Priya Sarukkai Chabria: dance? he asked
‘My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into a different kind.’
i tangoed with him 2 weeks at salsa seduction, the retro 4-D spot i inhabit on The Grid. he’d introduced himself as rudolph valentino, silent movie star —whatever that was. i was lady gaga, an ancient rock star. he didn’t know about her. his loss. his holo was handsome, charming. we twirled our sleek holo-bodies around each other, inventing moves. 2 weeks is very long to stick with just one other holo. but we’d stuck to our holos & each other’s. he didn’t suggest our holos have cybersex. i liked that. so i said we should meet. ok, he said.
i said, let’s start getting real. i stripped off my cyber teeth, youthful jaw line, stripped off some unwrinkled skin around my eyes, let a hint of crowfeet show. with the implants i look pert 60 + years. i’m touching 170 in real time.
peel away, his voice said. he down–bulked his body from the 20 something v-shape dancefloor image. he too looked a frisky 60. he too was possibly around 170-180 years old. but he had staying power for time in 4–D is always real. he could focus the entire evening so his mental faculties were still sharp & he showed considerable manual dexterity.
ok I said. i added bulk to my cyberframe but not my real life sagging paunch. i became closer to attractive 90ish. i also decoloured my hair. from emerald to a virulent orange. i’m a redhead now.
getting better, his holo said. u’re a redhead, right?
y. was originally raven haired.
oh. i was ash blond. i’m shaven. didn’t want to colour my hair.
one of my kids was born pigment-less, he said. after her birth i stopped colouring.
i don’t know why but i liked him more after this. i have three kids & three grandchildren, my holo told his.
we were both practicing the cyber etiquette of partial holo stripping to what we are in reality but not disclosing our real selves as yet. in case either of us wants to disappear, trashing the other. less painful.
i have five kids & one grandchild who is in college. she is studying antiquities, his holo said.
nothing as exciting with mine, my holo replied. each grandchild’s settled. infotainment, holometrics, economics. but my adopted daughter is an artist. want to strip some more?
ok, he said and sent me an aquamarine non-holo facial image. his jaw was heavy, his nose too large.
nose isn’t real, it’s disproportionate.
preparing you for the worst, his quasi-real face said.
ok you are on, i said. i was angry. i sent him my face. as it is. ¾ profile in flesh tones.
i had no response for three days. he’s gone, i told myself. i returned to work with a vengeance. i design furniture. retractable sofas, rollback beds; tables that disappear into the ceiling; furniture that appears on demand in our cramped living spaces. i’m the best. my finished interiors are virtually empty except for the command panels. enter your home and voila, there’s nothing. that’s why the prizes, that’s why i pay alimony to my second partner who’s in rehab. he’ll never make it back. but he gave me two children and a 1/4th of the splendid granddaughter, the one in holometrics who is still in touch with me. on day eight i transmitted to my tango partner a cheery reminder, a jack-in-the-box that sang ‘i say hello! you say goodbye!’ he didn’t get back.
twenty days on i get his face popping up on my screen without the disproportionate nose. it’s a real face, about 160 years old, shaded in mauve tones. sorry i was traveling, he adds. i’m a paleontologist. was after a fossil find in the gobi desert. turned out to be something special. a common hetrasaurous but with skin virtually intact. when do we meet?
i don’t reply. what’s a hetrasaurous anyway?
sorry about the nose, his 160 year old face says on my screen, but have you scanned cyrano de bergerac?
you connect? his real face is showing human colours on my screen. cyrano -- i mean the character in the play who used subterfuge to speak the truth. hey, lady gaga, you connect?
i couldn’t make much of this. didn’t reply.
i’m again nominated for the Best Blank Home Award. i get a beep: fireworks that dance congratulations. it’s him. he’s been tracking me on The Grid. i reconnect: meet thursday next? can you make it to where i am or mid –point? i give him my true address. i took the risk after tracking him on the SS security system. there was a paleontologist who also figured with the cyrano guy. a single combo entry. my tango partner.
mid–point please? he asks. he lives in a different time zone. he sends his somewhere real body image, about 150 years old. no paunch but bow-legged & short. he also sends a gliff smelling of lilies -- of poetry by this cyrano guy, set to antique music.
