Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#25 -- The Diffused States (Part 2)

"It was tangible, inky, and deep. We could now bottle sensations. We could distill joy. We could inject awe."
Read: [#23 -- The Diffused States (Part 1)] to catch up. . .

America stood still below carbon-caked skies. Nothing went in, nothing came out. No trade, no communication, not even porn. A few people probably maneuvered through their new country's firewall and had a little communication, but not enough for real news to get through. It was more trouble than it was worth. More people just ended up dead.

On occasion, some refugees from other parts of the world would be exiled to the US as punishment, most of whom were shot for fun by the Coast Guard before they reached dry land. Those that weren't killed and managed to make into society were called the Noir -- the blacklisted.

Fuck the USA. Rightfully so. The diffused-Americans needed time to think. Nobody attacked us, fortunately, since it was assumed that we were strung-out addicts with itching trigger-fingers, which was a three-quarters truth.
We had no foreign policy. Alone in the universe. All sides in the Schism, were in shock, a silent agreement that things had gone too far, that much was true. The country rotted, and what didn't rot, rusted.

Aran Stephens was in college at that time. Before the Schism, he was taken at age twelve by his father from what was then Chicago -- in what would eventually become The Kingdom -- to what was then Boston, and would eventually become the twin-city capital of Blue England, sharing the duties with New York City after the District of Columbia was abandoned.

The people that lived in Blue England continually patted themselves on the back for suffering the fewest lives lost during the Schism, a notion whose factual accuracy they still debate endlessly with the Sierras. The fact that Washington DC was the only major metropolitan area that was altogether lost was a commendable achievement though. New York City, Boston, most everything up and down the eastern seaboard was intact, as was Blue England's citizens' limitless self-obsession. Finally, they proclaimed, without the rest of America to drag it down, the northeast could truly run a country the way it was always meant to be run. 

Funny joke. The intellectual ego quickly turns to cannibalization with nobody to bully. Who do you think they turned up their noses to without the red states? Who else? Themselves. There's always something.

Take their art, take their cultural philosophy, for example. Progressive in their thinking, and optimistic, true, but the Englanders were perhaps pointlessly fascinated by all new things, giving any fad their undivided attention for its fifteen minutes of fame, and then disposing of it, downright cursing it when they grew tired of it, or when the newest fashion, or artist, or band, or trend arrived. 

Society didn't crumble altogether after the Schism. The visible card at the top of the deck had just be shuffled a bit.

When I went back into the artistic style that was conceived in Blue England during that era, it's unmistakably garish -- made by over-educated people with an over-abundance of time. There was no happiness to be found there -- no color, no rounded joy. I would go so far as to call it hateful, perhaps even self-loathing. Childish, pitiful, absurdly complex -- and relentlessly absurd -- its closest cousin would be post-modernist American, while mixing blatantly knowing homages to Salvidor Dali (without the creativity), Vincent van Gogh (without the color), and Tim (fucking) Burton of all people. Tactless irony. Their painting was layered, and their artists diligent with every detail, yet the message was always the same: 

"We have a secret, try to find it, when you do, you will be mocked for seeking it. LMFAO."

Came to be that if a person in Blue England adopted a vice that wasn't ironic or self-aware, it wasn't worth mentioning -– for the best in some instances, I guess, a lot of trends were better off forgotten. Remember floor-hammocks? Yeah, I try not to either. Nothing stuck around for very long or was worth the air in your lungs to talk about.

Until the D3's came along.

The New Confederacy was the first nation to popularize passionate fandom for the D3's. The D3's were just a side project of some programmers and engineers in Blue England and the Sierras, so it just dripped with irony that it took the Confederates to say: "Hey, there's something more to this." The Confederates were proud, gentile, and let's not mince words: Southern. They were the most similar to the Old USA, the Schism effected their daily lives the least. Their lands were sprawling, either with busted-up asphalt or with untouched wilderness. Strange how the Confederates insisted that people who they deemed ignorant and uneducated were rounded up and forced to live in tighter urban centers.

They believed that a man was entitled to his freedoms, but left to his own devices, he might could well run astray, if ya get my meaning. They demanded everybody learn their history. Their education system was tightly-run, it was just their curriculum that most found curious. The Confederate children went to school until age fifteen, no ifs, ands, or buts -– everybody needed schooling, careful you don't grow up to be an unkind dumbshit. If you want to know more about what they were taught, go open a Bible.

