OVER AND OVER AND OVER (AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN)
A few years from now, you’ll look back and wonder how you managed to survive without your Delaney Feedback Loop. It’s an invention that, in time, will redefine your life. That’s not hyperbole, it’s fact. Bigger in terms of impact than the invention of the personal computer, and with a reach that equals (perhaps surpasses) the internet, it’s something that will touch just about every aspect of just about every person’s existence.
But not yet.
Today, the Delaney Feedback Loop remains a niche product, the preserve of a select few. The technology that powers the experience is, for now, so costly and advanced as to be out of reach of all but those with the biggest influence and the deepest pockets (two groups of people who, of course, are far from mutually exclusive). At this stage it’s still a gimmick, an over-priced distraction, but the implications are there. Once its full potential begins to be realised, and when the cost is driven down sufficiently to enable mass production and therefore mass consumption, then it’ll redefine everything you know.
But again, that’s not going to be for another few years.
The tech is quite remarkable, its simplicity and adaptability divine. The software, however, is buggy and limited, and the scope of the currently available applications makes the feedback loop more of a diversion than a necessity. If you want a comparison as to how it’s going to go, think of it as akin to how the world wide web changed in its first couple of decades of existence. I’m not talking about the increase in capacity and speed when we moved from dial-up to broadband, more how the net crept in and secured a foothold in almost every corner of our world. The changes to society that the eventual mass adoption of feedback loops will drive will be reminiscent of the advent of social media and all that followed. Remember all that talk about Web 2.0? When we started participating online instead of just observing? That’s what we’re going to see again, this time on a scale you can’t even begin to imagine.
The Delaney Feedback Loop will, in time, revolutionise the consumption of information. Forget virtual, alternate, and augmented realities, in the future we’ll be dealing in replacement realities. But beyond that, the feedback loop will trigger wholesale re-evaluations of the management of public order and subsequent correctional actions, as well as affecting the functions and mechanism of government. It’ll revolutionise education. It’ll impact many aspects of healthcare, in particular the management of mental health conditions and palliative care. Everything is going to change, and largely for the better.
There’s a lot to sort out first. As well as the tech and the cost, the laws surrounding the use of feedback loops will present legal and human rights challenges the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
But all in good time.
We’ll get there.
We have to.
And in case you’re wondering, Adnan Delaney didn’t invent the feedback loop, he just bankrolled its development. It’s the Vey Corporation that’ll scale things up and bring it to the masses, but you’ll hear about that some other time. They’ll tell you the bits they want you to know.
Maria hesitates outside the door and does her best to get her shit together. The suite’s empty, but her heart’s pounding. The pressure’s on. Will she get everything right, just how they like it? Will she do everything that’s expected of her? Will she forget something or make a stupid mistake? She’s nervous. She feels like she’s about to step out on stage in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans, not just clean a hotel suite.
It’s the wrong day for this.
Everything went to shit today.
There’s been a flood in her apartment block. The landlord is onto it (finally) but they’ve been without water all day, and the heating’s been off, and the kids have been moaning because they’re hungry after school, and she didn’t even get to have a wash before she came to work, never mind the shower she’d been hoping for since first thing. And having Momma to stay just makes things worse, even though she says she’s here to make things better. She either tries too hard or doesn’t try at all. When Maria asks her to butt out, she gets defensive and takes everything personally. To cap it off, Kyle’s having to work a double shift, so she had to fetch the kids when she should have been cooking and cook when she should have been getting ready. Maria could really do with a night working the lower levels, not a pressure shift up here on the top floor.
But them’s the breaks.
That’s what Momma said, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Maria smooths the creases out of her uniform, takes a deep breath, then knocks the door. There’s no answer, and that’s the right answer. At least something’s gone to plan. No one’s home. She puts the key-card in the lock, completes the necessary biometrics, waits for authorisation, then lets herself in.
There was never any question that the suite would be empty. That’s why she was told to come up at this time and clean. Right now, Shorna Tzu is on the other side of town at Ryanchi Stadium, waiting to perform for upwards of fifty thousand people who’ve paid extortionate prices for tickets to the show. She’s playing there tomorrow, too. And three times next week. Apparently, counting the four performances she’s already done there on this tour, that’s a record run for a solo artist.
The penthouse suite has huge floor to ceiling windows all along one wall. Maria wishes she could bring the kids up here to see the city at night – all those thousands of lights, under all those millions of twinkling stars. You can see the neon pillars lighting up the scaffold struts of Ryanchi from here. It looks beautiful from a distance, all lit up, but can you imagine the pressure? Maria can’t. Lord, it took enough just for her to enter this room. All those people wanting to see you . . . Maria gets embarrassed if anyone hears her singing in the shower.
