In response to the apocalypse, we tried to create a utopia...
The Community Narrative
The Community Narrative
By extending the central nervous system of each individual, and the society as a whole, communication revolutions provide an ever more inclusive playing field for empathy to mature and consciousness to expand.
-Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization
I didn't spend time with them because they were my friends--I didn't even know what a 'friend' was supposed to be--I spent time with them because to not do so would be dangerous.
I looked up at the leathery, dark green foliage, and at one of the thousands of mirrors networked to internalize sunlight. The dome, hundreds of feet above, was the only part of the Community above ground. I sat in its round, deep central chamber: the greenhouse. It contained a skyscraper of reflective scaffolding coated in plants to grow food and medicine. My circle of 'friends' and I were sitting on that tower, on a grid of metal wires one tier above the bottom floor. I felt a cool, artificial breeze and heard bees humming.
"Larry, why are we always waiting for you?"
Jack was the tallest of us, a token symbol of leadership; of my membership to a group. She was the most extraverted of us, and realized it only a few weeks after the storm forced our parents' martyrdom.
We'd been walking down a hall, all together and laughing, when she asked "why am I always in the middle when we go places?" I remember she said it with hints of a smile, like she wanted us to say what she already knew. "Am I the, what, leader?" I'd tucked my chin to my neck, afraid to say anything that might make her mad. She got mad all the time, after all.
"Sorry, sorry." I pressed a few keys on my flimsy, plastic card, and played it on the board. It caused the boards' lights to change drastically, and the four of them leaned in closely, trying to understand what I'd done.
I looked at their faces then, lit from below by the ghosts of blue and green and white neon.
The girl, Noam Chomsky, had short blonde hair in a ponytail. Like everyone, her skin was a shade of red-gold and grey. I made sure she didn't notice my gaze: otherwise she'd know I liked her. If she tried to talk to me I was always sure to never be rude or funny. It's wrong to like girls--like Jack, I was sure Noam would get angry.
The others were Carl and Peter, both Jack's age. I'd seen them a few times in the Commons before the disaster, but I'd never known them very well. I'd played games in the Pods alone, mostly, or joined card tournaments.
No one organized those anymore, though.
We played for a while, until our curfew sounded. Echoing screeches vibrated throughout the greenhouse, and we immediately grabbed our stuff and left. Already the A.I. our parents had left to guard us was waking up drones, yellow and black hovering machines armed with sonic Tasers, and was sending them to enforce its preprogrammed law.
As I walked down the metal scaffolding towards the Commons--which we'd retrofitted into sleeping quarters, I looked up again.
The greenhouse was armored in a panorama of transparent solar panels. Like windows they stole light for the hundreds of rooms and hallways beyond them.
There was a boy with dreadlocks up there, one hand on the window. He was one of the refugees our parents left to make room for. He looked me in the eyes, popped up his brows and quickly turned, moving back into the rooms the A.I. allowed for them.
I slept on the cushioned ground in a cold sweat, listening to the quiet humming of drones high above my head. I rolled, careful not to touch Jack or Peter or Carl or Noam.
I felt my alarm vibrate then, and like a sun turning on a buzzing, humming sensation in my lungs compelled me to stand up. Because I knew the drones were already leaving, I quickly tip-toed past the hundreds of sleeping kids, winning my secret race to the Pods.
The Virtual Reality Pods created interactive worlds and were the only place I could be alone. Never for too long, of course, because the A.I. had determined too much time alone stunts neurogenesis. I'd learned that lesson two weeks ago, as my Pods' door suddenly opened and a drone buzzed a noise that made my chest shake as I gagged.
I climbed in the small sphere and shut the lid.
The game I played was a futuristic space opera, and my mission was to hack a tyrannical A.I., thus giving freedom to the galaxy.
Of course it's obvious to me now why the game appealed to me, but at the time it was unconscious, like noticing attractive girl's hair, but not guys.
If I'd designed the game, I'd have let the player see over the hackers' shoulder, thinking 'wow, he's skilled,' and moved them along. This game was educational, however, and designed to teach. "Hacking" was really arguing, and I couldn't shut down the A.I.'s systems. Luckily the computer was greedy; I could activate new systems, recombine psychological, moral, and cultural ideas in novel ways, creating insight circuits that could, perhaps, create infrastructure leading it to realize the mistake of tyranny.
"Hey Noam, where's everyone else?" A spurt of suspicion, like juice squeezed hard from a melon, told me they ditched us.
She looked up at me, twirling a grapes' vine in her hands.
"No, they're being taken somewhere. Larry..." the younger girl's brows knitted together. "They're being forced to download Narratives again."
