David Louis Edelman
Infoquake
'Infoquake' mass market paperback cover

Draft 6: June 13, 2002

An incomplete draft, with large portions of what would become the final text.

*

Natch was impatient.

He strode around the room with his hands clasped behind his back and his head bowed forward, like some crazed robot. Around and around, back and forth. If Jara didn’t know better, she might have wondered if she had stumbled onto the set of a drama. Certainly people didn’t behave this obsessively in real life unless there was a camera present, did they?

“Where the hell is he?” cried Natch, punctuating his sentence with a snap of the fingers. “I told Horvil to be here at two a.m. sharp. It’s almost two-fifteen. Can’t that lazy bastard learn to keep a calendar?”

Yes, thought Jara sourly, that’s it. I’m in a drama. That had to be the case. Real fiefcorp masters had lives and families to turn to after work. They didn’t obsess over their companies’ bio/logics ratings at all hours of the night. They didn’t haul their employees over to their apartments at two in the morning to discuss shady schemes for market domination. They didn’t use phrases like trouncing the competition and creating a new paradigm in bio/logic programming, at least not with a straight face. And they absolutely did not maintain the boyish handsomeness that Natch did without throwing a lot of money into beauty enhancement programs.

“That’s it,” said Natch suddenly. “I’m through waiting. Go get him.”

“Can’t you give the guy a break?” said Jara. “Horvil was up all night working on NiteFocus 48. He probably just got to sleep. Don’t forget that out here it’s seven o’clock in the morning.” Here was London, some six thousand kilometers away, where both Horvil and Jara lived.

“I don’t care,” Natch snorted. “I haven’t gotten any sleep tonight, and I didn’t get any last night either.” Around and around, back and forth.

“Might I remind you that I was up all night working on NiteFocus 48 too.”

“I still don’t care. Go wake him up.”

For the third time that week, Jara considered quitting. There was always this insolence from him, always this mania — no, lust — for perfection. The man had been up for two days straight, and looked ready to tackle another three or four before surrendering to sleep. How difficult would it be to find a job at another fiefcorp? 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 working for Natch and the scant eleven months to go. Eleven months until I can cash out! Certainly I can keep it together that long?

So Jara didn’t quit. Instead she gave Natch one last bitter look and cut her multi connection. The oppressive apartment in Shenandoah vanished,

into nothingness, the hollow sensation of a mind free of sensory input. Multivoid. And then, two seconds later, Jara

Jara was back in London, in her own apartment, gazing at the walls that she had never had time to decorate. The apartment insulted her with its barrenness: a featureless space, a human storage chamber.

Jara was back in London, but of course she had never really left. As long as she remained standing inside the red square tile on the floor, there was no need to physically go anywhere. The square connected her body to the multi network, the vast communication system that ran on the vast system of satellites and roving microscopic bots [1]

and found herself back in her own apartment, gazing at the walls that she had never had the time to decorate. The apartment insulted her with its barrenness. A featureless space without character, a human storage chamber. Jara fought the urge to blow off Natch’s little secret meeting and go shopping on the Data Sea for wall hangings. Why am I so distracted today? she thought.

Jara was back in London — but then again, she had never really left. As long as she remained standing inside the red square that connected her body to the multi network, there was no need to physically go anywhere. The network beamed the sights and sounds and smells of Natch’s Shenandoah apartment directly into her neural cortex. Not only that, but the multi network did all the work on the other end as well, manipulating Natch’s brain into believing that Jara was actually there. It was a good system, but sometimes Jara wished multi had never been invented. She wouldn’t be able to attend virtual meetings across the Atlantic Ocean at a moment’s notice — but then again, she wouldn’t have to attend virtual meetings across the Atlantic Ocean at a moment’s notice either.

Horvil did not respond to her request for a multi connection. Typical, she thought. The engineer was not known for being an early riser. Of course, in Horvil’s parlance, early meant any time before noon, and you could never be sure which time zone he was on. 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. If Horvil wouldn’t see her, maybe he would at least talk to her.

“Well?” she complained. “Are you coming over to Natch’s apartment or what?”

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 pretend that I’m still asleep,” said the engineer.

“If I have to be at this stupid meeting, Horv, then you’re not getting out of it.”

“Tell me again why he wants to hold a fiefcorp meeting this early in the morning?”

Jara sighed. “I have no idea. Probably another one of his schemes to take over the bio/logics market. Whatever it is, it doesn’t look good.”

“Of course it doesn’t look good,” said Horvil. “This is Natch we’re talking about. 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.”

“They’re not invited.”

“Why not? They’re part of this fiefcorp too, aren’t they?”

“Maybe Natch trusts us more than he trusts them.”

“Either that or he knows that we’re too cowardly to rat him out.”

Horvil cut the ‘Whisper connection before Jara had a chance to make a response. How dare he call me a coward! she fumed silently. I don’t put up with Natch because I’m afraid of him. I’m just cautious, that’s all. She shook her head, gave a wistful glance at her undecorated apartment, and opened a multi connection to Natch’s place again. The fiefcorp master was nowhere to be found, but Jara was in no mood to track him down. Instead she threw herself on his couch and waited.

Five minutes later, Horvil materialized in the room wearing the same mixture of amusement and bafflement that he always wore. “Towards Perfection,” the engineer greeted his comrade amiably as he plopped down into 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 ready to wallow around in the mud? I know that I could use a good wallow right about now.”

Jara frowned, wondering how Horvil managed to make even virtual clothes look disheveled. “That makes one of us.”

The engineer smiled. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

Jara muttered a vague curse in response. What’s gotten into you today? she asked herself. Usually Jara was as gung-ho about the business as Natch, and even more of a perfectionist. She never complained about the long hours, though she had no real life outside of the fiefcorp anyway. She didn’t even mind making the traditional apprentice salary of room and board for a few years until her shares in the company matured. Jara chalked it up to nerves, and the usual foreboding she had whenever Natch was about to embark on one of his schemes.

Suddenly Natch was back.

He stood with his arms crossed and his eyes aglow like a bull before the charge. Neither apprentice had seen him come in.

“We’re going to take over the bio/logics market,” Natch announced. “We’re going to reach number one on Primo’s.”

Horvil leaned back and smiled good-naturedly. Jara wanted to reach out and warn him, to tell him that there was something different about Natch today, she wanted to jump up and cut her multi connection and run shrieking to the authorities. Anything to get away from that handsome face and that perfect hair and those empty eyes that promised nothing but strife and pain. “Of course we’re going to get to number one on Primo’s,” said Horvil, putting his feet up on the coffee table. “It’s inevitable, ain’t it?”

Natch fixed his stare on the nothingness that floated between them. “No Horvil, you don’t understand,” said the fiefcorp master. “We’re going to be number one on Primo’s, and we’re going to do it on Wednesday.” [2]

Notes

  1. I was still struggling with the infodumping in this draft. This became the major challenge of section 1: to place all of the unfamiliar terms and technologies far enough in the background to let the human drama show through. [Back]
  2. As Terry Gilliam has demonstrated in his films many a time, days of the week are very undramatic. In the next draft, Wednesday would change to tomorrow. [Back]