Allan Scott is back, dressed this time as Elminster from the Forgotten Realms novels - as a helpful metadata tag informs you.
"Nerdreference. That's the technical term for what's going on with a lot of Gu-related names," he says. "Think back to the days when the English novel was written largely by and for Englishmen who had been classically educated at private schools. They were always replete with reference to classical tags in Latin and Greek, French bons mots, and quotations from the English classics - Shakespeare and the poets, mostly. P.G. Wodehouse plays around with the convention and pokes fun at it when he has Bertie Wooster come out with odds and ends of English literature, for which he often can't remember the source.
"Today's equivalent is nerdreference. It's a way of connecting with your own group and, incidentally or otherwise, excluding those who aren't part of it, of course; but it's also a celebration of beloved material.
"And to a true hard-core technophile of a certain generation there are few things more beloved than Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, a novel about virtual reality which came out shortly before the advent of the World Wide Web and consequently managed to get almost everything about the future absolutely dead wrong, including what people would charge for and what they'd distribute for free. It didn't coin the usage of the word 'avatar' to mean a figure that represents you in some kind of virtual way, but it did popularize it. And it gives us the names Clint and Brandy for the default male and female avatars."
Halwaz is interviewing Serena Koslowski's niece, Jenna Stewart, the original of "Brandy". In a holovolume off to one side, the section of the scene at the Gu launch in which "Clint" and "Brandy" featured is looping.
"How do you feel about being the original of Brandy?" you ask.
Cut to Stewart's viewpoint. She is quietly amused.
"Well, it's done my career no harm. Gives people an association that they can connect me to, so they remember me. Of course, a lot of people have called me Brandy over the years, thinking it's my name."
"You never considered using it as a performing name or something?"
You snort with laughter. "Hardly. My friend Tom Harding, the original Clint, did call himself Clint for a while, but... I just don't see myself as a Brandy, somehow."
"How did it affect Tom's life?"
"Well, we haven't kept in touch, but it probably did him some good career-wise. I'm not sure whether that was a good thing for him personally, though. He might have done better with a slower rise that he had to fight for more. I know I got the speed-wobbles there for a while; took me a long time to pull myself together." She stares into the distance for a moment, then shakes her head.
"You don't get any royalties from the use of your image, is that right?"
"Right, although Aunt Serena did give us both some shares when Gu started to take off, which was good of her - all she'd promised us was a few hundred bucks for a one-time gig, after all. She had no obligation. So in a way I do profit from Brandy, since she's preloaded with every Gupe-pack."
"You still have your shares?"
"I still have my shares. They've split a few times and gained a lot of value; I've borrowed against them, spent the dividends, but I'd never sell them. I'm proud of my small part in the story of Gu and I want to keep a stake in it." You gesture towards the holovolume and smile.
Back to Scott, Halwaz's viewpoint.
"And then, driders. Driders are from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the iconic nerd game. They were originally conceived as partially-transformed dark elves that had offended the spider goddess, though they were adopted into other game settings as well with different backstories. So, when you have a Gupe shape that is humanoid on top and kind of arachnid at the bottom, naturally they get called driders. Nobody seems to know exactly who called them that, but there are plenty of gamers in the military - they're not all nerds, by any means."
Across his desktop strides an image of the original driders, which morphs into the military version with half the number of legs.
"And finally, there are comics. Spider-Man, of course, who's such a great inspiration to the NYPD and their imitators, but also Reed Richards, Mr Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, who could stretch his body like rubber, the namesake of the Richards Reacher."
Now Halwaz is talking to another veteran, an older one this time, who served in the Second Gulf War. His name is Billy Krantz. He's a little sunburned, a little overweight, and wears a meshback cap and a plaid shirt; he's sitting on the porch of his home in a battered armchair.
"Myup," he says, "I got in the way of an IED. Roadside bomb. I seen all the generations of prosthetics, and I well could live to see them regrow me a whole new hand, they say, but I loves me my Richards Reacher." He stretches out his right hand - and "stretches out" is the phrase. The arm elongates to about a meter and a half before the hand closes on a flyswatter, whips around and swats a lazily buzzing fly which probably didn't even know Krantz was in the vicinity.
"Hee, hee, hee," he chuckles. "I always git a kick out of that." He grins and shows his pebbly teeth.
Krantz's old buddy Jerry Morton is tall, thin and a little stooped, with hair turning imperceptibly from pale blond to white. He lost both legs above the knee in a roadside bomb attack. His wrinkled face is marked with concentration as he demonstrates "stilting".
"All's I do," he says, "is I kind of bounce a little like this and I just tense my muscles just so, and..." his legs extend to almost twice their length. He bounces again, and they telescope back down.
"I manage a hardware store," he says. "Don't need no ladders or nothing to reach them high shelves. I'd druther have my legs that I could feel, some days, specially when the sockets hurt or when something reminds me of the day I lost 'em. But other days, I'm glad of these here. On'y drawback is, every time old Mrs Scranton's cat gets herself stuck up a tree, guess who they're calling to come git that dumb cat down? 'Get Leggy Morton,' that's what they say." He laughs. "Yip, it's got so's I always carry a pair of gloves so I don't get clawed half to bits by that dang cat."
Krantz and Morton's former comrade Jo Pullman has all her limbs, but they were paralyzed when a vehicle she was in rolled in Afghanistan, and grayware and nerve-bridging have had limited success in restoring their function. She walks now in an exoskeleton of Gu.
"How do," she says, shaking hands. Her grip is unusual; the flesh of her hands doesn't feel right, it's cold and in some way unresponsive, but the pressure is correct, mediated by the Gu wrapped around each finger. Her round, dark-skinned face has a wry smile as you glance down at the hand and then back up.
"No worse than you'll get from a lot of people," she comments. "And a damn sight better than I expected when I came back from Kabul."
"The exo actually exercises your limbs, is that right?"
"That's right, and the doctors say I'll be the longer lived for it. Which with my third grandchild on the way is a damn good thing by me." She leads you into her small, neat house. "I live alone here," she says. "No-good man left me after, and I ain't felt the want of another. Iced tea?"
You sit while she gets it, watching her move around her tiny kitchen. Her hands fumble a little - she takes longer than someone else would, is more careful - but she successfully takes the jug from the fridge, the glasses from the cabinet, adds ice, pours, returns the jug, and brings you the tea.
"I run a little business," she says. "Lot of ladies round here make handcrafts. Well, I can't do that so good, but I was a logistics sergeant. I can do inventory, take orders and fill and ship them. We have a co-op down to the town square. And I have my daughters and their little ones. I ain't staring at no ceiling."
You sip the tea. It's good.