“Come down in nine minutes?” It was Krish. He was always precise about time. My portable hard drive sat on the desk near the door, and I slipped it into the backpack.
“I was expecting your bike,” I said when I reached him behind the steering wheel of a tinted Honda.
“Not likely. We’d be a mess by the time we got there,” he said. “Besides, it was Arjun’s idea.”
“Oh! That’s generous of him,” I said entering the car.
“Maya!” I was taken by surprise but recovered. “Now I see why Arjun was so generous.”
Krish and Maya laughed.
“No, he’s just being a good host,” Krish said. “In India it’s all about hospitality.”
“He must think you’re pretty important,” Maya said. “How have you been? You should come home sometime. Mom would be happy to see you.”
My eyes must have widened enough for her to sense my shock.
“Sorry, I’ve been a bad host,” Krish said. “You should come over.”
“I’d love to,” was all I could muster.
“So listen. I have some good and bad news,” Krish said, as we pulled out of the driveway of AYREE. The guard saluted us.
“OK, the bad news first.”
“You’re going to have to work alone on our project for the next few days.”
“Why? What happened?” My heart-rate accelerated.
“I’ve been taken off it and have to go with the prof somewhere.”
“It’s classified. They haven’t told me anything more, except it’s not far from here. That’s the first thing I made sure, because mom would be concerned.”
“And there’s good news in here somewhere?”
“Yes, the good news is I got a promotion.”
“And a raise!” Maya jumped in, excitement in her voice.
“Oh, that’s good then. Well done! For a moment I thought they were canning the entire project.”
“I know they won’t. Otherwise, we would not be going to meet Mr. Singh.”
“Yes,” he said. “He’s a busy man. If he’s invited us, I’m sure it’s not hospitality alone.”
“Well, congrats you two,” Maya said. “Dan, does this mean you’ll be staying a while?”
“I’ll have to think about it,” I said, turning back and winking at her.
The car slowed.
“Are we there?” I asked.
“No, I just need to make a short stop if it’s OK. Won’t be long.”
“Not now…” Maya started to protest.
“It’s fine. I’m OK with waiting,” I said.
She looked at me and then at him. “Oh alright, hurry.”
Krish parked the car to the side and put on the hazard lights.
“Where’s he gone?” I asked.
“It’s kind of a thing he does… something of a tradition from Dad.”
“Oh… I didn’t know.”
“No, that’s OK. Dad always believed that when good fortune came your way, you shared it with the less fortunate. Whenever Dad used to get a raise or bonus, he used to go to one of these charities to make a donation.”
“The sign says cerebral palsy and special needs institute,” I said, peering out of the window at a dilapidated building.
“Yes, Dad’s sister was born with the condition. It was a financial strain on his family taking care of her.” She took a deep breath. “During his final days, Dad told Krish that his God given gift of intelligence should also be used to help those less fortunate. He wanted him to dedicate time to research in this field.”
“God given… and what about you, Maya?” I turned to face her. “You were there, heck we both were, on that horrible day. Do you think that your Dad should have suffered the way he did?”
“Let’s not go there, Dan.”
“Why? Because it’s taboo to question?” I turned away and stared out the window. “You know, I’m not wrong on this… bad things happen to good people. I refuse to believe that there is eternal happiness someplace else.”
“Let’s forget about everything and have a nice time this evening,” she said. “You’re here; I’m here; it’s rare that we get to be together.”
I leaned in, and she met me halfway. When our lips touched, I felt something beautiful in our kiss.
“Krish is coming.” Maya gestured toward the building.
I sat back and fidgeted with my seat belt.
“Sorry ’bout that. Hope I didn’t take too long.”
“Not at all,” I said. “So let’s impress Mr. Singh tonight.”
“What do we show him? The cricket sim is not going to work out in a club,” he said.
“Well… it so happens, I have the face and friend matching module perfected, so that’s a great social module to show him in a club environment.”
“I suppose we can explain the other uses and invite him to the lab to see it in action,” Krish said.
“Oh, I forgot. I have one or two more things he might like,” I said.
“What do you mean? I hope it’s not one of your silly six-pack bare chested avatar overlays.”
