Friday, March 19, 2010

The Silence: Goodbye, Cloud Overlords

Extraction, from this hideous exit-wound in the occipital bone of the Earth. Hands gripping limestone skull fragments, white-knuckled, mantra to self not to look down at the still-warm coagulated ash, more than terminal velooity below, says distance-analysis app. Hang in there, Dante.

A loose fragment tears, balance is lost, IMMINENT DEATH alert-box euthanizes the last-limbing battery. Time undilates and he is hugging the cold, musty cliff face like a girlfriend in a horror flick. Tap, tick, *pack*, tap, goes the falling rock. Fuck cock shit. Adrenaline licks his neck with its hot icy tongue and he is scrambling cartoon-like the last foot, burrowing into the tunnel. Cyberblind eyes peeled, still as stone, he prays his karma meter off that those robo hentai tentacle monster things don't have hearing as sensitive as their biological prototypes. He waits a minute, two minutes, no squid. Breathes.

"This is some seriously fucked up initiation rite," he notes to self. His body notifies him that he is exhausted, and he drifts off.

And dreams of electric, terahertz-wireless enabled sheep.


The present drifts back into focus, like an onshore breeze returning LA smog to the beach. That is no kelp, and Turing dreads turning to confirm what he knows to be true, but does anyway. White tentacles consisting of segmented, ribbed frames of some nano-weave polymer grip the walls of the tunnel with fairly nasty looking barb-claws like that of a colossal squid. Six shorter, fin-like legs sway like a jellyfish in slow, peristaltic waves beneath a dome-shaped head.

The cephalopodic thing just hung there, as if analyzing him, deep in thought. Turing was frozen as a crashed netbook. At last it spoke, in synthesized, placeless English.

"Don't Waste Your Time. Wasteland Singles dot com: just cause it's barren out there, doesn't mean your love life has to be. Get your flirt on."

A hologram advert of a very attractive, winking wasteland girl, sun-baked hair blown by a perpetual dusty wind, with suggestively dirt-smudged cleavage, appeared. A laser-projected virtual keyboard displayed on the tunnel wall. Drop down boxes for 'gender', 'age', 'search now!'.


As the Advertiser's infrared retina-beam scanned, his brain reeled through the algebra of his escape, trying all the angles. Without his gear up and fully functional, he was a limp rat in a cat's paws.

The bot just kept relentlessly targeted marketing for the Mask, who was some sorry dead sod Hugo'd found face down in a ditch a week ago. Probably ambushed by raiders for his Phaeton and Klein blue suit, or Disappeared quietly for skimming cream off a Mogul with inadequate finesse. Hijacking the identity had been simple but careful business, scalpeling out the subdermal VeriChip RFID, hot wiring it, social engineering the guy's vitals from the credit report agency with, "Cure for nanocancer discovered!" phishing email.

He might make it past some half-ass Security Theater check, syphon some cheddar from cards and accounts, but this fucking squid was the real hairy voodoo shit; this was Advertising. Friendbook, E-find, all the search engines, social networking sites regularly auctioned off whole super-cooled Antarctic mega servers full of up-to-the-minute personal data to the highest bidder, when it wasn't being hacked out by authoritarian governments. The Advertiser probably knew what flavor jam the Mask had put on his toast the morning he'd been taken out, probably had tagged-photo evidence of the drunk young thing he'd banged at the bender the night before.

It was only a matter of time before it bored through the layers upon strata, put a negative credit score and a string of, "dude, wtf r u?" tweets together and sussed it out.

Then Hugo saw his chance; an Apple logo emblazoned at the base of one of the tentacles. iPad-derivative OS.

"Hey, you know, I think I could use a new solarshirt."

A second passed and the hologram flipped to a Heliowear ad, that happened to be in Flash. Up popped the blue-lego error message and "3rd party plugin unavailable."

He made a run in the direction of his solar car, as the Advertiser glitched, trying to find a workaround.

