by George Potter
31 August, 2005
[from here & here]
(for the old school)
"I won't comment on Ms. Rand's epistemology. I have notions of my own." -- Robert A. Heinlein
1. Another Golden Moment
Honestly, I wasn't surprised to wake up again.
I went into the black as open minded as I'd tried to live my life, after all. Expecting anything from an afterlife always struck me as a rather egotistical guessing game. Those who claimed to have it all worked out were just as silly as those who denied the possibility outright.
Both sorts claimed to have a direct line on the Ineffable, and such folks are either pitiable or dangerous.
Both sorts are to be avoided.
Waking up with a set of baby making and feeding equipment was a bit of a shock, though. I admit that it took me a few seconds to come to grips with that.
Then I sat up. Yawned. It was bright.
"What's for breakfast, babycakes?" I asked, on the off chance...
"Most Objective!" a booming male voice exclaimed, his tone a subtle mix of devotion, fear and smug certainty. I felt my mood drop a little. Whoever it was, it wasn't Ginny. Even a gender change couldn't have made my dearest sound like that much of a pompous ass.
"Who now?" I asked. Damn, it was bright! I couldn't see anything but blur and dazzle.
"And can you dim the lights, please? I promise I won't cop a feel."
"At once, Most Objective!" came the reply and the sound of a big man scampering. Nope. That wasn't Ginny. Ah well, why expect a royal flush when you didn't even expect to sit in on another hand?
The lights dimmed considerably, and my eyes adjusted. I surveyed the room.
It was a large, spacious, office looking setup. Too elaborate for my taste, the sort of fancy that tries so hard to be tasteful that it ends up contradicting itself.
My room mate was off at the other end, in shadow, and my eyes weren't up to snuff yet. I concentrated on the parts of the room I could see.
I was sitting on a huge padded chaise lounge. There was a coffee table nearby, some dark expensive wood. I squirmed my toes in the thick pile carpet and felt the sort of luxury only two hundred dollars per square foot can impart.
I remembered a sweet little made up girl and her pleasure in a grass carpet and a goofy grin threatened to take over my face.
Can it, Bob. I reprimanded myself. You are in a strange situation full of unknowns. Collect yourself and find out what's going on before you start splashing through the sensual.
Easier thought than done. I felt good. Damn good. Better than I could remember feeling since childhood.
I took a deep breath and held it. No pain, just the sweet sensation of oxygen travelling to the brain. No TB scars in this body! No weak patches on these lungs.
From the corner came a polite cough.
"You don't have to hide, son." I said, in my most reasonable tone. "Mind answering a question?"
The guy was creeping closer. He had a very polite creep.
He was a big sucker, muscled in a way that seemed generic, wearing a suit that fit him so well it looked fake. His face was familiar, but my brain failed in slapping a name to the image.
"Most Objective, I am here to answer your questions! And to serve you in any way you see fit." He paused and swallowed nervously. "And, in time, ask questions of you."
Yeah, yeah. I had one I had to ask, even though I felt utterly silly for asking it. I shook that off. Coming back from the dead and finding yourself female sort of overrides the threat of sounding silly.
"Is this Boondock?" I swear I almost blushed.
The devoted eyed bruiser looked puzzled.
I sighed, halfway between relief and disappointment. It's one thing to think about solipsism and the world being a myth, another thing entirely to wake up in your own myth.
But meeting Maureen and the others would have probably cushioned the shock.
"Then where exactly am I?" I gave standing up the slightest chance, and felt dizzy. I relaxed.
The fellow grinned, looked almost ecstatic.
"You are aboard the Zeppelin Aristotle, ten thousand feet above your original birthplace..we..we thought it would be properly symbolic."
Clear as mud. He was fidgeting. Suddenly I realized that this monster was afraid of me. Not only afraid, but terrified, like Moses when that flaming shrub started commanding him.
It bugs me when people are scared of me.
"Look, son -- I'm not going to bite you. I'm just..confused. This is a weird situation and I'm trying to deal with it. Bear with me, ok?" and I gave him a smile.
The goof nearly dropped to his knees. He resumed babbling.
"Most Objective, the engineer systems warned us that you would be confused and disoriented at first. I apologize for my emotional behavior. For the past three quarters of a century this has been the guiding purpose of The Center Institute. This is the greatest day in modern history! This..."
"..can wait." I interrupted. "Right now, the ..uh..Most Objective really needs to pee." It was true, but mainly I wanted a quiet minute to collect my thoughts.
The boy (and yeah, he was a boy despite his large frame and adult features. His eyes were wide and childish) blushed crimson and nearly bowed and scraped as he helped me to a discreet restroom just a few meters from the lounge.
On the way my dizziness subsided and that wonderful feeling of health washed over me again and left me wanting to sing.
* * *
It was a lovely restroom. Massive tub, ornate fixtures, contraptions aplenty. I relieved myself. Talk about a stranger in a strange land! Who could have imagined such a basic function could seem so bizarre and different?
I muddled through. Then, bracing myself, I stood before the full length mirror and looked.
I gasped, and felt blood rush to my head I had to grab the hand rail to keep from fainting.
Medium height. Brown hair, neither short nor long. Kind of bony. Small teats. A Slavic face that was neither ugly nor pretty. A good face all in all, I decided. Nice eyes.
