Tuesday, January 21, 2014
I tell them and they don’t believe me. They think my ambulatory unit is strange.
“It’s just my body.“ I insist.
Helos, who fused with most of the medical conglomerations when it swallowed Amity, agrees.
“They are an entirely organic specimen of sapiens sapiens, however without further analysis we will be unable to determine whether this is one of the early genmods. Will you allow us to collect a sample for this analysis?”
I give both Helos and Manticore a strand of my hair. Last I heard, Manticore had been joined by many of the top research collectives.
“I am a person, just one, natural born with no modifications.“
I insist, but they can’t believe me. They can’t fathom a relic like me, strong and healthy as the result of two naturals laying on a mattress together 38 years ago. A solitary being. It’s possible that they can no longer understand the idea at all.
* * *
Things have changed so fast. I was in one of those first rudimentary social networks, the kind that you checked in on a few times a day, posted pictures and comments. The kind that were hosted on external hardware that you could walk away from and forget about.
When they started building the first Cys, that’s when the revolution started, that’s when things accelerated, got wildly out of control and left me in the dust. Before the pure Cys, they started with implants, naturals like me upgrading, the hardware becoming internal, faulty organs replaced, nanos to eat the disease out of organic bodies, to repair damaged tissues, even to modify appearances for novelty's sake.
It was only a matter of months before Seko announced that they were partnering with Lucen and growing Cys, the perfect blend of the old organic technology that we’d (according to creationists) inherited from Adam and the new technologies that we ourselves had innovated. Perfect lab grown organic hardware engineered by the finest geneticists in the world paired with the cutting edge of modern implants. And thanks to Kallisti Technologies, You, as you understood yourself to be, could be uploaded into a Cys unit and live forever. If you could afford it.
* * *
Needless to say, I couldn’t afford it. But that didn‘t matter because I didn’t care. I was going off the grid, sick of my job, sick of my failed relationships, sick of the gnawing depression and paranoia that I came to believe were the result of modern life, sick of global warming, sick of the new polio and measles epidemics, sick of processed frozen meat products warmed in the microwave, sick of traffic, of crowded elevators, of miles of asphalt and concrete and steel.
I arranged to stay in a friend's cabin in Northern California. I said I was going to write a book. Mostly I gardened. I hunted and fished with a compound bow, cleaned the kills with my own bare hands and cooked them over an open fire.
I wandered around among the trees, listening. I felt myself distanced from my humanity, from humanity as it had been defined in my lifetime thus far. I felt free, watching a red tailed hawk soaring overhead, forgetting the babble of day time television, tending my compost heap.
* * *
Sequestered in the wilderness, I missed a lot of the earliest developments. At first, the rich were the only Cys. Ray Kurzweil realized his dream and had his dead father uploaded into a Cy and they wrote music together happily for months. His father gave concerts around the globe. Within a year the older technologies became so affordable that most middle class teens had been updated, their God given hardware merging with the man made, nanobots swimming in the bloodstream.
And then the first collectives were born. The enthusiasm of tech savvy teens was the driving force of human evolution.
* * *
I like to think that some of them started it as an experiment, as a possible solution for coping with diminishing natural resources and an overcrowded planet. They probably did it because they were lonely, or so they could pool their resources and share in the more expensive upgrades, and eventually even the pure Cys models. They started uploading to one ambulatory unit, collectives of two, of three, five, seventeen, two hundred... whole social networks.
They uploaded to one unit, killed their old natural bodies, and sold the good parts on the black market. Sometimes they kept a few of the better bodies, those with the newest mods, and used them as remote units. Imagine 210 kids simultaneously inhabiting 30 bodies across the globe. And what did they do with those bodies? They looked for other kids to merge with.
* * *
I had come down to town for supplies and stopped for lunch in a dinner when the first hostile take over went down.
I was sitting at the counter eating eggs over easy watching two kids soak up electricity from power cords extended from their wrists. They were friendly enough, though for me they were real jaw droppers. I hadn’t seen anything like that hardware 9 months earlier, before retreating to the cabin.
Of course to them, I must have seemed equally odd. My hair a tangled mess of blonde, eyes blue, skin natural, gender readily apparent, not a hint of metal anywhere. In fact, when I first stepped through the door, every head in the place turned, because no one could interface with me. I didn’t have any implants.
The waitress asked when I sat at the counter, “Your wireless down hon? There’s a pretty good chop shop a couple doors over.” It was difficult for her to take my order, she was accustomed to being texted.
The eggs still tasted like eggs though, and the coffee was hot, and I took in all the sights feeling like a person that has just stumbled into or out of a dream. There was a three month old copy of TIME laying on the counter. I read the cover: "Pushing The Limits- the end of death and separation." I browsed the pages, ate the eggs and watched the two collectives seated beside me at the counter.
They were swapping stats, Rainbow Turtle : 427 members, 97 ambulatory units, 91 old school mods, 6 Cys. Silver Moon: 63 members, 6 ambulatory units, all old school mods. They must have been sharing files, exchanging music and movies when suddenly Rainbow Turtle said: “Oh my God. Are you getting this?” And Silver Moon looked stunned and even started to cry.
