The figure moved toward Jardel in a sultry, easy waltz. A sheet of ncells five units high. Jardel couldn’t remember how many ncells made up the suit, but it was a lot. Trillions if she wasn’t mistaken. Each little nanomachine a scientific wonder unto itself, able to transform into an almost limitless set of configurations. Individually they could change temperature, filter or create smell, light, sound, taste, and touch. Collectively they were something akin to magic. The SI that had created the first sheet had called it fluid computing, but the human scientists working on the project preferred liquid computing. In the end, neither name stuck because the masses simply called it a funsuit.
If Jardel were more observant and not so self-conscious, she would have realized the suit walked just like she herself walked, which was only natural. The suit had been conforming to Jardel’s body for years. Steadman had once remarked that Jardel’s funsuit had the sexiest walk of any he had ever seen, and he had seen many. The implied compliment was lost on Jardel, as she found Steadman to be an incompetent man if there ever was one, and his insight on the titillating stride of a funsuit was not important enough to pay any heed. Even if Steadman had complimented her directly on her own walk or looks, as he often tried to do, she would bat the compliment away like an irritating gnat. What did any man know about sexy?
Jardel had been a heavy-set girl growing up, before the New Beginning, and even though now, with all the self-healing nanocells coursing through her body, and the automatic sleepercize making her a fit and attractive woman, you could never change her mindset that she was anything but an ugly, plump girl that men would only call on as a last resort. It was a deep-seated conviction that she would probably carry to the grave, never grasping her own beauty, both inner and outer. As her estranged father had often said, “Once a fat girl, always a fat girl.”
The suit sat down on the edge of her cot. Many people named their suits, but Jardel had always thought that silly.
“You’re anthropomorphizing the damn thing,” she would say.
Her best friend Tilly would look at her as if she were making the word up.
“Goddamn it, Tilly,” Jardel said. “Look it up in your built in dictionary.”
“I don’t need to,” Tilly would reply. “I like my suit and I’ll call him whatever I want.”
“It’s not a he.,” Jardel said. “It’s a thing.”
“Well, my thing’s a he,” Tilly said.
As stupid as Tilly was, Jardel missed her more than anyone except her grandfather. And maybe Rowland. But she would never admit that she missed Rowland.
“Shall we begin?” the suit asked.
“Yes,” Jardel replied.
Jardel’s stomach flittered a little. She always got the feeling, no matter how many times she used the suit. It was similar to when her grandfather would take her to the movies when she was a little kid. They didn’t get to go that much and it was always a special feeling. They usually went on a weekday morning, when there was barely a crowd and he always bought her popcorn and a grape slushy and she would wait with wild anticipation for the light to dim and the movie to begin. Of course as she got older, the special feeling was replaced by disgust and anger at the way people began behaving in movie theaters, as if the theater was their own living room and they could talk and act like obnoxious slobs.
The suit lifted itself onto Jardel and lay back, covering her as if another human being were laid out on top of her. Although there was some weight to the suit, it was so evenly distributed, she barely felt it. The trillions of ncells began to seep down through the wool blanket and through her clothes until it made contact with her bare skin. It covered her face and body completely, getting down into every nook and cranny. It slid beneath her, providing support beneath the small of her back, her neck, and the back of her knees. It put just enough pressure on each part of her body so that she felt weightless. It knew she had an itch on her left knee and scratched it. It filled the canals of her ear and nose, it trickled into her mouth and lightly covered her tongue and moved down her throat, entangling her vocal cords. It flowed gently under her eyelids.
The first few times she had tried the suit, all this oozing and trickling freaked her out. She gagged when it pushed itself into her mouth and her eyes itched. But gradually she got used to it and even began to like the feeling.
When she was completely covered and feeling like a candied apple, the suit began booting up. A faint light appeared far away, slowly and comfortably getting closer. It formed a menu of sorts, pictures and text and things from her past. She moved her eyes to the word “HOME” and said, “Begin.” But it wasn’t Jardel’s voice that came out of the suit. It was the voice of a goddess, loud and authoritative and Jardel felt strong, powerful, and happy.
The words and pictures began slowly breaking apart, into thousands of tiny points. These points became the star system she was currently in and she began moving past them. Her speed picked up and she flew past all of them, warping back to the last star system and the one after that, still picking up speed until it was just a blur of lights flashing past her, too fast to see.
Then she began slowing down and a familiar solar system came into view, with the planets she knew so well from school. She focused in on one beautiful green and blue planet and she dove down through the atmosphere and all the way down to a continent on the night side, hundreds of cities all around, spreading out in bright and dim orange dots. She focused on a northern mountain range with few lights and she kept going until she passed through the clouds of a snowstorm and she could make out a river and a small cabin. The full moon shone through a gap in the clouds and illuminated the snow-covered landscape. She kept going on down until she passed through the snow-covered roof and was inside the cabin and lying on her old bed.
