David Louis Edelman
Infoquake
'Infoquake' mass market paperback cover

Draft 2: December 12, 2000

This is the first draft of chapter 1 written after I had quit my day job to write full-time.

*

Natch was impatient.

Without warning, he sprang from his chair and bolted for the door. A virtual diagram of ItchSuppress 47.3 languished in the bubble of MindSpace with several Connexions [1] dangling and unfinished, yearning for the complements that would make them whole.

“Done so soon?” Jara said hesitantly from her workspace six thousand kilometers away in Lundun [2]. “Should we Launch?”

“No Launch yet,” Natch replied to his trusted Number Two. “The craftsmanship is good — but we need to do better.”

Jara wrinkled her nose and gave an audible sigh that spoke volumes. It said: You are being too much of a Perfectionist, Natch. It said: What’s gotten into you lately that you have become such a harsh taskmaster on routine coding tasks? It said: What new schemes are you hashing that you can’t confide in me, your prime employee and largest fiefholder, after three years in business together?

Natch absorbed the silent skepticism for a moment as he hustled out of the building and into a public square. Long enough to communicate to his colleague the age-old anguish of the master not quite ready to take an apprentice into his confidence. “I’m off home and Prived for one hour thirty-six minutes, Jara. Let’s convene in the MEL [3] then, we’ll put ItchSuppress and a couple of these others to bed. Checksum?”

“Checksum matches,” Jara replied. [4] I understand your position, Natch — confide in me when you’re ready. “See you then.” And then she was gone.

It didn’t matter. Or rather, it wouldn’t matter soon enough. ItchSuppress 47.3 represented the merest fraction of the business to come, once Natch’s plans came to fruition. Launched, it and its siblings currently in progress at the Natch Fiefcorp would ripple the Data Sea — yet Natch had his mind’s eye on the tidal wave to come, still gathering strength miles offshore. Jara did not see it yet. Few did. But soon enough they would all be baptized in the fury and froth of this new order, and one could either be its prophet or its convert.

Natch intended to be its prophet. [5]

*

He liked forces of nature. Case in point, the redwood trees that lined the Tubeway. They were so somber, so tranquil, so self-reflective and mindless of the passing of ages. They gave him perspective. They took his mind off the obsessions of working day, off ItchSuppress 47.3 and Industrial Hibernate 85 and Poll’n 8 and the rest of the Generations that the fiefcorp toiled on day after day.

But Natch was late for the Tube. Distressingly late.

He hummed to himself as he zipped by businesspeople, utility men, hangers-on, most loitering through the public square in the more leisurely Hustle or Stride. Natch was using Zip 443, advertised on the Matrix as “a more sprightly version of the standard Run, for the stylish citizen on the go.” Odors wafted by from the booths of the food vendors. Connexible patterns of yellow and purple played on the viewscreens arching around the square. Natch nearly collided with a meandering honeybee, avoiding contact at the last minute by a flare of Mini-Teleport from his Personal BugShield, transporting the insect instantaneously to an empty space a scant meter behind him.

There were quicker ways to get home than the Tube. The public Tele station dispassionately engorged and spat out citizens from all over the system a mere block and a half away. And the verisimilitude of multi rendered distance all but meaningless. But Natch tried to follow the dictate of the legendary Dr. Sheldon Surina:

Progress is a man looking thoughtfully behind him.

Thus, it was the Tube for Natch. He could see the silver-plated arch of the platform right around the corner.

But then he heard the unmistakable tone of warning. Bong! Translation: This Tube will be departing in precisely five seconds.

No time for a normal Zip to an empty seat. He would find himself a scant three meters short when the Tube closed off its exterior doors and activated its protective Mini-Tele field. Natch did a quick calculation. Yes, he could still make the Tube — with a second and a half to spare — by switching to a number of alternate programs. Mad Dash would place him well inside the car before its departure, as would Pell-Mell, Super Sprint, and Speed.

And then there was Jump 225.7.

Bong! Four seconds to departure.

Natch had been itching to try one of the Jump 225-series ever since his newt announced its arrival on the public trades. Jumps 223 and 224 had served him well on a number of occasions — Natch fondly remembered a game of baseball where he had given Jump 223.19 a thorough trial — and he expected nothing but the best from the new series. Pure, adolescent joy in the launch and ascent through the air; consummate skill in the engineering of the descent to prevent discomfort on landing. He launched the Jump without hesitation.

Bong! Three seconds remaining to departure.

And true to form, Natch erupted into the air with the extra push provided by a muscular flexion of the toes at the last instant. He propelled right foot forward in a graceful arc towards an empty seat that had now been reserved for him through the Sub-Aether Tube Seat Reservation Network. There was just a touch, just the barest hint, of anti-grav in the Jump, a slight suspension of archaic natural law to elicit the tiniest glimmer of hubris in the achievements of humanity.

Bong! Two seconds to departure.

Natch took a few nanoseconds to appreciate the artistry of the Jump 225.7 Generators. What elegance! What subtlety! The program was grounded in one of the classic moves of primeval natural law — the jump, a move which had been ground into the human form over countless generations of repetition — and yet it presented a unique signature that marked it as truly a Generated product. The curl of the toes at mid-leap, the slight pleasing whistle where no whistle would naturally exist, the aforementioned burst of anti-grav to propel you that extra few centimeters. This Jump was one of the preeminent works of the Patel Brothers, Natch’s biggest competition in the Generative business.

Bong! One second to departure.

And yet… the impact left room for improvement. Natch prided himself on being a perceptive critic of modern programming, but there was no subtlety of detection necessary to feel the slight popping of the left kneecap on touching down. How… disappointing. But where there was disappointment, its younger brother opportunity inevitably followed.

Natch took his seat. The Tube took off on a winding path south through the redwoods towards home.

Notes

  1. At some point I abandoned the concept of the “connexion” in an attempt to clean up the excess technical jargon from the novel. Some of these terms were deliberately introduced in earlier drafts to jar the reader and create a sense of alienation from our present world. Later on, I decided that the alienation factor had to be toned down, because it was interfering with the storyline. [Back]
  2. Most of the place names were deliberately misspelled in the early drafts. One of my early readers persuaded me to abandon this idea after asking a simple question: “Why?” I couldn’t answer her. So I normalized the spelling for most locations in the novel. [Back]
  3. MEL stood for “Multi Environment Lounge” — one of the lame acronyms I used in early drafts and later abandoned. Some of these acronyms were intentionally supposed to be humorous — I’m still hoping to slip my favorite, TF/EAG-PERN (the Task Force for Eliminating Acronyms in Government and Providing Easily Remembered Names), into book 2 or 3 somewhere. [Back]
  4. There were about half a dozen catchphrases like “checksum matches” sprinkled throughout the early drafts. My favorite was Mighty Gates. Again, the excess of jargon and clunky curses just ended up being a distraction, and were eventually cut. [Back]
  5. Natch is still an almost entirely sympathetic character in this draft, with little hint of the internal conflict that would become the focus of the novel. [Back]