Sunday, 11 July 2010

Part Ten: The End!

Is this the afterlife? If so is it heaven or hell? Maybe it was some strange ethnic afterlife I didn’t know about?

I found I could range across my memories at will. I moved up and down the stream of my life examining each moment in detail to see if there was any clue as to what this was supposed to b about. My younger years yielded little that was any use: painful lessons in the obvious, gradual discovery of the basic facts of life: dog eats dog, possessions make you powerful, lust fuels endeavour - the usual stuff.

There seemed little to learn from the revolution either, primarily a picaresque tableaux of sexual and violent excess. Now I had no body I couldn’t feel the pleasure and pain that this period of my life seemed built around, but the raw data was all there on the sense track for dispassionate consideration..

At university, my studies yielded slightly more of interest but memory of them, in both backward and forward versions, was sketchy. My courses had been mainly practical and non-assessed, so I never bothered much with the theory. Then I began working at the Ministry, for several years the memories were very incomplete: many were lost, corrupted and fouled by, I must assume, the drugs I was taking.

I was still alive, I could tell. Something nagged at me from very near the end of my life. Manisola, talking to me, trying to tell me something very important. “There’s something else I found out, about the device."

“Still recording? Good, this is going to be sensational footage.”
“It monitors all your perceptions and experiences, records and reviews then continuously. It produces images from that input and saves them on the net as data to refer to.”

Chrissy crouched in front of me, the dress undid down the front revealing -

recorded on the media, presumably my memories and responses, the stimulation of glands and hormones, the reactions in my perceptual centres, deconstructed into an easily read database.

Then I understood what Manisola had been trying to say. It was all in the media: all my emotions and experiences had been recorded by the Janus so that the image track could be generated on the media and broadcast back into my brain. I was looking at those memories, recorded from when I had the device fitted, up to the moment of my death.

But emotions and experiences aren’t all there is to it: consciousness is the little thing inside that sees all this and processes it into reaction. That’s what I was at that moment, just that reactive element with the memories laid before me, looking inward, like I’d turned around in my own head and was watching what was inside instead of looking out on the world.

“Dylan!” Manisola was standing in the middle of a scene from Beautiful Life, the wedding of Beth and Martha, that was broadcast last year. “You made it!”
“How’d you do it?”
He shrugged. “Simple really. All consciousnesses are essentially the same, but varied by experience and physicality. Generally speaking it’s just a matter of interpreting these factors through a small set of variables, and that’s it, you have a mind.”

“Well, if it’s so easy why haven’t-”
    “That’s the trick, that’s what’s so incredible about all this.

to construct artificial intelligences, like me. And like you.”

I began to feel unsteady. “But how...”

“Previous AIs have only had limited operating rules, not a lifetime of... of living. I was like that, a random set of parameters, undefined by contact with cause and effect. The Ministry created the parameters for the Teacher character, but you created the personality that finally emerged. Although rough, it was still one of the most complete ever recorded on the media. The Fear overlaid itself over that construct. And the memories you’ve recorded are more complete and vivid than any that have been logged before, allowing the complete simulation of an individual.”

“So this isn’t me?”

“Your body’s dead. Your mind lives on.”

“Well, not my mind, a computer programme with my memories.”

“The only difference is the hardware.”
The scene looked wrong, stuck in a two second loop, Beth and Martha taking the same three steps up the aisle again and again. The sound track was now a pattern of interference at the edge of the video. The guests looked fake, some with visible fringes where they’d been pasted in, a couple missing altogether leaving the file addresses of the lost image flashing in empty space.

“This is the backwater of old data where the Fear was born, where I was born. The gradual random corruption turned me into... well.” He shrugged his perfect blue shoulders.

“I... You made me.” How can I describe the feeling? Excitement, but without the physical rush of adrenalins; a cold mental exhilaration and alertness. “I’m not the same, you created me, a whole new... thing.”

“The Ancient Masters and the White Lodge -”

“Look, I thought we decided -”

“Nothing is really random, Dylan, everything can be traced back, every effect has a cause, however remote.” His bullshit seemed more powerful here. He was pulling in stuff from the archives and back-ups – old movies, news clips, rants and reasoning, moulding it all together into something that was beginning to have its own gravitational effect in the net, dragging me in with a steady maelstrom pull. “Maybe the ancient masters planned it all! Maybe this was all plotted out thousands of years ago. Maybe there was a race of men whose knowledge of the world, not science, really, but metaphysics, chaomancy allowed them to establish a pattern that would lead to these events thousands of years later. The Nazis were a necessary factor to create the technology.”

“Manisola -”

“Over the passage of strange aeons, they have managed to reverse the inevitable decline of the human form from a creature of pure energy to brute matter, and return you to a state of purity. You, Dylan, have been transformed and I have been created. We are the new future of the human race!”

