David Louis Edelman
Infoquake
'Infoquake' mass market paperback cover

Draft 7: November 14, 2003

This is the version of the novel that my agent read, the version that convinced him to represent me. As of this point, there was only minor tweaking to be done before the final draft was to be submitted. My agent made a few minor tweaks to this version before sending to Pyr.

*

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, from the couch to the door to the window, and then back again.

Behind him, the window was tuned to some frantic cityscape that Jara didn’t recognize. Buildings huddled together at crooked angles like the teeth of old men, while tube trains probed the cavities. [1] Singapore, maybe? Sao Paulo? Definitely a terran city, Jara decided. Every few minutes, Natch would look in that direction and inhale deeply, as if he were trying to draw energy from the thousands of manic pedestrians ensconced within the four corners of the window canvas.

Natch stopped suddenly and wheeled on his apprentice. “Why are you just sitting there?” he cried, punctuating the question with a snap of his fingers.

Jara gestured to the empty spot next to her on the couch. “Why do you think? I’m waiting for Horvil to show up so we can start this stupid meeting already.”

“Where is Horvil? I told him to be here an hour ago. No, an hour and a half ago. Can’t that lazy bastard learn to keep a calendar?” Around and around, back and forth.

Jara regarded her employer in silence. She supposed that Natch would be devilishly handsome to any woman who didn’t know that he was completely insane. That casually athletic physique, the boyish face that would never know gray, those eyes predictably blue as sapphires. People like Natch just didn’t exist on this side of the camera lens. Nor did they spout phrases like trouncing the competition and creating a new paradigm without a trace of irony.

Natch shook his head. “I can only hope he remembers that we’ve got a product launch tomorrow.”

“I don’t know why you’re being so uptight,” said Jara. “We do twenty or thirty product launches every year.”

“No,” hissed Natch. “Not like this one.”

Jara let it go. As usual, she had no idea what Natch was talking about. NiteFocus 48 was a routine upgrade that fixed a number of minor coding inconsistencies but introduced no new features. The program had an established presence in the marketplace, built on the Natch Personal Programming Fiefcorp’s well-known expertise in optics. Unless Natch expected them to rework the rules of bio/logic programming overnight — and she wouldn’t put that past him — the NiteFocus product launch would be a pretty routine affair.

“Listen,” said Jara. “Why don’t you let Horvil sleep for another hour? He was up all night fixing bugs. He probably just got to bed. 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. A sane place, a city of right angles.

“I don’t care,” Natch snorted. “I haven’t gotten any sleep tonight, and I didn’t get any yesterday either.”

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

“I still don’t care. Go wake him up.”

For the third time that week, Jara considered quitting. There was always this condescension from him, always this mania — no, lust — for perfection. How difficult would it be to find a job at another fiefcorp? She had fifteen years in this business, almost three times as much experience as Natch. Certainly PulCorp or Billy Sterno or even Lucas Sentinel would take her on board. Or, dare she think it, the Patel Brothers? But then she considered the three agonizing years she had spent as Natch’s apprentice, and the scant eleven months to go before her contract expired. Eleven months to go until I can cash out! Certainly I can keep it together that long?

So Jara didn’t quit. Instead she gave her fiefcorp master one last bitter look and cut her multi connection. True to form, Natch had already turned his back on her, probably heading into his office to do some more fine-tuning on NiteFocus. Yes, Natch’s insanity was beyond question. And Jara knew that if she wasn’t careful, she could get drawn into that insanity, she could find herself straddling that borderline between madness and inspiration without a compass to guide her.

She slid into nothingness.

*

The hollow sensation of a mind devoid of sensory input. Those blessed two and a half seconds of free time after one multi connection ends, but before the next begins. Nothingness, blankness.

Multivoid.

Then consciousness.

Jara was back in London, but not at Horvil’s place as she expected. She stood now in her own apartment, staring at the walls that she had never had time to decorate. Horvil must not have accepted her multi request, and so the system automatically pulled the plug and sent her back home. Jara’s apartment insulted her with its barrenness: a featureless space, a human storage chamber.

Of course, she had never really gone anywhere. As long as Jara stood inside the red square tile on the floor, she was connected to the multi network. And as long as she was connected, Jara could project a virtual body just about anywhere in real space she would ever want to go. It was a seamless system. The network grabbed the sights and sounds and smells of her destination from microscopic bots floating in the air; beamed these signals directly into Jara’s neural cortex; and voila, she had the experience of being in Natch’s apartment without actually having to be there. Multi. [2]

Jara resisted the urge to blow off Natch’s little summit and go shopping on the Data Sea for wall hangings. Eleven months, eleven months, eleven months, she told herself. And then I can cash out and start my own business and it won’t matter. In the meantime, I’d better wake up Horvil.

