Jeannie realized she was reaching the edge of her ability to continuously digest the tremendous flows of information the chatbots were generating.
I need a better interface, she thought. Perhaps I can enlist other senses. There’s only so far I can push my visual and auditory abilities. I need to engage my full sensorium. Despite the surge of power she fed on from the generation of empathy, she was exhausted. She tried to think of new ways to assimilate the information but drew a blank. She decided to ask Juston for help.
“J-man, I think I’ve hit a wall in being able to absorb information from my bots, from the torrent of daily intel that flows into the GSA network, and from the social networks. Vision and hearing can only take me so far. You got any ideas for me?”
Juston thought for a moment and then said, “Why don’t you use your largest organ?”
“My liver? My intestines? Oh, you better not be referring to my boobs!”
“No, silly, your skin. I remember a project we did for DTIC that experimented with silent communication via a membrane inside a glove. It was to be used for covert ops. In fact, somebody mentioned to me the other day that ORAU is currently doing something in that area.”
“A cookie company is working on leading-edge science?”
“No, no, no,” Justin couldn’t help laughing. “Not Oreo, ORAU: Oak Ridge Associated Universities. I think the project is sponsored by ARL.” Seeing Jeannie’s face, Juston quickly added, “Not a pirate outfit, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. I think it’s happening up at the Maryland office. In fact, I think your buddy Andrew came out of that lab. You should ask him.”
“Wow,” Jeannie said. “What are the odds? I think the Universe is trying to tell me something. I’ll talk to Andrew tomorrow.”
Jeannie peered into Juston’s face and felt . . . encouragement? No, dammit, I feel love, she thought. I’ve fallen for this guy. And I couldn’t ask for a more supportive boyfriend. She pulled him close to her, enfolding him in her arms, and kissed him deeply.
“I love you, J-man,” she said.
“It’s about time,” Juston said with a laugh. “But seriously, I think I’m going to cry.” Tears started flowing from Juston’s eyes. “You’ve made me so very happy.”
Andrew could not have been more excited to tell Jeannie all about the latest in tactile communications. “I left ORAU because they were so hung up on the auditory aspects of tactile comms and focused single-mindedly on bone induction. I argued that much like a blind and deaf person can understand sign language by feeling the movement of the fingers—like Helen Keller—humans can understand language via a skin interface.”
“Wowie zowie! What do you think the bandwidth of such an interface could be?”
“Well as it happens, I’ve been experimenting on just that question in my spare time.”
“You have spare time? You’re here more than I am. When do you sleep?”
Andrew looked at her blankly. “Since I was young, I’ve only needed two hours of sleep a day. I’m just wired that way.” Andrew’s tone indicated he couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t similarly wired. “Anyway, first I had to invent a whole symbol set. You really wouldn’t want a glove, or other skin appliance . . .”
“I love that term!” Jeannie broke in. “I’ve dated some guys who may well have been skin appliances.”
Andrew shot her an annoyed look. “So, the symbol set is similar to stenography symbols—shorthand. I built a glove with an electrically activated member, er, membrane based on what we were doing at ORAU. It used what are known as electroactive polymers, or EAPs.”
“These acronyms are getting better and better,” Jeannie said.
Andrew plowed on. “The trick is to get the membrane to form the symbol and return to the neutral state very quickly. That’s one way you bump up the bandwidth. By the way, some labs are also looking into creating artificial muscles with EAPs. Some of their research is helpful, especially the teams that are trying to recreate fast-twitch muscles. People have been fooling with this sort of thing since Röntgen in the late 1800s.”
“Is that the X-ray guy?”
“Yes. Won the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901. Anyway,” Andrew was obviously becoming irritated at Jeannie’s questions, so she decided to shut up and listen. “I got the EAP membrane in a glove to transmit understandable symbols at an effective rate of 2 megabytes per second. Effective rate is calculated by considering the efficiency of stenographic symbol transmission—in which one symbol could equal one word—compared to English sentences.”
“Holy shit!” Jeannie couldn’t help but exclaim. “And this is over the area of the human palm? Like, what, nine square inches?”
“Do you think you could make a whole suit, to fit me, and enable me to absorb information over my entire skin?”
Andrew was taken aback by the question and absent-mindedly stared at Jeannie’s breasts while thinking of how to respond. Jeannie noticed this, and thought, for the millionth time, men are such fools. Andrew remained in this position, his unfocused eyes firmly fastened on her boobs, for a good five minutes. Jeannie was afraid to move and break the spell, so she stood stock still as if she were a painter’s model. Finally, Andrew turned his eyes to her face and said, simply, “Yes.”
Jeannie pumped her right fist and yelled, “Yes! I can be totally immersed in the data! How soon can you do it?”
