Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Machines of Shiloh 5

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"There is simplicity in waking up each free of the webs and nets of technology.  So much information at your fingertips can only strain you, drag you down from others.  Technology cannot free you.  You must do this yourself.

"This was the failure of the UAD and those before us.  They failed to toss aside the very technology that made them irrelevant."
Ada Malkav
To Walk Free

Charles echoed what all three of us were thinking.  I just nodded.  Unconsciously I made mental notes.  I had the urge to sketch this out.  But I hadn't thought to bring a pencil or anything with me.

Seeing Roosevelt for the first time was staggering.  As we walked out of the pines of the preserves, the world looked like it was warping around us.  Towers.  Glass, neon and silksteel glittered before us.  The city shinned.

And it stretched up.  And up.  And up.  It went up into the sky. Unfolding above us in what seemed like a sphere of silver, crystal and glowing reliefs.

Lights flew between buildings, sparkles flitting here and there.    There was green too.  Vertical farms and gardens of all kinds. Holos flickered as well, some showing vids.  Others displayed animated artwork.  A statue of three people stood at the entry to this spectacle of lights, towers and crystals.

I paused as we neared the statues.  I recognized them, but their names remained at the tip of my tongue.  I knew they were famous American figures, but nothing else came to mind.  My mind just remained affixed with the beauty of it all.

"Fek."  Charles shook his head.

"Pretty, sure."  Augustine shrugged.  "Don't get too enamored with the facade guys.  Be og to not be wary, you know."

"We aren't being og, Augustine."  I shrugged.  "Just admiring the sight of it, you know?"

"Sure."  Augustine prodded me with a finger.  "No second thoughts?"

"What?"  I tried not to let my voice squeak.

Charles cocked an eyebrow.  "This really the best time, Augustine?"

"He ran off first at the water station.  Sam talks a big game, but you know he'll panic like his old man."

I tried not to glare at Augustine.  "Your really going to throw my fekking father into this."

"Oh?"  Augustine waved a hand at Roosevelt.  "Your old man does nothing.  You've got to prove yourself here, Sam.  What do you add to this?"

Charles nodded.  "He's right, Sam.  Aug and I did most of the work at the water station.  You ran off."

I thought back to the water station.  I remember the voice I had heard.  How I ran, panicking.  "I told you guys, I'd heard a voice."

"But there wasn't anything there."  Augustine shook his head.  "You got scared and started to imagine things.  Remember the lessons my old man told us?  How Ada Malkav warned about letting takers outweigh the effort of givers?"

"'There is a more ancient law, the law of commerce.'" I quoted from memory. "I remember social studies too, Aug."

"Except most people don't deal in commerce anymore."  Charles added.

"The point still stands, regardless."  Augustine still gave me a hard stare.  I felt ashamed.  I mean, a part of me really regretted having panicked like that.  The same part that wanted to be my mother's son.  A hero of Shiloh.

"Yeah, but money used to require machines to use it."  Charles said.  "It was a complicated system that didn't help people."

"Charles, he's referring to how a society needs producers."  I pointed at the statues and the towers before us.  "There are always those who provide.  They create the goods, do the hard work that makes society run."

"And there is something wrong with having machines do that hard work.  I know that."  Charles shook his head.  "But that glances over other questions.  Like, how about those who can't provide for themselves?  Must they starve or are they allowed to accept the aid of others?"

Augustine shrugged.  "Except for a rare case, most of these people should realize that too- that they have decided to avoid work.  Others haven't, yet they horde the goods created by the labor of their machines.  They profuse to help their fellows, but where were they when we needed them most?"

I bit my lower lip.  In the back of my mind, I felt some memory tug at me.  The charter that Shiloh was founded on  had been something I had read in school.  Most everyone had grown up learning it.  Not all of us quite comprehended it, however.

"Yes and no about that."  Charles pointed out.  "They've chosen to think of machines as people.  I don't think that casts them as just takers, Aug."

We continued to walk in the direction of the entrance to the city.  Above us automated vehicles whirled and buzzed here and there.  Mobiles continued in and out of Roosevelt on a nearby tube.  The clear glass tube continued until it sank under the surface of the ground itself, looking more like a root to a tree than a major point of transit.  Holos were everywhere, but I had nothing to orientate with.  We continued on, but I felt the tension between us.

Augustine continued to look at me.  I got the feeling that this tension would continue until the mission was over.  After all, he couldn't look any weaker than me.

"I suppose that's one take.  But what-"

"And there's the inherent hypocrisy in the charter too."  I said.  The two of them turned and stared at me.  "I mean, we specifically ask to be left alone, yet the charter chides outsiders for not helping us.  We might... you know, consider asking them about this."

