David Louis Edelman
Infoquake
'Infoquake' mass market paperback cover

Draft 5: February 16, 2002

Pretty much all of the major pieces of the first few chapters are now here as of this draft. It only remained to figure out how to assemble them, and to fill in a number of details.

*

Natch was impatient.

He strode around the room with hands clasped behind his back and head bowed forward, like some crazed robot. Around and around, back and forth. If Jara didn’t know better — if she hadn’t been his apprentice for the past three years — she might have wondered whether she had stumbled onto the set of a drama. After all, Natch was lean and drama-star handsome, his face boyish and drama-star serious.

“Pay attention!” he cried, punctuating his sentence with a snap of the fingers. “I don’t want to go over this twice.”

Oh, I forgot, Jara told herself. Everyone else occasionally drifts off and wonders if they’re taking life too seriously. Natch never does. [1]

“First point,” said her boss. “The Patel Brothers are still number one in the bio/logics ratings. We’ve been at this for four years and still can’t climb any higher than number four.” Around and around, back and forth. [2]

Jara watched his frantic pacing and grew dizzy. She didn’t mention the fact that their ratings ascent was unparalleled in the history of the Primo’s bio/logic investment guide. Sixty-eight years of Primo’s ratings, thousands of fiefcorps like theirs jockeying for position, and no one had achieved the top rating in less than five years. The Natch Personal Programming Fiefcorp was poised to reach the pinnacle in three. Even the Patels had taken twice that long. In three hundred and fifty years of bio/logic programming, Jara could think of no parallels except Sheldon Surina, the man who had invented the science.

But to Natch, the heights his company had scaled made no difference while there was still territory above to climb. “Second point,” he continued. “This afternoon we’re scheduled to launch NiteFocus 48, our biggest — and best — release of the year.”

Jara thought about disputing the best portion of the statement, but changed her mind and sat back in the sofa. NiteFocus 48 would only be the best if their engineer Horvil could weed out the program’s numerous flaws and imperfections. And that was a long shot. Horvil was unquestionably one of the best engineers in the business, but when it came to cleaning up the details his natural tendency towards laziness always got in the way.

“Third point,” said Natch. “The Patel Brothers have announced a major release tomorrow. We don’t know for sure that it’s an upgrade to NightHawk 73″ — their competing product, and the market leader — “but it’s a pretty safe bet. So where does that leave us?”

Jara scowled. She knew where this was heading. “If anybody but you asked me that question, I would say, We both launch our products on the Data Sea, and may the best company win.

The fiefcorp master gave her one of his wolfish grins, the kind that had little to do with humor. “You think I’m anti-competitive.”

“I just don’t like pulling these dirty tricks of yours. We’re number four in a field of thousands. Can’t you be happy with that?”

Natch stopped mid-stride and gave his apprentice a piercing look. “Happy with failure?” he said incredulously. “Happy with this?” He gestured around him at what seemed to Jara to be a pretty nice pad. Maybe Natch’s flat didn’t quite have the opulence of a lunar estate, but it contained enough room for both living and working quarters, with space left over to entertain. There was a lush garden of daisies right smack in the middle of the place, too.

“I’m not telling you to stop trying,” said Jara in exasperation. “I’m just saying, let’s do our best, let’s engineer and package and sell bio/logic programs, let’s break our necks putting together the best damn products we can. But for process’ preservation, Natch! Forget about this obsession with number one. The Patels have been in this business awhile. They’re getting older. Eventually they’ll sell out and dissolve their fiefcorp and we’ll be waiting in the wings. I’ve been in bio/logics ten years longer than you have, Natch. I’ve seen it happen before. We’ll get there eventually, and without dirty tricks.”

Natch grimaced, rocked back and forth on his heels, and let out a restless sigh. He looked like the little boy who had been scolded by his proctors for staying out past curfew.

