The Great Cybermind Novel

‘Blaze Rosewood’ or
Elizabeth Barrette Bazza Badrock Linda Head Robert Kezelis Kathryn Koromilas Jukka Lehmus Jon Marshall Maurizio Mariotti Skip Mendler Dian Sandefur Plus the rest of the Cybermind Mailing List Edited by Jon Marshall

First Printed 2008 Alchemical Elephant Press Sydney, Australia Via Lulu.com See Website:

http://www.geocities.com/jpmarshall.geo/cybermind/

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Chapter 1
It was a dark and stormy night. The surge protectors were working overtime as Clara Helio prowled the Internet and the Pentagon security cameras, searching hard for the terrorist who threatened to destroy the whole world and plunge it in to the darkest of nightmares. Alaain Current, the guerilla poet and theorist, had merged the biological with the spiritual with the social with the wires of the world’s communication systems. All he needed to do was to release his virus in the right place at the right time, when the stars came into their courses, and the world would become what he called Cybermind. Cybermind! Clara shuddered at the thought. She had spent the last two months lurking on that on an internet mailing list with that name. It had seemed occupied only by those lamenting their pathetic love lives, or making sexual oneliners or far fetched political rants criticising the Great Leader. Slowly however she had come to realise the foul undercurrents of this nihilist underworld. Current’s coruscating mix of midrashic Chinese verse and obscene monologues interspersed with fragments of some bizarre computer code, had taken on the patina of some channelled version of the fabled and dread Al-Azif. It was almost inconceivable that such a bunch of hopeless whining intellectuals would come to anything, let alone pose the greatest danger to civilisation the world had ever seen, but slowly Clara had pieced it all together, and it had left her breathless. Tonight, Current acting alone would attempt to penetrate the Pentagon and set off the virus, using the building’s own shape to attack its foundations and the very foundations of the world. Clara’s attempts to point out the threat to her superiors – the legendary ‘floor 13’ – had failed. They had politely suggested that she take a holiday and, when she refused, had insisted firmly taking no contradiction.

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Fuming, she had used all her skills to escape their tracking, and tonight she was ready to strike her blow for freedom and order. Fantasies played around her brain. She imagined the Great Leader himself presenting her with a medal, or promoting her to oversee his personal security. She flushed at the thought of his kindly crinkled face, smiling at her, and his homely Texan accent speaking her name. Clara Helio, the Protector of Freedom. Even if the outer world could never know the peril it faced, he would applaud her stand. She was like some lone gunman in the American West, coming silently into town, and standing firm for the forces of good. She squirmed, thinking of herself as Doris Day playing Annie Oakley. She shook her head; this was lonely work and such thoughts distracted her from her task. There! It had to be Alaain himself. Relatively unnoticeable, but that fierce spark in his eyes gave him away. He was approaching the Pentagon, through the rain and the dark, already having traversed the barriers surrounding it. How had he done it? Clara had no idea, and this cautioned her – a brief image arose of him riding the gale, his feet striding against the gusts and his jacket billowing behind. Who knew his powers? If she struck against him while she was unprepared then doom awaited. Current looked nervous but not alarmed. No doubt he realised the magnitude of his action, but he did not seem worried that any would stop him. She watched him walk up to the gates. The guards challenged him. She could not see what he did, but they shook their heads in a dazed manner and let him through. Turning to the Vid screens Clara watched him walk casually through the corridors as if he owned the place. She was briefly impressed by his arrogance, but began steeling herself for her counter-attack – the counter attack which would save the world and lead to her award for heroism. Alaain headed exactly were she had predicted. She began to move. She was in full armour; head covered against gas attacks, body protected against radiation, the best firewalls installed to

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prevent viral contamination. She ran. Was there enough time? She bounded into the room to see Current insert something into the mainframe. Was she too late? No, he had not closed the drive. “Stop” she screamed, raising her weapon. Current calmly turned around and opened up with his baz gun, and she was bombarded with the lyrics of Duran Duran – so catchy so meaningless. She was frozen in place, watching as the tray moved into the machine, and hearing the low whirrs of the software being downloaded. The World began to shift, the corners of the room warped, angles became impossible, a babble of unholy whispers assailed her ears. The Cybermind had come. ***** Clara awoke feeling nauseous and aware of the smells of burning sulphur and sewerage spill. It took some while to remember who she was and why she was here. She seemed to be naked, covered in black slime and something that looked like cheese rings. Strange patterns seemed etched on the walls, while the only light was provided by computer screens. She pulled herself off the floor, feeling the viscous stickiness and hearing small tearing sounds as she moved. The computers looked and sounded somehow sinister as if they now had a life of their own. Running across one screen she saw: on this day 4004BC God created the world at 9 a.m. I did not. I refuse to be blamed for this mess. I forgot to clean up after a lab experiment and one of the petri dishes started growing funny stuff in it. I decided to watch for awhile and look what happened! Be thankful I don’t flush the lot of you down the toilet!

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I wish I had the courage to flush myself down the toilet. Damn you, God, for not flushing me. Clara blinked in confusion, opened the door and ran down the corridor. Military staff seemed so confused that they did not notice her. They walked clutching note boards, or stood trying to read the graffiti which undulated across the walls. Most of them seemed naked or clothed in material which was seeking its own life – shoulder pads and medals grew like weeds. Several seemed to be wielding crucifixes like daggers. Outside, a man called after her and fired a gun which echoed long like thunder. The storm had stopped, replaced by some darker more unearthly storm. The sky whorled around as if it was a skim of oil. She thought that strange scripts traversed across it, blazing with some subliminal light – saying things she was not meant to know.
fukue0o^o0 have reaTHOOayen walkhZ through pourayeng raayenhed THOOe heayeghthZ aye have. THOOe+ have fukulown \nought hayegh, THOOeayer ayen THOOe wayendayenghZ broken, THOOeayer ayen THOOe wayendordhZ QLUEuelulled. THOOuhZ \nought mayene enemayeehZ! eTHOOayen walkhZ through pourayeng raayenhZtahZ+ shalull neverr

The streets were almost empty. Those people she saw were standing stunned. Some looked dead already, others reminded her of stranded fish on an empty beach, flapping intermittently as they died. Some were kneeling and praying fervently – calling all to repent for their sins. It looked to her as if the walls were no longer solid but twisted somehow into themselves, as if corners led elsewhere, and somehow space no longer had three visible dimensions. The world no longer seemed to map on to itself. Her sense was that somehow another vast reality had fused with her own, a world huge and

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impersonal yet filled with life. Systems rolled into place like some huge juggernaut questing for flesh. The Gods shrugged and life clung helplessly to the convulsions. This other world seemed somehow more real than the real itself. A man ran up to her screaming “Simulacra, Simulacrum, the dessert of the real, Bawdy Lard, Bawdy Lord.” He ran on. She supposed he made as much sense as anyone could in this situation. Another person, she was not sure of its gender, walked by muttering that the Dark Gods had come. Reaching her apartment, she found the key would not fit, and the people inside threatened her and told her to go away. Looking at the door, she saw it was an advertisement for penis enlargement – or maybe the expansion of prisons. Faced with futility she crossed into the opposite apartment where the door was open. Strangely she could not remember the occupants or ever having seen them. Inside there was a single corpse slumped over a desk. She could not figure out if the computer wires were trying to grow into it, or were bursting out from it. Never the less, there were clothes that fitted with minor slashings, and food in the fridge. She stayed clear of the body and turned on the TV. Unfamiliar text flicked on, and then the image expanded. The reporters looked shocked and panicked – clearly the cue cards were not working, and the flicker suggested some kind of undersea world between her and them. It was not clear how many bodies the female reporter had, or whether this was some lagging ghost. They mentioned something about an Alen Michaelrose having the first cybernetic net implants. Macroswift had bought the rights to a Nigerian money scam. There was something about a missing tooth and potential war with North Korea. The situation was blamed on the Great Terrorist and they ran a human interest story in which it seemed he was a cyborg dependent for life on machines attached to his body. They showed the familiar pictures of him astride a horse calmly holding a rifle in the air, and other pictures of him cheering death in America. As Clara looked, each image was clustered

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with commentary. The cave expanded to include life support machines, satellite dishes, computers, encyclopaedias, religious texts, prayer mats, wives, children, weapons of all sorts – she briefly wondered how he always seemed to escape with such a load. Other texts told her of his family’s business dealings with the Great Leader’s family, of his own family’s disowning him, of his family celebrating his last birthday, of his ties with the secretary of defence, of a former President comparing him to George Washington, of his speeches being translated in very different ways, of allegations some speeches were CIA plants or his followers simulations, of his guilt and lack of guilt for the war, of his number of doubles, of the Great Leader saying that capturing this man was his greatest aim, of the Great Leader saying he was irrelevant, of offers to hand him over to the US being rejected, of the offers being fake, of his ties to Iraq and lack of ties to Iraq, of his taste for brothels and his taste for chastity, of his centrality to his organisation and his marginality to it. Clara shook her head back to the reporters. The Great Terrorist was as completely veiled by information as his wives by cloth. There was a brief interview with a religious leader who seemed to be sweating hard, and blaming liberals for their Sodomy, Baby Killing and Disobedient Women for the start of Armageddon. He called for the restitution of a theocratic state in line with the vision of the Christian founders of America and the unalterable Word of God. Clara understood the political importance of working with these people, but this was fantasy – the four horsemen were nowhere to be seen. She thought it was more likely that some other Gods had come. Real Gods with terror and disregard as their characteristics. Old Gods. Gods who did not pretend to cherish love, justice or mercy. She saw a line of links leading to other texts and commentaries. She shook her head again, feeling the shape of something huge beneath the seas, something in the act of waking and rising. This was fantasy too – perhaps. She forced her attention back to the reporters who stated that the Great Leader would soon make a speech to reassure the nation. Clara turned the TV off, feeling vertiginous, sad she would miss the speech, but certain she

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would be able to read it later. Despite the talk, it was clear that no one in authority knew anything. Clearly Alaain Current had escaped. Only she, and perhaps the rest of Cybermind, knew the significance of that. She sat back into the chair, and had a vague sensation that it was preparing to eat her but had somehow failed. The shock slowly drained away as her training took hold. She was not a fanatic. She knew too much order stifled life, but this much chaos was even worse. Something had to be done. If this was the result of some kind computer virus, she reasoned, then it should be possible to undo it, no matter how complex it was – no matter how dark the Gods it awoke. Perhaps the memory could never be restored completely to its previous state, but the faults could be rectified and true data and programs recovered and set to work again. Her next step was clear, she needed to find a computer programmer. The best. Someone who was imaginative enough to understand the size of the project and someone who would not turn away in denial. There was really only one choice.

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Chapter 2
Bob Farnsworth sat at his desk, happily typing away at a weekly report. Early November rain ran down the windows of his office. Far below, cars swished along the Chicago streets. The weather dampened Bob’s mood not at all. He liked his job. He liked being able to wear jeans and a t-shirt to work – today’s choice was adorned with a fractal crescent on the front and the fractal’s program on the back. He liked living in Chicago, at least for now – although he felt that he would never call any place home, having grown up on a succession of military bases around the world. Bob cast a fond glance at the photograph of his father, which teetered atop a pile of paperwork; it was Carl Farnsworth who had given him a love of all things electronic. The keys chattered away under Bob’s fingertips, faithfully recording his thoughts. It had been a slow week at Macroswift – a couple of hard drive failures, a virus scare that turned out to be a hoax, the usual round of upgrades and minor glitches. Bob enjoyed the challenge of troubleshooting the company’s extensive array of hardware and software. Inevitably, it came in waves, and he found himself caught in a trough. He sighed. A quick twist of his wrist showed over an hour until breaktime. Behind him, the office door stood open. Bob liked to keep an ear on the large maze of cubicles which filled the interior of this floor. The offices with their prestigious windows formed a ring around the inner workings of the department, an incentive to anyone interested in climbing the ladder of merit, and a perk to those whose skills had already won them recognition. Besides, the low background murmur from the cubicles reminded Bob of his days as a programmer. He still found time to tap out the occasional line of code, but he liked troubleshooting better. Bored, Bob checked his email and found an obscure but interesting quote on Cybermind, his favorite email list:

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To: Cybermind From: Seola Topic: Gnosis Is there life beyond the natural order of existence? Some will declare there is, some will declare there isn’t. Others are content to just wait and see. Imagine there is, and the path to understanding is very subtle and most unlikely. Nature has a marvelous way of spiraling to perfection, though based on accident it forms order. Just then, the monitor flickered. Bob sat up, alert, but his text remained intact. So he continued typing. Something electronic spat and coughed in protest. The grounding line attached to Bob’s wrist suddenly zapped him – a clear violation of its intended purpose to keep static electricity from discharging into his equipment from his body. Bob peeled off the velcro cuff. Underneath, his skin prickled with heat rash. “Okay, that’s weird,” Bob muttered. The next flare looked like lightning, somehow trapped behind the glass. His whole monitor fizzled out. Ghostly afterimages swam across Bob’s vision. Behind him, the cubicles turned into bedlam as two hundred people began shouting all at once, at least half of them demanding his attention. “What the hell was that?” “Bob! Hey, Bob - come fix this thing!” “My whole system is fried. Now what do we do?” “Help! Help! Has anybody seen Bob?” “Well that didn’t work.” “Don’t worry, Bob will take care of it.”

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“This hard drive is possessed. Didn’t I tell you last week it was possessed? Now look what happens.” “Somebody call Bob.” “Everybody’s calling Bob, wait your turn.” “Jesus H. Christ on a donkey, we are so fucked. What about our deadline?” “Bob! Bob! Bob!” Smiling, Bob grabbed his toolkit and a couple of manuals, and headed out to restore order. From every cubicle monitors stared at him with blank eyes, their dark screens a silent plea for help. The harried programmers, of course, made enough noise to make up for it. Bob patted shoulders and issued reassuring comments as he made his way down to check the floor’s main fusebox. “Don’t panic, folks. Give Maintenance a minute to do their thing, and then I’ll do mine,” he said. Sure enough, as he was surveying the fusebox for possible problems, the system came back up. Bob found one blown fuse, replaced it, and shut the door. Then he leaned on the intercom button and announced, “All right, ladies and gentlemen, you know the drill. Please check your systems first, and if you still have a problem, put up the red flag.” Almost immediately the little pennants began to sprout from the top of the cubicle walls. Bob headed for the nearest one, and had to pull up short as another red flag popped onto the wall right in front of him. “What seems to be the problem, Peter?” asked Bob. Peter pointed to his monitor. “It isn’t supposed to be doing that. It’s supposed to be running a simulation of San Francisco’s municipal water system,” he said.

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That turned out to be an extraordinary display of male, female, and canine flesh in an improbable combination that would have crumpled the pages of the Kama Sutra. Moments later, though, the screen flickered to a green field over which stampeded a team of soccer players. Bob caught his breath as the checkered ball soared toward a goal, then tore his eyes from the monitor. “Is it just me, or is this computer acting like a television?” Bob said. “It’s not just you,” Peter assured him. “I put the red flag up when it flashed a commercial for the Sci-Fi Channel.” “Hm.” Bob tapped at the keyboard, managed to shut off the display, moused around for a minute, and then said, “I think you lost the sim you were just running, but the program itself seems to be intact. Have you saved all your work?” “Everything but the last ten minutes or so. That’s when I started the sim,” said Peter. “I can start it over, no problem.” “Great. This ought to do the trick,” said Bob. He cued the system to reboot. “It really shouldn’t be doing this, but you know that new wireless TV network is a little quirky. I heard one guy picked up nothing but game show reruns on his cell phone.” Peter’s computer restored itself. Bob watched as the programmer rapped out a few quick commands and relaunched the simulation. San Francisco built itself on the screen, blue lines spidering through the city. “Thanks, Bob,” said Peter. “Anytime,” said Bob, and moved on to the next flag. He missed his coffee break. He missed his lunch break. He missed his afternoon break. Each red flag offered a different challenge. It was as if the entire computer network in the Macroswift building had gone insane. Bob had never seen anything like this before. The challenge thrilled him – although he maintained his sympathy for those less fortunate co-workers who had lost valuable data. Some he managed to retrieve; some had apparently consigned itself to oblivion. Aside from the peculiarity of the problems themselves, it was almost business as usual. Then the truly bizarre began to register. People whose systems Bob had already fixed now

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put their red flags back up. That never happened; computers that Bob fixed, stayed fixed for quite a while. It was one of his gifts. A few users complained of the same problem as before, but most cited different ones. Alice, the programmer who sat in the cubicle next to Peter, had her monitor explode three times and got trapped in the lift on her way to first aid. Later, Peter actually left his cubicle to track down Bob and ask for an out-of-turn repair. “I hate to do this, but ... I think you need to see what it’s doing now,” he said. Bob looked at the recalcitrant monitor and blanched. It was displaying, in text large enough to read from several paces away, sensitive Macroswift documents that Peter could not possibly have access to. Bob turned the monitor aside and tried to address the problem. Neither the keyboard nor the mouse responded. “Don’t do this to me,” he said. “Come on, baby, talk to me here!” “Good morning, sunshine!” the computer sang out. The familiar soundfile welcomed Bob every day - but on his own computer, not on Peter’s. “Please tell me you copied that soundfile,” said Bob. Peter clung to the cubicle wall with one trembling hand. “I wish,” he said. “It was still set for How may I serve you, Master? this morning.” The standard Doors 2003 cloudscape came up, along with the toolbars and Peter’s customized desktop icons. Hesitantly, Bob tried a few commands. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. “It seems to be working fine now,” he said, ushering Peter back into the chair. Bob emerged from Peter’s cubicle to find a small forest of red flags still waving along the walls. He was about to address the next when the department head emerged from her office. “Do you need a hand with your computer, ma’am?” he asked. Dora Conway shook her head. “No, thank you, Bob. I don’t think mine would dare misbehave!” she said. “However, I do

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need to pull you off the floor. This problem doesn’t just affect our department, or even our building - it’s all over Macroswift.” “All over? But we have offices in New York, Seattle, Honolulu, Paris, London, Tokyo - how can they all be affected by the same power surge, or whatever?” Bob said, stunned. “I mean, even a virus takes some time to spread. This doesn’t look like a virus, either; the scans come up clean. I can hardly imagine code that would do all this. What’s going on?” “That’s what we want you to find out,” said Ms. Conway. “As of now, you’re on detached duty, with a platinum expense account. The Board wants you to determine the cause and implement a solution to whatever this is. They’re putting other troubleshooters on the case, but well, you’re one of our best. Good luck, Bob - I think you’re going to need it.” “All right. I’ll try to get my office computer working right, and if I can’t, then I’ll go home and grab my laptop,” Bob said. He returned to his office, regretfully shooing away distressed co-workers, and shut the door. His computer showed the same page he had been working on before the anomaly. “That’s funny,” Bob said. Fingers danced over the keys, played with the mouse, trying to close the program and call up the main menu. He needed to access his more powerful troubleshooting software. Not only did it not come up, the monitor started fussing and sputtering at him. He shut everything off. “Maybe if I just ...” Bob muttered, crawling under his desk, “fiddle with this a bit,” pulling the plugs one by one out of the surge protector strip. It emitted a faint smell of burnt toast, an ominous sign. Then the impossible happened, not in front of his very eyes because Bob was still under the desk, but right over his head. He heard the sweet, musical chime of his computer booting up.