Focus, she thinks. I have a job to do.
One job among many.
After this suite, she’s got another four hours of cleaning before she gets home. She’ll probably crash into bed straightaway, but it’ll start again first thing. No one will have cleaned up after dinner, and the kids will need help getting ready for school. Kyle will be up and out before anyone else is awake, earning good money but dodging the family chaos, then she’ll have to spend all day listening to Momma, putting the apartment back together, and getting things ready for the few hours between the kids coming home and when she goes out to work.
Life feels non-stop.
Over and over and over (again and again and again).
It’s not all bad. She just makes it sound that way.
Last night was good. Last night she didn’t have a shift. Kyle was home early, and the kids did what they were told, and Momma met up with a friend, leaving the two of them to spend a little time together. The apartment was cold and cramped, but it didn’t matter because all they needed was that bottle of wine and the space of their bed and the privacy of their room. And it was incredible. Sometimes, they just both know what the other one wants.
Hers isn’t a bad life, really. Other people have it much harder than she does. But also, other people have it far easier, too. I mean, just look at this suite . . . there’s room enough to fit their entire apartment in here and then some. How the hell can people afford to stay here? The nightly rate isn’t far off the rent Maria pays annually.
Get to work, girl.
She has a routine. You have to have one, otherwise you’ll end up missing something. Doesn’t matter how big the space is, she follows the same list: bins, beds, bathrooms, floors. This suite might be mansion-sized, but at the end of the day, it’s the same as any other room on any other floor, just scaled-up, solid gold instead of gold-plated. Once you get over the sheer size and opulence of the suite, it’s just the same as cleaning anywhere else. Empty the bins; change the towels and bedding; replenish the food, drink, and toiletries; wipe, sweep, scrub; polish every surface . . . A few minutes in and she’s already forgetting who slept in this bed last night. She’s focused on getting rid of a stain, not who made it. The sheen wears off quicker than she expected, and despite her surroundings it all starts to feel disappointingly ordinary and dull.
Maria’s job is a million miles away from Shorna’s. Right now, while Maria’s cleaning her toilet, Shorna is walking out on stage at Ryanchi. It reminds her of something Nanna G used to say. She used to clean rooms too, back in the day. She cleaned up after some of the biggest names in theatre and film, she proudly used to tell anyone who’d listen. Met more than a few of them, she did. Maria used to listen to all her stories when she was a kid. She asked Nanna G what it was like being around famous people like that, asked if they were as special as they seemed. She never forgot Nanna’s answer: they take a shit the same way we do, she always used to say.
She had a point, sure, but that’s not helping Maria clean around the rim of a megastar’s toilet bowl.
The magic and mystery have all but completely worn off now. Maria just wants to get the job done and get out. Before she walked through the door, she felt like she’d see something wonderful in this suite, a glimpse into how the other half really lives. Maybe she has, but right now it all feels unfair. Unfair that one person should have so much to themselves, because back home the seven of them are crammed into a space barely a quarter of this size.
Doesn’t matter how luxurious the fixtures and fittings are, when you’re the one cleaning them it’s the same old same old. Over and over and over, again and again and again.
Maria carefully moves some belongings from where they’ve been left on a marble-topped coffee table.
Then she stops.
Wait . . . is that what I think it is?
She’s not sure at first, because she’s not seen one in the flesh before. She’s only ever seen a few pictures and heard the influencers talking about them on social media. She’s not convinced it is, but then she thinks, if it’s not, then what the hell else could it be?
She picks it up and studies the component parts. It’s got the Delaney logo on one of the buds, and she can see how it all fits together and where it connects.
Is it safe to hold it?
Maria’s unsure. There’s been a lot of noise about these things on the socials. Some people are saying they’re the best things ever, others are saying they’re the devil’s work. She read a review a few days back. It said that right now, in their current incarnation, they’re just an overpriced gimmick, the preserve of the too rich and the very famous. They’ve been giving them away to key celebs, apparently, to try and get some traction. There’s no doubt that once the influencers start influencing and the engagement starts, these things will be everywhere. Nanna G says that’s how these things always start. She used to talk about the first TV she had, and Momma remembers when you got your music and films on discs and other, even older, physical storage systems.
She almost puts the feedback loop back down again, but she stops.
She so wants to try it.
