Jamaica was warmer than I thought it would be. He had one small beach all to himself. The house sat cradled in a nest of palm trees fifty feet from the water. I was basking in the sun trying to evaporate the TV5 out of my system. I glanced up at the house and could see a beehive of flesh moving around in and out of the palms. I smiled to myself. Sandoor always kept a harem of prostitutes with him on vacations. His head poked out from behind a tree and he waved to me. As he walked toward me, I could see he was carrying a tray. I felt a pang of hunger rumble through me--a sign the effects of the TV5 must surely be over.
"Take a look at what I've got here for you, Captain," he said as he splashed himself down next to me in the sand. I looked down at an enormous plate of shrimp. Alongside the shrimp was a bowl of melted butter with parsley. I closed my eyes and savored the taste. Sandoor had his monitor hanging from his neck.
"My friend, I would like to announce to you I have just sold all my shares of xOMA stock," he paused as he dropped two shrimp into his mouth the way one would drop food into the mouth of a hungry seal, "for exactly thirty-five dollars a share." His eyes crossed.
"Netting us a profit of seventeen million credits." Sandoor rolled in the sand like a dog with fleas.
"Three million of which have already been transferred to your own personal account."
"Wow, that's great," I said as I tried to look as enthusiastic as possible. Even though I suddenly had expanded my net worth one hundred times, I felt sick.
"Come on up the house, I've got some friends I want you to meet. And by the way, I called Hardeman. He says he'll see you tomorrow. You still wanna see my man, right?"
"Damn straight. I may be rich, but I sure ain't a public speaker. If your guy can help me out, I'll be forever in your debt."
"Hell, a player has to help another player out. That's how I see it. Come on, let's see some of my femalearelli's. I think you're gonna like 'em."
We wandered back to the house and were greeted by his adoring fans. It wasn't long before I forgot about the guilt. If only I didn't have to give that goddamn speech.
I stared at the piece of paper with Hardeman's address. Forty-Six Wood Street. Dog Town. Hardeman lives in Dog Town, a part of town I know well. Old cement plants, rusted out foundries, enough barbed wire to keep my sorry ass from getting' nosey. Plenty of Pits, Rotweillers, and any other mutt you care to mention just running wild. There ain't no dog catchers in Dog Town, that's for sure. In a littered alleyway, I spotted number 46 stenciled in green on a rusty steel door below a drawing of a snarling Doberman. I paused before knocking. I like dogs okay, but I don't care for 'em much as door greeters. What's worse---standing in front of that podium or standing with my grill next to a Doberman? I took a deep breath and knocked loudly on the door. I don't think too many people knock on doors in this part of town because when I pounded my fist, rust flaked off the door. Shit, maybe nobody lives here. That motherfucker Sandoor sent me down here to get my ass chewed off by some underfed mongrel, that's what's going on here. I heard footsteps. Someone walking up stairs. A thin panel at eye's level quivered.
"Hold on a sec," someone said. Finally the panel slid open and two dark eyes stared back at me.
"Whatch you want?" the voice said.
"Name's Cooper. Lane Cooper. An old buddy a mine named Sandoor Serbius said a fella named Hardeman might be able to help me with a speech problem."
"Sandoor's a snake. What you doin' hangin' 'round him fo?" The door was cracked open enough that I could see a black man's face looking at me from the darkness.
"Sure he's a snake. But who says snakes don't make good company now and then? Besides he owes me a favor and I'm hoping you're it."
"I might. Who you work under?"
"The man himself. Right up on the 247th floor. Investor Relations. You Hardeman Oxtot?"
"Yeah, that's me. Whatch you need? You got a speech impediment or something?"
"I have to give a speech. A public speech. I think that qualifies me as handicapped."
The black man opened the door all the way. "Stage fright? That's what's got you down?"
"Yes, sir. I'll be the first to admit it. I was a minesweeper during the Singaporean invasion, and that didn't even phase me. This speech is making my knees knock. I'm looking for some assistance and I heard you might be able to help. Can you?"
