Honestly, how did anyone ever fall in love back when it was optional? I say this with awe, not judgment. I mean, I admire those people that survived before antibiotics, indoor plumbing, and free unlimited bandwidth but I sure as hell wouldn’t trade places with them.
Take this mark I’m working tonight. I’m always trying to up my Perfection, so for reference I idle my overlays and get a first look at her as Darwin made her. Unenhanced, no Glam-AR, no incoming subs or superliminals. She’s cute enough, I suppose. Short, which has both coital and cosplay implications. Hips slighty wider than the bust, which is merely a 36-B from what I can eyeball. Crooked smile. Her Spectacles are 4th-gen, so the outward glare isn’t suppressed. No idea what color her eyes are, but I’m guessing the same boring brown as her straight brunette hair. Plain black turtleneck and leggings, fairly skintight, with the renderpoints glinting every couple of centimeters in a hex pattern. The visible reference means she wants her overlays to work even with the older gear, like as much as 18 months past release. She’s either cheap or mildly desperate, maybe both. A perfect test case.
I reengage my Spectacles and accept the handshake from her professed Aura. Now I see her as she wants to be seen. Her Spectacles are rendered out, which is to be expected given how embarrassingly old they are, and her invisible eyes are visible, smoldering and catlike. The effect is solid and matches up with the lines of her brow and jaw. These are probably based on her actual eyes, which is a smart play. Despite our reputations, guys will actually look you in the eye, if only to innately gauge pupil dilation and microexpression. Going cheap on the eye imagery is the easiest way to go home alone. That said, given how many salesbot programs are in the wild these days, almost every Spectacle rig comes with decent eye-rendering out of the box. That she customized the look to match her own eyes is nice but that merely tells me she’s read a basic “How to Get Noticed” piece from Cosmo, not that she has any serious game. A few inches above her eyes, it’s a different story.
The dull brunette hair is now a shimmering black, lustrous and thick. She spent some money on that image and it was a wise investment given how many secondary sexual cues are tied up in hair. In almost any culture, a woman’s hair is expected to be longer than a man’s because of how much nutritional and hygenic history is given away by your lovely locks. Been malnourished? The hair will show it. Been sick? The hair will show it. Don’t wash? The hair will show it. That’s also why gentlemen prefer blondes; it’s easier to read the cues in light-colored hair. This mark stayed in the brunette range but she hasn’t skimped on her augmented-reality highlights.
The smile, on the other hand, looks pretty baseline. She kept the crooked grin but smoothed out the mild dimples and added the obligatory red gloss. Dark lips convey increased blood flow and thus heightened arousal, so she’s hitting her checkmarks there.
Below the neck she’s a mixed bag. The leggings are gone, replaced by a black pencil skirt, demure hosiery, and classic black flats. She’s slimmed the hips with this illusion but didn’t try to play up her height. No sideline optical effects like false backlighting or uplighting that create a sense of verticality. She’s not sensitive about being petite. There’s some confidence in that, or at least obliviousness. The black turtleneck is still there but — of course — she couldn’t resist upgrading the bust. She’s got false shadow lines playing her to be a C-cup, and a perky one at that. Rookie mistake. A nice pair will draw the guys from across the room but, assuming you close the deal, the false advertisement will get revealed as soon as your encounter achieves tactile fruition. Once you pull a guy out of the illusion with sensory disappointment, good luck getting him back. You can pretty up your boobs any way you wish but inflating them only ensures your date forfeits after reaching second base.
All in all, she’s pretty standard, a five trying to be a seven. She wants to be a little thinner, a little bustier, a little more sophisticated, but basically herself. No daring body modifications, outlandish outfits, or anything approaching nontraditional personae. Vanilla as can be.
I throw my latest version of Perfection at her.
I’ve got root privileges on her Spectacles in less than a full second. She has top-line aftermarket security software, and it’s installed well, but no AR rig that old can handle what I’m broadcasting. Hell, I may have to lend her Spectacles some processing bandwidth just so they can render my Aura without a noticeable lag.
My Perfection starts with a fairly baseline image. Even mundane, I’m pretty tall, but the initial retouch takes me from lanky to trim. The outfit is nondescript, greyish trousers and white longsleeve shirt, with a flashy wristwatch designed to draw the eye. Security breaches aside, the watch is my Trojan horse. It’s an accepted symbol of fiscal status and there isn’t a man or woman alive who won’t take a gander at it to determine what sort of conspicuous consumption I’m trying to project. It’s a great big bullseye for the mark to focus her conscious attention on while my Perfection goes to work.
“Carla?” I say, placing my hand lightly on her shoulder as I approach her spot at the bar. As I expected, there’s a mild feedback from the turtleneck. She’s monitoring and adjusting her galvanic skin response. Wonder what habit she’s trying to biofeedback her way out of? Teeth are too white for a smoker and the skin pallor doesn’t suggest drinker. Pills, chocolate or one night stands? Hopefully it’s door number three. I like a challenge.
“I’m sorry?” she says, turning to face me. My Spectacles record her collective physical repsonses to my clothes, my face, my build and — yes — my watch. The face she likes. The clothes, less so. The watch is an obvious hit.
“Pardon me,” I say, “thought you were someone else.” Her eyes are focused back on my face, and the pupil response — which, without my software takeover, could not be believed — is positive. My Perfection is subtly adjusting my features with a refinement algorithm based on her own unconscious cues. A bit brighter eyes? She likes that. Stronger chin? Too much, reverse course.
“So you decided to walk on over, instead of just ping my Aura?” She’s pushing back, but her voice stress is declining and her skin response is elevating. Progress.
