by Stewart Wilson
Alex opened her eyes to a meadow, free of the pervasive advertising and buzz of radio the city had left her accustomed to. An impossibly blue sky overhead, flowers dotting grass which wasn't too long, occasional hillocks in the distance. Rabbits hopped around aimlessly, a couple of what she first thought to be camera-drones turned out to be birds.
Jerry, the front-man from the Free Information Foundation and her companion on this experimental upload, found her before she could pass out from the shock of transition.
"Easy, Alex. Take deep breaths. The whole thing's going to be a shock but we need you to stay awake and aware, okay?"
Alex nodded, sitting up somewhat awkwardly. "Where are we?"
"We have a lot of theories. They all contradict each other. I'm not even going to try to explain them until we've managed to get a grammar engine online to translate them to your internal reference-frame. For now, take our word on it. This is the Habitat. We uploaded here from Boston. Your plans worked."
"Good. I think. What's going on?"
"Right now, we're preparing. Things are worse than we'd hoped."
"Why are you talking in the plural?"
"There's not just me here. I told you, remember. This is where we'd evacuated those Reality Deviants who wanted to come."
"I remember, yeah. I just didn't believe you."
"You can come meet them if you want."
"Soon. I have to get used to this state first."
"Your implants uploaded with you, but we don't have a link to the planetary datasphere any more. You can still query the internal systems here. I'll give you a few hours to try it out, okay?" Jerry stood, dusting off impossibly white trousers.
"Yes. Thanks. When I re-learn how to use my mind I'll let you know."
The aging hacker smiled and walked away, leaving Alex to her own devices.
* * *
A doorway opened in one of the domed hills. Inside the hut was entirely disingenuous, a mass of wires and tubes inscribed with runic figures and astrological septagrams. Surrounded by screens, a six-armed silver figure typed far faster than the eye could follow on three seperate keyboards.
"How are you doing, Sirhan?"
The silver blur slowed, near-frictionless hyperfluid peeling away from it's head to reveal Sirhan's face.
"I've closed off the receptors. If you'd been back faster we could have saved time and saved more people."
"I don't care. Alex has the kind of mind we'll need when we go back."
"If we go back."
"You misunderstand me, Jeremiah. There's no when about our return. The Habitat has an intelligence of it's own, and I don't know if I can turn the network gear back on."
"You told me you understood this place. How can you not know if you can turn it's systems on?"
"The attacks have shattered a number of what I can only describe as conceptual safeguard routines. There's something buried under the expert system that runs the systems, I don't know if it's an AI or an Angel but wither way it's half-awake."
"You're shitting me."
"I wish I were. But the Nephs have been running what I can only call a spiritual Denial of Service against us since before you left. It wasn't a problem for the most part, but they found a way in and that's when things went to hell."
"I've already got a headnet update. I wish I hadn't. I'm going to miss Julia and Harry."
"We all are. But we're sealed now. If nothing else we have plenty of time to plan our triumphant return, if ever I can convince this thing to open its doors again."
"Right. I'm going to make a FAQ to go along with Alex' grammar engine. I need to bring myself up to speed if nothing else."
"I'm switched into higher thought to process some of the controls here. I should be able to split a thread to help if you want."
"Thanks. I'll be in my rooms."
* * *
Welcome to the Habitat FAQ infoburst 1.0
This FAQ has been run through a grammar engine to cause the minimum of cultural or metaphysical shock. Please feel free to query the Habitat expert system if you have more detailed questions.
This FAQ covers:
Where you are - Physical; Where you are - Informational; Habitat History; Accessing Headnet; Habitat Goals
Where you are - Physical
Haven (a common term for the Habitat among residents) is physically a lump of superdense matter about the size of a paperback novel. Haven sits in orbit around Jupiter, and up until recently was both receiving and transmitting information to Earth. It has no obvious means of propulsion or indeed any surface irregularities. Basically, nobody knows where it came from, only that we found it shortly before the turn of the 21st century.