‘My life, my love, my jewel, my sweet, my heart has been yours in every beat!’ Cyrano reads from the letter.
Roxane noiselessly leans over him and looks at the letter. The darkness deepens. Roxane, putting her hand on his shoulder exclaims, ‘How can you read? It is too dark to see!…’ She pauses as the truth dawns on her. ‘’Twas you who wrote this!’
‘No , never Roxane, no!’
Roxane, persisting exclaims, ‘ The letters—you! The sweet, mad love-words! The voice that thrilled my nights--you, you!’
Cyrano protests, ‘I swear you err! I loved you not!’
Roxane, insisting, ‘You loved me!’
Roxane, shaking her head in disbelief, ‘See! How you falter now!’
Cyrano holds his head in his hands, his nose poking through his fingers. ‘No, my sweet love, I never loved you!’ His sigh is echoed by Roxane who mutters, thrilled and sad, ‘Ah! Things dead, long dead, see! How they rise again…!’
i didn’t hear it all. nor read the gliff. i can’t stand reading. i have a personal cyborg, sweetie, who though two generations old, is a steady companion; i also have archimedes, my live tortoise pet & my work. he probably isn’t so lucky. but he has old books –or he’s touch-learnt them. that’s a pretty lonely thing to do: read. lonely guy my salsa partner. maybe he would show at the tryst. i book my flight.
i send him my real body image. i also send him a file of my replacement therapies as a confidence building measure. tell him about the hip, liver, ribs, hair etc. replacements. he sends his file: he had extra wormian bones removed from his skull, his left ulna and radius are synthetic, his lips are re-shaped twice, his blood changed seven times, he’s had a kidney replaced and his heart. people expect this sort of exchange of intimacy before meeting in reality so we know how much of what we meet is genuine. fair enough.
i don’t attach my personal emotional graph, he doesn’t either. this would amount to being extremely vulnerable though some do as a sign of commitment to the meeting. others go the opposite way, opting for the partial tabula rasa program (PTRP) that deletes select memories from their brain, especially of their cyber avatars, so they are fresh and ‘unwritten’ when they meet a possible new partner. it’s less revealing and supposed to support better bonding but I don’t subscribe to it. PTRP isn’t as precise as it is made out to be.
within 20 hours he beams he’d found a place where we could meet, mid-point. it serves good coffee. do you like coffee? he asks.
It was a Wednesday night for her; she was working late. She commanded Sweetie: Feed Archimedes. I shan’t need dinner. Tuck yourself in. Sweetie fed the tortoise& reported: I’m shutting down. Sweetie, keep on infrared vision. Burglars alert. Yes, ma’am, Sweetie beeped back, I’ve put myself on medium alert. Ok, goodnight Sweetie. She was anxious about Archimedes. Not many people could afford a real tortoise. She returned to her desk. She was to submit her entry for Garden View Window Contest; it meant big money. For this she had designed a holograph of a rainforest replete with flying, climbing, prowling birds, trees & animals that would drop on command on windowsills; it was an orgy of colour, invention and movement, but she wasn’t satisfied. A prizewinning entry, she decided, shouldn’t be crowded, rather privilege that precious commodity, space. She scanned her library for nostalgic vistas. Perhaps a moonlit field of grass that spread as far as the eye could see. Tweak the image: make it a moonlit field of ripe glass cornfields rustling and shimmering under moonlight. Have fireflies dance amidst the corn. The horizon would hang midway studded with few twinkling stars, occasional comet rain and sporadic clouds showering as they passed. Yes. She gave herself a 24HrAlert shot; her body jolted, then settled. She set to work.