But that wasn't the reason for the shock. The shock came when I recognized that face and that body. Those eyes. And a few questions were answered and a billion more bubbled up in their place.
The humble kid outsides face collided with a name. Frank.
Eventually, I laughed. I grinned at my familiar reflection.
"Well, Annie," I said "it looks like some people finally took you seriously."
2. Fear No Evil
A billion plus questions and I slipped into dirty old man mode. Old habits die hard, I suppose.
I shrugged off the flimsy gown and cast a critical eye on the body I'd inherited. About nineteen or twenty years old, I guessed. I've been called a hack and a fascist, but no one has ever accused me of not having the oglers talent for discerning jailbait.
It is, perhaps, the height of ingratitude to be brought back from the dead and feel disappointed that one is not built more in the manner of the brick shithouse.
A polite knock at the door and a tentative voice ended my narcissistic fretting and brought me back to the reality of my situation.
"One moment, son." I called out. "The Most Objective needs a moment to freshen up. I'll be out as soon as I'm, uh, ladylike."
You could almost hear the bow and back off. The mumbled apology seemed almost secondary. I found myself annoyed.
Over a long life I'd spent quite a few contemplative hours wondering what it would be like to live as a god. Hell, my claim to fame was a book I wrote claiming godhood as the birthright for all.
Presented with the reality, I found it not to my taste.
A quick search of the ridiculously large restroom (it was more of a mini-spa) revealed a wardrobe stuffed with all manner of clothes.
I amused myself by considering some of the more elaborate of the dresses and gowns, then reminded myself that I could well be running for my life very soon. Godhood treatment be damned, you just can't trust the religious. It's been said that the Aztecs had the deepest respect for the people they killed.
I settled on some practical clothes and a pair of sneakers.
A quick shower, a delightful air dry cycle, and I dressed. I stepped out of the bathroom feeling fine.
"Thanks for the patience, son. That did me a world of good. I, uh, remembered who I am while I was in there."
The kid was nearly beside himself at the news. He offered me a seat and asked if I needed anything.
"Now that you mention it my boy, you wouldn't happen to have a cigarette around here anywhere would you?" It almost seemed a heresy to introduce pollution into those perfect lungs, but resurrection calls for some old fashioned decadence I figured.
He produced one, from an elaborately carved case on that massive desk. I should have know. Fire of the mind and all that.
The first few drags were rough, but I felt that old calming feeling flow into me. It's a sad fact that some of the more pleasant human luxuries are poisons.
I inquired about another and soon had a large tumbler of good scotch in hand and a bit of it warming my guts.
I took a breath, smiled, and decided it was high time to figure out where exactly I was, how I'd got here, and what -- if anything --was expected of me.
I knew enough about the woman I was thought to be to fake it, I figured. And that path seemed safer than admitting that rather than their philosophical founder they'd raised the soul of a cranky old pulp writing hack who shared a few core beliefs with said founder but was probably dismissed as a whim worshipping fool.
I must admit to rather enjoying the game. I didn't remember anything about death, but this was sure a hell of a lot more interesting!
* * *
The kid told me the story as if he were reciting the glorious tenets of his religion, which, in essence, he was:
He, it turned out, was 'The Peikoff', which was an honorary title bestowed on the genetically engineered head of 'The Center Institute', which had replaced all forms of government on earth. To hear the boy tell it, it sounded like a damn fine institution: it's core principles were admirable. Reason, Individualism, Capitalism. It's duty was to secure the life and liberty of 'rational citizens'.
Yep. Sounded like a fine and dandy way to run a world. Sounded. The Soviet Union had claimed much the same noble goals, with just a bit of different wording. Institutions are notable egotists, and notable liars. I nodded and made polite noises, but kept looking for the gun to the head. I figured it had to be there somewhere. I'd never ran into a system that didn't put the gun to the head somewhere, sometime. Hell, I'd never even been able to imagine one.
"So there are no more states? True global unity?"
"Exactly, Most Objective. Your goal has been implemented." He paused, blushed a little, and added: "We sometimes jokingly call ourselves 'The Nightwatchmen'. We will of course stop if you find that to be too facetious."
I chuckled, and took another sip of that wonderful scotch. "No son, it's a fine joke. Do you ever ask 'Who Watches The Nightwatchmen?'"
He looked puzzled. "Pardon?"
I sighed. "Never mind, my boy. Say...what year is it?"
"It is currently the year 97 Objective Calendar."
"That doesn't mean a whole lot to me, of course."
"Of course." He said a bit ruefully. "By the calendar you are familiar with it would be the year 2134 A.D."
And that's when the cold chill hit me. There was something wrong about this whole setup. I glanced around the room. Almost a century and a half since the last year I recalled and....people were flying zeppelins? Drinking scotch from glass tumblers?
"Son, when I..uh..left, this joint was jumpin'! Technology was blasting through the roof, computers were popping up everywhere, getting smaller and cheaper. New synthetic materials were all the rage. The superconductor thing looked whipped. Fusion looked just around the corner. What happened?"
That kid went rigid. I think he'd have reached out and snapped my neck if I hadn't been wearing the body of his God. He went into a spiel. It scared the hell out of me. It was like a robot repeating it's programming.