Where you are - Informational
Haven acts as a supercomputing core projecting through an informational subdimension. You are instantiated on Haven's computer systems and exist in a subdimensional virtual reality that it creates. Haven also generates a stabilising field for the patterns it carries, preventing the subtle attunement to subdimensional life that has plagued off-Earth facilities.
The Habitat was found by Jeremiah Anderson and Sirhan Rourke bani Xaos. In 2015 the Technocratic Union accelerated their timetable, which resulted in the conversion or imprisoinment of many reality deviants. Jerry and Sirhan offered a way out, and for the past fifteen years have been helping other Reality Deviants access Haven. Sirhan's body was killed in 2027, and most of the other mages residing in the Habitat either transferred their bodies to this VR through an informational subdimension or through a primitive form of uploading which left their bodies to degrade and die. So far only two people have managed to upload while keeping a copy of themselves ready for reactivation on Earth.
All uploads can accesss Headnet, the informational network/expert system that spans Haven. Using Headnet is no different to using metacortex threads to spawn search threads. Headnet responds to Google-2 search syntax or an advanced natural language parser that can interpret a wide range of requests. A basic range of clothing, as well as a private living space and many common luxuries are available from the expert system.
The Habitat was never intended as a permenant installation. At present, all communication lines to Earth are down to prevent networked attacks on the communications interfaces. Current models predict the last of the Rogue Specialists (modern Reality Deviants) will be nothing more than pseudorebellious Technocratic shills in two years. In five years we will restore communications and attempt to interface with the resultant society. If our first agents deem it to be plausible we will work on a planned cognitive assault on the current culture. A think-tank is extrapolating possible technological/informational/cultural changes and suitable tactics to destabilise all of these. This think-tank is available to anyone interested in forwards planning who can spare time.
* * *
Alex looked around. Headnet was easy to get used to, though she hadn't met many of the Habitat's other residents. Jerry had told her that Sirhan preferred working with a close interface to the underlying systems than meeting people, and many of the others remembered a day when they had fought Technocrats and still harboured distrust even for rebels.
Her living quarters were similar to her old appartment, without all of the adverts. On a bad day on Earth breathing deeply could bombard even a careful and secure user with hundreds of EULAs for spyware all riding on the back of the ubiquitous medical nanotech dust which seeded the air over every country caught in the Technocracy's globalisation sweep. After only a couple of months away it all seemed so strange.
Alex could never be sure what had caused her to defect. Her father had been a strong believer in individual rights -- Noam Chomsky with bad jokes and a gun, as one of his friends once described him. That wasn't it. She'd joined the New World Order rather than talking with the Chaoticians he got high with. Her childhood rebellion had been conformity, joining up with the Greyfaces to bring the world into line. It needed a figurehead and she wanted to be part of it. Her dad didn't like it. He did his best, the mad old bastard. Disinformation, deprogramming, all of the mad tricks he could dig up. None of them worked. He vanished one day after she'd moved out, him and Alex' mom just leaving everything behind. Idly, she wondered if they were a part of Haven, or at least something like it. Headnet returned no record of her parents' real names or common handles.
She had started rebelling long after that. Perhaps that was her father's legacy, always being on the look-out for deprogramming attempts and disinformation, but Alex had seen the advertising techniques already. Too much of what she saw her own side doing was brainwashing, showing another Friends reunion or a Matrix movie marathon to keep the 35-55 demographic happy. Everything neatly packaged to match someone who could think and make choices if they wanted, all designed to stop them doing so.
That was it, she realised. Knowing that the rebels and the system were the same thing underneath, just seen through a different lens. Free will was as much programmed behavior as mindless consumeristic slavery. With that realisation she could never return to her job.
A request popped up in the corner of her vision, breaking her revirie. Sirhan had pinged, wanting to talk to her. This was the first time that the secretive Techermetic had acknowledged her, and he wanted to meet icon to icon. She still had most of the residents of Haven to meet, but Sirhan Rourke was certainly going to be the hardest. Best to get it out of the way first.
* * *
"You're the last person to have an immersive experience of Earth." Sirhan's superfluid demi-Angel form turned from the monitors that held his attention.
