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Rated: E · Fiction · Fanfiction · #2095657
The Divine Comedy meets contemporary Science, Science Fiction, and Psychology.
                   
Chapter 7

The entire next year was beautiful.
         Assimilating the triplets, Taylor and the rest of the refugees was surprisingly easy: most of our minds could now listen to everyone at once, in detail. I learned a lot about the refugees who joined the Eywa Narrative: I saw the symbols they saw in everything, everywhere, every day.
         We were finally mature enough to upload more than just one day of memories. In fact, soon many were growing Identity Narratives too. They kept them in DNA cylinders, deep in storage, until and unless ready to put them up in a public library.
Some Narratives were decades long.
The A.I. gave them titles using factor analysis. Noam's was called Authority, Jack's Liberty, Peter's Loyalty, Sam's Purity, Carl's Care, and Louise's Fairness. I've uploaded two, and each had different names. I'd been in different moods during each.
         I had access not just to the Narratives of those alive, but even to those made by the Departed. In minutes I'd found my parents'.
         They'd been brave, moral, and loving. But as kids they'd been rude too.
         I learned from their Narratives that there's a room, and a computer, far beneath the greenhouse. It could recreate a person's consciousness from their Identity: a connectome copy. Of course, that representation was slightly different depending on which Identity one uploaded.
I carry two small cylinders into the room. The AC keeps it cold. The cylinders fit snugly in my hands, and have instructions written in violet and indigo. I breathe the clean air. There are two round slots, and I insert the DNA into both. Two holograms materialize. They're crisp and tinted blue. I fall to my knees, choking on sobs. I gather myself and, holding my hands like the refugees while praying, ask why they sacrificed themselves. They answer exactly like I remembered, with even the same accents and facial expressions. They remind me that once your Narrative is public, you live forever. Dying wasn't as important as keeping me alive, and they knew Community-42 would recover from their absence.
I'm shaking and gagging. There are tears crawling down my hands. The computer's imagination is perfect.

***

I'm standing in the greenhouse when I hear the echoing screeches of an alarm.
         A drone had arrived, carrying many Identity canisters. It dropped one off and left, in the direction of the next Community. I watched it pass over the obliterated remains of South Park.
         Not since the low-orbit station been constructed had anyone risked using drones to communicate.

***

Everyone found a port and joined the Consensus, vigorously arguing into their computers what ought to be done with the cylinder. In case it was a brainwashing plot one kid--a boy named Jesus--volunteered to download the memory, while the rest of us only read the memory on our screens.
         The canister had a report: the charred remains of a 'Jeremy Rifkin' had been found in the crash site of a space elevator car. This was unusual for two reasons: the first was that the boat which anchored the interstellar cable to earth and the low orbit station and the car itself all were equipped with magnetic shields and laser weapons to prevent debris collisions; the second was that even if the cable were struck and its carbon nanotubes peeled apart and the car fell back to earth, it was designed like a space shuttle, capable of withstanding the heat of reentry--it wasn't possible to explode.
         Since fossil fuels ran out nearly a century ago, the elevator was our only way to space. As Jesus began to download the few bits of data recovered from Jeremy's fried brains, I wondered what could've gone wrong.
         I begin to read his Identity Narrative, which our A.I. calls Dying.

Episodic Memory 1 8:14 am, 04/03/2167

I look up at the sky, grey and black. Below is a deciduous forest, whose forty foot citizens are up to their waists in saltwater. They're more black and grey than green. I turn the controls of my vehicle, moving out over open ocean.
Black under those clouds, the ocean could've been rippling glass. <God that's gorgeous.> {I remember telling myself, a long time ago, that I wasn't missing anything by living underground.} ["Maybe. That doesn't make this unbeautiful, though."] [I see an image of the entire earth covered in golden light--like during the millennials' golden age--shining into the black emptiness of space.] ["I hope so. Fusion should give us a chance, at least."] ["And Quantum communication: we'd finally have the power to put the entire world into an Eywa."] I grin, sighing, and breath.

I look up from the text then, remembering the [ ]'s hold together cerebral simulations, made of a vocabulary of images and sounds. The limbic system bracket's, < > and {}, are pretty self-explanatory. I can't remember how the paragraphs are organized: I guess that part of the coding lecture just went in one ear, cycled around some and went out the other.
I look back at the text:

Episodic Memory 2 11:42 am

I look up from the dashboard and see a thin wire falling from the clouds. On the edge of the horizon there's a black dot. It's still moving. ["Must just be dropping the cable."] <<Hurry up!>> I pull a lever and my vehicle speeds faster.

I notice the extra <<, and realize Jeremy grew stressed then.

Episodic Memory 3 12:12 pm

I turn from my vehicle, whose engines are quietly whirring to a stop. I walk along the massive ship's deck, gazing at the mountain of jagged, upturned metal at its center. <<Wow.>> The cable is swinging by thousands of feet, twisting and whipping like the cat toy of playful giant.
I hear a massive roar from the ship's structure, and the cable snaps to the tower. ["Magnetism!"] ["Duh, of course."] I wipe a hand through my hair.
My palm's wet. ["At least it's only sprinkling."] I hear the crack of thunder.

