This is the second and final part of the short story A10. If you haven’t read the first bit, you can read it here.
Royce Childs was hard to track down. I’m not a detective. I believe I have the aptitude to be a detective, but as it stands, I have neither the proper training nor the certificate that would make me a detective. For this reason, finding where Royce Childs actually lived was proving to be difficult.
But I had time, since Proxii had put me on a temporary hiatus pending investigation into the whole panic attack incident. I’d filed a full report with them, countering a lot of the claims made by the Guest. To my thinking it was pretty clear that he’d just had a bad reaction to a stressful meeting and then tried to blame it on me. The fact that I hadn’t been sleeping and had experienced some difficulty breathing before the transfer was immaterial. It was immaterial to the point that I didn’t even mention it in the report. But Proxii have a process, which I obviously respect, and so while they were sorting things out, I had time to work out where exactly Royce Childs lived.
If I’m totally honest with you, I did not have a solid plan at this point, and given the way things turned out, I feel that it’s important to emphasise this. I just felt that what was required was some kind of consequence.
A lot of my current situation - the sleeplessness, the suspension from the Diamond Class Program, the general feeling of malaise and despair - a lot of that could be attributed to Royce Child, and to my thinking it was important that he face up to that.
I tried calling Proxii PR and posing as a journalist from one of the glossy magazines. They were very excited at the prospect of a Men’s Health profile on Childs, but were unable to give me his personal details. I could conduct the interview at Proxii HQ if I preferred. I hung up.
Social media wasn’t much help either. His entire instagram presence was Guests posting photos from bookings. Scrolling through images of Childs at parties and openings and weddings and family get-togethers - a different person behind his eyes in each - I wondered if he experienced a pang of envy looking at this feed. These were not his memories, and while these people drank and talked and gossiped and laughed, where was he, exactly? He was nowhere. And that was when I realised I was going about this all wrong. There was a way of getting to Childs that was so obvious, so simple, that I was furious at myself for not thinking of it sooner.
Technically, it’s impossible to hurt a Proxii during a booking. That’s what the algorithm does. Not only does it keep the Guest within the bounds of the agreed-upon permissions, but if the Host body is in any kind of danger, the Guest is evicted before the threat can come to pass. The algorithm is central to Proxii’s business model, because, obviously, no one in their right mind would agree to host if any lunatic could just walk their body into traffic. There’s no percentage in that.
You probably remember the CEO of Proxii, Nathan Miller, doing that big demonstration at E3 where he got Penn Gillette to take control of his body and try to hurt it with knives and guns et cetera. It was a stunt but it was a good demonstration of how well the algorithm can detect danger. Gillette at one point tried to suddenly throw himself off the stage, thinking that by the time the software worked out what he was doing, gravity would be doing all the work. He got ejected from Miller before he could properly get through the motion. It's smart.
Things do happen. I’ll give you one example. I know a lady who was having a lot of success in the Diamond Class program, and took a booking with Proxii Move. The short version of the long story is that a plastics tycoon from Croatia booked her to run the Boston Marathon, and essentially snapped her achilles tendon at the ten mile mark. This sort of thing shouldn’t be able to happen, even in a Move booking where the permissions tend to be slightly more lax, but when the fitness differential between the Guest and the Host is pronounced, it apparently can. She was compensated by the company, of course - Proxii is very diligent about this - but she still walks with a slight limp, making her ineligible to return to the Diamond Class program.
These things do happen.
Childs wasn’t offered on the Move program, but there would still be a way around it. You've just got to think hard and know what you want. Write a list, boiling it all down to its key points, and start problem solving. That's what I did.
Meanwhile, Childs’ profile was growing. He actually did get profiled in Men’s Health, which I guess would have been kind of funny if I wasn’t so blinded with rage about it at the time. Anna Wintour “wore” him to the Met Gala. After that, making a booking with Royce Childs became almost impossible and incredibly expensive. It could be done, though. I called my parents and asked them to wire me some money. They weren’t thrilled, but when I told them it was for a medical emergency, they relented.
I had to book a month in advance. That month was spent mainly trying to work out a few things about the algorithm, particularly how exactly it “knew” what was happening during a booking. Proxii, for obvious and completely sensible reasons, haven’t commented publicly about it works, but I was able to surmise two main things:
It was not monitored by a person.
There’s no way that it could work like this. It would be catastrophically illegal to have an actual person monitoring each and every booking, and completely impractical to boot.
It can recognise dangerous objects and situations using context as an aid.
Obviously, it knows the difference between a parked car and one travelling at great speed toward a Guest. It also can recognise that, say, a chef waving a knife in a teppanyaki restaurant is very different to a mugger waving one one in an alley off Ludlow. When looking for danger it takes into account what is around the Guest and makes a call based on that. This is what makes the algorithm practical, but it’s also what makes it vulnerable.
Things were starting to firm up.
The next thing I did was call my parents and tell them I’d be visiting them in a few weeks. I could tell that they were reluctant to see me. I had not left Dayton on good terms with them and some people in their general orbit. But given that I was recovering from my mystery illness, they acquiesced.
