Maybe he didn’t need to plug into the memories, but he always did. If he took the case. He didn’t make his fortune in criminal law, however. Sure, he made a fortune by mortal standards, and used that to start his own firm. But his opulence, reducing Plutus to Penia, came when he started his torts practice and used memory records to quantify the pain and suffering of his clients. He’d recount their memory before the incident, usually from data that people left in ID scanners each year they renewed their licenses. Exposition. Then he’d begin a naturalistic performance of the lead up to the incident. Rising action. Then he’d channel sincerity and fidelity as he worked through his client’s memories of the crashed cars, botched tummy tucks, groping managers. Climax. He’d always end his account with something of a catchphrase, “And if you don’t believe my version, I’d be glad to let you plug in and feel this for yourselves.” Of course, the pain and damages were always so extraordinary—no one else could afford his expertise—that most everyone refused the offer. The nervous ticks in the few who didn’t reassured the majority that they decided correctly. The 9-figure settlements often settled things down for his clients and rested in his vaults. Denouement.
This was the practice until 2397 when CalTech learned to replay the visual component of memories in a projector. The stream played more loosely, linearly, and impersonally than the actual fragmented and emotionally salient memories when “played” through a human interface.
“You’re only a 3L. You’re not even barred. You don’t need to do this, Chili. It’s your firm’s case.”
“Don’t you think it’s unfair that I take so many people to trial yet never stand any myself? Plug me in, Li. I need to show them that I’m willing to commit, to innovate. I wanna be partner someday. Besides, I know these guys. They’d never do something like this.”
Alia’s eyes cast stern doubt. She knew these guys too. Chilton’s ambition deflected the skepticism.
“Don’t you think you could’ve started with something easier?” she pleaded. “I’ve read the reports. I, uh, I’m not sure you want to live through that, even if only partially true. People don’t … they aren’t the same after something like this.”
“It’s the only scan we have access to,” he justified. “Besides, it’s alleged, not proven. I’ll risk it. Look, I love you. Sickness and health, better and worse. Don’t you me?”
“You know that’s not the point, Chilton! Hiccups here fuse neurons. Remember the zebrafish, the mice?”
“But those were prototypes. We’re two full versions beyond that.”
He was right. She developed the recent version herself and didn’t want to hurt a capuchin in trials, much less a human. Her checking and re-checking earned her the moniker “Chubby Checker” by her lab mates, spoken only at the buttonless side of her lab coat. Any scorn from her peers evaporated, like her coworkers’ saliva on her boot soles, after she got the directorship of the institute. She let the previous director claim her postdoc work for the Nobel, as he was better connected to the politics. She wanted research; he could keep the money and fame. For now. She refused to be just another Rosalind Franklin.
Alia rejoined, “It may be difficult for you to believe, but I married you for your smarts and personality, not just for those thick eyebrows and cleft chin.” She envied how he could still look attractive under the fluorescent and draped in a paper gown.
“Of course. You married me because I’m thick in other attractive places too.”
“Chil! It’s not that thick anyway, pendejo.”
“What? I meant my forearms. You admitted later that when I was manipulating my silverware on our first date,” he imitated, “you couldn’t pay attention. That’s what got me a second date.”
“OK, fine.” That arrogance once disgusted her, but now it softened her skepticism. But she had to be certain. “Chili, Amor. You’re a published researcher, and you have a spot in Katz’s firm waiting for you. We don’t need the money, and we can still pursue this research later. You know we’re not certain how this’ll work. What happens if it gets choppy?”
“That’s why you’re here. Look, I’m an anemone over here! I have electrodes in places only you’ve seen!” He jolted his arms up and let them flop onto the papered bed. She watched the wires oscillate toward her. “I married you for your smarts. Well, and your hips.” He glanced from the ceiling to his right and agreed with himself when he confirmed how her glutes and quads filled her khakis so beautifully that Michelangelo would weep at their contours. “But,” he was still distracted. “But, especially your smarts. Besides, if something goes wrong,” he continued, “you’ll know before me by monitoring the ERPs. They’ll show trouble before I’m even conscious of it.” His eyes motioned to the dozens of panels with flashing waves. “Shut it down if that happens.”
“Yeah, yeah. OK. But at first sign of anything abnormal, I’m shutting it down.”
“Deal. I love you.”