If Horvil didn’t answer her multi requests, he was either asleep or ignoring her. The engineer was not known for being an early riser. In Horvil’s parlance, early meant any time before noon, and to a global professional who hopped time zones with barely a thought, noon was a slippery concept. Jara gritted her teeth and called up ConfidentialWhisper 66, the program de rigeur for silent conversation. If Horvil wouldn’t see her, maybe he would at least talk to her.

The engineer accepted the connection. Solid evidence that he was, at least, awake.

Jara waited impatiently for an acknowledgement, a response, something. “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 an oral one. “I could pretend that I’m still asleep,” said the engineer.

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

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

“Come on, you know the rules of this business. Apprentice in a fiefcorp, and you work on the master’s time.”

“But what’s this all about?

Jara sighed. “I have no idea. Probably another one of his stupid schemes to take over the world. Whatever he’s up to, 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 in school when Natch tried to form a corporation? Can’t you just picture him trying to explain laissez-faire capitalism to a bunch of nine-year-olds — ”

“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 company too, aren’t they?”

The question had occurred to Jara as well. “Maybe Natch trusts us more than he trusts them.”

Horvil chuckled, made a sound like he was spitting out pillow lint. “Either that, or he knows we’re too cowardly to stand up to him.” And before Jara had a chance to respond, the engineer cut the ‘Whisper connection, leaving her alone with her empty walls.

How dare he call me a coward! she fumed silently. I’m not afraid of Natch. I’m just practical, that’s all. I know that I only have to put up with this for eleven more months. She called up her apprenticeship contract for the thousandth time and reread the clause on compensation, hoping as always to catch a glimpse of some previously unknown loophole. But the letters floating before her eyes remained firm: Jara would receive nothing except room and board until the end of the four-year term when her shares matured. She blinked hard, and the illusory text on the inside of her irises vanished. [3]

Jara gave one last wistful glance at her apartment and opened another multi connection. Multivoid swallowed her empty walls and regurgitated Natch’s metropolitan windows. The fiefcorp master was nowhere to be found, but Jara was in no mood to track him down. He had to be here somewhere, or she would have never made it into the building. Jara threw herself down on the 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,” he greeted his fellow apprentice amiably as he plopped down in 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. You couldn’t wrinkle a mathematical equation. “That makes one of us.”

The engineer yawned and sat back in his chair with a smile. “Stop being so dramatic, princess. If you don’t want to be here, go home. What’s Natch going to do? Cancel your contract? Fire you?”

Jara extended her finger into an accusatory position by reflex. She lowered it when she realized that she had nothing to say.

And then Natch returned.

Neither apprentice saw the fiefcorp master come in, but now there he stood with his arms crossed and his eyes glaring. For once he was not pacing, and this made Jara nervous. When Natch chose to focus all that kinetic energy on some concrete goal instead of stomping it into oblivion, mountains moved. Jara examined the gorge in her stomach and came to a sudden realization: she was afraid of Natch.

“We’re going to take over the market,” he announced. “We’re going to be number one on Primo’s.”

Horvil put his feet up on the coffee table. “Of course we are,” he said breezily. “We’ve been over this before. Market forces, fiefcorp economics, blah blah blah. It’s inevitable, ain’t it?”

Natch closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, his gaze was transfixed [4] on a spot of nothingness hovering midway between the two apprentices. Jara suddenly felt transparent, as if the world had gained presence at her expense. “You don’t understand, Horvil,” he said. “We’re going to take over the bio/logics market, and we’re going to do it tomorrow.”

Notes

  1. Prior to this draft, I had purposefully been “dumbing down” the prose of the novel to appeal to a more mainstream audience. Finally, on this draft I decided to let ‘er rip. It was a deliberate decision to pull back on the technical jargon and focus the reader’s attention on the rhythm of the prose instead. [Back]
  2. This was just about the last piece of “infodumping” in this chapter that remained to excise. [Back]
  3. One of the contributions of my science consultant, the friend with the physics Ph.D., was to point out to me that this text would actually appear on the retina of the eye instead of the iris. [Back]
  4. A pitfall of beefing up the language is that sometimes you wind up with needlessly complicated or redundant phraseology. Transfixed here would just become fixed in the final draft. [Back]