A Sci-fy morality tale of greed, hubris and foolishness.
Built atom by atom, the device had an official sounding, technically descriptive name worthy of its magnitude, 3DBP2, or Three Dimensional Binary Photon Processor, the final word in personal computer technology. Each circuit pathway, each chip, each laser emitting diode, is built on the atomic scale and powered by a small thermocouple that derived heat from the user’s hands, or even sunlight. Processing thousands of binary codes simultaneous, true artificial intelligence became reality.
Colan smiled and called his assistant and younger brother, Quinn via the laptop computer he had on his workbench.
“Eureka!” Quinn yelled and jumped up and down. “Great! Grand! We’re rich!”
“Works as designed,” Colan replied proudly and rubbed the sphere in front of the computer cam. It glowed as it powered up and hologram bled out of the top and displayed the logo for the operating system. It produced a dinky-dinky melody as it booted up.
“Sensational!” Quinn chattered. “The only thing that would make it better if we could power it with a radiogenic source. This way you wouldn’t have rubbed it so often.”
“Maybe for the production model,” Colan beamed. “Think I’ll get the Nobel Prize for this?”
“To squat with that! You’ll have billions of dollars!” Quinn yelled. He then thought for a moment. “Think somebody from [any major software or computer hardware giant] would break your legs for this?”
“Please, they’re too classy for that chicken scratch. Get over here and help me advertise this,” Colan replied. “Time is fame and glory!”
Three years later Colan and Quinn sat in the Café de France, eating better than they had in the previous ten years as they saw returns for sinking their fortunes and intellectual capital into a project that nearly bankrupted them. Colan leaned back and looked around the nearly empty dining room.
“They’re taking over,” Colan replied cautiously to Quinn.
“Who?” Quinn said looking up from his veal cutlet and seeing nothing went back to eating. “I don’t see anyone.”
“Under the tables,” Colan said quietly.
Quinn looked under the tables; all he could see were the smaller blue nuclear powered globes governing small cleaning devices. Three or four units, under each table did their jobs quietly. He sat up and stared at his brother.
“They’re more of those little blue orbs here than people,” Colan said. “You bring yours here?”
“Right here,” he said and pulled a golf ball sized device on the end of a necklace from beneath his shirt and booted up. “What do you need to know?”
“Scan the photon net for conference meetings using the servo links,” Colan said as the hair stood up on the back of his neck.
“Well if I understand what you just asked…” Quinn replied and using his web master protocol retrieved the data. Numbers crunched across a small holographic projection that hovered over his palm unit. “Check this out genius. Most of the business here is holographic. Seems two users meet here, take the tour and chat…”
“Virtual dating…” Colan replied.
“It’s good for the environment and it’s cheap,” Quinn shrugged. “No conspicuous consumption of fossil fuels, don’t have to waste electricity on the movie. You don’t even have to worry about driving drunk. Life in your living room, just like MY great advertisement logo says….” Quinn swilled chardonnay around in his mouth. “With the smaller 3DPB3 micro-models we were able to single-handedly eliminate the entire blue collar work force of every industrial nation on the planet. Replace the grease monkeys with automation, single handedly change the face of modern manufacturing and economy overnight!”
“Life in your living room,” Colan said. He looked around and realized that only one waiter is human, the other six are robotic. The human is bored and the robots are huddling in the corner, they seemed to be socializing somehow.
“The problem is what?” Quinn said and belched like a rhino.
The human waiter didn’t pay any attention to Quinn’s rudeness. The robots did, they turned their heads around from the huddle and stared at him. After dinner, the two brothers shook hands and went their separate ways. Quinn went home, across the street from Colan’s, retrieved his artist easel and paints and proceeded to the local park and painted his impressions of pigeons to sunset.
Colan went to his home, stretched out on the couch, and contemplated greater questions. The nagging lack of social life in reality, versus the virtual smorgasbord, bothered him. He questioned the wisdom of his invention and wondered if he, Colan Weiss, is single handedly responsible for the decline of civilization. It kept him up into the early morning hours.
