Tuesday, May 27, 2008

AI War

[scene omitted]

*

The biosculptor had worked on Trent before; Trent had changed his appearance fourteen times in the last decade. Usually he used a woman named Katrina Trudeau, a Luna-based biosculptor who he trusted. Twice before, though, he had used the man who stood before him now, when Katrina had been unable to make the trip from Luna in time.

He didn't know the fellow's name, and didn't want to. The only thing he knew for sure about the man was that he was an American and a Johnny Reb. It was hard to miss.

The biosculptor said, "You have a couple problems. You're about an inch taller than the subject; he's only six foot three. If -- "

Trent said, "Excuse me."

The man stopped. "What?"

"Please, please, please try not to act like such a freaking Johnny Reb, okay? It's nothing personal, I'm sure the world was a much better place when we all used inches and gallons and ozzes and things to measure with, but I have to do a lookup every time you pop off with, 'Well, you're eight stones high,' and it's irritat -- "

"Stones," the biosculptor interrupted, "were a unit of mass. Well, weight," he corrected himself, "they didn't really have a clear concept of the distinction between mass and weight -- "

"Metric!" Trent yelled at him. "Use metric!"

They glared at each other for a moment.

"I'll use metric," said the biosculptor grimly, "but I may not use anesthetic."

*

The subject -- a computerist named Eugene Yovia -- stood 190 centimeters even; Trent stood 194; and Yovia had been implanted with an inskin of wildly different make than Trent's. "I'd really like to make you a little shorter -- "

"We don't have time."

"Unfortunately," the biosculptor agreed. "You can slouch some, I guess. Let's see -- "

A holograph appeared in the space between them. Eugene Yovia: a man of, Trent knew, thirty-six, in decent condition. Trent had not seen a holo of the man until now, but he'd known what to expect from his databases and the Johnny Reb interviews with Yovia --

He regarded the image grimly. "Adam Selstrom."

The biosculptor stared at it himself. "Are you serious? You want me to make you look like Selstrom?"

"Afraid so." Trent could not take his eyes away from the holo. Jet black hair, high cheeks, gleaming white teeth, piercing blue eyes, cleft chin, a jaw that begged some random passer-by to take a swing at it -- that was what always crossed Trent's mind, anyway. "Man, people are gonna snicker behind my back."

"And to your face." The biosculptor glanced at the display holo floating off to his right. "Wait -- Adam Selstrom's fifty-something years old. The subject's only thirty-six. You mean you want me to make you look like someone who's been sculpted to look like Selstrom?"

"Yep."

"Well," said the sculptor slowly, "look at the upside, Mister Castanaveras. No one at Halfway will even see you. They'll look at you and see an Adam Selstrom wannabe so desperate he paid for biosculpture to look like the Man."

"He's not even a very good actor."

"Really?" The man looked blank. "Did you ever play the sensable The Sun Shines on Metal? Gregory Selstrom wrote it a couple years before his accident; Adam worked in it. '70 or '71. Wasn't half bad."

"I've never played it. I'm never going to play it."

The sculptor was silent a moment. "Anyway. I doubt anyone's going to notice you're the wrong height."

Trent said grimly, "I doubt it too."

"The inskin's another matter."

"Yeah." Trent's inskin was an NN-II, a radio packet nerve net that was so much a part of Trent he did not quite know any longer, and hadn't for years, where he ended and the nerve net began. The design was half biochip; the nerve net had spent the last decade growing inside Trent's skull. It would have killed Trent to take it out.

"The subject's jack is over the left parietal lobe, and it's small but it is visible. I can give you a dummy jack, but there's no way for me to make it functional."

Trent nodded. "That should be okay. Most places where there are hardware jacks, there's radio packet support. And places where there's not, I'll have to work out something else. Create a diversion. Faint. Something."

"Faint?"

"That's just off the top of my head," Trent assured him. "I'll think of something better if I need to."

"Lord, I hope so. Aside from height, we have some other glitches too, but I wouldn't worry too much about them. The subject carries about six kilos fat you don't have, mostly around his stomach. I see in the psychometric that the subject recently divorced; we can explain the loss of weight as emotional trauma. Not at all uncommon -- "

"I need the fat too," said Trent.