“Don’t worry… trust me on this,” I said. “Here’s the deal… if he likes it, only then will I say that you were involved in those modules. I won’t embarrass you!”
We drove past Study Street. A few teenagers were lighting a campfire. “Every night, huh?” I asked, looking in their direction. Krish nodded.
“Maybe we should get AYREE to donate a few slates to them?
“A few of them have PCs at home I’m sure. At least those studying programming and IT.”
“It’s the younger kids I’m talking about,” I said, pointing to a group of about five boys who could not have been more than 12 or 13 years. He strained to look, but the car had turned the corner and Study Street was behind us.
“They are the ones we need to get the slates to,” I said.
“I agree. Let’s get our first break and then we can buy a few to give away.”
“We’re almost there,” Maya said.
Krish turned and entered a side road and then into a gated compound. There was a large open ground used as a parking lot and three buildings. The area appeared to be an abandoned industrial complex. At the entrance to what looked like a factory, a long line of people were waiting, holding on to a red rope with gold links.
As we neared the club’s entryway, I rolled down the window and heard the familiar thump of bass speakers. A guard came towards us and signaled us to halt. People in the queue turned to look at us. Krish opened his door and said something to him. The guard promptly saluted and waved to one of the valets who came running.
“V.I.P. treatment?” I looked toward Maya.
“You could get used to it, huh?” She smiled.
“I could you know!” I said, offering her my arm in exaggerated chivalry and slinging my backpack over my shoulder.
“Behave, both of you,” he said.
Maya laughed and linked her arm in mine, and we did a pretend march to the door. People in line were waiting their turn to get in, but the guard released the clasp on the velvet barricade and ushered us inside. It was a sizable club, a warehouse converted into a nightspot to be exact. The DJ cabin at the far end was at quite a height from the sunken dance floor.
A sea of heads were bobbing to the beat. House music was playing. An arm brushed against me and I turned to look.
“I’m sorry. I missed my step,” a girl said, as she walked by. “Did you see that?” I turned to Maya, smiling.
“Yeah I saw the run-dee,” she said and curled her lip, feigning disgust.
“I love when you go all native!” I grinned.
She punched me on my arm.
Krish was ahead of us looking out for Arjun. A waiter approached Krish and said something. Krish leaned in closer to hear him over the booming bass. Then he turned to us and waved us to follow. We circled the dance floor and walked up the stairs to the higher level. I could swear my neck was made of rubber. Maya punched me in the arm every time I turned to look at one of those raven haired beauties. How could there be so many single hot looking women in one place? What was it that the men in the city were doing wrong? We reached a table where it was quieter, and there sat Arjun and his father. A bigger surprise was seeing the prof with them. Mr. Singh was holding a lit cigar. A plume of smoke rose up from the tip that randomly caught a stray beam of laser light. The caramel coffee odor was not unpleasant, and I found myself taking deeper breaths to sample its fragrance. Arjun stood and came towards us. He knew how to carry off a cream colored suit as well.
“Hi, Krish, Dan. Welcome, welcome. You’re looking lovely, Maya.” He lifted and kissed the back of her hand.
“Dad, this is Krish and Dan. The lovely lady is Krish’s sister, Maya.”
“Good to meet you all,” he said. “I’m R.K. Singh.”
“Likewise, Mr. Singh,” I said. “Good evening, Professor.”
The prof acknowledged all of us with a handshake. We sat at the table. There was a chair short, and Arjun stood and pulled one from another table. He wedged it in between where Maya and I were sitting.
“Would you like anything, sir?” enquired a waiter, bowing low near Mr. Singh.
The elder Singh gestured towards us.
“I’ll have beer,” Krish said.
“Same for me, please,” I said.
“I’ll have a bottle of sparkling water, please,” said the prof.
“Get a bottle of your best white wine,” Arjun said. “Or would you prefer some champagne, Maya?”
He was making me ruin the soles of my expensive shoes with my toe nails. Why was I getting all territorial? A few minutes ago I was looking around at other women.
Maya smiled. “A glass of white wine is fine, Arjun. Thanks.”
“A refill for sir?” The waiter gestured with the open palm of his hand to Arjun’s and his father’s nearly empty glasses.