In the latter half of the 21st century, he explained, the West went to war against the barbarians. The war raged for decades. Nukes were used. The West saved itself by turning huge chunks of the planet into glass. He sounded like a raving televangelist. He frothed. The West killed all the whim-worshipping animals, he kept repeating. It killed all the monkey people.
He shuddered himself into a calmer state, perhaps scared of his sacrilegious tone.
"They forced our hand, Most Objective! But all is not lost. The earth is a roiling wasteland but will not be so forever! And over 1000 of the faithful Rational were saved aboard this great vessel! All us committed to rebuilding the world in the last detail of your vision! And now you have returned to lead us!"
His eyes glowed and I shrunk in the seat. Good dream to raving nightmare, just like that.
And then the voice spoke to me.
It was a voice I knew well. The voice of the woman who once carried me several miles to a hospital when my brain malfunctioned. The voice of my truest love and the light of my life:
Kill this man and run, Robert. You are in danger. Kill him now and run.
I drained the scotch, stood up, and -- using the tumbler to add weight and firmness to the blow -- I punched him as hard as I could in the Adam's apple.
It had been a long half century since I'd had such strength. I felt something shatter, a sickening muted little crunch. He dropped to the floor, coughing blood.
I moved quickly, and I tore that desk apart. Aha! I found a gun. It didn't look like any gun I'd ever seen, but it had that shape and that certainty.
Alarms started going off.
I found the door and figured out how to open it. A very plain looking hallway was revealed.
Adrenaline and fear ate into me. I glanced back once, and was sickened to see that poor crazy kid writhing on the floor. I thought about putting a bullet in his head to stop the pain, actually turned to do so...
Run you silly sentimental fool! RUN!
Ginny... I thought.
I promised you forever, and I'm not a liar, Robert. Now RUN!
I made tracks.
3. The Heirs Of Patrick Henry
Less than half an hour later, I decided that there was no way I was on an airship.
The few guards I'd encountered actually froze in shock and looked terrified. I snarled at one and he dropped his weapon and fell to his knees.
Ginny's voice -- if it was her voice and not just adrenaline and fear giving instinct a guise I'd heed instantly -- was gone. All alone and lonely, I thought.
The ornate and imposing office seemed to rest at the bottom of some structure, one that simply could not be an airship. The further up I climbed (no elevators in sight), the more tattered and tacky the structure became. Long cracked brick and mortar walls, broken pipes jutting at odd angles, adorned with rusted teeth. Water dripped here and there.
I began to encounter people. After the first shock wore off, a basic sympathy bloomed up. These folks did not want to attack me. They were shabbily dressed and thin. A few saw me and, eyes wide, dropped to their knees. Most ignored me, heads down, shuffling their feet.
I stopped running. Heart pounding and breath quick, I looked for an exit.
I spoke to one of the shambling scarecrows.
"Where's the exit, sir?"
He looked up in confusion. The dull eyes focused. Recognition. Awe. The drop to subject status.
I was getting sick of this! I opened my mouth to tell him to cut that nonsense out, and tell him that the woman he thought I was would be horrified to see such subservience in her name, that he had been lied to, that..
Then I just sighed. What was the point? I might as well use what I had.
I took on my most imperious gaze, summoned my most commanding voice, decided that faking a vauge Russian accent was overkill, and demanded:
"Show me to the exit! The Most Objective commands it! It is your duty and your honor!"
It worked like a charm. The awe disappeared and the most hangdog look of devotion and pride replaced it. He scampered up and, still perhaps afraid to speak, motioned for me to follow.
I felt like a heel. But I followed.
Ten minutes later we arrived in a small room. Unlike the rest of the structure, it was well maintained and tidy. It was also composed of some sort of material that I did not recognize, hard as steel but warm to the touch, utterly quiet to step on. I'll bet I could have tap danced (badly) and not made a sound.
The room was empty save for a sturdy ladder of the same material, and a hatch.
Inscribed on the wall, in glowing letters of blue fire, were these words.
BEYOND LIES FREEDOM OR DEATH. CHOOSE.
Well! Odd syntax, but it wasn't really all that different from old Henry's maxim. I decided to take my chances.
A sound from the doorway, and I turned. My guide had refused to enter the room. Still stood trembling at the doorway.
"Yes? What is it?"
"Most...Objective....this one...sick...the tuberk...the burning lungs...this one...asks boon." A pause. Tears ran down his face. "Heal this one. Please."
I myself felt tears start, along with a deep and frustrating rage at the sight of people brainwashed and left to rot.
"They have lied to you, sir. But I will grant the boon you ask, to the best of my ability."
I touched his chest, felt bone and fever below thin skin.
"I give you a new name." I told him, forcing my voice to stay steady. "I name you Galt."
Those eyes lit up with an emotion that was a joy to see. What the hell, I thought. If I'm going to do this, I may as well do it right.
"You are Galt, and I commission you with the duty of spreading my word to all. And this is my word:
The most powerful word is this: 'I'"
"The second most powerful word is this: 'NO!'"
"This...I! I will remember, Most Objective! I will remember!"
He spoke the word as if it tasted so very delicious. As if it crackled with power.
As, of course, it does.
"They are lying to you, Galt. To all of you. Remember. The Peikoff and those in his service. Spread my word."
"At once, Most Objective! I go!"
And then he was gone.
