“If you want to have a conversation, we’ll do it properly.” The tenant said, “Not through an intercom.”
“Mrs. Marabel, it’s hardly necessary to-”
The door buzzed and the latch clanked open. The Weaver synched the straps on his mask, and snapped a fresh pair of gloves over his hands.
When he stepped off the elevator he identified her apartment immediately, the Loom was still outside her door, upright and strapped to the dolly like a forgotten refrigerator. The words, “Weave with Convivia” stamped across the side. He hesitated for a moment outside her door. He checked his mask again, and tugged on the gloves once more to make sure they were on tight, then knocked.
The woman who answered the door was…imperfect. Mrs. Marabel was not ugly. Not dirty. But also, not perfect. It was an unusual thing for him to see.
She stuck out her hand. He hesitated, but took it cautiously. “Everly Marabel.” She said.
He nodded, then stepped through the door. “Mrs. Marabel, I’m here because a Loom was delivered to you but you’ve requested we take it back.”
“Well, Yes.” She said walking past him to open a cupboard, She pulled out a stocky glass pitcher with black handle and lid. “It’s been outside my door for more than a month.”
“You don’t want it?” He said. He dragged a chair out from under the kitchen table and sat.
“No.” She said, “I told them that the day they delivered it.”
“You don’t want to be woven?”
“No.” She said. Then she held up a stiff rectangular bag. “Coffee?” She asked.
The Weaver noted its pleasant aroma. “Uh, sure.”
“No,” She continued, “I have no interest in being woven, or linked, or integrated, or whatever else you are calling it these days.”
He set a document on the table. “Mrs. Marabel, If you truly want to sign this Declination to Accept letter, I’ll add it to your file and be on my merry way, but my duty mandates that I encourage you otherwise before I accept your signature. Think about it. There is no other way to connect.”
“I don’t think that’s true. What are we doing right now?”
He didn’t answer.
“Connecting.” She said, as she handed him a mug.
He reached out and took it. “The Loom is the only way to stay connected and be protected.” Even as he said it he realized he was unintentionally quoting the Convivia commercials.
“So I’ve heard.”
“Are you aware that it is being provided to you free of charge?” He removed a rubber straw from his pocket and attached one end to a small depression in his mask and plopped the other end in the mug. “It’s backed by government subsidies. It’ll be of no cost to you.”
“I don’t care.” She said, “It’s not real life. Life doesn’t go in a box, unless it’s cereal. I’m not cereal. So I will not get inside the box.”
He could tell it was a joke by the smirk on her face, but he didn’t get it— no clue what she meant. “Ma’am, it’s hardly just a box. It’s a luxury-grade neural link to the rest of the world. With the lockdowns, it’s not only a means to connect, but to be free, to escape. In a moment, you could be in Barcelona, or better yet, Dubai.” He smiled. It was genuine. But she couldn’t see it behind his mask. “It’s lovely, truly lovely there.”
“Really, “ She said. “Have you been?”
“I have,” he said.”I just left there this morning.”
“Intriguing. What did you do while you were there?”
“I visited The World Archipelago.” He said. Then he took a sip of his coffee. “It’s lovely.”
“The coffee, or the islands?”
“The islands.” He said. “They have a cluster of islands patterned after the continents of the Earth. It’s breathtaking.
Mrs. Marabel took a slow controlled sip of her coffee. “Go on.”
“You can’t tell when you’re on the island, or one of the beaches, but as you ascend above it, boy it’s a wonder. I took a perspective-shot last night. Of the view. It was stunning.”
Weaver tapped the computer mounted to his forearm, and the screen woke up. “See, look at this.” With a gesture the dark image dripped from his forearm like an oil spill, and covered her entire table.
“Those are The World Archipelago Islands.” He said, his face beaming with recollection. “See them? Dazzling city lights speckle the continents like stars. It’s extraordinary. You see?”
“Yes, I see, quite dazzling.”
“Despite the virus, despite the lockdown, you can see the world. Connect.” He took another sip of the coffee, then set it down on the table. “I take pride in my job, Mrs. Marabel. We are reuniting humanity. Yangtze has taken its toll on us, unstitched the bond we once had with each other. Human society was unraveled by the virus, but Convivia has a solution.
“You’re talking about that AI program? We’re getting our solution from a computer program?”
“Yes, Convivia. He designed the Looms, He knows how to use them to knit us back together again. Don’t you want that? Human connection? He is weaving us anew.”
“Oh, give me a break!” Mrs. Marabel said. “The Yangtze virus isn’t the problem. The technology is. The virus isn’t unraveling us. Our willingness to exchange real human interaction with a digital shadow of it, that’s unraveling us.”
“Ah, there you go.” The Weaver said, looking a little deflated by her unimpressed expression. “The stereotypical D.T.A.’s response. Somehow human interaction for the woven is inferior because it is digitized or remote.”
“It’s inferior because humans aren’t digital.” Mrs. Marabel said. “It was bad enough when we all carried around computers in our hands, but now that we have to undergo such invasive procedures just to connect…I see the end coming.”
She looked at the Weaver, straight into his eyes. Her imperfections, subtle as they were, unsettled him. Not because they were offensive, but because they were endearing. It occurred to him that it was the first real face he’d seen with his own eyes in ages.
She continued. “We’ve been sitting here, in the flesh, in front of each other for several minutes now, and you’ve yet to introduce yourself. This was once a standard social norm, lost by avatars, labels, and profile links that rendered human greetings obsolete.”
She stood up. “But this isn’t obsolete!” She gestured to the situation, the table, the coffee, their physical presence. “But given enough time in that thing,” She regarded the box on her doorstep with disgust, an upright coffin, “all of this, will be made obsolete.” She turned and dumped her coffee down the sink. “No, Mr. Who-ever-you-are, Mr. Weaver, I will not be woven. I decline to accept.” She marched over to the table and scribbled her signature on the page.
The Weaver stood up. Flustered. Embarrassed, perhaps because he failed to persuade her, or perhaps because he had indeed failed to introduce himself. He turned towards the door, fastened the straps on his mask even tighter, then spoke.
“If you change your mind, and would like to see The World Islands lit up at night, just let me know and I’ll be happy to perform the initial weaving procedures myself.”
She marched past him and opened the door. “And if you ever want to come back and have a real conversation, over real coffee again, you know where to find me.”
He said nothing, he tugged on his gloves until he was satisfied they were on tight, and walked right past her.
“Oh,” She added, “Just so you know, I’ve been to The World Islands before…and to the Galapagos, and the Spice Islands, and Hawaii. And I’ve seen the archipelago at night from the window seat of an Emirates flight, twice. But the Islands in Dubai were always my least favorite. You know why?”
He stopped, but he didn’t turn back or speak.
“Because they’re manufactured, Mr. Weaver, just like the experiences in your precious Loom. The real World Archipelago was never populated, and has no lights. They spent 10 Billion dollars, and 23 years, but all the islands will ever be, is a shadow. Yes, Mr. Weaver, even dazzling lights can be shadows.”