20. Blow up the world with strange magic – Immersion

Immersion

After two months, Jeannie’s suit was ready for a fitting. Jeannie showed up on a Saturday and noticed that the lab was empty. Andrew said, “I sent everybody home because they need some R&R, and because you’re going to need to get naked again.”

“Yeah, I figured,” Jeannie said. “Tell me what you need me to do.”

“Well,” Andrew said, and then paused. After a moment, he proceeded. “You’re going to need to rub a special conductive oil all over your body. Without the oil, you’d have a devil of a time getting the suit off. You can apply the oil everywhere except your back. I’ll have to check you all over before we try on the suit.”

Poor Andrew, Jeannie thought. The things he does for science: Staring at naked ladies and trying not to get hard. “OK,” she said. “Give me the bottle and I’ll lube up.”

Jeannie went behind the screen, stripped, and applied the oil as best she could. When she was done, she called to Andrew, who came in and checked her all over. Satisfied that Jeannie was totally covered, he went and got the suit.

The suit was a grayish pink. It was in two pieces with a set of gloves and a set of booties. It covered Jeannie from neck to ankles and out to her wrists, except for a large area of her back. She found it a bit of a struggle to pull it on but eventually managed. She noticed a padded area between her legs and figured out what that was for but wondered about the lack of an accompanying structure for her butt.

“What’s up with the back, Andrew?”

“Ah! Well, you may know that the human back has way fewer nerve receptors than other areas. For example, the back can discriminate two points touching it only when the distance is around 35 millimeters or more. So, it’s not going to be as good a target for our skin pressure suit. We left the back out since it was going to be low-bandwidth, and we have to leave some skin uncovered or you’d suffocate, like in Goldfinger.”

“Brilliant!” Jeannie said, and Andrew broke into a big smile, the first Jeannie had seen from him. “OK, how do I hook up? I don’t see any sockets for cables or anything.”

“Ah! We went with an inductive approach. The whole suit is, if you can pardon the pun, a neural network.” Jeannie wondered why Andrew thought that was a pun, but he seemed quite amused. “We can strap on a transducer anywhere to input and extract the data. The transducer can be wired or wireless, and since you want the highest bandwidth, we first built a wired interface. Just plug an ethernet cable into this armband, strap the band on your bicep with the Velcro straps, and you’re jacked in.”

“Marvelous!” Jeannie said. “I noticed some kind of pad dealie for urine, but don’t see anything for fecal matter removal.”

Andrew looked uncomfortable and said, “That was too much for us to tackle in this timeframe. If you need to poop, you’ll have to unplug and go use the bathroom. Sorry.”

“Dude, don’t be sorry. This is a magnificent achievement. I’ll just go on a low ash diet and deal with potty time when I need to. You’re a genius!”

Andrew brightened and grinned. “Well, it was a team effort.”

“I’d love to meet them, but I think it’s better for all concerned if I don’t, in case this leaks out and we have to deal with scrutiny from the Feds.”

“I agree. You want to take the suit for a test drive? I can plug you in right here.” Andrew got Jeannie situated in a comfortable chair, strapped on her Oculus goggles and plugged her into the network. Jeannie immediately started writhing in her chair.

“Stop! Make it stop!” she cried. Andrew quickly unplugged the suit and Jeannie ripped the goggles off.

“Oh, my fucking god!” she exclaimed. “That was way too intense. It felt like I was being pummeled all over by tiny mallets! I think we need to take it slow, so I can get used to it.” She glanced at Andrew’s anguished face. “It’s OK, Andrew,” she said. “Just too much, too fast, know what I mean? I’ll get used to it.”

“You should have seen your body when I turned the suit on,” Andrew’s face was white. “I was afraid you were having a seizure. Man, that freaked me out!”

“Yeah, me, too. Can you activate just a part of the suit at first?”

“Hold on. The control program’s modular, thank goodness. Let me comment out most of the modules and recompile. It’ll take a few minutes.”

“OK, good. I hope not too long because, without the cooling mesh on, it’s getting pretty hot in here.”

Andrew clicked away at his computer for 15 minutes and then said, “Done. I just left the hands active. Let’s see how that goes.”

With some trepidation, Andrew put the goggles back on Jeannie’s face and turned the suit on.

“Ah, much better,” Jeannie said. “It’s like getting a hand massage. I tell you what, it’s going to take a while for my brain to learn to understand these feelings. Let’s leave just the hands on until I get the hang of it.”

“Good idea. We had planned on a learning period. I can slow down the feed and send the audio of the data to the Rift.” Andrew made a few adjustments, and for training, Jeannie dialed in an overview of her public chatbots.

It took dozens of sessions with the suit until Jeannie could experience all the data the suit could feed. She now had insight that was many magnitudes greater than when she only had the Oculus. Andrew had built a feedback mechanism into her gloves so she could type on a virtual keyboard. She found her typing speed was now about twice as fast as with a real keyboard. Andrew bought her two zero-gravity chairs, one for the lab and one at MacAllan, to make long sessions more comfortable. Soon Jeannie was spending so much time in the suit that when she took it off, she experienced a nauseating period of readjusting to the real world, sometimes lasting an hour.

Juston, in addition to missing her company, began to worry about the amount of time Jeannie spent in the suit, often sleeping in it at MacAllan, waking up at dawn to shuck the suit and work a full day, and not coming home for days. When the suit periodically needed cleaning, which took two days, Jeannie exhibited signs of withdrawal, as if from a powerful drug.

“Jeannie, honey, you’ve got to take a break,” Juston said. That suit is ruining your health. You look like death eating a cookie.”

Jeannie began laughing so hard, she had to sit down. “I never heard that expression before!” she said when she recovered.”

“Got it from a colleague from Oklahoma. It fits you right now.”

Jeannie could see it was true. Even though she moved around during her normal workday at MacAllan, her body didn’t seem to have the muscle tone and vitality it once had. She had lost weight, and her skin took on a grayish pallor similar to the suit’s.

“I know, Juston. It is like an addiction. But I’ve gotten such better insight into the problems of the world and how to solve them. And you can see how things have improved, can’t you? Terrorist attacks are now rare. Many former terrorist organizations are now actively involved in improving people’s lives. Lone wolf gun crazies are being surrounded by their families and other people who care and are led back into the fold. It’s interesting to see how the governments of the world are taking this. After centuries of paranoia and distrust, they’re finding less to disagree about. I’m making a difference. It would be selfish of me to take a break.”

“Selfish or not,” Juston said firmly, “I’ve booked us on a flight this afternoon to Denver. We’ve got a campground reserved at the Peaceful Valley campground in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the middle of nowhere, and we can even hike into the backcountry and camp if we want. Your bags are packed, and . . .” Juston produced a pair of fur handcuffs. “. . . you’re coming with me if I have to drag you.”

Jeannie was shocked and immediately started to protest. “But I’ve got my work at MacAllan. I can’t just take off.”

“Taken care of. I talked to your supervisor, and she agreed that you need some time off. Everybody there is worried about you. It’s all taken care of. Let’s go, the Lyft is waiting. And no electronic devices allowed. Give me your cell.”

Jeannie opened her mouth to argue but decided to acquiesce. She had to admit she was totally exhausted. Juston was right. “OK, OK, OK. You got me, sheriff. I’ll turn myself in. Here’s my cell.”

“Oh, and your smartwatch, too,” Juston said. “We’re gonna have a great time. Two weeks. I can’t wait.”

“Yeah, and maybe we’ll find a use for the handcuffs,” Jeannie said with a wry smile.

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