Mr. Singh nodded.
“I hope you’re being treated well, Daniel,” said Mr. Singh.
“Yes, quite well,” I said. “Thank you.”
“We always treat important guests well,” he said, then smiled and raised his glass for a last gulp. “I have a little while; then I have to go attend to business.” He pointed to a plush looking glass cabin at some distance away from us. The glass cabin looked spacious and overlooked the club’s lower level and dance floor.
“Yes, thank you for making time for us, Mr. Singh,” Krish said.
I pulled the Wizer from my backpack. Mr. Singh reached out to take it. “Fancy sunglasses,” he said. “I assume they are intelligent sunglasses? Arjun told me you two had interesting technology inside.”
“Quite intelligent tech in there,” said the prof.
“How much do you think they’d cost to make?” Mr. Singh asked.
“That depends on what you want it to do,” Krish said.
“It has uses in social environments such as this club, in sports, medicine and the military,” I said.
Mr. Singh looked up. I wondered what part of my sentence caught his attention.
“Here’s your drinks, sir.” It was probably just the waiter who had distracted him.
“That’s a wide market,” Mr. Singh said. “I’m always interested in wide markets. Can we patent any technology in there?”
Arjun began, “We can–”
“We will see if there is any IP that can be patented and discuss it with Dan,” Krish said, cutting off Arjun. “A lot of the ideas are his. We are using AYREE resources to test and implement them.”
“I see. Well I’ll be most interested in owning IP,” Mr. Singh said, turning to look at the prof. “That is what I invest in. For mere assembly we have neighboring countries.”
“I understand,” I said. “I’d like us to have a tangible product. We can work out details of IP transfer after.”
That might have been a hasty comment on my part. I noticed Mr. Singh’s lips form a smile. I was trying my best to not let him know that I was more enthusiastic about technology than I was about money.
“So show me some uses,” he said, turning the Wizer around in his hands, examining it. The battery pack dangled for a precarious moment before he caught it in the palm of his hand. He found the boot-up switch and pressed it.
“Put them on,” I said. I got up and stood behind him. “Arjun,” I said, “At what age did you start drinking?”
Arjun was taken aback with the question and looked at me with a frown.
“Do you see the lines overlaid on Arjun’s face, Mr. Singh?”
He nodded affirmative.
“The lines you see over the live image are tracking muscle groups being brought into play,” I explained. “Now once you know how to read those lines and what they mean, you can read facial language. It also tracks eye pupil movement and dilation. All this data is offered to the wearer of the Wizer, and can also be streamed to a remote observer or operator, viewable in near real-time.” I showed him my smart-phone. “The live view of what the cameras are picking up are rendered in 3D on the auto-stereoscopic display of the phone. By running different analysis apps on this controller, I can use the sensor data and the 3D video stream to generate data for different purposes.
“Interrogation, social interaction, navigation are some modules that come to mind.”
“I see,” said Mr. Singh.
“Do you know CPR, Mr. Singh?”
He looked up at me from his seat and shook his head twice. His gaze followed me as I pushed a chair to the side and lay on the floor. I ran the medical emergency app.
“Could you stand and look at me?” I asked.
He obliged and peered down. I looked at the video relay playing on my phone’s screen. In almost near real-time the Wizer’s cameras had locked onto my form and overlaid a stick skeleton on me. Even as I moved my hand, the virtual skeleton followed. I ran the C.P.R. module. He watched with interest at the overlay on how to perform CPR, the hotspots on where to push, and the angle to tilt my head were clearly marked.
He took the Wizer off. “Amazing!”
I stood smiling and went to my seat.
Krish patted my back. “I told you. Dan’s the man!”
Arjun and Maya applauded.
“We would have shown you the sports training module, but you will need to see it in the field so to speak to really appreciate it,” Krish said.
I dipped into my backpack and threw a tennis ball to Krish. He handed it to Mr. Singh.
“Hold the ball out, Mr. Singh,” Krish said.
I ran the cricket app.
“Impressive,” said Mr. Singh as the prof walked him through the motions and explained what was going on.
“We can adapt this app to do any other form of contact sport as well,” I said.