I gestured at Roosevelt in general.

"Asking them what?"  Charles asked.

"If they want to join us."  I shrugged.  "I mean, if the Machines are in charge, they censor any messages that are positive about Shiloh.  Maybe if we asked for aid, they might-"

Augustine then walked up and kicked me in the shin.  As hard as he could.  I almost felt like something popped as he did so.

"Fek!"  I nearly fell over.  Charles grabbed me, but Augustine stopped him.  I tried to get up, but my shin just felt like it was stinging over and over.  I wanted to grab Augustine and tear him a new one for that.  He just stared at me, holding Charles back.

"See?"  Augustine said.  "We're your friends, Sam.  Don't be an idiot.  Stick to the cause."

I tried not to let them see me cry a bit.  I followed, limping as we walked into Roosevelt.  Charles gave me a apologetic look.  I tried to return it.

It wasn't his fault.  But I learned my lesson.  I kept my mouth shut.

I watched the data stream as it came in.  It was fascinating, but there was a problem.  Samuel Maenad wasn't to be found in Shiloh.

Jacob Maenad awoke screaming.  The man had a thick, unshaven face.  He had awoken on his front porch, screaming his dead wife's name.

Jacob stumbled into his house.  He shook his head, clearly in some sort of pain.  I watched the feed as he went from room to room, yelling his son's name.

Dissatisfied, Jacob instead settled in his house's living room.  He left the front door open.  His focus was on a holo in his left hand.  The man sobbed as the image of a woman talking left him in shambles.

"I keep fekking it up, Hannah."  Jacob shuddered, shaking.  "Sammy's gone.  I fekked it up.  I don't know what to do."

Jacob kept shaking, back and forth, back and forth.

"Sammy... Gaius got his claws in him, honey.  I'm sorry.  I know... He wouldn't listen.  I tried to tell him.  I really did."  Didn't Maenad realize that his holo was picking up this entire confession?  I mean, sure, normally that meant nothing in Shiloh.  It just was weird to hear this.  People are usually more guarded with what they put out there.  "I... I couldn't find the right words.  I wanted to show him, I really did..."

Jacob Maenad then got up.  I watched as the camera angle changed.  It followed him as he stumbled down the hill toward the rest of the town of Shiloh.  A few times he'd fall over a bramble or rock.

I felt sorry for him, really.  That's when I sent it.  It was a brief message, a bit of a hack to the holo he still was carrying it.  Just a single sentence, and I blame myself for what that sentence did.

"Its not your fault." The holo began to repeat, over and over.  Jacob screamed, his face thick with tears.  Here was a guy who never had access to a psych program.  Shiloh had more or less damned him to a short life of drinking and self-wallowing.  He could leave, but clearly that thought had never happened.

It was sad.  I should've known better.  Oh well.

Jacob didn't do what I had thought he would do.  Instead, he got up, dusted himself off.  He continued down the hill, as if determined now.  Maenad continued until he went into the only bar in Shiloh, the Lone Hunter.  I listened more into the holo's feed.

Things then shifted a bit for the worse.  Not for me, really.  Samuel?  Well.  I guess this is where the stream started to go offline for him.

"GAIUS!"  Jacob screamed as he searched for the man he was yelling at.  A quick wiki search told me that Gaius Malkav was the current town mayor.  "Where is my son?"

The older man ignored Jacob's screams.  Instead, he continued to carve into a piece of meat with a knife.  A thick beard bobbed up and down as he ate.  I wondered what it was like, to age like that.  Humans outside of Shiloh used augments and genehacks to reverse their aging.  But this Gaius hadn't.  I had no easy measure.  Without the wiki to provide it, I could never had guessed his age.

I continued my voyeuristic look into Samuel Maenad's family.

"I said, where is my son, Gaius?"  Jacob slammed the holo onto the table.  It started to cycle though messages and vids, as it reset.  Jacob ignored it.

Gaius then glanced up at Jacob.  He sniffed, then frowned.  "This is how you greet your mayor, amig?  Like a oging combat bot on parade?"

That felt unnecessary.

"Sammy.  Where is he."

"Why would I tell you?"  Gaius took a bottle of beer.  He pushed it at Jacob.  "You always seem to prefer this to your son, Jake."

The crowd around the two men laughed.  A pair of young women sitting across from Gaius tried to cover their mouths.  Was that alcohol?  I wondered what Gaius had meant.  I started a heuristic search to figure this out.  What had he said that would cause this sort of embarrassment?