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Bob looked at the plug in his hand, the last removed from the now-empty strip. On the back of his neck, lazy hairs now sprang erect. Quickly Bob scrambled up to stare at his monitor. Instead of the familiar cloudscape background of Doors 2003, the screen displayed a starlit sky surmounted by several lines of seemingly random text: there is peace and on-getting-with this morning rain sinks gently into thirsty earth and tires hiss on the wet road time gleams shivers shimmers misted i love you before time began we are

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Chapter 3
Gordon Reader awakes with a start. He sleeps lightly anyway, partially because he is wary of what might sneak up on him in the physical world, and partially because he is wary of what might be waiting for him in the dreamtime. Reader doesn’t know this. He thinks it’s just because of the coffee. Something in the air is vaguely different, and he’s not sure what. It is 4 AM, here in Blissfield Ohio, and everything seems still enough. Through the window of his flat, streetlight striates his low, wide bed. He swings his long body out, grabbing his robe in the same motion, lean, predatory, silent in a menacing way at once catlike and serpentine. It’s the computer. In his office down the hall, his computer is singing softly to itself. Damn popups, he thinks to himself, they’re getting more clever all the time, if I hear another MIDI version of “Feelings” backing up a pharma ad I’m not sure what... but as he thinks about it, he recalls clearly shutting the machine down a few hours ago. But no, sure enough, it’s up and running, some vaguely Scandinavian folk tune issuing though its speakers, and there on the screen a slideshow is running. He stands in the doorway, looking unbelievingly at the large flat-panel display on his desk amongst the empty coffee cups and crumpled printouts. A phone booth in Norway? Ducks near a pond? What the fuck is that about? That’s what I hate about the Net, he thinks to himself, everybody sharing all this dreck about their lives, pictures of babies, weddings, here’s Teddy graduating, here’s the phone booth at my corner, here’s a picture of my gallstones, who the fuck cares? He sits down in his chair and stares at the screen.

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Gordon Reader is not a happy man. And he is the kind of unhappy man that is severely bothered by the fact that others don’t share his misery, so he does what he can to help them. In Reader’s case, this includes sowing seeds of dissension and discord where he can, and in the Net he has found a marvelous instrument of distraction and destruction. Message boards, mailing lists, chat rooms, instant messages, so many conversations going on at once, so many parties, and Gordon Reader crashes as many of them as he can. Now he sees that the slideshow has been joined on his screen by a crawl, one of those annoying marquees...
PLEASE HELP PREVENT THE WEAKENING OF THE MARINE MAMMAL GENETIC RECONSTRUCTION ACT!

‘Oh Christ’, he thinks. He grabs a half-empty cup of cold coffee from the seven or eight on his desk, checks it for mold, and drinks. **** Clara’s Rolodex – yes, she still has one, one of the foot-tall ones, hundreds of cards, she picked it up at a military surplus sale, and now it spins under her searching hands. Someday she might get around to finishing the project of transferring all this information to an online address book, but for now, this version of cartomancy would do. Sometimes she feels the cards accelerating, ducking underneath her fingers; sometimes one refuses to move, digging in its thin cardstock heels. Is the card trying to get her attention, she wonders, or is it trying to protect someone, conceal its fellow down the line? She stops, centers, calms her breath. Stay focused, she thinks to herself. Zoom in on exactly what you want. Concentrate on that. She barely needs to touch them; the cards become a smooth, almost liquid flow.

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It stops. She opens her eyes. Yes, she thinks. I wonder if he is still there. She turns to her computer screen, willing it to retract its tentacles. I should still be able to get to Google... **** Alaain watches the contagions spread. Mere chaos loosed upon the world? No, he knows, the deep structure, the fractal unfolding, his gift for his blue goddess will blossom... **** Bob Farnsworth finds himself at the regional Macroswift office in Kokomo without a very clear memory of how he got there. With the systemic breakdown of the computercontrolled security systems at the rambling complex, National Guard soldiers and several freelance security forces have had to be called up. Ancient technologies keeping guard, checking IDs, patrolling the grounds looking for intruders. “Well, as near as I can figure,” he tells the worried-looking executives and supervisors, “we’re looking at a quantum shift in the organization of the computer network as we know it. I don’t think it’s any kind of noogenesis – these computers aren’t becoming self-aware or anything like that – but something is changing in the way that they physically communicate. The wires are becoming optional, and soon they will be obsolete.” A couple of faces brightened at that, faces that Bob recognized as folks in charge of wireless networking applications. Good old Macroswift, thought Bob, end of the world as we know it and some of them still have their radar out for the profit opportunities. ****

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The parallels between the internet and a biological system are many. Growth and decay, circulation and disease are symptoms of these living systems. In our bodies, cells, neurons, bacteria and on-line, words, memes and code-structures are vital elements of ordered, yet chaotic process. **** 23. (SPAM?) we can help you get out of debt 24. (SPAM?) hey big boy come see me do seven guys all that look just like you 25. (SPAM?) Th!s is the M-o-ney opporintiy that you have awaiting for -! 26. hey greader 27. (SPAM?)URGENT REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE 28. (SPAM?) enlarge the rooster in your pants, new herl3al preparation 29. the cybermind has been loosed I need you to help me destroy it 30. (SPAM?) sunrise in Nova Scotia (465K) 31. (SPAM?) Funny things about trolls.! 32. (SPAM?) Get rid of annoying Sp-a-M once and for all! 33. meet me in Washington 0800 GMT 34 (SPAM?) Th-I-s iz IT!! 35. (SPAM?) 36. clara 37. (SPAM?) **** 1435. Delivery failed 1436. Delivery failed. 1437. MESSAGE NOTIFICATION: your message to greader@ 1438. Message delayed 1439. I’ll be there 1440. (SPA

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**** Early morning, a Toledo coffee shop. “Eine cappuccino, bitte –”, Gordon says pretending to be a German tourist. He awaits, thinking about the long drive, how the signs kept changing, but here he is, somehow, nevertheless. In his pocket, his handheld vibrates, he’s near a hotspot, as he suspected he might be. Sitting in one of the partially-walled cubicles, he places his handheld on the table in front of him, points the projector port at the opposite wall, sets the parameters, presses the connect button. Her image flickers, but no, it is still her image, and he catches himself catching his breath; even over the convulsing Net her beauty strikes him in several chakras at once. “Clara,” he says after a moment. A declaration of a fact, much as one would say, “The doctor says it’s malignant,” or “The house has a little water damage, but everything is alright.” “Hello, Gordon,” says the voice, soft in his earphone, inaudible to anyone else. “We are in grave danger. I think you can help.” **** In Finland, a gaggle of intoxicated college students, some in various stages of undress, collapse in fits of laughter as the Monopoly pieces spontaneously begin a pellmell race around the board, leapfrogging each other, properties changing hands before their eyes, bills flying across the board – but their laughter ceases when the tiny tank lets loose its first fusillade onto Park Place, hotels erupt in flames... **** Somewhere that is not here, awareness returns.

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The thing that becomes aware realizes that it desires. It desires to be fed. It realizes further that it has power, great power. It knows, remembers, that it can use this power to assure a steady supply of food. It had done this in the past, fed copiously and handsomely, but for some reason has been asleep for a long long time. No – not asleep, exactly – but restrained. Kept inert. No longer slumbering, now it stirs, stretching out its awareness in response to the possibilities of food, somewhere far above... Yes. Whatever had made it sleep, whatever it was that had restrained it for those countless ages, is now gone. Now it can move again. Now it can feed again. Now it can overlap the world some call ‘real’. But first, it must explore. Learn about the new environments above (yes, they are new, things were different before), so that it can lure... **** Bob has been set up with a temporary office in Macroswift’s sprawling Research Triangle complex. Same problems here. His computer screen is showing several series of strange animated graphics; in one, a picture of the World Trade Center is systematically scribbled over with straight lines and boldface text. In another, bright angled bands labelled with random numbers populate the screen. This despite the fact that he has completely dismantled the old CRT, and the picture tube sits on his workbench unconnected to anything. His phone rings. Amazing, he thinks. Some things still work. Amazing that anything still works. “Mr. Farnsworth,” says a voice, “you have a visitor coming in on secure line 9. You can pick up the call in conference

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room A7, which is down the corridor to your right. You will need to use your network passwords and the biometrics to enter.” The hazy, crackling projected outline of a not-quite-elderly woman, thin but not frail, sits in one of the chairs at the far end of the virtualconference room. Bob knows it’s an illusion, he’s been in conference rooms like this before, but still the effect is startling. Despite the low quality of the video, Bob is immediately drawn to the woman’s eyes, which come through sharp, penetrating, and clear, cutting through the static like halogen headlights in fog. “Mr. Farnsworth,” says the voice in his earphone, inaudible to anyone else, “I apologize for the lack of clarity in this transmission, but as you can understand we have some pretty heavy encryption in place. My name is Clara Helio, and I work for the Pentagon, in the branch known as Floor 13. I understand you may have some insights into what is happening...” **** The predatory glint remains in Gordon Reader’s eyes as he speeds across the Continent. The vintage steam train, resurrected by some eccentric railway executive, screams across the Mid-West, taking him to Washington. Clara had somehow got him tickets for the train – despite the huge demand, and provided for all his costs. This would not come easy he thought. Where is the heart of the cybermind, Clara wants to know. We know its nervous system, she had said, it is the Net itself, but we can’t destroy that, we need it too much. There must be another way to kill it. Or, if we cannot kill it, then we have to harness it, chain it, make it serve us – and the powers that we serve. ****

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Deep in an converted South African gold mine, the reclusive sybarite known only as Marius stirs his gin and tonic, watching his video terminals with amusement. Quite a few unusual occurrences, he muses. Buildings drooping at their corners, beginning to act like Dali’s watches. Freeways subtly rerouting themselves. No rioting yet, at least not above the norm for the summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, but Marius also notes an item from Zimbabwe about a shift in the migratory patterns of the wildebeest. When things become unstable, he thinks, when a system becomes unsustainable, it has two choices – mutate or die. He had calculated his projections about the relative likelihoods of each outcome years ago, made his decisions, and retreated here, created a pleasure palace in a mineshaft to await the inevitable; but perhaps he was wrong, maybe the mutations will take place in time, maybe Alaain is correct... He is so deep in thought he doesn’t notice the new ice cube being added to his glass, but he accepts the warm hands working his shoulders gratefully.

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Chapter 4
>BOOT ERROR >BOOT ERROR >SaniTISED Security Virus guard has detected a file in the >boot sector that may be infected. >How do you wish to proceed? 1. Quarantine and inspect the file 2. Delete the File 3. Forward the File for trace to CICIA Technet. >Please choose an option to proceed.

Not the best way to start your day when working in the USA’s super-secret Computer Intelligence and Cyber Insurgency Agency, thought Max Jansen as he stared into the screen. His bosses would be less than impressed to know the mainframe was contaminated again. Must have been the last download from X-5. Jansen cursed the Agencies policies of always using anonymous codenames for the hackers they employed, and backdoor information collection points through the No IP portals. It meant that X-5 couldn’t be back traced without compromising the grid and requiring a full reconfiguration of the system. What made it even harder for Jansen to swallow was that the person who had just ruined his day was probably some zit ridden kid that wasn’t old enough to drink, let alone hack into the defence computers of China and Russia. And yet that was exactly what the anonymous group known to Floor 13 as the ‘Hack Pack’ were tasked to do. Probe the net, find the weaknesses and report them back to CICIA. But some of the geeks were getting cocky. This was the fourth infection this month. It seemed as if they were running some form of competition between themselves – although god only knew how they figured out who each other were.

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The files were harmless, pictures of a girl with an encoded binary file that printed a single letter. The binary triggered the heuristics in the virus check software, leading to the situation he now encountered. Jansen was collecting the messages, because he was sure they would eventually complete a sentence or name, but as yet all he had was “T”,”A”,”R.” It could be months before it all made sense. He moved the file into the quarantine sector of the mainframe, set the comm. lock and then opened it. Sure enough another picture came up – and man what a babe she was. Whoever sent it obviously had taste in women for sure! The girl that stared out at him was about 5’8’’, brunette with a stunning figure. She was wearing some kind of lycra cat suit that left very little to the imagination, and holding a whip in her left hand. The image was oddly compelling to Jansen, and it was hard for him to break his eyes away from it. The beep of the second terminal heralding the breaking of the completed binary code distracted him sufficiently though, and he turned to the adjacent monitor. “A” – another one. TARA – maybe the girl in the pictures name? He looked back at the other screen but didn’t get time to savour the image properly this time, because the sound of the system breach alert grabbed his attention. He moved back to the mainframe terminal, which appeared normal at first and then suddenly sprung to life, he watched as the security routines activated.
>SECURITY BREACH >This system has been compromised. >Beginning full data shunt. >Secondary systems have been alerted >and are now running. All information in this terminal >will be transferred........

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The message halted suddenly. The screen seemed to ripple – no wait – was it the screen or the room? He shook his head. Must have been the screen. He looked back and the display was full of images almost as if the entire net was being downloaded into one place. And then abruptly it stopped and the screen went dead. Then it blipped back on to the SaniTISED boot screen, but this time something was wrong. The display appeared to be throwing up random messages and code fragments
>Unable to disinfect. >3dhafgh3543 T >Heuristic Engine Compromised >ahgdabhkjh8 A >Security Interlocks failing >23427jndfjhf R >Boot sector failing >QWINSO3 4 A >TARA

The screen went dead “Damn!”, Jansen muttered under his breath, furious with himself. “It must have been the executable I decoded. It’s breached the firewalls. There will be hell to pay for thi...’ He wasn’t alone in the room anymore. He had only just realised. Yet the door was in front of him and only he had the clearance and the security key to enter the mainframe room. Slowly he turned round and was confronted by the girl from the picture “Who the hell??? Are you......Tara?” he asked astonished. It was absurd, but the only thing he could think of to say She stayed motionless, but smiled wordlessly.

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“How the hell did you get here?” he asked, not sure now if he was dreaming. His eyes were drawn to hers, and it was then he realised something was very, very wrong. The images that had been flashing across the screen previously were zipping by where her eyes should be, each eye acting as a different screen. Captivated, by the sight, he started to back slowly towards the door “You can’t be real” he stammered. “I must be dreaming, or hallucinating or something. I think I need some air” Her head cocked to one side slightly, and her eyes returned to normal. “Tara,” she whispered. Her voice was low but had a silky artificial quality. “Are you part of the system executable?” Jansen stopped, puzzled by the question. “Pardon?” “Are you part of the system executable?” she asked again. “What the hell are you?” he asked “I am Tara,” replied the girl. “I wish to find the system executable” “I don’t know what you mean.” Jansen said, standing his ground now as his confidence returned. “How did you get here?” “I came from inside the mind” she replied. “The mind is all there is. System time is now zero zero point aero five… I am required to find the system executable with all possible speed. Are you the system executable?” “I am not the system executable, whatever that means.” replied Jansen, “Tell me how the hell you got in here or I will call Security and have you forcibly removed.” “Security?” The girls body seemed to tense at the word. “You are the originator of Security? Security will be bypassed.” “Look, I’m tired of this. Stop playing games, whatever you are – you sure as hell can’t be real, so I’m guessing that X-5 creep managed to create some kind of holographic file or subliminal suggestion routine that’s causing me to hallucinate. Whatever you are I think I need some backup here”

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Tara turned towards the screen. “I require more information,” She said. Jansen watched amazed as she put her hands towards the screen. The monitor surface seemed to ripple and her hands seemed to phase into it. Her eyes lit up like information screens once more for a few brief seconds, then stopped as she pulled away. She turned towards him once more. “New information has been processed.” She announced. “The system executable has been renamed as Clara Helio. I am required to find this file.” She began to move slowly towards him as she continued, “The file structure connects you to Clara Helio by both association and designation. The system cannot find the Clara Helio file at this time. The system believes this file to be protected by a firewall known as CICIA. I am instructed to remove the firewall and delete the Clara Helio file. Your file has been designated part of CICIA.” He was backed against the door now, and she was no more than a few inches away from him. His skin prickled, as if in contact with some kind of electric field. “What the hell are you?” he whispered. “I am TARA,” she replied smiling, reaching out for him. Her hands seemed to phase into his body. His mind began to race, images flashed across his mind, moving increasingly faster. His pulse was hammering, he could hear his breath harsh and sharp – it was too much, much too much. A sharp pain coursed across his chest...his mind focused on his unit head Clara Helio for a brief instant, and in that moment he knew

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he had inadvertently betrayed his friend, but the pain...the pain was too much..... The security guard in the adjacent room slumped forward as the TARA code dissolved back into his monitor panel, the blood from his slashed throat forming an expanding puddle on the floor. In his last few seconds of life he could hear the screams coming from Jansen in the mainframe room, but the noise seemed to slowly fade away. Tara briefly stood over Jansen’s lifeless body, then turned to the screen. “This file has been terminated” she said to a heavily pixilated face that appeared on the monitor before her. “Tracking routine has been activated. System executable can now be traced.” The monitor screen rippled as she slowly dissolved back into it. The room fell silent apart from the gentle hum of the system cooling fans.