"Come on in. I'll show you what I'm working on and we'll see." I stepped inside the door and peered down the stairs to a lit room. "I hear voices...all day every day. I mainly work on artificial intelligence issues related to speech recognition software."
"Well I'll take any kind of intelligence I can get cause when it comes to public speaking I feel about as dumb as a sewer rat." I could see what looked like a lab at the bottom of the stairs. "You don't get too many visitors here, I imagine."
"I'm still working off a grant that's ten years old. They've probably forgotten they even gave me the money by now."
"What department you with?"
"One hundred fourteenth floor? Lars Smallenuff runs that ship doesn't he? Beer belly, thick black glasses, collects nineteenth century pornography?"
"Yeah. That's the one. Watch your step. Cleaning woman stopped comin' five years ago."
He wasn't kidding. "This must be the place computers come to when they die, right?" I said as I eyeballed stacks of disassembled computers. Gears were turning, levers lifting, lights flashing. Everywhere machines murmured, beeping and clicking, humming forgotten songs from yesterday's technology.
"So this what you scientists do all day. You play with toys."
"Sometimes I think of it that way." Hardeman reached under his desk and grabbed a stainless steel briefcase. He opened it, took out a gray box, and started adjusting a series of knobs. He placed a pair of headphones over his ears. "Listen," he said as he pushed a button.
"So this is what you scientists do all day. You play with toys."
"Hey, you recorded me."
"Just sampled you really. Listen again."
"Scientific thinking starts my eyes a blinking."
"What? That was me speaking! How'd you do that?"
"Wasn't hard really. I took a sample of your voice just big enough to allow me to recreate twenty-two and one half percent of the average person's vocabulary."
"So from just my one sentence you can fabricate having me say anything?"
"Twenty-two percent of anything in English, actually. If I sampled your speech for a little longer I could pretty much replicate your voice."
"Are you shitting me? Does the company know about this?"
"Hasn't been perfected yet. Two years ago we patented a version for use in Hong Kong phone sex shops. Some Swedish refrigerators use my technology to tell people when to make more Fondue. Other than that, it's pretty much under wraps."
"So lemme make sure I got this straight. You can take a sample of my voice and then mix it around and produce a recording of me saying something totally different."
"You gotta show some more."
"Okay. Sing a little song."
"A little nursery rhyme or something."
"Shit. Okay. Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. Life is but a dream."
"Good. Now I'm gonna type in something. There. Do you know Gilbert and Sullivan?"
"Just listen." Hardeman's fingers slid up and down a miniature keyboard.
"I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral.
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical,
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical..."
"Holy shit! I can't believe that's my voice."
"Yesterday's technology really. Ain't the new stuff."
"What's the new stuff?"
"I'm introducing a biological--bio logic--a voice logic chip for the body itself. Look, let me simulate it for you. Hold these." Hardeman placed two metal sensors in my hands. "I'm just going to tape these on to you. Hold still." Hardeman was totally doing his mad scientist thing now. He's flipping more switches than a D.J. at a rave.
"Okay. Now, Lane Cooper. Start talking. I'm gonna interject a sentence into your speech. I'm about to take over your voice."
"I'll trust you on this one, doc. Just don't make me make any promises I won't be able to keep." I closed my eyes and wondered what to say. "I'll recite the prayer of fiscal self-reliance. Everybody knows that, right?"
Each day these discs I do unfold
To play their tunes as I've been told.
Their rules and lines and pictures say
All that I need throughout the day.
I AM A FEATHER FOR EACH WIND THAT BLOWS.
The lessons here I'll teach myself
Without a danger to my health.
"Wait a minute, did I just say, 'I am a feather..."
"I am a feather for each wind that blows. That is exactly what you said."
"And you made me say that?"
"So is there a way that a speech could be preprogrammed and then played through me?"
"You catch on quick for a suit."
"So it is possible? You can really help me?"
"Man, you really have stage fright bad. This shit is gonna cost you."
"Name your price."
"You got it."
