The Crane, Part4-Three Kings of Salvage

-It was a primitive time, before all people were connected by nueralnet. There was a rich country on the edge of economic collapse, and they had just begun trading in experience data. Those few human leaders who understood, knew that it was a time of great change; and huge changes in communications tech had forced them into difficult decisions that no one in gov was ready for. In this country, there was a great bot company, who taught bots how to make ads and games that changed people. Programmer Joe, one of these great bosses, was sensing a great change in the world, and it worried him. He and his associates had grown rich in their business, and they were among the first to be completely connected to the nueralnet. He gathered 2 of the wisest programmers he worked with: Hansaki the Inked, who was a master dreamer, and dreamed the look and feel of great games and ads. He had been studying ancient image files in his offtime, and put pictures in peoples skin for the uberclass, long after it had become illegal. He made magical pictures on boards, too. He put pictures and colors on everything, and said they made life beautiful. Then there was Lydia of Song, who was always singing and writing really cool music. She was worried about her job at the company, since games and ads became so full of feely files, that people had come to regard the music that games used to have, as an… unrealistic distraction. She was totally against music made by bots, and only a few of the old and very wealthy would still pay for humanmade music. She suspected that she was on her way out of the company, just like music was on its way out of the world. Programmer Joe told them about his worries: “What happens when people dont understand stories anymore? When all thoughts are transmitted directly, communication will change, and something vital about being human will become obsolete. What will happen to our world when people can’t describe things to others. What in humanity will dissapear, when people can just feel and know what anyone else feels and knows?”. Hansaki agreed: “When is the last time one of you saw an image made by humans in modern times? My secret clients will research images and have me copy them, but none of these are less than a hundred years old. People have lost the ability to invent things they haven’t seen. The human race is doomed.” Lydia of Song smiled at Hansaki. “Doomed seems extreme, but I’ll believe anything you say if you take your shirt off.” Hansaki took off his shirt and both friends stared at the strange images all over his skin that they had seen many times, yet something in them always seemed new. The lady continued as she stared at the fish who became a dragon on the young mans arm. “People believe me and pretend to agree because I’m a obsolete relic. I have said things to the bots that would get any of you fired. No secrets here, you know my feelings on the disappearance of music… Poems, Stories, Images, Songs, theyre all disappearing. Are dreams and human communication next? We’re all under the shadow of a dangerous change that could make human life become like death. And w’eve all indirectly helped to make it happen. I feel something drastic should be done. We might not be able to change the chipping, but we have a responsibility to try.”. They carefully deliberated on the unclear dangers of this change in their world.

The three kings had another, seemingly unrelated problem: At that time, there were still people who had secrets. One of the most common secrets was Religion. These archaic stories were a threat to the government, and illegal. Though all three were very wise, they were also all primitive at heart, and afraid of the changes they saw around them. -Programmer Joe secretly believed that his ancestors had been saved by an ultimate being who was like a person, but had created the universe, and made rules for them. He half believed that he would re-integrate with this being after living enough human lives. Lydia of Song secretly believed that the world was like offspring of a super man and super woman who had given birth to the world, and that if people of the world could reconnect to the ancient mother and father, they would become super people themselves. Hansaki the Inked secretly held that there was a light at the center of everything that did nothing but dreamed the world, without will or judgement, and that people could become closer to this light through altruism and nonthink. These beliefs would later be used as an excuse to marginalise them socially, but they didn’t know it yet. Joe spoke delicately about these ideas that he suspected his friends held on to. “The religions of the past are made of story and dreams. The human race comes from story and dream, without them, we are empty, like bots. I forsee a world without meaning or value in human experience. In the near future, no human dream or experience could be unique or self-so. Like Hansakis images, all that will remain is recycled memories, that no one understands, forever.”.