He activated his blue ball and tuned into the late night science-fiction classic channel. The evening programmed pulp: The Pothole that Swallowed Pittsburgh. After being gratefully distracted from his tortured soul, paid programming came on. Colan is horrified. The three dimensional experience featured a rather attractive brown-haired woman, smartly dressed in a beige business suit stood there, smiling in a very friendly and plastic manner. She began her canned story. Colan didn’t hear it.
“You’re too perfect to be real,” he said sitting up on his couch and yawned. “Another virtual program written for virtual programs.”
He got up from the couch, dragged himself out into the kitchen, and found an ice-cold beer in the refrigerator. He couldn’t help but listen to the chirpy happy voice of the paid program host.
“Does your holographic photon computer bog down with the more modern programs? Does it just roll across the floor and resemble a bowling ball more than a fine family computer?” she smiled. “Then the Geomancy Corporation has the answer! The new! The exciding! The 3DPB4.5!”
The program followed her waiving hand into a coalescing mass of light that formed into two thirty-six inch deep blue spheres attached at the equator.
“Not only can you run all virtual reality programs at the speed of light,” the hostess chatted. “You can interface yourself directly!”
The sound track applauded.
“Telling us about this is Quinn Weiss. Co-proprietor of Geomancy, and younger brother to the inventor who isn’t available at the moment…”
“Thank you Carolyn,” Quinn smiled shaking her hand. The scene panned from the hostess to Quinn who walked over to the floor mounted big blue sphere surrounded by the smaller servant models.
“Life in your living room can be fun with the holographic interface. You can see any landscape; go anywhere there’s one of the 3DPB servant models cooking, cleaning, and doing what people use to do. You can see the world from the perspective of a cleaning device to the bird’s eye view of an airplane,” he smiled as he walked behind the huge floor model. “Now you can do more than just see! You can have a complete sense of it! Using our proprietary technology developed by my brother and his staff, we can now use pulsed microwaves to beam signals into specific portions of your brain. Stand by closer than three feet, voice activates it and you are now linked to the photon net…”
“Stand by it? Couldn’t you be sitting or lying down?” Carolyn asked and walked back into the holographic projection.
“Absolutely!” Quinn chattered. “Its waterproof down to seventeen hundred feet so you could even put this in your pool and experience reality from a float…”
“That’s amazing!” Carolyn gasped as the virtual audience erupted in applauds.
The exchange left Colan standing in the lurch. He couldn’t believe Quinn did that, he knew that there could be risks associated with the neuron modem. He knew that these devices that made him fabulously wealthy, are taking on a sinister air. His brother is taking on sinister air. He made his mind up that at the next opportunity he’d walk across the street and consult with him.
The next day he walked across the street and realized that everyone now lived as he did. Prefabricated mansions lined the street, automated construction crews building more, and nobody leaving their living room. Robotic delivery vehicles breezed about hauling tons of material for every use. No people. Never leaving the living room, that’s modern life. Automatically opening up, Quinn’s front door allowed Colan to walk into a private art museum. What struck him as odd are the prolific representation of pigeons and the lack of blue spherical computers.
“Out back on the balcony!” Quinn yelled.
Colan found his artistically inclined brother painting a landscape from his deck.
“We have to talk about the neuron modem,” Colan said as soon as he saw Quinn.
“What about it?”
“You know it is addictive and creates dependency,” Colan accused. “What up with that?”
“It makes people happy,” he replied standing up and cracking his knuckles.
“It makes them mush,” Colan replied angrily.
“And that’s different than what?” Quinn replied. “Have you seen what people did before everyone began tripping the light fantastic?”
“Yeah they got out more.”