Her fingers glided across the keys. The clicking keys silenced when she tip-toed over to his bed, careful not to pull any of the electrodes glued to his body. She looked down at him, “All right, Chil. Relax. I’ll see you in an hour. It’ll feel much longer to you, like you’re waking from a dream-packed nap. You’ll be disoriented when you wake up. But relax. Breathe deep. If anything goes wrong, I’ll be here, OK?.” He nodded and shut his eyes. She returned to her terminal, attached the encrypted drive to the neuralizer, and set the timestamp for the night of the alleged events. She glanced over as Chilton’s chest relaxed. She slouched too as she monitored the curves and jolts on all the screens. She shot upwards exactly 23 minutes later—erratic respiration, lacrimation, waves breaking and not coiling. 25 minutes later she kicked the cord out of the wall and covered his shivering body in the lab’s fire blanket.
The sweat glued his shirt to his back and poured into a rivulet in the mahogany chair. “Sir, first,” Chilton fidgeted and wiped his brow, “thanks for meeting me.”
“You have 5 minutes,” croaked Lucian Katz. “You got that because Bill told me you were the smartest kid he’s ever seen strut through Greene Hall. Get to the point.”
“Yes, sir. Plainly, I think we should pull our support from the Cooke case.”
“On what grounds? His father knows all the partners personally, and he already paid the retainer. Didn’t you play lacrosse with him too?”
“Yes, sir. It’s just that I’ve been developing—well my partner’s lab can replay memories scanned from LEO neuralizers. I saw … I felt what he did. He’s guilty.” In the pause between his stammers, he felt the boy’s body underneath his, radiating heat into his pelvis. He felt each thrust Cooke made, the tacky impact on his teammate’s back. He watched the limp body reverberate, whiffed the foul air with each withdrawal.
“You did what?”
“My lab figured out how to get memories to play in another person’s mind, using the data off the neuralizers from LEO intake processing. We weren’t sure it’d work, so I tested it on myself. I wanted to help the firm.”
“How’d you get permission?! Such rash irresponsibility and invasion of privacy are not Katz Firm material.”
“Well, law lags. There’s nothing on the books now. Our lab made sure. But that’s not the point. The point is our client’s guilt.” His voice broke, “It’s probably idealistic to think we ought never to represent guilty clients, but considering the crime …” He was back in Cooke’s body. Tapped on the shoulder, he laughed and stood as another bulging shadow took its turn. Each stroke Cooke made, the goo and grit between his fingers, Chilton sensed. The guttural grunts and cackles, the climax, everything. It wasn’t disinterested like the data; he enjoyed the raw sensation, the affect. Part of him—the real him, he hoped—protested, but it couldn’t truncate the pleasure. Cooke passed more than percepts to the neuralizer; he conveyed satisfaction.
“It’s grisly,” conceded Lucian, mildly. “That’s why the university offered settlements and pressed for NDAs. When they failed, they came to us. Our firm’s counter-PR reps are smearing the bloggers who leaked the story and any media outlet that investigates. Shall I add you to that list?”
“Sir, I understand. It’s just that—truth to its innermost, you know? We shouldn’t enable what happened.” Chilton coughed nervously. “Sir, I’m considering admitting my tech into evidence.”
“You’d ruin yourself. We’d ruin you.”
Chilton felt Cooke rubbing himself, swelling between his palm and fingers. At the apex, he felt Cooke recall green eyes, glossed and jittering, pouring tears onto the hand holding her mouth shut. Cooke’s ecstasy was Chilton’s own. No matter how much his mind writhed in opposition, his viscera agreed with Cooke: the boy was nice, but Alia was better.
“I understand, sir.” Chilton gulped the rock stabbing his throat. “Then consider this my resignation. I don’t think law’s for me.”
“Obviously not. What a waste.”
Chilton shivered out of his drenched chair and limped away. As he stepped through the frame, Lucian slammed the door on his ankle and wrist. His face wrinkled into silent agony and a continuous breath in.
In the final year of law school, blacklisted by the major firms, he drowned himself in books, lab monitors, and whiskey. Alia knew he knew. She honored her pledge of traversing the bounds of sickness and health, madness and lucidity. She directed her institute to develop Chilton’s projects. Relentlessly she loved him. He wept. Until he passed the bar. Then they did much more, with Cooke, with Lucian, with anyone resembling either.
# # #
boomer trujillo is currently a Ph.D. student in philosophy and has a story forthcoming in Sci Phi Journal. His body’s white but his soul’s Hispanic; he’s loyal to his friends but heretical to traditions; he has theories about humanity but thinks technology will morph them. These things inspire his stories. When he’s not teaching or writing, he’s usually lounging with his dog Lala. http://boomert.info
Photo: William Cho