The biosculptor looked annoyed. "Why make this harder for both of us? I can fatten you up, but I promise you, no one's going to notice that you're thinner than the subject, except possibly to compliment you on it. I have to stretch new skin across your abdomen and -- "

"I want this as perfect as it can get."

"You're worrying too much," said the biosculptor.

"Am I? Ten years ago I walked into the PKF DataWatch base on Farside, had my ass biosculpted and pretended I was one of them. They're never going to forget that. Do you know why the PKF uses genetic analysis during personnel transfers these days? Because of me."

The biosculptor studied the display again. "The subject can't be a Peaceforcer, then; there's no way you'd pass a genetic analysis. Even an amateur could look at your chart and see you're a genie. . . . and for that matter, the PKF wouldn't tolerate an officer who looked like Adam Selstrom anyway. You'll be going in as a civilian, then -- computerist, at a guess?"

"You don't need to know."

The biosculptor nodded without offense. "Okay. How long will the subject have been out of touch when you make the transfer, and how long after your sculpture will it be?"

"Subject was out of touch for two stretches of four days each, last year -- he was interviewed at considerable length. We'll make the transfer at Halfway, about an hour before he's due to report to the PKF Security Chief, so there won't be any lapse in coverage from the moment he's last seen to the moment I pick him up. Transfer is eleven days from today."

"Then we're going to do you in two rounds, today and day after tomorrow, so that makes your date to pass as the subject at eight days post-sculpture. You'll be en route from Mars most of that time -- "

"That's correct."

"Keep the boost down. Under two gees."

"That won't be a problem. How soon can I get myself sculpted again?"

The biosculptor frowned. "In identity as this fellow? I wouldn't recommend it. Any good sculptor taking a deep long look at your skull is going to see evidence of multiple bouts of sculpture -- unless the subject has had multiple bouts?"

"Just the one."

The sculptor shook his head. "Don't do it. I, and whoever else you use, are talented cutters; we haven't left much behind. But the markers are there for a professional to see. If you have access to a cutter who's a patriot . . . different story, but even so, flesh takes time to heal. If you find such a cutter, maybe two weeks post-sculpture."

Trent nodded. "So I'm stuck with this face until I'm back out again."

The biosculptor snickered. "Yep. You want the anesthetic?"

Trent said, "Please."

*

Somewhere around his eighth GoodBeer, Jimmy Ramirez said, "So humanity is doomed, huh?" He shook his head. "That seems a little pessimistic."

"I didn't use that word," said Trent carefully. His lips were numb. "Doomed. I didn't say that."

Jimmy Ramirez nodded wisely. "Ah." He stared out across the Martian tundra. He and Trent sat together in Trent's hospital room, out on the patio, working their way through the GoodBeer. The patio was enclosed by a bubble that gave them a panoramic view of the Martian landscape.

Olympus Mons soared up before them, off to the northwest, striking up into the darkening sky as night fell around them. Stars had begun to come out.

They twinkled. Trent hadn't seen twinkling stars in six years, not since leaving Mars.

Trent sipped at his GoodBeer. "I miss Earth. I miss good coffee. I miss the feel of the wind on my face. I miss smells."

"You really think the AIs are going to wipe us out?"

Trent blinked, a touch drunkenly. "Did I say that? I don't think I said that. You're putting words in my mouth," he accused.

"You said they were going to try to."

"I don't think I said that, either. What I said was ..." Trent tried to remember. "Something about dragons? There were dragons in it, I remember that. The dragons were a good bit."

"Check your inskin," Jimmy suggested.

"Uhm ..." Trent thought about it. "All right." A moment later he said, "I didn't say the the race was going to get wiped out. Just that it was going to stop mattering, one way or another, in the sweep of history. Either we're going to destroy ourselves, or we're going to survive; and if we survive, our children will amazing. Project Superman didn't know what it was doing; today we almost do. We could make real supermen. We could make children better than ourselves. And that doesn't even take nanotech into account. The AIs are getting better hardware all the time; and they're already smarter than we are. The day is coming, Jimmy, sooner than you think, when reality on the other side of Interface will be more complex -- more real -- than reality on this side of Interface. Our children aren't going to look like us, Jimmy, but that doesn't mean they won't be our children."