"Alright. Let me grab something. Do you have any sorry ass notes about this speech?"
"Hell yes. It's for the National Society of Intellectual Property Rights Advocates. MACROHARD infobabble glorifying the ruthless pursuit of info pirates."
"Hell, we don't even need the CDR4000 video voice translator to pull off a speech like that. I know that tune by heart. The virginal purity of free enterprise constantly in danger of losing her innocence to the unscrupulous few who would dare defile her."
"Yep,yep,yep. You got the idea."
"Okay. The making and giving of speeches is a synthetic learning activity. You tell the CDR4000 your topic, you answer a few short questions, and it pulls the whole thing together for you."
Hardeman put the CDR4000 in front of me, and gestured as if he was introducing me to a real person. "Now, just answer her questions."
"Her? The CDR4000 is female?"
"You got a problem with that? I can only afford so many voice files. You prefer to speak to a Swedish refrigerator?"
"No, it's cool."
"All right. Then just answer her questions and stop belly aching."
"What topic would you like to speak about Mr. Cooper?"
"Let's see here. What the hell am I talking about. Okay, the topic is...of course...info piracy and what needs to be done about it in the near future."
"Information piracy: Halting the spread of infection," Information Piracy: The Dam that could burst by 2050. Do either of these titles sound appropriate, Mr. Cooper?"
"The first sounds fine. Does she have to call me Mr. Cooper?"
Hardeman turned the volume down on his headset and looked up at me annoyed.
"Just tell her what you want. She'll call you whatever the hell you wanna be called."
"Okay. Drop calling me Mr. Cooper. Call me...Babalouey...yeah that sounds good."
"Yes sir, Babalouey. So we shall call the speech: Information Piracy: Halting the Spread of the Infection, by Mr. Babalouey."
"No,no...I mean yes, yes to the title, no to being called Mr. Babalouey. I'm trying to be funny. Hardeman, this machine of yours can't take a joke."
"Ha,ha,ha. I apologize for not recognizing your nonverbal cues, Mr. Cooper. You have a keen sense of humor--much better than my own, I'm afraid."
"That's okay. Let's get on with it. Hardeman, where did you say you sold these things? Phone sex shops in Hong Kong?"
"Just get on with it. Tell the CDR4000 what you wanna talk about."
"Okay, I'll try. My speech is about information piracy."
"To whom are you giving this speech?"
"The National Association Against Information Piracy."
"Very good. Now, your topic, Mr. Cooper,...Babalouey...as far as the general flavor of the speech is concerned, do you wish to lean toward humor or do you wish a more serious tone?"
"Serious. Let's say serious, but, light in the beginning. Maybe a joke to start, but then I pound home the ideas toward the end."
"Light start, powerful, no-nonsense ending. Okay. Now, as to the question of imagery. 93% of the audience has been in the military and most have participated in at least one physical contact sport in the past. I would suggest a reliance on military and sports metaphors to activate key ideas."
"Military? How do you know they were in the military?"
"I assure you that the general membership of the national association against information piracy is completely public. Here is a demographic profile of each member of the audience. As you can see in the values profile taken from the cognidemographic mapping of each individual directory of personal preferences, 67% believe inner harmony is more important than freedom. The majority consider themselves courageous and ambitious. None consider themselves to be imaginative or forgiving."
I paused to briefly look at the flashing portraits of each member of the audience. Mostly beefheads. Well fed wearing lots of cosmetics. Maybe they were tough soldiers in the past, but they look pretty soft in the middle these days.
"Damn, Hardeman. This machine has got it all. I'm fucking impressed."
"If you don't mind, Babalouey, I prefer to be called either 'she' or the 'CDR4000.' In my world differentiation is everything."
"Jeez, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
"It's quite all right. Now, to continue, the speech will emphasis the value clusters of the audience. Are there any points you would care to emphasize?"
"No, I think you have a pretty good idea of what I'm looking for."
"Thank you for your assistance, Babalouey. Your speech has been prepared. Would you like to give your speech at this time?"