She doesn’t know if she dares.
What if they notice it’s been moved? What if they realise someone’s been messing with it?
Oh, fuck it. If they want her to clean that table, they’re going to have to accept that she’ll need to move whatever’s on it. Can’t clean under something without shifting it first.
They’ve left the instructions out, too.
It’s weird, she thinks, that the more complicated technology gets, the easier it is to operate. How something so revolutionary, so ground-breaking, can only need a few lines of guidance to show you how to get started is beyond her. It’s a single page of instructions with barely any words, just pictures, icons, and arrows. A kid could use it. Maybe that’s the plan? Make it as easy as possible to use these things and get them hooked. The more kids use them and talk about them, the faster they’ll spread. Once their parents can afford to buy them, that is.
Before Maria can talk herself out of it, she’s putting it on.
It’s pretty comfortable, really. The sensor pads press tight against your temples, but the pressure’s not too bad and you get used to it real quick. It says you should sit down before starting, so she perches nervously on the edge of a chair, still not sure if she should. Then she checks the instructions again and sees a warning about accidents and involuntary movements, so she checks her watch (she’s got plenty of time) then lies flat on a couch that’s more comfortable than the mattress on her bed back home.
There’s a wrist strap (but these will disappear on future generation models), and an on-off slider (that’ll also be replaced in time), and that’s it. Once you’re wearing it, the Delaney Feedback Loop does everything for you.
It’s weird at first, hard to get used to, because you’re working your way through menus you can’t see, that you can only sense, and you don’t have to click anything to make your choice, you just feel it.
Maria goes through all the usual disclaimers that come up (they’re triggered whenever anyone uses a feedback loop for the first time). She doesn’t bother to check them because you never do, right? If we over-analysed the terms and conditions every time they were presented to us, we’d never get to use that gadget, site, media, or whatever. We’d all be getting hung up on point eight, clause five, sub-clause seventeen because we’re not sure if that applies to us, or whether it only applies if you’re intending to permanently share beyond the trial period? And what does it matter, anyway? We’re all online all day, every day now. Everything’s out there somewhere, isn’t it? There are no more secrets. In the forty-plus years that the world’s been online, there can’t be much data that hasn’t already been uploaded and infinitely shared.
Tick it, fuck it.
Of course, when you’re in a global megastar’s hotel suite, messing with their stuff when you’re supposed to be cleaning, you can be forgiven for being a little nervous. Maria either overlooks or ignores the warnings about this being a beta release that’s been customised in line with the end user’s wishes. It can’t be anything too sinister. It just means there’ll be some recording and sharing, though you can rest assured that sensitive personal information will be blurred out and rendered inaccessible. The software learns the more you use it. It knows what to highlight and what to let fade into the background. In short, it gets to know why you’re here.
There’s a quick tutorial, during which Maria learns a couple of things. First, she’s told to think of the gadget as a camera with a viewing screen (or a projector that also records). It’s a closed circle – hence the reason they called it a feedback loop – although the sources and outputs can be quite easily configured on all models, allowing the user to pick and choose what they watch and what they show.
Second, she’s informed that there’s a connection time limit on this unit. At first, she assumes it’s like a time-limited trial, something like that, but it’s not. It’s a restriction on the session length. In a few years from now, you’ll theoretically be able to stay capped for hours, days, weeks, months, or forever. Right now, though, she’s limited to seventeen minutes. Maria thinks that’s a good thing. Imagine Shorna Tzu coming back from the show and finding the maid lying on her sofa, zoned-out and connected to her feedback loop . . . it doesn’t bare thinking about.
And then there’s the weirdest feeling.
It takes some getting used to, even for regular users. It’s a bit like a drug haze, or like when the anaesthetist says count down from ten, and you only get to seven before you’re out cold. It’s like you’re fainting, or falling, or both. It’s the strangest feeling, but it passes before you can work it out.
By the time your brain’s figured out that something’s changed, you’re already somewhere else.
Sometimes someone else.
Maria doesn’t feel like Maria anymore. I mean, sure, on every level but one nothing has changed, but the feedback loop is working its magic and now she’s Shorna Tzu at Ryanchi last night, about to take to the stage. Maria feels Shorna’s nerves, but it’s okay. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing changes because this has already happened. She’s watching – feeling – a replay.
And it’s not at all what she was expecting.
It’s simultaneously the most invigorating, exciting, and terrifying thing ever. It’s empowering and belittling. She feels everything Shorna feels – everything she felt – and the paradox is stark. Unimaginable amounts of adulation collide with unfathomable levels of pressure.