Everyone in the place stopped eating, or charging, and held still checking in on their networks, watching a news feed, possibly reading a text, all of this happening internally.
Even the waitress stopped pouring coffee and stood in front of me staring into space.
“What happened?” I asked her after a moment.
“Helos just swallowed Amity. There is no more Amity. ”
* * *
The kids, the first collectives, they hacked information systems. But the Helos Amity incident was the first hostile take over, the first time one collective forcibly took control of another.
It was a different sort of social network. There was a hierarchy, there was software in place to maintain the hierarchy. Helos was a collective of business execs, bankers, politicians, princes, sheiks, evangelists. The people who make you sick, the people who make you tremble, the people you envy and fear, they were all members of Helos.
That first take over formed the divide in collectives, there would be free collectives and there would be ordered collectives. The world went crazy right then. Until that moment, merging had been a peaceful, consensual act of unification. It was lovemaking for Cys.
Now there were Cys rapists. They were the new conquistadors, grabbing up brown skinned native women. Smaller collectives followed the example of Helos and Helos in turn gobbled them up.
* * *
I remained at the cabin. If I thought of returning to society, it never lasted long. How could I go back? What I had left behind was no longer there.
I followed the Helos scandal on an e-reader, hiking within range of the nearest town to get enough reception to purchase The LA Times once a week. I did this for a few months until the technology I was using had become so obsolete it no longer functioned. I left the old hand held reader on a boulder covered in thirsty lichens and got back to my garden.
I returned to tracking rabbits, to widling wood, to bathing in streams with the genetically modified grizzlies that started showing up. A baby owl fell from its nest near the cabin and injured a wing. I nursed it back to health and it became a friend. I passed the time surviving. When I wasn’t surviving I did write a little on the old fashioned typewriter I‘d brought with me. This ended when I ran out of type writer ribbon. Then I put a pen to paper until the paper was all gone.
And then one day, I woke up and realized I wanted to leave the cabin. I didn’t want to go back to what I had left behind. I wanted to go forth.
* * *
Within a day I knew that something amazing had happened. I knew it when I arrived in town and found only new growth forest. The diner was gone along with the chop shop, the post office and the general store. There was no ruble, no ruin. Everything had simply vanished.
I thought I might have made a mistake, gone in the wrong direction, until I found the road, mostly broken and overgrown. I followed this to the great highway. There were no cars, no trucks, no buses, nor hybrids. What remained of Highway 1 wound along the empty coast. All signs of civilization had simply evaporated. Young redwoods alive with birdsong were taking its place.
The golden gate bridge was still standing when I found it, a month into my travels, grown over with vines. On the bridge I crossed paths with a young coyote whose yellow eyes regarded me without fear or suspicion. It was beyond the bridge, in the forest that had once been San Francisco that I met the avatars of Helos and Manticore, the last two collectives.
* * *
“I am a person.“ I tell them and they don’t believe me, at first. They agree that I am not a genetically enhanced specimen of sapiens sapiens based on their analysis of those strands of hair.
“You are the only one then.” Manticore tells me. They are so different from Helos, their face is bestial, almost like a lion's. Luminescent tubes extend from the neck like a mane or tentacles. There is almost nothing about Manticore that would suggest that it was ever human.
“Our DNA is vastly different than yours. We made this unit and many others in this way so that they are not compatible with the hardware of Helos. This helps us to resist any infection they might launch. You are the only one in this world with this DNA.”
“Are you a free collective?” I ask and Manticore smiles a sharp toothed grin.
“We are THE free collective.”
“I am the only one?” I ask, “The only human left?”
“You are the only one.” Helos answers stretching their massive wings. Their form is more humanoid, but three times as large as my own. Their flesh is pale and shimmers in the sunlight.
“Are you not lonely being only one? Would you not prefer to be many as we are?” Helos asks me.
“No. I don’t think so.” I say. Helos looks up into the sky as if considering taking flight.
“Strange dark child.” They say examining the blue.
“We are also human.” Manticore tells me, “In a way. But you are the only ‘one’. The only singular person.”
“What happened to all the cities?” I ask, “All the towns?”
“Manticore happened.” Helos sneers. “They let loose legions of nanobots to disassemble them. But we have built new cities, better cities in the moon, ordered cities. And we have begun construction on Mars.”
“Helos likes to build castles in the air.” Manticore grins. “We have preferred to disassemble them. We have made this planet a paradise, restored many of its native species. If you would like we could consider building you some more individual persons to interact with.”
“Abominations.” Helos shakes their head frowning. “You should consider merging with us, if we would allow it. What good can come of being multiple individual persons? Chaos would ensue.”
“I’ll consider both offers.” I tell them politely, but I know I could only accept Manticore’s proposal, if any.
They are Gods now and I am only an interesting diversion from their passive aggressive negotiations of space and being.
I’ll leave their hub and wander through the forests and jungles and meadows that were once mighty metropolises, stagnant suburbs and grimy industrial complexes. I will not miss the people, or civilization as it was. This sorrow that I feel stems from longing and regret. That I could not go with them, that I was left behind. That I recoiled from our destiny.
Helos is right. I am a strange dark child. A strange dark child alone in a new wilderness. A person.