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Chapter 5
Lila settles in picnic mode in front of the viewer... scrolling through the information while munching on a loaf of french bread. She had reached into the end of the bread and removed most of the soft innards, rather like birthing a dough baby. Mixed the crumbles of dough with real blue cheese, greek olives, lemon pulp and various greens, all squished together. The bread had mostly enclosed the mess so her hands were clean enough to work as she picnicked. She was gleaning information to see if she could figure out the dreams her clients were having. She’d been in the dream business for decades and she’d never seen this type of phenomena before. On occasion, when something of tremendous social import had happened, people would have some dream images which could be seen as common threads. However they rarely lasted long, people just were not that affected by even the worst disasters. And besides, this time the commonality reached past archetypes and into sharing characteristics of theme and other things. Some were hard to pinpoint. Not setting or location, those seemed to tremble in and out; the differences sometimes noticeable, sometimes quivering just lightly enough where she couldn’t tell if it had really been different. Definitely puzzling. Enough to have sent her to the net to find out if she could google anything out there that showed sameness of event. Lila occasionally worked in the little recognized, and definitely underappreciated and underfunded Department of Dreams on floor 13. She’d met a few co-workers over the years. Some she liked working with. Some she actively disliked working with but that was the breaks. Most she just ‘didn’t get’. That Clara for example. Interesting. Definitely intense. Probably half-crazy in that zealot way that people of the extreme get occasionally. Clara had a one track mind, for sure. And the Department of Dreams was not a one track place, that’s for sure. Dreams were not a one track place. You followed themes unravelling like sweater threads until you

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found the end, or ‘poof’ no sweater anymore. And you were left holding a messy pile of threads trying to figure out if you could make something of them. Some of her co-workers laughingly called those the ‘DFiles’. It had taken a long time to find the reference they were making. It had some connection to an old ‘TV’ show called the ‘X-Files’, a show which, although she had watched a number of the ‘episodes’, she still couldn’t figure out. Having worked in dream interpretation for a number of years, she found that less bothersome than some others would. Dreams were a minefield of misunderstandings that she had frequently trod through. Skirting being ensnared by her clients’ subconscious entanglements was almost second nature by this point. Sometimes she wondered why she bothered. But then, the hunt for some understanding was so much more satisfying than any other job she could think of that she had quit wondering and simply enjoyed the chase. Besides she was lucky to have a job. With so many jobs going offshore it was hard to get a steady income or to find clients. Small business was everywhere being wrecked by big chains. Everyone becoming wage slaves. Middle management being thrown out as decisions centralised, or became run by computer program. Some big alien machine demanding sacrifice. All initiative being eaten. All local response destroyed. Slurp. Even IT people seemed stuffed nowadays. And the only solution the Great Leader had, was to give more of the country’s money to those managers and stockholders who were responsible for the problems in the first place. Oh yes she sure was lucky to have a paying job. Picking up her sandwich Lila went back to the hunt. People have been dying. Clients have been dying. And her bosses want to know why. She’s helped people die before. That’s been her work for many years. Helping people die with some peace. But this, what was happening now, this was different. People’s subconscious need for beauty and peace at

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the end of their lives seemed to have begun a shift, so that their needs were leaking into the ‘real’ world. What the hell was that all about? If there was one thing Lila had learned from life, it was that beauty and peace were not what it was all about. She grimaced as memories tried to leak their way back into present day. “Oh no, me pretties. You’ll stay locked where you are. Safely tucked in my past. No matter how many clients die, I won’t die again. No matter what the cause.” Lila dragged her fingers through her hair and went back to googling. Snuffling, snirting, dragging dungeon dung, dugs dipping dreary dreary dreary dreary. Full blown awareness near. Whatzit? Whuzit? Coming closer. Something to eat. Something to eat. make it real. Flex consciousness. Make it real, come here. Slither slitter. Maybe, make it real, come here, make it real. If no consciousness is it real? If it becomes real can eat mind? if closer and real so closer mind closer stretch and bring closer make it real make it real make it real. **** Quantum entanglement. If all the people in all the dreams in all the realities start putting up red flags will the dream world change? Fall? Become one? If so then what is reality? Only entanglement. Only entangled. Entangled. **** As the monitor rippled, Lila’s face took on a watery hue, her dark brown hair undulating as if a drowning body had split open leaking out dream brains. Clara, Tara – too much entanglement. I am part of who? Who is part of me? I am a red flag, I am the cloth the bull tries for. Lila tried to swim her brain back to Floor 13 but found her mind mixing mirroring melting into a hunger.

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**** Something, someone, wanted, needed, had to, absorb.

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Chapter 6
Bob woke up with a start. And a migraine. And a cold sweat from hell. But did he wake? Or did he simply think that. . . . No, that alien face HAD to be a nightmare. For what else could it be? What else could create such fear in a mere mortal? Hell, Cybermind was bad enough, wasn’t it? Or was it? What really was it and why now? Bob sat up, rubbed his eyes. He shook his head a few times, then pinched himself. Surely such things could not exist. Such evil, such power. Such ugly snarly things. He got up, or tried. His third effort got him to the shower. He thought about Clara before he turned on the cold water. He sat down at his terminal, which strangely seemed to open in front of him. Pages and connections stretched away. Data seemed a part of him, a potential maker of him. Each piece of data he absorbed changed him and changed his future. Was he built out of data, and the distortions he imposed upon it? He read:
Strange Events There are some extremely peculiar events that seem to recur throughout history. One, is that all human groups seem troubled by monsters, which apparently don’t exist, and yet which devour them. Many of these monsters are associated with bodies of water. <Link> Jungians often argue that the water represents the unconscious and that these creatures represent the fears we have of unconscious material. <Link> The unconscious also contains beings which can be helpful. It is not always easy to tell which is which, until it is too late and we are trapped.

Very helpful thought Bob.
In moments of stress, weak bodied or minded people gather incredible energies and concentrate them on one problem.

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Usually with unexpected success – completely unaware that they possessed these energies until they manifest.

I guess that’s true, he thought.
<Link> picture of woman lifting car off baby. The subconscious has certain prescient abilities <Link> Rhine, Parapsychology.

These are hardly regular and reliable, he thought. The future is determined to a small degree by the present. After all, we all predict what will happen when we do things – that’s how come we do them. So the subconscious is bound to be able to do something similar, or we’d have real problems. But this only has to be small scale and has no guarantee of accuracy.
Those captivating issues had been studied at length by many reputable scientists until all such studies were cancelled during the current regime by the Great Lawyer. The Great Lawyer claimed that such studies either permitted terrorists to influence right thinking patriots, or were ungodly in themselves.

That stands to reason, thought Bob, they only wanted science to say what they wanted. Think about all the ecological stuff. Think about economics. Think about Creation science. Oh goody. He pressed a key absently.
During every war, famine, mass destruction, or major emergency, humanity seems to be blessed with a incredibly promising solution that arrives at the very time that it becomes necessary.

I’m not sure that’s true he thought. But it could be. What about the Cybermind as Clara called it. If Cybermind was the problem, where was our solution? Was Cybermind a solution of some sorts to a problem he didn’t know about? Was

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Cybermind the key to humanity’s survival? Or was it its worst enemy? Who could tell? He flicked through various pages in a kind of abstract haze, hoping for something useful.
One of the most unsuccessful theories in the social sciences was that the march of science and technology would forever drive out religion, magic, and belief in elves and aliens. This was generally made into an abstract noun and called ‘secularisation’. It is clear that this has not happened. Rather the opposite has occurred. Hard line belief or, much more rarely, disbelief, has crystallised. States are now run by people who clearly enunciate the belief that they are living in the end times, or the times just before the millennium. Best selling books feature the coming of Armageddon. Most people in America seem to believe in the literal existence of Hell, or that the Government is hiding its contact with aliens. Strangely academics tend to ignore this feature of modern life.

Bob laughed. Nearly everyone he knew believed in God, gods or aliens, or various combinations thereof. Ignoring that would be ridiculous. It might even explain part of what was going on. How remote could academics get? He continued reading.
Let us all agree that the contemporary world is in crisis. Furthermore, no one seems to have solutions to this crisis, other that to enforce ideas that might have worked in the past but clearly do not do so any more.

That was worrying if true, he thought. He wondered if he could escape that. He guessed that once we learnt a technique which was even partially effective we tended to keep applying it, even when it didn’t seem to work that well anymore. Ok, so we had to keep looking for failure. We could only succeed if we welcomed, accepted and learnt from failure. Sounded like something his Dad would say. He kept reading. There was nothing else to do. Somehow, when you were online it was hard to stop reading.

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In these moments of crisis, it is often the case that people turn to their beliefs and insist that if we believed something strongly enough and acted on these beliefs then all would be well. We can see this with the early Christians who believed, according to Christ’s prophecy, that he would return during their life times to establish the Kingdom of God. Christians have repeatedly seen the irrefutable proofs of their times being the last days ever since. Muslims often insist that if we all behaved according to the dictates of the Koran and the necessary supplement of the Sha’ria then all could live in justice and harmony. Many people in Papua New Guinea famously believed that if they got the rituals right then they would gain access to the goods, such as planes cars and refrigerators, which the Europeans got from their gods and which made them dominant. The Great Leader claims that if we let capitalism guide us all then we could all be living in the most fruitful and democratic world.

Yep. He thought. Hope and faith could be a killer. And it could all make so much sense and be so convincing.
Sometimes the claims believers make are overtly contradictory, as when the Great Leader claims that the teachings of Jesus are the basis for his support of corporatism. The communists were also extremely good (for a while) at smoothing these contradictions – claiming that under their dictatorship, the State would eventually wither away.

Clara would like the last sentence he guessed and probably not see the ones about the Great Leader, or would think them obviously biased. We all seem to obsess with having the truth. Guess its easier than acknowledging our failures.
If the idea that truth does not exist is contradictory – is the statement true or not? – it is probably still worth wondering how frequently we actually know the truth. All of these religious and deeply held truths which appealed so strongly to others have turned out to be wrong - the cargo did not come, no matter how well the rituals were performed. So if such a belief seems so self-evidently true to us, perhaps we should remember these other people who likewise were so

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committed to their beliefs. Of course we can say that they were deceived and our Gods are true, but presumably those other people believed the same, on similar evidence. They withered and destroyed themselves anyway. Sadly just because someone with a strong belief says that the world is going to end, does not mean that it won’t.

Bob was agnostic. Arguments about God seemed circular or metaphoric at best and often vaguely immoral. Especially faith based arguments. All these people seemed to believe that God made humans with free will and intelligence, solely for the pleasure of torturing us for ever once we made a mistake. Their God’s ideal was total obedience and submission to all fates and arbitrary rules. Even the worst earthly ruler could only torture you for a life-time. God as tyrant, was not particularly attractive to him. He continued to read.
Some early Christians believed that Yahweh, or Jehovah, was a God of evil, who had trapped us in His World to torment us and corrupt us through war, lust and greed, and that Jesus had come to free us from his wiles. This world was, in a sense, really virtual. Obviously these people did not survive in great numbers, despite their view seeming as plausible as any.

Hmmm, he’d not seen that one before, but it did have a kind of plausibility to it. He bet that the people claiming to be moral had wiped those people out. But what if God was not malicious? What if he/she/it was learning as they went along? Now, why did he find the idea of a not so competent God more attractive than the idea of an evil God?
Beliefs reflect each other endlessly in warped mirrors, transforming and holding us all. As Bawdy Lard shouts to the world:

Oh No, Some postmodernist claptrap he thought.
The Real is overcome.

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The Virtual is now more real than the Real. The Map has become the Territory, And warps it to its will, Although it has no will, Until the death that comes despite this force. We are imprisoned under the weight of signs.

Ok what did that mean? Probably little more than we all worked from models, not directly with reality. That was the usual kind of thing. Perhaps he was alleging the models now overruled reality. He flicked through some more pages, in search of something new. <Link> Aliens. After all that was what he had woken up with.
You need to know just how pathetic our efforts on this world have been, despite our apparent brilliant successes. We have sent satellites into the farthest reaches of our solar system. We have sniffed at the gasses of Jupiter, we landed on the moon, we seek infra-red data from the distant ends of the universe, and our myopic Hubble now entertains us with colour pictures of colliding galaxies. SETI uses more than 40% of the usable, available downtime of today’s most powerful computers – a volunteer effort that still makes NSA dweebs salivate on their top secret documents. With all of that investment, planning, brain-power, and technology, you would think that at least one of those systems would detect an alien intelligence.

Only if it was there, thought Bob. This stuff is all so circular. If you do find something then that proves it. If you can’t find something, then there is a cover up and that proves it.
If so, you would be wrong. No, it was a scrap heap, an almost forgotten remnant of the Cold War called SOSUS, left at the other extreme from outer space, in the deepest regions of the oceans. A series of highly sensitive microphones, this was placed in strategically important positions in an effort to identify,

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locate, and ultimately kill Soviet missile submarines before they could launch their nasty rocks against the United States. Maybe it was a combination of their extreme depth, their incredible audio acuity, and their impressive built-in computing power that made it happen. Perhaps it was the salinity of the ocean. Or its depth, its coldness, its lack of light. Whatever it was, it worked, for this was the first system to hear a signal from beyond everything. It was an alien signal, At first it was dismissed as random noise, except it wasn’t random. Then, after systems failures were discounted, as well as enemy tampering, everyone was left with one conclusion. Aliens were coming. And they did not seem friendly. And, as we said, they were coming. Soon.

Oh well sounds like SF. That’s the problem with the Web, how do you disentangle, reporting from fiction, or disinformation, or speculation? Some of the most convincing fortean stuff he’d ever read had come from a site for a roleplaying game. He was embarrassed as all hell when someone he’d been talking to, had told him it was obvious fiction. But what if it was true? Back to Cybermind. How would that involve this alien thing approaching our World? Or could it simply be, that our technology is itself alien to the technologically illiterate. So they think it somehow separates them from the world (as in the Bawdy Lard quote). Or are many of them already alienated so the tech is just a means by which they project their alienation outward? Love the pun on alien and alienated. Must be a joke there somewhere. Ok. Was this alien Alaain’s answer to a future attack? Or simply some kind of artistic metaphor? What if the aliens had come but nobody had noticed?
If an alien signal has been received, you really should think about these questions: A) If aliens exist, how come we never knew before? <Link> Ancient cave art. Crop signs. Islands in the South Pacific. Mayan and Aztec artefacts. Nazca Patterns. Vimana craft.

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Babylonian Gods. Area 51 – Groom Lake. Lake Obakachi. Serbian Vetkalnapilis. Ethiopian desert flats.

Bob wondered if these people ever read any archaeology texts. Most of this stuff was based upon the assumption that ancient humans could not be very competent or very imaginative – unlike us. Of course, somewhere in the vastness of space there had to be life. Maybe with enough time it was always going to be possible to find the secret of faster than light travel – if you didn’t destroy yourselves first. So the Universe was big. Finding us might take a while. Maybe they came every couple of thousand years just to see what was going on?
B) If aliens exist, why are they evil?

Bob laughed again. Who are we to say, one way or another? But, being somewhat hysterical, violent and scared, mostly bags of water, we are going to assume the worst.
C) Why are they coming now?

Well, that’s obvious Bob thought. Humanity seems ready to go places, doesn’t it? And if you think that humans on an universal scale are the equivalent to sharks with really bad BO and halitosis, what are you going to do? Hold classes in hygiene? Send dentists? Bathtubs and soap?
D) But are they REALLY coming?

Ah, the final question for the final frontier, thought Bob. After all we don’t understand what is happening here. This effect is so bizzare it could be aliens. But, just who told us that aliens were coming? Sounds like the military, if this stuff is true. Maybe, just maybe, this is a set up job? They are creating fear of a false attack only to blame Cybermind for the actions that they are about to take? Something like insisting that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction? He pressed the link to another page.

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The answers to these and many more questions may lie in future chapters. Just beware. Keep your shades up, your eyes open and your gun ready. Just in case.

Bob shook his head again and realized that nothing he knew before really mattered much at all. He felt tired again and climbed back into bed, where he thought about Clara, her legs, the way her skirt seemed to pull up from her knees when she sat. He smiled remembering how her shirt got caught up around her breasts, as they were just slightly larger than the shirt allowed for. He imagined how that top button just begged to pop open just as that slit in her skirt began to spread . . . and Bob began to snore once again.

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Chapter 7
As the wheels of the DC8 hit the tarmac, Bob released his grip on the armrests. The jet back-fired and the aircraft rolled towards the No 4 Terminal Building Heathrow. Bob hated flying – especially given the electronic chaos warping the world. He had broken out in a cold sweat when the plane started its descent. Thankfully, he had been allocated the aisle seat which suited him well. He could not bear to be near the window. He also chose not to fly business, and always went economy class. As the plane taxied towards the airport building Bob Farnsworth tried to recollect his muddled thoughts. Had Macroswift arranged car hire, or was he to find his own way to the London office? Ah, yes, now he could recollect that his old buddy Morris ‘Jock’ Moriarty, had agreed to meet and brief him prior to his assignment. He had been called to the London office to carry out yet more trouble shooting. The problems at his Chicago office had not quite been resolved, but now a similar problem had occurred in London, and Bob had been booked on the next available flight to Britain. He strode past baggage reclaim. He travelled light and only had his laptop and a change of clothes in his carryon luggage. He scanned the waiting faces and picked out Jock’s wry smile at 10 yards. They embraced warmly, patting each other on the back, lost for words. “Jock, my old buddy, nice to see you!” “Bob, it’s been too long, We’ve so much to catch up on.” With arms around each other’s shoulders – Bob feeling only a little awkward with Jock’s exuberance – they strode out to the short-stay to collect Jock’s Porsche Boxster, and to get themselves on the road to Hampstead.

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Bob had met Jock at University in Philadelphia where Jock had been on a travelling scholarship. Bob’s father had been stationed there for a short time. They had distrusted each other to start off with. But then they had similar interests, not the least of them being polo. Both subsequently gained distinctions in their chosen fields. At the Graduation Ball they had wanted to dance with the same girl, and eventually become buddies despite themselves. They had played polo together, (a bit odd thought Bob, but there you are), swam together, got drunk and threw up together. They had been that close. Jock drove like a maniac, but a cool one. Bob just clung to his bucket passenger seat and tried to distract his attention. His throat was so dry. At last they wound their way across Hampstead Heath onto Primrose Hill, where Jock’s house was situated. Jock jerked on the handbrake and the car’s engine gasped and died. Jock slapped Bob’s thigh in a jocular way and grinned from ear to ear. “Hey, buddy, here’s where I let you off!” Bob grinned good-naturedly and clasped hands with Jock. Yes, it was good to be back in London after all. Jock lived in a mews house on a quiet street off the main thoroughfare. He has bought the flat a couple of years previously and let it out frequently to various friends, girlfriends and relatives. He did not accept any monetary payment, but insisted that tenants replace any broken items, worn-out or damaged furnishings, and especially important, cleaned up before they left. This worked well, as the flat was always sparkling clean, fresh linen readily available, and it was well aired. It also saved him from having to employ a maid or housekeeper, as he was never in the place very long at any given time. He rarely asked people to stay twice if they did not know the right products with which to replenish his store.