The three kings formulated a plan. They left the company for a far away third-world country full of plagues and crime, where few people had chips. All their considerable riches were laundered into the third world economies. They taught music, stories, and images to these people, and learned from them. As more people in the world got chips, devoicing started as a more humane form of legal punishment. Their group grew quickly in poor countries that were slow to change over and get chipped, but all had to make many sacrifices in order to keep this aspect of human consciousness alive. Most members of the group had to surgically sheild their chips, in order to hide from the gov. People who were devoiced for debts or crimes flocked to the group, since it was the only way to work and eat for them. They established a mobile kingdom, a nomadic group of primitive living artisans without a country. They hid small gardens underground, moving between them. They lived without chips, gov meds, games, or searchable data. They learned to write words on paper and learned to filter their own water. They were poor, but healthier and happier than most people then or since. The government was very worried about their actions-worried that others would follow, that the mission to chip every last human and connect them would fail, and economic ruin would result. There was too much investment riding on the new info-conomy for anyone to be flexable. The Gov Bots invented the “Culties”, and declared war on them. It was a story invented by bots: Religious freaks afraid of chipping for bizarre reasons, dire warnings from ancient religious texts that associated a chip with devotion to an evil god or something. The terrorist Culties were also rumoured to decapitate people with chips, in order to save them. As more of the world became connected, lies became difficult to sustain, but this one remained. The Gov needed an enemy to…letsee… sustain those in power. They needed a way to hide those who lived happily without the things all must buy. See; After centuries of war, it was figured that even a global government needed a war to function properly. It took an amazing amount of rescources and data management work to control public opinion on the war. Only war sustained by public opinion could generate the rescources the gov needed to keep it alive. Stories, Images, and Songs continued to go the way of religion. Only the fake story of the culties, and their made up terrorist plots, was kept alive in popular media. An army of flying killbots was set on the group. A large part of the group, now a few thousand strong, had set up sheilded tents in a barren desert. They weren’t well armed, but they blinded the buzzing killbots with this spray of magnetic chaff, even destroyed a few with ropes and hunting guns, but the bots had been given unusually brutal directives, and continued shooting even when blinded. The “Culties” had been caught far from any witnesses outside their group, there was nothing to hide behind, and the bots had to be pulled back for fear that they would completely decimate their enemy and end the fake war. The survivors were too scared to go back and bury their dead, who were strewn across miles of desert. Many people hadn’t left enough remains to bury. Some had been incinerated, and the records of them had been deleted from history. The three kings met again in an underground bunker and decided to scatter the group. They felt that the massacre had been due to their failure as leaders. The 3 kings were overwhelmed with guilt and remorse. They had made a horrible mistake, to think that there would be safety in numbers. Before the massacre, they often questioned if all the sacrifices they had to make were worth this idea of keeping human consciousness from becoming devalued, crippled, and botlike; but after the attack they all felt more determined than ever; that their work was worth any personal loss…but not the loss of hundreds of inocent lives. They rethought and scaled down their methods. They would split up and travel the world, avoiding the killbots and continuing their work. They all prepared for their deaths by hiding their knowledge on a thumbnail static drive that sattelites wouldnt be able to recognise. They entered themselves into secret, blackmarket clonebanks and tried to make it look like they had all 3 died in the attack. The few students who insisted, adamantly, on staying close so they could still learn to master these disapearing arts were required to do the same. Some left to study in private. Some left to teach in secret. The 3 leaders had become masters of their fields through the years since their chip sheilding …I mean they didnt do anything besides the disappearing arts, and teaching them, for years, and they were all really good to begin with. Joe would teach and promote story, Hansaki would spread images, and Lydia would preserve music. Their mission would be difficult to do while in hiding. They argued about being secluded and ineffective, or being completely public and transparent. They were willing to die for their work, but only if they could have powerfully symbolic deaths that everyone would see and remember forever in songs, images, and stories… and that was unlikely, given all the government files that showed the world being saved from crazed homicidal culties. The files of the fake funeral of the 3 kings was being deleted faster than it could copy itself. They had to go totally underground, and just do the best they could with what they had left. Music was especially hard to hide, and Lydia of Song was first to be found by…-

Seppy politely interrupted. “Let the first part sit. Even Dell is still not used to this many ideas all at once. I loved the embellishments you put on Hanzakis tattoos, that was funny, but the pacing is odd. Pick one language mode to use throughout the story. Your enthusiasm was good though, and you really drew him in, lookatem!” Del was starting wide eyed and mute, as if logged on. He was frantically trying to piece together all the memories of the different parts of the story, and wondered, if the story was carried out long enough, if it would lead to the present moment he was now living in real time.