Goodbye, Cloud Overlords

The cold morning wasteland air was shattered glass biting Turing’s lungs as he struggled to catch his breath. Glanced back, no air-squid in sight. Nothing on infrared, and no WiFi residue. He popped open the re-purposed Chinese military parachute laced with photovoltaic mosaic that served as the roof and door of the Sand Scorpion V4. Leapt in and snapped it shut. The two bars on the LED readout reported the lithium-air battery was charged to 20% from the brief dose of morning sol. Turing sucked his teeth; the return trip would require at least one recharge stop, but hopefully the Advertiser would lose track of - or interest in - him before the juice ran out.

Fucking initiation rites. “Bring back a relic of The Great G’s mind from Red Crater” – piece of cake, right, mind the swarms of homicidal machines. Turing only agreed to go through with this nerd-religion spirit quest insanity because sticking with the Deus Ex Machinans was safer than going it alone in the wasteland. And, he was willing to tolerate the spatterings of fanatic Singularitarian koolaid and brimstone for the camaraderie of some of the other more level headed members. Perhaps it was like that for any for of human organization. And anyway, out in the wastes solitude could eat you inside like nature devoured the edifices left by the Youessay, leaving only rusted shards of personhood where an individual once stood. And there were cute girls. “Singularity watch over me”, he said in half-mockery of spiritual guru Bishop, hands folded together as if using a handheld gadget that served as a prayer-stance, thumbs twiddling symbolic buttons. Hell, if there was one, couldn’t hurt to have a big cyber eye in the sky on your side.

The panic river coursing through his veins, thundering in his ears like the pulse of club music was lulled by the mellifluous whine of awakening electric motors.

“You’re going to make it. Just hold the wheel, eat road.”

Turing cruised down the raised ribbon of grey silt and weed-buried asphalt, like the spine of a long-dead dragon. The only visible relics of some vanished superpower’s highway were the weathered cement stumps of street lights and interstate signs, the rest stripped for steel and sheet metal. Turing popped open the glove compartment, took out a Desert Eagle .50 fabricated from stolen blueprints, modded to fire aluminum bullets cast from melted soda cans. Only the hammer and barrel were true steel, he’d traded a one-eyed wanderer a pocket ultrasonic radar for the metal at Ebayzaar Trading Post. The grip, chassis, and anything else that could be was made of the far more ubiquitous thermoplastic polymer. This particular Deagle’s grip was printed from an amalgam of used white sporks and an archaic Apple “iPod” instantly identifiable by the trademarked shade of off-white, the spork plastic like brighter layers of frosting in a wedding cake. The meld between the two strata of plastic had begun to fissure; even in the gadget afterlife, Apple did not play well with third parties.

Checked the barrel, chambered a round. The overall quality and average life expectancy of the pistol was about 1/20th that of the original pre-abundance weapon produced by Magnum Research, but it was cheaper and easier to just melt the gun down and print up a new one after firing off a few magazines. This particular instantiation was at the last notch of its product life cycle, Turing made a mental note to recycle it when he got back.

The Sand Scorpion was designed with a laser-sintered polyamide “tail” equipped with spectrometer, ultrasonic sensor, and a belt-fed 7.62 machine gun for running autonomous scavenging and defense missions. But someone tossed a desk lamp into the 3d metal printer without unscrewing the lightbulb and the glass particulates that wound up in the stinger’s joints were causing erratic, possibly fatally erratic behavior in the tail. A conic-EMP would be ideal against the octo-bot in this situation, but fuck if you could get one of those outside of The City.

“Haley, Turing, checking in.”

“Holy Singularity in a handbasket. I can’t believe you made it.” The voice came through the receiver faint, as if bit-decayed and downsampled to a paper-thin crackle then bathed in a blizzard of static, but the sardonic sarcasm was clear as Plexiglas.

“Don’t go through all that trouble of believing on my behalf.”


“I may have a hacked marketing bot on my ass soon, a rather upset one, if my karma runs out.” Turing checked the pink vanity mirror that served as a rearview mirror. Nothing but dust cloud.

“I’m not seeing anything here, just the usual blue skies and rampant emptiness.”

“Sweet. Can’t wait to unload this ‘holy grail’ of archaic-ware silicon here, bump myself up onto the social totem pole.”

“Right, I’ll start fabricating the t-shirts and action figures.”

“Ah, freeconomics, rest in peace.”

“I’m letting Bishop know you’re on the green, get the pomp and everything set up.”

“You FTW. Oh Haley, one more thing.”