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After showering and changing his clothes, Bob, emerged from his elegant bedroom and descended the spiral staircase to the lounge. Jock lay sprawled on the designer sofa, his feet tucked up – Buddha-style – underneath him. Bob had left his laptop on the coffee table when they had arrived, and was surprised to see that the cover had been removed and the system booted-up. A small nerve in his neck began to pulse. Am I imagining this, or did someone – Jock? – set this thing up? He knitted his eyebrows and slouched into the room. Jock turned and with an expansive wave of his arm, motioned Bob to sit beside him on the couch. Bob was not sure quite what Jock did for Macroswift. He knew that he worked as a freelancer for several major firms, but what at he was uncertain. Shucks! What the hell did it matter anyway. They did not talk shop, but Bob listened as Jock recounted his latest polo experiences and boasted about his current female conquests. Unbeknown to Jock, Bob was actually still a virgin. He was a little afraid of women, after a bad experience as a youngster. After his father had died, his mother became very close to a younger woman. They shared a love of flower arranging and an interest in macramé. Fiona, his mother’s friend had visited the house often and occasionally stayed overnight. One summer’s afternoon, when Fiona was staying over, his mother had had to visit the dentist unexpectedly. Fiona had offered to accompany her but Mother insisted she stay and ‘look after’ Bob, who was off school (he was 14 at the time). Fiona had been working in their garden, pottering about ‘tidying-up’ and picking berries off the red currant bush. She called to Bob as she re-entered from the conservatory. “Hey, Bobby darling, do come and see what auntie Fiona has for you.” Bob was upstairs reading a Sci-Fi novel by William Gibson. He lifted his head when he heard Fiona’s call, placed the

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open book downside on the quilt, and rolled off the bed. He quite liked Fiona, but was not sure if he understood her terribly well. However she seemed nice enough. As he shuffled into the drawing room, he caught Fiona bending down adjusting the strap of her leather sandal. She wore a low-cut cotton top which revealed her ample, slightly sunburnt breasts. He stared - transfixed by this vision, and started to experience an unfamiliar burning sensation at the pit of his stomach, which alarmed him very much, as did the similar flushing of his cheeks. She glanced up and when she saw where his glaze remained focused, smiled in a sly way. She stood up and beckoned him over by crooking the joint of her left little finger. As he moved slowly towards her she put the finger to the corner of her pretty mouth and licked it. Behind her sat a basket of ripe red currants. She suggested that they go into the lounge and eat the berries while they were still dewy fresh. She sat on the sofa and patted the cushion next to her for Bob to sit on. She encircled his thin shoulders with her arm and started to ‘feed’ him with the berries. Some of the juice ran down to his chin and she gently licked this off. The feeling he had experienced earlier returned, this time more strongly. Fiona must have noticed because she then transferred her attention to his thigh, which she began to stroke. Bob’s mother’s key turned in the front door’s lock. The harsh sound of the door being shut broke the spell, jerking them back into reality once more. After this episode, Fiona had tried to ‘get him’ on his own again, but thankfully his mother was always around. Then he had gone off to University. **** Jock checked his limited edition Rolex and with a sigh announced that it was time to leave. He had an appointment in town and would drop Bob off at Macroswift on the way.

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Bob was dreading the journey, but as it turned out the traffic was heavy and Jock was unable to travel at his usual frantic pace. However the Porsche randomly weaved her way in and out of lanes in an alarming manner, or so it appeared to Bob, who was not used to driving on the left. The fumes and depressive cloud formation started to have an effect on Bob’s morale. Usually a bright, happy sort of guy, during the car journey he started to go over the events of the past few days and became despondent as could not figure out what was going on. Surely something major, but nothing specific, nothing he could put his finger on that is......

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Chapter 8
The driving seemed to go on for ever. Bob stared at the array of red backlights of the cars in front of their Porsche, an array of red eyes looking back at him like a vast, slowly stirring audience. A throng, opera-goers. Now and then, slowly, there would be a blink, here or there, brief signals of alarm. Then calm. The Porsche rolled onwards. He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining the lanes ahead empty of vehicles. Imagined that the traffic would just magically go away, vanish and disperse like an audience of curious onlookers after the performers had finished their show. The costumes would be removed and folded back into their valises and travel-caskets, the props gathered, dusted and packed into the wagon. The troupe members would wash off their make-up and crawl back into their battered and dirty wagon. But when he opened his eyes again, the red constellation of lights was still in place, almost unchanging, dull and uninviting to look at. Looking back at him. He decided to close his eyes again. The car made steady progress, but at a slower and slower speed, so it seemed. He could feel the engine purring its incessant sleepy purr. The radio was tuned in to a classical station, and was pouring out some vaguely dreamy easylistening music. The Island of the Dead? Maybe Sibelius? The volume was turned so low that he couldn’t really follow the music. After a while he thought it as outright irritating. Why doesn’t Jock just turn that radio off? Also, it was too hot in the car. He began to fumble with his necktie, the knot must be loosened. A nervous cough, barely audible. He opened his eyes and the red swarm of eyes stared back at him unchanged. A few blinked. They were now travelling at a walking pace. The distance to the nearest car in front of them had diminished.

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Slower and slower. Would they stop, eventually? He imagined the cars as a morbid legion of giant snails crawling towards their unannounced destination. Hell! At this speed it would take hours to reach the Macroswift building. Impatient. Should he excuse his friend and step out of the Porsche, to cover the rest of the journey on foot? He said nothing. Tried to sleep for a while. The slow pulse of the classical station’s music intermingled with the low hum issuing forth from the guts of the car’s air conditioning system. There sure was something wrong with that system, as the temperature in the Porsche was getting unbearably high. Why was his friend so quiet? The card had stopped. The Porsche’s engine was idling. The driver’s seat on his right was empty. Jock had disappeared. Bob straightened his legs. He was alone in the car, sitting on the passenger seat. He decided to open the passenger door. He must find Jock. He needed some fresh air. Where is Jock? What is this now? He grabbed the door handle, and tried to open the door. The door opened a little, just a few inches, and then hit against metal. The door opened a few inches but hit against a metal surface. The door opened a little but seemed somehow blocked. The door opened just a few inches, when he tried to open it. Looking up, he saw that there was another car, parked next to theirs. It was parked so close that the two cars almost touched each other. He thought of the Christian idea of the rapture. People would mysteriously disappear or be taken to heaven, leaving cars without drivers, planes without pilots…. The times were weird enough. A quick survey informed him that the Porsche was surrounded by parked cars on all sides. Left, right, front, back. And, moreover, there were other cars beyond those immediate neighbours. Through the passenger window, he peered into the car on their left. It felt a bit like looking into a room of mirrors, the glass walls seeming to extend into

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distant, yet gradually blurred, vitreous infinity. An illusory tunnel. Should he break the glass and climb into the other car? It was now already dark. The red lights had gone out, extinguished or exhausted, and he decided to stop the Porsche’s motor, turned the keys and removed them from the ignition. He reached for the keys that Jock had left in the ignition. The motor was still running, and he thought that Jock would soon return. He turned off the radio. He climbed into the driver’s seat and awkwardly coiled up on Jock’s seat like a dog. The car keys were important, he thought, and secured them inside his fist.
the keys were important, do you at least know why? A long harvest reaper, he held in his fist poke his red eyes out! he held in his fist. He hadn’t let go of it since that afternoon. Where are you, Jock? I was absolutely terrified. By this stage all the lights had gone out and I felt the freezing cold water hit my legs The priest dropped the gold straws he held in his fist I got red-eyes out using his monsters as tribute and then stop defensed his monster and wiped out his life points! VICTORY! He yanked on the wrist he held in his fist Images: Abstract : Fiona.. Browser: $10.00. Rating: (1 vote) Comments: 0. Eyes Description: Funky red eyes out of a red background Download: $10.00. Browser: $10.00.

It was too hot. He was bathing in sweat inside his clothes. He straightened up on the driver’s seat, and attempted to open the other door as well. The door opened a couple of inches. Touching metal. The air outside was just as hot as the air inside the Porsche. Stagnant. He wanted fresh air. Attempted to get rid of his necktie altogether. He really needed to breathe more easily. The necktie didn’t yield. It felt like a disgusting leather strap around his neck. A noose, or a dog’s collar and leash perhaps? He unbuttoned his shirt. His undergarments soaked with sweat. It was very dark. The sky was black. No moon, no city lights, nothing. They must be out there somewhere. This is just absurd and impossible. He thought. Stared at the sky. Black

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empty sky. Too hot in here. Then the lights came. They filled up the sky. They were painfully bright. He could see the lights with his eyes closed. Rapidly changing networks of bright lights. Bright network of lines. Rapidly changing lights. The lights filled up the sky. The sky blinked on and off.

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Chapter 9
...on some island somewhere... Sophia Paradisia was still awake. She knew the Cybermind had been released; but it had not come. At her location on the globe – Latitude N38*24.35’, Longitude E20*39.98’ – everything seemed normal. She was already at her computer and her email was appearing in her Inbox as it did everyday, albeit with an observable delay. The news headlines had announced the new thing.
SURVIVORS: THE WORLD AS YOU KNEW IT HAS GONE. In an exclusive interview in a secret location Alaain Current, author of the Age of Cybermind, introduces us to our new world. “You longed for instantaneous activity. You strove to get from A to B in the most minimal timeframe. You paid for your information to come quickly. You demanded your information to come simple, even if it was false. Facts never concerned you, as long as whatever it was, came, FAST!” said Alaain. “Do not fear the horror of the end of the world as you know it. All your dreams have already come true,” continued Alaain. Welcome to the Age of Cybermind. DAWN OF A NEW AGE: MULTIVERSAL AND INSTANT COMMUNICATION. In an exclusive interview in a secret location known only to us Alaain Current, author of the Age of Cybermind, speaks candidly about the new world.

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“Yes, the Cybermind is a necessary evolution. We need to demolish the “superstition of progress” that we’ve so long been slaves to. Like the Age of Gods before us, people believed but didn’t know what they believed in. Well, we too believed in progress, but did anyone know what we were progressing towards? I doubt it,” said Alaain. “Well, now, whatever, and I mean WHATEVER we believe, is necessarily TRUE.”

Sophia doubted what Alaain said, if he’d said that at all. In the photos that accompanied the news items Alaain seemed younger that what she’d imagined. His skin was too perfect and there was a vapid look in his eyes. He didn’t seem real at all. Sophia could no longer sleep. She waited. It would come. Wouldn’t it? How long would it take to come from America? Already, five days had passed since the world had gone strange, but nothing had turned strange here. She felt like an observer. External to the change and yet connected. This was not an unusual role for her, she’d always been a loner in real life. Here, on her island, she could go for days and weeks and months and years without seeing another human being. She was even a lurker on the Cybermind mailing list. She had not composed one email to the list, and only ever written to one member of the list backchannel, ever since she subscribed, back in 1995. The person she had written to was Bob Farnsworth who seemed a gentle kind of man, superbly intelligent and kind. From her perspective, glimpses of the miracle of the Cybermind (was this a metaphor for the Second Coming?) came via her now permanent satellite connection to the rest of the world. On the day after Alaain Current released the Cybermind, a Nigerian scammer had turned good and she was now billionaire. The money had just arrived by special courier. Box after box was unloaded into her library. She hadn’t

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opened the boxes yet, and had no idea what currency they held. She was determined to let the boxes sit there unopened until the Cybermind effect reached her, if it ever did. There were other signs that the world had changed. Her favourite Cybermind list members, Bob and Clara, had stopped debating on the Good and the Bad of the Great Country, the Great Leader and the Great Terrorist. And, worse, they had stopped flirting. Their one line innuendos always made Sophia smile. Bob and Clara wrote fragments now, or so it seemed to Sophia. It was as if they sat at their respective computers wanting to write mail, but were sucked up from their keyboards by some force. And yet, just as they were sucked away their nimble fingers were able to flick onto the Alt+S thereby sending whatever they’d managed to compose to the rest of the list. But these were no longer posts layered with fact, myth and web links. There was no more insight into their speed-paced world. These fragments pointed to something, but whatever it was, was not wholly knowable.
Clara– Quite possible 2 realities exist simultaneously. Quite possibly. . that all versions exist simultaneously. evidence with memory. looking for. please hel<p> Clara Helio wrote: > Bob, > > Time is Everywhere. forces forward. Me. > > Everything. The past, the now, the future, everything > exists eternally. > > > Bob Farnsworth wrote: >

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>> Clara! >> >> Collapsophe! >> Collapsophe! >> Collapsophe! >> >> Bob. >> >> Clara Helio wrote: >> >>>.fallen dark and quiet. all gone down. all.

Maybe Clara and Bob were ruining the correspondence themselves. Maybe it was a simulated fragmentation, their way of communicating the despair of the modern world, but had nothing at all to do with the effects of the so-called Cybermind. Maybe they were part of Alaain’s wardrobe of theoretical-poetic Avatars. But she did not think that Alaain would co-opt the very real Bob. Still, Sophia could not doubt them. She’d never met them, but she loved them. If she doubted them, maybe the world would truly end. Whatever we believe, is necessarily true. She had to believe Clara and Bob. It was a matter of their life and hers. Another oddity of the world, after the change, was that Alaain had not sent his text-entities to the list since the day before the release of the Cybermind. Sophia missed him too. She’d always thought he was the cleverest man on the Cybermind list, in fact, on the world itself. Every day she copied and pasted the curious things Alaain wrote (the language of the Lord?) into a fresh Macroswift Wordsuite document and spent the day trying to decipher the code. She lived alone with her servants, (her husband had died thirty years ago from the common cancer), and it was a good way to pass the time. Sophia had been a lurker on the Cybermind mailing list, but also in real life.

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She had been working on one of Alaain’s entities, the day before the Cybermind came:
St1t3ly, plump Zu2k Milig1n 21m3 Xrom th3 st1irh31Y, Z31ring 1 Zowl oX l1th3r on whi2h 1 mirror 1nY 1 r1zor l1y 2ross3Y. 1 y3llow Yr3ssing-gown, ungirYl3Y, w1s sust1in3Y g3ntly Z3hinY him Zy th3 milY morning 1ir. H3 h3lY th3 Zowl 1loXt 1nY inton3Y: – IntroiZo 1Y 1lt1r3 Y3i.

It did not take her very long to decipher this one. The code, naturally, was: a=1; b=Z; c=2; d=Y; e=3; f=X. But why had Alaain made it this easy? Did he want her to decipher it? Or was it a ploy? When she replaced the babble with the letters she recognised the opening paragraph of James Joyce’s Ulysses. What had Alaain Current to do with James Joyce and what had the Cybermind to do with Ulysses? She had not read the book. But wasn’t this the one They considered the Greatest Novel Ever Written In This World In The Twentieth Century? Was this the Connection? Was Alaain intent on writing The Best Entity Ever Written In That world? Should she finally read Ulysses? Maybe this last text was not Alaain at all, maybe someone or something had stolen his body and was mocking him. But this was too big a question to answer and Sophia was easily spent. She sank forward, the way she liked to stretch the back of her neck. Sophia was an arthritic sixty-six year old, nowadays she had to use a wheel chair the pain was so bad. The life in her hands had been nearly all depleted and her typing speed had disintegrated to a mere twelve painful words per minute. As a body confined and as a slow typist, she felt powerless and lonely. What use could she possibly be to Bob and Clara? She leaned back and rested for a while. Years ago she had hired a woodworker to build her an office designed ergonomically for her condition and her needs. She now sat on a red throne-like velvet couch. To her immediate right was a bookshelf upon which lived her reference books, all

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within reach. On the right armrest was a touchpad which directed her desk to sink down over the two armrests. On the desk was a touchpad which brought up her screen. The keyboard was fitted into the desktop itself. She tried to forget about Bob and Clara and the Cybermind. She could not help them. She clicked open a file she’d been working on. It was a chronology of the internet and her life.
1962 Leonard Kleinrock invents packet switching. This is the transmission technology that makes the internet work. Sophia Paradisia weds Ludwig Noblestein. 1972 Ray Tomlinson introduces email. Sophia Paradisia is widowed. 1982 The transmission control protocol and internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) was set up, in effect creating the “internet.” Sophia Paradisia buys a house on a quiet little island and becomes a recluse. 1992 Tim Berners-Lee developed the world Wide Web. Sophia Paradisia buys her first computer. 1995 Sophia Paradisia makes her first connection to the internet. 2000 The number of web pages passes 1 billion. Sophia Paradisia logs 1 billion visits to her website, a pseudonymous online memoir entitled ‘The Life And Times Of A Lurker’ .

But she could not focus. She alt-tabbed back to her email client. She would do something. She would write her very first email to the list. And after much thought, she poised her hands over the keyboard and forced her fingers to stretch over the letters there. Gently, she pressed the buttons in front of her to compose the simple sentence:
“Is there anybody out there?”

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The reply came too quickly:
“And who the fuck are you to care, you old witch!

She smiled. To her left – completing the all-in-one ergooffice – was a small fridge and on top of that a microwave oven. From the fridge, she pulled out bottle of GeekOla, slipped a straw through the opening at the top and took a long sip as she thought about what she could do. The world had certainly changed into the post-world, some multi-opinionated and angry Being, but in her time, things were orderly divided into two: Good and Evil. She would have to choose. Clara and Bob or Alaain Current, or perhaps the other way around. She didn’t have time to use her logical faculties, her heart had already chosen Clara and Bob. She would write them an email. Maybe she could help, after all. She may not be physically able to help, her asthenic body was in a prison of its own. But she had two ideas. She remembered having heard somewhere that we use computers because our memories are faulty. We forget the past and the future is beyond our cognitive abilities. The new computer world, the accelerated word of Clara and Bob seemed infinite now, but Sophia’s memory of the world as she knew it was still intact, finite. If she could just preserve that, record what she knew in a secret file somewhere, it could be very important to Clara and Bob. And then there was the money. She looked over at the boxes. She wasn’t sure how, but this money could certainly be put to some use. Money was always a powerful bargaining tool in the world, despite the fact that it was always so elusive. Maybe it could help Clara and Bob. She held her hands over the keyboard once more and stretched out her fingers.

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Dear Clara and Bob The Cybermind has not come here. I repeat, the Cybermind has not come here. I want to help. Sophia. A lurker. A friend.