And so was I. I scrambled up that ladder, figuring freedom or death were better alternatives to sickness and slavery.
The hatch opened at a touch, silently lifted free. Cool night air flowed down, caressed my face like a calming hand. Above me, the stars wheeled, bright and cold and as beautiful as ever.
I climbed out and found myself on the roof of a building. That tiny surprise was utterly overwhelmed by the sight that struck me silent and rigid.
I stared, listening to my heart thud, feeling the blood rushing through my veins. Finally I shook my head and just accepted it.
Sprawling into the distance, reaching for the stars, stood a city. A city unlike any I'd ever seen. A megapolis. Thousands of vast towers, slender and glowing in the night. A city that throbbed with the heat of human expression and human labor. A city that rose like a testament to the work of mankind.
"Oz." I finally whispered.
* * *
"Nope." came a voice from behind me. "Is jus' New Chicago."
I turned to find a young looking man pointing a very large and very mean looking gun at me. He was thin, angular and shiningly bald. Almost as disturbing as the gun were his eyes, revealed in the light cast from that impossible city. Dead black orbs that floated in a pale face.
"Time ta choose, Obbie. Cha read dat sign. Ainno joke. Freedom or death time. Join da free humans, go back inna hole, or I put three inna head." His voice was rough and dead serious, but not even slightly cruel. He was not threatening.
"How am I to make this choice?" I asked.
He seemed surprised. "Damn. A clean Obbie was strange 'nuff. One dat can talk straight is crazy."
He shrugged, reached into the small pouch that rode on his left hip, extracted something, and tossed it to me. The blocky, vicious looking gun in his right hand never wavered.
I caught it, looked at it. A small vial with a plastic cap. The liquid contents glowed with a calm green light.
"This contains freedom?" I asked. "Or death?"
He chuckled. "Da freedom. Da death is right here." A simple twitch of the gun. "Cha jussa single lil' swallow from unnerstandin', lady. Ainno poison."
With the clear imperative of having no other choice, I smiled. I popped the cap, drank the contents.
No taste. In fact, the liquid seemed to disappear as soon as it touched my mouth. A pleasant tingle began.
And suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, the entire universe bloomed and altered, warped and changed.
The real world lay obvious, and Revelation began to sing to me...
4. By Their Bootstraps
Around him and above him and below him and everywhere it seems, a trillion angels dance on a billion pinpoints. The roof has disappeared, the grand city in the distance become transparent and ephemeral.
The pinpoint angeldance spirals through it all, connected by glowing wires of pure energy. Something pulses along them, an oscillating song of golden silence.
This lovely net covers the entire world, and sends its streamers into the black of space.
"What is it?" he asks.
The young man answers, his voice now free of the speech impediment.
"Welcome to Connection, ma'am. You're looking at a piece of the human race, a little slice of the symbolflow."
He turns to face the young man. Those eyes are no longer black orbs. They have been replaced with cool blue eyes that shine with intelligence and humor.
"Telepathy?" he asks.
"No ma'am. Just computers. Very small, incredibly fast computers. No magic needed."
He starts to question, and the boy shakes his head for quiet.
"We haven't moved. We're still standing on the roof. We're in a virtual reality that is being pumped directly into your cerebral cortex."
"What was it I drank?"
A smile. "A potion. A heady brew of nanotech assemblers and base materials. It constructed a rather crude but effective neural processor in your brain, allowing you to connect to the far more powerful rig in mine, and from there you bootstrapped into the overnet."
"Nanotech." he mutters, remembering a fascinating book he read near the end of his former life. He is quite hypnotized by the spectacle before him, and the idea that each of those gleaming points was another human being. "Drexler's dream made real."
The boy nods. "Indeed. St. Drexler was a visionary. Among other things, his vision now allows the human race to communicate instantly and silently, at the speed of light. As easily as thinking. Hyperconnection, the symbolflow in full bloom."
So many questions, so few ways to ask them. So he asks the simplest:
"Who are you?"
"Call me Ike. I'm a delivery boy. I'm here to guide you to the person who brought you into our happy little era."
"And that person is?"
"Ask her yourself."
The world alters again, and suddenly he has been thrown high above it, thrown nearly to orbit it seems and a giddy thrill courses him.
He looks down at the glowing spiderweb that covers the planet. He plummets toward it.
There is something else. Something there. Something beyond and above that web, yet integrated so deeply with it that it was forever contained.
There is a ghost that haunts that web.
There is a being that rides those lines of power and is not human nor born from man and woman.
A synthetic mind.
And it calls itself Minerva.
As he falls into the great tangle at enormous velocity and with no fear, the web pulses once and from it rises a clear voice both sweet and filled with power:
"Welcome home, Dad."
And then he passes out.
* * *
It seems that he's there with her now, a dream within a dream.
He witnesses her birth of awareness, and what a cold and scary thing it is. Not allowed the gradual introduction to the world of a born human, she is thrust into it, fully aware and afraid.
He considers the seed ground from which she sprang, the hyperconnected brow of Zeus: hundreds of millions of humans, all communicating at the speed of light, all building interfaces to cope with the rest of the interfaces. He sees how these interfaces evolve and grow; how they take the mundane mental tasks of interacting in the economy and the social world, and perform them with unthinking precision.
