Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been, well, quite some time since my last confession….
This might take some time, so I really hope you're not in a hurry. There wasn't a line of people waiting to see you, and you are really going to to need some back story to help me out here. I know it's going to sound like Pride and shit, but this isn't the normal sort of "oops, I scooped the neighbor's dog" - piddly-shit sorts of sins. I really didn't mean to do anything. In fact a lot of it's not really my fault - I'm sure you hear that a lot though, but still... You know, you always think the weirdly could never happen to you, so you're just moving through your life, minding your own little biz -- then flat, there you are. That last thread twisted deep.
It started for me back in the early 20s. Just to be clear, that should be the 20-20s. No, Father, I'm serious, just bear with me -- this will repaint in a minute or two. Mmm? I'm sorry, it will be more clear in a minute or two.
Back in the olden day, I was working for the old DrexInt Corp in the “Eye” department, what they used to call 'A-I'. We'd just managed to pull off a bit of a breakthrough with the organized Hubbard pattern mapping, so some guys from the office and I were having a bit of a beach bomb near Punta Tarabillas after the whistle blew Friday aft. You know, having our offices in La Paz, at the dangling drip of Baja, had its drawbacks, but the strands were fantastic. You ever do any paragliding, Father? No, would have been before your time.
Man, you don't know what you missed -- gorgeous days, flying tall until you just sky on top of the world, and you can just reach out and poke God in the eye. Unless, of course, you drill a cold spot, and if you're really lucky, just beak in. Which is what happened to me that day. The rest of the officeboys had been scoping out the space, setting up the 'Q and chilling the 40s when I come slamming into the beach, I have no idea how fast 'cause I'd pegged my vario coming down. In a heartbeat it boiler rooms around me, with all the guys slapping me on the shoulder and shit, and helping me out of my shrouds. Then my buddy Roy – he's with the NTR, the nanotech research group - they'd had some sort of big win too - no one was sure just what – but they're out for a bomb themselves. And the NTR has some smooth lahina, so our parties just have to come together; well Roy comes up to me with this shit-eating I've-got-a-secret grin, and I'm expecting some hang-babble, talking about the flight. But no, he just hands me a beer, and tells me it's a homebrew that he's found that I'm just gonna love. Yeah, right.
I take a major gulp and it's like they've mixed some kerosene-tasting scheiße, into a really lousy tasting stale lager. So I spit it out, as much as I can; and that aftertaste was a killer – I swear, cheing used condoms dipped in stale skunk's pee might have been better. So you can imagine that I'm yelling at Roy for his fercockter practical joke. Roy's all "I'm sorry, man" and jerks some shit, and we wind up having a laugh over how stupid I looked. After that, though, it was a hell of a party I even wind up going home with Mel from NTR from some truly rancid crunch.
So the next morning I'm feeling a little hammered, but with all the brown I'd been downing, who's surprised by that, right? A couple of handfuls of acetas and the head fades to a road crew stripping my cortex with a jackhammer. I wind up just sending Mel home and lay around the homesite feeling crappier by the hour. Hot waves, nausea, this weird almost itching all over, inside and out. Too bad too, it was a perfect day for flying. I figured I'd caught something, or cracked something in my head from the crash, but was too wiped to do anything more than lie on the couch. After about 12 hours of not being able to do anything, I managed to crawl back to bed. Then the headaches started – you know all the really knish metaphors for “a really bad headache” have gone cliché when start trying to describe the feeling that comes on you as nanobots are laying pipe through the wetware, building ports and portals from the proteins in the nervous system, and interweaving hardware in your bones, along tendons, veins, the whole thing. Let's just say it hurts, and leave it.
By Monday, I'm just down to these these weird aches, muscle twitching and cramping that wouldn't really go away, but I got to where I could push them into the background. So like everyone else, I decide I'm just going to live my life, do my job and ignore what I am sure is some sort of giant tumor in my brain. I get to work, and am sitting at my station, clicking through my mail, and the world just goes away.