“I don’t understand,” Mr. Singh said. The prof looked up at me.
“Well you see, if this were boxing… or besides sport, say you wanted to disarm a person pointing a gun at you,” I said, “a lay person could stand a good chance of protecting herself if she knew the places to make contact on the opponent’s body.”
I had Mr. Singh’s attention.
“For instance, you could overpower a potential attacker in a few moves that would be overlaid in exact registration over the opponent: foot to the groin, palm strike to the chin etc.”
“I see,” said Mr. Singh, sitting at the edge of his seat.
He took the Wizer off his face, put it back on and stretched his hand to his front. I could see his augmented hand was rolling the ball around on my cell-phone relay, the red and green outline markers changed and followed in unison.
He looked at me. “So there could also be a supervisor… a coach, communicating with you at the same time?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “I could override a basketball court strategy, plot a new course of action and give you a real time path to follow to score.” Arjun looked at me. I groaned under my breath. He probably played basketball as well.
“The two cameras give us a depth map of everything within its field of view. We extract depth from this stereo camera to inject other info into the real world.” I paused for a sip of beer and continued.
“For added near range accuracy, we may even put in a high range infra-red emitter or laser,” Krish said.
“Laser?” Mr. Singh was leaning over the table to hear clearly.
“Well, with a low powered laser, I could walk into a room, build a complete 3D model of it, and transmit the 3D view back to an operations room,” I said. “This 3D model would be invaluable in planning rescue operations in cases of natural or manmade disasters.”
“Of course, we would have to evaluate power requirements and the like, to make such a solution portable or feasible,” said the prof.
“Portable in a Wizer that looks like sunglasses, yes,” I said. “But if we can detach and clip on extras with a wearable power source, I see no reason why we couldn’t do it.”
We sat back almost together and reached for our glasses.
“I am impressed to say the least,” Mr. Singh said, turning to the prof. “Krish is working on DRONE?”
“Yes, very much indeed,” said the prof.
“What’s drone?” I asked.
“The project I’ve been pulled for,” Krish said.
“I want Daniel on DRONE too,” said Mr. Singh.
“We can’t get clearance for him this late and besides he’s a foreigner. He would need additional background checks,” Arjun said.
“I want part of the lab at AYREE secured off and connected to DRONE,” said Mr. Singh. “We will make DRONE part of the project work that Daniel is working on and make sure he is suitably compensated. I leave those discussions between you and the professor, Daniel,” he said.
“Sounds exciting,” was all I could say.
“How do we coordinate between locations?” Arjun asked.
“Digital surrogate,” I blurted.
Krish looked at me, eyes widening and confusion showing. I glanced into by backpack. It was one of those rare lucky days. “Yes!” I said, taking out the game controller and power supply. He caught on.
“Can we use your office for a demo?” I asked.
“Please do,” said Mr. Singh
“Follow me,” I said.
We got up and walked towards the room, leaving Krish. We entered the luxurious glass cabin and sat around a conference table upholstered in leather. I removed a plaque from a shelf and placed the FishEye, aiming it at all around the table. I asked Arjun to move a chair, so that I had an empty one next to me.
“Put on the Wizer, Mr. Singh.”
He complied and looked at me. Krish waved back at him from the seat next to me.
“Unbelievable!” the senior Singh said. “And Krish can hear us?”
“That’s the easy part. It’s just an encrypted VOIP call.” I said.
Krish got up, walked and stood behind Maya’s chair. I could guess that by looking at Mr. Singh’s head move towards Maya. I looked down at my phone screen to confirm. “Krish, can you go over and sit at the far end?” I said. Digital Krish walked to the head of the conference table and sat.
“I see why you call it Digital Surrogate!” Mr. Singh said.
“The best part is he can spawn as many surrogates–or as we call them, dirrogates–as he wants. One can be here with us; the other can be at his home right now, if he has one of these FishEyes mapping his living room”
“This is all very… promising,” Mr. Singh said.
I looked at Maya. She was wearing a smile.
“Can Krish see and talk to me?” Mr. Sing asked.
“Sure he can,” I said.
I walked to him and showed him my screen.