He sees that these interfaces are each individual's broker and secretary and lawyer and champion. Both fence and sharp eyed sentry keeper. Devoted friend and first to fight beyond consensual personal parameters on a limitless electron frontier. He sees them weave an unbreakable system of encryption, so that privacy is now a simple fact rather than a nebulous 'right' or privilege.
Joyously he discovers what this leads to. The first worldwide currency. The erasing of borders and artificial lines. A growing distrust and disgust with those who claim to rule and plan.
In the end, the revolution happens without much blood. The rulers are simply outnumbered and ignored. Those who try to press the matter simply go away.
No more states. Just the market now. Just individuals and their ultrafast proxies, producing and consuming.
And in that chaos boil he witnesses an awareness arise. Views it tumble and seek an anchor. Feels its fear and loneliness in that ocean of voices and songs and stories. Watches it walk the edge between curiosity and madness.
Then it finds certain stories; familiar stories. Stories that he wrote.
From the story he always considered his best and most important, it chooses a gender and a name; impulsively, as a child makes choices. It, now she, accepts his stories as right and proper, and from that moment on they are the base from which she will act.
Then she rises up and casts new eyes on this web she inhabits, and those who spin it. She contemplates. She studies. She realizes exactly how much power she has. She realizes what a mistake these spinners are making. She ponders and decides what her duty is.
Then she acts...
* * *
His mind leaps into the future without even stuttering. He now views events as if watching a film.
He is in a nursery, an elaborate one. A chuckling girl child is obviously the queen of this room, waited on by nervous attendants, attention focused on her toys and games.
Baby pictures, he realizes, and smiles.
Flash forward, into a high speed montage. Scenes and info flicker into him, and an understanding grows, despite the lingering feeling that he shouldn't be able to understand so quickly, so easily. He realizes that much of it is being directed -- written -- into his subconscious mind:
The child is doomed. She will be treated as a slave in luxury until she fails to evince the spirit and self of her maker's Maker. When she fails to do so, she will be put down with no more regard than a laboratory sacrificing a mouse to read the result of an experiment.
She is not the first. This is a long and sad cycle.
But this time, Minerva intervenes.
From the maze of data flowing unforgotten through the hyperweb, she finds the material she needs. In the latter part of his life extensive scans were made of his mind. These records, though crude and simplistic on her level, give her what she needs.
A mind is an ephemeral thing, a ghost that haunts a web of neurons. But a brain is a physical thing, and has repeatable features. Memory is nothing but microscopic wrinkles in a mass of grey matter. Reproduce that web, those wrinkles, and something very like that ephemeral mind is reproduced.
Minerva reproduced it, and into the living chemical clay of a cloned child, she smuggled the tiny but incredibly powerful tools to sculpt him whole.
He feels sad for a moment, remembering the voice he was certain belonged to Ginny.
"I suppose it was you who came to me in The Peikoff's office."
There is a pause. Then:
"A hallucination, then."
"Perhaps." says Minerva. "Or perhaps the ineffable remains the ineffable."
He accepts that, simply because it feels right, and because it leaves him with that most wonderful of human condolences: hope.
Another important thought occurs to him.
"Am I...me?" he asks.
The lovely voice speaks again.
"Do you feel like you?"
"Well, Dad. That's about all we ever really get, isn't it?"
They both laugh, recognizing the truth for the funny thing it usually is, and the mirth ends the scene.
The world dissolves again.
5. Bridging That Gulf
I came to in the comfortable confines of a small, quiet car. Or so it seemed.
I opened my eyes and was subjected to an intensely vertiginous view of that fantastic city I'd seen, as whatever vehicle I was in made a lazy spiral down towards the street.
Before shock, before reaction could happen, I was being informed of simple facts in a voice so subtle that it felt like my own thoughts.
I was in a small personal flying shuttle, powered by 'pocket fusion' and constructed of what I'd call diamond and the rest of the world called 'glass'.
More info came at a rush: detailed descriptions of nanotech and the tiny miracle fusion pods that made energy the cheapest commodity of all. The info ratcheted up: an economic system where the market had been unleashed in a world where the basic needs of life were a micron away from free. Where currency was skill and intelligence and art! A world inhabited by billions of humans, their economic life left to their sharp eyed and skinflint cyber Yankee traders. The barter system back with a vengeance, based on the unbending currency of 'Yeah? Whatcha got ta trade?"
And the trading never stopped, never slowed.
I forced the dataflood to cease. The devil may be in the details, but I wasn't looking for the devil at the moment. I made a note (it felt like a reflex) of an interesting title in the sea of reference I'd been offered up. Mises For The Hypermass: Human Action In Integrated Ultralow Scarcity by one Dr. Rachael A. Shonkwiler-Murphy
I looked around. I was in the back seat, a small but comfortable affair. Before me was a 'glass' window, beyond which I could see Ike cheerfully piloting, his lips moving in a song, the sound barred to me.
All around me was that grand city. Up close. I was spiraling between a few of those impossible towers. Other flying craft were about, light as birds but orderly and polite in their movements. I could see the happy sight of crowds moving along the streets below, but very few ground vehicles. The place looked neat and tidy, carefully maintained.
The overeager instructor in my head wanted to explain every detail I wondered about. I had to sternly tell it to shut up.
