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       Coming Soon Enough: Six Tales of Technology’s Future, p.1

           Nancy Kress
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Coming Soon Enough: Six Tales of Technology’s Future

  Coming Soon Enough

  Six Tales of Technology’s Future

  Featuring: Nancy Kress, Greg Egan, Brenda Cooper,

  Geoffrey Landis, Mary Robinette Kowal and Cheryl Rydbom

  Stephen Cass, Editor

  Illustrations by Martin Ansin

  IEEE Spectrum

  New York


  Published by IEEE Spectrum magazine

  3 Park Ave., 17th floor

  New York, NY 10016–5997

  Copyright © 2014 IEEE Spectrum

  and the respective authors.

  Editor in Chief: Susan Hassler

  Editorial Director, Digital: Harry Goldstein

  Coming Soon Enough Editor: Stephen Cass

  Senior Art Director: Mark Montgomery

  Deputy Art Director: Brandon Palacio

  Associate Art Director: Erik Vrielink

  Senior Copy Editor: Joseph N. Levine

  Copy Editor: Michele Kogon

  Illustrator: Martin Ansin

  445 Hoes Lane, Box 1331, Piscataway, NJ 08854-1331 U.S.A.

  Table of Contents


  Someone to Watch Over Me

  By Nancy Kress

  A Heart of Power and Oil

  By Brenda Cooper


  By Geoffrey A. Landis

  Grid Princess

  By Cheryl Rydbom

  Water Over the Dam

  By Mary Robinette Kowal

  Shadow Flock

  By Greg Egan

  About the Authors


  “I never think of the future—it comes soon enough.” So said Albert Einstein. But with all due respect to Uncle Al, it’s precisely because the future arrives so quickly that we should think about it.

  For the past 50 years, the editors and reporters of IEEE Spectrum have followed the evolution of technologies from fragile beginnings as laboratory (and garage) experiments to powerful forces that have shaped the lives of billions of people. Of course, we’ve also seen promising technologies fail while others erupt on the world’s stage from seemingly nowhere.

  A large part of this unpredictability is because engineering is a human enterprise, on both the invention and end-user sides of the innovation equation. Hindsight is 20/20, but there was, for example, no particular a priori reason to believe that the appeal of Facebook would trounce that of MySpace and Friendster, that smartphones would become the most widely used form of digital camera on the planet, or that software entrepreneur Elon Musk would be responsible for launching the first commercial cargo vehicle to the International Space Station.

  Journalism—with its emphasis on verifiable facts and figures—can go only so far in plumbing the human dimension. But science fiction writers have been confronting their characters with new technologies since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. So, as part of our 50th-anniversary celebrations, Spectrum has commissioned this anthology of science fiction tales from some of the best authors working today: Nancy Kress writes a dark tale about madness and a biomedical implant; Brenda Cooper weaves two lives together with 3-D printing; Geoffrey Landis contemplates a think tank’s response to an alien invasion; Cheryl Rydbom envisions a woman experiencing life without a constant Internet connection; Mary Robinette Kowal plays out a power struggle over a new energy technology; and Greg Egan plots a drone-assisted heist.

  Together, they paint a landscape of possibilities for the next 50 years. Will any of these visions come to pass? We’ll know soon enough. —Stephen Cass

  Someone to Watch Over Me

  By Nancy Kress

  “I still hate this,” Trevor said. “That you’re doing this to Becky.” “So you’ve told me,” I said wearily. “Many times.”

  We sat in the clinic waiting room, done in Martian rust reds, very trendy for such an illegal operation. But, then, this was very upscale illegality. Trevor, who had so much money he never thought about it, hadn’t asked how I was paying for Becky’s surgery, and I hadn’t volunteered that I’d cashed in my retirement fund at Payne, Jeffers. We’d been waiting on the rust-red conformachairs, which were not as comfortable as advertised, for nearly an hour.

  Trevor scowled at me. “Amanda, as a tactic this lacks—”

  “Sweetness,” I said. “I know. I’m not a sweet person, Trevor. This is a surprise? You’ve known this about me since we were nine. We didn’t become friends because you value sweetness.”

  “I didn’t—”

  But I was, all at once, beyond restraint. I turned on him. “And Jake didn’t marry me for sweetness, either. Who wants to go to bed with a lump of marzipan—he used to say that to me! And he didn’t leave me for lack of sweetness, either, or he wouldn’t have chosen…what does she have that I don’t?”

  My voice had risen to a shout. The three other people in the waiting room, two of whom were holo-masked, stared. I twisted my hands together and spoke more softly. “He’s just erased me from his life. That’s what I really can’t stand—that he acts like I never existed at all.”

  Trevor put his arms around me. I collapsed against his thin chest and narrow shoulders—delicate frames were hot just now with gays—and sobbed quietly. The man sitting two chairs away moved to four chairs away.

  After I finally blew my nose, I said, “Trevvy, I have to know. Jake was the love of my life.”