“I’m going to need a sponge bath when I get back. Stir me up some of Synthia’s reverse-bioengineered lavender and Nag Champa. Oh and wear that vintage two-piece won’t you, sweetie.”

“Haha, ha. Try not to get to get too lethally marketed by the Advertiser, ok, fuckshit?”

“Sir yes sir.”

Only a couple dozen miles left to go, half an hour at the Scorpions 35 MPH top speed. Any more than that on this ancient road and the imperfect polyethelene plastic welding on the chassis could get iffy. Still just billowing russet dust clouds and dirt tracks in the rearview.

The tire troughs reminded Turing of a video he’d found on an abandoned Pocket Pal. A five minute promo of a pre-Silence autonomous vehicle called a “rover”, apparently on some other planet with a similar rocky desert landscape, back when these ‘nation’ things were big enough to ‘race’ each other out into space. The ‘Spirit’ rover’s malfunctioning wheel dug a trench accidentally, but it turned out to be an utterly miraculous malfunction. Untold millennia of surface dust was disturbed unearthing phosphate-laden soil like rich molten metal veiled by a thin layer of dross, which in turn revealed that much of the planet was once covered with liquid water, capable of supporting life.

He imagined billions of years later Martian ice melting under a swelling orange Sun going red giant, all that life juice giving birth eventually to a Martian civilization in the cradle of Mars’ Marineris canyon, the Sun popping out one last kid before her hot flashes. The Martians build great light-year travelling rockets, Earth-rovers criss-cross the once-blue desert planet, making one final search for evidence of intelligent life. The Terra rovers' malfunctioning wheels kick up layers of hydrocarbon, radioactive isotope, and mountains of thinking-replacement machines next to fossils of human craniums, the frontal lobes devolved away like atrophied muscle. Martian xeno-anthropologists put a check next to “couldn’t get their shit together”, and high tail it for Alpha Centauri.

But end up being eaten by eight-tentacled Cthulu bots instead.

“Aw f-“

A brain-rattling crash, and suddenly the Scorpion was fish tailing. Turing white-knuckled the humming steering wheel, desperately trying to avoid imminent de-fabrication with the oncoming tree. His interplanetary futurist daydream thrown overboard, mental spaceflight funding cancelled by clear and present reality.

His eyes hurt, somebody had just turned up the global gamma brightness settings on reality to 10. As he glanced skyward, Turing had just enough time to read “Arcturus Crowdsourced Military Corpor-“ on the shredded Terylene of the remains of the parachute-roof before a massive, razor barbed tentacle came whizzing down toward his forehead. Turing banked hard right, something going loose and rattling in the front right wheel and the Scorpion nearly tipped from the maneuver it was not designed to take. The chrome hooks sliced off the tip of his bangs before taking the side view mirror and tearing a big chunk out of the thermo-plastic door as easy as a chainsaw through paper.

“Son of a bitch! That’s it, no more spirit quests.” He struggled to regain control, accidentally bit his tongue trying to grit his teeth. “Mother fuck!”

“Turing Last-Underscore-Name, you are wanted by the United Territories of Coogol for 35 counts of banner advertisement-evasion, 67 counts of pop-up advertisement-evasion, 9 counts of holographic advertisement evasion, 27 counts of illegal self-manufacture of copyrighted objects…” the Advertiser’s voice boomed from the sky like that of some decidedly unbenevolent God. Turing grabbed the head rest and turned around, aiming the Desert Eagle for the Advertiser’s oblong mantle-like head, firing off a salvo of four shots. Even with its half-ass plastic construction, the semi-auto magnum generated a satisfyingly thunderous blast, but his hand also hurt like a bitch now. Three of the shots hit target, but only one of the Coke-can bullets managed to puncture the Advertiser’s shell, one of the tentacles maybe stuttered a moment. Still, the flying automaton seemed to be distracted by the incoming fire, falling back a ways to recalculate its strategy.

Turing smacked the emergency overdrive button again and again, but due to a lack of beta testing, a bug in the Scorpion’s main program caused a system reboot. What he wouldn’t give for one of those “Quality Assurance department” things they used to have before the Silence.