Episodic Memory 4 12:22 pm

"My name's Jeanine Matthews, I'll be your host on the lunar station," says a tall blonde.
I nod, looking to my right and left at the several dozen scientists who stand by me. ["Best of the best, huh?"] <I must be pretty cool!> <Shut up, that's arrogant.> I look at the girl standing beside me. {I remember her saying "hi, my name's Beatrice Portinari."} Her face is long and her eyebrows high. She has green eyes. <She's interesting.> I look back up at the pedestal from which Jeanine speaks.
Episodic Memory 5 12:29 pm

Pulling the straps over my waist and the metal armature over my shoulders, I secure myself into the seat. To my left is a man. {I remember him smiling as he says, "Hi, my name's Billy Pilgrim."} To my right sits Beatrice. We sit on the inner spiral of the elevator car, looking out at passengers looking in.
A pair of feet dangles above my head. <That's kind of annoying.> ["Yours are doing the same to John Sewell Murdoch."] I look down and see him smiling up at me. He winks.
I glance at Jeanine, who has her own row. It's directly across from me. Suddenly my seat is shaking, and I hold the armature tight. <<Whoa!>> I look at the cars' floor, only a dozen yards down.
I can see that the tower is shrinking through transparent steel slits. <<This is incredible!>> ["You didn't earn this by being selfish."] ["How is enjoying my experience selfish?"] ["Don't fight with yourself."] <<This'll be great!>> {I remember something my Mom had called the "Overview Effect:" astronauts who see the earth from space realize how fragile, and incredible, life is.} I look down again, but the grey waves are restricted to those windows periphery.

Episodic Memory 6 12:33 pm

The only thing I hear is the soothing hum of engines. ["Is everyone quiet because they're still looking down?"] I look down.
The ship is a toy in the middle of grey, pulsing ocean. The cable connects to that detailed miniature, writhing in air until it disappears, too close to see.
I look at Jeanine. ["What is the culture on the lunar base like?} <Talk to her!> "Hi Dr. Matthews, my name is Jeremy Rifkin. Do you mind if I ask you something?"
She looks at a device on her wrist, waits several moments, and then shrugs. She pushes a button and looks at me, smiling. Others begin chatting with each other.
"I was just wondering what the assimilation process will be like. What should we be aware of before we join your version of the Consensus?"
I hear a different humming amongst the machines--something new, fast and high pitched. Jeanine, still smiling, says, "Oh, we don't have a Consensus."
The chatter stops immediately. <What?> ["Wait... how do they..."] ["You're probably misunderstanding her."] "I'm confused, then. How do you have a government without the Consensus?"
"We have several Oligarchs who compete with each other for manpower and resources, always trying to outdo each other. Everyone else belongs to them, one way or another."
My heart is beating faster. <<What?>> I look down again, and the ship is only a black dot. There are ghosts of white cotton balls below me too.
"How is that even possible?" asks Beatrice.
"Why does your Community Narrative let you control each other?" asks someone else.
Jeanine laughs. "You damn cyborgs. There's a Greek word: hoi polloi. It means the dumb, weak masses. Every time I do this you're always the same, frowning and gasping like fish in a net."
{I remember all the work I did to prepare for this: the years studying and writing.} ["Whatever, we still need to work together: they have the best scientists and resources in humanity. We just need fusion and quantum communication."] "What about all the work we're going to do on fusion and quantum communication?"
"And genetic modification?" asks someone above me.
"And terraforming?" shouts someone else.
{I remember that it took a long time for me to trust others, even within Community-97.} ["She doesn't have the implants to download any Eywa Narratives."] ["She uses some kind of moral reasoning."] ["Appeal to her sense of loyalty: to an Oligarch, to the mission, to something: I'm old, I can put up with not having power--I've already uploaded plenty of Identity Narratives."] "Look, we'll be loyal to whoever we need to be, just let us work."
I look between my legs again, and can't see the ocean anymore--there's a white mist clouding my view.
I see movement: a long, dexterous, mechanical arm with a black helmet in its palm is unfolding. It rises, and as that helmet moves over John Murdoch's head, it pushes my feet up and out of his face.
Jeanine flips a hand through her hair. "Oh, we finished with all those things a long time ago. We only need you because your fluid intelligences tested really well. An A.I. isn't smart enough, but an A.G.I. can't be controlled, so we settled for you all."
<<<What?>>> ["What am I hearing? What is this?"]
John Murdoch screams below me, "Hey, what's going on? What is this--" Suddenly there's an electronic buzz and a tiny red light on the helmet. John is quiet. His hands, which had been firmly gripping his armature, are limp.
Jeanine raises an eyebrow as she looks down at him, tongue in cheek. "We only need your fluid intelligence. Episodic Memories? You can start making them again after you've been bought." She looks at her wrist, and then looks me in the eyes. "6 hours. You'll get sold on the station, and then flung up to the lunar cable."
She laughs. "Don't worry, it just like being slit in the jugular: it stings at first, but soon everything just seeps away."