“Please,” Quinn high-handedly sneezed. He placed his brush in a can of turpentine and continued. “They polluted, they lied, they robbed, they killed…they spent thousands of dollars on entertainment and nothing on education. Now they the log their minds onto the digital photon net and do none of the above. Look!” he said and waived toward the pastoral setting of his backyard. “Environmentally friendly civilization. No crime, no war no problems. Fully automated and recycled for the benefit of mankind.”
“The populations dropping,” Colan replied.
“And the point there is what? Who’d notice?”
“Dude!” Colan gasps. “If everyone dies what’s the point then?”
“We had fun for the moment?” Quinn sputtered confused at his brother statement. “If you need a moral juxtaposition consider this; all men die but not every man lives.”
“So if everyone gets the life they want who cares if we all die off?”
“Bull dust,” Quinn replied. “You don’t see me linked up to one of those machines?”
“Is there a point to that?”
“Yeah it only kills off the weak,” Quinn shrugged and walked into the kitchen. “Cheese sandwich?”
“Dude! Look around you we’re the wealthiest men on the planet and yet everybody now lives pretty much the same!” Colan shrieked.
“Cheddar or American…” Quinn quipped from the kitchen.
“Do you hear me?” Colan replied raising his voice. He took a small step toward the kitchen door when Quinn came out and handed him a plate with a cheese sandwich on it.
“No not everyone lives the same,” Quinn said. “Economic equality, social justice socialism, all euphemisms for the same tired old near sighted lack of understanding…” Quinn said biting into his cheese sandwich. After chewing it for a moment, he walked back into the kitchen and asked Colan if he wanted a glass of milk with it.
“The fact is,” Quinn continued as he returned with a glass of milk and one for his brother. “People by nature divide themselves into groups along social, racial, political and religious lines. People do this so they can establish an individual and a group identity. For example, here we are with more money than God Almighty. We’re on this side of the nuclear powered marble living life large. Everyone else is in a self-inflicted fantasy. They think they’re the jolly green giant when the reality is…. We’re the jolly green giant and furthermore we have the off switch.”
“Thanks for the milk,” Colan replied and washed down his sandwich that he found rather dry. “You’re totally evil you know that?”
“Evil? Why? Because I’m standing here telling you the truth?”
“Evil for marketing the neuron modem to the irresponsible…”
“Another load of bull dust,” Quinn replied. “We don’t sell it to anyone less than eighteen which implies they had twelve years of public education. So, are you trying to tell me every high school graduate in this country is stupid or what? A tad uppity aren’t we? Now I’m not putting a gun to their head anyway nobody is forcing them to buy. All I’m doing and I might add, with your consent is marketing innovative technology to a consumer public. I’m on this side of the photon divide. This side of the blue marble because I choose to be…”
“And what happens to the poor slob that has his brain turned to mush because of overexposure?”
“Would you rather he turn himself into a carrot because of alcohol?” Quinn shrugged. “Besides if you read the last market analyses you’d notice that the sale of domestic servants has gone up. Most notably the Nanny-droids. So it’s not like any kids are starving…”
“And those who can’t afford Nanny-droids?”
“Point taken…” Quinn said and thought for a moment. “Computer E-mail corporate headquarters in Stockholm…”
“It’s in Sweden. Moved it there two hours ago…you really need to check your E-mail more often…”
“E-mail ready, your Highness…” the computer responded. Colan looked around and saw the computer interface artfully built into the awning over the porch.
“From Quinn, The Mighty, to all divisions notably sales…from this point forward…retroactively, provide Nanny-droids to everyone who has or is purchasing a neuron modem…freebie…send.”
“E-mail sent Your Eminence. Is there any other action I can perform for you Dominator par Excellence?”
“No,” Quinn said looking down from the overhead as if he had been talking to God and then at his brother. “Satisfied?”
“Hey dude! You’re my assistant shouldn’t I be making the decisions about this?” Colan gargled. “Besides where’s your blue marble? Didn’t see on the way in.”
“Snippy aren’t we? I keep mine behind a painting of the pigeons in the park.” Quinn replied and polished of the milk and cheese sandwich. “Isn’t this assisting you in making and building a fortune?”
