by Jow Lindsay
I had a fling with Carla. I was with Carla for about seventy-six years. The problem was that scientists kept inventing new ways for us to be in love.
Carla once explained to me that exclusive sex was just often one of many ways of being in love. She told me that during our first big fight, when we had been together for about seventy-six hours.
We met in a night club during the day. The night club did not open during the day except on special occasions. The occasion that was special was Halloween.
So the place was draped with Halloween colours, and the windows, which usually just gave a view of the empty night, had been wadded with Halloween fabrics, to bring the night inside during the day.
I don't remember the name of the night club.
I don't remember how many people were there.
About seven, probably.
I remember what I ordered from the bar. It was a Marijuana Margarita and any two packets of computers.
The bar said, "We've only got assorted."
"Okay," I said. "Two packets of assorted."
"Okay," said the bar. "You want to use your usual bank account?"
"Yes," I said, and I put the packets in my pockets.
I sat sipping. There was one girl on the dance floor all by herself. She had curly red hair and big beautiful eyes tattooed on her elbows.
"Who's on the stage?" I asked the bar, and I got a list of about sixty names, all people visiting the girl's web site.
"Carla's fully wired," the bar explained. "You're not even wired for sight, are you?"
"Nope," I said. "I'm not wired at all."
"Why not? You've got most peripherals."
I shrugged. I sipped. The girl was wired for sight and touch and smell and taste and balance and listening. I didn't know it then, but she was also wired for hundreds of things like DiaphragmStir1.5(tm) and LidTwitch200(tm), so if they wanted, and they had the right peripherals, people accessing her site could feel everything from her knees wobbling to her stomach rumbling. Or her orgasms.
The bar asked, "How come you're dressed like a ghost?"
I sipped. "It's Halloween."
I walked to where Carla was and started to dance. She seemed to be listening to the same music, but the rest of her attention was elsewhere. Some of the other people visiting her site started writing to me. One of them claimed to be Carla's real life cousin.
I live in Spain, she wrote.
"Cool," I said.
It sucks. Nothing ever happens here. I haven't looked through my own eyes in four months. I'm told the farmhouse I live in is falling to bits, and I don't want to face it.
"You eating okay?"
You're sweet, she wrote. I'm IVed. I'm cool.
We chatted for a bit. Eventually she went elsewhere. Then Carla's eyes focused on me.
"Oh," she said. "Hello."
Later on, Carla had sex with me because I was dressed up as a ghost. Also because according to her philosophy, my nature resembled the nature of a ghost. "This Halloween," her site had advertised for a week, "I will do my utmost to fuck a vampire, a witch, and a ghost."
The vampire had been a man addicted to blood transfusions. He also happened to be addicted to organ transplants. His frontal lobes, parts of his brain stem, sections of his spine and his entire little finger were all original. The rest wasn't. Of him, Carla wrote, "Bonus. I've given you a vampire and a Frankenstein's monster at the same time. But I shouldn't mix my Shelley and my Stoker. I'd only get Stelley, or Shoker."
Not everything Carla wrote made sense.
The witch had been a young Conservative Wiccan girl who was coincidentally and irrelevantly also called Carla.
The ghost was me.
I went through Carla's archives. When she was having sex with the vampire, Carla asked him if she could bite off his little finger. He said no, and she respected that.
Carla's site wasn't based on direct user revenue. She made all her money from advertising. She picked her advertisers carefully, so as not to break the mood, whatever the mood was.
Carla's angle on me was that I was the opposite of her. She presented me on her site in terms of the fact that, because I wasn't wired at all, I was experiencing things that nobody else would ever experience. My sensations were trickling away, unshared and unrecorded. I was fading away, like a ghost fades.
And I had all the secrets of the dead. You could approach my mystery, apparently, through her, but that was all.
Carla wrote about our first night together, "Look at us! He's inscrutable! Every grunt, every gasp, every shudder, every twitch, is like an omen. These are signs wrought in the landscape of an alien universe. We can guess what he feels but we can't ever know. He manifests in riddles. My bed is haunted by someone as insubstantial as flesh."
I think Carla wasn't sure exactly what it was about me, apart from the sheet over my head, that reminded her of a ghost. I think she treated me like a mixed metaphor. But that's not what our first big fight was about.
The morning after Halloween, we swapped the sheets rumpled on the floor for the sheets crumpled on the bed. Somewhere, for a while, there was a bed in a cheap motel wearing eye-holes.
I wandered around the whole day in our stink, even though Halloween was yesterday. I even remember someone seeing us and shouting that. "Hey! Halloween was yesterday!"
Our first big fight was after Carla had gone home on our second date with the manager and one of the waiters, who were brothers and lived together. Her defence was that she wanted to have sex with them.
When I complained, she said, "Sex is part of my business."
"Why do you have to be a pornographic site? Why can't you be something more literary?"
I regretted it immediately. That look she gave me –
"I am fucking not," she said, "just a porn site."
"I'm sorry," I said.
She glared at me for a long time. I could tell what good camerawork it was. "Okay," she said eventually. "Okay. Exclusive sex is just often one of many ways of being in love. It is almost sufficient but not necessary. I think I want to do some of the other ones with you. Maybe even some of the better ones."
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"Like drugs? We're going to the hospital."
I'm old-fashioned, but on our third date, at the hospital, I let her persuade me to have tiny artificial glands implanted near my heart. They were just like hers.
"Is giving and taking money just often one of many ways of being in love?" I asked her.
Some of my happiest times with Carla were spent with the two us looking out of the same stranger's eyes, feeling our distant bodies fill up with the same blends of drugs.
Sometimes we'd program our factories to release chemicals according to the patterns of colours we both saw, or the kinds of noises we both heard. Sometimes we got high according to the events of the arcade games we played together.