  “Jake is a cheating and lying bastard, and anyway, I’m the love of your life.”

  “Not carnally.”


  “You don’t believe that.”

  “Well, no.” He held me at arm’s length. “You look like a dead spot in the ocean. Go put on some makeup. Obsession is not a good look for you. Anyway, Becky should be the love of your life.”

  His expression stopped my remaining sniffles. Trevor always smiles and he is never, ever critical of me. Not seriously. I said, “She is.”

  He didn’t bother to correct the lie. But he looked away from me, and something in my neck went cold. I’d lost my soon-to-be-ex husband. If I lost Trevor, too….

  “I’m here, Amanda. Always. And no, I don’t need sweetness from you. I just need—”

  My wristband brightened and said, “Ms. Rydder, the surgery went fine, and you can see Rebecca now. First door to your left.”

  I charged through the door. Becky lay in a smartcrib, watching a holo-mobile two feet above her. Bright, nonexistent shapes twisted and flowed in the air. Becky’s plump little hands reached for them until she saw me. She crowed with delight, and I picked her up and cuddled her, studying her right eye.

  It was clear, stained-glass green with thick, dark lashes. Just like Jake’s eyes.

  No scars on the smooth baby skin.

  No grogginess from the anesthesia, no pain, no cloudiness in her iris.

  You couldn’t tell that anything had been done to her at all.

  Using the software was as uncomplicated as the implant itself. What was hard was setting it up. The manufacturer doesn’t do that for you, understanding more than anyone the absolute necessity of customized, unhackable encryption on dedicated and shielded computers. Most wearers of Opti-Cam implants are not six-month-old infants. Last month alone, six major mobsters were indicted and an Asian dictator assassinated using information from Opti-Cams.

  Trevor set up my system
. It was pretty minimal: receiver, screen, retransmitter, basic encryption. He protested the retransmitter. “This data isn’t something you should view on anything but this one screen here in your bedroom, off-line for all the Internets. Don’t retransmit to your wrister or, quod di prohibeant, to any screen anywhere at your job. Do I have to remind you that this whole setup is illegal?”

  “Just get it working. And drop the Latin—it’s pretentious.”

  “You never did have any sense of verbal fashion, Mandy. No, don’t touch that…wait a minute…there.”

  The screen brightened to an expanse of white. I was about to protest that the system didn’t work when I realized: Becky was staring at the ceiling.

  She lay in her crib across the room, drowsy and blinking. The white expanse disappeared, reappeared, disappeared again. I said, too shrilly, “Mobile on,” and her smartcrib activated it. Becky’s eyes opened wide and she cooed. My screen showed somersaulting kittens made of light, seen from Becky’s perspective as the camera behind her cornea sent its images to the receiver.

  “Mobile off.” The kittens disappeared. I crossed the room and loomed over Becky, looking back over my shoulder. On-screen was her view of me, head turned away.

  Trevor said, “I still don’t think you’ve thought this through. And I still hate it. Becky—”

  “Won’t know a thing. She doesn’t feel the implant, and the images don’t get stored in her brain, at least not any more than they would from her own vision. Nothing connects to her memory. There are dozens of studies proving that.”

  “With adult subjects. Not infants.”

  “Infants remember even less than we do.”

  “I wish you remembered less,” Trevor said. “Remembered less, felt less, schemed less—”

  I’d stopped listening to him. I watched Becky watch me until her lids fell into sleep and the screen went blank.

  This was Wednesday. On Friday Jake would pick up Becky for his weekend of shared custody.

  “What’s with you?” Felicity said to me in the ladies’ room nearest our cubicles. “You’re jumpy as a cat.”

  “Cats aren’t particularly jumpy. Neither am I. Just stressed about the GloBiz account.”

  Felicity frowned, but before she could point out that GloBiz was consistently thrilled with our campaign for them, I was out of the ladies’ room, out of the building, in a cab home. Only 4:00 p.m., but so what? Even a copywriter deserves a dangerous, illegal, utterly stupid hobby.

  In my bedroom I turned on the dedicated computer. Becky gazed at the back of a head in a moving car. One head, not two. Jake, alone, had picked her up at day care.

  Then his apartment, not Pam’s. I had never been inside either one, but I recognized his half of what had once been our furniture. He put Becky on the floor to crawl, and whenever she glanced over at him, I glimpsed the slippers I’d given him for his last birthday.

  In college, I’d been a film major. No Fellini retrospective, no Welles film work, had ever enthralled me like the images on my screen that Friday evening. Jake’s slippers, Becky’s toys, a rubber ducky floating in the bathtub. Quick shots of Jake’s face, laughing or talking to her—why didn’t the implant have audio! Pam did not appear. When Becky finally fell asleep, I turned off the computer and then sat for a long time in the dark, tears running down my face, rage in my heart.

  He had no right to do this to me. To Becky. To live his life as if I’d never occupied the center of it.

  At midnight I gave in and keyed his number into my cell. He answered sleepily. “Hello?”