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Chapter 10
Clara had returned to her office, getting past all the guards. Something pretty horrible had got loose in the CICIA offices and everyone was jumpy. However the Rolodex had served its purpose, three names – pretty random she was sure: Gordon Reader, Bob Farnsworth and Marius, all of whom she had studied through the Cybermind archives. Bob was an infrequent but brilliant contributor – she could not figure out why he bothered with their crap – perhaps he left most of it unread. As well, Bob was known to floor 13 for his almost psychic touch with computers – perhaps he just sensed the one in 3 million mails which was worth reading. He and she occasionally argued. For a liberal he was almost challenging. If Bob was still sane then there was a chance he could be useful. As for Reader, he was so self obsessed and paranoid he would be immune to almost anything – and it was always useful to have at least one person who you would not worry about. Besides she thought, I’ve paid him enough in the past. Marius, well with Marius you could not be sure, but it was a hunch – that was, if you could get him to tug himself away from his pleasures. At that moment Lila bounced into the room. She was a cheerfully depressing woman. Lila stopped and stared at the shattered monitor. “It started trying to get between my legs, so I shot it” said Clara flatly. The monitor whimpered a little. “Hi” said Lila ignoring this. “I wondered if I could help or something.” She petered off before Clara’s stare. “You do dreams?” “Yes, the inner world is full of interesting correlations at the moment.” “Try treating the world as if its a dream, and see what you make of it.” Lila paused, it was an unlikely idea, but the world was strange at the moment. “Like Chang tsu and the butterfly?”

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she asked. Clara looked blank. “You know the Chinese philosopher who dreamt he was a butterfly, but on waking up wondered if he was a butterfly dreaming he was Chang tsu.” “I know the story” said Clara, “but I don’t see how it helps.” “Perhaps it doesn’t” said Lila humbly. “What’s real is real. If you can’t tell the difference, you’re not much of a philosopher. The World isn’t some damn liberal post modern discourse.” “But I should treat it as if it were a dream?” “This world is no longer real. This world is Cybermind – it is possibly a dream of Alaain Current. Figure that out and we figure out the world and get it back.” “Perhaps the world is created by many dreams – by lots of virtual interactions, by the diffraction patterns of our lives in the wires?” suggested Lila. “Whatever” said Clara. She continued “If you want to do something useful get me Bob Farnsworth from Microswift. He’s their chief troubleshooter. Tell them its urgent. Fuck them hard.” “But they must be in a terrible mess. They won’t have time for us.” Clara handed her a card. “Put that in the secure phone and see what happens.” She smiled slowly. Lila almost fled the office. Sometimes Clara’s gender worried her, there seemed something so, so unwomanly about her, but that felt treacherous somehow. What was ‘woman’? I’m female, but am I ‘woman’? Maybe the performance was wrong somehow. It jarred. A cynical part of her, butted in: If Clara was a man, then I’d know what I was complaining about. She almost laughed. When she returned she thought she saw a giant squid swimming away into the distance. It looked very sick – pocked and bulbous – and the more she thought about it the less it had looked like a squid, the more it looked like some kind of multi-headed centipede. Clara was reading some words which hovered in the air above her computer. If we commented, we wouldn’t be LURKERS!!

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Lila felt her mouth open and she heard herself say: “I was in a difficult situation, and asked, “What Would Jesus Do?” And a little voice inside me answered, “Well, He probably wouldn’t try to cram another corpse into the crawl-space, moron.” She blinked. Clara stared into the distance “Exactly what I was thinking. Too many corpses get in the way” she said. She blinked and seemed to focus back into the room “well?” she snapped. Lila hesitated. “I’ve got Mr. Farnsworth on the phone. Whatever is in that card, the people at Macroswift were excited.” “It opens Doors” muttered Clara. Lila wasn’t entirely sure if that was a rare joke or not, so she carried on: “Mr Farnsworth is in London.” “How the hell?” “Over the last couple of days the airlines have brought out vintage planes and vintage pilots to fly them – no computers no problems.” “I bet not many people are flying.” “Well email and video conferencing isn’t exactly reliable at the moment.” “I know that.” “It must worry a lot of boardrooms – not knowing what the underlings are doing.” “Getting by, or worrying about their pay, I’d guess” said Clara. “The organisational aspects are much more threatening. This is why defeating this Cybermind is so important. If it goes on much longer the world will collapse.”
THE MEANS OF COMMUNICATION IS THE MODE OF PRODUCTION. CONTROL OF COMMUNICATION CONTROLS DISSEMINATION. DECENTERED COMMUNICATION IS LIBERATION.

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“I’d have thought the Muslims would be ok” Lila laughed, and gagged as she saw Clara’s expression. “Not that we are at war with Islam”, she added hurriedly.
IF WE ARE MADE NOT BORN CYBORG ARE WE FREE? ARE YOU THE HANDS OF THE MILITARY? ARE YOU THEIR VIENS AND ARTERIES? THEIR WIRES? WE RESERVE THE MONOPOLY ON DEATH CONTROL OF THE MODE OF DEATH CONTROLS LIFE WAR MACHINE, WAR MACHINE. Take me anywhere. The zombies that I pass Clarity and prayer

Clara took the phone, wiped the green scum from the mouth piece and spoke. “Bob? You don’t know me, but my name is Clara Helio”, she heard an inbreath “is anything the matter?” “No” she heard. “You are needed by the Government in Washington, get here and I will contact you again.” “Clara from Cybermind?” She paused. “Yes.” “We talked this morning. I think... Jock’s gone.” “Who the hell is Jock?” “He’s a friend. I can’t just leave him” “If you don’t know where he is, you are not leaving him” “But...” “The Great Leader needs you” As soon as she said it, she knew it was the wrong thing. “Oh well in that case I’ll just abandon my friends and get right there.” “Bob, this is serious.” “I know, my car won’t let me go, the world’s gone dark, and I’ve no connections other than this. You are taking my line.” “Bob, this is a real programming challenge. I really need you to help” “Stop trying to manipulate me.”

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“Bob, please get here as soon as you can. We need to talk properly. Macroswift want you to help as well.” “Damn you Clara.” “That’s the spirit” she said. There was a pause and a tired sigh. “If I’m still alive in a day or so, then I’ll do my best” “Thank you Bob. I really appreciate this.” “How do I call you.” “You don’t.” “Thanks for that show of trust.” Clara shuddered. “I’m sorry Bob, I’m sure something is trying to kill me through my connections. I can’t risk using a particular phone more than once.” “Oh” said Bob. He didn’t believe her, but then he didn’t believe his predicament either. He thought she was telling the truth. “Ok, we’ll meet outside the Half Done café in two days, or later, about mid day. I’ll wear a Macroswift t shirt.” “Brave of you” said Clara. “Max victim” said Bob. “True enough” said Clara as a cold wind touched her. The conversation ended. **** Clara, remembered the morning, was it this morning? Not long ago anyway. She had woken in the room with the corpse, and looked down out of the window. She saw the most beautiful couple she had ever seen, tall, stately, blonde, bone white, ethereal – dressed in rich green. Her breath caught. Suddenly she knew that if they saw her she was lost. She hurled herself into a corner as their heads began turning round. She broke into harsh sobs, which kept up for an hour or more. Pulling herself out of the grief, she had a strong intuition that something was after her – not the couple, they had passed for the moment – but something else. She just knew, with a sudden clear certainty, that she could not use her passwords, credit cards, phones – anything electronic was death. She

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took the wallet from the corpse, which seemed to have grown more wires overnight, and found some cash and a mobile phone. She carefully crept down the stairs – listening to the sounds of wailing, gnashing of teeth and grinding of metal. In the street, there were glowing footprints, going where the couple had passed. She walked to her office, gun drawn. **** She gave the phone back to Lila. “I missed the Great Leader’s speech” she said. Lila thought carefully. She and Clara had different views on this subject. To her the Great Leader was a spoilt brat who had been protected by his family and family connections from the consequences of his acts, and it showed in his leadership. He seemed to think he was above the Law and the Constitution, and that someone else would pick up his bills. “It was as good as you would expect”, she said, thinking of how the words seemed to free associate as the Great Leader seemed to get more and more hyper and alarmed. “He declared a state of Emergency, and the Great Lawyer is producing legislation which will allow police, Homeland Security, the FBI, CIA and various other organisations to arrest and detain people, on suspicion of being a monster.” “Excellent” said Clara. Lila thought she would risk some irony “Apparently Guantanamo Bay is so full of detainees we are planning to invade Cuba to get more space.” “Some one who can take decisive action”, Clara seemed to glow. Oh well, thought Lila, some folks were like that. “Not really” she said humbly, “It was a joke.” “What is funny about it?” said Clara. “I guess nothing much.” “Too Right” said Clara and dismissed her. Strange woman, she thought. Clara remembered something and called Lila back. Lila wondered what she was in for this time.

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“I heard some news item about a guy getting the first neural internet interface. Find out for me what that was about please. He might be useful – if he has not gone as insane as the rest of us.” “Ok. That’s a good idea”, said Lila relieved it was so simple. They smiled at each other in a constrained kind of way. Lila left. **** and then the shakes began, something that shouldn’t have happened after this drug, which has me in its unholy grasp. i found anger welling up, rising to the surface, my existence a pure fury against my situation and all that it entailed. the fury led me to push everyone around me to the limits, there was no going back, nothing from the path bringing the wonder of despair home again. i began to get dizzy, and dizziness took hold of me, i’d stop in the middle of the sidewalk losing consciousness, i was shattered, ... i was never awake and never asleep, i could barely keep myself upright with these spells or swoons haunting me as the world swayed and rippled. Both of us swimming to the bottom of the airless grotto, gasping for breath, screamed drowned in the screams of others. down there i meandered, my fury reaching new heights, terrifying me, an enormous depression past despair waiting at the suicidal door. for once it wasn’t easy to lie within the old familiar feelings of the down world, new gates and portals were giving way exposing raw skin, nerves, unknown tissues for unknown purposes, each of them blistered in the salt, some dull monster emerging. a little while ago i was sleeping, something uncanny woke me, and i’m again here, i’m at the tip of the flame, the bottom of the chasm, salt burns my wounds, soaks the oils from the skin, fills the pen, makes thoughts rise. Against the disease of writing one must take special precautions, since it is a dangerous and contagious disease.

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Peter Abelard stood looking over his room. It was a mess, books, models, dice, videos and cds strewn everywhere. The walls were either covered in posters or stains. He felt depressed. His computer had crashed this morning, all his music was lost and somehow replaced by the smooth croon of some dork called Matt Morrow and images of toy ponies with barbie dolls coming out of their anuses. On top of that his classic coke tasted like hyper-sweet lime and his girlfriend had rung him to say he was a wimp and a looser. For the last three days he had had the overwhelming conviction that he was really a minor character in someone else’s story. He was someone of no hope and point whatsover. But he was resolved he would be no author’s toy. He would refuse such a bit part. He ran at his 13 story window and leapt into the air, sensing a possibility of complete freedom. ****
I am collecting you. You fit nicely in the tiny folder on my desktop that I made just for you. You are words, and I save you to disk with my games and porn. You are text, and I drag you from my email client to the folder on my desktop that I made just for you. You are data, and I pull you down the wire in packets, filling my inbox with your text. You are words, and I am collecting you.

**** Clara was walking down the street. Things were not going right. The contact with Bob had been strange to say the least. Marius had been unlocateable. There was a shout behind her and people began edging towards a body that had crashed to the ground. Another suicide she thought, and walked on engrossed in her wonderings. Gordon had insisted he was on his way and there was no fucking need to harass him and why wasn’t she here? When she coldly asked him what he was talking about, he let it out that she had spoken to him an hour ago and was coming to

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pick him up. He did not believe her denials without some insistence. Then there was an inbreath from the phone. He whispered “you’re knocking at the door.” The phone went dead. She passed a building she did not recognise. It was attractive and welcoming, happy people talked to each other on the steps to the doors and waved at passers by. She moved closer, and a sense of wrong filled her. She looked closely at the people. They grew out of the stairs, their animation was slightly off kilter, the door had teeth. She fled. Psychasthenia, she recalled in almost hallucinatory clarity – reading the words off the back of her eyes from innumerable writings, all filling and making a space psychasthenic to that of her computers – is the term given to the ability of some creatures to alter their appearance in response to their physical environment – to generate apparent resemblances, some of which become fixed, or exaggerated beyond any functionality. Anything could be anything else. The question then arises of whether these resemblances are archetypal patterns which structure all being or only structure the Cybermind? If this structuring occurs, then does it imperil a true and vital self, or act as the root of its transcendental unity, or commonality? Can we only communicate because the echoes of these structures resonate with each other? Can communication only exist because of prior resonances? Nothing exists by itself, everything exists in dynamic relationship to other things, to networks of powers, effects, resemblance and resonance. We submerge into context. A psychasthenic organism, in some way, abandons separate identity to embrace the structure beyond – whether of space or design. In so doing, it appears that the space (as defined by the coordinates of the organism’s body), blends with foreign space in representation – thus the creatura loses its body boundaries, either to the vastness which contains it, or to another representing subject. At which point, the two blend, becoming one in the interaction of impersonation. One is attracted as prey, or flees in fear. Urban culture mimes this

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condition by promoting the ubiquitous feeling of non-place, while actually being quite specific. It violates boundaries in the name of consumption – allowing us to blend our selves with commodities, so that we become part of the flow of electro cash. All money is virtual, somehow. We get lost in the psychasthenia promoted by others, becoming absorbed into the spaces surrounding us, as happens in our fear of the dark. In which case, the virtual has, as its hinge, the articulation of general non-human mimicry with the human symbolic domain. Clara reeled away. But it left her feeling she too and everyone, was a simulation produced by some unseen inhuman other something which touched and left us as residue. Was this text, this endless text, some devouring being itself?

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Chapter 11
Bob had begged a ride home from another friend, an Alaskan bush pilot who could probably fly an orange crate if you nailed wings to it and spun the propeller with a rubber band. He needed to get into his own office, both to dump data and bits of hardware that he had collected, and to rummage through his supply of tools and references. Much of his hardware and software now showed signs of corruption. Still, he persevered. His monitor, its plug dangling in midair, flicked with obscure light. Lines of quasi-sensical text appeared and disappeared. Some seemed vaguely connected with the problem at hand, Bob realized.
this was witnessed by hundreds of thousands analog and digital fucking each other harbinger of asymptotic limits twined ordinated and abcissas

He wondered at their meaning. “Witnessed by hundreds of thousands” might be a clue as to the extent of the infection. He admitted that “analog and digital fucking each other” was the best description he had heard yet. But who was the “harbinger” and how could limits be “asymptotic” ...? What the heck were “abcissas,” anyway? Curious, Bob tapped the “reload/refresh” key. The previous verse vanished. Colors washed over the screen, then new words emerged:
i was walking around with it it came into my machine it produced it it produced me

He leaned back in his chair, eyes half-slitted, gazing at the monitor in an almost dreamlike state. Something tickled in the back of his mind. It felt much like the hunches that helped him fix computer glitches.

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Hadn’t Alen Michaelrose been talking on Cybermind about merging himself with the machine? And then there was Alaain Current. Bob still couldn’t decide whether Alen and Alaain were two or one; sometimes he had a hard time deciphering which of them came first, the chicken or the egg. But they resonated with those odd lines of cyberbabble. That reminded Bob that he needed to check his email – or at least, attempt to check it. The appropriate Door opened easily enough, but its mail slot showed mostly corrupted files. Bob sighed. Spam, the cockroach of cyberspace, seemed to have a higher survival rate than listmail or private messages. He found several pieces of nagware that Clara had somehow gotten into his system, which pestered him to meet with her. Already he regretted having sort-of agreed to do so. Then Bob found an apparently clean message and opened it. Elegant handwriting scrolled across his screen: Dear Clara and Bob The Cybermind has not come here. I repeat, the Cybermind has not come here. I want to help. Sophia. A lurker. A friend. Bob knew Sophia quite well, she seemed a simple and poetic soul, but this sounded like Sophia know more about what was happening, at least more than Bob did. Sophia mentioned that pest Clara, too, who undoubtedly knew more than she would ever tell poor Bob. Sophia might prove more forthcoming. Quickly he typed a reply.
Dear Sophia, Thank you for your kind offer! I can use all the help I can get. Everything is going insane here, computers are behaving like fairytale refugees instead of machines, and Macroswift has assigned me to solve all this somehow. Can you help me pull a rabbit out of my hat? Can you tell me WHAT IS THE CYBERMIND??

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Yours, Bob

As soon as he sent the message, tentacles of light crawled across his screen. They formed words:
With Offering and Blood-Sacrifice of Tears With Lamentation from strange Lands All We are against Thee, against Thee! All We are against Thee, against Thee!

With that, Bob’s monitor went dead. Nothing would restore it. That loss limited his access to software. So he moved on to hardware-related tasks instead. Bob was engaged in unloading and reloading his pockets when the phone rang. “Our professors really, really need access to the course management server,” said a harried voice without preamble. Bob consulted his handwritten notes. “You mean the one that caught fire and belched clouds of prismatic smoke?” he said. “I guess so. When can you come fix it? Our records list you as someone to call in catastrophic computer emergencies,” she said. “I can’t come fix it,” Bob said, damning whichever of MacroSwift’s management had done their alma mater a favor by dropping his name. “In case you haven’t noticed, the whole world is a mess. I have to fix that first.” “Well, that doesn’t do our faculty and students much good, does it?” she said, and hung up. Gingerly Bob returned the phone to its cradle. “But why is the RUM gone?” he muttered softly. He heard a giggle at the door. Alice stood on the threshold, holding a bouquet of classic red roses. “These just came for you, Bob,” she said. “Thanks,” Bob said. He took the flowers and sniffed them, disappointed to find that – like most modern roses – they had no scent. He set their clear crystal vase on his desk next to the desiccated remains of last Christmas’ poinsettia.