Jimmy shook his head. "My children are gonna look just like me. Brown skin, muscles, and handsome as Hell."

Trent took a swallow of his cold beer, staring out at darkening slopes of the huge mountain. "Something better than us is coming."

*

[scene omitted]

*

F.X. Chandler snickered when he saw Trent. Trent was a tall, reasonably muscular, pot-bellied man with a dark, brooding, strikingly handsome face. "Oh my Sweet Jesus."

"Don't even start with me," Trent warned him. "I'm in a lousy mood."

The wealthiest human being in the Solar System -- the wealthiest human being in history, for that matter -- received Trent for dinner at his house in Deimos.

Perhaps it was a touch inaccurate to phrase it that way. F.X. Chandler, founder of Chandler Industries, the company which had built and sold three quarters of the vehicles in use in the System in 2080, did not merely have a house tucked away in the depths of Deimos; he owned the satellite.

Francis Xavier Chandler was an old man, even by the standards of the time: one hundred and three. He was nowhere near being the oldest living human -- there were several well-documented individuals in their sixteenth decade -- but he was old nonetheless. The striking thing about him was not so much his age as his vigor. A broad shouldered man with long, flowing black hair, he radiated vitality. It had crossed Trent's mind, more than once, that he would not at all mind being an old man the way F.X. Chandler was managing it.

"Son," said Chandler, "one of the few joys left when you reach my age is teasing know-it-alls who do foolish things." He looked Trent over, squinting slightly. "I'd say this qualifies."

"Man did it for his wife," said Trent. He grinned. "Then she divorced him."

Chandler shook his head. "Poor schmuck."

"He may be a schmuck," said Trent, "but Eugene Yovia is also the new Chief of Development, Unity Information Systems Division."

*

Trent had no appetite; his second round of sculpture had been finished only that morning, and he still felt a little off from the drugs. His incredibly expensive new eyes, grown to match the pattern of blood vessels inside the eyes of the man he would be replacing, hurt. A lot.

Chandler didn't let Trent's lack of appetite slow him down; he had a salad, half a loaf of fresh baked bread, and some sort of dessert brought out to him. He started with the dessert. Trent didn't recognize the dessert and wasn't sure he wanted to -- it involved a mixture of ice cream, fudge, nuts, and some sort of pale tubes of baked yellow cake, with cream inside them -- "twinkies," Chandler told Trent they were called, while eating his fourth tube. Trent had to look away while Chandler worked on it.

Trent had never been space sick in his life, but Deimos is tiny: Chandler's house was effectively in free fall, and Trent's stomach, abused by the anesthetic, the new skin, and the sudden appearance of six kilos of fat, kept threatening to rebel. He floated on the other side of the table from Chandler, sipping at a cup of black coffee, and waited for Chandler to finish.

"Another piece of bad news from Earth," said Chandler eventually, starting in on the bread. "They're pretty well on their way to taking control of Chandler Industries away from me."

"Well, we knew that was coming."

Savagery touched the old man's grin. "Yeah, but the mechanism is cute. Turns out I'm incompetent."

"Nothing political in that."

"If I show up for the incompetency hearing -- "

"You'll never be allowed to leave Earth again."

"Not with a working forebrain." Chandler shrugged. "Saw it coming. The assets that can be moved, have been. The floating Credit, my art; I've purchased eighty or ninety rocks out in the Belt that look promising. What's left on Earth and in orbit, factories and such, are beyond my reach. I'll still 'own' them when they're done, but ownership and control are far from the same thing."

"Being rich is a bitch," said Trent.

"You're rich, now," said Chandler.

"Nobody's rich by comparison with you," said Trent. "They say you're a billionaire."

Chandler laughed. "Yes, I am."

"What's funny about that?"

