iPocalypse - Part 1 (first draft)
They stood in single file, wild excitement on their faces in anticipation of the storefront opening. PhotoVolt-film-lined tents wrapped around the block with wireless charging stations plugged into them, and families filmed fathers holding their babies by the hands as they shuffled their young legs around, learning how to walk. Everyone was happy, the moment was joyous, the batteries were charged, the gates were about to open. The geniuses were about to welcome everyone in. Some of the crowd had been camped out for weeks - or even months. It seemed that there was always a continuous presence around the glass fronted stores, for blocks. People recorded their media and quickly produced it into slick prepackaged templates for easy consumption, camped out together, fed each other. They carried banners with illuminated paintings of St. Steve, and flags with depictions of the forbidden fruit and its poignant bite mark. The economy would rise or fall depending on the first weekend of sales. Riots had broken out around releases in the past, though the Jobsians, today, had developed a voluntary set of community agreements to self-organize and prevent violence. Security forces left them alone, for the most part.
As the doors of the glass palace opened amid cheers from the staff and delightful roars of those waiting, a darker spectacle began assembling in the thoroughfare leading up to the quasi-public square where the faithful awaited their prophetic commune with the future. In the center of the foamstone-cobbled court, an elongated cylindrical monolith stood illuminated by projections of the latest smooth translucent slates in various form factors, glowing with interfaces. Down the street a procession of black robed and barefoot outsiders approached the cylinder and filed around it until they all stood equidistant, hands held in a circle.
“You have no right!” someone shouted.
“There are families here!” a mother’s voice echoed.
“HAVE SOME RESPECT!”
The robed figures pulled down their hoods, revealing a cadre of mixed hued skin tones and strange tattoos and scars on masculine and feminine faces. To the North toward the open gates a thin framed orator with ornate braids and a crystal pendent hanging in the cleavage of their breast began the recital:
“For the ancestors of Turtle Island and the future generations!
For the laborers toiling under rehabilitation!”
To the East another deeper voice from a darker more muscular form intoned:
“What comes up - must come down.
As above, so below.
All empires that rise
will dissipate into cold.”
At the South, a soprano then called out:
“No more shall your hubris distract and enslave us!
The oceans will swallow the idols you’ve raised up!”
An androgynous monk-like spirit to the most West solemnly stated:
“We consecrate our bodies in a gesture of resistance.
Let our will be shown to those who see to bring about our vision.”
Three times, the group collectively repeated, “This is our will!” in unison.
While this incantation was being performed, a riot detail had begun shutting down the intersections of the blocks immediately surrounding the Jobsian temple; lower ranks had begun moving in to cordon off those who had legitimately gathered for the product launch.
“THIS IS AN UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY-” bellowed a captain at the established perimeter.
“By the authority of the people of California…” the barely intelligible voice continued droning, booming out of the sonic cannon shields the phalanx carried.
But by then the robed practitioners had already begun to break their circle and snake around clockwise, acknowledging each member in sequence with an embrace of hands. After they had all respectively looked into the others’ eyes, they each swallowed a capsule that the first to go around had distributed, and then started shuffling toward the entrance of the storefront. The geniuses, caught off guard, had neglected security protocol and failed to shutter the opening.
As they moved in, they left their robes behind at the outside and revealed bodies completely uncovered, decorated in branding and needled ink patterns worked over their otherwise exposed flesh in motifs of swirls and ancient geometric designs revered across the world. Modest onlookers gasped and shrieked in disapproval as they were hustled away by the security forces.
Widened pupils and goose pimpled skin lazily but deliberately filled the show room and changed the atmosphere decidedly. Even the workers, now effectively trapped inside, felt turned on – unwillingly - as if by aphrodisiac, to their own confusion. The naked school of bodies standing around the tables with patented rounded corners released sweat profusely, the scent of aroused mammalian primal drives crowded out any air of normalcy.
