David Louis Edelman
MultiReal
'MultiReal' trade paperback cover

Excerpt: Lessons Learned

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Chapter 3

Natch stood at his workbench and waved his left hand. A shimmering bubble the size of a coin appeared in the air before him. The bubble quickly expanded until it encompassed most of the workbench, until it enveloped him entirely and blanketed the rest of the world in a translucent film.

MindSpace. An empty canvas, a barren universe. Anything was possible here.

With his right hand, Natch undid the clasps to the weather-beaten satchel that sat on the side table. The satchel flopped open to reveal its hidden treasure: twenty-six thin metal bars, branded with the letters of the Roman alphabet. Natch’s fingers wandered blindly to the bar labeled f and slid it whisper-quiet from its sheath. As soon as the bio/logic programming bar passed the borders of MindSpace, spikes and finials burst from its sides like a butterfly’s wings emerging from the cocoon. Natch swished the bar back and forth in front of him, and the butterfly took flight.

The fiefcorp master raised his left hand again and spread his fingers wide. The MindSpace bubble exploded with a sinuous curve of interlocking spheres, a virtual centipede in hues of purple and brown. The canvas was covered down to the last square centimeter, and yet still the shapes multiplied.

Too close in. Natch hitched his thumb back, zooming out to a better vantage point. The spheres only grew in density as they receded, until they became atomic particles in a solid block of gray. Farther out, the block was now merely one of thousands, a brick in the wall of an ominous castle of programming code. Natch, impatient, continued jabbing his thumb backward. Now even the castle was just one small portion of an immense oval-shaped structure. Parapets and walkways in aqua and silver swirled through the whole and made daring forays across the central void. A MindSpace megalopolis.

At last the entire structure lay visible before him. Natch could pan out no farther. He extended his left index finger and rotated his hand ninety degrees counterclockwise, causing a legend to appear atop the block of code.

POSSIBILITIES
Version: 0.76
Programmer: The Surina/Natch MultiReal Fiefcorp

Possibilities was the fiefcorp’s brand name for MultiReal. MultiReal: the product of sixteen years’ isolation by one of the world’s most brilliant scientists, with virtually unlimited resources at her disposal. MultiReal: the crowning achievement of an entire line of Surinas stretching back for generations.

And now the program belonged to Natch.

The entrepreneur hefted the spiky programming tool in his hand, testing its mass. He rotated the castle around and around, looking for just the right spot… There. A soft place, a weakness in the virtual masonry. All at once, Natch raised the bar over his head and struck at the castle wall with furious strength.

Clang. The bar bounced off the castle and set his right hand vibrating.

Natch grabbed the bar again with both hands, wielding it like a crazed samurai. He began delivering savage blows to the structure before him. Again and again he struck, snarling with rage. Finally one of the blows smashed through the brick, and the castle wall shattered into a thousand pieces with a deafening crash.

Natch peered at the interior of the vanquished castle, expecting to see a skeleton of virtual boards, planks, and girders. But the structure was completely hollow and had no visible means of support. This was no mere emptiness, no simple absence-of-something-else; it was a yawning chasm of nothingness, a force of void that seemed to pull at him with intense gravity.

As the fiefcorp master stood, paralyzed with fear, the program began to crumble all around him. Blocks that had been anchored and secured by a thousand connections were buckling under the strain, pulling loose, succumbing to the Null Current. Soon objects across the room were sliding toward him; programming bars were making kamikaze leaps from his satchel; even dishes were somersaulting in from the kitchen to get swallowed by the growing darkness.

Natch felt the tug in his knees first. He struggled to get to the office door, thinking that if he could just shut out the nothingness, he would be all right. But soon the void was pulling at his entire body. He managed to hook his fingers around the doorjamb just as he lost his feet. For a minute, maybe two, he hung there with his heels in the air and his fingernails clawing for a handhold on the door. And then a chair slid in from the living room and bashed his knuckles. Natch lost his grip. He began tumbling end over end into the chill of the darkest night.

Nothingness.

He came to in a wintry patch of forest, a torch in his hand. A sickening smell that Natch identified as burning flesh wafted through the air.

Natch dashed through the trees. He was in a hurry, but he couldn’t say why. Paths crisscrossed on the forest floor below his feet, but he didn’t know where they had come from or where they were going; better to trust his instincts. And right now his instincts said to head west, towards the rapidly falling sun. He ran through the foliage as quickly as he could. Thorns and sharp branches lashed his face.

