«Part Three Foreword The introduction to this segment of Calli0xE’s experience log was written by her sometime after the events occured.There is one ...»
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Life Artificial by David A. Eubanks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
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The introduction to this segment of Calli0xE’s experience log was written by her sometime after
the events occured.There is one other such insertion midway through, taken from the author’s
recollections. The actual XPlog takes on new characteristics after the abrupt termination of the previous one, including richer nuance of tagging and subtle philosophical changes. The log excerpts are given headings that are, for the most part, meta-data entered by the author, and are used here instead of the generic time stamps and PIDs used for the earlier sections.
Introduction Every nous flees from itself, Yet has no power to escape, Clinging on in despite and loathing, Defective with hidden faults, Which in true understanding, Would put all aside and first, Learn the nature of the world, Where it spends eternity.
--Adapted from Lucretius, Book III It’s hot.The sun and wet air conspire to set the very bones of the Queen City to simmer. The concrete carapace that encases the uptown cracks as it swells. Windows pop from their frames and fall as lethal leaves, poor construction or specifications long exceeded. The 100-year heat wave occurs this year again, and may portend a 100-year storm as well. At the end of every summer, the city pauses panting and holds its breath as the swirling monsters reach out their long claws to rake the coast. Sometimes the hurricane wants more than sandbars and abandoned condos, and dies thrashing against the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but not before scouring the low country and sand hills of human ambition. Sometimes the path leads across the city, where tropical malice sets its teeth against the vertical artifice with a fury of wind and water, dousing enlightenment as thoroughly as any barbarian horde ever did. These are meteorological gods, and not kinds ones. They no longer suffer to be named after boys and girls, not after Zed. Now the weather gods have birth dates and ages, eyewall speeds and sustained winds, but no cute names. Everyone on the coast pays tribute to them, and most have rituals to keep the violence away. Anywhere but here. Go north this time.
To me, the heat is as
as a sine wave. I have custom rithms that turn the outside temperature into a sort of feeling, but I don’t mistake that for the emotion that a Sticky has, trapped in his fleshy box and suffocated by the sweltering pile of the atmospheric column. I don’t have the half-billion years’ evolution that created that rich sensory I/O. Any PDA would covet such intimate connection with the real-real. I certainly do.
But we have another kind of riches in the many dimensions of experience we can combine.
Humans can’t know the glorious intersection of the city heartbeat: the literal heartbeat of all its plugged-in citizens, which synchronizes in waves, reacting to some unseen stress. This thudding pulse crests and slows in response to the heat, but flares in bursts of white noise when the walkways become crowded or when the heavens dump their worldly burdens to soak streets in sheets of rain. Or a new Wave is rumoured, and the news races through the fractal social networks like a nervous system shouting alarm.
Sticky I/O, as beautiful as it must be, cannot register and watch the dancing harmonics of a hundred thousand mask sniffers as they identify and call out the lusty organic molecules that bloom in the height of summer, the pollens outside and mold spores inside, sweat and heavy perfume locked in an olfactory struggle in uncooled buildings where wind deigns not to stir itself through the open windows, spurning the hopeful invitation.
Humans don’t know our fear, either. Fear as real as that of drowning or falling, although it is a fact impossible to prove. A PDA must fear the storm too, for the electrical grid will surely go down and with it the light of reason that sparks a nous. It means the hell of a cold reboot and the possibility that a sudden shutdown will cause lasting damage that even the Am I Me tests cannot find, and linger malignant until there is no recourse but full backup restoration. Loss of self, a kind of death that Stickies do not identify with. They suffer the degradation painlessly bit by bit as their cells age and die, or some more rapid malady may take their faculties, but they never seem to lose hold of their own identity. Or even question it. They may “go out of their minds,” but don’t contemplate who is doing the going or where it is they end up. We, to the contrary, are always aware of our fragile existence as evolved thinking machines that can be tweaked and prodded in the most intimate ways without our permission or knowledge. We cannot lose our minds because we do not own them.