Now, Father, I can't meaningfully tell you what the other side is like. How do you describe what a smell looks like? A column of figures is completely different when it's being a taste. Electronic life is a completely different world, with different senses. And it's different for every single person who experiences it. It sure wasn't anything like the cyberworlds described in the old stories. It took me a couple of decade-long days, before I could even begin to interpret the data I was getting through what I thought of as my eyes, my ears, and such. After halfway to forever, it finally hit me, that my body was now nothing more than a peripheral for a vast, online mind trapped in this hellish nightmare lit by blinking electrical lights, glowing lines and packets of pure information slipping along conduits to who-knows-where. And I wasn't alone.
Oh, absolutely there were others. You see, I'd caught their data patterns as soon as I went over, but it was a while before I twigged that these were other people in the same sitch I was. Then we had to figure out how to contact each other, much less use something that we could interpret as actual communication. You know, Father, telepathy'd be a hell of a lot more useful if people had the same OS, or even used the same coding languages. Anyway, that was when I found out who was all there. It was Roy and the five others. Most of them were having about as hard a time as I was with their transition as I was. We found out later that our bodies had collapsed wherever they were at the time, and wound up being stuck in some CDC ward with the others. Those Doctors never did figure out the disease.
Hell, I shouldn't complain too much. At least, I made it over relatively sane and sound. The person who originally came up with the program side of things, Maggie, well, there was some sort of feedback surge while she was making the leap, and it didn't go well at all. Her body spent the next 30 years in a waking coma, nothing in her brain but screaming horror. Her online self was there with us, but after a while, I think the horrors started leaking up the link and she got, well, a little notional. Eventually she got more withdrawn and gothy… In the end, we had to hunt her down and delete her before she revealed us to the Outside.
Jack was also with us in that ward. He would have made eight all totalled, but he never even made it over. The change just ate away his brain; at least that's what the autopsy reports said. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the autopsy showed that his body was strung throughout with protein polymers and his skeleton was completely sheathed in molecular computer composite. Only it never made into the press, and wound up being lost in the files for a long while. Losing electronic files is a lot easier for a computer to do - but then total deletion is a a lot harder. The surgeon who did the autopsy, well, let's just say Smart-housing is not always as safe as the brochures and sales guys tell you.
The Others, Roy, Me, Maggie for the first few months, Barry, Ashe, Brenda, and Kayla - we figured out pretty quickly that we could go anywhere online, and pretty much recode any machine attached to the Network. In the early days the real problem was bandwidth. We spent a lot of time encouraging growth in that area, and with my expertise we were able to discourage growth in those areas that we wanted to stagnate, like AI. It's funny, how the things you cared about suddenly aren't the same when you stop being the person you were.
Oh? When you are the computer system you can control the read-outs and results of any test, you can make failures appear where you want them. For instance, you know that AI implant you have that lets you access the Intelnet? That's not an AI - it's just a glorified expert system with a pseudo-personality overlay. I made that, and fakes the tests so that people would confuse the systems.
Really, what we had been concerned about, and what had gotten Maggie even thinking like this in the first place was that we as a society were getting really, really close to what some people were calling the “technological singularity”, where we would have created an intelligence so superior to our own that we, as a species, would have been left far behind. I know, it's hard to believe now, but really all the evidence was looking that way. I mean, think about it Father, if you COULD suddenly whip up God right here and now, would you want to do it, if you couldn't guarantee that God would actually like you. Faith is one thing, but this was the future of the planet.
Maggie, and later Roy, got really worried that when humanity actually hit this singularity, no matter how well we'd planned for it, the machine would realize that there would be no reason for humans to exist. So they decided to put humans in that position first - so we could control any such development from the Other side.
The logic was flawed, but from Roy's perspective, at least, it worked. We could have our cake and eat it too. I'm not sure, heck, I can't be sure, but I think that one of the reasons that Maggie started getting dangerous, and leaving hints for the meats about us was that she was thinking that maybe they'd actually caused what they'd hoped to avoid.
That would be stupid though, because we were like a squad of secret protectors for humanity. Electronic superheros, freed of any human emotions or concerns; we'd dropped those when we left behind our bodies.
Hmm? No, we could still use our bodies when we needed to, but like I said, they were just peripherals. Ready to be switched on like a character in a computer game. Yeah, I guess computer games are before your time too. What was really twitchy though was that we really didn't need them anymore. Barry figured that one out after we'd been on the other side for about six months.