On cue, I blush. And it’s an authentic blush, too, modeled after real recordings of my actual embarrassments. Shows I haven’t set my Aura to constantly project unassailed confidence. I’m a real guy.
“Carla is my best friend’s ex,” I say. “When they broke up, I went on her permanent block list. No Aura pinging for me. We always got on but I guess Steve got me in the divorce, as they say. I was hoping we could patch things up with actual words but, ah, you’re not Carla.”
“No,” she smiles, “I’m Denise.” The smile is legit, not reflexively polite, based on the skin response. My Perfection uses the minute uptick in sweat and stress as an opening and starts hacking the biofeedback goads to agitate her slightly, keeping her perceptions off balance.
“Roger,” I reply and glance down at watch, drawing her attention back to it. My outfit shifts slightly during the motion. My Oxford collar becomes a unbuttoned Nehru, the sleeve buttons give way to platinum cufflinks. I now have a belt, and laced wingtips. Sleek professional, just the way she likes it.
“Sorry to bother you, Denise,” I say, and turn to walk away. The cut of my shirt flares down, making my shoulders appear wider. Her heartrate is faster now, jumping a full ten beats per minute as she thinks I might leave.
“Wait,” she says, her hand on my shoulder now. The physical contact draws me away from my feedback monitors and I look past my Spectacles at her for a moment. She’s loaded a new flare routine into her eye rendering. They have a green tint that wasn’t there before, nor was the coy glimmer. Bringing her fastball, as it were.
“This Carla must be quite pretty if you’re willing to go round your best friend to chat her up.” She bats the green, playful eyes at me. My Perfection is on the right track.
“What’s the appropriate response here? ” I stammer. And it’s a real stammer. “I mean, I just told you that you look like her, so if I say she’s not pretty, I’m insulting you. But if I insist that Carla was a stone fox, you’ll assume I’d sell out my best friend for pretty face.” I smile, and feel a bit flush at how quickly she cornered me. I cue my Perfection to start in on the infrasonics, using her Spectacles’ audio output to silently play a bassline that will up her heartrate a little further. “Quite the rhetorical trap you sprung on me, miss Denise.”
“Sorry,” she blushes again, though I’m a bit too flustered to doublecheck its authenticity rating. My Perfection is throwing too many datapoints at me right now. I need to work on the interface, clean it up and filter down the noise. Anyway, back to trimming the mark.
“It’s a side effect of my job,” Denise tells me. I stay focused on her eyes simply to keep my Perfection from overwhelming me. “I work for an IP enforcement firm. Everyone has a sob story about why they couldn’t pay their license fees. I’m the lucky girl that gets to play hard-heart and force them to pony up.”
“Well then, we shall be mortal enemies,” I grin, regaining some composure. “I’m an opensource developer, dyed-in-the-wool copyleftist. My code is shackled to no man’s patent.”
“Oh my,” she grins back. “And here you looked like such a grown-up.”
I suddenly feel my own heartrate spike. Could my Perfection have been wrong? Was the clothing refinement overplayed? I start up a diagnostic on the self-correcting target-response loops, despite the fact that the extra readouts in my Spectacles throw me even further off balance. I stare past it all at Denise.
“A wolf in sheep’s clothing, I suppose.” I swallow hard, then wait for my Perfection to regain control of her.
“Let’s hope so,” she smiles, her red lips glossy and luscious. She rubs the top of her chest slowly, and unconscious sign of the physical feedback she’s after. My Perfection is working.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I say.
She bites her lips and shakes her head. “How about you call us a cab, instead?”
She takes my hand, and I follow her excitedly out the door. Her gait is deliberate and fierce as she leads me to the cab. Her skirt clings to her sensuously, her black hair refracting the surroundung light with every authoritative step. I can almost smell her.
I don’t notice the security alerts until we’re already in the cab.
My Spectacles are screaming at me, bright red antivirus popups crowding the edge of my vision. But all I can see is Denise.
“You code is really…solid,” Denise says, her hand locked around mine. I feel her trembling next to me, and want to check the biofeedback monitors from my Perfection, but I can’t take my focus off her perfect, emerald eyes.
“My…code?” I half choke out. My own heatrrate is pounding in my head, ringing in time with the intrusion alarms and countermeasure requests shrieking from my Spectacles.
“It got past my firewall, past almost all my defenses.” Denise’s hand slides up my arm, then my neck. She draws me in. “You got inside me,” she whispers heavily. “No one ever gets inside me.”
“I could say the same,” I whisper back. “What did you do to me?”
“Karma trap. Sent your own viral code back to you.” Both her arms are around me now. I feel like we’re moving at a thousand miles a second, and I’m sure it’s not the cab.
“This has never happened to me before.”
“I like it,” she smiles, those flawless red lips gleaming, and her impossible green eyes holding me helplessly, longingly in place. “What do you call it?”
Suddenly, all the alarms and the feedbacks and the readouts disappear. Even though I didn’t shut them off. I pull Denise to me, feel her real breath on my face, and her real pulse against my neck. I smile, and I answer her.
“I call it Perfection.”
Jay Garmon has been a professional writer since the late 1990s, with everything from encyclopedia entries, radio & television commercials, technical articles and (somehow) a weekly trivia column to his credit. For his efforts, he’s been cited as a source in the Wikipedia, lambasted publicly by John Scalzi and earned a regular radio gig (for more trivia questions) in Chicago, where Jay doesn’t live. Redstone is the first venue to actually pay Jay to write fiction. He hopes it’s the start of a trend. You can find out for sure at www.jaygarmon.net.