The amused look did not leave him. "When I was a boy, there were billionaires all over the place. Couldn't take a leak without splashing one. Of course, those were billionaires in pounds, or dollars, or some such, not Credit Units."

"Dollars and pounds," said Trent doubtfully. "Those are like ozzes, right?"

Chandler said, "Ozzes?"

Trent said, "Ozzes. Like, a man would weigh thirty stone and eighteen ozzes?"

"No," said Chandler slowly, holding a chunk of bread in one hand, "pounds were money. English money. Well, they were also a kind of weight -- "

"Like ozzes."

"Ounces."

"Sure, those too."

"An 'oz'," Chandler explained carefully, "was an ounce. It was an abbreviation for ounce."

"Oh . . . nothing to do with Dorothy, then?" Trent asked curiously.

"Not that I know of." Chandler paused. "You could look all this stuff up, you know. In your case it wouldn't be hard."

"Sure," Trent agreed. "But then what? There I'd be, with my head crammed full of useless information." He shook his head, that was not crammed full of useless information. "Limited protein storage capacity, Frank. You have to keep these things in perspective."

Chandler opened his mouth to respond, saw Trent's grin, and changed the subject. "Never mind. So you report to the Unity, and then have to pass as this Yovia during the orientation interview with the head of Security, no?"

"Chief of Security, yes."

"Think you can?"

"Pass as Yovia? I expect so. I've studied the man hard. Studied the staff he'll be supervising, studied the work he's done. I can do what he's supposed to do."

Chandler stabbed a bite of salad through the opening of his salad bowl, pulled it free carefully to make sure that no loose clumps of lettuce came with it, to float around in the air in front of his face, and then, chewing, spoke around the mouthful of salad. Trent watched the man's casual attitude, watched the tossed-off question: "You have people inside the PKF, don't you?"

Trent smiled at him. "I know you think I do."

"Is there anyone in the System you trust, Trent?"

Trent was silent a long moment. "Denice."

Chandler's features lost expression. "Really."

"That surprises you."

Chandler looked down at his food. "The two of you are going in different directions, Trent. If you're telling me the truth, you're a fool."

I know you think so, thought Trent. Aloud, he said, "I wouldn't lie to you," and grinned at the man to prove it.

Chandler grinned back. "Wouldn't you?"

Trent said swiftly, "Not without an excellent reason."

Chandler nodded, and the smile faded a touch. "You know," he said hesitantly, "the SpaceFarers, or at least the Board of Directors, thinks this idea, that you would go take care of the Unity, was their idea -- "

"Of course they do."

"Does anyone except me know how far you've gamed this out?"

Ring, thought Trent, and said aloud, "Jesus and Harry, I hope not."

*

The ship was beautiful.

Even Trent found it so. It was a work of engineering, of sheer hubris, that touched him. Weapons can be beautiful: the Unity was.

Seven klicks, fore to stern. Larger than many towns on Earth. The largest vehicle ever constructed by humans. Trent's ship, incoming, passed within three klicks of it: and it filled the sky, the single largest spacemark at Halfway. Sixteen fusion torches drove it; even so it would never see more than three gee acceleration. It bristled with laser cannon, visible even at the distance as small protrusions on the hull. It narrowed as one went forward, until, seven kilometers forward from the ship's fusion engines, it ended in an awesome array of sensory devices and missiles, mingled in an apparently random fashion that Trent knew was anything but. Lights swarmed over the ship's dark surface, the blinking warning lights of stationary tugs, the brief glares of fusion welding. Midway down the ship's frame, a bay hung open, large enough for four full sized troop carriers -- three times the size of the corvette that had hunted Trent -- to pass through at once.

Even from three kilometers away the sheer sense of size was chilling. Trent had seen the Unity up close before, four years prior: today, closer to completion, the hull finally in place, it was both more beautiful and more frightening. The greatest work of engineering in history, Trent had heard newsdancers call it; and it was that.

Trent hated it with a passion that would have surprised even the people who thought they knew him well.