Why am I being so harsh on him today? Jara wondered. Usually she was as gung-ho about the business as Natch was, and even more of a perfectionist. She never complained about the long hours (though she had no vibrant life outside the company to retreat to anyway). She didn’t even mind making the traditional fiefcorp salary of room and board for a few years until her shares matured and she could cash in. Jara chalked her mood up to nerves and the usual foreboding she had whenever Natch was about to embark on one of his schemes.

“All right,” said Natch, with a look on his face that said I will at least go through the motions of considering your worthless ideas, for form’s sake. “Let’s call up NiteFocus 48 in MindSpace and take a look at it. But we’ll use your workbench. I’m right in the middle of something on mine.”

“So am I,” retorted Jara, “and I don’t have a good set of bio/logic programming bars at my pad either.”

Natch wrinkled his nose in consternation. “Fine.”

Jara followed Natch into his office. The room was short and undecorated and functional, but still quite a bit nicer than Jara’s own cramped working space back at her pad. Natch walked up to his workbench and waved a hand to summon the virtual programming bubble known as MindSpace. They were instantly surrounded by a clear holographic sphere about two and a half meters in diameter, along with an assortment of interlocking geometric shapes and connecting fibers. It wasn’t any program that Jara recognized. “What’s that?” she said.

“Nothing,” grumbled the fiefcorp master, banishing the display with a flick of the wrist. A more cohesive structure appeared, shaped like a lopsided donut and colored mostly in grays and blues. Strands of purple and white formed an intricate net through the center. Jara knew this program on sight: NiteFocus 48.

Natch took one look at the mass of bio/logic code floating in front of him and gave a snort of disgust. Imperfect! she could hear him thinking. Unsatisfactory! A mockery of all the projects I’ve left unfinished, all the goals I’ve left unattained.

“What do you think?” offered Jara. “Ready for launch?”

“Does it look like it’s ready for launch?” Natch replied brusquely. “Some of these connection strands are clearly hooked up to the wrong pins. There’s a whole section of code here that’s isolated from the rest. And from the look of things, this program uses way too many computational cycles… Horvil should be here poking through this stuff, not me. Where is that lazy son-of-a-bitch anyway?”

“Probably asleep. It’s seven-thirty in the morning over here.” Here meant London, some six thousand kilometers away, where both Horvil and Jara had their residences. Jara was actually still there too. Why bother hauling a body across the ocean when she could attend the meeting as a holographic multi projection? It was much more convenient to leave her body standing on a red multi square at home and let the network beam everything directly into her neural cortex. [3]

“Seven-thirty’s not early,” said Natch. “It’s the middle of the night here in Shenandoah, and I didn’t sleep at all yesterday.”

Jara simply shrugged, and Natch let it go. Instead, he took a deep breath and reached for one of the bio/logic programming bars. The bar in his hand looked like nondescript metal until it entered MindSpace, and a set of holographic pincers became visible at one end. Natch reached for NiteFocus 48, spun it around like a top, caught it with one hand and began madly tugging at connection strands with the bar’s clawlike extension. “This program will be perfect if it kills me,” muttered Natch.

Jara stood by wordlessly for the better part of an hour while Natch performed his fine-tuning. He dragged bio/logic programming bars with hooks and loops and needles into MindSpace in quick succession. Finally, Natch backed up with a sigh and tossed the bar he was holding on the bench with its fellows. “Let’s give it a try,” he grunted.

Together they activated NiteFocus and gave the program a moment to disseminate its instructions to the microscopic machines floating in their bloodstreams. Jara tried to detect the millions of calculations going on right now inside her brain and optic nerve, the cellular reactions in the retina, the electric pulses manipulating the ciliary muscle, but the program’s machinations were completely imperceptible. Even if she were standing there in the flesh, experiencing the program’s effects on a real body and not a virtual one, she knew that she would feel nothing.

“I think it’s working,” said Jara.

Natch looked out the window into the coal-dark Shenandoah night. There was a viewscreen down the road, its lights dim now that there was no foot traffic. Jara gazed at the viewscreen along with Natch and found that she could read the advertisement clearly.