We stored memory, like any dense clump of data, in synthetic DNA cylinders. I'd downloaded them all the time when my parents were alive, but the A.I., confused and scared, shut everyone out until it had determined how to act.
Looking at nothing, I remembered when the enormous storm was about to hit the nearby Pseudo Communities. Billions, who never had the opportunity, or the qualifications, to move to the survival shelters called 'Communities,' had still been living in the desert above. Those Pseudo Communities still needed governments and markets to mimic the sustainable ecosystem I lived in.
The storm was about to wipe out the town just outside our Community. While the military and some government officials had bunkers to hide in, the rest didn't. In fear, they'd threatened to blow open my Communities' dome if we didn't give them shelter.
My parents compromised: our population needs an exact equilibrium to be self-sustaining, so they allowed the refugees' children a chance at new life by leaving me alone.
I grabbed a grape off the vine and chewed it quickly, pulverizing it in seconds. No one's supposed to eat them until the A.I. says so. But I wanted to, so I did.
I talked with Noam excitedly for a half hour or so, getting in each other's minds for the first time. She told me about the way the A.I. controlled language to get us to obey. "They're always commands, like 'You. Do this." She hypothesized the refugees were restricted to the top levels so both groups would fear each other. I nodded, noticing for the first time that she talked a lot, and wondered when she would stop.
Back then I was rude: a jerk.
Eventually I went back to the Commons. The massive chamber was empty, except for a crowd like ants surrounding monitors in its center. Jack Ayn Ryan was in that swarm, so I jogged to her, shoulders hunched and bobbing, before asking what was happening.
She snorted, looking down at me from the corner of her mouth. Then she grinned, showing teeth. "Didn't you hear? I guess some of us are 'mature' enough to be in charge, so the A.I. turned the Geth Consensus back on.
"Oh my God!" The Geth Consensus was the closest thing to a government our parents had had: a massive computer program of journals, data and nexus points connecting the two with predictive theories. Everyone contributed to it, battling each other in anonymous debates like mini-games. My parents sacrificial decision had been made on the Geth Consensus, and they'd trusted it enough that they followed without hesitation.
That's not true, actually. They were barely controlling their tears as they put me on an elevator down here.
No one was allowed onto it unless they participated in the Community Narratives, of course, and I realized where Jack had been earlier that day.
"Oh my God! So, you and Carl and Peter, you shared each other's..."
She waved a hand. "We only did one days' worth of memories, but it was plenty." She glared at me a second, then looked past me at someone. I turned, and saw Peter glaring too, before his eyes met mine and he turned away. I looked back at Jack, who told me, "It's gotta happen every day, though, and it was with a dozen other kids."
"Well... how was it? How do you feel?"
She snorted. "A big friggin' mess. I decided about five minutes ago--do you know what 'dope' is?"
"No--yes, but no--it's the thing that makes you want to do stuff, and I'm gonna let mine work with the drop of freedom I was able to squeeze out of the friggin' A.I. " Jack had clenched one hand in a fist. "I'm going to follow my dope system--and I hope you do too, man--but right now my dope system is telling me to do stuff that, frankly, doesn't include you."
"Come on man, if you're anything like Carl or Peter, your dope system doesn't want to be here either." She began walking backward, away from me, into the continuously growing crowd. I noticed how high and strong her cheekbones were. "But hey, maybe someday our dope systems will match up again. See ya."
At that she turned completely, walking away with heavy footsteps. I spent a while trying to find something to do, and even asked someone I barely knew.
"Hey Bartleby, wanna play a game of cards or something?"
"Sorry, but I'd prefer not to."
It seemed that everyone was just doing what they wanted, so I decided to go along. I didn't feel like eating a ton of grapes, but the only thing stopping me before had been the A.I., and now the only reason I'd needed for saying 'no' was gone.
A month went by as I did the things I wanted to, like eating alone and programming games. I designed one which looked like normal life in a Community, as I ate and pursued a career. Often others beat me to the Pods, however, and I'd spend the day walking in the greenhouse. The A.I. tried to keep people from being alone, tried to fulfill its programming, but every day our parents' code gave more kids rights to the Consensus. The more power they were given, the more power they took, and soon its only power was preventing murder.
Walking along a scaffold, I saw someone I recognized. Colors had been looking like shades of grey lately, but the foliage was bright green again. A drone hummed over my head, however, making a beeline for Peter.
"Peter. Follow me."
He raised his brows, but did so. The drone buzzed in front of my face too, before growling, "Lawrence."
I followed the drone into chambers below the Commons, to a room where people sat under massive black helmets. Their arms were taut, occasionally shaking, and I saw enormous paragraphs of code flying down screens behind them. I'd followed the drone not because I was afraid, but because I wanted to know what the Community Narrative would be like.