As the intensity of desire reached a boiling point, the nude forms gravitated toward one another, lit up by the bright white lighting falling on faux woodgrain and stainless brushed metallic surfaces. Jaws clenched and smirks and sly smiles opened into hungry grins; tongues licked lips. Display cases for smart panes were pushed to the side as ravenous glistening humans climbed and leapt onto the retail showroom platforms to indulge their lust. The dozens of them, a rainbow tribe of united nations represented in their heritage, now suckled and gnawed at one another, rolling over to mouth each other as they pushed and pumped into their flexed and extended centers. Moans and whimpers of malformed phonemes broke into wordless guttural vowel cries. The geniuses, backed into safety corners and against the radiant walls, were aghast, speechless, frozen.
The variant phenotypes permuted their meatspace into multiplicitous combinations of orifices and protuberances with little regard for any discernible order of social relations. They certainly were not interested in biological reproduction. Pure hedonic ecstasy and impulsive mercy won over their strokes and fondlings. Locked into a pulsing embrace as a kind of super-organism, the body of bodies increased pace. If ever one had seen an orgy, not only would what was taking place here qualify, but it started to resemble something beyond the motivation of sexual gratification. The intensity and dedication of the rhythmic contortions became desperate.
The temperature in the room had risen noticeably. A distinct, strange chlorine-like smell infused the other familiar sweaty odors wafting in the air. Tightly gripped hands scraped into midsections, and skin bore abrasions from the friction. Acidic internal contusions started searing through bellies; gagging mouths gasped for oxygen and began to retch up a foul sticky substance onto each other that burned a bright lilac-colored flame as it engulfed them, still clenched in their now mechanical thrusting and grinding. They went on like that automatically as their bodies blazed neon purple and the flesh melted off of their frames, boiling and bubbling as it cooked into ash. The geniuses ran out of the opening in horror and were immediately detained at the police line.
After the last worker escaped the front room, the building’s systems monitor dropped emergency walls to seal off the area and revved up the ventilation unit to suffocate the smoldering remains of the death orgy. The fumes cleared and robotic power washers sprayed a dry chemical cleansing powder over the afflicted area. The loose material was blasted off of the elevated surfaces and collected by autovac. Sweepers gathered the damaged slates and stocking units replaced them. Within a matter of minutes the look of the place was pristine, as if nothing had happened to disrupt the launch day event. A supervisor walked through the police line to examine the scene as the emergency walls receded.
The situation met with his approval. The supervisor turned to the crowds pushed back behind the lines and bellowed, “Ladies and gentleman - we apologize for this unfortunate delay. Any customers who witnessed any of this unpleasantness will be welcomed back to the front of the line, as soon as you consent to a standard non-disclosure agreement. Please line up to see one of our helpful legal assistants to guide you through the process.” The crowd seemed relieved by the return to order, and proceeded to huddle around the assistants who now punctured the corners of the police lines. The supervisor crossed back over and greeted the frightened geniuses, who were being released from the zip-tie cuffs they had been temporarily restrained by. “I’m sorry this happened to us on our biggest launch yet. A team of retail experts are en route to relieve you all of your duties today. You’ll all be receiving a day’s leave with sick pay.” They seemed to relax at the news and were released thusly.
A private shuttle pulled up at the intersection. A troupe of young, smiling associates in blue t-shirts and khaki shorts hopped out enthusiastically, and waved to the onlookers. The crowds shouted out their approval and at the direction of the newly arrived sales staff were led in exuberant applause as they stood in line to tap “I Accept” on the slates held by the legal assistants. Surges of deeply felt wonderment overcame them all.
- - -
(thanks to C.A. for editing assistance)
low rez audiobook version here: http://soundcloud.com/robotson/paper-by-lance-robotson
“…And then the user is presented with a choice!” the young experience architect beamed.
“But those probabilities have been constrained beforehand, so the engine doesn’t have to think too many moves ahead,” injected his quieter co-presenter.
He tossed a few stacks of technical specifications over to the share-space in the center of the table. Nobody interrupted the well rehearsed pitch.
“So because we’ve already artificially limited the potentially endless landscape for the user and sort of boxed him into a predetermined route, it still all feels very immersive, as if their own mind is producing the effects, right Arlo?”
“Oh yeah. Very immersive,” came a voice from underneath a fiberoptic jellyfish covering the man’s head, his eyes twitching below his closed lids. The gear continued pulsing.