In my travels across the Diffused States, I must say I was shocked at how different Texas & the Sooners was from the New Confederacy. A lot of people don't quite get that. Things moved slowly in the land that was basically the old Texas and Oklahoma territories merged together. They moved slowly until they moved quickly, and when they moved quickly, well, brother, be careful you weren't on the receiving end of speed -– bullets, justice, harsh words, for example. It's quite the libertarian existence of: "I don't mess with you, you don't mess with me," wild-west utopia. Think young-Eastwood, so more Hang 'Em High, and less Unforgiven. A more chipper, agreeable dispensary of justice. Lawmen were given the six-guns and all the lead they needed to keep the peace, and they were united by their love of the western mythos to which they were unerringly devoted and worshiped.

There was a fair amount of Jesus to be found in Texas & the Sooners, but he was more of a drinking buddy and a fella you give some credit to when you succeed, as opposed to a deity that made sure you were on your best behavior. Men were responsible and noble out there.

Good men would right the actions of bad men, always. They adored the honest personalities of the D3 Runners, making the races an instant hit in that country.

The Republic of Western Sierra tried to take credit for the D3's. They tried to take credit for most everything though in technological, cultural, and societal movements, even more so than Blue England. The Sierras were the most internally-divided nation of the Diffused States, particularly in the early years during their failed diplomatic relations with China. It was a constant competition between the old Los Angeles glamor, the Silicon Valley Nor-Cals tinkering with the old tech that got us to the Schism in the first place, and finally, the EcoPunks, a sub-group that despised the decedent trends of the other two factions, yet needed their resources to further their sustainability and energy-neutrality agendas. The Sierras were expansive, running entirety up the west coast, to the borders of Texas and all the way to the edge of what used to be the Dakotas, which was where The Kingdom had built their wall.

Nothing goes into The Kingdom. At the time of the Schism, the mid-western states east of the Dakotas, north of Tennessee and roughly half of Pennsylvania, united the most quickly, declared their independence, and vanished instantly behind their walls. Nobody knows what happens inside The Kingdom. People rumored that they had a space program, or that there were fragmented remains of the old American Congress in there.

Aran's father would always wonder if they had done the right thing, moving, leaving behind some family in The Kingdom. Ten years later and still nobody could answer. The Kingdom was sealed in the year Aran graduated from school at age 22. Zero wireless signal, dampened on the borders and outright scrambled in the center. Dark, tall walls with no guards -- fly over it at night and you'll see no lights, fly over it in the day and you'll see the overgrown greenery taking over the streets in Chicago, Cleveland, and Indianapolis.

The Kingdom was left to its own means because that was how things worked in The Diffused States. Every year, the D3 governing body extended an invitation to them to participate -– they have never responded.

Individual survivalism proved to be a powerful code to live by. Blue England's Zen, post-capitalism, flea-market, pseudo-city-state society ran the East Coast. It was the party at the end of the world, except the landlord had cut the power and taken all the beer. It's okay, brewing your own beer was like doing laundry back then. There was plenty of unlicensed booze to go around and smuggling stuff out of Canada was too dangerous. Any warm body, human or animal, that got near the Mexican border was shot after three warnings: two verbal, one with a bullet -- they don't miss twice in Texas. As I've inferred, things were different everywhere, but there was little dialogue between the Diffused States.

The cultural renaissance was slow coming. It took half a decade before the self-pity malaise started to lift somewhat. Any progress began making people smile and people became less worried about what was happening across the oceans, what they might be missing. These were the first shoots of grass growing from a dilapidated car. News of new bridges being built was cause for celebration. Fifteen years after the first 6-Jack, in the month June, there were zero recorded 6-Jacking deaths since its invention. 

This date was June 29. There was some celebration, including a limited Yankees vs. Red Sox game played in renovated Madison Square Garden, of all places, one day in early July.

Baseball was old hat though. We'd had enough of the dreams of our fathers. Ageism was the new racism. If you were making six figures during the Schism, or older than 35, you were seen as a leech that was feeding on and promoting a corrupt system. The less than one-tenth of 1% found it tough to flex their influence when there was no singular federal government to hide behind. All of their powerful friends were dead or disposed of. It was a system that had choked on the truth that 6-Jacking had revealed. These fortunes that were made, validated by binary code on a mainframe in the Caymans or Switzerland or on a satellite in orbit, were frozen or pinged back to $0.00 by cyberattacks. The money was insured, natch, but when all of a nation's wealth is taken offline simultaneously, the result is economic triage -- battlefield surgery, man. 