The morning of the booking, I got to the Wallflower early to get everything arranged. It didn’t take long, and soon I was on a plane to Ohio.
My parents met me at the airport, which was nice. I didn’t talk a lot on the drive home. Mom kept looking at me in the rearview mirror and Dad filled the silence talking about work at the plant, about what people I went to school with were doing. Apparently Lee Sadler was in the Air Force now. Good for Lee Sadler. Eventually no one spoke. When we got home, I told them I had some calls to make and would be down in an hour or so.
Mom and Dad looked like they wanted to say something to me, but neither of them did. I went up to my old bedroom, which Mom now also used for her Zumba, attached the nodes, and began the booking.
The first thing I noticed was the teeth.
Unbrushed, uneven on the bottom, some fillings at the back. I was sitting on a bench in Central Park wearing jeans, boots and a collared shirt. On my booking I'd requested "cocktail", God knows what he thought that meant. I stood up in Childs and was struck immediately by the strength of him. Not a honed, hard-won strength - nothing targeted or deliberate - a gentle, unassuming strength that I could feel to his bones. I wanted to scream.
But I didn't have time to scream, I had things to do.
I walked the four blocks to the Wallflower, and took a seat by the window. From where I was sitting, I could see the tumbler was where I'd left it that morning, on a side table behind a floral display, just out of sight enough that it wouldn't be cleared by an overzealous waiter. That was the first risk - that someone would move it before I arrived, but there it was. I ordered myself a glass of water and pretended to peruse the menu. The second risk was that someone would notice me switch the tumblers out, and so timing here was key. I waited until I had a clear view of all the staff, made sure they were otherwise occupied, strolled over to the side table and made the swap, careful to look away as I did so. This was a precaution that occurred to me on my way to the Wallflower. If I saw myself make this swap, would the algorithm register that something unusual had taken place? Better not to risk it. After I returned to my seat it took ten whole minutes before I could convince myself that no-one had seen the switch. But they hadn't, I was in the clear.
Now came the hard part. The third and by far most pronounced risk was that I was wrong about the algorithm and that I'd get ejected from Childs before I could bring the glass to my lips. The assumption that I made, which I now know to be correct, was that it can't take intent into account, only contextual data from the Guest’s field of vision. It can identify risk when it looks like risk - a fire, a ledge, a busy street, but - and here's what the whole thing hung on - not when it looked like a glass of water. I picked up the glass. If the system was going to prevent me from drinking it, now would be the time. Nothing. I lifted it closer to my mouth. Still nothing.
Satisfied, I took a deep breath, counted to five and drank the contents of the tumbler in two huge belts.
If I'm honest, I thought I'd be evicted from Childs a lot faster than I was, but it took the algorithm at least a minute to work out what was happening, during which time I experienced, I don't mind telling you, the worst pain of my entire life. I'd given a lot of thought to what drinking bleach would feel like in the hours beforehand, trying, I suppose, to mentally prepare myself for what was about to happen. But as it turns out, there's just no frame of mind that will mitigate in any significant way the feeling of hydrogen peroxide interacting with the human digestive system. The only thing that eased the pain just slightly as I writhed on the floor of the Wallflower was knowing that very shortly this pain would be Childs’.
When the counter-transfer finally took hold, I found myself back in Ohio, screaming and covered in sweat, with my mother and father bolting up the stairs to my side.
I had decided it would be prudent to stay at my parents’ house until it all blew over. I spent a lot of time walking around my old neighbourhood, reading for any news coverage about Childs on my phone. There was a lot. I was interviewed by a few outlets for a quote. While I explained what a traumatic experience it was, I made sure my comments didn’t reflect poorly on Proxii, and made sure to point out that the lion’s share of the sympathy should be going to Childs.
He had survived, but not without serious damage to his throat and gastrointestinal tract. He sued Proxii for an undisclosed sum and is no longer part of the Diamond Class program. Not that he could be if he wanted to. He now goes to the toilet in a bag, which just isn't in keeping with the Diamond Class experience.
It wasn’t until the third day that I got a call from the police. I still maintain that if I hadn’t gone out of my way to be cordial to the service staff at the Wallflower during my time as a Diamond Class Proxii, then this particular waiter wouldn’t have recognised me when I slipped in on the morning of the incident. There is possibly a lesson there. As it stands, she did and she contacted the police, who in turn contacted me for questioning. This, combined with my correspondence with Proxii over the GMA snub was enough to make me a prime suspect, and after a reasonably tense conversation with a lawyer, I decided that a confession was probably the simplest way forward.
The charge is technically grievous bodily harm, but the fact that I was in the body I was grievously harming at the time apparently complicates things, from a legal perspective.
My parents visited me last week. They’re struggling financially on account of the legal fees, so they used a pair of Proxiis. I thought that was sweet, even if they didn’t do it for me. They still can’t understand why what happened happened, but I don’t expect them to. They’ve never been particularly driven people.