“And that’s where you writer guys come in! Our designers and architects are plumbing the depths of the most cutting edge research to accurately model experience states in the brain. We’ve got armies of interdisciplinary experts who can build you an alien landscape or simulate a supernova or recreate the colonial new world, and transport you into what it really feels like, really tastes like. But story telling is still a valuable, rare thing. And if someone who can tell a good story can hitch his cart to the right project, they can still build a reputation for themselves.”
“Really stand out.” quipped the co-presenter.
The writers looked out of their element, as usual. The IP managers who had invited them to the meeting knew that they were skeptical about working with the kind of technology that could infringe on the domain of their creativity, their stock in trade. Dynamically generated non-linear storytelling engines were the new cotton mills, and writers were already predisposed to being neo-luddites. Half of them worked on antique manual typewriters. Kelterton even made his own paper. And who even bothered with paper anymore, except people who could afford to fetishize it? But Kelterton had his ways.
After the meeting he stepped outside and hailed an auto-cab. Climbing into the two seater and flicking his destination over to the viewport, he accepted the transport agreement. He dimmed the windows as he sped away from the financial center. No images of obsolete veterans trying to get a black-market upgrade would creep into his subconscious on his way home. All day spent coming down from the mountains for this rights-holders discussion group and then this pitch, from the XP-tech interactive guys, it was all a set up. Normally he’d be happy for the work, but ever since he started making his own paper, all the gadgets and gizmos started seeming more and more vain and irrelevant. He wanted to go home and stick his hands into the pulpy mush, and lay it across the screens to dry. He wanted to slice off the rough edges with a clean, sharp blade at the cutting table. He wanted to feel the quill etching into the rough surface of the unbleached grey fibers.
The metroplex intruded back into his perception and punctured his pleasant fantasy as the auto-cab slowed to a halt and dinged in acknowledgement of its completed task. By reaching for the door he signaled his desire to escape the pod, and it opened automatically. The cab whirred off with a pleasant friendly sounding whine as he descended into the tube platforms and waited for the next omni-lev train. The tube bay doors sighed out pressurized gasses, yawning homeostasis as the passengers boarded into the capsule’s cabins. At least he’d have a short while to think to himself on the high-speed corridor up the coast. Visions of the farm, the green of the forest, the winding stream, daydreaming of some anachronistic water wheel storing up potential energy, past the wind farms and solar arrays. Energy sovereignty seemed feasible in the coming years.
The omni-lev trip seemed unusually short, round trip the commute figured about 3 hours out of his day. As Kelterton bounded out of the capsule chamber and flew down the escalators he remembered why he didn’t want to get sucked back into that whole LA brain dream factory again. He liked getting so far out of the city that this last public cab ride of the day patiently waited for him at the terminus, while he vended a cardboard bicycle from the on-demand transit station, and began to peddle up the path out into the hills. By looking back at the auto-cab he signaled his safe departure of his own cognizance, and the ergonomically sculpted vehicle seemed to rock back and forth in acknowledgement as it zipped away to its next client.
Inside the dwelling space he shared, his companion Katherine was alterted to his approach by the illuminated beacons along the path - they reported a recently fabbed bike nearing the outskirts of their cluster. “Well, that must be Bill!” she mused. Her workstation blinked as she started shutting it down; photovoltaic designs, ready to send off for fabrication, disappeared from the hanging screens on the walls. She walked out of the multi-use space, resetting its surfaces to their defaults.
A group of articulate but still somewhat feral children, toddlers and up to a few adolescents, lounged about in the play pod, engaged in a collaborative evolving design game where the participants grow colonies of slime over a decaying monumental fallen slab of obelisk, working to convert its nooks and crannies into harvestable food sources. A couple of the fathers gawked at their progress. Katherine stepped in through the pod’s vestibule: “Hey everyone, Bill’s almost back from his meeting!”
“Yay Uncle Bill!” the distracted children shouted, before returning their attentions to the evolving slime game table.
Katherine didn’t have any biological children herself but their cluster was teeming with them. They referred to most adults they knew as their aunts and uncles. One of the parents, Maihai, approached Katherine.