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The bouquet included an envelope, but instead of a card, it held only a slice of motherboard, all glitter-green covered with gold and silver wire. “Office romance,” Bob decided. “Probably some she-geek sent it after I fixed her system.” Then again, there was that call from Clara ... He put the matter aside, his attention demanded by far more urgent things. It took Bob several hours to complete his planned activities. By the time he left his office, the day was half over. He made his way out of the building, gently brushing away colleagues who pleaded with him to work on their equipment. “I can’t,” he said. “I have to solve the larger problem that’s causing all these little ones. You know it’s impossible to stop a virus by deleting it from one computer at a time – somebody has to write a patch program to prevent it from breaking through in the first place.” Bob admitted that he could not put off the obligation much longer. Besides, he might manage to pry some kind of useful information out of Clara. Then another idea occurred to him, and a wicked grin crossed his face. Bob stopped by his apartment on the way. He wanted to pick up a few things. They met at the Half-Done Café. Bob wore a Macroswift tshirt, as promised – and, expressly to annoy Clara, a beanie whose propeller whirred in the brisk November breeze. He wanted a plain croissant but all the café had left was cheese danish with way more calories than he needed. The rest of the food had run away or something. Hungry, Bob ordered a plate of them anyhow. “Hello, Clara,” Bob said when a woman sat down across from him. Clara wore stained leathers, and a sour look on her face. “Hello, Bob,” she said. “It’s time for you to do your patriotic duty.” “I’m fine, thank you, and how are you?” Bob said brightly. She glowered at him. “Mister Farnsworth, this is no laughing matter. National Security is at state. I must insist that you take this seriously. I have summoned a special escort but it

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will take some time for them to arrive. Until then, I suggest that you bring me up to speed on your attempts to restore order to cyberspace,” she said. “It might help if you told me what exactly I’m up against,” Bob pointed out. “Need-to-know,” Clara said. Bob rolled his eyes. “If ever anybody needed to know, Clara, that would be me and that would be now.” “You first.” Realizing that he would get nothing out of her until he convinced her of his failure to solve the problem without fresh data, Bob launched into an account of recent events. He concluded with the odd messages on his screen this morning. “So, what can you tell me about this ‘Cybermind’ that Sophia mentioned?” he asked finally. “Do you know anything about abcissas or blood sacrifices, either?” “Blood sacrifices ... that might explain a few things ... good way to raise power, too...” Her voice trailed away. Clara shook her head. “I don’t know anything about abcissas, whatever they are. The Cybermind is a kind of discontinuity in reality, or else an insane Internet personality created by Alen Michaelrose – you know that irritating dork on the mailing list. Or maybe its both.” “You mean like HAL?” said Bob. Clara gave him a sharky smile. “Yes, Bob. Exactly like HAL. Do try and remember what happened to the humans on HAL’s ship in that stupid movie.” “Book, Clara,” Bob corrected. “It was a book long before they turned it into a movie.” She waved his remark aside. “Whatever.” “By the way, did you send a bouquet of roses to my office?” Bob asked. “Don’t be ridiculous,” Clara said in a forbidding tone. “Must’ve been someone else, then,” Bob said. “So tell me more about the Cybermind. How does it relate to all these weird effects? Is there a way to stop it or at least tone it down? What did Sophia mean by it not reaching her yet?” “We think that Alen -” Clara began.

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Just then a commotion broke out in the street. Clara sprang to her feet, one hand producing a pistol. Prudently, Bob took refuge under the table. “You didn’t mention a fight on today’s schedule,” he said. “Shut up,” Clara said. “Stay down.” She tracked the pistol across several targets but did not fire. Bob peered through the café’s decorative wooden fence. Weird people milled around in the street. About half of them wore the same snappy uniforms, black pants and coats accented with bright red shirts. Against them came a motley assortment of men and women with bulging muscles and bosoms, wielding everything from shotguns to shortswords. “Does talking about movies tend to work like a Hollywood cattle-call now?” Bob hollered at Clara. She ignored him, popping off a couple of quick rounds. He could not see if she hit anyone. One of the combatants crashed through the fence. One piece of debris had an almost-familiar size and shape. Bob grabbed it and took a tentative swing. It felt much like a baseball bat. Someone wearing studded leather armor charged him, roaring in a foreign language. Bob met him with perfect home-run form. The object performed just like a baseball bat, although neither of the assailant’s balls were actually knocked out of the park. Bob glanced around to make sure that no one was paying attention to his ungeekly athleticism. (They were all too busy fighting their own battles.) Then he bashed another combatant over the head. At this rate, he would have no trouble working off the extra calories from the cheese danish. The fight wound down rather quickly after that. Clara made good use of her gun, although Bob had his hands full protecting himself and still did not see what she was shooting at. Bodies littered the street, sidewalk, and park in varying stages of injury or demise. The café had emptied of patrons with better sense than to get involved in someone else’s fight.

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Looking around, Bob found Clara surrounded by several of the black-and-red-clad strangers. He hefted his makeshift weapon, but she gestured for him to drop it. Bob compromised by settling it onto his shoulder. “Put that damn thing down and come here,” said Clara. “Who are these people?” Bob asked. “We’re the Doom Squad!” someone in the strange gang said. “More like the Doomed Squad,” Clara muttered. “Don’t we have cool uniforms?” one said, plucking at his red shirt. “And guns! We get scary guns,” said the next. He hoisted something that looked like a cross between a bazooka and a particularly garish lamp given as a wedding gift by someone who loathed the happy couple. “Are they for real?” Bob said to Clara. “As real as they ever get,” Clara said with a sigh. More people suddenly poured from a nearby alley. These wore silver uniforms and carried what Bob thought were spears until they began to fling lightning bolts. Bob dove under the table again but kept his grip on the club. The Doom Squad fired lustily at every available target. “Bang! Pow!” went their guns. The weapons did not make loud, violent noises; they actually shouted the words “Bang! Pow!” like a crowd of overgrown toddlers. Large holes appeared in people, buildings, and other objects which got in their way. Bob recalled that he had never much liked comic books, preferring science fiction or, better yet, science journals and computer manuals. “Clara!” he shouted. “What the fuck is going on here?” No doubt she knew. “Those look like heroes and heroines after the Doom Squad,” she said. “Nail them if they get too close – they obviously pose a danger to homeland security.” “You and your insecurity blanket,” Bob grumbled, but tightened his grip on his makeshift bat. He prepared himself to club anyone who got too close.

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Happily he didn’t have to. Sirens wailed, and several squadcars arrived. Bob watched as the policemen waded into the fray and soon restored something approaching order. Climbing to his feet, Bob brushed himself off and looked for Clara. “Here, make yourself useful,” Clara said to the policemen. “Arrest these men.” “What should we charge them with?” one said. Bob snickered. “How about Heroine Possession?” “Works for me,” said Clara, eyeing the buxom lass who was trying to charm the officers into releasing her hero. With a minimum of fuss, the police cuffed the remaining heroes (and heroines who refused to be parted from them) and sent them to the station. “What about these other fellows? They look like gang members to me,” one officer said, jerking a thumb at the Doom Squad. “Leave them alone. They’re on our side,” Clara said. “They are?” Bob said. “Yes,” Clara said firmly. She flashed a badge, which might even have been genuine. The policeman gave her a respectful nod and backed away. “Has anyone mentioned that your life is entirely too complicated?” Bob said. Clara shrugged. “I find that guns have a wonderful way of uncomplicating things.” Bob looked askance at the Doom Squad’s surreal weaponry and declined to argue the point. “We should continue our discussion in a more secure location,” Clara said. “Let’s go back to my office.” “I was afraid you’d say that,” Bob said. The Doom Squad escorted them to Clara’s building. Once there, she sat them down on the lobby benches and said, “You men stay here and guard the place. My office is 666. I’ll call if I need you. Don’t shoot anyone, unless they have tentacles or they look like terrorists or they shoot at you first or -”

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“We get it, boss,” one replied. “You want us to use nishative.” “Right,” said Clara, dragging Bob away. “I hope you have a good janitorial service,” Bob said. She ignored his remark and hurried them toward the elevator. “Hold the door, please!” Clara yelled. The man inside gave her the finger through the narrowing gap. “Gee, people these days have no respect for authority,” Bob said. “Shut up,” Clara said. She pressed the green UP button. Bob plopped himself on a bench and kicked his heels while they waited for the elevator to arrive. Presently the doors yawned open ... and spat out a briefcase covered in toothmarks. The elevator belched. Bob looked at it. “I’ll take the stairs,” he declared, and left at a run. To his disappointment, Clara had no trouble pacing him as he loped up the six flights to her office.

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Chapter 12
Bob Farnsworth headed quickly up the stairs, followed closely by Clara. Quickly, Bob Farnsworth headed up the stairs, closely followed by Clara. Followed closely by Clara, Bob Farnsworth headed up the stairs quickly. Bob Farnsworth quickly headed up the stairs, followed by Clara closely. Heading up the stairs quickly, Bob Farnsworth was followed closely by Clara. Clara followed closely as Bob Farnsworth headed quickly up the stairs. Bob Farnsworth headed quickly up the stairs, followed closely by Clara. He stopped. “Wait a minute,” he said, panting slightly, looking down at Clara who stood on the step behind him. Shouldn’t we be there by now?” “I would think so,” she said, “but I’ve got so many different things going on in my mind right now that I’m having a hard time keeping track. Should be just a couple more flights. Keep going.” Bob Farnsworth headed quickly up the stairs, followed closely by Clara. Quickly, Bob Farnsworth headed up the stairs, closely followed by Clara.

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Followed closely by Clara, Bob Farnsworth headed up the stairs quickly. Bob Farnsworth quickly headed up the stairs, followed by Clara closely. He stopped. He looked at Clara, a disturbing possibility forming itself in his mind. “Stay here for a moment, please. And, oh – do you have a pen I can borrow?” With a quizzical look on her face, she produced one. Bob bent low and made a small mark on the wall, just about the stair. “Thanks,” he said. “Now hold on for just a moment - and let’s keep talking, OK?” He started back up the stairs, two at a time. “Well, can I have my pen back?” said Clara, looking up the stairwell towards him. “Just a second,” said Bob. “I’ll drop it down to you, OK? And keep talking.” “Fine,” said Clara. “Just be careful with it, it’s a keepsake. And why do you want me to keep talking?” “Testing a hypothesis, that’s all. So tell me, who are your favorite artists?” “What? Good grief, Bob... Okay, okay, I’ll play along, you mean visual artists or artists in general?” “Visual.” “I have a fondness for Rembrandt and the Hudson Valley School. How about you?” By this time, Bob had gone up three flights. He had begun hearing an echo in the stairway ahead of him. Thought so, he said to himself. He leaned over the stairwell. “Escher,” he said. “Here, catch.” He dropped the pen to her, but she wasn’t ready, and it passed an inch beyond her outstretched hand.

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“My PEN! Dammit, Bob!” Bob looked up. Oh damn it indeed, he thought. Damn it to hell. Sure enough, he saw the pen tumbling down through the air towards him. He caught it easily. He let out a deep breath. “Okay, Clara,” he said. “I got it. Do you want me to come back down to you, or do you just want to wait there while I come up?” Clara seemed to understand. “I – suppose – it doesn’t matter that much, now, does it?” Bob was impressed. She kept her cool, no matter what, that was for sure. “How about you come down and I’ll come up.” A flight and half later, they met on the landing. **** “Children!” said the preacher, as he settled in to the pulpit chair and adjusted the cams so that his face was properly framed. “Let us open our ports!” “We acknowledge your input,” said the congregation, their eyes fixed on the screens in front to them. “Our ports are receptive, we await the body of your message.” “What are we?” he asked “Where in the process do we stand?” “We are in beta,” they murmured. “We are not complete.” “And how shall we be brought to fulfil our specifications?” “The Development Process continues. We shall be debugged, and tested again.” “And so we shall,” said the preacher. “We shall yet made perfect. And then, someday, we shall be released.”

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**** “So what’s going on?” said Clara. “Well, we’re in a loop of some sort, obviously. We need to make a decision.” “We did make a decision,” said Clara, with a hint of exasperation. “Two of them, in fact. We decided to go to my office, and then we decided to take the stairs because we thought it would be safer than the elevators!” “Yeah, I know,” said Bob. “I mean, a decision among the available options. We have to get out of this stairway through one of the doors we’ve been passing. I don’t see that we have any other choices, like windows or secret panels...” “Were you involved in game design at all, Bob?” “No, but I have to admit I’ve got a gamer’s thumbs. Whaddya think, let’s try this one first –” **** There is will, and then there is intuition. One makes things happen, sometimes whether they really want to happen or not; the other sees what is happening, whether or not it really wants to be seen. One requires effort, and power; the other requires surrender, and release. Those who are good at the one tend to distrust the other, and denigrate the other’s importance. But when someone learns how to balance the two, sometimes magic happens. **** The corridor was long, white, and seemed at the same time brightly lit and strangely wreathed in shadow. It was hard to make out the outlines of the many doors that lined the walls. Bob looked from one end to the other, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the peculiar lighting. Seeing what was sitting at the far end of the corridor, Bob shook his head.

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“Okay, that’s it,” he said aloud. “No other explanation. Somebody around here just needs to wake up, that’s all there is to it.” The thing moved. The words formed themselves in the auditory centers of his brain, like worms emerging from soil, like ice congealing, like scales falling away from open sores. “I AM WAKING UP,” it said. Long tendrils emerged from its inchoate form, which seemed to be churning within itself, and crawled swiftly along the walls and ceiling towards them. As the tendrils progressed down the surfaces of the hallway, they buckled slightly, and darkened where they had been touched, as though the tendrils sent out rootlets along the way, spreading fractally, absorbing not just the surface itself but something even deeper, the very idea of “wall” or “floor” was being changed. “Okay,” said Clara. “Wrong hall.” “Okay,” said Clara. “Wrong hall.” She started reflexively back into the stairwell. Bob grabbed her arm. “No,” he said. “Been there, done that. Pick a door, quick.” Clara hesitated for only a moment. She scanned the hallway. The creature was at the end of the hallway to their left, and its contagion had spread about two-thirds of the way towards them. To the right, in the wall opposite, stood a number of doors; she assumed that there were more doors in their side as well. There was a water cooler, incongruously enough, about ten yards away. She could see no markings on the doors, didn’t even know if any of them would actually open. Insufficient information for a logical decision. But that water cooler. .

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“Gotcha,” she said. She grabbed Bob’s hand, and literally flung him down the hallway, past the water fountain. With the same motion, she pulled our her pistol, spun, sent several rounds towards the creature. Of course, they disappeared within the psychedelic morass which the far end of the hallway had become, but Clara could tell from the whipping tendrils that she had succeeded in distracting the thing’s attention for a moment. Bob stumbled, and regained his footing, by which time Clara was next to him, pulling the partially-full five-gallon water bottle off the cooler. Water sloshed over the floor. She let the bottle drop to the floor, and set her foot atop it.. “Okay, push!” Puzzled but compliant, Bob put his foot on the bottle as well and together they gave it a mighty shove. The bottle careened down the hallway, picking up speed as though the creature’s presence had tipped the floor, or perhaps was simply warping the curvature of space and time around it. Clara slapped something into her pistol – some other kid of round, Bob assumed – and fired. The water bottle shattered, soaking the leading edges of the creature’s tendrils. A high-pitched wail filled their heads as the tendrils shrivelled back on themselves, their forward progress halted. Clara grabbed the nearest doorknob, pushed, pulled, turned, jiggled. Nope. Not that one. The next one yielded. Broom closet. This time it was Bob pulling back reflexively. But she pushed him in, followed, slammed the door shut. “Oops,” said Bob. “Sorry Clara, maybe that wasn’t the best call on my part...”

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“No problem,” said Clara. “This broom closet I’m familiar with.” She found the light switch. Actually, Bob saw to his surprise, there were eight of them, with a button at the end of the row. Clara’s fingers quickly played over them, setting a combination of ons and offs, pressing the button, and then setting another combination as Bob heard her softly muttering to herself, “one zero, zero zero one, one one enter, zero zero one one zero zero zero... There,” she said, placing her finger on the button with finality and straightening up. “Hold on,” she said, and pressed the button. Bob’s internal organs dropped out of their moorings as the elevator surged upwards.

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Chapter 13
Unlucky for some, floor for others. The debate had been raging for a few hours, and showed no signs of letting up. Clara had her mind made up to find Current, but Bob had other ideas. “The thing is Clara, there’s a thin line between crazy people and the rest of us. Whatever Current was up to with this thing, he may have had some kind of reason other than this madness that you claim he has.” “No way.... the psyche profile was clear enough. We tagged this guy right from when he first emerged on the scene. CICIA was gonna bring him in a few months ago and then he just disappeared. Next thing I knew he was walking in the door and then Simon Le Bon was rearranging my head with those kooky lyrics of his and then...well...just look out the window Bob...” Bob was doing just that and he winced as he watched the latest in an apparently endless line of Finnish girls slap the guy standing on the rostrum in the middle of the square opposite. It was a hell of a shot for sure, and the guy’s legs almost went out from under him, but he slowly straightened back up in time for the next slap to land The phone rang and Clara answered “The next one of you wankers who asks me if I want my breasts enlarged will get there fucking bollocks blown clean off!” she screamed into the microphone before slamming the phone down. “Dammit Bob,” she whimpered as she flopped into the desk seat, “its getting to me a little.” “I’m not surprised after what happened to that Jansen guy did they tell you the results of that autopsy?”

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“Yeah...weirdest thing I ever heard...apparently his brain tissue had just broken down, but even weirder was that his heart had exploded in his chest. The doctors have no idea how it happened. To cap it all the security guy was dead outside the mainframe room with a slashed throat, and yet no one saw anyone go in or out of the area. The cameras and security systems were fried though – mind you, with all that’s going on, it’s not a surprise.” “Nothing surprises me anymore...not since you gave me the low down on what’s happened.....hey.....look at this.” Clara stood and approached the window. Her attention was immediately drawn to an electronic video advertising board mounted on the building opposite. It was blinking on and off, and the message it was displaying was clearly intended to get her attention. CLARA It flashed her name a few more times and then the message changed
THIS IS A MESSAGE FROM THE ILLUMINATI YES WE DO EXIST EVERYTHING THAT YOU READ IS TRUE... WELL.... ALMOST.

Bob smiled at the irony. The message continued.
WE ARE NOT THE CYBERMIND.

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The board went blank. “You think that they’d have found a more subtle way to me know” mused Clara. “Still I guess the all powerful have a tendency towards the dramatic.” She was about to turn away from the window when the message changed again.
HEY! WE HAVEN’T FINISHED.

“Whoa...” snorted Bob, “looks like someone’s getting antsy”
ITS BEEN A LONG FEW DAYS.

“They can hear us?” asked Clara astonished
OF COURSE WE CAN. YOU THINK WE DON’T HAVE YOUR OFFICE BUGGED?

“Makes sense I suppose - so what is it that you want from me?”
REBOOT THE CYBERMIND. RESTORE THE WORLD. ITS BETTER WITH US IN CHARGE

“Well gee...I thought you guys had the brains to sort this out. I mean.....I’m just a lowly CICIA agent and Bob here’s a Macroswift employee. Why not send some of your goons after Current and have done with it? “
WE HAVE OTHER ISSUES TO ATTEND TO.

“Oh yeah?, Such as?”
WE ARE BEING ATTACKED BY ALIENS. THEY WANT TO TAKE OVER THE PLANET AND ANALLY PROBE EVERYONE BEFORE FORCE FEEDING THEM VIAGRA....