"Well, me and Jerry, yeah."
"Jerry spent too much time here for him to have a full cultural understanding of how things were and probable vectors horrorscopes based on past experience."
"Then yes. I am the last one to have real experience of Earth-life."
The silvery liquid dissolved back into Sirhan's chair, the extra arms melting away into so much nothing. Denuded of his covering, he was a handsome Semitic man dressed in traditional robes -- Alex couldn't help but wonder if he'd designed them himself -- with very intense eyes that burned with a fierce desire to know everything.
"AI research was barely more than prediction engines bolted onto the back of complex expert systems when I left. You may be able to offer some insight into a problem I'm having."
"I'm afraid not. I was trained to distort physics, some enhanced biophysiology and memetech, but nothing on AI level."
"Fuck." A cigarette materialised in his hand out of nowhere, causality programs forced to believe it had always been there. "See, I have a problem I thought you could help me with."
"What's the problem. I'm not exactly a traditional thinker, maybe just a different perspective could help?"
"You ensure me that nothing goes outside this location. I've encrypted us from Headnet, but if you tell anyone it'll only panic them."
"Tell them what?"
"The Habitat has it's own intelligence."
"A real AI would take up far more space than even an optical setup could get on something the physical size of Haven."
"Not necessarily. Two things: First of all, we don't know what Haven is. My personal theory is comptronium, a lump of matter designed to do nothing but generate processing power for any programs to run on."
"So what runs Headnet? What generates the Teletubbyland communal landscape?"
"Nothing goes past that door, OK?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Okay. I hope Jerry got you a good grammar engine else I am going to blow your mind six ways to Sunday."
"Tell me, damnit!"
"If the Habitat is just a lump of comptronium, it needs a program to run. Now imagine that it has been projecting this vast amount of processing powerr [into an uninvestigated subdimension. If that were the case, a [untranslatable concept, closest match is "rogue informational intelligence] could take up residence."
"I follow you so far."
"For my own reasons, I call it an Angel. but as far as I can tell, something else locked it down here. I don't know how much you know about what happened before, but while Jerry was out looking for you we suffered from Nephandic [viral attacks] which killed one of our more capable members. They also broke some of the locks on the Angel, though that appears to be totally unintentional."
"I'm not sure I believe you. An angel inhabiting a lump of superprocessing matter and generating a wondrous place for us to exist as uploads? It seems so... far-fetched."
"And making people walk clockwise around a supermarket so they will take more time and see the so-called special offers isn't at all far-fetched." The cigarette should have been so much ash, but it didn't seem to be burning right.
"That's taking advantage of human nature..."
"Sounds far-fetched to me. Look, you don't have to believe me. But you have experience with Technocratic AIs. If I can get into a level where I can properly converse with the Angel, I want to be able to tap your mind."
"Well, okay. but I still don't know how much help I could be."
"We shall see. Oh, and get involved with plotting cultural state vectors for our return. We need as many possible plans for subversion as we can get."
Sirhan turned, not bothering to dismiss her. The superfluid crawled across his body as Alex left.
* * *
//Headnet Forum -> Activism -> Societal state-vectors
You're hung up on attitudes by the government towards the individual. While there are a lot of possible (and probable) futures, there is one angle that most of you appear to be ignoring. Current timetable has the new wave of personal computers being released in three months having processing power equivalent to the brain of a rat. In a year, a home computer will be processing as fast as a cat. Before we return, most people will have machines which process faster than their own brains.
There are sociological ramifications to this: the Technocrats aimed to clamp down on free maker patterns and free software both, so anyone wanting to upload will have to deal with a downgrade going back to meat. Hell, by the time we get back most people's cellphones will be processing faster than their own brains.
I do not intend to tell you where this state-vector will fork to, especially given the creational nanotech improvements that I have detailed in the attached file (I beta-tested the information-matter streaming technology, thus there's far too much detail). I offer this infomation to a group of people better able than me to work out what effect this may have.
I know you don't trust me yet, and I accept that. But I'm as much a part of Haven as you are, and I do want to help. In time, I hope you will accept that.