“Kate, I heard from some of the other writers at the meeting that William wasn’t enthused about the Guild’s rights holders’ strategy session, and he responded even less favorably to the experience tech demo. People are saying that he keeps checking this broken pocket-watch he has, as if it’s going to start telling time again. Do you think he’s going to leave the collective?”
“Oh really, Maihai, do you believe that? Bill may have his head stuck in a more fantastically antiquated view of getting back to nature, but his heart is with us here! He just needs to keep up his hobbies to deal with the overload, you know. His paper-making really does get him back in touch with an embodied somatic awareness. An abstract visionary life can be so tedious… touch is an important sense, too, you know.”
“Well, I know you’ve always nurtured that in him. I’m worried he’s just not seeing all the possibilities here-“
Katherine interrupted him, “and you do?”
“Well, no Katherine, we all see things differently of course. But he’s just so stubborn! Which is great, sure. I mean, the man’s work is uncompromising…”
Katherine’s steady glance of appraisal began to droop into a pursed furrow of scrutiny. “I’m going to talk with him before he goes to bed. He’ll probably be tired.”
“Well, maybe you could ask him if you guys want to do a trial run on the latest compound out of pod 27. It’s supposed to promote acceptance, empathy, dense connections, and future-imaginative constructive thought. I think it’d be right up your guys’ alley.”
As Kelterton rose up the path illuminated by the networked sensor beacons, he saw a pack of raccoons running along side him momentarily before jumping onto the dome paneled roof of the living chamber pod and leaping away into the shadows. A pet feline startled into the house as he opened the door panel, after attaching the paper bike to the recycling mount. If it was good to ride you could return it to the transit-fab and get some more access. Or you could just pulp it.
And there was Katherine in the living chamber, clearly anticipating him. When they embraced they remained solemnly silent, transfixed on pulses, sensory streams, the complex rate encoded emotional states and their outward projections. Breathing each other in, hearts syncopating a phase shifting polyrhythm, the sense of touch engorged with gratitude for a bit more time of life together in an alliance. She was satisfied that the preparations she made for him had not gone awry and he hadn’t had any difficulties traveling back safely. He was nearly delirious from the flood of sensations from making their circuit, connecting their currents. The lighting and the surfaces in the pod subtly shimmered and the edges of things twinkled.
“It’s so good to see you again,” they said in unison, before decoupling from their ritualized greeting.
“How was the meeting with the IP managers?”
“I don’t want to think about it anymore,” Kelterton pleaded.
Katherine approached softly, “Well, there are clusters of pods wondering if you’re going to consent to the publishing arrangement. They think you are trying to torpedo the whole deal…” She trailed off, seeing the stress it was causing him. She could see the arguments cooking in his brain-parts.
“I don’t want to have to care about the whole deal, Kate. The IP firms want to get every cut-throat hack kid off the street doing background narrative structures, filling in gaps in the engine. They’re promising them exposure. They’re saying if they get attached to the right scene they could win some acclaim. They’re promising everyone there will still be a place for them - as long as they help build the engine. If you’re not attached to some superstar simulation you might as well be invisible. And the pros! The pros are the most important part. They get to create the feature content, and the users get steered toward bumping into one of these fantasies from our respected pantheon of the living masters. They become the new brands, with teams competing to chart out the most compelling premises. We are going to ossify storytelling into an illusory prison of false choice.”
“Doesn’t it seem like it’s always been becoming that?” Katherine asked sympathetically.
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Kelterton grumbled.
“Maihai said he heard you were not impressed with the experience tech demo.” Katherine lead her companion over to the bedspace. He unbuttoned his un-collared shirt and took off his kevlar-socks, kicked to the floor. The lights gracefully dimmed.
“Well, I know Maihai thinks this revolution in media is never complete, until you can stop watching the simulation and actually become the simulation. From what I am told it is getting very close. I’m not so much unimpressed with the experience tech as I am terrified of its implications.” He pulled off his long flowly lightweight utility pants and they too ended up on the floor.