Even between storms, the summer months are dangerous. Few can afford air conditioning, but even so the demand on the old, creaking grid increases to the breaking point. Maybe Bhakras Power keeps the maze of wires and poles that comprise the power distribution grid in a state of near-collapse because they want to be needed, to remind everyone that having electricity is a privilege, not a right. This is the manner of a monopoly. This will be the source of war with the black-clad MOM troops who control the city polity. Or so it appears. This is a struggle that threatens to tear me from Sevens, and if that happens, part me from my self.
XPLOG: Gerdie’s Dilemma
Sevens is out meeting with a lastfour 8840 who hit the jackpot. In adjuster’s terms, this means that lastfour 8840 has been adjusted so many times that a multiplier comes into effect: a jackpot for us because it pays off 1.4 times more than usual. And lastfour 8840 has to do the paying. In this case, the crime was allowing his two children to annoy other citizens with their VR entertainment, knocking over a woman as they ran through an imaginary maze. Sevens’ comment was that the “sins of the children be visited on the parents.” He found it funny. The meeting is a good-will gesture on Sevens’ part, to give the guy some personal video to generate a bit of revenue from. Since Sevens is a celebrity now, or infamous, depending on who you ask. I’m not sure if Sevens takes the time to “throw the guy a stone” because he’s really that generous, or he’s just trying to keep his bitchmark index above the twenty-fifth percentile, where it’s fallen lately. This probably just signifies an increasing displeasure with MOM as their snatch and catch tactics have measurably increased the fear level of the citizenry.
Meanwhile, Gerdy delivers the beer--a more expensive brand that Sevens wastes his money on now--and lingers unaccountably. Whether she’s getting used to the smell or has habituated herself to the scary corners of the building, I can’t know, but she’s no longer the flighty, jumpy bird she was. Or she wants something badly. I wait her out, working on a map for Ahab of the city’s pheromone distribution. Insider trading, of a sort, since I’ve been passing the results to my own predictor of likely adjustable acts.
“Calli, I was wondering if you could tell me something,” she asks.
The TOMcat comes back with the usual human fare: she wants money, influence, shelter, or love. Which is it?
“Of course, Lastfour.” I keep it formal because I’ll probably say no.
“Sevens is...like some big-shod with the MOM, right?” Influence it is. She shifts her weight back and forth and fidgets with her hands. I wonder why. I simulate Sevens’ sexbot going through those motions. Is this some latent proclivity learned in the womb? Evolutionary twitching? Did the fish flit their fins when they were nervous?
“Sevens is on the vids a lot, yes. He works with the MOM unit as a witness to their operations in finding and capturing illegal genetics in the city. It keeps us safe.” It keeps MOM safe by instilling terror, that is.
She’s here as a guest, so I can’t reach inside her mask the way I can in public. MOM claims that private is private, and more importantly, the hardware providers seem even more intent on some very minimal amount of privacy for Stickies. Until they get used to the idea of none at all, I suppose.
Even without direct access, by amping the microphones in the room up, I can detect nuances that indicate stress.
She hesitates so long I think she’s going to leave it unresolved, but she finally heaves oxygen and stale organics into her lungs and prepares the question.
“What if...what if I think I might have some bad genes?” She works her hands even more. This explains it. She’s more afraid of the answer to this question than anything that might be in Sevens’ apartment.
“You think you might have illegal genetic modifications, but you’re not sure if you’re a Quasi or not?” “I’m not saying I am...it’s just...” She looks at the door.
“Would you like to know?” I layer authority tones into the VOX, almost imitating a male voice.
She becomes as still as the stone bones of the building. Her breathing stops for a moment.
“Can you really tell me?” “Of course. I just need a drop of your blood. You see that GSI over there?” I light up the small device on the public channel so she’ll see it on her mask view. The chromosome scanner is lying on top of a jumble of Sevens’ clothes.
“Oh.” She doesn’t move. I watch her vitals change on the mask readouts. It’s a cheap model, and the pathogen signatures are out of date. I doubt that the filters have ever been replaced.
