The Boost

“Eventually you’ll have the implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer.”  Larry Page, co-founder of Google, 2004


Sunday, March 6, 2072: Ten days before the national cognitive update

9:02 a.m. Central Standard Time

“The way you talk, I can tell you’re wild,” she says.

He has just awoken. He slept like a corpse from the DC suburbs to the Mississippi, stirred  briefly to glimpse down at the mighty river, and then fell into another long nap. He pauses, trying to collect his thoughts. Their burnt-orange Sheng-li is driving itself west along a lonely stretch of 1-40. Oklahoma scenery flies past their windows at a constant 97 miles per hour.

“How far to El Paso?” he asks.

“You see?”

“See what?”

“Only a wild person would need to ask.”

He shakes his head slightly, and tugs at the rim of his red baseball cap, a relic with a stretched-out P on the front. “How far is it?”

“830 miles.”

“When do we get there?”

“3:31, if we’re going downtown, 3:33 to the Stanton Street Bridge, 3:33 to Cielo Vista Mall, 3:54 to…”

“All right, I get the picture.”

With a blink of her green eyes, she snaps back from her processor, or “boost.”

“I know you’ve gone wild, Ralf, because I’m not getting anything from you at all.”

He shrugs.

“Is it gone, or did you somehow turn it off?”

He looks away from her, out the window to the south, at the rusted remains of oil derricks, and the gray hills stretching to the horizon. They’ll head west to the Rio Grande, then turn left, following the river to the border, which divides El Paso from Ciudad Juarez, the notorious outpost of the wild in North America. He knows these facts and doesn’t have to look them up, even if he could.

He listens to the wind whistling past the car, the hum of the hydrogen engine. That’s all he hears. No videos, no soundtrack, no info blasts. He hears himself breathing, as if for the first time. He knows they’ll get to El Paso sometime after 3. Ellen said so. But he has no idea what time it is and has nothing to tell him. People used to wear wrist watches or look at the screens of their cell phones. But once the processors moved into the heads, clocks slowly disappeared, along with computers and televisions and telephones, and all the other machinery that he remembers piling up in his grandparents’ basement. That’s all in the head now, he thinks. But not in mine.

He looks at Ellen. With a couple of wardrobe commands, she has turned her pullover to gold and her skin-tight leggings to black, with deep blue highlights. They shine like the feathers of a raven. She’s staring straight ahead, living in her boost. He knows she’s been spending hours on end in virtual Rome, with a college friend of hers, checking out Etruscan art. But by the way she’s shifting her weight in the seat and moving her lips, he wonders if she’s having sex. If so, is it with him? Ellen has the face of Greek goddess. It’s the Artemis line: a perfect oval surrounded by wavy golden hair, the nose slightly turned up at the end. Her lips move slightly, as if trying out sentences. They look like parentheses drawn by a sharp red pencil. Ellen is his processor now.

“What time is it?” he asks.