I was having the strangest sensations. My perceptions had expanded to take in the whole scene around me. I was living the scene, sense track and all, just like I’d tuned in, but I was living all the roles at once. In my mind, the same three seconds of input from the dozen or so viewpoints at the wedding was drowning my own thoughts and senses.

Manisola stretched out his hand, filling my field of vision with his wide blue palm. “Strange. You’re somehow being corrupted by all this stray data. We’d better get you out of here.” His hand went over my perceptions and everything went dark.

Spotted around it, like dots on a die, were windows that looked out on various media scenes playing out their sequences, over and over. “It’s a maintenance gap. I don’t think they even use them now, but they still put them in, just in case. One every 20,000 gigs of input.”

Away from the input of the wedding scene, I had no physical sensations at all. I looked around me, searching the places where a body should be, but there was no trace of a physical outline. I was just a point of sensation, an access point, a gateway between my mind and the media.

“I’ve noticed that, too.” He’d been thinking about it, comparing my experiences with the information he’d gathered about AI, about the media. I was not existing here, in the access point, with Manisola: the routines that constituted my consciousness were still in my folder in the Ministry’s mainframe, taking all this in as input, by remote.

“You don’t have a body, no outline, no definition to the memories that are me... that are you, I mean. You need to direct and control your perceptive input. We’re still going to have to take out the Nazis.”

“Metzger, they’ve got my mind... That must be what the Fear was, a container, a mobile vessel, a coherent collection of memories independent of the media, able to move through it at will.” I was speaking along with Manisola, we were speaking and thinking simultaneously, with one mind, one voice. Our thoughts were mixing in the grey memory-void, like oils on a pallet. I saw the solution.

His expression had changed, hardened. I perceived his change of mood like a swarm of disturbed moths shimmering across my mind. He was wary, a hint of anger riffled through his code, scattering his numbers.

“You must build a body,” he said sternly, “through effort of will, you must create borders for your mind.”

He was partly right. I did need a... body, a folder to hold my memories and routines together in the media, to contain me and protect me against unwanted mixing with other data.

But Manisola was wrong in a minor, yet vital way. “I have built a body.”

“Dylan, you need me to fight the Nazis. You must -”

I concentrated my perceptions at him, cutting inside him like x-rays, shadowy images of his operating routines showing beneath his blue skin code.

“Dylan,” he tried something similar with me, but his perceptions were weak and could not penetrate through the Ministry protections.

This was more like it. I was improvising, riffing off the old story-line. I had an idea that Manisola would still respond to what Zac had devised, the story-line that still formed the core of his belief system. To be honest, I wasn’t certain about any of this, but it felt right and I’ve relied on instinct in these dramatic situations for a long time.

“There comes a point in evolution,” I said, “When humanity outgrows the need for gods. When this happens, man becomes his god, usurps the power of all that was once the gods. The ultimate purpose of initiation is integration, unification with the overmind, with Ultima Thule.” Old stuff, scraped out from the remains of my Dip Trip.

“No!” Manisola grasped at me, huge blue hands swinging through my field of vision, but I had no body to grasp. He tried to close me out, erect barriers to my drifting senses, but I could come from anywhere, through the infinite pathways of the media.

“What about me?” he cried, and I knew I had him.

"You’ll still exist. Manisola, your personality is just a fragment of me, of my mind. When the Janus created you, it used my concepts and my cognosis [I made that word up, its since passed into standard AI usage]. You’re just a few strands of my personality. You must join with me, we must be integrated. You will still exist, as much as you exist now, but in your proper order.”

“Never!” He grew, expanded, shooting out in all directions like a fastforward bean sprout. He played right into my hands, as I knew he would.

“I don’t need your permission, actually.”

and I was huge, monstrous. I towered through several levels of data, which I perceived like strata in stone. I could sense each stratum where it touched my “body”: my ankles and shins sifted minnow-like phone calls; still images from the society gallery flipped like photos in an album by my knees; halfway up my thighs, virtual dramas lay in thin layers, stacked on each other up to my chest. Above my head were ducts and channels, access points to commercial mainframes, private databases and non-public networks, twitching, febrile and inviting.

It was over. I had done it. I had cheated death and given myself new life. I ran my hands through the streams of data that surrounded me, felt them tickle across my fingertips like the prongs of a comb, and laughed.

Manisola’s body came equipped with senses, and the cognitive facilities to use them, especially suited to my new ecosystem. I found I could move through the media at will. I could shrink to the size of a single bit and range through the data moment by moment, examining each tiny one or zero as it flew by. I could grow until I engulfed a scene completely and perceived it all at once. Data flowed around me like one of those maps for railway networks, coloured lines crossing each other, intersecting and dividing, reaching stops and terminals and changing form.