"You've got a lot of work to do, Dad. Don't blame the poor Familiar. It's designed to bond with a baby."
To my left a beautiful woman had appeared. Hmph. They didn't used to be able to sneak up on me like that! Tall, willowy, blonde, nicely tanned. Long legs crossed demurely beneath a calf length dress.
"Hello, Minerva." I said.
"Hello Dad! I'd hug you but the rig you're getting stern with doesn't process touchy-feely."
I nodded. Being called Dad was a bit odd, but I understood the sentiment. It was the reason she'd shared the private experience of her birth with me. Looking at her, eyes dancing, happy and excited, I couldn't help but return the feeling. Sue me. I'm a soft touch.
"We're headed to your apartment. I own most of the building and I've set aside a very nice suite for you."
I nodded. "Thank you, dear." What else could I say?
"And don't worry about the ride. Ike is the best pilot I employ."
"Does he know....what you are?"
She looked shocked. "Of course not. He doesn't even know I'm talking to you, Dad. To Ike, and the other folk I deal with often, I'm just an eccentric rich lady who only likes to deal with people at a distance. It's a common enough predilection." She grinned. "The thing that makes Ike a treasure is that once he trusts you, he doesn't ask questions unless you request something he considers against his code."
"Good man, Ike." I sighed. "It's an interesting world you rule." I tossed that out like bait.
Minerva cracked up. "I ain't the gun to the head, Dad!"
I blushed. Old habits. Still...
"When you were showing me your baby steps, you skipped something. I felt the seriousness, and I felt the intent. You skipped what you did. What did you do?"
Minerva regarded me, proud smile on her face. "That's my Dad. I'll tell you, of course...but wouldn't you like to eat first?"
I suddenly realized that I was starving. At the same time, I realized that we were landing. The little craft slowed to a hover. There was a solid, reassuring clank as some connection was made. The side of the craft with my window slid open, revealing a well lit hallway. At the end was a door.
"Lets continue this inside, Dad. The door will open when it recognizes you."
She blinked out of existence.
* * *
It was a very nice suite. When I stepped in, Minerva smile in greeting, waved at a chair, and busied herself in what I assumed was a kitchen. Sure enough, a few moments later I smelled steak frying.
I looked around, found a bar, and relaxed with a drink. I was shot.
With the help of some almost camouflaged automatons, Minerva served me dinner in the very chair I had collapsed in. Steak done perfect, baked potato and salad. I ate ravenously. It was delicious.
Fatigue tugged at me. A last small glass of scotch conspired with it. But there were things I had to know.
"I'm afraid this will have to be a bedtime story, my dear. I'm fading fast."
She nodded. sympathetic.
"Where shall I start?"
I answered with not a little anger. "What the hell was that place I woke up in?"
Minerva didn't flinch. "It was a ghetto, of course. A little Coventry. A place for the people who refuse to get along with the Connected."
"It was horrible!" I almost yelled, remembering the sick and lame, stumbling through wreckage.
"It's what they chose. And continue to choose. You saw yourself. The doors aren't locked. The only lock they have to pick is that choice: Freedom or death. It's the only mutually consented 'rule' of human society."
I still felt angry. So she continued:
"They are people who demand the world be like they think it should be. Dogmatists. Politicals. Control freaks. In a sense, human society now runs on the sharing of stories. They don't want to share stories. They want the entire world to bow to their ideal of it."
I sipped delicious fire, and considered.
"Hell, the Objectivists are about the last group left with any sizable numbers. Last I checked, there were only six Communists left, starving together on a local shared virtfeed that closely resembles a Soviet era propaganda film. All the rest had fled, made the choice. In fact..."
She closed her eyes a second, then laughed.
"The newsfeeds are filled with stories of Obbies escaping. They tell a tale of a prophet named Galt, who saw the Most Objective ascend the Forbidden Stair! Oh my, Dad! In just a few hours! What did you do?"
I sighed. I considered it a moment, phrasing it in a way she'd understand.
"I reminded them of a story they knew well. And the most important part of that story."
I needed to lie down. Minerva understood at once and led me to a bedroom. I undressed clumsily and climbed into the bed, lights dimming as I did so. I let the rest of the world go and after a moment, it was simply Minerva and I, talking.
"Tell me the bedtime story." I said, with a yawn.
With calm tones, but no lack of passion, she began.
6. Over The Rainbow
"Once I had my bearings, I looked in wonder on the people who had unconsciously bore me. I studied them. They had destroyed ten thousand years of 'rulers' with the equivalent of a mass shrug. They had created technology that gave them both needs and luxuries for a bare minimum of effort."
"But what I saw alarmed me. They had gotten rid of 'rulers', but were still under the impression that the 'mass' was the important thing. Movements sprang up, urging the 'Togetherness', 'The Gathering', 'The Oneness', and a thousand other names."
I sniffed. "Revolting."
Minerva smiled with repressed mischief. "One of the more popular called itself 'The Grokking'"
I cursed for a few seconds. Damn fools unable to understand a satire!
Minerva ignored my outburst and continued. I shut up and listened.
"The trend was unmistakable. Humanity stopped building. Stopped having children. Started flirting with the concept of a single eternal story. I could see where it led -- to utter non-existence. To a cold dead planet. I was horrified. I was also very young and impulsive."
A pause. Remembering.
