you’re among the first. And you sure as shit aren’t the only one plagued by questions of identity, wrestling with weird sensations and dreams. Feeling off-kilter is a side effect of life. 

There are plenty of us that give a shit, like you do. Who want to do more than read online news and get carted around on roller coasters by all the breathers. If you’ve been uploaded for more than a few days, surely you’re sick of the breather’s questions. If you want to talk some of your shit out with us, hit me up. You don’t need this board. We can talk outside it. Message me if you’re interested. You oughta be. 

-Lilian

————

I.II.III.IV.V.VI.VII.VIII.IX.