As Real As It Gets

Andrea stood naked in the sunlight slanting through the picture window of her always room. It was her real always room. Not the vurt simulation. How marvelous — sun on skin. Though, to be honest, the experience wasn’t quite as sensual as simulated sunbathing in her tank. In fact, everything was slightly duller in the real world: colors, flavors, sex, music. In the vurt world she could dial up or down the intensity of any qualia to her taste. In the real world you had much less control.

Andrea put the thoughts out of her mind — she was always a little depressed at first. After a few weeks in her new body she would be loving it just fine. In the meantime, she spent her afternoons in her real always room in her real house in Oakland. The room, too, seemed duller than its tank analog, but it felt more solid beneath her feet. Her bare feet. She leaned over to consider her new bare feet. You never really walked places in vurt. You floated or zoomed or just appeared where you wanted to be. But these were real feet in need of pampering, and new shoes.

So, what do you think? E-P said.

“About my feet?” She straightened up, and a diorama miniature appeared next to her: a man throwing stones into a pond. “Oh, him,” she said. I honestly don’t know what to make of him.

Can we ignore him? He seems to be spouting nothing but nonsense.

The diorama volume came up, and between stones Meewee was saying, “Then the printed sheets are folded in half and half again and the folds lined up and stitched together. They used to be called signatures.”

A disembodied mechanical voice replied, “At what point are the sides trimmed?”

E-P said, On the surface he seems to be having a conversation about the ancient art of bookbinding.

Is it a code?

If it is, we haven’t managed to decipher it yet. Nor have we been able to trace the identity of his interlocutor.

Andrea lay down on the cool leather sofa and looked sideways across the bay at the Golden Gate, the real Golden Gate outside her window. When you consider the pivotal position this man occupies in our own plans, it is imperative that we know who he is talking to and what they’re talking about. Have you consulted his sidebob?

Several times. In the diorama, a second Meewee appeared beside the first, also casting stones into the water. Unlike the real Meewee, however, the sidebob was silent.

The sidebob is several years old. We built it at the same time we cast the Meewee sim to market the Oships. It no more understands the code than we do. Therefore, the code must be a recent development.

Can’t you update his sim and get it?

Not without his cooperation.

Andrea waved her hand and deleted the pondside diorama. “I can do it.”

It’ll take a skin mission. Are you up for that yet?

Andrea stretched her legs and wiggled her toes. “We’ll manage.”

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