Seppy was holding a length of small opticable, with a battery on it. Seppy looked serious for a moment, “I’d like nothing more than to go direct with you, and share knowledge, but I cant take the chance of showing up on gov searches.” He held the small length of cable out to Marie “Are you ready?” He said as he raised his furry eyebrows. Marie took the cable cerimoniously and attatched it to the side of her head. She took the other end and began prodding the side of Dels head, looking for the location of his medical chip interface. The sensation of being totally logged in to another person was more intimate than Del was ready for. He, at once, had a direct sensation of what it was like to be Marie, and to have seen all that she had seen. It was light and strong for her, walking around in her body, and her devotion to Seppy was unlike that of mates or family, it was full of selfless gratitude and genuine respect, it was beautiful. Del had never felt anything like that for anyone, and though part of him liked it a lot, it also seemed hard to identify with. She interjected in the overwhelming flow of info, as if speaking: “Check this out, its one of my faves” Del was suddenly and completely immersed in an old exp file of Maries, where there was this old man who had lost his family and his job, and was throwing a plastic disk, and his dog caught it. The old man was sad about so many things, and a little drunk, but he really loved that dog. What Marie loved so much in that file was the sense that all the sadnesses of future and past were small and illusory, when compared to the contentment the man felt in that moment. Simultaniously, he felt Maries ideas on what kind of music might say similar things. There were hundreds of unfinished melodies, many were epicly beautiful, but none expressed exactly the same things as the short file did. He saw the story she had just told, and so much more. Programmer Joe was clearly Seppy. Lydia of Song had been blown up by a tiny militarygrade killbot, along with several music students, when Marie was small, and someone had run back and cut the thumb from the charred corpse. The thumbnail contained not only musical knowledge, but the womans dna as well, and Marie had recieved some of it. It was a complicated procedure, grafting dna into a growing child. The end result was a preservation of inborn musical mastery, but there had been some damage to her chromosomes that was impossible to control. She was sterile, and had stopped growing before puberty. She had strange aches in her muscles. But Marie didnt hold on to any bitterness over this decision that, in Delmars mind, bordered on child abuse. She believed firmly in the aims of the nomadic kingdom. She had seen the ways other people lived, and was frightened at the lack of connection and humanity. Maries childhood with the culties was rosy and idyllic. It was like having a huge loving family that shared meals and did art projects together. Everything had some kind of decoration on it, every surface and fabric had little pictures or designs. It was very rare for anyone to log in, and when they did,they used little boxes with human chips in them as refpoint recorders, and software to firewall most of what they knew. Del caught some of her longing nostalgia, and wanted to be part of this simple colorful lifestyle so badly. The desire was heartbreaking, but had some sweet joy in it as well. It was a strange feeling. He actively yearned for this time as if it was from his own life. Always, people shamelessly touched each others hands and hugged as a greeting, without weirdness. It was difficult to seperate his own psychology from Maries, it was far closer than any exp file from a stranger could ever be.

The link ended with a blinding flash, and Dell suddenly felt a lonliness in his individuality that had always been there, but only noticeable by comparing it to the bizzare intimacy of the direct link. Then there was this other kind of lonliness. The world of the culties seemed so warm and loving, yet there was lots left unknown between people. The mystery made their interactions seem more real, and each persons feelings were their own. The people in Maries childhood had far less information exchanged between them, yet they seemed infinitely closer. They had misunderstandings and arguments, but there was so much love between them. This comraderie was what made Del like Marie and Seppy so much, he had friends(on the nueralnet), but this was different, better, intensely warm and comforting. Marie put the cable into a backpack and lay down on the floor with a sigh.

Seppy was conscious of their vulnerable state and spoke quietly to Marie: “Can we trust him? Whats he made of?” She stared at the ceiling for a second. “He wouldnt screw us. Hes not fully invested in the cause, and theres some sad desperation there about needs, but hes a good one.”

Seppy looked around the bare apartment. “Whats here for you?” He asked. “We really need to head out soon, probably south. You should come with us. You wouldnt be able to log on much, though, and your days would be devoted entirely to learning and Stories, and finding people who could understand them…oh, and well probably die horribly. ‘up to you” He raised a hopeful eyebrow at Del. Del thought of the rest of his life being completely different. He knew intuitively what it would feel like to leave everything he knew. What would life be like with no nueralnet? “I’m gonna need a backpack” He said. Seppy laughed.

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