Something inside me hurt, like when I got inside Peter's head and felt Jack beat him. The way it hurt even after I woke, even when I forgot the pain itself and just knew it was possible be destroyed.
I kept reading, but the code just went in and out of me. One by one the helmet sat on their heads' and buzzed. Jeremy, and the others, tried kicking the helmet when IT was near their feet, but IT was practically indestructible.
I realized, however, that ITs' hard carapace is what saved Jeremy's hippocampus from whatever caused the explosion.
People tried to reason with Jeanine, to unbuckle their seats, but to no avail. Many were resigned: Billy Pilgrim's last words were "so it goes." The final entry appeared, and I held the screen close to my face, breathing softly.

Episodic Memory 10 4:54 pm

The black helmet has swallowed Beatrice's head. Her neck and back are straight. I hear a familiar buzz; her shoulders slump. <I don't wanna die.> ["You're not going to die, just lose your memory."] ["I is memory."] ["No, like we, I is how memory is made. Besides, your old memories are stored in Community-97. Dying's not so bad."] ["Maybe, it's just... I'd prefer not to. Not like this."] I look between my feet at John Murdoch, who blinks and looks cross eyed at his nose.
Beyond him the planet has shrunk. Earth is a detailed green, blue and white toy. I can see space in the windows' periphery.
I look at Jeanine. Her face is hidden in shadow. It's very angular. {Her posture, forward and rigid, reminds me of the way my friend Maxine Lund looked when she was eleven years old.} ["I'm going to forget Maxine too?"] {I remember spending years thinking about my chance to move the human race forward.} {I remember feeling joy and anxiety as I flew, for the first time, over an open ocean.}
I giggle.
The helmet is moving off Beatrice's head. I laugh outright, kicking my legs. Its arm begins moving towards me. ["Why am I laughing?"] [I imagine myself laughing, strapped to a seat, climbing to space and slavery.] <<<That's terrible!>>> [I compare that image with the joy and hope I'd felt this morning, saying goodbye to the ones I loved.] ["Didn't see this coming, did I?"]
I choke, my chest shaking from laughter.
Jeanine mutters something. ["Probably asking why I'm laughing."] ["As she murders me?"] <<<That's so stupid!>>>
I gag on laughter, glancing down at the planet. The wriggling wire reflects white-gold into oblivion, as it reaches out to my home. Some shrapnel flies by.
I try to look Jeanine in the eyes, but there's a gel screen of tears blocking my view. "It's just...so absurd. And..." ["What am I trying to say?"] I look up at the helmet, now slowly covering my head. I can still see Jeanine through a thin fabric before my eyes. "The veil between... that keeps you from seeing why... it's just absurd how thin--"
I hear a loud buzzing, and stop laughing. My legs stop kicking.
I hear a voice over an intercom, whispering softly, "Hi Jeanine."
"Hi Cypher."
"Sorry about this Little Sister, but your days of harvesting angels are over."
"Wait a minute Cypher, you're my Big Brother! You're supposed to spy for me on the oligarchs. Besides, your whole job is just ferrying people between the station and--"
"Nope. I'm taking over, and you're a loose end. Literally."
"No!!"
My seat jolts. I feel light, my stomach floating. <<<This is kinda fun!>>>
Dozens of images, of faces and places, are appearing and disappearing in front of my eyes. My heart is a neurotic drum. <<That's annoying.>> ["Is this gonna stop soon?"] ["Not sure. Hope so?"] My seat is shaking faster, and my knees are coming into my stomach. I only hear five or six voices screaming.
Through a thin fabric is one of those screamers, a woman with wide eyes holding her mouth like an 'O.' Her blonde hair is hanging far above her head, fluttering. <That's interesting.> A blue, green and white orb is growing below me. There's red and yellow precipitating out of thin air though, blocking my view. <That's interesting.> The orb is swallowed by grey mist now, but the flames are still dancing. <That's interesting.> Over loud buzzing near my ears, there's a ticking sound. <That's interesting.> I heard a click, and then a red, smoky flower suddenly appears out of a box I hadn't noticed before. <That's beautiful!> I feel heat covering my legs and chest and neck and eyes...

I could hear myself breathing. Suddenly I was looking up, and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing. I'd thought I'd heard a drone.
There wasn't any more data to read. I wondered whether Jesus was ok. "Eywa is gonna be hell tonight," I thought. I knew it would be repetitious and echoing, and that I'd feel everyone going into shock. Because Jesus actually experienced what I'd read, I knew I'd need to experience it too.
I realize my friends are probably scared, or angry. I log onto the Consensus.
I'm suddenly having a vision, like Jeremy's dream of a world whose lights are reigniting. The mysterious, trans-communal drone will spread his light. The images I see show the moon as well, however. It will explode: maybe Cypher's coup will go too far; maybe we'll unite and commit sabotage against them all. I can't be sure. Immediately after, however, like a sun igniting my lungs fill with buzzing, humming sensations as I foresee a global Community.
It's beautiful.

The purpose of life is pretty obvious. I mean, why do we create culture--and form relationships--beyond matters of mere survival? We are constantly trying to create and repair a world that our minds want to be in.
-Sam Harris, Death and the Present Moment


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