They were kinda cute, right?” Nailah says, glancing at Jai from the corner of her eye, but still trying to stay focused on the road.
“Yeah, very well dressed.” Jai murmurs, watching Izrael through the rearview mirror. He hadn’t looked up from the card since they got in the car. “They were cute.”
“You shouldn’t think such jealous thoughts at me, babe,” his voice washes into her ear. He looks up and cocks an eyebrow at her in the rearview mirror.
“Who says I’m jealous?” Jai refocuses her eyes on her phone and shifts in her seat. Even if she is a little bit jealous, that would never show on her face. She relaxes her jaw and remains aloof. Izzo doesn’t reply; he just turns the card over and over in his hand, allowing his fingertips to activate Dane’s information, and releasing them, letting his name and number disappear. He keeps shaking his head and whispering “this is so fucking cool” under his breath.
“What kind of business card doesn’t have a business on it?” Oleva leans over Izrael’s shoulder, watching him play with the card.
“It might just be his own thing, not his company card.” Izrael replies, shrugging, eyes still trained on the card.
“Aight, but who do you know with enough cash to just have a touchcard? Most companies still haven’t switched over. I heard even 50 of those would set you back a couple rent payments,” Oleva says, plucking the card out of Izrael’s hands.
Izrael scratches at his growing beard. “I mean . . . he obviously ain’t some little boy. He was at the Innovator’s Summit. They don’t let just anyone in there. It’s mostly reps from major tech companies and Nobel prize-worthy academics.”
“Maybe he wants to give you a job,” Nailah says from the front seat.
“If it’s not a company card, it’s probably not company business,” Oleva replies, leaning forward in his seat to wave the stiff black card next to Nailah’s face. She shoos it out of her face so she can focus on driving. Leaning back, Oleva nudges Izrael, “I’m thinking, you got a rich nigga with a crush on you.” Izrael smirks and raises his shoulder to his jaw, a nonverbal “I don’t know”.
“Living Nai’s dream,” Jai thinks in Izrael’s direction. “I can get you all the answers you need,” she continues out loud. She turns in her seat to face the two guys, her face animated with a recognizably mischievous look.
“I’m curious, even if this nigga’s not,” Oleva says, reaching out to hand Jai the card, but Izreal grabs it before he got a chance.
“Chill, chill. I don’t need to know yet. The magic’s in the mystery, right? I’m sure he’ll tell me everything I need to know when we get coffee.”
“Since when has everything you need to know been everything you wanted to know?” Jai’s eyes are almost invisible in the pitch black of the nighttime, but every time the car passed under a streetlight, Izzo would catch a glimpse of her teeth sparkling in a grin he knew all too well.
“Why are you like this,” Izzo says to her, rolling his eyes and coughing out a laugh.
“There’s no other way to be.” Jai stares back into his face and watches the gold of his eyes catch the streetlight and reflect it back into something majestic.
“Uh, what y’all doing?” Oleva’s voice breaks Izzo and Jai’s gaze. Jai turns back to sit properly in her seat and giggles to herself.
Izrael covers his mouth with his hand then stroked his chin slowly. “So, uh, I gave Jai—she Integrated with Oracle this morning. We were just talking.” He gesturs back-and-forth between his ear and Jai’s.
“Wow, before me? I thought we were brothers.” Oleva shakes his head and faces the window.
“I—I had to test it on a girl first, make sure it still works,” Izzo says, stumbling to find the right words to bring Oleva back down.
“Since when has gender ever mattered, nigga? You’re always the first to say that—”
“Besides, why start with Jai? You know she drops Mach 10. Won’t that fuck up the spinal fluid and shit?” Nailah interrupts Oleva as she pulls to a stop in the parking lot for Howard’s upperclassmen dorms.
“It’s just a half-tab. When has a little LSD ever hurt anyone?” Jai says. Her hair bounced freely as she hops out of the SUV. “And what’s spinal fluid got to do with anything?”
“See? She don’t even know how the Oracle works,” Oleva exclaims, chuckling. He points his thumb at Nailah and then back at himself, “And y’all can talk to each other? These are Mwari models and you gave it to someone who wasn’t even around for the Ruzivo? Day one doesn’t mean anything to you, huh?”