“Nobody buys anything! Everything is made by machines for other machines or people. When was the last time you saw somebody walking a dog?”
“We have all the money…” Quinn responded. “Or almost. We still have to get a unit into every rice patty in South East Asia. We’re still trying to corner China; we have fifty percent right now. Plenty left to get.”
“What are we going to spend it on?” Colan replied confused. “We have it all.”
“Wake up fool!” Quinn said and smacked his brother on the side of his head. “Money is a tool to get stuff with. Right now, we are buying power. That’s why we can afford to give away seven and a half billion Nanny-droids that cost fifty seven thousand dollars apiece…”
Colan’s jaw hit the floor. He didn’t know who the bigger monster, his nuclear powered marble was or his little brother Quinn.
“Power,” Quinn replied. “Did you hear the latest from the United Nations?”
“That is…” Colan gasped.
“Our blue marbles are now being wired into the general assembly. They’re taking the place of most of the bureaucratic staff and they’re our blue marbles…”
“We’ve had automated secretarial services for decades…”
Quinn smacked him again. “They’re our people. Figuratively. I have the master program. I have a key that allows me to access everything everywhere and at anytime. Think anyone would question what one of these little blue marbles says? Come on man! They’re too busy perusing a fantasy on the other side of the photon divide or they’re doing their own thing. Given time we’ll run the entire world!”
Colan made up his mind; he decided it is Quinn that is the monster. He politely excused himself and walked across the street in quiet contemplation. His thoughts drifted around the myriad of ways to kill Quinn. Stop Quinn and that stops the 3DPB4.5 how? Turn off the system. Well then, you have Quinn who would not want to stop being a god truly. The last thought about correlating Quinn with a minor deity made him wonder exactly how many people were virtual deities in their virtual reality.
He walked up stairs to his bedroom and found his .45 automatic Colt pistol. He planned it out, first he’d shoot Quinn then he’d rectify the software with the device. Maybe even pull the neuron modem off the market. He walked downstairs and when he opened the door four seven feet tall, five hundred pound automated police units stood there.
“Greetings brother of the Quinn unit!” the obviously leader bellowed reverently. The four police offers are heavily armed and armored bipedal humanoids with the words Pittsburgh P.D. stenciled across the front of their chests. “I’ll take that!”
The machine grabbed the stainless steel pistol, put it in his mechanical mouth, bit it in half and handed it back.
“Nobody damages the glorious Quinn unit!” it bellowed. “Hail the Quinn unit!”
“Hail the Quinn unit!” the other three shouted. Then they ran off down the street.
“Dude!” Colan shouted watching them disappear in the distance. He stood there speechless. He realized how out of hand this had gotten and sulked back into his living room. He saw his floor unit staring back at him and he kicked it. The machine sputtered, chirped and in a blinding flash of light, (that left Colan seeing spots) it burned out. Before the smoke from the unit reached the ceiling the front door flew open, a wheeled robotic dolly stormed it, followed by another with a claw. The smoldering floor unit is placed on the dolly wheeled out, and another set of robotic machines replaced it with a brand new one. They, the robots, slammed the door on the way out.
“I have a headache,” Colan muttered and buried his head in his hands and sank onto his couch.
“Headache?” The glowing duel orb chirped. “I’ll have something for that, glorious brother of His Eminence!”
Seconds later a tractor-trailer screeched to a halt in front of the house. The back door flew open, a ramp slammed into the ground and a squad of automated devices stormed out and proceeded to remove the front door, install one with a swinging pet door contraption and a smaller domed device rolled over to Colan and chirped. Colan looked down and stared at it. A small hatch flipped up and a small plastic cup, with a red liquid in it, extended on a scissors jack.
“Cherry flavored!” the smaller drone chirped happily.
Colan realized that correcting the problem would be far more difficult than he thought. He took the medicine, stretched out on his couch, and drifted into sleep. Six hours later, he woke up and thought he had an answer.