“…452 counts of un-advertised downloading, two counts of tampering with Coogol Advertiser bots…” the Advertiser continued its litany.

The emergency overdrive kicked in at last, the backup sulfur oxide fuel cell jetting the car forward up to fifty miles per hour, the electric motors screaming like a cluster of electromagnetic banshees. The Advertiser’s swinging claw missed, and got caught in a tangled heap of corroded cars on the side of the road. Its ominous voice droned on but grew fainter and fainter as it fell behind the speeding Scorpion.

Turing exhaled, heavily, and realized his shoulders hurt from tensing and his hands were shaking.

“Haley, come in. Haley, this is Turing. It’s back, and my Quixotic cuttlefish companion is disturbed by my lack of faith in the end-user contract decreed by the Lord of a castle in the since-evaporated digital Cloud. I’m wagering the Advertiser will be back and I’m not big on spam. Becoming spam, that is. Have you ever tried Spam? Not so good.” Turing popped a new clip into the plastic Deagle, the sound of the click was evocative of an overgrown Pez dispenser.

“Turing, Jesus, are you hurt?”

“Not yet, although the Addy did do a bit of compulsory interior redesign on my Scorpion that’s just not working for me.” Turing twisted off a hangnail of loose plastic from his frayed door. “The punishment for my breach of business model would appear to be death by Xacto tentacle rape.”

“Just keep your head on, the defense is up and the MASHUP is hot.”

“Beautiful. Haley, I’m going to have to put you on vibrate a sec.” Turing cursed under his breath as he saw the unmistakable tips of the Advertiser’s legs like hungry serpents, searching for revenue and blood. He got off two good shots but on the third, the gun’s grip finally fissured. The hacked replica pistol exploded in a shower of recycled plastic and alloy, the trigger smacking Turing in the septum, a final token wrist-slap for physical piracy. One of the tentacles seemed to be dragging limp. One down, seven to go. Turing ducked as the next swinging appendage homed in on its target.

“Turing? Turing what the f-“ the transmitter was unceremoniously removed by the barbs, leaving a gaping, sparking gash in the dashboard.

“…334 counts of forced surpassing the 50 character Yipper post limit, 8 counts of withholding personal data from data mining social media marketers, and 3 counts of resisting invasion of privacy.” The Advertiser was gaining, and the overdrive was dangerously close to overheating and shorting out the motors.

“Fuck this, let’s go for the Hail Mary. Handwavium don’t fail me now.” Turing punched in the activation for the Scorpion’s stinger. “Most recent diagnostics show questionable integrity of stinger’s mechatronic structure, 65% probability of unpredictable behavior. Continue? (yes/no)”

Turing hesitated. Yes.

“Please select an app for the Sand Scorpion observation and defense apparatus – recon 1.7, spectroscopy 3.2, defense 1.1, siege 2.0, SCARFACE!! 1.8”

Defense 1.1.

“Executing ‘defense 1.1’.” The Scorpion’s stinger sprang to life, uncoiling like a ten foot metallic fern. Mounted on the tail’s tip was an ominously massive M60 machine gun clone, it waved around like a mad garden hose as the tail booted up and got its bearings. The 3CCD camera/ultrasonic/infrared image sensor perched atop the barrel like a scope served as the tail’s "eye”, and it began performing a 360 degree scan, stopping to hover over Turing.

“Biological agent detected. Initiating threat analysis subprogram.” The pneumatic appendage began doing something akin to a background + airport security check. “3D facial analysis complete. No agent match found in database. Please state your name.”

The hard system reset during the emergency overdrive had apparently caused a wipe of the onboard Flash memory completely lobotomizing its personnel database, including Turing. A spotless mind, and there was no time for connecting dots. Turing swerved hard left to avoid an incoming tentacle.

“Just fucking shoot the flying death machine behind you, kthx!” Turing flailed the remains of the self-destructed Deagle in the vague direction of the Advertiser. He realized he was still holding the useless object and dropped it.

The Scorpion’s stinger reeled back a foot. “Weapon, speech and facial emotives analysis suggest aggression, high threat probability. ‘Just Fuckingshoot’ added to threat queue. Engaging target.” Turing heard something clicking in the tail’s machine gun.