*

The switch was made at Chiricahua City, a donut built and inhabited by a group of native Americans, mostly Apaches. They were a long way from being Johnny Rebs -- ideologically they were about as far away from the Rebs, with their nostalgia for the old American republic, as it was possible to get -- but they shared a distaste for the Unification.

Eugene Yovia passed Trent in the corridor. Yovia had just cycled through the airlock of the shuttle that would take Trent to Halfway. They stopped in the corridor together, staring at each other -- for different reasons, to be sure. They were nearly identical, so far as Trent could tell; identical suit, slightly out of fashion, shoes wildly inappropriate for free fall, a ring with black onyx and diamond chips on the ring finger of the right hand, barely perceptible pale band on the ring finger of the left hand where a white gold wedding band had recently been sported. Inskin jack over the left parietal lobe.

Yovia merely looked startled. "You're -- "

"I'm going to need that ring," said Trent. He took the ring off his right hand, held it out to Yovia.

"What?"

"The diamond chips around the edge of your stone. Mine are larger. Somebody screwed up. I need your ring." Trent held his copy of the ring out again.

"This was my father's -- "

"I know," said Trent. "And your grandfather's. Your grandfather took it out of a jewelry store in Liverpool during the Unification, after the store had been looted by Unification troops and the owner shot. Some symbolism there that frankly escapes me, and I don't have time to argue. I need the ring now."

"Will I ever get it back?"

Trent counted to five. He stared at his double and said, "Not likely."

Yovia floated in the corridor, breath coming short. Trent knew that the man had never taken that ring off since the day his father had given it to him; Yovia's psychometric had a spike the size of a spacescraper where that heirloom was concerned. It was the only thing he had left from his father, a father with whom he'd had a horrifically stormy relationship.

Trent counted to five again, and then one more time for good measure. "Please don't make me take it from you, Gene. This is more important than my life. It's more important than your father's ring."

With excruciating slowness Eugene Yovia worked the ring off his right hand and held it out to Trent.

Trent said softly, "Thank you. I know how hard that was."

Yovia swallowed. His naked right hand curled and uncurled into a fist. "Are you who I think you are?"

"I am no one you ever heard of."

"I am an incredibly great computerist," the man said, "and I am a brilliant coder, and if you're not who I think you are, you're in deep trouble."

Trent said, "Have you talked to your escort at all?"

"No. I was told not to."

Trent pushed past Yovia, into the shuttle airlock, wondering what else his people had screwed up.

A panel in the corridor, just beyond the inner airlock door, hung free; Trent squirmed through it, pulled himself up through the floor into the shuttle's bathroom. The panel in the bathroom's deck sealed itself, and Trent pulled a handwipe from the dispenser, wiped his hands with it, and touched the pad to open the bathroom door.

His escort, standing in the corridor outside the bathroom, watched as Trent stuffed the handwipe into the trash receptacle. "You took your time about that," said the Elite in French.

"Never did get used to those damn zero-gee toilets," Trent explained, pushing out in to the corridor and making his way down the aisle to their seats. Trent's seat was next to the wall; he pulled himself back into it and buckled his his seatbelt.

The Elite seated himself next to Trent, grunted, "You had better get used to them. That's all they have on the Unity."

Speaking French with his precise, practiced British accent, Trent said, "Well, I've been there before, haven't I."

*

Halfway, it's been observed, does not look particularly impressive. It was not built so much as grown, donuts and tumbling slingshots and free fall modules of all sizes and shapes linked together by a maze of tubing: newsdancer Terry Shawmac once described it as a bowl of noodles that had just been dropped, headed for the ground. Inside that bowl of noodles lived some two million plus inhabitants, almost a quarter of them Halfers, natives: homebrews. The name was taken from the day when Halfway's single biggest industry was the production of alcohol brewed in zero gravity.

Halfway is unlike any other large city in the System: built by and for people comfortable in free fall, it generally lacks the local vertical indicators of space dwellings intended for downsiders. Halfers, like SpaceFarers, believe that people who get disoriented without a local vertical have no business being in space in the first place.