DRINK CHAIQUOKE
Because the Defense and Wellness Council Still Lets You.

“So the damn thing works, I guess,” said Natch. “Although the color resolution could use some improvement.”

Jara breathed a sigh of relief. Why had she been nervous? The program had worked fine yesterday too, long before Natch’s obsessive tinkering. “Looks like the Natch Personal Programming Fiefcorp will still be in business tomorrow.”

“It’ll do,” the fiefcorp master nodded. “But I still haven’t changed my mind. Let’s get Horvil over here and I’ll tell you my plan.”

What? You said no more dirty tricks!”

“I never said that. I said I’d take a look at NiteFocus 48, which I just did. And it’s not good enough — we’ll never get to the top of Primo’s if we keep releasing crap like this. Besides, why do you keep using those words, dirty tricks? I don’t do dirty tricks. It’s called creative business, that’s all.”

Jara clenched her fists and kept her head bowed down. “Do you want to see if the lazy bastard is up yet, or should I?”

Natch had already drifted back to the virtual model floating in MindSpace where he was probing the code for the sections involving color resolution. Any second now he would be grabbing the bio/logic programming bars. “You do it,” he grumbled. “I’m busy.”

For the third time that week, Jara considered quitting. There was always this insolence from him, always this obsession — no, lust — for perfection. How difficult would it be to find a job somewhere else as a bio/logic analyst? Certainly Pierre Loget or Lucas Sentinel or PulCorp would take her on board. But then she thought of the three agonizing years she had spent here and the one brief year still to go. Eleven months until I can cash out! Certainly I can keep it together that long?

So Jara didn’t quit; instead she summoned a newt.

Calling up a virtual agent to do her bidding was something Jara had done thousands of times, as natural as throwing a ball or walking down the street. There was no outward sign that her summons had been successful; she just knew. See if Horvil’s awake and tell him to come here, she instructed the programmable servant with a thought. In a length of time too short to be measured, it blinked off to follow orders.

The newt returned seconds later with surprising news: Horvil had gotten up early. Miracle of miracles! she thought. Usually in Horvil’s terminology, early meant any time before noon. Jara waited impatiently for an acknowledgement, a response, something. Finally she gritted her teeth and called up ConfidentialWhisper 66, the bio/logic program de rigueur for silent conversation.

“Well?” she complained. “Are you coming over here or not?”

Jara heard a number of stretching and groaning noises from Horvil’s end of the connection, obviously faked. ConfidentialWhisper was strictly a mental communication program, not a verbal one. “I could just pretend that I’m still asleep,” said Horvil.

“You’d really leave me alone with this maniac? I have no idea what he’s got planned this time, but it doesn’t look good.” She glanced uneasily at Natch and saw that he still had his nose buried in NiteFocus 48. He couldn’t hear her ConfidentialWhisper conversations any more than she could hear his, but sometimes Jara swore that man could read minds.

“Of course it doesn’t look good,” said Horvil. “This is Natch we’re talking about here. Did I ever tell you about the time that Natch and I ditched our history lessons when we were kids? We were probably eight or nine — ”

“Horvil, I’m waiting.”

The engineer sounded unconcerned. “I’m tired. Call Merri. Call Serr Vigal.” [4]

“Forget it. Natch knows that they would just moralize at him. Now get your lazy ass out of bed! Use QuickPrep 48d if you have to, just get over here before I — ”

Horvil cut the ‘Whisper connection before Jara had a chance to elaborate. Five minutes later, the fiefcorp engineer materialized at Jara’s side wearing the same mixture of bafflement and good humor that he always wore. Even the virtual clothes on his multi projection were disheveled. “Towards Perfection,” Horvil greeted his comrades amiably as he threw himself onto Natch’s favorite chair. It was actually a chair-and-a-half, but still barely wide enough to accommodate Horvil’s considerable bulk. “Who’s in the mood to wallow around in the mud? I know I could use a good wallow.”