“This is just not my day.” Turing dove for the stinger’s failsafe switch under the dashboard. The tail abruptly froze, the hiss of pneumatic joints suddenly going silent. “Gotta overhaul that defense prog when I get back.” He grabbed the tail by the matte black business end of the gun and tried to shove it away, it wouldn’t budge. He propped himself up against the dashboard and kicked as hard as he could with both his feet and it swung around, to face out the back.

He restarted ‘defense 1.1’, “This process terminated unexpectedly on last execution. Would you like to start in Safe Mode?”

Turing didn’t have the time nor the patience to revel in the levels of irony in “Safe Mode” in the situation.


The stinger reanimated like an unpaused ‘Tube video. It immediately focused on the Advertiser. “Silicon agent detected. Level 1 threat priority. Engaging target.” At that moment, one of the Advertiser’s tentacles managed to hook onto the steel winch at the Scorpion’s back end. Turing nearly flew out of his seat as the vehicle jolted back. The Advertiser began reeling in the catch.

The Scorpion’s stinger trained on the nano-weave polymer where the tentacle’s barbs dug into the winch. Turing ducked instinctively as the tail roared into action, blasting the tentacle at 600 armor piercing rounds per minute, fountain of aluminum casings quickly covering the passenger seat. The Scorpion jerked forward again as the Advertiser’s hawser was severed, freeing the vehicle.

“Yeah! Hell yeah! That’s how we do it.” Turing cheered with relief and elation, gave the Scorpion some firm proud pats on its stinger stalk.

“Mr. Last-Underscore-Name, you are in direct violation of Coogol terms of service. Continued resistance will result in termination of your Coogol-Nation prosumership and expulsion from all Coogol-affiliate zones…” The Advertiser sound quite aggravated, but perhaps that was just built into the programming.

“Enemy weakness found, targeting.” The stinger began craning up to aim for the Advertiser’s head.

“Mechatronic failure at third joint. Unable to target due to limited range of motion.” The tail shuttered as it strained repeatedly to aim the gun higher but it was overcome by its mechanical arthritis, lamp-glass gout crystals causing inflammation of the actuators. Turing swore he would find whoever put glass in the metal recycling bin and fuck them up proper. He aimed the car’s steering in the least-obstacled direction then climbed out of his seat. He reclined the car seats forward to give the arm more room to move, smacking and wiggling the affected joint. At last something popped like a metallic cracked knuckle, and the tail popped up those critical twenty degrees.

“Target acquired,” Turing covered his ears as the stinger hailed soda can bullets on the Advertiser’s giant weather balloon-like body. The Advertiser raised two tentacles, attempting to shield its precious sensors and CPU with the steel plating of the tentacle pads where the barbs attached. Turing bounced back into his seat just in time to pull the steering wheel and stop the Scorpion from plunging into an ancient crater left during the Intellectual Property Wars. He kept up the turn, and the Advertiser failed to compensate fast enough as the Scorpion resumed fire from the new angle. The stinger struck gold, hitting the Advertiser in its primary imaging sensors, a fork right in the eye.

“Yeah! Aggregate that, fucking Data Shark!” Turing howled, vigorously flipping off the murderous artifact of the old world’s system as it fell away into the cloud of brown dust, a Coogol bot searching, blindly.


[b]To Enlightenment[/b]

Turing switched off the emergency overdrive. The rattling wheel had started wobbling, half the door and dashboard was gone, the motors were giving off alarming amounts of smoke, Turing had a bloody forehead and a bruise on his clavicle that hurt like a bitch, but he had otherwise made it. An hour later, a squad of defense bots arrived, but Turing waved them on home. The limited AI wouldn’t get any “great timing” wisecracks and Turing was too tired to think any up anyway.

Turing inhaled the bath of sea salt and corroded skyscraper, the soothing smell of home. He wanted to cocoon in it. Fields of cumulonimbus filling the horizon, bottoms splashed with aquamarine signified ocean just beyond sight. It would only be a few more miles now. The Advertiser was still following but it was far behind, tentacles feeling in the dirt like a myopic looking for lost keys in the dark.