“I Intergrate into your body by melding myself to your spinal cord and accessing your cerebral fluid, through the fluid contained in your spinal cord.” Jai stumbles against the curb. The Oracle’s voice seems to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
“You’re back?!” Jai thinks to herself. She stands there for a moment, as she tries to realign her balance and settle her mind as it swirls around her. The alcohol was still floating through her system.
“I was never gone. You seemed bothered by my presence, so I receded until you were faced with a serious inquiry.”
“Oh, that’s just perfect,”Jai thinks.
“For someone who hungers for information, you insist on standing in your own way,” The Oracle taunts her, the epicene voice hovering between her ears.
Jai stumbles, but Izreal catches her by the elbow. She leans against his chest and sighs.
“You planning on spending the night with Nailah? Might be too late to try to get you into my room.” Izrael helps her walk to the entrance of the dorm. She nods but doesn’t speak up. When they get inside, Nailah takes over as Jai’s crutch and walks her to the west elevator while the guys wave goodbye and watch them leave.
Nailah lowers Jai onto her white, soft leather futon before heading over to her own bed. Jai waits until she could hear Nai’s breathe slow into a light snore before reaching into her cleavage for the black card. When her fingers press against it, the words “Dane Woods. 310.486.5486.” appear in white letters, glowing slightly in the dark.
“Hmm, 310. What area code is that?” Jai thinks, turning the card over to see if more information would appear. It did not.
“310 is the area code for the southwestern portion of Los Angeles county. The number on the business card originated from a T-Mobile store in Ladera Heights.”
“Ooo, you can do your Googles. I can find out more on my own. I’m sure Izzo wouldn’t want his precious Oracle fumbling its way across the darker bits of the internet.”
“I am an artificial intelligence designed to learn from and build a unique relationship with my host. While all Oracles can access the open web, they are limited, and in some cases, aided by the abilities of their host. In short, though we communicate, I will be able to do things the Oracle of Izrael cannot because you can.”
“So, what did Oleva mean earlier when he started talking about Mwari and Ruzivo?”
“The Ruzivo was the first prototype of the Oracle technology created by Izrael 3 years prior. The Ruzivo model could only access information. Her intelligence came from listening to the conversations of her host and surrounding humans, and then presenting related searches. She could ‘do her Googles’. As a Mwari model, I am not only able to communicate, but because I am true intelligence, I can analyze and interpret data for myself, learn from my host, and conduct my own independent searches.”
“Reeeeeeally? Well, let’s start small. Search the web for a Dane Woods.”
“There is no match for a Dane Woods who resembles the image of the man retained in your memory.”
“A fake name for a rich nerd? I knew there had to be something else going on,” Jai twirls her fingers in her hair and lays back into one of the satin pillows fluffed on the futon. “It would be too much to ask if you can do a reverse image search, right?”
“If there was a physical image or a search was requested when the individual was within view, I would be able to conduct a search from a retinal scan. However, mental images degenerate as time passes and any reverse image search would be inaccurate.”
“Try it anyway. Why the hell not?”
“Disregarding the inaccuracy of the search, I have found 2 images from recently deleted social media profiles. The closest matches are from a profile for Darrien Williams, deleted December 17, 2023, and Nathan Williams, deleted December 17, 2023. The latter match has silver hair and a wider facial structure.”
“The guy we met was with a twin. But fake profiles with the same initials? That’s sloppy as fuck.”
“The deletion of the profiles was not ‘sloppy’. Given 3 days, the profiles would be completely erased from the internet. None of the profiles could even be found in a regular Google search. Even the archives had been deleted from the public web.”
“So, you searched the private cloud databases of the main social media giants ‘til you found something? And nothing from further back in time?”
“Correct. Those were the only images resembling your memory of ‘Dane Woods’.”
Jai closes her eyes. A vague feeling of fatigue was weighing on her body, and her head was still swimming a little with her eyes closed. She couldn’t think as well as she needed to, not even to ask any questions to drive their search. There was always the option to continue when she woke up in the morning, but she would lose the image of ‘Dane’ in her head by then. But at this point she couldn’t even think of a plausible reason why a man would fake a name and a social life, just to delete it to start a new fake life. And to delete it that thoroughly. . . Well, if he was at a technology innovation summit, he probably had enough computer skills to get rid of anything about himself that he didn’t want to float around on the web. Jai tucks the touchcard back between her breasts; she could try this again tomorrow.