The iPad was not on the charger. How was she going to finish Survivor South Africa Season 6, catch up on Survivor Australia and Rod Has A Podcast if she couldn’t watch anything while writing grant applications? More importantly, how else was she meant to stay sane while writing grant applications? Working from home sucked. She actually missed the airports and hotels. Even the shuttle buses.
Erin threw her laptop and bullet journal on the bed and went looking. Quietly. Justin’s morning zoom was running in the little dining room and the wooden floors were sending the nasal buzz of the voices emanating from his laptop speakers bouncing throughout the house.
But there he was in the living room, headphones on, playing Call of Duty.
She stood in front of the screen.
“What?” he whispered, sliding the headphones off one ear.
“Shouldn’t you be zooming?” she whispered back.
“Whatever. Have you seen my iPad?”
His shoulders went up and he bit his bottom lip at her.
He nodded in the direction of the dining room.
She peeked in. Standing on an old engineering textbook, held up by a frame of technical LEGO, was her iPad. It was right in front of the laptop’s camera. Playing on the iPad was a fullscreen video of Justin, looking attentive.
“Justin,” said the laptop, “where are you at?”
“I’m making progress,” said iPad Justin, making Erin turn to look at Real Justin. He was back in CoD land.
“I had a few false starts, but I expect to be committing changes on Friday.”
She went and stood in front of the screen again.
“How did you do that? I thought it was a video loop.”
“If I tell you, will you let me play?”
“To put it simply, neural nets. One does speech to text. That text goes into another one I fed all my emails and online chats into. It kind of matches up past conversations and spits out responses that go to a text to speech net that feeds a model of my voice into a DeepFake net that uses a few hours of video of me to stitch it all together.”
“All on my iPad?”
“No! On the iPad is just a small app I made to connect to the cloud servers that the nets run on. Pretty sweet, hey? We could make you one.”
“No way. Just bring me my iPad when your meeting’s over.”
She made a bit of progress on the grant, finished Survivor South Africa, RHAP still hadn’t dropped, and refreshed the Survivor subreddit a few times, but there was no action there. Instead of fixing the formatting in the application she swiped through her iPad, looking for another distraction. On the final screen there was a new icon, a headshot of Justin with the title “Real Justin™” underneath it. She tapped it.
Justin filled the screen. He blinked. He tilted his head. Pursed his lips. Nodded. His eyes seemed to be focused on her nose. It was weird. It felt like she was spying on him, that he didn’t know she was there. But he was the one who wasn’t there.
“Hi, Justin. It’s me, Erin.”
That was weird. Totally Justin coming from totally not Justin. The voice sounded right, but his face didn’t shift a bit from that attentive expression. But he called her baby. He did say he put all his emails and chats into the thing.
It was stupid. She knew it was stupid and it didn’t mean anything, but she couldn’t help herself.
“Do you love me?”
“Of course I love you, baby.”
The flat facial expression kind of ruined it, but it was nice to hear. Was she still that desperate for affection?
“I wish we could get out of here and go to the cabin.”
The mountain cabin belonged to Justin’s parents. It was a like another honeymoon every time they went.
“We’ll go soon. Erin’s got a conference coming up.”