Jacob threw the bottle onto the ground, shattering it.  "I ain't here to be made fun of, Gaius.  I have a right to know what you sent my son to do."

Sent?  Whoa.  Ok, then this was bigger than I-

"My son, I augmented you before you were born."  The holo said.  A image of a younger, and not dead, Hannah Maenad spoke.  The entire crowd in the Lone Hunter grew silent.  Oops.  She continued on.  "I wanted this town to see a augmented boy grow up.  See what it was like to be near someone modified with tech they'd always been afraid to have.

"Cowards like Gaius Malkav, who always choose to have others-"

"Really?  Your dead wife thought that of me?"  Gaius picked up the holo and clicked it off.

Beet red, Jacob stumbled back.  Men from the crowd grabbed him.  One of the young women at the table started to sob.  "Daddy, I'm so sorry!  I- I-"

Gaius waved a hand.  "I knew you liked him, dear.  That's fine.  At least you admit your failing.  We all failed in this.  My great-grandmother founded this town, and we all didn't see it."

Heads nodded in agreement.

Samuel Maenad was augmented?  This confirmed it.  That meant I could find the boy instantly, just by remotely activating his augmentations.  But that was... well, like deleting an AI, I need legal permission.  I needed a juror to approve it.

/Charon: Fek me.  Fek.

That meant having to reveal a lot of what I had been doing.  I had been going on a hunch.  I shouldn't have felt irritated by that.  But this was my case, I didn't want it to be kicked up to a higher AI in my directory.

There was also a moral concern here.  Being in Shiloh, Samuel never had his augmentations activate themselves.  His mother probably had meant to activate them herself, or maybe after Samuel had seen that holo that had been playing.  It would open a new series of experiences for him.  And as he was raised to think all of those kinds of augments were inherently evil... ick.  I'd need a Psych on standby too.

I continued to watch, my thoughts stopped as Gaius and the crowd dragged Samuel Maenad's father outside.  They began to chant, which made my inner hard drives feel sick.  It felt like acidic data, corroding me from the inside out.

"Machine, machine.  Fear no machine.  Machine, machine."  Over and over like that as they dragged him.

They held him down as they put a torch to his house.  They stood there and chanted, forcing Jacob to watch as it burned.  Gaius Malkav then gave a speech.  It looked like one of those vids, the ones from the revivals back during the American Commonwealth.  Joy.

"We must vigilant.  We WILL be vigilant."  Gaius thumped his chest, wiping a tear from his left eye.  "My son is out there with this... this machine-born abomination right now.  I feel what you feel right now.  We thought we loved Samuel, but clearly he was a Machine, a plant meant to lead us astray.

"We will walk again.  We will walk free!"

The crowd shouted those words, the dozen or so of them that were there.  "Walk free" echoed throughout the tiny valley that comprised Shiloh.  I logged it, but nothing they had done was illegal, at least according to their agreement with autogov.  They didn't threaten anyone outside of Shiloh by it.

Still, they managed to make this old machine cringe a bit.

/Nightland Central Archives:
One of the oldest pieces of infrastructure in the entire system, The Metanet has existed since the Long Night.  It has its origins in the ancient date systems of the American Commonwealth and its contemporaries, the Internet.  But the Metanet goes beyond the simple data packet share between computers of its predecessor.

The Metanet is a eternal cloud of data floating around every single piece of technology throughout the system, from the holos people carry to bots themselves.  When human augmented brains began to appear on the Metanet, human society changed radically.

For one thing, most devices that had been handheld or needed for access to the Net went away.  The presence of human minds on the metanet shifted its data and bandwidth sizes.  Bots had used the metanet before, but few had emerged as equals or superiors to human minds until after the Metanet.  AIs, human minds and others had their lives change.

The idea of a network of social messages, data research and information access had always required some sort of interface.  But now, the Metanet allowed one to be part of the network itself, while retaining their individuality.  Texts, very commonly done before via verbal or interface interaction, now could be conducted by thought.

People at the time this first came to be were astounded.  Allusions to mythological or supernatural stories of old were common.  Things like telepathy or telekinesis seemed to be real now, accessible by a thought.  Augments allowed them to experience reality in terms not comprehensible to previous humans- they could alter dreams, add images or other media to reality or communicate without much effort on their part.  Thought could be action without the body, something only previously predicted.

The Metanet still continues to grow and expand since that initial innovation.  It has become the backbone of Autogov, enabling a system of government that removes the need for any specific or individual politician.  Autogov perfected governance, or at least advanced it to level superior to the corrupt problems of old.
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