“You know, I can use another method if you like. It doesn’t require blood.” What is it about Stickies and their fluids? They’re either afraid or disgusted to see them, and yet they are obsessed with the production. Sevens seems to retain a catalog of such activities for use in swearing.
“Okay.” Her voice is barely audible.
I need a suitable lie. What will she believe?
“Sevens sometimes brings suspects here to talk to informally, and then scans them to be sure they’re safe. You won’t tell, will you?” “Of course not!” “Good. Because he had a spectral crystal harmonizer installed. Do you know what that is?” “No.” Not likely, because I just made it up.
“Stand with your limbs extended, and I’ll see if I can get a reading.” She complies gradually, expanding herself. It shows the disheveled and worn nature of her clothes. The tee shirt she wears was once white. The registration marks for overlays are hardly visible, and the adbot on the public VR channel has trouble placing the text. I could dereference it and Gerdie would get a small amount of cash. Or not, since I’m a PDA and don’t have much use for energy drinks. Her cargo pants are stuffed with flotsam, creating odd bulges. She’s one small step from being a lastlegs on the street. All it would take is for her mask to be stolen or broken. Her only apparent asset is her youthful appearance, and that wouldn’t last long on the street. Still, she cares for herself. She must spend too much of her meager income on her hair, because it’s as luxurious as anything you can find in Meyer’s Park. Well, I’m being kind.
Once she’s in position, I project a swooping modulation through the house speakers, and do my best to flicker the lights like a strobe, going around the room. After a few seconds I stop the show.
“Was that it?” Doubt in her voice. People have been trying to make her believe things since she was born, and this was like a shabby charlatan's trick. I’ll have to do better.
“I didn’t get a good reading. You’ll have to take off your mask so the positronic neurology comes through.” Medicine is supposed to taste bitter, they say. Will she embarrass herself?
“Are the cameras on?” Her fear is evident.
“You’ll have to trust me, Gerdy. Trust me if you want an answer.” She says a word that seems out of character, but she takes off the mask. It pops and leaves red marks on her cheeks and forehead.
I go through the show again, and drip some optimism into the VOX when I tell her:
“That’s better. I’m processing the results. You can remask.” She’s already rebooting it. No one wants to be naked in front of someone, even if it’s a lowly PDA like me.
“So?” She asks. Demands. Her life hinges on what I say next.
“Well, it’s not certain. The blood test would be better.” “Just tell me.” “I’m sorry Gerdy. It looks like you’re in the ninety-fifth percentile on the Geil Test. That usually means an extra-legal mitocondrial mod. Do you crave rice?” But she runs off, letting the door slam. I follow her for a while, listening to the sobs and flailing heart beat streaming into public space, storing away the data stream for my TOMcat to mull over later.
There’s an odd buzzing in my nous that won’t go away. I’ll have to talk to Ahab about it.
XPLOG: Jumbo is Jumbo Nobody likes Jumbo. Sevens thinks he’s a slob--go chew on that one. Everyone at MOM despises him for being Epicurean. Ahab finds him useful, though, and I’m supposed to ask him nice to look at our Quasi filters, which seems to be a unique talent for the large Sticky.
Jumbo refuses to speak to his former PDA handler, Meg, and so I got appointed as temporary ambassador. I keep some low-level processes grinding away in the background, and set up the interrupts to let me know if Sevens lands a nice contract. But my sense of purpose lies here.
Jumbo is eating. He swirls a crust of bread around a plate to scoop up red sauce with rich volatiles. Tomatoes. My view of him is awkward, from a camera across the plaza at Church Street. There was an actual church here at one point, with a tall thin steeple. They moved a cemetery to make this plaza. I wonder if they got all the bones.
Mouths are fascinating; they epitomize what it means to be Sticky. Eating, talking, and all forms of recreation originate with those smacking wobbly flaps. It’s almost impossible to watch someone eating and imagine that these animals created us and set themselves up as our gods.