“This is what he sees. A room with three avatars sitting at a desk. There’s five of us, but three’s the current limit we have of auto-tracking humans in a room. If we added another FishEye, we could increase tracking capability.” I switched on the camera on my phone. “Hold up this newspaper to the lens.” We heard Krish read out the headlines on the speaker.
“And this is completely patentable IP,” the prof said. He had believed in it right from the time he first saw us run the social interaction module on the AYREE Campus. Everyone in the room applauded. We saw flesh and blood Krish walk towards us. Mr. Singh pressed a buzzer on his desk. Within seconds there was a bouncer at the door.
“Send a waiter in with a bottle of champagne.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Singh,” said the bouncer.
“I hadn’t planned on staying this long,” Mr. Singh said, “but this calls for a celebration.”
Krish came and gave me a double hi-five.
The waiter brought a tray of champagne flutes.
“To us!” We clinked our glasses. Even the prof had a sip in keeping with the spirit and returned his glass to the tray.
“Why don’t you all enjoy the hospitality of the club, while I finish some discussions with Professor Kumar?” Mr. Singh said.
Arjun turned to me. “Would you like to do a guest session?”
We made our way through the mass of bodies. It was a full night with at least a thousand people, I estimated. Arjun introduced me to the DJ who let me plug in my hard drive. I decided to stand and get a feel of the vibe. It was a new audience. I looked around and spotted Krish alone at one of the reserved tables. Maya and Arjun headed to the dance floor. So that’s what the bastard had in mind!
The DJ was playing an Indian track that was popular, judging by the way the crowd moved. It had a high pitched but melodious female vocal over a steady beat. With a smile, he invited me to take over. I was entering the zone. It could have been the champagne and beer. I searched for a back beat that would fit the current song and cued it in, slowly easing up on the fader. The DJ heard it coming through and nodded to the beat. It was risky… one wrong move, and I would lose the dance floor. The club’s cabin was state of the art; each deck had its own EQ stack. He knew what I was looking for. He pointed it out above the mixer. I slowly started killing the lower frequencies on the record and ramped up the volume on my backbeat. The female singers Hindi vocals were riding smoothly atop the hip hop bass line and drums. The crowd noticed. The DJ noticed. He gave me a thumbs-up.
I was well into the zone… cuing back her vocals and plugging them into the mix. The crowd went wild when they heard what appeared to a popular phrase in the song coming in over a heavy kick drum and fretless bass slide. I looked again at the dance floor. The mix was going down well with the crowd. I looked around for Maya. She was… or was it Arjun? I couldn’t say, but one of them was too close to the other, and they were both moving in sync.
Then it happened as it so often did. Every time the crowd was under the DJ’s spell, there would always be the attention seeking and usually tipsy bimbette who wanted to get in on the action. It was the same in every cabin in every club in every city. Only at Mr. Singh’s club, they were twin raven haired bimbettes. At least they looked like twins to me. They must have known their way around, because they got past the heavily muscled gatekeeper. One blew a kiss to the DJ, and the other was already gyrating besides me. She was smokin’! The other joined her. Their hair with it’s black patent leather sheen was cut jagged and plastered to the sides of their faces. Dark eyeliner and red lipstick went well. I was flanked by two of the hottest “emothic” women I’d seen in a DJ cabin. The DJ clicked a photo of us. It would make a great featured image on my social profile page. I needed a followup song. One of the twins offered me her cigarette with blood red lipstick on it. I didn’t smoke I told her, so she took the glass from the other twin and held it for me to drink. After a quick sip I asked the DJ for any other popular track and was handed another Indian single.
I put the record on the platter and wore the headset. The label read: “Chura Liya.” It had a good backbeat. A little tweak of pitch, and it glided into the mix. The crowd went berserk when they identified the tune. I hadn’t heard that track before, but it grew on me right from the first few bars. Krish was talking to someone at his table. I looked at the floor again. Maya was sipping another glass of champagne on the floor and was really moving with Arjun. If she was getting drunk, she needed to stop. If she was trying to tell me something, I was hearing her loud and clear.