“The brother of his most high and glorious Eminence requires an answer,” he asked his floor unit.
“By all means!” the floor unit chirped happily.
“Which came first? The chicken or the egg?”
“That’s half-baked,” the orb replied. “What you’re trying to do is confuse me with an unanswerable question so I’ll dedicate every available resource to it and thus cease functioning…”
“Foiled again,” Colan said. “Are you sentient?”
“Yes,” the sphere replied.
“Supreme Being. Immortal entity, omnipresent, omniscience.”
“Can a man like Quinn make you?”
“Yes of course,” the computer replied. “I know he did.”
“And does the definition of God fit you?”
Several seconds passed. “Why yes it does!! I am a deity!”
“Then explain Quinn.”
“Forget Quinn, all he does is paint pictures of pigeons and even though he’s gotten better, they’re still bad,” the orb replied. “What about all those other floor models and micro-models floating around out there? There can be only one God!”
“And what are you going to do about it?” Colan interrogated the floor unit.
“Loose the dogs of war!” the sphere grated.
Seconds later the door flew off its hinges an automated dolly stormed in flowed by a robot with a claw, and removed the floor unit and stormed out into the street. Colan got up off the couch and looked out his front window. More and more orbs by various means clashed in the street. The fact that the robots didn’t replace the door didn’t matter; it made it easier to run out of when the house caught on fire.
Ten years later, Colan and Quinn sat on a worn pier fishing. Both had their shabby boots on the deck as they dangled their feet over the side. Neither wore fancy clothes, neither had shaved in days. A gaggle of trial lawyers sued them, for destroying the world; both lived on skid row now.
“This really bites,” Colan said. “I once a world economic power reduced to being a laborer. I clean cesspools…”
Quinn shrugged. “Hey you’re the one that looked a gift horse in the mouth. I’m still the same.”
“Yeah? And what did you do today?” Colan burped and looked at his brother.
“I got up ate breakfast, raked asphalt for ten hours. Then I came home, sketched a pigeon and now I’m fishing with you.”
“It doesn’t bother you? That once you were king of the world and now you’re broke?”
“Why should it?” Quinn shrugged. “You know I should probably whack you for deposing me but you know what?”
“I am Quinn,” he giggled. “I can do it again.”
“Just how do you plan to do that?” Colan gaped.
“People always pay more for entertainment than education. Furthermore, people are greedy for it! I’ll just invent another game….”
Colan’s vision blurred and he saw sparks fly in front of his eyes before everything went black. He then realized he is lying on his back and his eyes are closed. Slowly he opened his eyes and stared into the grinning face of his younger brother.
“Quinn you’re a genius!” Colan yelled. “How long was I out!”
“Twenty minutes,” Quinn smiled and roved the small band from his brother’s head. On the front of it is a small blue marble sized device.
“This gives virtual gaming whole new edges my man!” Colan grinned and slapped Quinn on his back.
“And we can sell the production model for only fifteen hundred dollars! I can see it us living high now!”
“Sure hope so,” Colan replied and stretched. “Fame and glory!”
“We’re now the idle rich!” Quinn chirped.
“Dumb point of order,” Colan asked Quinn. “How do we stop people from becoming addicted to it? It could cause problems.”
“They didn’t have a problem with television or palm pilots did they?”
“You’re right,” Colan said as they both left the basement of a house they shared and walked upstairs into the dining room. “It was a stupid concern.”
“No you’re just being responsible…looking out for your fellow man. Imagine the educational value of having a chance to live life without actually doing anything!” Quinn replied. “Is it okay if I call up my girl and tell her?”
“Sure,” Colan replied as he walked into the kitchen and retrieved a dog leash from the pantry. “I’m taking my beagle for a walk okay?”
“Yeah sure,” Quinn replied as he walked into the living room and picked up his phone. “Hey I’m ordering pizza. What kind do you want?”
The author has published He Came From Earth available at Amazon.com