“But isn’t that what it was always trying to become? All those physics engines? All those denser and denser resolutions and faster frame rates, all the new gestures and interfaces, the supercomputers who can hold deliciously cynical dinner party conversations… Why this sudden retreat? You’ve still got your paper, at least.” She was leaning at his side, stroking his chest. He looked up at the dome’s panel ceiling, the trendy recycled composite tiles with flecks from different materials exposed so you know it saved some ecosystem.
“I just don’t want to go on developing myths for a machine that will suck out your soul and convince you it’s the most real thing you ever had. I’m looking for consensual hallucinations, as always.”
“Well, speaking of paper, Maihai dropped off something he said we would enjoy. These wafers, they’re supposed to promote constructive imagination. Come on Bill, whaddaya say? You’re not considering all the possibilities,” she said with a smirk, her head on his chest.
She handed him a tiny wafer lattice and placed one underneath her tongue. The flecks in the composite of the wall panels sparkled like the flecks in her eyes.
An hour later he was laughing, picturing all of the day’s events running forward, then imagining them running in reverse. This was hilarious. These poor lost souls didn’t even know if they were moving forwards or backwards in a temporal dimension. Katherine giggled along to his stupefied cackles, petting his mostly shaved head to soothe him, arms around him. He played and replayed his memories.
“You know… I feel like I’m imagining this, but, when I was on the train gliding up here, I could see all this happening…” he told her languidly.
“I know Bill. We’ve been through all of this before.”
The edges of things felt fuzzy wherever he looked. “I saw a premonition, that you were getting talked to about the events of today, that Maihai would give you the new compound, I saw us talking about the deal, about the evolution of the engine and it’s interfaces, all of this, all these words I’m speaking in this instance, I know this has already happened to me and I know I remember this present moment.”
“Yes Bill, you were feeling all those things… and, you’re still here,” Katherine offered.
He stared at her intricate form, now fully revealed to him. Her eyelashes flashed like peacocks, her breast that fount to nurse the world. The landscape of her physical beauty radiated like sunrise, just this one being, none other exactly the same. She climbed on top of him and his mind gave way, he was not merely the observer but the center of a permeable surface tension, and he could no longer feel separated from the energies he mingled with.
Katherine guided him with her hips, pushed her palms onto his shoulders and engulfed him entirely. She could see he had surrendered completely to her, and when she arched and pushed back he automatically mirrored her motions. She could see glowing circuitry spidering across his skull, the sinuous tensions in his muscles heightened then released continuously. A wave of image-forms poured into her mind’s eye - the changing coastline, a powerful tide sweeping away the boarders, the wailing of the universal child soothed by a well nourished mother. She saw every person unique and ubiquitous in their longing for connection, every lonely satellite in space, a germ of a life waiting to be unbound, still tethered to the ground of being by an umbilical lineage unbroken. Kelterton quickened his pace as the mysterious force who beckoned him dug in claws and tugged at his torso. In one unifying instant her consciousness became his consciousness and vice versa - the image-feeling culminated into every stream of every perceiving being accelerating more and more rapidly as all distinctions released into an undifferentiated hot stew of pure potential. Every life and all the matter of existence implode into absolute omega point. And then, emptiness.