"Hardeman, what does she mean---give the speech at this time?"
"Your speech has been prepared. It's that simple. All you need to do is hold the electrodes and the CDR4000 will activate with complete and utter maxiofacial spontaneity."
"I still don't really get it."
"Get a clue, Cooper. The speech is ready. The CDR4000 will give the speech through your body. Do you understand?"
"Sounds so demonic. Will I need to get exorcised afterwards?"
"Come on. Step up on this box. Pretend it's a stage. I'll rig up a little podium."
"No, thank you. I'll stay right here on the floor."
"Whatever. Here, take the CDR4000. Put it in your pocket, hold the electrodes and walk over to the podium here. Come on, let's try it."
"Okay. Let me just have a tobacco tube first, okay?"
"You ready to do this thing?"
"Okay. Let's do it."
"Now, I'm gonna virtualize the experience for you."
"Synthetic audience. You'll feel just like you're really there giving that speech. You'll see everything just as if it were actually happening. Anytime you want to stop, just let go of the electrodes."
"So this shit is for real. As soon as I touch the electrodes, I'm gonna think and act just as if I were right there at the podium."
"Exactly. Only the CDR4000's gonna do all your talking for you."
"Ready for take-off?"
"There you go. Grab a hold of those electrodes."
As I touched the electrodes I could see the audience. They started to clap. They were happy to see me. They were all smiling. I smiled back. I feel warm, wanted, relaxed.
"Good Evening ladies and gentlemen. I'm happy to see that not one of you is wearing a black eye patch. No pirates here tonight!" The crowd burst into laughter and then stood, looked at each other, and clapped in a sobering display of self-congratulation.
"Tonight we have come together, united in our efforts to find a cure for this dreaded disease plaguing our cities. A disease that threatens the very core of civilization itself. Luckily for us, this disease has a name: info piracy. What has become of the ancient virtues? When there are those who would...give away...what the majority have toiled for, the unraveling of society can not be far away. For the fabric of society is based on information exchanged for value. What goes into one computer, stays in that computer. For tonight we stand together, united for the principles of one license, one copy, one person!"
The crowd roared. I stood and watched an adoring audience. I felt love---genuine love for me as a human being. The admired me, they respected me, they wanted ME! I breathed a sigh of relief and released the electrodes.
"My god! It works! I can't believe it. I gave a speech!"
"Yeah, it's working. You're a genius. You've saved my life. I'll be able to do this. I've got to take it with me."
"Oh no. Not yet. I've got to tweak a couple bugs still. I can't have you lapsing into any fantasy circuits in front of a million people. You can pick it up in a couple days."
"A couple days? But my speech is three days from now. Don't I need to practice?"
"My man, don't you get it? It's all in here. The CDR4000 has done the work for you."
"So all I gotta do is walk up to that podium, touch the electrodes, and I'm good to go."
"You'll be famous as Amous, ready as Freddy." Hardeman walked over his refrigerator, pulled out a Peach pie, sliced us both a couple pieces and kept talking.
"There's something I still don't understand."
"What's that, grasshoppa?"
"Well, I know you're a speech scientist, an engineer and all that, but how do you know how to put a speech together?"
"How do I know about the gift of gab? Rhetoric...one of the seven ancient arts?"
"Yeah. What gives with all that?"
"You know about Vox?"
"Vox. I think I've heard about it. A bunch of Kooky counter culture types, rigtht?"
Hardeman laughed, one of those laughs in the middle of a bite where politeness interferes with the need to burp. He put his napkin to the corners of his smiling mouth to camouflage both his enthusiasm and any food mishaps.
"I figured you'd wanna know," he said in a rehearsed devil-may-care, I'm so glad you asked tone of voice. He paused for exactly three seconds, and started climbing up to a mental podium from which to speak. Then, he stopped, realizing his my skepticism might jam his message from coming through.
"What have you heard about Vox?" he injected.
"Well only that it's the Town and Country set's latest quasi religious fad. I heard it's a Fortune 500 thing. Some corporation decided to create the ultimate alternative to organized Religion."