She looked around the room and almost laughed. The immersion was perfect. There was a small wood stove in the middle of the room and a fire burned warmly. On the hearth were pictures of her grandparents and some of her participation trophies from school. She felt comfortable and snug and she looked at the heavy quilt on her that her grandmother had made and even now, knowing it was a simulation, she was amazed at the small details in the quilt. Some of the threads were frayed and some, if she pulled the edging back, looked brand new, just like a real quilt.
She sighed sleepily and pulled the quilt up to her chin. She was getting sleepy and felt warm and safe.
She must have dozed for a couple of hours because she awoke cold and shivering. The fire in the stove had almost gone out and she cursed herself for not putting more wood on before falling asleep. Her bunny slippers were beside the bed and she got up quickly and put them on and went to the door where her robe was hanging. She peered through the window and saw the pile of wood on the porch, covered with a smattering of snow. She put her robe on and stepped outside.
The cold and the view took her breath. The snow, lit by the strange silver light of the full moon, fell with soft thumps. She stepped off the porch and looked up. The clouds were breaking up and she saw bright clear stars through the falling snow. Her breath made clouds and she marveled at them for a few moments. It had been a long time since she was really cold. She blew a few more breaths just to see them. An owl hooted in the distance and for some reason it made her feel cold again so she moved to the woodpile quickly, pulling out several pieces from the middle. She scurried back into the cabin and knelt before the stove. She took the poker and stirred the coals and then carefully placed the wood onto the grate like her grandfather had taught her. She took the bellows and gave it a few puffs until the fire awoke and began licking at the dry logs. She sat there for a few minutes until her face felt warm.
She hung her robe up and kicked off her slippers and as she was doing that her dog Monty came through the doggy door and shook the snow off his back. He jumped up on her and licked her and she petted and hugged him. The warmth of her hand melting some of the snow on his back. A second later her cat Mindy also appeared through the doggy door. She flicked her tail a few times, showing neither happiness nor disdain that Jardel was back.
The cold wood floor prompted Jardel to jump back into her bed and get under the quilt. Monty followed her onto the bed and moved down behind her bent legs, circling just once like a proper dog ought to do and settled down. The weight of Monty on the back of her legs felt comforting and she watched Mindy walk over to the rug in front of the stove. Mindy stretched and then laid down, adjusting herself into a cozy little circle.
The fire was going good and Jardel could feel the heat on her face all the way across the room. It was so quiet she could hear Monty breathing, Mindy purring, and the snow falling lightly upon the cabin roof. She could feel a deep sleep coming on and as she stared into the fire, one of the logs shifted, falling slightly down upon the other logs. A small spark popped out of the stove and landed on the cat and the cat exploded.
Jardel instinctively jumped out of bed and when she did the funsuit crashed. She was no longer back home in her grandparent’s cabin, she was now surrounded by a bright blue background with bright white letters that spelled out some arcane and unintelligible error code.
“Goddammit!” Jardel thought. The suit always crashed if she didn’t walk around the room three times before putting wood on the fire. With all the worry she had been through lately, she had completely forgotten. Of course, there was a patch that fixed the issue but she was so far behind on installing patches to the suit she never took the time to do them.
The vexing thing about this particular error was that the suit kept doing the last thing Jardel did over and over in an endless loop, which meant Jardel was jumping out of bed over and over again. Jardel tried to position her fingers into the exit command but she wasn’t having much success. She was at the mercy of the suit and she was getting tired, even though the suit was doing much of the work. She didn’t know how much battery was left in the suit, but she feared it was full which meant she would be stuck until Dad noticed and helped her out. She tried again but couldn’t get her fingers in the right position before being thrown out of bed again.
As she was about to resign herself to a few hours of unintentional aerobics, she felt a small paw press down on her foot and heard Opal’s voice say, “Control-Exit.”
The suit stopped midway between lying in bed and a full stand, leaving Jardel in an awkward semi-crouch that was very uncomfortable. An exit slit opened down the right side of the suit and Jardel was able to fall out. She hit the stone floor with an ungracious thud and stood up quickly.
“You stupid suit!” she said and kicked it. Unfortunately, the funsuit just absorbed her foot as if she had kicked a big pile of molasses. It wrapped itself around her foot and she fell, off balance.
She lay upon the floor, her foot stuck in the suit, helpless as a grasshopper stuck in a spider’s web. She wouldn’t be able to free herself until the suit had finished rebooting.
Opal waddled over and nuzzled her face. Jardel was about to thank the dog when it climbed up on her and used her as a step to hop up on the cot. Once on the cot, Opal scratched and scratched at the cot in another futile attempt to make it soft.
“Opal!” Jardel yelled.
The dog looked at her, snorted, and began scratching the cot again.