An entire generation of infinite, intangible wealth evaporated, and credibility had fallen out of the hands of the shrewd and the gray. When those American accounts were dissolved, foreign investors loathed the Diffused America even more, so these motherfuckers couldn't get a loan if they were on their knees, hands cupping, mouth open.

The older generations had nothing to offer the world, they had nothing to offer a modern America. The youth didn't want to grow up to be them. The old had nothing, not even wisdom, to offer the young.

That isn't to say young generations hadn't felt this revulsion towards their parents in the past -- honestly, who ever does? The difference in this instance though was that the older generation was the worst group of role models since the Borgias. Their advice was immoral, their actions had destroyed a country. They had been punctured. The concepts of correctness and success as a society had been implanted by generations past, and now, modern, immediate thinking was deciding the future. The old dreams didn't belong to a new America. Those dreams belonged to great-grandfathers -- men that had died at Normandy. They belonged to men that built atomic bombs, and to women that demanded suffrage, and to the children that crafted the Internet v2.0, and to an age where modern human identity hadn't fully formed. Without an establishment, Neo-Bohemianism became the norm, whose aching irony we chose to ignore. Our time, as people, and as a nation in a world that held the former-US in the greatest disdain imaginable, had to different. It had to be ours.

D3 was our true calling.

Direct Diffusion Drive. Out of the wreckage of 6-Jacking defense attempts -- wreckage because nobody ever really figured out how to protect themselves consistently -- came the D3. The brain, and all human senses were penetrated, understood in to their fullest capacity. That was a win. We could tell what made a mind twinge, what it looked like when it did, and why. We couldn't stop it from being invaded, but in our attempts to discover how the attacks truly worked, we learned that we could, quite plainly, watch what a human brain, and its senses, were talking about. Not the brain reacting to nerve impulses, it was more vivid, more tangible.

It was tangible, inky, and deep. We could now bottle sensations. We could distill joy. We could inject awe.

Now, first reaction would be rampant abuse of these artificially-activated sensations. But we were in an age of digital resentment and substance abuse was sort of taboo. So many thousands of people had died in the 6-Jacking Plague, that these designer-sensations flopped at the marketplace when they hit pharmacy shelves. Making them entirely legal was a shrewd move by the head of the Drug Admin, Victor Han, and soon became an exemplary talking point for how the young generation in power, the Jacks, truly were in command now. See, if the product been forced underground, it might have found more success, but as it was, it arrived, fully legal, with negative stigma and in bad taste. 

It died in the open market faster than New Coke.

It was about understanding how we, as people, worked, how we thought. The D3 was going to give us that. Discoveries became more frequent. They were newsworthy. It slowly became a national obsession, the way our country's bipolarity and eventual downward spiral had become a national obsession. First in it was in the Sierras and in Blue England, but it didn't blow up until the Confederacy and to Texas got a taste for it.

They liked the danger involved. They liked the pageantry. The Blue Englanders got chortles because people that they considered to be adorable, simpler folk in the other regions were interested in something they could never truly "get" the science of. So they had no choice but to become fans of the D3's themselves, drooling with irony at first, but utterly in awe when they saw it in motion. The money kicked in, holy shit, the money kicked in. Excitement surrounded our rapid advancement. Cultural agility was back.

It was quickly concluded that constructing a D3 wasn't mere thought-reading, that was still far too complex of a "code," so to speak. It was in what the mind was sensing, what electrical comings and goings between mind and body, where the data -- for lack of a better term -- was being interpreted, and what was being sent back. An unusual sight the first time you saw the data. It was organic, but still so inverted from what you'd imagine, like water flowing up a raw, jagged cliff. In time, it started to jive, a weird hidden alphabet. The logical questions leaped forward.

Could one sense be substituted for another? Or be removed altogether? How would the brain redirect "bandwidth," so to speak? Could an artificial sense be added? What would that look like? How would that change how the person interfaced with the physical world?

Start small. We were already pretty far along in "thinking at" something. Drive a radio-controlled car, and not just driving it, but sharing the very sensation of its movement. If the little car was alive, maybe? They put a pin in that idea for later.