Natch barely acknowledged the arrival of his old friend and trusted engineer. Instead he continued nudging blocks of code a millimeter here or there with the bio/logic programming bars. Jara and Horvil gave each other looks of befuddlement, and waited patiently until their master had reached a plateau in his dissatisfaction. Eventually Natch threw the bars aside and banished the MindSpace bubble with a wave of his hand.

The fiefcorp master resumed his mechanical pacing. “Here’s the plan,” he said. “We hold back from releasing NiteFocus 48 today. We persuade the Patel Brothers to delay their NightHawk 73 launch tomorrow. And then we flood the Data Sea with everything we’re working on. All the upgrades, all the patches, everything. The business interpreters at Primo’s will have no choice but to elevate us to number one. We’ll have too many top-notch programs on the market for them to ignore us.”

“Great plan,” cheered Horvil mockingly. “While we’re at it, let’s ‘persuade’ the Patel Brothers to put a million credits in our Vault accounts and give us all neck massages.”

Jara was equally unimpressed. “The Patel Brothers haven’t launched anything in weeks. They’re probably counting on this new NightHawk program to stay on top. What makes you think you can get them to delay?”

I’m not going to get them to do anything,” Natch smiled deviously. “They’re going to decide that on their own.”

He explained his plan with a diabolic logic that was, unfortunately, faultless.

Today was October 31st. Tomorrow would be November 1st. To the civilized world, November 1st was a day like any other — but to the Pharisees [5], November 1st was the Day of the Dead, a time of reverence for the ghouls and goblins that haunted that backwards culture’s mythology.

“Already, I don’t like where you’re going with this,” interrupted Jara.

Natch continued with his explanation. The Pharisees hated the civilized world with a passion. Using bio/logic programs to manipulate the human body was ungodly, they said. And to implant machines in the blood, to let some programmer’s code actually broadcast images into the brain… Unnatural! A sin!

Wasn’t it possible that they might choose tomorrow, the Day of the Dead, to fire the opening salvo in their next holy war against “the connectibles”? The Pharisees had a history of launching black code attacks on days of religious significance. The Pharisees might have figured out a way to disrupt the financial networks or the medical system or the multi network by now. And if all this were true — wouldn’t November 1st be a very unlucky day for the Patel Brothers to launch a major product upgrade?

So, Natch concluded, the plan was simple. All they had to do was sow rumors that the Defense and Wellness Council was preparing for a major black code attack on November 1st. Rumors about the bio/logics trade swept across the Data Sea all the time. Most turned out eventually to be false, but that didn’t stop them from clogging up the Gossip networks. The Patel Brothers would catch wind of this rumor and wisely choose to wait twenty-four hours so they could launch on a day with a slower news cycle. And into that gap would slip the Natch Personal Programming Fiefcorp with a bevy of premium upgrades.

Natch’s plan was stubbornly resistant to counterargument, though Horvil and Jara tried the best they could.

“This all sounds so nebulous,” protested Jara. “Who’s going to believe us?”

“We’ve got good connections. People will believe them.”

“What if it doesn’t work?”

Natch shrugged. “If it doesn’t work, then what’s the harm done?”

“The Council’s going to deny it,” said Horvil.

“And knowing them, they’ll deny it so forcefully that people will remain suspicious.”

Jara threw up her hands. “I don’t understand this at all,” she said. “Why can’t we just flood the Data Sea right now with the programs we’re holding back? Why do we need Pharisees?”

Natch shook his head. “No good,” he replied. “The Patel Brothers have been watching our every move for months now. They know they’re only hanging on to number one by a thread. Unless we catch the Patels unawares for a few hours, they’ll respond immediately with a barrage of their own programs to keep them on top.”

“What if we get caught spreading these rumors?”

“Who’s going to catch us?”