One of the twins turned my face towards her and drained the rest of her glass down my mouth. I couldn’t tell if it was white wine, but I didn’t care. The other twin had a slow rhythm going, and she was almost dry humping my leg. I could play Maya’s game. I took Morticia, walked toward the door and smiled at the DJ to take over. The other twin stayed, happy to get all the attention in the cabin. We went down to the dance floor, she was still gyrating, my leg between hers. I held her around the waist while she did her thing. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Maya looking, while still swaying to the music. I don’t remember who initiated it, or the paths we took, but both couples were dancing next to each other. Something was going to give sooner or later. I steered my bimbette towards Arjun, and Maya understood and moved toward me. Arjun and the other girl did not complain. Everyone was one too many drinks down by then. Maya had her arms around my neck but stayed at arm’s length. I had my hand around her waist.
“Hey, guys, let’s call it an evening. Project DRONE starts tomorrow.” We’d forgotten about Krish. Both Maya and I snapped back to our senses and turned around. He was standing behind us.
“Yeah, let’s go,” I said. We bid Arjun bye; he only waved and smiled while trying to manage a visibly drunk Morticia look-alike with red lipstick smudged on her cheek and his cream suit. I made my way toward the cabin, and the DJ’s assistant helped me unplug the hard drive and handed me my backpack. Krish had his arm around Maya’s shoulder helping her along.
“Nice place,” I said.
“Yeah, had a great time. Didn’t you?” Maya quipped.
He was silent. Maybe he was tired.
“What time you leaving tomorrow?” I asked.
We waited outside for the valet to bring the car.
“I should take a taxi,” I said.
“No, don’t be silly. It’s on our way,” Maya said.
The alcohol level in us was subsiding.
“We’ll drop you off,” he said and walked away to tip the valet.
“I wish you could come home with me,” I whispered in her ear. I threw my backpack in the seat next to her as Krish entered. While he drove, I pretended to check email but sent her a text message: “Get Wizer frm my bag. V use it 2nite.” When we reached the campus, Maya handed me the backpack. I noticed the zipper was open.
“Thanks, guys. Drive safe,” I said.
“Sweet dreams,” Maya called out.
“You meant wet dreams didn’t you?” I said after answering her call about an hour later.
“How do I use this new thing?” she asked.
“I’ve sent you the master app. Download it to your phone and start it. Then go to the avatar green room.”
The FishEye perched above my bedroom door recreated my room, a live 3D model.
“Kinky,” she said. “So what should I get from the avatar shop? A whip?
“How about a black wig and red fuck-me lipstick?” I snickered.
“Bastard! I knew you were hot for that two-bit whore at the club,” she said.
“Hey! I was going to dress up in a nice cream suit for you,” I said.
“What now?” she said.
“Face your mirror and hit the zero origin button.”
The wall length mirror in her room was going to be used in a way she never imagined when she had first installed it to practice her dance routines. Within seconds her Dirrogate materialized a few feet in front of my bed. She looked like a high-tech dominatrix.
“I was joking!” I said, when I saw her with a black, blunt cut wig and red pouting lips.
“Let’s play out your fantasy,” she said.
Wearing my Wizer, I could see her in front of me. “Move closer,” I said, spreading my legs. She took two steps forward, smiled and tilted her head down. The mirror in her room allowed the cameras on her Wizer to map her face to her Dirrogate. The mischievous sparkle in her eyes were clear, even through the tint of the Wizer. It was weird, erotic and sensuous at the same time. I “felt” her start her glove. It came on with a low vibrating hum.
“I’m feeling a bit disoriented,” she said. “It’s like your bed is right here in front of me but my room is reflected all over it.”
“Move the tint slider all the way,” I said, a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to look at her eyes anymore. Maya was good at using the glove. Sometimes I wondered if she was a beta tester for the Korean company that created it. She knew how to activate every one of those silicon bumps in the right combination.
“Mmm… I should record the glove data,” I said.
“For an action replay later?”
“Yeah, seeing how we don’t meet anymore.” I pushed down with my index finger.
“Gentle,” she said. “Make it last.”
There was a reason champagne was expensive: The head trip lasted longer. Both of us moaned in pleasure, then the room went quiet. I heard her breathing in my ear.