“Well, first off, there’s the question of the cost. The demand from artificial muscle research has lowered the cost of EAP material somewhat, but the stuff can cost $100 per square inch and you’d need…” Andrew ran his eyes up and down Jeannie’s body. “Turn around,” he said curtly. She complied, feeling uncomfortable as Andrew scanned her from top to bootie to bottom.
“I’d say your body is around 3,000 square inches, leaving out selected mucus membranes.” Andrew actually blushed. “So, a full suit, including wastage due to tailoring, would probably be $350,000.”
Jeannie felt her dream deflating. How am I going to get $350K? she thought. Oh, wait! Magic!
“I think I can get that,” she told Andrew.
Andrew blinked in surprise. “Really?”
“Yes,” Jeannie said. “I’m a trust fund baby. Daddy left me millions. But I expect we’ll need more than the EAP membrane, right? A suit like that will need cooling, a power source, and probably, ah, biological waste disposal agencies of some sort.”
Andrew blushed again. “You’re right,” he said. “That would probably add another $100,000.”
“Once again, no problem. I can arrange for offshore accounts to pay for it all. It wouldn’t do to call attention to myself, or to you.”
Andrew just nodded, still astonished at the weirdness of what Jeannie was proposing.
“Once we get the stuff, how soon can you build the suit?”
“By myself, probably six months. I’ve got several buddies who could help, though.”
“OK, I can pay all of you. But they’ve got to be able to keep the secret, right?”
“No problem. This is a dream project, and a risky one. We’ll keep mum until it’s done. Then we can tell people, right?”
“Not right away,” Jeannie said. “I need this suit for a top-secret project. But eventually, the world will know your brilliance.”
For the first time since beginning the conversation, Andrew smiled. He’s probably thinking Nobel Prize, Jeannie thought. Well, let him.
“So, Andrew, this project is so secret, you can’t talk with anyone here at MacAllan or at DoD about it. I’m not exactly authorized to build this suit, right? I’m financing it myself, but I plan on donating it to DoD once my project is finished.”
“You’re not doing anything illegal, are you?”
Jeannie laughed. “It is so not illegal. Don’t worry. OK, I’ll rustle up the money, get the offshore accounts set up, and you and your buddies should start work on a design and a materials list, and we’ll get going. I can even rent you a lab of your own if you like. Keep things simple at work here.”
Andrew agreed that would be a good idea. Jeannie leaned over and gave Andrew a kiss on the cheek. “Andrew, you’re amazing. I’m so lucky you are going to help me. You have no idea how much the success of this project will benefit our citizens and the world.” Again, Andrew blushed as Jeannie turned and left the room.
That night, Jeannie connected to the GSA computer and compiled lists of bank accounts owned by drug dealers, slave traders, and other scum. She was amazed the GSA knew so much about these slime molds. She was further amazed at how many accounts there were, all over the world. OK, she thought. I need probably a half million bucks to start, so I could take $10 out of 50,000 accounts and nobody will be the wiser.
Using the power of the GSA computers and a bit of her own magic, within minutes she had the money she needed for the suit. She stashed it in a Swiss bank account and then routed it out in small parcels of less than $10,000, each to a variety of offshore tax havens in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. An NSA list of such places was very helpful. She created several debit card accounts linked to these funds and made a list for Andrew to use when buying his supplies. She also rented several post office boxes in DC to receive shipments.
The next day when they met, Jeannie told Andrew to ensure that he broke up his purchases into many small orders distributed among several vendors and sent to the various P.O. boxes she set up. As a tripwire, she set up a bot to monitor the GSA robots that watched for suspicious movements of money and goods.
I should be able to see anything that might set off an alarm before the GSA bots see it, she thought. They generally are looking at a macro level, and if we keep the transactions small, we should be OK.
Within weeks, Andrew had rounded up 11 of his buddies to work in the fully tricked-out lab Jeannie had rented equidistant from where the techies lived. No sense setting up strange commuting patterns and raise suspicion, Jeannie thought. To further camouflage the effort, she created a dummy startup company called ItJustSuits.Me, and had a logo designed and painted on the door of the lab. She created a typical startup-in-stealth-mode website for the phony company with a “Coming Soon” message on the single page.
After completing the website, Jeannie and Juston went out on the town to celebrate their one-year dating anniversary.
Soon the lab was humming, and Andrew was giving Jeannie daily status reports. After a few weeks, Andrew arranged to meet Jeannie at the lab at night. When Jeannie arrived, Andrew looked worried. “What’s up, Andrew? Problems?” she said.
“No, things are going fine.”
“Well, you look like you got something on your mind, Andrew.”
“Yes . . . well . . . It’s a delicate matter . . .” Andrew looked away and started to blush.
“What’s the matter, Andrew? Come out with it!”
Andrew stared at the floor. “It’s time to do a full body mapping so we can start to think of how to put the fabric together.” He stopped talking but looked like he wanted to say more.