I drifted for years with Carla.
For one of her birthdays, when we had been together for about ten years, she wanted me to buy her a memory.
"I want to remember this," she said. "I believe you've forgotten my birthday. I want to have not spoken to you properly for some time. I wake up, on my birthday, and I walk on a beach somewhere by myself. I walk along the beach, which is mostly just rocks, and I cut my foot. Okay? I go onto a grassy bit, and I wind my way upwards, until I'm at a place where two very similar cliffs look across at each other, over an inlet of violent water. The landscape must be harsh and uniform, like what I imagine Wales to look like, although it doesn't, probably. I want to see a lone figure in the distance. I want to breathe in the salt and feel like shit. Make me feel so bad, Fred. Okay? I want eventually to visit your site to see what you're looking at, even though I know I won't be able to feel or hear anything."
I had recently been wired for sight. They were old-fashioned removable contact-lenses. I had a lot of difficulty finding a place that still did them.
"I want to try to do it secretly, so that you won't be able to trace me as a visitor at your site. Then I'll start thinking you have some new security, because I keep flickering back to my own vision. Cliffs, oppressive sky, maybe light rain now. A tiny dark figure sitting on the cliff opposite. Crashing water. I try again and again. I try again. I notice that there is a difference in the way things look when I'm simply looking through my own eyes, and when I think I've been pushed back to my own site by your security. Fred, the landscape is not the same. I am looking through your eyes. I'm looking through your eyes at an awkward shadowed figure, across the water, me. Somehow you realise I've realised. You're looking at you through me, I'm looking at me through you, the two pictures are almost identical. You've followed me. You know. You understand. Then, do you know how I begin to feel?"
"I don't want to do that."
"Because you're too fucking cheap."
"Because it's not real."
"We arrange for it so that I don't know where the memory came from."
"You don't have to know."
"Fuck!" she said.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm old-fashioned," I said.
"Fuck! Only in that you're rational," she said. "I'm new-fashioned because I'm logical."
"Is there a difference between logical and rational?"
"The difference between rational and logical is the space that makes us interesting," she said.
"Interesting to who?" I said.
She didn't say anything.
I said, "I love you," awkwardly.
"Buy me my memory," she said.
"Describe it some more. What happens next?"
I tried to leave her after about twenty years. She had nodes installed in her muscles which could release electricity. From their remote locations, visitors to her site could make her totter and stutter and stumble.
There were subscription fees.
"You're old-fashioned," she said.
After about thirty years I tried to leave her another time. I went to the hospital to have her tiny mouth removed.
The doctor stepped away from my ear, and looked embarrassed.
"I can't get to it," he said. "Your lobe has curled up and extended itself, right down to the drum."
"That's her," I said. "She doesn't want it cut out."
"Fred," she slurred. "God, Fred, I'm so fucked up. Fred. God."
"Can't you get it to uncurl?" the doctor asked.
"No. It's all her muscle tissue in there. She changed the passwords when I told her it was over."
"I can sedate it," he said.
"Please Fred," she whispered. "Please. I'll gnaw your fucking eardrum off."
"She just said she'd gnaw my fucking eardrum off," I told the doctor.
"Oh," said the doctor.
"It should be okay," I said. "I'm only wired for sight, and that's protected. I don't think she can get to it. She won't know that you're going to do anything to it until you've done it."
"The sedation might not work right away."
"I don't care. I'll buy a new eardrum. I've got a mouth on her body, too. I'll bite back."
"Please Fred," she said.
"Are you sure you want the whole mouth cut out? I could sedate it, and take out the control chip. The mouth is a perfectly good mouth; you can put a new chip in it."
"We were going to make clones," she said. "Or babies. We're still going to. I know I've been . . . it's not always going to be like this."
"I think I just want the whole thing out," I said.
"Fred," she said. "Remember that time on my birthday, when you followed me? I was so happy."
"Just never mind," I told the doctor. "I'm sorry. I've changed my mind. Just leave it."
"Fred. So happy. Fuck. Jesus. Fred."
"Are you sure?"
After about fifty years I gave in and got myself wholly wired. Properly. Permanently. Broadcasting everything. Everywhere. Like normal people do.
I set up AI programs to monitor the markets for upgrades all the time, to buy them and install them automatically. I made them search out newer and better peripherals too. I wanted to think Carla's thoughts in exactly the same way she did. Sometimes I would only discover that my body had been operated on when I reviewed my bills.
I surrendered the motions of my muscles to technology.
I recorded new experiences and dug out old ones and gave her bundles and bundles of my memories.
She started leaving me. I discovered that she had delegated control of her body to an Artificial Intelligence program.
I remember the first early spasms, the somewhat controlled jerking, when alien information first moved her muscles. The technology had improved with the years. She moved as smooth as my Carla ever moved. She danced like Carla danced. I didn't guess for so long that Carla was emptied of Carla.
The AI was made for me, and I suppose it once summarised the things and told her about us, about important developments in our relationship, but by the time I discovered it, this AI was only reporting to another AI.
I should have learnt not to care. I shouldn't have kept searching for an arbitrary spark of consciousness among all these near-Carlas, almost-Carlas. Shadows and shapes.
I went to the hospital. "Cut everything that was Carla out of me," I said. "Cut away these tongues here. These little limbs. Memories. Get rid of all the drug-factories. I am enmeshed in Carla."
"I'm going to need more specific instructions than that," said the hospital.
I gave the hospital certain passwords. It peered into my mind. It looked at some of my memories, and my instructions.
"You're a mess," the hospital said. "Are you sure you weren't Carla?"
"I don't care," I said. "I don't know. Now I'm definitely going to be Fred."
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