One slip, and it could all go to shit.
Can I do this?
Will I fuck up?
Will I hit my cues?
Will I forget the words?
Will they still love me?
Of course they will. You’re Shorna fucking Tzu (sort of).
She’s waiting in position at the back of the stage. There are people fussing all around her and she just wants them to leave her alone so she can get in the zone. Imagine that . . . a crew of hundreds of people to put the show together and a crowd of tens of thousands waiting for it to start. What are the chances of being alone?
The stadium lights drop.
There’s a half-second long vacuum of silence, then the anticipatory roar of the crowd rolls in like a wave. Maria would go to pieces under the pressure, but right now Maria’s not Maria, she’s Shorna, and Shorna is a seasoned pro. She doesn’t even notice it anymore because it’s just another night. They’ve played forty-six dates on this tour so far, and they’re not even halfway around the world yet. The same thing over and over and over, again and again and again.
And sometimes she feels bad because it’s just another night to her, but to the people who’ve stumped up the dollars, it’s the night. Date night, family night, all my dreams come true night. This is where Shorna does feel the pressure – not that of the crowd, but of the individuals within it. She doesn’t want to disappoint any of them, but with more than fifty thousand hanging on her every word, note, beat, step, move, you can imagine that it wouldn’t take a lot to bring the whole thing crashing down. Sometimes the first song starts, and you just know it’s all going to be okay. Sometimes you’ll miss a cue and even though no one else notices it, you do, and you can feel everything starting to unravel. There are enough stadium-sized distractions to cover up the mistakes – the lights, the lasers, the pyros, the dancers, the screens, and the backing tracks – but there are some things you can’t airbrush or autotune out. They might not notice, but Shorna does.
That’s why Demetrious made her buy the feedback loop in the first place.
At this stage in her career, as well as everything feels like it’s going, getting it right and doing the best show possible still matters. We’re back to the pressure again. She’s seen other people crack up and go under. She can understand why Kaydz did what he did to that boy in that hotel room, and why Yppie X lost the plot on that TV show. Shorna’s grandmother used to say she had an old head on young shoulders, and that’s been a blessing. She’s come across too many people in her position already who’ve been given the breaks but pissed it all away (or blown it up the wall, in Kaydz’s case).
There’s no pleasure now, no excitement, just pure adrenalin. It’s like being on the start line, waiting to run a marathon (she imagines, and never wants to find out). The second the gun’s fired, we’re off. That’s it. No rest until the end of the one hundred minute runtime of the show. Relentless physical and mental pressure, then the crash and the comedown. A short post-gig burst of euphoric relief, then it’s back on the bus, back to the hotel, and back in the cage.
She genuinely loves the people who listen to her songs and come to her shows and buy her fashions, but some days she wishes they’d forget about her and let her go and do her own thing. She’d love just one day of being a face in the crowd instead of the face all the crowd is looking at. She clings onto a memory of sitting outside the mall with her friends one summer, just weeks before the K-Aitch Foundation boss heard the demo her mom sent him and her world went crazy. She misses the innocence and the freedom of her old life. She misses the anonymity. She misses all of it, actually.
Here it comes.
The crowd are dialled up all the way to crazy. The video montage on all the screens in about to end, the intro to the intro. Kimmi touches her arm. ‘Thirty seconds, Shorna. Have a good show.’
The countdown starts.
The band members move through the shadows and take their places.
The lights build, the bass throbs, the crowd noise swells.
She swallows, throat dry. Ready but never ready. Nervous but not nervous. Prepared, but feeling woefully fucking underprepared because it doesn’t matter how many times you do this, you’re only ever one fuck-up away from falling into the gutter.
Maria’s first trip anywhere via a Delaney Feedback Loop is disorientating and exhilarating and terrifying and strange. While she was connected, she stopped being Maria and became Shorna instead, but at the same time she was still Maria too. It’s weird. It’s ambiguous. It’s a mind-fuck that makes less sense the more you think about it. One of the strangest things, Maria thinks, is the way it messes with time. She was with Shorna for the duration of the show – almost a couple of hours – but it only took seconds. It felt like she was connected to Shorna and that she was somehow eavesdropping on what was going down at Ryanchi tonight in real time, but she was actually peering into the past. She didn’t realise until the couple of minutes’ break before the first encore. It was only when Demetrious was laying into her (into Shorna) after she (sorry, after Shorna) stumbled on the routine in the middle eight break in Happy But I’m Not, that she realised it was last night she was experiencing, not tonight.