Jeannie said, “OK, let’s do it.”
“Well . . . you see . . . you’ll have to be naked, and I need to scan you very closely with a handheld and, um, ah, I’ll need to scan every inch of your body.”
Ah! Jeannie thought. He’s embarrassed that he’s got to see me naked, and up close. Well I can’t say I’m too enthused about it, what with him taking pictures of my hoo-ha and all, but I can handle it. To Andrew, she said, “Great. Don’t worry about it. Let’s get started.”
Andrew let out a relieved sigh. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ve been dreading this moment for weeks.”
“Because it’s embarrassing! Won’t you be embarrassed?”
“No, a little self-conscious, I guess, but, dude, it’s for science.”
“Well, there is the other matter . . .” Andrew looked away out a nearby window as his voice trailed off.
“Spit it out, Andrew.”
“Well, you see, there’s the, um, potential for, ah, physiological arousal on my part.”
Ah! Jeannie thought. He’s worried about getting a boner! “That’s OK, Andrew, it would only be natural. I wouldn’t be offended or threatened if that happens. Cheer up, guy! This is a great milestone in our project!”
Andrew exhaled in relief. “OK, he said. “You can disrobe over there behind the curtains we set up. I sent everybody else home. It will just be you and me.”
Jeannie strode over to the circular green-curtained area, shucked off her clothes and said, “Where do you want me?”
“Just stay there. The curtains will act as a green screen and enable me to remove any extraneous scan data. I need to map your skin exactly, every, er, bump or scar or mole or whatever. The suit will need to fit tightly against your skin for maximum data transfer. Oh, hell, I forgot.” Andrew got the embarrassed look again. “I’m going to need you to shave your, ah, your . . .”
“My bush? Is that what you’re trying to say, Andrew? No problem. I’ll give myself a Brazilian. You got some clippers and a razor and some foam?”
Andrew swallowed hard and went to get the items, passing them around the curtain while looking the other way. Jeannie quickly did the job and invited Andrew behind the curtain. Andrew started the scan with a handheld device, starting at Jeannie’s neckline and working his way down to her boobs. “I’ll, ah, have to touch them, to lift them,” he said.
“OK, but no funny business,” Jeannie teased but felt bad when she saw Andrew’s face. “I’m just teasing you, Andrew. Lighten up!” Jeannie glanced at his crotch and saw a bulge. Poor guy, she thought. He was right to have been worried.
After 20 minutes, Andrew had done every other part of Jeannie’s body except her vaginal area. Taking a deep breath, he said, “OK, I’m going to need you to spread your legs now.”
“That’s what he said,” Jeannie quipped, and then regretted it. She glanced at Andrew’s reddening face. “Sorry, Andrew. I guess I am a little nervous about this part.”
Wait, she thought. Did I shower today? Shit. I’m so exhausted, I can’t remember. What if my cooter isn’t fresh? Damn. Should I excuse myself to the Ladies’? No, I think it’s out in the hallway. She grabbed a lock of her hair and sniffed it. Smells like I washed my hair, but I dunno. Well, I just need to grin and bear it.
“OK, Andrew. Here you go.” Jeannie spread her legs and turned her head as Andrew continued his scan.
When that part was over, they both felt more at ease. Andrew said, “OK, two more areas. Please turn around and spread your cheeks, then I’ll have you sit on that stool and I’ll do the soles of your feet.”
At last, Andrew was finished. “All done,” he announced with relief in his voice. “Don’t get dressed just yet. Here, you can put on this lab coat. I need to take a quick look at the data and run a simulation to be sure I got everything. Jeannie accepted the coat and wandered over to one of the workstations to sit. Andrew took the scanning device over to a computer and plugged it in. Soon a 3D model of Jeannie from the neck down started building on the screen.
Jeannie watched as it slowly revolved, adding more and more details, building from top to bottom. This is like my worst nightmare: to see myself as others see me, she thought. Look at that flat butt!
After half an hour, the model was complete, and Andrew turned it this way and that, looking for holes in the data.
“Looks like we got it all,” he said. “Thanks, Jeannie. I’ll bet that wasn’t too fun for you.”
“No, it was a piece of cake, except for that one area, but you were a perfect gentleman and I appreciate that. Can I get dressed now?”
“Sure,” said Andrew. “We’re done for now. I just need to get a bunch of software set up to process the model. That’ll take the rest of the night. It should run for the next day or so, and we’ll be able to start the fitting simulations after that.”
Jeannie got dressed and walked over to Andrew, who was engrossed in the computer program. “Thanks for all you’re doing for me, Andrew,” she said and pecked him on the cheek. “Try to get some sleep tonight. I’ll see you at MacAllan in the morning.” Andrew just nodded and waved with one hand.