Natch was right, as usual. The Defense and Wellness Council was the only governmental body they had any reason to fear, and it was unlikely that the Council would take an interest in the rumors once they died down of their own accord. No, the Council’s high executive would pass on responsibility to the Meme Cooperative, the notoriously weak organization that regulated business between fiefcorps. And it was doubtful that the Meme Cooperative would be able to find the source of the rumors or make any charges stick. The very outlandishness of the plan was what would make it work. Who would suspect that a businessman like Natch had anything to gain by creating false rumors about Pharisee terrorist attacks? [6]

“We’re stuck in a rut,” said Natch. “The business interpreters at Primo’s regard us as perpetual runners-up. They think we’re an aberration. We need to break the streak, get to the top spot by hook or by crook. We need to act like we rule the market, and Primo’s will start to see us that way.” He stood behind his workbench and pounded its metallic surface for emphasis.

Jara sulked. “And in a few hours, the Patel Brothers will strike back and they’ll be on top again.”

“It doesn’t matter if we’re only number one for a few minutes,” said Natch dismissively. “Once we’re there, we’ll have broken through. We’ll have reached a whole new level of respectability. Suddenly we’ll no longer be the continual underdogs. We’ll be the guys wrestling with the Patels for domination in the bio/logics world. We’ll be the wonder kids that got to the top of Primo’s quicker than anybody else in history.”

He needed to make no arguments about the benefits of being number one in the Primo’s bio/logic investment guide. The company would see an instant boost in sales, of course, and sales was one area where Natch’s fiefcorp lagged far behind the Patel Brothers. But to be number one on Primo’s — to have your programs judged the best by the world’s ultimate authority — to pass all the rigorous screening and testing of the most scrupulous business interpreters — this would give the fiefcorp a whole new level of cachet. Programmers who had made number one on Primo’s were set for life.

Horvil frowned. He had been silent for some time now, listening to Natch’s maddening logic and making quiet calculations of his own. Jara wondered if he had enough functioning brain cells this early in the morning to comprehend what was going on. “I’ve only got one problem with all this, Natch.”

“Besides the fact that it’s cheating?” Jara mumbled.

Natch ignored her. “What’s that, Horv?”

“What if these rumors spook more than just the Patel Brothers? I mean, the Pharisees have killed people with these black code attacks before. What if we spark too much panic? People might stop trading that day. We could end up shutting down the whole financial system.”

Natch grinned and raised his eyebrows salaciously. “Small chance,” he said, in a tone of voice indicating that he relished the possibility. “The Council will quash the rumors before that happens.”

“And what if the Pharisees actually do attack that day?”

“Horv,” laughed the fiefcorp master, “I’m not responsible for what those lunatics do. The only one I’m responsible for is me. Let ‘em do their worst, the markets will still be here on November 2nd. Trust me.”

Notes

  1. The big breakthrough I made with this draft was the decision to replace Natch with Jara as the main point-of-view character for section 1. Doing this allowed me to get inside Jara’s head to a much greater extent than I had before, and her character just blossomed from then on. [Back]
  2. I later decided to move this discussion to chapter 2, to give more time to introduce the characters. [Back]
  3. I made a major attempt in this draft to start limiting the “infodumps” that were clogging up the storyline, and to instead find ways to more organically introduce the technology of this world. Obviously, as this paragraph shows, more work was needed. [Back]
  4. By this point, I was starting to realize that this chapter was packed much too tightly for the first chapter in a novel. The introduction of three characters plus the explanation of the fiefcorp’s situation plus the hinting at additional characters to come… too much. [Back]
  5. This is the first draft in which the Pharisees are referred to as Pharisees. In the original drafts of the book, they had been known as the Primal Christians, a term which came from nowhere and seems somewhat offensive in hindsight. [Back]
  6. Waaaaay too much information in this chapter. The reader at this point is floundering, trying to grasp all the terms without having any solid characters to anchor him. An expanded version of this chapter would eventually become chapters 1 through 3. [Back]