Maybe control a video game? Little more than refined early 21st century tech, to be sure, but interesting nonetheless in its stunning, rapid improvement. 

It was smooth in a virtual space, and naturally tougher in the physical world. But prosthetic advances came in leaps and bounds, at first with just hard-wired cybernetics. Later, with a mixture of machine, artificially-grown stems cells, nanomachine gray goo, and cloned tissue, a potent bond of specific human-machine interface was perfected. Grow a web of cybernetic tissue, incubated with human brain cells that were chosen for neat compatibility with the user, and engineer the machine you want the person's senses to diffuse into, and you have your D3. 

The Direct Diffusion Drive quite literally allowed us to grow, bond, and share with any kind of machine.

Eventually, we realized that what we were doing was essentially having the subject 6-Jack their own personalized machine, and they would acquire the senses of the biomechanical organism specifically created (and specifically matched) for them. In turn though, the machine took over part of the subject. Even more crucial, there were the intangible factors of willingness and trust -- it was human(ish) consciousness in there. You couldn't lie to the machine because in many ways, you would just be lying to yourself, and the biomech would know it, tapped into your brain as it was. Trust had to be honed. The human and the biomechanical organism learned to honor the presence of one another. Senses were no longer being hijacked, they were being shared and exchanged in true physical symbiosis. The machine granted the subject control of a construct that a human brain could normally comprehend on such a micro-level.

There was less risk of technical fatality with the D3, since they weren't accessing the senses wirelessly. In fact, it was even a harder-wiring than a piece of fiber-optics from earlier in the century. The connection was nicknamed Soft Iron -- a direct, solid-state connection between two pieces of living tissue. Two similar, mutually-identifying consciousnesses. And no moving parts. The human tissue portion was grown from a separate human DNA sample, so it was less of a clone, and more of a synthetic mate.

By the way, never cook the synthetic DNA for the new biomech directly from the intended operator. The operators end up talking to themselves. They ended up going in circles for a while before going altogether bat-shit fucking crazy. Lesson learned: you need a different DNA code for the operator to bond with. Not only did it drive the operator certifiably insane, it killed the biomech's brain tissue and ten times out of ten, the operator became brain-dead. It killed people. It creeped people out. A few engineers likened it to "incest with a robot," and it got really messy really fast, watching the D3 prototype turn on its operator. It interpreted the test subject as a gigantic, talking 170-pound tumor. The synthetic white blood cells from the D3 coagulated around the operator, suffocating them, then dissolved the tester like powdered milk. So find a different DNA to synchronize with and don't try to fuck with your own biomechanical clone, kids!

In time, and with practice, humans could now interface with the movements of a machine, and it was as easy as breathing.

Then they added wheels. Then they strapped rockets to those wheels. They started to race them. Then they marketed the hell out of it. Oh, but there was so much more to it.

Ego, arrogance, bravado, daring, genius, huge risk, minor reward, the D3 races had it all. How fast does a 21st-century open-wheeled race-car go? 340 km/h? A D3 does double that when it slows down through a chicane. It's super-human. That's why the bond between the D3 and the operators (called Runners) needs to be 1:1, the human needs inorganic reflexes, and they can get that strength, stamina, and awareness from the D3. They aren't Jedi, they're normal people. A D3, being half-organic, and something that the Runners quite literally shared their minds with, could not be lied to -– they demanded respect and balance. Separate and equal. Heart and soul, all that.

It was like if horse racing had never existed in human history until 1972, until some crazy rockstar had that one drug-laced idea to tame gigantic living things and race them -- and that rockstar's name would've been David Bowie. Theatricality, but unlike Bowie or Gaga, or pop-stars of old, this time, the theatricality had purpose. It was important that the best Runners be earnest, young, fit, and absurdly charismatic, and they had to be, otherwise the D3's organics would reject them, shunning their lack of personality and honest individuality, and the relationship would fall apart in the same way any would. It didn't hurt the ratings if the Runners were agreeable, good-natured folk bringing some charm either. 

You know, flashing coquettish smiles at the boys and blinking sky-diver blue eyes at the ladies. They made more money in a year than God has made in his whole bloody existence, and God invented tithing.

NEXT: [#28 -- The Diffused States (Part 3)] to see what happens. . .

-- Doberman (knows what happens next. . .)
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

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