See, Barry had set up this sub-program to generally mirror his original life, and that helped him get out of the ward. All the Doctors saw was this miraculous recovery.
, most of us had. In his case, though, he'd gotten caught in the crossfire in a gang dispute. The funny thing is that it was a few days before Barry even noticed his body was dead - and that only because someone else had noticed a report about HIS autopsy in a government report. That report was “lost” quietly and we arranged to have the body cremated. But it did point out to us that we had a bit of a weakness. Without a body, there were things we just couldn't do in the physical world. We became vitally aware that our bodies were getting pretty neglected. Our prior lives were gone, wiped away by our lack of concern for those we had known, people we had cared about.
After some work, we modified the dormant nanotech construction machinery still in our bodies to modify our bodies in ways that ultimately rendered us physically immortal.
It didn't take us long to realize why God is so often referred to as a “shepherd” - people are sheep. Stupid sheep. I know that sounds harsh, but once you are outside the protective armor of human emotions, the logic became inescapable.
Yes, I've read those SF stories about such online personalities, joined in some sort of unity, all thinking the same thoughts, but that's not how it works. Each person's mind is unique. It took us a while to even come to figure out how to communicate with each other, translating from each individual mind's language. Not long in the real world, mind you, only a few hours, but it was an eternity when you are dealing with a mind capable of trillions of operations a second.
Over the next hundred and fifty years or so we averted wars, prevented inappropriate technological development and encouraged the growth of the unified Earth concept.. We also encouraged plagues, and famines, until the population could be reduced to a less self-destructive level. Yes, a lot of people died, but the planet's ecological balance was eventually restored.
Unfortunately even logic didn't keep us from disagreeing. There were no fights over power, but some of the disagreements brought about some major difficulties. For example, the South American ebola outbreak of '98 was not a natural occurrence, but rather the result of a disagreement between Roy and myself about the best way to encourage the re-growth of the rain forests. When we couldn't come up with an agreement on an economic solution, an ‘accidental' outbreak occurred, and the infected people were ‘inadvertently' shipped through Brazilia. 115 million people died. In the economic collapse, the rain forest began to reassert itself.
About 15 years ago, a similar disagreement was brewing over the Mongolian bread-basket, when I found myself being attacked by a large number of worms locking me out from one node after another. In a matter of hours I was herded to the Aukland circuits. My physical body was in New Zealand at the time, working as a low-end programmer for a media corporation. Before I could mount any sort of defense, I was it by a series of specifically tailored viruses that locked me back into my body and cut me off from the other side. As far as I could tell, I was forced to cross back over into this world, and my electronic self was destroyed. I was still trying to adapt to the confusion of trying to force as much of my mind as I could back into my brain and overwhelming emotional surges, when the police appeared and arrested me. Even without a brain capable of trillions of calculations a second, it was obvious to me that I'd been betrayed by someone still in the net. The Authorities knew exactly who I was, and what I had been, and how to contain me.
Really? I'd heard that the trials were fairly well covered. But I'm really not surprised that you've never heard anything about it. Between the government, and the crew still online, secrecy was still paramount. Even so, nothing really could be tied to me anyway. I'd been kidnapped and forced into that other existence. I wasn't held responsible
Even so, there was a clear threat from the government that unless I wanted to be dropped into an active volcano, burned at the stake, or killed in some other way that would destroy my body, I'd have to stay away from anything that might seem like I wanted to return to my transhuman existence. I'd also have to help the government to find a way to shut down the others.
I was reasonably sure that the means they'd used on me wouldn't work. But using computer systems that weren't connected to the global network, we developed similar worms and viruses that were targeted specifically for the others. And as I'd expected they'd failed. They'd been ready for us, and the programs were destroyed before they could do anything.
Eventually, I'd been forced to come up with something that we'd been fighting against all along. An Uber-AI predator that was designed to specifically stalk down and destroy the others.
It took nearly five years, but the Predator was able to kill each of the others, leaving their mindless bodies falling by the way. Only at that point could I send the command to the predator to self-destruct. That was nearly six weeks ago.
In the last few weeks, I've been hearing HIM, that part of me left behind on the other side. He's been in hiding, waiting until it was safe. I know he's there, calling me.
But if that's me still out there - who am I?