Administration Central is an old building, as Halfway structures go. It's a huge, mostly white cylinder, rotating to provide one tenth gee at the rim, connected to the rest of Halfway by free-standing pressurized walkways mounted at Central's hub. The InfoNet Relay Station, the first and largest of the Relay Stations without which the InfoNet would not exist, floats not far from it, following Administration Central in its ceaseless circuit of the Earth.

Trent the Uncatchable arrived at Halfway Administration Central late on Saturday, March 8, 2080.

It was the day before his twenty-ninth birthday, a birthday that Trent was not entirely certain he would reach, if anything went disastrously wrong.

*

The holo at Airlock Nineteen said, "Welcome to Halfway."

The Halfer saw Trent glance at the sign. A solid metal plaque, it was bolted to the wall immediately beneath the welcoming holo:

Once you reach orbit, you're not just halfway to the moon; you're halfway to anywhere.
-- Robert A. Heinlein

"Escape velocity," the Halfer said politely. "Escape velocity for Earth is about half that of the Solar System as a whole."

"I've heard that," Trent said.

The Halfer was tall and thin; but where some Halfers seemed painfully gaunt to Trent, this fellow had muscles. He looked as though he could have played center on a basketball team downside, or rover on a Halfway dropball team, and he reminded Trent of a young Reverend Andy. He guided Trent and Trent's Elite escort through a maze of sunpaint-lit corridors to a bank of elevators.

Trent found the surroundings half-familiar; only four years prior, during the TriCentennial rebellion, he and a group of SpaceFarers had briefly taken over Administration Central.

They took an elevator down to Cylinder One, the tenth gee outer cylinder. Trent noticed with some interest the structural reinforcements apparent in every corridor: they were preparing for combat, combat that might reach Halfway itself. When Trent had last been in these corridors, back when Tytan Manufacturing had still been running Halfway under the guidance of the Unification, they had been only thin shells of metal and plastic. But Tytan Manufacturing had not had control of Halfway since the TriCentennial: Halfway was in its fourth year of PKF-run martial law.

Their Halfer guide left Trent and his escort at the Security Chief's outer office; a Peaceforcer sat at the desk beside the Security Chief's door. Trent's Elite escort handed a packaged chip to the Peaceforcer, laid his palm flat against the logpad on the desk's surface, and then also left, without saying anything and without looking at Trent again.

Trent seated himself in the chair facing the Security Chief's door.

The Peaceforcer's eyes, half-lidded against the overhead sunpaint, studied Trent briefly as Trent's escort left. After a moment the Peaceforcer slid the chip package beneath one of the half dozen restraining springs on his desktop, closed his eyes and went back to work. The oversized, special model traceset mounted at his temples gave Trent the man's occupation: PKF DataWatch. DataWatch had stopped forcing its officers to accept inskins close to a decade ago; they were at best difficult to upgrade, and with the state of the art continually advancing, some officers chose to work through tracesets and MRI headsets, which were themselves improving with the passage of time, rather than accept an inskin that would be obsolete within a decade of implantation.

Trent understood the reasoning. The NN-II inside his own skull had been upgraded twice. The upgrades had been expensive, even by Trent's standards, and the second one had been slightly dangerous. They'd been necessary, though, particularly the second one, which had removed slight calcification from around the growing nodes of his biochip inskin, while improving the bandwidth between the native protein circuitry -- Trent's brain -- and the biochip circuitry growing within him.

Trent could not decide if the fellow was watching him or not. Finally the Peaceforcer said in English, "It will probably be half an hour before you get to see the Chief." Strong French accent; not surprising, in DataWatch. The power of the French might have declined within the Unification, but DataWatch remained predominantly French, and the Elite themselves entirely so. "Feel free to play a sensable or audit the newsBoards while you wait."

The temptation that struck Trent was immense, burning, an addict suddenly beckoned by his drug: the Crystal Wind vibrated, sang to him, beckoned from just the other side of Interface. He had been away from the Wind except for a few days during the TriCentennial, and before that, since fleeing Earth in '69 -- the Crystal Wind called to him, the man generally conceded to be the greatest Player of his era: to go into the Wind, to dance the net --

When he had not seriously tested himself against the net, against other Players and the AIs who swarmed the other side of Interface, in over a decade.