As Kelterton and Katherine breathe side by side, new pictures emerge. He can see himself admiring the paper that he makes, penning poetry into the sheets of recycled bicycle. He can see himself waking up the next day and sitting by his garden area, taking in the coarse feel of parchment through the swirled ridges of the tips of his fingers. His vision laying next to Katherine jittered and flexed as the living space melted away to the garden, the garden morphing into the path down the hill. He watched himself as he retraced his steps back to the omni-lev, hurdling at seven hundred miles an hour as he sat in the capsule committing his resignation first to memory and then onto the extended piece of his mind that he had folded up into one of his pockets just for this task, scrawled in a longhand script many no longer found of much use anymore. He hopped out of the last enclosure, the last autonomous people mover that led him to the offices of the intellectual property management guild, and delivered them his handwritten note on his handmade paper. He sat and watched the eyes of his old partners, scanning over the words, watched their faces to see the reactions to his screed. He could simultaneously see their faces contort, and the tract’s invocation joined together:
“Dear Mountebanks of the IPMG-
No matter how immersive your virtuality becomes - no matter how skillfully you corrupt morally responsible agents - no matter what poor range of possibilities you shall force us to choose between, we human beings are versatile. Despite whatever efforts to colonize the imagination, and plant a flag there for the totalizing models of reality that work to subsume all aspects of human experience. You forgot that human curiosity runs deeper than whatever culture you have. You forgot that mystery can never be extinguished. You forgot new children are born every day into your systems, and will innately be able to challenge their validity. But most of all you forgot that no matter how realistic an empty fantasy can be drawn, its siren song does not dull the soul’s cravings for nourishments. The stop gap masonry stuffed into our minds will never be able to replace that hunger for sustenance, the desire for liberation. It can only be a mask for what becomes that dull imperceptible heartache that we make ourselves numb to. But just as that ache becomes masked so to does it become stronger. When it finally reaches its apex, just as you are ready to enclose around the entire nervous system forever, billions will decide that stories belong to everyone, that we’ll always need new stories, that a new story can feed or clothe another or keep them out of the rain. When that time comes - we will begin telling new stores, and we will begin to play new games. You won’t even see it happening because of all that work you put into creating the ultimate form of telling stories - all that work possessing a whole being’s ability to feel and think - and you will never have us all.
Consider this my resignation letter.
Sincerely, William Kelterton.”
The words melted away from their faces.
“Seriously Bill, you couldn’t have just dialed up our office com?”
“Yeah Kelterton, there’s no reason for all the theatrics.”
“Well he is one of those writers,” one mumbled to the others. The row of 5 confused and incredulous faces softened, became warm and flush again, humanlike. Kelterton hadn’t thought this far. He sensed that this impromptu meeting was beginning to take on a different character.
“William… Bill! Lemme call ya Bill. How long have we been in this business together? Twenty years? Remember? You predicted all of this would come to pass! You can’t turn your back on this project now! Not when we’re so close.”
A couple of augmented goons in nondescript designer suits appeared at either side of him to restrain his arms.
“You haven’t even experienced the amazing progress we’ve made! How can you turn your back on nonlinear interactive storytelling when you don’t even know what it feels like?”
A trio of technicians entered the room with an XP-Tech fiber optic squid rig and approached nearer to Kelterton.
“After all, we can’t have one of the leading voices in storytelling sounding the battle cry against his old buddies…”
The technicians fitted the rig to Kelterton, and he started trying to shake himself free. The augmented muscle crushed his shoulders down to the chair and held his head still.
“We just think that you haven’t made up your mind until you’ve sampled the product. Make an informed decision you know? After you go through this, then everyone will really say, ‘You know that Bill Kelterton sure knows what’s right,’ and everyone will believe you!”
The squid began lighting up and Kelterton let out a cry that became inaudible to himself as he saw his own memories and beliefs multiplied into an infinite reflection of scattered psychic bricolage, projected down an endless tunnel that he had no control over. In the background, behind himself traveling now, he thought he could make out someone’s screams becoming ever more faint. He wondered if he should keep trying to listen and make out the bizarre sounds, but it wasn’t worth it….
“…WARNING…WARNING…” the helmet synthesized. “CONSENSUAL DREAMTIME VIOLATED. INITIATING SHUTDOWN SEQUENCE.”
Kelterton looked shaken up. The technicians were removing the fittings from his chin and temples.
“Bill?” the smooth XP-tech pitchman nudged him. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I think,” he responded. “I got put into one of these things against my will, in the dream-state.”
“That’s right Bill, our scanners can tell when your psyche is getting too threatened so we pull the simulation before the memories can become traumatic!”
The writers and their IP managers sitting in on the demo clapped all in unison, a polite 16 beats.
The XP-tech guys went on with their presentation, describing how the storytelling engine works - “We can set up a dilemma or a crisis point, some kind of fork in the road,” they were saying.
One of the writers, Arlo, came up to Kelterton and asked of him, “So, how was it? Was it very immersive?”
“Oh yeah,” Kelterton told him.