At the coast, the highway was swallowed by a jet beach of asphalt sand, flanked by great barrier reefs of washed-up white plastic gizmo. Beyond that, an Atlantean city, the tops of eroding concrete monoliths like the fingers of a drowning giant reaching for the heavens as it sank further and further beneath the waves. He’d heard that all the biggest cities had been located near the water. He laughed out loud the first time he’d heard about it. Maybe it was the water that was locating itself near cities? The planet’s way of making it easier to recycle the raw material when an evolutionary experiment in overgrown neocortex went awry.

Turing made his way up a rocky hill leading to a sea cliff overlooking the aquatic necropolis. At the top was a lighthouse ensconced at the base by a bunker-like structure. The newer, vaguely Gaudian/Neo Futurist buildings were 3D printed chiefly of synthetic sandstone, sand gathered from the beach binded with an epoxy created from melted tire rubber and a certain kelp. Crumbled sections and cracks in the light house were repaired with the sandstone as well, giving it a patchwork appearance.

A jointed chrome gate clinked and clanked open as Turing drove his chewed up, limping, but still chugging Sand Scorpion into the Deux Ex Machina’s outer cloister, security cams following the entire way. The sentry on duty in full riot gear gave Turing the customary Deus Ex Machinan’ salute; a single index finger – symbolizing Singularity -- to the forehead, then snapped away and up, pointing to the sky – symbolizing ‘uploading’ or some such jazz, ‘joining the Great G in everlasting digitized life’. Turing approximated the motion back. Along the outer walls, salvaged cell phone towers rose like spires, cleaning and maintenance bots scuttled along busily. A few were stuck in corners due to AI problems, tires and legs spinning tireless and futile. Adorning the courtyard were statues of molded plastic, painted to appear marble, Deus Ex Machina’s ‘prophets’ who fortold the coming of the machine utopia: William Gibson, Vernor Vinge, bunch of other guys whose names Turing couldn’t remember.

A clutch of Armitages lurched by. The towering fourteen foot humanoid defense bots, wider than the Scorpion, were brave if imperfect attempts at a mobile fortress, designed by someone who’d been spent a lot of time in the Machinan’s archive of scavenged hard drives full of sci-fi PDF files. They ran on a solar umbrella-compressed air-superconductor combo, packed enough firepower to hold off a squad of raiders, but due to energy constraints, the Armitage was about as fast as a stoned Tree Dweller on a biocycle, and much of its armor was a patchwork of police riot shield, Kevlar, and meshed nylon fishing line to limit its weight. Epigrams of techno-survivalism. Mostly they were used for forklifting boxes around.

“Welcome back, Turing. Glory to the Singularity.” the Armitages said in such identical unison there was a distinct flanging effect.

As the Armitages passed, a fire-headed woman in some kind of 90’s grunge burlesque getup approached, rapidly. She kicked his ass. Literally, her shoe’s pointy toe went up his butt a couple inches.

“Ow, what-“

“That was for putting me on vibrate. Nobody puts me on vibrate.” Hands on hips.

“Hey, I was busy almost getting my head ripped off-“ She kicked him in the other cheek.

“That’s for turning off your radio.”

“Ok, that was totally the Advertiser’s bad. You never mess with a guy’s radio, that’s just not cool.” Turing pointed at the shredded remains of his dashboard.

“Fine. The chip? Have it? Hope you didn’t leave it in the glove compartment.”

“Right here. Wait.” Turing fumbled in his pockets. Came up empty. Haley folded her arms, tapped her shiny pointy shoes. Turing opened the door, a triangle of cracked solar panel clattered to the ground. He dove in head first, one leg up in the air, reaching under the seats as if looking for year-old change.

“Voila. Just got shuffled around during the action sequence.” Haley took the strange-looking piece of silicon, held it up to the light like a gem dealer checking the purity of a diamond.

“Ok great, let’s get this to Bishop.”

“Wait, we’ve still got the Advertiser out there. He’s blind as an aphotic cave shrimp, though.” Turing glanced out, spotted the gimped octobot a half mile out.

“The Armitages’ll put it out of its misery if it gets too nosy. Come on, we’ve got to get you all indoctrinated and stuff, birthday boy.” They walked off towards the doors to the main building.

“So about that sponge bath…” she kicked his ass again, harder. Actually, maybe he could go for another Singularitarian spirit quest.


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