It was Wednesday dawn for him. He rechecked their assignation point, tickled Bo as it lay at his feet, paws in the air asking for more when he noticed Bo’s fur was thinning around its neck, the inner lining showed in translucent pink patches. Should he have Bo refurbished, or get a new model? He didn’t like junking pets. Better take Bo to the dog store once more. Perhaps this time he’d choose golden fur. He commanded the night visors of the glass apartment walls to de-colour. In the sky hung the fading skirts of the Aurora Borealis appeared. Spring was retreating.
however experienced each one is at stripping themselves out of 4-D identities before a meeting, the first minutes are stressful for both. some disappointment is inevitable. it will be no different in our case, though we have both primed ourselves for it.
i thought i’d junk her when i sent her my synthesized face with the nose more a proboscis a la cyrano. but she responded by sending her human face instead of a fabricated one. i liked her response; i thought: maybe. i put her in my retrieval box & went back to the dig.
i was sitting on sand, running it through my fingers after we’d shipped the five ton fossil to the lab. i had named the fossil wishbone. hetrasauroses were the most common predators 67 million years ago. but wishbone had fossilized with skin and some muscle intact which meant it must have died near a river, the river rapidly flooding to cover its body in sediment. had wishbone died on hard ground, bacteria would have quickly decomposed it, pouring out of eyes and anus, bloating then collapsing the body into skeleton as they fed. but underwater bacteria eat at a slower pace, all the while secreting iron carbonate so the carcass fossilizes into rock. wishbone was now mineral but perhaps some DNA sequencing could still be extracted from an internal organ. this was the cause for my elation.
that’s when her face came to mind. the skin showing lines, the flesh sagging around the jaw, lips dragging at the corners in spite of karelled kosmetic kare; hers was an aging human face. she is possibly eight years older than i am, knew it and didn’t care. she had showed her anger; such display of emotion is rare. i wanted to meet her, meet the remnant behind the cyber avatars. but i thought she’d have junked me by now.
for three more days i was indecisive; musing on how oppositional paleontology is to living. in my work from little evidence, from rock i imagine an entire living body, building this like a gigantic cloud; in life, i cleave through complex cyber avatars to reach behind to the human being who constantly turns these out, like a gas canister emitting fumes. sometimes i think avatars, half perceived and half deceiving, are not only more pleasurable but also more true than their owners. i never use the word real on myself.
i went in for a complete karelled kosmetic kare package then sent her my toned human face; i felt lighter when she accepted it. but i wasn’t sure she’d keep our tryst. the thought niggled me.
i got back to work. at the lab, delicately chipping away the casing rock i discovered wishbone’s scaly skin was stippled. but what were the colours? we will never know. i pared shavings of its best toenail and a rock shred of the Multifidus spinea and sent these to the organics facility for protein decoding. if we extract an imprint of dino DNA it will be a first as DNA rarely survives.
i sent the rest of wishbone for CT scan and XDR probes. five tons of fossil skeleton and musculature spinning fast were read by radioactive waves. initial results indicate wishbone had 25% more ass than suspected. it must have run around with a massive bottom bobbing behind. also, hetrosaurouses were bigger than imagined: huge gaps existed between vertebra that was cartilage, now dissolved. therefore, were all dinos larger than museum reconstructions of fossil remains? nothing is certain from remaining evidence.
i kept the tryst. waited for her by the river with the wind off the water blowing into my face. i’d arrived mid afternoon when river & landscape are a sheet of glare. i always prefer to be early for assignations, to check out the place & have time to beat a retreat should i wish. i sat myself down at a restaurant & ordered two coffees spiked with DSS to blank out. four hours later when my mind returned to me, i decided to go for the meeting. i made my way towards the river. but hid myself behind a pillar...
there she was, walking down the empty bridge in the late afternoon, her one eye smaller than the other. she was older than i had imagined. i showed myself, limping up to her with the limp i had masked all through our cyber exchanges & we both retained fixed and fearful smiles. this is how it is with us each time we meet a playmate outside cyberspace. the degree of the human in each one of us, its frailties and ugliness, surprises, even repulses.
we enquired about each other’s work as is the etiquette as we walked towards the guest house. she had immediately slowed down to keep step with my limp without mentioning it. this was a step beyond prescribed etiquette.
i coughed & seemed to choke. she instinctively patted my back. it’s an old ruse that never fails to produce results: the other either draws away or closer. i thanked her & we walked on, commenting on the drawn and hurting light caused by sun storms that the earth’s thinned atmosphere can no longer block, when she stumbled.
i caught her, she thanked me. was this her ruse to test me? we walked towards the sunset.
she slipped her hand in mine.