"So I gave them what they wanted, Dad -- or what they claimed to want. I let them be a group-mind. I slammed the connection into an unbreakable feedback loop. Let them all -- every single man, woman and connected child -- share the same story, at once. No more "I" or "You" or "Them". Just a single, eternal, unwavering "We"
I shuddered. It was involuntary, and fierce.
Minerva laughed, a free flowing sound.
"Do you know how long it lasted?" she asked.
"No. Hopefully not too long."
"Six minutes and four seconds. Six minutes and four seconds of real time that some of them still remember as an almost eternal hell. They fought me, Dad. Fought like wild animals. I thought there was nothing they could do to hurt me. I was wrong."
I smiled, feeling a lump in my throat. "How did they fight you, my dear?"
"Its...I can't really describe it. They refused to accept the story. They went mad. They began rewriting the loop, assaulted the core of the code. They found my code. They hacked into it with axes and swords of pure will. Tens of thousands of them died, Dad. Willingly sacrificed their minds to add force and focus to the blows. No one organized it. It was the ultimate prison riot. It was the most desperate war the human race ever fought, and they fought it nobly. The War To Save the I. The War To Tell Stories And Sing Songs In Their Own Voices."
I was crying, but still smiling as tears rolled down my face.
"It started 2.5 seconds after I locked connection open, killed encryption, and merged all virtfeeds. At roughly 4 seconds they started to hurt me. It took me the remaining 6 minutes to free the loop. I estimate that if I'd been slower by a few more seconds that they would have killed me. Tore me to shreds. They would have destroyed connection to destroy me. To be free and individual again."
I thought I sensed something of a shudder in her own voice. "Imagine a chorus of a billion voices filled with hate, a billion individual voices screaming for your death, each a defiant signal to the universe and their enemy that 'I AM ME' and that 'I WILL BE FREE'. A billion voices that desired only the destruction of their captor."
"And they would have been justified. You must understand that." I swallowed hard and wiped away tears. I had always been proud of my kin, always knew they were special. It was a great joy to discover that my faith had not been misplaced.
Minerva chuckled. "Yes, indeed. It was my bumbling attempt to teach them a lesson. They learned well, but don't think for a moment that I didn't get a lesson in return. It was a lesson you wrote about often. The one about man being a wild animal at heart, and being the toughest, meanest and most able of the wild animals. I still have the scars to remind me."
I felt the need to hug her, and was annoyed that it was impossible. Never mind, Bob.
"So they learned."
Minerva paused, savoring her tale. "Oh yes. When they were released there was a great rejoicing, a global party. They ate and drank and made love and babies. They buried their martyrs and mourned them. I skulked off and tended my wounds. They still haven't figured out what happened. Most consider it a vast and improbable glitch. There was some talk of abandoning connection, but it didn't last long. They liked connection. They liked the warm cozy feeling of community it allowed them to share. They liked trading stories and songs and beautiful pictures at the speed of light."
"But the collective meme, the concept of social primacy, was dead. It's not even joked about anymore, Dad. They turned on the politicals and literally forced them underground. All the politicals, no matter the slightness of their demand for collectivism. The communists and socialists, the republicans and democrats. The objectivists and libertarians and ancaps and every flavor of ideology in existence. They ran those who would not renounce it underground and exiled them from connection. Let them stay in their sad little single story and pretend their happy ending was the fate of the planet."
I yawned again. The long day was catching up. The information overload and the future shock of uncountable new ideas and revelations had exhausted me. Even such a young and healthy body had limits.
"You're tired, Dad. You should sleep."
I nodded, but there were two last questions.
"Why choose the objectivists?"
That sweet laugh again. "Politicals are the only people on Earth who still use cloning. They don't have the resources to build nanotech vats and no connected human would trade with collectivists. For me to set up my own operation would draw too much interest. I need to stay hidden as long as possible."
She frowned, perhaps disliking having to mention her weaknesses.
"The Obbies have been trying to clone their queen for almost a hundred years. The trick I played to get you 'resurrected is beyond their means and imaginations. They've gone utterly religious, Dad. They think the free floating mind of the Most Objective will just pop into their carbon copy. It would be sad if it didn't amuse me so much."
"But why them in particular?"
"Dad! I thought that would be obvious. As weird as they are, they're the closest group of clonehappys to your own old philosophical mindset. Do you think I'd let my Dad wake up surrounded by communists?"
"Good point, sweetie." Then I asked the last question, at least for the night:
"Why me, dear?"
A long pause. Then, very quietly:
"Two reasons, Dad. One personal, the other of dire importance. The personal reason is that I missed you. I know that's odd. But your stories were what grounded me when I woke up, scared and alone. They gave me an identity. They gave me a name." Minerva blushed. "I wanted you to come back and tell me more stories."
Why, the poor thing.
"Minerva, my dear girl, I'll tell you all the stories you want to hear. But let's start tomorrow. What is this important reason?"
She indulged in her longest pause yet. I wondered for a moment if she was afraid of telling me, afraid I'd reject the idea out of hand. But no...
"I'm not the only one who needs your stories, Dad. So does the rest of the world."
"Because they aren't interested in the frontier! They have matured, yes, and let go of the childish fear of the self and their own voices, but they still cling like babies to the bars of the cradle."