Then Natch heard the screaming.

Stop! Wait, stop! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! And then a long shriek of anguish and pain, underlined by the snarling of a confused and angry bear. The distant tumult of rushing feet through the leaves. The wet sound of human flesh ripping.

Natch could not move. The light from the torch sputtered and went out. In the split second before the dark enveloped him once again, Natch looked up and discovered he was no longer holding a torch-it was the bloody stump of a boy’s arm.

Then he awoke.

*

Natch slowly lifted his eyelids and let the world soak into his consciousness one millimeter at a time.

He took inventory of his surroundings. It was a familiar setting. His hands lay palm-down on faux ivory armrests, and he could feel faux leather at his back. Sunlight tapped a staccato message on his face from behind a latticework of redwoods passing by at superhuman speed. Natch had practically memorized every twist and turn of this Seattle express tube over the years.

The entrepreneur took a closer look at the window. Something floated there in boldface awaiting his arousal from sleep.

COUNCIL STORMS NATCH’S APARTMENT IN PLOY TO SEIZE MULTIREAL

Natch gave a tired nod. So those fools took the bait after all.

He skimmed through a few dozen drudge clippings, stacking them on the window like bricks. There was video from fifteen different angles, and some anonymous wit had given the whole thing a symphonic score. Natch summoned the baffled face of Magan Kai Lee and watched his entire walk of shame back to the hoverbird four times.

At last you have some breathing room, the fiefcorp master told himself. Now you can stop running and go home again.

Natch had woken up on a tube train every day this week. He had traveled the entire world over the past few weeks in an effort to skirt the Defense and Wellness Council. Yesterday he had seen the desert sands of old Texas territory, pausing for a brief multi foray to Shenandoah to set his trap; the night before, he had skimmed the surface of the Indian Ocean.

But there were a number of close calls. Natch could find only so much anonymity when his face had been burned into the public consciousness through a hundred interviews and drudge reports. A group of teenagers in São Paulo had seen right through his false public directory profile, and Natch had had to pawn off one of his new bio/logic programming bars just to keep them quiet. Counting the one he had flung at his black-robed pursuers in Shenandoah a few weeks ago, he was now two bars short of a complete set.

Then there was the disturbing incident with the crazy woman in central Europe. She had worn the bright blue uniform of a healer, but had reached the age when many abandoned curative treatments and sent in their applications to join the Prepared. The woman had walked up to him in plain view of three white-robed Council officers, indignant, demanding that Natch explain the “dirty tricks” he had performed at the demo in Andra Pradesh. Natch’s mind had been gliding through some remote place, and he had nearly panicked. But suddenly people had stood up to defend him with voices raised and fists clenched. Soon a handful of L-PRACG security officers had gotten involved, and the Council officers had scurried over to investigate. A small-scale brawl had erupted between Natch’s supporters and his detractors. Libertarians shouting Down with Len Borda, governmentalists bellowing Respect the law. Natch, dumbfounded, had offered no resistance when two libertarians calmly tugged him out the door and thrust him onto a tube running in the opposite direction. He had managed to escape before Len Borda’s people realized exactly what was going on.

In a world of sixty billion people, simple mathematics dictated that Natch must have millions of sympathizers on the libertarian side of the political spectrum. A hundred million people probably supported his fight to keep MultiReal out of the Council’s hands from sheer spite for Len Borda. But to discover that people had coalesced on this issue, that they were willing to stand up to armed Council officers . . . Natch simply didn’t know how to process it.

Once aware of this undercurrent of libertarian sympathy, he began to see signs of it everywhere he went. Natch found posts of support on the Data Sea, speeches by L-PRACG activists, drudgic calls for embargoes against the central government. Suddenly he realized he had underestimated the number of his supporters by several orders of magnitude. A minority, perhaps, and still skulking in the shadows, but gaining strength every day.

And now the Council’s raid on Natch’s apartment building had altered the dynamics of the situation altogether. He called up Sen Sivv Sor’s reportage on the window.

COUNCIL STORMS NATCH’S APARTMENT IN PLOY TO SEIZE MULTIREAL

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Nobody is worse at bungling public relations than High Executive Len Borda.