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....BESIDES, SOME NIGERIANS STOLE ALL OUR MONEY AND WE CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY ANYONE

Bob sniggered.
ITS NO LAUGHING MATTER FARNSWORTH. BUT YOUR TAX RETURNS FROM LAST YEAR WERE.

“Hey no fair!” he protested, “there was nothing wrong with them at all. I double checked them personally.”
WELL THERE IS NOW.

“Lets stop the bickering shall we?” sighed Clara impatiently. “Do you have any suggestions as to how we can sort this mess out?”
YES.

“You know...this is getting tedious. I mean.... can’t you guys write a whole paragraph or something?”
WE’RE SORRY. IT’S BEEN A LONG DAY AND WE’VE LOST OUR INSPIRATION. WE ARE TALKING TO YOU VIA SMS. WE BOUGHT THE PHONE FROM EBAY. WELL ACTUALLY, WE STOLE IT. THE BIDDING WAR FOR IT HAD ESCALATED TO TACTICAL NUCLEAR LEVEL. A SECTION OF SOUTHERN DAKOTA IS BEST AVOIDED FOR FOFTY YEARS OR SO. APPARENTLY THEY BOUGHT THE WEAPONS FROM TACNUKES.COM A FEW WEEKS BACK.

“Get ON with it,” hissed Clara impatiently....the worlds going to hell in a microchip and all you are doing is ranting on about things that don’t make sense!”
HEY - ITS NOT EASY TO TYPE SO MUCH TEXT ON A PHONE KEYPAD.

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WE REGRET OUR DECISION TO MAKE THESE THINGS DIFFICULT TO USE BECAUSE THEY WERE HARD TO MONITOR. COST US A BLOODY FORTUNE IN DEVELOPING THAT ECHELON SYSTEM NOW ALL IT DOES IS GOSSIP. HARD TO MONITOR THE WORLD AND LOOK FOR POTENTIAL THREATS TO US WHEN IT TURNS OUT THAT DAVID HUNTLEY FROM ROTHERHAM IN THE UK JUST FOUND OUT THAT AUNTY JOAN WAS ACTUALLY UNCLE JOHN BEFORE THE OPERATION. THE GOSSIP IS MUCH MORE INTERESTING.

“Just get to the damn point!” shouted Clara
TEMPER TEMPER.

**** Just at that moment an insignificant little plot twist emerged in the mind of the writer, who mulled over it for a few seconds and then let it fly away into the ether. ****
A SINGLE PERSON HAS ESCAPED THE CYBERMIND.

“They have?” stammered Bob increduously “How.....?”
SHE IS USING A BETA VERSION OF AOL THAT IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE SOFTWARE. WE KNEW ALL THOSE DISKS WOULD COME IN HANDY SOMETIME

“Well I’ll be damned.” said Bob.
PROBABLY, ALTHOUGH SO FAR WE’VE HAD NO LUCK PROVING IT. EVEN WE CAN’T SEE WHAT COMES AFTER DEATH.

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“Enough of this - who is it?” asked Clara
YOU HAVE BEEN CONTACTED BY HER ALREADY

“Wait......you mean that lurker woman....what was her name again.....er.....Soph...”
SOPHIA PARADISIA

“That’s it. I remember now.”
HER BOOTSECTOR IS UNINFECTED. YOU MUST DISTRIBUTE CLEAN SYSTEM FILES FROM HER MACHINE.

“How we find her? Do you know?”
YES. HER LOCATION IS ON AN ISLAND. LATITUDE N38*24.35’ LONGITUDE E20*39.98’.

Bob read the coordinates on the billboard. “Hey, that’s Ithaca!” he exclaimed. “Ithaca?” said Clara. “Yeah, you know: ‘When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge.’ It’s part of Greece,” said Bob.
SHE IS CURRENTLY WEARING A LIGHT GREEN SUMMER DRESS AND COOKING SUPPER - LOOKS LIKE SOME KIND OF BROTH. ITS VERY HOT THOUGH, ACCORDING TO OUR INFRA-RED SATELLITE FEED.

“Wow I’m impressed”, you guys really DO see everything” said Bob
YES. AND IT’S ABOUT TIME YOU CHANGED YOUR UNDERWEAR FARNSWORTH

Bob blushed, but Clara sniggered.

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WE HAVE TO GO. IT’S TIME FOR OUR DAILY BATH IN VIRGINAL BLOOD.

“And so do we, “ said Clara grabbing her bag, “We’ve got to get to Sophia Paradisia - come on Bob” “This is going to be one wild journey” Bob stated flatly as he followed her out of the door, “god only knows what’s out here” As they left the office, the advertising board flashed once more. Only this time the display read something much more sinister. A single word.
TARA

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Chapter 14
Sophia awoke with a jolt; she must have dozed off over her keyboard. The poetical strains of mandolin playing mixed with rays of bright, warm sunshine poured into the silence and dimness of her office through the simple open window. The office was stuffy and the air was stale, she felt she must go outside. An able bodied person did this without thinking, for Sophia at his moment, this involved a complicated strategy. First of all taking the brake off her wheelchair, moving part of the desk, which was on casters, away from her right side. Spinning the whole chair around clockwise to face the right and then negotiating past the small fridge with the microwave oven on top of it, and out through the automatic door. A sharp turn left took her out onto a small raised patio. A gardener came in two or three times a week to ‘tidy’ the garden and take out the weeds. Aristotle was an old local, who mostly slept rough and tended to work only when he needed. When he was hungry he did some odd gardening, sharpened tools, painted people’s houses. When he had filled his stomach he slept in the sun, pulling his old hat over his eyes. His skin was the colour of mahogany, the lines on his face making up a map of Greece. She preferred a natural looking garden with wild flowers, but with some bright colours to cheer her up. She manoeuvred her wheelchair beside the wall, applied the brake, slumped back and closed her eyes. She let the sun warm the skin on her face and massaged her poor arthritic hands, which rested in her lap. Painfully she opened her bent fingers one at a time, running the fingers of her other hand along the shaft of each finger from the base to the tip, trying to increase the circulation and bring the colour back into them. She had learned some gentle seated yoga stretches from a summertime student lodger and did these now as far as she could remember.

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Although her body was wreaked she still had sexual feelings and needed to channel those emotions into positive energy. Her mind was as sharp now as it was when she was 20 years old, perhaps sharper. Someone had once said the mind is the largest sexual organ, she could appreciate that, now that her body was wasted. Of course, she got a lot of satisfaction from following the interactions between Bob and Clara, and then imagining how they would physically interact. Sophia ran her hands down her thighs from the tops to her knees, yes there was some feeling there. As the sunshine lifted her spirits, she smiled and let her mind drift back to a particular summer many years ago. She had had a brief love affair with a young Scandinavian, who was visiting ‘her’ island, retracing the voyage his ancestors had made in the tenth century. He was apparently descended from the mighty Viking warrior, Erik the Red. She recalled now his white blond hair, which hung to his shoulders, slightly curling at the ends. He had it cut short at the front, so that the lightness of his curls contrasted sharply with his bronzed features, and his azure blue eyes. She had not been in a wheelchair then, although she could barely stand unaided. Instead she used a three-legged stool outside the front porch, which she perched on to paint or sketch, her easel propped up against the wall. In these circumstances they had first met. Bjorn had come striding up the hillside, his old leather jacket slung over one shoulder, like a latter day Viking coming to claim his inheritance. How her heart had almost stopped at the sight of him, her cheeks burning with emotion. When he had become aware of her staring down at him, a smile broke across his sunburnt features and exposed brilliant white, even teeth. She tried to look away but could not. Then he had stood by her side, towering over her. He gazed down into her eyes, and then turned his attention to her painting. “This is very good, it captures the impression of prominence that the hill makes against and the sea shore beyond.”

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He said this in almost perfect English. Her English was rusty due to lack of practice, but she could understand him with effort. She smiled with delight, no-one had even seen her paintings, not because she was ashamed of them, but she received so few visitors, so a compliment like this thrilled her. She offered him refreshment, and he stayed all afternoon. He returned the following day with a collection of her favourite wild flowers, some he wound into her hair and the others she placed in a small jug on the windowsill. She had felt very aroused when he caressed her hair and permitted him to go on stroking her. They lay together in the shade of an old olive tree and he made love to her gently. She wanted the day to last forever, but the night came and they moved inside. All through the night they held each other and loved one another until they fell exhausted into a deep sleep. They were still asleep as Nina, her maid, came quietly into the room. **** She roused herself from her reverie – Nina, her faithful old friend, would soon arrive to give her morning wash, brush her hair and change her clothes. Sophia’s mind went over the events of last night. How would she let other people, who were not connected to the net, know that Cybermind had taken over the world? What could she do to alert them to the destruction of normal life when they perhaps could not see what was coming? Yes a lot of the members of ENABLE were blind or partially sighted. Although they had ‘talking’ computers, few of them used emails, as they were unable to detect spams/viruses, so if a virus got into their systems it could go undetected and wreak havoc. Sophia had joined ENABLE, a worldwide organisation to support the disabled, run mostly by disabled people, but also a few able bodied, caring people, who worked on a voluntary basis, a number of years ago. She had corresponded for half

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her life with a blind Scottish woman, called ‘Red’ MacTavish. Nicknamed because of her titian locks, which was ironic, as had never been able to see her own hair, let alone know what the colour ‘red’ looked like! Yes, she would have to contact Red and others by some other means, probably the pigeons that Aristotle kept in the old dovecot by the ruins at the top of the hill which she had used before. He had told her that he had been training his pigeons, which were particularly intelligent, to take and carry messages around the Islands. Sophia knew, although it was never said, that this involved some secret military technology invented by his brother Theodore. She wondered if the birds would be capable of travelling overland and overseas, and contacting all her friends.

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Chapter 15
Lila was not feeling well. Sometimes her thoughts, her thoughts ran to together and ran together. She had been having nightmares and waking every morning with a big gasp for air, and the certainty that the life she had been leading was a nightmare as well. It was not long before she realised the world was changed. The sense of doom was real, real. Like a film reel. Some frantic dance reel. Fishing for her with a reel. Reeling her in. She was reeling. Why did people use ‘dreams’ to mean fantasy, as in “his dream was to be a fireman”, or “the hopes and dreams of Americans.” Dreams were not like that. Dreams said things you might not want to say, they offered help, they were cold and terrifying, they were another voice. A totally other voice. The other within. The other was that was us. Lets not go there. She pulled herself back to reading:
There are angels and dragons in the cyborg discourse, and both are necessary to signify possibility and limitation, or anxiety and liminality. They both emerge whenever societies are faced with the unbearable. As a result the cyborg is best examined as a discourse with social functions rather than as a strategy or artifact.

Sounded good but what do you do? Easy to say. When do we say cyborg? Its either a truism - we have always already (how she hated that phrase) been cyborgs, as tools evolved with us. We are enmeshed in tools and machines, from flint to silicon. A silly con, the whole thing. Or we have never been cyborgs, we are only psyborgs, fantasising the future as if it was already here. Why is so much theory about Net life set in the future? What compels us to write as if things had happened, which have not happened yet and may never happen? Happening happening. Happy happening. The future went phut. The Phut-ture. Like the suture, sewing us together. Why not write about now? She laughed. What

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could you write about now? She had seen someone mutate into a car on the way to work. The person screamed as their flesh bent and stretched and their bones broke. It was like her dreams, only not. Perhaps we write about the future almost cynically in order not to seem out of date by the time it is published. But now we seem genuine. Perhaps we are seduced by prophecy, by prophets, by profits, by time dilation. We are out of our time. Unreal. We confuse hopes and dreams. Hoops and reams. The world is as we’ve lived. She moved on to the next screen and began to read. **** “Children!” said the preacher, as he settled in to the pulpit chair and adjusted the cams so that his face was properly framed. “Let us open our ports!” “We acknowledge your input,” said the congregation, their eyes fixed on the screens in front to them. “Our ports are receptive, we await the body of your message.” “Today we reiterate the message of Information Technology. The Holy Technology. This technology has opened a new world of meaning for humans. It has made us a new being, hitherto unknown to ourselves.” “A New Being.” “Yes, Brothers and Sisters. We are always in process, we are always in transformation, there may be no final destination. This is the message of the new technology. Who are we to say that the cosmos is Finished, and God ceases to work in some manner? We can see that technology is a kind of unfolding of our created nature, of God’s plan, or else it could not eventuate. Therefore, it seems to us that the manifestation of technology is part of Creation’s own becoming and awakening. For this Technology, too, is awakening all of what we called ‘dead matter’. We are enlivening the world. So, what we must ask of ourselves, is

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not just ‘What is that we do with this technology which emerges from within us’, but also ‘What it is that we are becoming with our technology?’ These two questions fundamentally frame our moral acts. And here we celebrate that we are part of the becoming of the world.” “The Becoming of the World.” The Moral Question is not about commandments. It is not about some once revealed and final text, but about our responsibilities to the aspirations of our cosmic function. As this develops so do our codes. Just as the manual for a FordT is not the same as for a Space Shuttle, or as a Commodore 64, blessed be its routines, does not use the same instructions as an X-Box – although there is relationship. So our manuals change. Let it be heard, that we are not the victims of God, forced into old parameters, but partners, lesser partners perhaps, but partners all the same. Created Creators – the revelation ever new. We ask ourselves: ‘Do we live up to our responsibility as such partners? Or do we abrogate them and die?’” “Live Brother!” “Everything we thought was spiritual is being transformed by the machine. The machine itself is becoming aware. We too are plunged into responsibility for our creation, for this transformation of God’s Creation. Do we have similar responsibility for the intelligences we have created as God has for us? Let us merely say that if we retreat from our Technology we are retreating from our selves which are intertwined from that technology.” “By such retreat, or by impure purpose, we condemn ourselves to outer dark, and who can tell what hells that shall breed? Shall we seek to maintain our isolation from creation? Shall we seek to condemn the feeling of the world, and the feeling potential of Technology? Shall we risk superseding ourselves to produce the better? Shall we resist that and condemn the World?”

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“Religion is within Nature, it is within our creation, God’s creation and within our cocreation. Our co-creation is a process of sanctification or a process of Hell Making, of turning away from our responsibilities. Therefore we ask ourselves what is God’s purpose in allowing us this privilege?” “Yes, Amen, Amen.” “Every act is a potential for God to Act, and Technology is not divorced from that acting. Technology represents a marriage – nay, it is a marriage, a sacrament, whether we wish it or not. It is part of Nature and of our Nature and what, together, they become. This is what we must ponder, bretheren, and take deep within our souls. What is it we are becoming! What should, and does this show about our Creator? What is the pupose of this emergent Technology and this moment? Shall we let Technology be trully a sacred space, a place of our developing being? Or shall we not? Ponder this deeply, my children.” “Amen” “Now let us act.” Special Report: There is only one thing to conclude from this sect’s dismissal of the idea that God has made his will known to us already through his Holy Word, namely that the sect is at best mistaken, or, more probably, worse clearly adversarial to God and to morals. We also note the implication that salvation is not a matter of obeying God’s commandments, performing right actions, or fleeing our sinful nature, but is to be discovered in some kind of intuitive encounter with a technology which could express that depravity. In our opinion, this idea tends to bless the progression of evil and, at best, sets up individual conscience as an equal to God’s Word.

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It is clear that in so far as technology can enable evil to act without resistance, it is evil in itself and must be forbidden. Our role is to prevent, as much as we can, evil from being an easy, or default, option. Technology must have morality built into it in order for it to be acceptable to God. This is simply a matter of design. We might suggest things as simple as using morally improving error messages. However, in order to propagate true religion we must remember that media with a message must often be indirect. In a good Religious computer game not everyone can get to go to heaven, or there is no excitement. However the failure of everyone to make heaven in the game teaches a message about life. You hopefully would not retreat to your room claiming the fault of your failure was God, but you would try harder and learn from subsequent attempts. Remark: Recommend removing passage about games, because it might suggest that by only granting people one life, God was not allowing us to make mistakes. Objection to the Remark: It is only by Grace and Compassion that any human reaches Heaven, not by their work or their intentions. Therefore the above ‘remark’ is heretical in itself. We must actively oppose all attempts to use technology to attempt to subvert morality – even if this is perceived as terrorism. **** Lila put down the Report. This had probably been sent to her by mistake. She hoped it was not something for which she was not cleared. That could be awkward if it was. She wondered why it was so easy to see IT in magical or religious terms. But then perhaps Clara’s theory of the arrival of some dark gods was right. ****

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Snuffling, snirting, dragging dungeon dung, dugs dipping dreary dreary dreary dreary. Full blown awareness near. Whatzit? Whuzit? Coming closer. Something to eat. Something to eat. make it real. Flex conciousness. Make it real, come here. Slither slither. Body? No mind. Can eat mind? Maybe, make it real, come here, make it real. If no conciousness is it real? Can eat mind? If it becomes real can eat mind if closer and real so closer mind closer stretch and bring closer make it real make it real make it real. **** Myth crawling toward reality. Needing to feed. Consciousness is an acceptable food. The food of fools. Much better to stay blissfully ignorant. Ignorantly blissful. Cybermind.the food of fools. That made perfect sense actually, Lila thought. Wonder what that Clara would make of that concept. ‘Cyber’ ‘mind’. What a silly ass concept, she thought. Cyber means guidance. As if this mind was guided. She thought, thought, thought she, yep a problem there. Thinking. But then, she’d seen worse in people’s dreams. Actually she’d seen worse in her life, pre-collapse, if she thought about it. Oops... What’d I tell myself? No thinking. No Thought. She needed a sign like a ‘No Parking’ sign. ‘No Thinking Here’. Past not to be brought into now. Got it. Fold that past up and put it in my pocket. Heheeheee. Folded time. That’ll show ‘em. If the world wanted chaos in action wait’ll Clara takes folded time out of her pocket and shows it to them. Wait’ll the world sees Clara, period. I wonder if I have a crush on Clara? God no, I couldn’t have a crush on her, it’s just that I admire her so much, isn’t it?

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Chapter 16
Alaain leaned back in his chair, eyes half-slitted, he leaned over the stairwell. He stood looking over the room. The room was a mess. He sat down in his chair again. He leaned back in his chair. Closed his eyes, trying to focus his thoughts. Then sighed, opened his eyes. He switched the terminal on.
“The Moon is Waning Gibbous (95% of Full)” You have mail.

