Walkabout, 5

[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

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That night we got really drunk. Someone was after Helena, had just tried to kill her, so we decided we needed to blow off some steam.

We started at the beginning. Helena told me how she met this group of neuroscientists. I poured us a couple of beers. Helena poured the vodka.

The neuroscientists were a fun bunch who liked to fuck up their minds after a long day of thinking about other people’s minds. They experimented with poking wires into their heads and riding the current. I got two more beers. Helena poured us more shots.

The kitchen was a small thing, just a sink and an oven that I used even for coffee, a small fridge and freezer combo. There was a small table, barely big enough for one, and we sat there.

Helena had some Russian ancestry, so here’s where she felt right at home, crammed around a small kitchen table, vodka surrounded by beer glasses and salted fish, the topics depressing, conspiratorial, and long-lasting. Helena brought the vodka, the fish, and the depressing conversation.

Helena also knew Brazilian fringe artists, people who routinely decided to live a performance arts piece for a year at a time. People who were committed to their art, as they would undoubtedly say. Last year’s performance was still ongoing. The artists wore facemasks and goggles nonstop and were given instructions on what to do by random strangers online. When one was told to live in the shitiest favela in town, he did. I got us more beers, Helena never stopped pouring.

The neuroscientists met the Brazilians at a party, introduced by Helena, and hit it off straight away. Everyone saw the potential here, so they decided to work together. Kia’s excursion in Tokyo was the first real-world test of this technology.

“We tried it in the lab, sure, but Kia wanted to take it for a spin.”

I got us more beers, Helena kept pouring.

She told me about the technology. They were still starting out, this was the early days of the revolution, in her words. Ultimately, there’d be a wire stuck into your skull, probably from birth, and this wire could be used to connect your brain to any computer device. Thought would be enough to operate any machine in the world or to communicate with anyone. And then you could remote into another person, instead of using a mechanical shell.

That was a far-away dream the neuroscientists shared, in varying degrees.

The Brazilian artists had hit on a curious act: they came up with a communication system that allowed one person to control another. At first this was pretty rudimentary, a flashing set of directions overlaid on the glasses, controllable by another person from their computer. They got into it as a lark, trying to figure out ways to allow their friends to make asses of each-other.

Over time it evolved into a skin-tight suit that the Human Shell wore, which effectively pricked the person in the skin with a variety of microscopic but painful needles. The suit used electricity, but this is what the newcomers nonetheless reported. It didn’t take long for them to forget about the sensation and to simply comply with the motions the suit was transmitting to them. It made them walk, and turn, and jump. Quickly it became second-nature, so they didn’t even notice how high.

The person remoting had to know their way with the controls, but the shell that they used could be practically anyone off the street. Didn’t even need to be the same gender, though that presented a certain amount of challenge.

The Brazilian artists showcased a communications platform that took input from the operator’s fingers. They wrote a language that the operators could use to express complex contortions for the shell to follow. It was mostly an extension on the existing body symbols, but added motion and complex composition.

Helena was drunk and kept rambling on. I was happy to see her and wanted to avoid thinking about our situation, so I kept drinking with her and listened to her story.

I got us some beers and she poured.

Kia was the first recipient of both the Stick A Wire In Your Brain operation and the Human Shell suit, so she and Helena decided to try it out in Tokyo, their backyard. Helena was able to see and hear, to walk and talk through Kia. She saw and felt the bullet come for her, her brain had been fooled for so long into thinking it was in a Tokyo cafe, that she had a panic attack.

I poured us some more vodka.

“What are you doing here?” I asked her. “Why my apartment?”

“Long story.”

“Uh-huh. That’s how this works tonight. Not tomorrow. I lied for you, to the cops.” I was holding up a bit of smoked fish as I spoke, and my drunk brain decided that this was funny. After we laughed I continued. “Tomorrow, you gotta tell me everything.”

Helena poured.

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