Hardeman chuckled: a subtle dismissal of my naivete.
"Vox is...from what I know... a mix between ancient and modern philosophies. You can't pigeon hole it into any one category."
"But what is it exactly? Religious cult or corporate cash cow?"
Hardeman's eyes flicked at the sound of the word "cult." I don't think he liked that word. He realized now it was his duty to clear up this obvious victim of a misinformation campaign. "Vox," he paused, looking me straight in the eyes to verify my attentiveness, "is all about discovering the patterns which lie dormant in us all. Patterns which influence and guide our everyday actions. They can make us sick; make us act in ways we can't explain. Vox simply helps a person become more aware of what's going on underneath the surface."
"So it's a form of psychoanalysis?"
"Yeah. You could say that." Hardeman nodded his head encouragingly, eager to hear respectable words like "psychoanalysis" replacing the ugly "cult" word. "But it's centuries ahead. It works in much the same way. The person undergoing the technique goes back into the past to gather information that might help explain his present suffering."
"I gotta hear more about this," I said with genuine enthusiasm. Hardeman leaned back into his chair and dipped into a mild reverie as he recalled his first experience with VOX. "I was asked by a colleague, a former professor I knew from CUNY, to come to this resort in upstate New York for a weekend of self discovery. I had nothing better to do, so I decided what the hell. I might meet some interesting people."
"You wanted a social thing."
"Well, in the beginning I suppose."
"Free love and all that."
"I wouldn't say free..."
"A good place to meet girls, right?"
"I wouldn't say so exactly. Let me tell you what it was like, okay?"
"Yeah, sure. I want to hear what happened."
Hardeman drew together his story telling persona. I could tell he loved to tell stories. Oratory came naturally to him. I wonder how many other speakers in the world were opening their mouths in anticipating the reactions of their audiences. Hardeman took another sip of water while raising his hand slightly above his head, feeling the salivatory words pausing momentarily in the aftertaste of his peach pie. "VOX," he began and paused again feeling my attention against his eyes as a blind man reads the Braille inscription of a pharmaceutical prescription, "is more about the approach. That's how I describe it anyway; the approach one takes to taking on life. I know that sounds awfully nebulous, and I do apologize profusely. I, who have campaigned tirelessly my whole life for clarity, cannot help but begin this discussion with trepidation: the unavoidable hedging of the mystic. If only there were an enema for enigmatism. Alas, I wish to avoid the constipation so prevalent in the proscriptions of ancient wisdom." He cleared his palate with a sip of water and continued. "Vox didn't start on its own. It converged of its own accord. The interactive broadband multimedia movement, the hunger for interactivity, coupled with a malaise concerning religion in this country set the stage for an alliance between philosophy, technology, wealth, and the desire to be a part of something greater than the individual."
"Jesus, Hardeman. It sure sounds like an illegal, underground organization to me."
"Let's just say they ain't on Will's Christmas list, okay?"
"But who are they? Who runs it?"
"It's a funky organization. Mainly a bunch a kooky artists as far as I can tell. They teach without digital enhancement. They aren't about computers. It's strictly old school. Guy who runs it's named Alan Trochanter."
"Trochanter. Sounds familiar."
"Ought to be. Used to be a professor at Northwestern University before the movement shut it down."
"I read about that. The guy organized a group to fight the digital wave."
"And then spent seven years in prison while they tore all the shit down."
"But does the guy know his stuff?"
"Taught me what I needed to know to make my shit work. The dude would probably shit if he knew I taught a machine how to do his job."
"But I don't quite get how they teach without hardware. Why would they go back to some ancient system?"
"Man, you been wired too damn long. Some shit just works better when it ain't all digitized. Well, what if you didn't have the CDR4000 at your disposal? What would you do then? Listen, come back tomorrow. Early in the morning. I'll have this thing so finely tuned it'll give you a speech that'll impress the livin' hell out of the Association Against Info Piracy. You're gonna blow their little heads right outta the water."
Go to chapter 9