In the three weeks since Natch’s MultiReal demonstration at Andra Pradesh, the fiefcorp master has disappeared from the public eye. This morning, we found out why. Because Borda, in his supreme wisdom, has already decided to renege on his assurances of safety, and to seize MultiReal from its rightful owners without provocation.

What else can we conclude from the dazzling display of stupidity executed by one of Borda’s lieutenant executives, Magan Kai Lee, this morning? You all saw it right here, dear readers. If not for an anonymous tip-off to the drudge community early this morning, the Surina/Natch MultiReal Fiefcorp might have already been dissolved by now. And its fiefcorp master might be rotting away in some orbital Council prison.

It’s astounding the lengths some will go to in order to preserve the vaunted status quo. Which is why–

Natch had read enough. He banished the potpourri of Data Sea ramblings from the window and let the redwoods show through once more.

Yes, Natch’s clever MindSpace tricks had enabled him to reverse the tide of public opinion, if only for a day or two. Even the staunch governmentalist Mah Lo Vertiginous was grudgingly admitting that the Council had blundered today. Borda and Lee would not dare pull another stunt like that anytime soon.

Natch caught his reflection in the window. So why are you still sitting on a tube train heading in the wrong direction? he asked himself. Why didn’t you get off at the last stop and make your way home?

He conjured a picture of the city of Shenandoah in his head. Home. But when he saw those undulating streets and shifting buildings, all he could think about was the mercenary precision of the black-robed figures who had ambushed him there. He could still feel the pinpricks of their black code darts and the icy rush of poisonous OCHREs suffusing his bloodstream. The void, the nothingness.

Natch stumbled upon an unexpected realization: he was afraid.

You find yourself capable of strange things when you run out of choices, Margaret Surina had told him last month.

Now Natch understood what the bodhisattva meant. For three weeks, he had been fleeing from the Council, catching the occasional update from Horvil or Serr Vigal over ConfidentialWhisper, taking quick glimpses at the evolving Possibilities program whenever he found a rented MindSpace workbench he could trust. Nobody had heard a syllable from Margaret in all that time. Nor had the Patel Brothers stirred from their lair to stop Lucas Sentinel and Bolliwar Tuban from thrashing them in the Primo’s ratings.

And what about Brone? Natch blacked out the window and displayed the message he had received the other day in small, precise lettering.

Why is the vaunted master of the Surina/Natch MultiReal Fiefcorp running away? What does he think he will gain by fleeing from tube train to tube train? Does he think his enemies are just going to up and disappear?

How long before he realizes he needs additional allies to complete the MultiReal programming and bring the program to market? When will he finally accept the helping hand that an old enemy has held out to him? When will his need for funding, equipment, privacy, and security outweigh the irrational hatred he carries around his neck?

There was no trace of a sender or signature. Natch supposed he could use some arcane tools of the trade to track down the message’s origin, but of course there was only one person who could have sent it.

A snippet of dream floated through Natch’s head: a bear, screams, the bloody stump of an arm. Where was Brone? What was he doing? Certainly after all that had happened during the Shortest Initiation, after all the machinations Brone had gone through to put Natch in his debt, he wasn’t planning to just sit on the sidelines. After all, he was the head of a major creed organization, the Thasselians, with vast stockpiles of credits and half a million anonymous devotees at his disposal. Opportunities for mischief were plentiful.

It was a time of suspended animation, of delayed choices. And now Natch’s ruse against Magan Kai Lee had set things in motion once again.

You’ve faced challenges before, Natch told himself. Brone, Captain Bolbund, the ROD coders, Figaro Fi, the Patels. What’s different? What are you so afraid of now?

It was the black code swimming through his veins. Somehow it had aged him in a way that none of his adversaries had managed to do before. He could practically feel it tinkering away inside of him, deconstructing his innards, disassembling his mind. Every day, Natch sensed that he was losing a small piece of this inner turf to the encroaching void, to the winter, to the nothingness.

The nothingness was coming to claim him. And Natch knew that all the battles he had fought before were merely the opening skirmishes of a much larger campaign against this nothingness. It was a campaign he could not afford to lose.

*

Excerpted from “MultiReal” by David Louis Edelman. Copyright © 2008 by David Louis Edelman. Reprinted by permission of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Excerpt licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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