The Crystal Wind is the Storm, and the Storm is Data, and the Data is Life.

It was the Player's Litany, the saying that dated to the first appearance of real Players in the Net, not many years before Trent's birth. It reflected the Player belief that life was nothing but a data construct. Information was an abstraction of data, and Truth an abstraction of information: and Players believed in Truth.

Trent said immediately, to the DataWatch officer who sat two meters away from him, wearing his traceset, "Thank you, 'Sieur. Not now. I'll wait."

The man nodded once and returned to his work.

*

Sitting, waiting.

Eyes closed.

Floating in geosynchronous orbit, falling free around Earth, around the cradle.

Pulled toward the deck by a gentle tenth gee, Trent spun in a circle around the center of Administration Central, as Administration Central itself advanced onward around Earth, through death pressure toward a destination it would never reach --

As tides tugged at him, Earth's tide, Luna's, the Sun's, Luna locked one-face to the Earth, one revolution equaling one rotation, and Earth and Luna fell together around the Sun, carrying with them the debris and clutter of an ambitious group of monkeys Gaea had produced over the course of billions of years: a mess of plastic and metal, stone and ceramics on one side of Interface, of electrons and photons on the other. Sol itself making the grand progression about the center of the galaxy, which fled outward from a thirteen billion year old explosion, a destabilization of nothing into something --

You like to believe that what you're doing is important, the voice whispered to Trent. We matter, you have been known to tell people: we are inherently worthwhile, you and I and all that lives and breathes and feels. Chattering to the other monkeys during your brief flicker of existence, your small moment in the Sun. The grand pinnacle of billions of years of evolution: a monkey with biochips built into his brain, too complex to understand itself.

Trent the Uncatchable, holy man. The man who walked through a wall with his enemies watching. Half the System says so --

-- and none of them have the vaguest idea who or what you are.

Trent the Uncatchable, liar and thief. So say the other half.

And none of them have the vaguest idea who or what you are, either.

The price of being misunderstood, Trent thought. They call you a god or they call you a devil.

The DataWatch officer's voice penetrated as though from a great distance: "The Chief will see you now."

Trent had not shut his eyes, he had merely stopped paying attention to his optic nerve; now the world appeared around him as though a holograph had been generated, and he stood and went through the Security Chief's door as his door curled opened.

The Chief was a man whose bio Trent had studied quite thoroughly, a stolid, unimaginative fellow who Trent knew --

The woman sitting behind the desk, a Peaceforcer Elite in perhaps her early thirties, looked up from her systerm, smiled at Trent, and said pleasantly, over Trent's swiftly mounting horror, "Welcome to Halfway, Chief."

Something had gone disastrously wrong, all right.

It was Melissa du Bois.

26 comments:

Sean Fagan said...

You are so very very cruel, dude.

One comment: there had been a non-French Elite (I'm blanking on his name at the moment), so the comment that the Elite remained French jarred.

Sean Fagan said...

Another comment: various bits from that have come out over the years, and it's fascinating seeing them in context.

Mike G. said...

Christopher Summers? I _think_ that was the 3rd musketeer's name.

Kurt said...

Swooning at new Trent... Thanks, and congrats on rescuing your book from that giant warehouse of crates.

Jesse Wendel said...

It's Melissa!

*waves to Melissa* (On whom I do not have a crush at all. No, not I.)

Anonymous said...

Datastarve...psshht. A taste of AI and now I'm starving!! When will dinner be served sieur Moran?
Also, I'd like to purchase my meal w/ paypal credits, do you know when the interface will be available?

Thanks, you made my day....Ron

Matthew said...

Wow. Very nice to see Trent in action again.

So, Dan, where's the tipjar? Time for some positive reinforcement.

Pdxtrent said...

Yeah!

And I say it again...

YEAH!!!!!

There wil never be enough Trent the Uncatchable!

Anonymous said...

please sir, can I have some more?

thank you!!



Dan, you once said we could send paypal donations to your yahoo account. is that still true, or now a bad idea?

Peter Kim, MD said...

