4. Integration

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Christmas came, and with it, a new era of SIA adoption. It was no longer just a handful of transhumanist bodymod freaks but a mainstream cultural shift. Lily made use of Second Sight just like everybody else, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she was being watched. And not just in the sense that she was monitored and cataloged like everybody else—no, she felt scrutinized and manipulated beyond any reasonable expectation. She often found herself closing her eyes for extended stretches of time, especially in the bathroom.

The company therapist told Lily that this was all normal, an expected aftereffect of her mugging and the loss of her personal property. It was very common to feel violated, dehumanized, exposed. Still, it felt bigger than that to Lily. But as Dr. Valerie pointed out, "We can hardly be expected to see ourselves objectively, especially in matters of the mind."

It was on Dr. Valerie's advice that Lily decided to take the loss of her engagement ring as a sign and finally ease back into the dating world. It had been nearly two years since the crash. Twenty-two months of solitary mourning. That would have to be enough. Lily knew she'd never love anyone else the way she loved Ted, but that was okay. She would find someone who understood that, someone who wouldn't be jealous of a ghost. Every night in her dreams, she was back with Ted, and she didn't intend to give that up. But in the morning, he always slipped away again, leaving her waking life that much lonelier.

This was where Rick came in. There really wasn't anything about him that stood out to Lily as especially attractive or endearing. He just seemed like a nice, friendly guy—not disgusting, not brainless. They both frequented Grindhouse Coffee in the old downtown, and when she used Second Sight to match his face with a Lookbook profile, nothing too crazy came up. Most importantly, he was there, and he said yes when she asked him out. So just like that, Lily found herself eating Persian food with a man she'd only just now realized was essentially a stranger.

"The thing about Ted was he got excited about everything," she found herself saying. "You could catch him off guard with some topic he didn't really care much about, but then he'd get to thinking about it, and he'd start to care. Pretty soon, he'd be telling you all about it, you know? Like you weren't the one that just brought it up! I guess that sounds kind of... But really, he was— I'm sorry; I don't mean to keep talking about Ted. It's just that I don't know a lot of people these days."

Rick gulped down half a glass of wine. "No... No, I— That does tell me more about you," he said, looking ridiculous with little purple stains curling up at the corners of his mouth. At the moment, Second Sight's contrast enhancement was not his friend. "But, um— You never did say what you do for a living."

"Oh, that." Lily took a sip of her own wine. "I work for Triclave. I'm in QA."

"Triclave, that's... Yeah, that's right; you guys put out Second Sight! I'm a big fan."

Lily sipped harder. "So you, uh... You wear smartlenses?"

"Well, no, I... can't really afford them right now," Rick admitted. "But I use the drops every day. Never felt better!"

Ah yes, the drops. The natural next step in Second Sight's evolution. They weren't required exactly; you could still use plain old low-tech contact solution. But if you sustained any sort of injury while operating Second Sight without strict adherence to the manufacturer's instructions for use, then of course Triclave couldn't be held liable.

If, for example, your nervous system reacted badly to extreme visual feedback and you found yourself having a panic attack in heavy zipway traffic, then you'd better hope you had enough Second Sight nanites in your bloodstream to detect the problem and shut off your smartlenses before things got out of hand. And then there were all the users with undiagnosed epilepsy. If you might be susceptible to seizures, you didn't want to find out the hard way. Better to self-administer your daily dose of nanotech and trust that your friends at Triclave International had your best interest at heart.

And as an added bonus, new Second Sight SmartDrops had been clinically proven to prolong focus and increase mental dexterity by up to thirty-three percent.

"...so it's really win-win." Rick had been talking all this time, while Lily only stared at his high-contrast wine-stain mustache. She couldn't decide whether it was more Salvador Dalí or Cesar Romero. Maybe if Dalí wore the Joker makeup. Yeah, that would have been something to see. "Lily?" Rick had apparently finished talking.

"Right," Lily ventured. "Right... If we'd only had smartdrops a few years ago... Ted might have noticed that truck, and I'd be a married woman!" Where did that come from? Rick looked horrified. Lily finished her wine.

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