  Not breathing, I clutched the phone.

  More sharply: “Hello?” And then, “Amanda, if this is you, you’re violating the restraining order. Please stop. I mean it this time. I’ll go back to court if I have to.”

  I said nothing. Tears and rage, tears and rage. Long after he hung up, I clutched the phone as if I could crush it.

  On Saturday, Pam appeared in Becky’s field of vision.

  At first I got only flashes of her; Becky was not interested in focusing on this unknown person. It was eerie to glimpse a red-shirted elbow, the toe of a black boot, the back of a blond head. It disassembled her, made her less than real. Eventually, however, she sat down in front of Becky and fed the baby strained applesauce.

  Instantly, I wanted to leap through the lens and shove her away from my baby. Leave her alone, you bitch, she’s mine! Pam was pretty but not gorgeous, a girl-next-door type if the door happened to open on a Hamptons beach house. Sun-streaked hair, fine sun lines around brown eyes, no makeup, vintage Lululemon workout clothes. On the street I’d never have noticed her. Her body looked nicely curved but neither buxom nor model-elegant. What did she have that I didn’t?

  Becky spat applesauce at her and the view vibrated—she must have been giggling. Pam giggled back.

  Stop. Leave her alone! She’s mine!

  He’s mine.

  By Sunday afternoon, when Jake brought Becky back, I had slept a total of three hours. All weekend I’d sat by the screen, seldom eating, scarcely going to the bathroom. Becky might wake in the night; there might be something to see. It was, as I’d discovered online, a one-bedroom apartment. Did Jake wheel her crib out into the living room so he and Pam could have sex in the bedroom? Or did they do it with Becky asleep beside them?

  By order of the court, ever since that stupid misunderstanding two months ago, Jake and I had no contact when Becky was returned on Sunday. Jake brought his sister with him every single week. Linda brought Becky into my building, and the two of us did not exchange a word.

  I unwrapped Becky and studied every inch of her, looking for—what? Anything amiss, a bruise or a dirty diaper or ripped pj’s. There was nothing, of course. Jake had always been a terrific father.

  The baby was asleep by seven o’clock. I called Trevor to come over; my call went straight to voice mail. Felicity had a date. TV was boring. I roamed the house, unable to sit for even a moment.

  Until I stopped cold, feeling my own mouth open into an O. After checking on Becky one last time, I brought the small, dedicated computer into the living room and connected it to my wall system.

  Trevor had made his fortune with Holo-Shop. He invented it, patented it, and sold it for an exorbitant sum plus royalties to Microsoft.

  There had been other holographic conversion programs on the market, but they were quirky, experimental, difficult to use. Holo-Shop was none of those, and the results were sharper than anything before it. You brought up a flat image on a screen, set the parameters you wanted, and touched the H-S icon. The image sprang from the screen in holographic three dimensions. It could be small or large, although the larger you made it, and the farther away the hologram from the screen, the lower the resolution. A three-inch rose was a miracle of dense perfection; a room-sized puppy was insubstantial vapor.

  Holo-Shop could not evoke moving images, not yet, although Microsoft was reportedly working on it. Meanwhile, advertisers and artists and retail outlets manipulated holograms to sometimes powerful effect, sometimes laughable kitsch. Ditto the millions of users who wanted the pyramids to decorate their trendy Egyptian-themed living room but to disappear when they needed to set up a card table for poker.

  I ran the camera images of Jake as Becky saw him until I found a good one: Jake crouching on the floor, smiling, green eyes alight, arms extended for the baby to crawl into them. I froze the image, projected it with H-S, and fooled with it for a while. When it was done, Jake sat life-size on my bedroom floor, ghostly enough to see the dresser behind him, arms outstretched. The dresser didn’t matter. I got down on the floor and moved to sit in the circle of his arms.

  The second weekend that Jake had Becky, Pam was there all weekend. I watched them every minute that Becky was awake. They kissed in the kitchen, took Becky to the park, watched something on TV whi
le she crawled around the floor. Pam wore Carson Davies boots in calfskin, $800. When Trevor called with tickets to the hottest play in town, I told him I had the flu. By Sunday afternoon, when Linda handed Becky back to me, I was groggy from sleeplessness, reeking from not bathing. I didn’t look at Linda looking at me.

  I once saw a show about toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease. When mice contract it, they lose their natural fear of cats, making it easier for cats to eat them and the parasite to get into the cat. There was some evidence from brain scans that the mice realized this lack of fear was stupid, but they couldn’t help themselves. They were compelled to let the cats see them.

  At work I accomplished nothing. I’d set the retransmitter to send the images of Jake and Pam to my wrister; the hell with what Trevor said. Whenever I could, I ducked into the ladies’ room and brought up images to study. Felicity went from warmly supportive (“You don’t feel well? Oh, I can finish that copy, Amanda”) to faintly resentful (“You haven’t even started on the McMahon account stuff? But we got it over a week ago”).

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