Whatever, whenever, she carefully replaces the feedback loop in its holder and cleans the area around it. That’s one of the things she loves about this job – as long as you don’t steal anything (and that would be a frigging stupid thing to do), then as a domestic technician you have the perfect excuse to pick up, examine, play with, and move absolutely anything you find lying around a megastar’s suite.
The rest of Maria’s shift goes quickly. She finds the outfit she wore – the outfit Shorna wore – on stage at Ryanchi last night. She thinks about trying it on, but it’s several sizes too small. But when she holds it to her nose, the smells bring back memories. Are they her memories now? Does she share them with Shorna? Maria’s getting to understand why the term ‘brainfuck’ is used so frequently when people are talking about feedback loops . . .
That’s why these things are so hard to come by right now, that and the cost. There must be all kinds of nasty surprises tucked away in the terms and conditions she blindly accepted when she first put the gadget on earlier. She hopes she’s not going to get found out, but part of her thinks the trouble will be a small price to pay for the experience she just had. Headlining at Ryanchi. Who’d have believed it?
Maria sings to herself and dances as she works her way around the huge, opulent suite, remembering how crazy it felt just now to stand in the shoes of the mighty Shorna Tzu.
It’s late when she finishes.
It’s always late.
Maria takes the subway home. It’s pouring down with rain, and she runs more than walks the five blocks from the station to the apartment. The city is lit up by the hoardings, all different colours. She feels safe here because there are so many people about. There are always people about. This part of the city never sleeps, never switches off. You’re always one of the crowd, never alone.
She loves the feeling when her shift is over.
This is a special part of the day. She calls it the sweet spot. The apartment will be trashed, but now’s not the time to fix it. Now’s the time for kicking back and relaxing. She’ll stick her head around the door and see the kids, then spend a little time with Kyle, then spend a little time alone. After she’s seen him and he’s gone to bed, she’ll take a shower and snuggle down on the sofa to work her way through a trashy boxset on one of the streamers.
You know what? It sounds corny but having a glimpse into Shorna Tzu’s world has made Maria grateful for the little she’s got. It’s not much by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hers (and Kyle’s, and the kids’, and the landlord’s, and the bank manager’s . . .). There’s no question, there are days when she’d love to be rich and famous and miles away from here, but there are more days when she wouldn’t swap for anything. It’s a good, good feeling to be who she is and where she is.
She’ll never stay in the kind of suite she cleaned just now, but so what? No one’s ever going to wait on her, hand and food (except Kyle, when it’s her birthday or when he’s really screwed something up). Life’s never gonna be easy, but she feels like it’s gonna be good.
Shorna disconnects from the feedback loop.
Demetrious cut a deal with the Vey Corp to get her this advance, next-gen model before public release. It cost a fortune, but he told her it was worth it so she could go back and re-experience each night’s performance, then focus on improving the parts she fucked up. She said yeah, yeah, yeah to get him off her case, but she had other plans. Even though hours last seconds when you’re connected, she’s not going to waste her time re-watching what just happened on stage. She’s got better things to do with the loop.
She feels bad, like she’s laying a honeytrap, but she doesn’t think they’d mind. In the fucked-up world of celebrities and influence, most of them would likely feel honoured knowing that the one and only Shorna Tzu had been peering into their lives.
They can never resist the feedback loop once they realise what it is, and they all leave something for her.
The novelty of fame wore off a long time ago. The buzz of the show used to stay with her all night and keep her awake, but not anymore. It’s just a job. And the best part of a stadium residency like this is you don’t have the pack up and ship out every other night like you do elsewhere on the tour. It means she gets a little more time to herself. Sometimes it can be a whole twelve hours.
This is her favourite part of the day.
Shorna works her way through the menus with the speed and intuition of someone who’s done this many times before. It’s just an illusion, sure, but the thing about the Delaney Feedback Loop she’s already figured out is that even if it’s someone else’s feelings you’re connected to, you still feel. Even when the connection’s broken and you’re disconnected from the loop, there’s a part of them that stays with you. Inside you. A part of them that becomes you.
She accesses her store of third-party memory recordings and lets another world wash over her. It’s yesterday today. Tonight is last night. Even though the feedback will only last a second or two in the real world, it’ll feel so much longer. This is one of her favourites. The chaos and ordinariness of Maria’s world is everything hers isn’t.
Maria’s memories keep Shorna sane.
She accesses them over and over and over, again and again and again.
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