After a marathon day of coding, Cordelia1564 completed the night’s VR-cast just in time to go live with it. She held her breath as her avatar disemboweled four Khazak horsemen with a stiletto she’d pinched from the harem master, hung their bodies from a tower, and decorated their nude backsides with pointillist designs copped from edu-holos of some 19th-century, bougie, French oil painter.
Ten supercools unfollowed her. The comments were scathing:
“Seen it in a video my grandmother uploaded to OldFartTube.”
“Crappy CGI could have come from the Star Wars generation.”
“Be real or get out of the Cloud, loser.”
They were right. Cordelia1564 had faked it, inserting her likeness into a mash-up of bargain-priced content she’d licensed. Nobody followed the boring, and ad-men wouldn’t jingle those feeds without followers.
Not that money had ever driven her. Like her namesake, the character in a play she’d attended many times with her grandmother—by Grandma’s favorite content creator, or playwright, or whatever they called it back in the 16th century, the dude who rapped with the flowery language that sang like music—love meant more to her than treasure. But her kid liked to eat. So did she, and no jingle, no food. Her belly rumbled, and she tasted stomach acid in the back of her throat.
Wrenching her gaze from the screen, she blinked to clear her rheumy eyes and massaged an ache in her neck. Who was she kidding? Un-modded, too copper-lacking to get inked with animation, she couldn’t even pull off porn enticing enough to reel in clickthrough moola, much less a sponsorship. Only sponsored channels could afford to subscribe to SynthosynchTM, so Cordelia1564 couldn’t customize hallucinogens. Her show streamed solely in audiovisual mode. The supercools preferred IV-infusion-enhanced entertainment.
She returned her eyes to the monitor and trembled as her followcount decremented. Five thousand forty-six, five thousand forty-five—if she fell below five thousand, the algorithm would stop suggesting her. To anyone.
She’d climbed the five thousand cliff the old-fashioned way: singing, playing guitar, telling jokes. Now, with those performances archived, her followers clamored for the new, the bold, the exotic, and she had nothing more to offer. And, apparently, her graphics apps weren’t jagged-up well enough to fabricate cool.
The urge to cry burbled up, but then Cordelia1564 spied an antique book poking out of a cardboard box she’d yet to unpack following her latest round of eviction, homelessness, public housing lottery, and resettlement: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It had been her grandmother’s.
She bounded up and snagged it. Grandma had tried reading her the play about Cordelia Lear and her dysfunctional family, but while she’d felt loved sitting in Grandma’s lap, she could never focus on just one info-feed long enough to breathe the geezered-out text. The short poems were easier.
The heft of the tome in her hands and the scratch of the worn leather binding rescued a memory of snuggling beneath a comforter with Grandma. As a child, she’d relished the brush of paper beneath her fingertips when Grandma let her turn the pages, but with cams and holos and phones, who fucking read these days? Sure, the public schools still assigned a story or two every semester, but most kids clicked past the modules and cheated on the accompanying questions.
Who fucking read? That was it! Novelty.
After gagging from the musty smell and blowing to clear the dust, she leafed to the twenty-ninth of those fourteen-lined blasts. She readied the cam and spoke into the air-mic. “You buttwipes who unfollowed will be sorry. You ain’t getting rad shit like this anywhere else.” Cordelia1564 paused and gazed at the followcount. It had stopped falling.
One deep breath later, she sat up in her chair ramrod straight and affected her best faux-British accent.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state…
She could go no further before the verbalizer captured her followers’ spontaneous utterances, shifted the language to match the rhythm she’d set—rhythm matching being core to coolness—and blasted them out, ordered according to the social status of the utterers, of course. “Delia’s talking awful funny…” “Must be on some wicked shit…” “What’s she doing with men’s eyes…?” “A lone bee weep? Don’t get that bit.”
The language had tripped up the few supercools still following. Ponying up the coin to silence them, for a moment at least, Cordelia1564 scanned the next lines:
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate…
Maybe, she could keep the rhythm but translate into good English?
And God makes me his bitch and steals my shoes,
My selfie screen yells back my bootless cries…
She’d kept bootless in the mix, figuring her followers would fathom a loss of fashion footwear as tragic.
No such luck. “Her bootless cries? Maybe her booty cries!” “Hell no, you mean her booty calls…” “She don’t call you, you ugly, coinless fuck… She laughs at your small dick and shriveled balls.”
Most commenters heckled. Way fewer defended Cordelia1564, but her count rose and rose, and the jingles tided in. Enough to pay the rent. Enough for groceries. Supercools posted approval; new followers sent love emojis. The rush bested any pharma.
And, who-da-believed-it, trumpets blared from her speakers: an offer for sponsorship. Total buyout—the company would own her likeness and drive posts via AI. She’d no longer need to live-cam.
She donned her People’s AttorneyTM glasses and scrolled through the contract that augmented her reality. No scam-flags, no wording highlighted as deceptive; the transaction was legit.
Her heart raced. She bit her lip and shook her head. Social media was back to being fun. She couldn’t wait until tomorrow to read more to her followers; she loved them too much to abandon them.
Her text-only, last post for the night captured her rapture:
I scorn to change my state with kings.
© 2019 Allan Dyen-Shapiro