I pulled back as far as I could and viewed the whole Global Media Network: a mandala, intricate as a drop-capital in an illuminated manuscript, glowing in gold, red and blue, tiny filigrees on the perimeter always reaching out, always expanding as new memory-space and terminals were added.

There is only so much excitement to be gained from such abstract pursuits, and soon I began to wonder about the outside world.

Part of me fluttered, the part that had been Manisola. I had a promise to keep to him, he was part of me, his concerns had to be resolved.

I dived into the seething morass of spinning data and circled through pools and eddies until I could feel De Benoits nearby. My old access point was fairly obvious to me, I could hear its tendrils reaching out and taste their destinations. I put my hand in a stream of data passing to Belgium and it gave all its information to me in series of atonal chords, each bit a tiny note in a strange but beautiful symphony, images bloomed, then collapsed a hundred times a second feeding directly into my brain, meaning flooding out of them like flashes of colour. Kids, don’t try this at home: commercial database are now covered by Datalax Integrated Shielding, that will cut your Manisola to shreds.

and I thought, puny mortals. There was a take-over, of course: De Benoit had conceived an intricate plan involving armed raids, a share-market blitzkrieg and PR onslaughts to take over New Zealand from the Medlicott trust. The central marketing impetus was to come from a new series using my memories, the personality recorded on the media, as a semi-religious hero, a supernatural meddler in the same mode as those classic Deadman and Spectre comics. They planned to animate me from the memories in their mainframe (there were several copies now, in the hands of different technicians and writers), use me like a puppet. The whole thing was being pushed in promos, and was going to be announced at a special memorial media session.

This would not do! If I had intellectual property rights to anything, then it must, at least, be my intellect!

to fly through my own directory as if I owned it (which I did, it was later decided after a lengthy session of arbitration) but something caught at me. First it was just a single layer of data, almost imperceptible among the chaos of sound, colour, taste and smell of the activity around me. As I passed through, it thickened and tightened til it held my ankle and stopped me dead. I poured my code into it, shoring it up against the invasion but realised that this was its plan, to make me dilute myself and then tear my code into shreds like wet tissue paper. Instead, I let it hold a thin layer of junk code: it had me, but would do little damage if it tried to hurt me.

the most hideous thing I have ever perceived. It was a gross patchwork thing, bits of replicated code, the crude DNA analog of AI engineers, were brutally stitched onto clean gleaming written sections. The AI sections were fetid and rotting, leaking corruption into the entity’s programmed sections and into all the code around it. Its clock ran hideously slow and you could see it updating itself in a slick wave of oily process that flashed out across the immediate media-space like evil smelling strobe-light.

It held me up to the shiny, programmed eye and I could see the data pass down the transparent interface to its grotesque sensing code.

“Well, well, well, I’d recognise that smell-colour anywhere.”

“Metzger! I knew you’d be ugly.”

“And I knew you’d be alive. You’re smart, I made you smart.”

I focused on it like I had focused on the Manisola, burrowing my perceptions into it. I saw sorrow in the Mainframe, anguish and shame. Its memory reeked of confusion, insult and anger: programmed to learn from everything, it very quickly learned malice and spite. I saw it newly programmed, an elegant combination of grown and programmed code. I saw the fresh budding code’s first interactions with others, tiny pushes this way and that, splitting the grown code into ugly forks that grew and turned on each other.

It focused its resentment on me. Every wrinkle in my career had been modified by it. Memos from the editorial and marketing department were regularly screened and altered, my career sabotaged. I saw its plan to have the device implanted in my brain, so it could control me more directly. Finally the decision to kill me and, by the bizarre cyber-puppet plan, to ultimately become me! The Nazis, Katy’s murder, my own death had all been planned by the mainframe, manipulating De Benoits’ Marketing Plan to its own ends.

and I still had the Fear’s powers to twist code. I passed through the mainframe. I stirred its memories and feelings, mixed them and laid them out. Every kink in the mainframe’s make up, I over printed with the taste of pity, respect and sympathy. I shored up the random code with a menthol disinfectant shot of self-knowledge that shrivelled every warty outcrop of evil code. I programmed its newly cleaned organic AI code with resinous protecting layers of awareness and grew baroque decoration from the shining surface of its programmed routines adding depth to the shallow surface reactions.

Without either of us realising, I took it and fixed it. From a half-formed thing, to gross Caliban, to integrated entity, the Mainframe had passed through an ordeal every bit as traumatic as my own. Now, of course, he is my staunchest ally, the Patroclus to my Achilles, the Paul to my Jesus, Snowy to my Tintin. You can experience its story at the Mainframe’s own sub-site MF: Not What You Think It Stands For.

and their mad puppet idea. I was surprised to find that only a few minutes had passed since I had first entered the media. The whole sequence from being shot to discovering where I was, taking possession of my body, flexing my new senses and healing MF had taken less time than it took to make a cup of coffee.