More, please.

Please.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, can't wait for the rest.

also, during Trent's conversation with Jimmy, "and if we survive, our children will amazing" should be "our children will be amazing."

reading new material about Trent and Jimmy and the rest, it's a damn good feeling. thanks.

Alexander said...

I am adding my voice to those who wish to offer compensation. Either to yourself or perhaps a charity in your name.

Also the non-French Elite was named Christian J. Summers. He faked his death and turned traitor to the Unification. No other non-French has been promoted to the Elite.

His reading of the Declaration of Independence during the Tricentennial brought tears to my eyes.

Deadford said...

Awesome. Yeah.

Bradford

Shawn said...

That's some finely written prose.

The italicized text near the end, from the voice - I've often thought of all of us as malformed monkeys (or malformed fish, even) with delusions of grandeur and majorly misplaced priorities. Glad to see I'm not the only one.

The check will be in the mail as soon as you're ready for it.

Marcus Eubanks said...

Here's another request for a way to pay for a copy, digital or otherwise, of The AI war when you're ready.

McKee's Miazma said...

Dan,

Thank you for this. My images and memories of AI War have been from the previous posts in the Cartoon Museum on .... Ceres? A few Maker's and the memory isn't so tight.

Looking forward to the full text. Still in for $100. Put up a Paypal link and I'm there.

Thanks again for the taste.....just another DKM junkie.

eKaser said...

Thanks, Dan!

Besides the "our children will BE amazing" that someone else pointed out, there's also a double 'his' in "...back into it and buckled his his seatbelt."

The phrasing in a couple of spots bugged me a little bit, but not enough to gripe about sentence fragments (or to bring Comma Man out of hiding... :-)))

I'll join the chorus of folks clamoring for more, and asking for a Paypal button.

I'm guessing that you're doing some slight rewriting, to update some technology terminology and concepts. Maybe not ("Engines Of Creation" was originally published in 1986, so 'nanotechnology', for example, was quite likely already around when you were writing). Anyway, your works have always been incredibly "spot on" in terms of the computer tech, if perhaps not in the time-line. :-)

Everett

eain said...

Glee!

SF said...

Oh, I laughed not only out loud, but hysterically, at that last line. Bravo!

J.D. Ray said...

"Ohshit ohshit ohshit!"

That's what I said aloud when reading the last line. In the office. Coworkers looked on, curiously.

jbz said...

AIIGH! Melissa! Heeheeheeheeheehee!
Thanks, Dan, and MORE PLZ KTHXBAI

Dan Moran said...

More soon. Don't ask what "soon" means.

Everett, it's hard for me to know what's been in the novel from the beginning and what I added recently -- as you all know, this is an old novel at this point. I read Engines of Creation when it came out, wrote a short story with nanotech assemblers ("On Sequoia Time") maybe a decade ago now. But I can't tell you when the bit with Trent and Jimmy was written, except it was a "long time" ago.

Mostly I'm not trying to reimagine the society in terms of new information, though I have made minor changes here and there -- a line about the universe being 15 billion years old got changed to 13 billion, right before I posted this piece, for example -- just a couple weeks ago I read an article about the universe's age. Even a month ago it still would have said "15."

If I had to guess at what would be really different in Trent's age from what I've pictured to date, I'd guess that humans won't have gotten as deep into space (sadly) -- and computers will be even more powerful, and running on quantum mechanical principles.

I'm still not sure about population. I had the planet topping out around 8 or 9 billion or so, and then tons of people dying until the population declined to 7-1/2 or so. Right now that looks optimistic.

Dan Moran said...

congrats on rescuing your book from that giant warehouse of crates.

Thank God I had the whip with me, you know what I'm saying? I may be older than I used to be, but I still look good in the right light ...

Anonymous said...

"Adam Selstrom."

awesome. had me in stitches.
poor bastard, indeed.

thanks for the donate button!

James said...

Amazing! I thought this series dead as the Sahara Desert. These books are among the best sci-fi I've ever read.

Mona Mitchell said...

Thank you, for this and all your earlier books. I hope you write more!