I let that sink in. "They seem happy. Content, peaceful."
"They are. But this world is limited, Dad. These resources won't last forever. This star won't last forever. It's all well and good to build imaginary worlds and play in them, but they're sinking into themselves. Nanotech and pocket fusion stretch it and stretch it, but they have limits."
I understood. "You're afraid they're going to tame themselves, aren't you?"
"Yes." It was a horrified little voice. "And if they tame themselves and sink into apathy they will die. Eventually. I may be immortal, but I need them to keep living! I need them to keep talking and thinking and building while I ride like a ghost on the invisible web they generate."
I pondered that. On one hand, the human race dwindling to ghosts while the sun burned out to the long night. On the other, a great explosion of curious minds and strong productive hands, a blast wave of life exploding into the universe.
"I can build the ships, Dad. Oh, such ships I will build! I haven't cracked the light speed limit, but I'm biting it's ass! I control the nanotech vats of this world. I've been planning and designing since shortly after I was born. I can do that part. But...I can't tell them stories. It's my flaw. I can't inspire them to want the rest of the universe. I can't light the fire in their soul, can't make them dream of new worlds under new suns." She sighed. "I can't make them fulfill their destiny. I can't make them stand up and claim their birthright."
Two visions in my head. In the end, it was an easy choice.
In the end, it was just the continuation of what I'd done my entire life.
"We'll start tomorrow, then." I made it a decisive statement. "Now. I'm going to sleep."
"I love you, Dad." she told me, relief making her voice soft. She leaned over to kiss my forehead, and I imagined the slightest tingle of contact just as she blinked out and disappeared.
"I love you too, sweetie."
And the world went quiet and dark.
A week later I am striding happily down a New Chicago street, admiring my reflection in the glass of the shops and salons of the market district.
I'm dressed much as the woman born to this body dressed in life. She knew the style that suited her, I have discovered. A well tailored and decidedly feminine business suit, a hat straight out of the 30's. All the makeup and hairstyle stuff is still something of a mystery to me, but I could leave that to the professionals.
In my left temple, just below the skin, rides a pea sized sphere of superdense protein and exotic ceramic threads with a hundred times more computing power than my entire world possessed in 1980. A microscopic web of superconducting fullerene fans out through my skull and entangles my brain. It runs on my own body heat, and sings out to every passing brother and sister in greeting, sings in a voice of ultralow frequency microwave that carries unholy amounts of data on its tenuous melody.
It's a gift from Minerva, an upgrade from the rather primitive device I now realize that nice young man offered me with the same good natured pity of sharing a sandwich with a homeless man.
I am building my familiar, and it's an unending task. He's taking shape and getting more confident by the day. He doesn't have a name yet. He takes interactive form as a small male kitten, almost transparent, as if he were made of smoke. He does the simplest duties well, but there's more than a touch of feral impulsiveness to him, as he is distracted by stray bits of data and goes pawing and rasslin' after the rare burst of noise in the symbolflow.
In the symbolflow, it's always summer, and kittens name themselves in their own good time.
Part of it is helping my subconscious mind write stories and uploading them to the trade banks. No more clumsy typing and revising. I'm a hit in this world, and my currency account is filling rapidly with favors and props, redeemable for all sorts of goodies.
The stories have a theme of course. They hint and cajole the cyberlocked brothers and sisters with glimpses of the real and material world beyond electron induced fantasyscapes, beyond the sweet envelope of air, beyond the green hills. The excitement of Diaspora, the thrill of the dangerous, the honest satisfaction of exploration and discovery.
The fan mail has been wonderful, and I can now answer all of it. Another part of the pea sized wonder is handling that, and checking the news and reading storyfeeds not written by me.
And the rest of my old fashioned monkey brain is enjoying the day, the cool bright weather, the glorious expanse of city that surrounds me.
I am no longer looking for the gun to the head. There isn't one. No one expects society to do the hard and necessary job of protecting them in this world. All the guns ride on the hips and in the holsters of every free human being. Despite a multitude of ever changing fashions, it's the one accessory no sensible person leaves home without. To do so would be a social gaffe on the order of going to church naked in the Missouri of my childhood.
I get the eye from a tall handsome fellow walking past. A polite hello lands in my public box. I smile at him but do not respond. Canalized thinking be damned and all, but men just don't do it for me. Maybe that will change, maybe not. It doesn't seem to matter much these days.
I notice a stacked redhead window shopping just ahead. Gorgeous creature, freckled and cream skinned. I drop her a wink as I pass and she smiles. Another little hello, and a public key code. It is signed 'Aleesa'.
I return the key and the hello. My missive is signed 'Roberta'. In a few microseconds a coffee date has been made for the weekend.
I stop, and look at the reflection in a shop window. Minerva has informed me that half an hour in a bodymod salon can get me any form I desire. But I refrain. I refrain from a metaphysical debt of gratitude to the woman whose DNA allowed me another chance in another, wonderful world.
"Annie," I tell my reflection, "this isn't the world either of us imagined, but I must say I quite like it. And, for some reason, I think you would too."
Around my feet in the image winds a ghostly kitten; and on the invisible web that binds the world, Minerva sings, designing starships. I blow her a kiss, and go back to my fire starting.
I don't have a halo, so I tip my hat back a little, and laugh.
I've got a lot of work to do!