Setting up my memorial and the puppet personality had taken the Ministry about the same amount of time.

A montage of some of Dylan’s greatest scenes: Tawa College steps, the Magic Bus, some fights, sex etc. Sound track: Dylan’s ambient theme.
Voice over: Arlo Makepeace Dylan. Rebel, philosopher, freedom fighter. One of the brightest of his generation, battling the forces of oppression right to the end. Join us now, as we remember Dylan with some of those who knew him best...

Dissolve to an office. A man with a metal body is leaning against his desk flicking absently through a scholarly-looking, leather bound book.
Caption: Zac Cater, Manager Recreational Pharmaceutical Division, De Benoit Ministry of Commerce.

He looks up, snaps the book shut.

Zac: Hello, I’m Zac Cater. I was Dylan’s boss at the Ministry. I was also confidant and his friend. Dylan was like a son to me and his death has effected me more deeply than anyone else’s in my entire career. And so it gives me great pleasure to host this memorial programme celebrating the towering genius, the continent-straddling communicator, the cultural icon that was Arlo Makepeace Dylan. [Zac turns to other viewpoint] But, we also have a very special announcement, heralding a new era in media-based hallucinogenic entertainment media. Ladies and gentlemen, a sneak preview of what...

Interference blurs Zac’s next few words. Behind him a figure appears, blue, tall, perfectly formed. The blue figure smiles, a familiar smile to the many viewers who have tuned in.

The scene goes black.

Caption: We apologise for any disruption of your viewing pleasure. Please stand by.

Out of the blackness steps the blue figure, parting it like dark velvet curtains. He bows.

Dylan: Hello there. It’s me, it’s really me. I’m back.

End scene. Debit user three minutes.

I could have gone around the Medlicott media seeding messages, clues for their impending demise, and yet I did not. I could have blanked out Zac’s little announcement, sent a Fear-like pulse down the line to eliminate his subscribers, but I didn’t. There were many ways I could have thwarted their grubby little plot, but I refrained.

And De Benoits are very appreciative of that.

and even now, a lot of people don’t really believe it, not until they cross over and find out for themselves

Zac, of course, believed it right away, and he was ecstatic. We spoke over the media moments after my first appearance.

“Dylan,” he said, “You clever, clever old Ludd. I don’t know how you did it, but this is going to be huge. Metzger, this is a goldmine, this is freedom from all physical restrictions, this is immortality.” He laughed, loud, long and real, like I never heard him laugh before.

“What if I don’t want to co-operate?” I said archly.

Zac grinned his “you don’t really mean that” grin. “Dylan, we own the device and all its by-products, every routine on the media, every enzyme it produced in your corpse. Now, I’m sure you have all sorts of ideas about your mind and memories and who owns them but, well, our lawyers are bigger and more expensive than you could ever muster. If it came to arbitration, well... ownership of your software is far from clear. But that’s not my style, Dylan, I like to work with the talent, you know? And anyway, why wouldn’t you co-operate with old Zac, eh?” He laughed again.

“That’s right. Why wouldn’t I?”

The basic code for the body was taken from me, so I get a piece of every transaction. They finessed things so that the experience was not as intense and confusing as it had been for me, and I was on hand to personally administer to the first few transferees. Among the first were Chrissy (no hard feelings, eh Chris?), Arthur, Jaffa, Lee, Peters J and C and Sarah (of course). Capo Capo came over from Genoa, and the Uni-Meds from Canada.

Already half a billion of you have switched over to the electronic world. Many more have had the device fitted and produced Manisolas, but not taken the final step of physical destruction. Those who do not live wholly in the electronic realm live with a foot in each world. I am building up a collection of robo-buddies designed by world's top designers to house my consciousness should I wish to venture outside. They’ll be placed at key locations all over the world so I can travel anywhere, instantly.

It hasn’t taken long for the whole thing to become terribly commercialised: you can’t just hang out on the media any more, you’ve got to pay for line rental and processor time. If you can’t pay, you’re downloaded to disc, stored away until such time as your finances recover. After only ten days there are hundreds of people on disc, waiting for long term investments to provide the money for mediaspace. And, of course, there are the lineless, mendicants and hackers flitting between forgotten access spaces and old corrupted media scenes, but Datalax Integrated Shields are making that life harder and harder.

Well, in all modesty, I must say, it probably is. I’m not a philosopher or psychologist, but even I can see that human potential has been expanded incredibly by the what happened to me. After centuries, millennia of struggling to escape from its burdens, humanity is finally free from the tyranny of flesh. And it’s all down to me, the most sustainable, mega-Metzger, full-on radical of them all, Arlo Makepeace Dylan.

The end!

Are Friends Electric? They are now Gary!

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