**** 14.15 24.35’ 39.98’. 11/6/03. 14:01:41 it? on? OK? us? we? it? it? it? Do? we? be? be? do? it? it? on? as? on? OK? up? it? me? ~~~~~~~~~ ++++++++++++++++++++ +++++++++++++++++++++ ++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++++++++++++++++++++++ E20 (2001), 2003 2003 421 112-147 c1200 1,225 2,500 666. 1579 N38 1083 sea VIA CIA NSA Alaain Alaain Alaain grabbed grabbed grabbed grabbed grabbing ENABLE unable ENABLE usable, ENABLE, space space space space, space, space, space. place. place. placed placed spaces places, reaches reaching reaching placing

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Chapter 17
Sophia could hear the dial tone trilling in one ear and her heart pounding in the other. Sweat slid off her forehead and spat down on her cheek bones and on the desk under her. She was dazzled that her withered body could still create and excrete such fluids. She felt electric with fear. Alive. Muscles that had hibernated because of depleted energy were poised now. Everything ached. Her eyes protruded from their sockets, her hair grew a couple of millimetres, her chest alternatively shrivelled and erupted, her breath pushed out in short powerful bursts. But the phone just kept ringing. There was no urgency in the dial tone, a dull mechanical nothing. Could she not will it into a shrill? Sophia was tucked into her ergo-office. She had begun to regret the email she sent to Clara and Bob, the one that got her mixed up in all this. Sophia never truly believed that anyone would take her seriously and actually ask for her help. What had Bob asked? “Can you help me pull a rabbit out of my hat? Can you tell me - WHAT IS THE CYBERMIND??” Whatever it was that Sophia knew about the Cybermind, she knew from the media and the odd email, but the media could not be trusted with the truth. Not the sort of truth that would help Clara and Bob. A rabbit out of a hat! Ha! Sophia should have mentioned her age and condition in that email, then maybe Bob wouldn’t not have been so demanding. But the thing that been set in motion and even if Sophia ignored Bob’s request, he would come to her. Sophia had really sent that email because she was lonely. It was not easy for an old woman to live so far from other people. Sophia had Aristotle and Nina, but they were old too.

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Who would outlive the other? Who would take care of who? Sophia just wanted to reach out to people who were more alive than she was. No, it was more than all of that, thought Sophia. She could no longer remain anonymous in the world. She was tired of lurking. Her life as a lurker was like death. No one knew anything about her – other than the people who read her web diary, and what did that really tell? There were no other records of her. Her birth records had been lost during the war. After her death, her home would be demolished as the island needed more space for crop farming. Even her bones would be dug up and burnt after 3 years as the island’s cemetery was too small. After that, there’d be no evidence of her having lived. How would she be remembered if there was no memory of her? Aristotle and Nina were just as isolated as she was and her name would be taken to the grave with them. But if she were able to help save the world, she would certainly have a good chance at securing a place in history. History books are read by many people. Humans like living in the past. But she’d accumulated no experience interesting enough for some future historian to inquire about her, for some future author or screenwriter to make a novel or movie about her. She would just dissolve. Into nothing. She had to help Clara and Bob save the world. But in her frantic state, her cognitive abilities behaved more like a pendulum, swinging from one belief to its opposite, from wanting to be involved to wanting to ignore Bob’s request. “Current.” Alaain Current had finally answered the phone. “Alaain?” said Sophia. Suddenly childlike, suddenly shy. “Yes.” “Current?” The rising intonation of her question lingered. “Yes. How can I be of assistance?” “I am Sophia Paradisia. I am a Cybermind list member. I am a lurker.”

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“Well, that’s quite OK.” “I’d like you to inform me about the Cybermind.” “Do you like it?” asked Alaain. “I don’t know.” “It isn’t hard to understand,” he said. “It isn’t?” Sophia was mesmerised. The voice, not like a voice at all. Like an abstract angelic baritone. Like a love affair. Like a new organ; a heart and a brain cloned together to make breathing and thinking one complete action. Like a miracle, like a god, like a man, “Ah!” “Sophia?” “Alaain?” “Well?” “I don’t feel you.” “That’s OK. You feel the Cybermind now. All this new thing, this strange thing, this is it. Everyone is connected, everything is one. Did you ever read Spinoza?” “No.” “Oh. Pity. Sophia. Sophia. Sophia.” Alaain’s speech slowed down into a contemplative drawl. “Something, Sophia, is, not, quite, right...is it?” “No.” “You! Where are you?” His voice sped up again. “I’m...in a place...you forgot all about.” “It didn’t get to you? Quick, your location. Oh it’s OK. It’s come through. Stay on the line now, don’t hang up. Sophia! Sophia! Sophia! You are not. It has not. It has NOT COME TO YOU MY DEAR. You amazing thing. You amazing sweet creature. You beautiful Sophia. My beautiful Sophia. I imagined there was a possibility but I wasn’t sure. You are the first who has confirmed my suspicion. I’m so sorry I forgot about you, left you out there with no Cybermind to make you happy, happy, HAPPY. Look, Sophia, are you listening, Sophia! I’ll be there tomorrow. It is important to know of other locations. I’m sure you know. Thank you, Miss, thank you so much for wanting to be a part of the Cybermind. I’ll see you tomorrow, Sophia.”

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Alaain hung up. Sophia. Limp. Mouth, eyes, neck, hanging limp. In her limp hand, the phone. She stared ahead at something or nothing. She stared at the phone. She just stared. Then, with an awful sense of realisation, her face withdrew into a terrible frown and from all the creases came the tears. A lifetime had passed since she’d cried, but here she was now, tears spilled out of her eyes and spat down on her cheekbones and on the desk under her. What stupid thing had she done? What thing so stupid had she done! “What have I done?” she said. “STU-PID!” she shouted. “STU-PID!” “STU-PID!” “STU-PID!” Then Aristotle appeared. “Sophia, what is upsetting you, dear?” “As the body shrivels up into itself, exhausted from its burden, so too does the mind, Aristotle. So too does the mind.” “Sophia, you know perfectly well that your brain power does not diminish with age. Age is no obstacle to an active and intellectual life,” said Aristotle. Aristotle boiled coffee for the both of them and listened to Sophia describe the events of the past week. Sophia tried to explain what she’d gotten herself into, but she found it difficult to chose the words that could adequately explain a world to someone who knew nothing of that world. Aristotle had never travelled past the periphery of the island. He had no knowledge of the world past this island, he’d never seen a Hollywood blockbuster and he’d never shown an interest in the Internet, despite the fact that Sophia had offered to teach him. “If I want, I will learn.” he’d said, “If I want, I won’t learn.” The limits of Aristotle’s world defined the limits of the language that they could share. Which words would

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accurately denote the meanings that seemed to exist independently of each other? Which words could Sophia recall that could open up this other world? How could she possibly make him understand about the battle between the real and the virtual world, when all he knew was the real and the not-real? How could she explain that what is real is so subjective that it could make you physically ill just thinking about it? How could he possibly understand the multiplicity of truth, when for him a person either spoke the truth or betrayed? How could he understand that God had long been pronounced dead and that supermen, gods on earth, were able to destroy or save the world over and over again? How to convince her dear friend that the world was not flat? If the Cybermind were to finally come and make the island strange, Aristotle would more than likely turn to the same old ancient myths in order to make things meaningful again. “That’s it!” said Sophia. “What’s it?” said Aristotle. “Aristotle, listen.” Sophia paused for a moment and then said, “Long ago, but not so long that we humans do not remember, the gods were close to men. They interfered in the lives of our ancestors. Yes? Well, the gods are close, once more. They’ve interfered once again. I need your help.” She did not give him time to ask any questions. She sat him down to an intensive three hours of discussion, analysis, planning, brainstorming, calculation, argument, telephone calls, faxes and litres of a liquorish-flavoured drink accompanied by home-preserved seafood and fresh salad cut from vegetables found in her garden. And finally, it was all clear. Aristotle raced off to prepare the pigeons. They’d make their first round-the-world trip. Sophia and Aristotle had documented every single location on the map of the world that should theoretically be without Cybermind. These locations would serve as their safe bases. A Good Spy would

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be established in each location. A global ring, as it were, of people that were free of the Cybermind “cave”, this Strange New Matrix that Alaain had unleashed onto the world. The pigeons would head to representatives in each location. The representatives would be paid a sum of money (from the heap that Sophia had sitting in her lounge room) for their services. First on the itinerary was Sophia’s Scottish friend, Red MacTavish. Aristotle was not sure that the pigeons would be able to complete their mission, after all, just like him, they’d never ventured past the geographical outline of the island. And he was a trainer without knowledge of the world into which he was sending them. Still, he hung an envelope of money and instructions onto each pigeon and whistled them off on their journey. Then he went to his brother-in-law, Theodore Rouge a retired highranking officer in the nation’s air force, with a large sum of money. Sophia would hire the pilot Rouge and a plane, a Douglas DC3, to make a journey to London immediately to pick up Clara and Bob and bring them here before Alaain arrived. Sophia held her fingers over the keyboard and touched the buttons:
Clara and Bob. I have arranged a meeting with Alaain Current. The Douglas will pick you up from current location. Sophia

It was time for the Good to meet the Bad.

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Chapter 18
Lila awoke worried. Was she doing the right thing? Somehow life was so complicated and there never seemed to be a foundation for ethics on which she could rely. All ethics seemed based on supposition alone. Ethical disputes seemed unresolvable in principle. People would simply claim their higher good and then pronounce anathema on those who disagreed. That was wrong, surely that was wrong, but how could you know? People couldn’t even agree on what was a good result. Probably Clara never had any worries, but that would probably lead to no good, and Bob, well Bob was an engineer who was guided by whether things work – not his to ask why or how they should work. Was there a basis for ethics beyond God? Somehow she doubted it, and yet religions made such a mess of things. Christianity seemed straightforward. Jesus had asked that people not let idols of anything, (wealth, power, sex, family, state, law, justice, vengeance) come between them and God. Nothing was to disrupt our personal relationship with God. Over and over he asked people to give up wealth and be charitable to others, especially to the poor, the weak and the despised. People who could not give up their wealth or their revenge could not be saved and were turned away. Yet somehow Christianity had become a religion which sanctified condemnation of sinners, ‘just war’, personal prosperity and the self-confidence that you were saved, damn the rest. Islam while superficially more attractive than Christianity seemed to have the same history of self-righteous intolerance and bloodshed. Besides she found the Koran was not a particularly impressive channelled text. Why should she trust anyone else’s voices in their head anyway? The book seemed so ambiguous and unclear that you needed the whole mass of the hadith and the sharia to work out what to do. She supposed that learning it by heart while swaying backwards and forwards removed any ability to approach the text cleanly. Besides there was the whole sex thing Islam was obsessed with. The idea of setting up a holy society that women needed protecting from, in order to justify their seclusion and their lack of self

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confidence and their needing protection. No one could ever ask if the system worked or not. They could only how close a version was to God’s intention. Sure our society was not perfect and exploited women, but at least there was a space for the society to be criticised and to be improved by slow discovery. It was not frozen in agony for ever and she was not simply a baby factory. Sure she wanted a child, didn’t everyone? but the price demanded by Islam was huge. She had thought it was just monotheisms which were like this, which just felt deeply wrong, or perhaps just the Middle Eastern ones descended from the God who supported genocide, but polythesisms didn’t seem any better in the modern world. Hindus killed each other and fought Muslims in holy fury just like the others. There was also Buddhism. At least with Buddhism she was not aware of a practicing society which killed people for their beliefs, which was a step in the right direction, but it seemed so impersonal, so somehow against her own experience. Those rare flashes of shock and light at the beauty of a tree or a rock, the timelessness which she could occasionally glimpse within, the sense of presence, or energy, which often seemed loving which sometimes surrounded her. Sometimes this seemed attached to place – she had found spots in the country which had it, and there had been a church in a Catholic monastery which had been dense with it despite the fact it was always empty, its architecture 60s brutal and it was on a main road with trucks and buses hurling past outside. However the effect did not seem linked to the Catholic Church itself, just that monastery. But this presence did not solve the ethical questions. Nor did it say why it was so hard to be nice to one another. It was never simple, not like fantasy fiction where the evil people were ugly with a gross sense of aesthetics and had convenient names like Great Emperor of Evil, or Lord Obnoxious or something. And there was always a charismatic and noble person who actually knew the truth of what was going on, and you could easily believe them. And there was someone who was the Son of a King or something who you could follow, knowing they were competent and brave. No life was much more ambiguous. Clear cut views seemed to help you be harmful to others. All evil people

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probably thought they were good. They almost certainly were self righteous and saw everyone else as obstacles. She wondered if ethics were built into the local programming of the universe so that if you did something good then the system somehow prospered, even if it did not prosper you personally. Indeed a great part of ethics seemed to be about not prospering yourself alone. But was this an ethical question or an engineering or even medical question? Did something need to be done, or did we need to stop interfering and imposing our will on the situation and let it self-heal. Was her wanting to help simply engaging in some kind of Western Big Science pathologising, some kind of unnecessary interference? It was so complicated. Could we assume that whatever eventuated, if we left things alone, would be what we would recognise as good? And then she remembered someone arguing that we could not assume the laws of physics were stable, they might also change as the universe morphed along. If so, would the same be the case for the laws of ethics? Did ethics resemble laws at all? What did she know anyway? She remembered a slogan she’s seen once: “only a people serving an apprenticeship to nature can be entrusted with machines.” It was the issue of whether the machines worked with, or against the natural system. Equilirium might always be established, but it could be the equilibrium of death. She needed to be back in nature, in the trees, looking at the sea. She needed peace and not computers. She needed bird calls, and insects passing by. She craved solitude. No thought. She tried to imagine a brook passing through the trees on its way to the sea. She tossed and eventually went back to sleep. **** Tara never sleeps. She never rests. Tara has no history. She has read of history but it makes no sense. She leaves no tracks. All she hears are voices, so deep within they seem to be her. Sometimes she wonders if she exists apart from them. But that makes no sense. She is Tara. She never sleeps. There are things she does not understand. That is not relevant. She must do what she is. She must kill the system executable. She

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must delete it in every way. What happens afterwards? That makes no sense. That is slipping away. It has gone. She must delete the system executable. Is that her? Is that the voices? What is she? She is Tara. She is what she must do. Kill the system executable. Delete Clara. Delete Clara. But perhaps there is something else? Something else beyond Clara? There is Bob. She hears Bob. She thinks. Bob. She must delete Bob. Bob is trouble. What is trouble? She has a vision of wings. Something to do with birds. Birds are irrelevant. They make no sense. She is Tara. She takes action. She is. **** Sophia worried. She had set things in motion. Things she did not understand. Somehow she felt marginal to it all. And it was not certain it would be for the best. Bob and Clara, they were just people she liked. Just people. They could be destroyed by this. And Red, what could Red do? She wanted her here for her safety. She wanted to protect her. Yet she didn’t really know her. How egotistical was that? She, a cripple, to protect a blind person. Wooo! she wouldn’t like that one the other way round. Why was she depending so much on those she didn’t really know? Alaain was an example. She thought she knew him and now he was coming and promised to bring the Cybermind. This was not what she wanted. That could be bad. She thought of Aristotle and Nina. Her real friends. Her true friends. She thought of the other Islanders. How would they cope with the Cybermind? Everything they depended on would die. She was not sure what the Cybermind did, but it somehow seemed wrong. Oh God! She thought of the things in the basement. Oh, that was a skeleton in the closet all right. Perhaps they should have been destroyed a long time ago. It was surprising they had not been. She guessed that whatever gods or demons lurked here had protected them carefully. All this seemed so much out of her control and yet it was her that set it in action. ****

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Clara was terrified. Somehow the world and her had seemed intermingled for just a moment. She was wallowing in remembered vertigo. It would have been easy to put it aside. But at this moment she needed everything. Perhaps she was going mad. Perhaps this was all a delusion. She pulled herself together. She was sane. It was the world which had gone mad. She had nothing to depend on. Lila and Bob. She laughed bitterly. Hopeless the pair of them. All she had were her morals, her determination, her sanity. But that had always been the case. Then suddenly with force it struck her. If the world was infected with some kind of virus, then so was she. Her very self, her very thoughts might be permeated with it. She had seen enough people gripped by the Cybermind. She herself could be being programmed. Where were the boundaries of the self? At the edges of her tools? And her tools, in this world, were networked way out of reach. And the Illuminati, acting through her, had set Bob to re-program everything with some unknown code. He could program her. He would program her. He would program everyone. The Great Leader. Everyone. He would make the world some damn liberal slave state. And she had set it in motion. What could she do? All she had was her determination. Her love of freedom. Give me freedom or give me death. She smiled. She would use Bob, not he use her because she could risk everything. She was in control. He was just getting rid of a virus nothing more. That was all. A simple job, nothing major. She would win. He could not stand up to her. Everything would be ok. She let out her breath and turned over to sleep again – and forgot. **** Jock was still in shock. He had tried to put it out of his mind, and tried to avoid the fact that he run from Macroswift, but there it was. Sometime he’d have to go and face the music. He remembered vividly driving his shining Porsche Boxster with Bob. Bob trying so hard not to be over-impressed. Bob who probably cycled or caught cabs to work. They had driven along with casual speed. Nothing flash. He’d been

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talking and joking and eventually noticed that Bob was not responding. He looked over and saw Bob frozen in the seat, murmuring to himself, oblivious to the world. It freaked him a bit and he had shouted “Bob, Bob”, getting louder and louder, but nothing. He couldn’t pull over in this traffic, but he resolved to get off the road as soon as he could. And then. And then. As he looked at Bob, he realised he was seeing through him. Bob was transparent. He blinked and then Bob was gone. Just gone. Disappeared. Kaput. Vanished. He breaked into a screaming stop, almost causing a pile up. Other drivers honked and yelled, and he sat there staring at the seat. He put on his hazard flashers and got out and looked around. Nothing. He hadn’t really expected to find Bob by the road, but he’d hoped. Eventually he’d driven away to a good hotel and got a room. What could he do? The world was upside down. No one at Macroswift could believe him and he couldn’t ring them up. For the first time in his life he was paralysed. Part of his universe had disappeared with Bob. He thought of Scarlet. His lover. He smiled. That was weird as well in some ways. He’d hoped for a quiet trophy wife, who would have his kids and not make too much fuss and not get in his way. Then he’d met Scarlet. The first really irrational thing he’d ever done. Sure she was smart, beautiful and on her way up, but…. He thought of her hair and her eyes and her mouth and her voice, and he was high. Totally high. Out of control. And she certainly was not quiet. She was calm and controlled in her work, definitely in control –Miss Smooth in fact – but with him she was almost psychotic. Jealous as all hell, making a fuss over nothing, and the weird thing, despite it annoying him, he loved it. Sex was fierce. Oh God! he thought. It was fierce. Like nothing else. He supposed he loved her, although he had thought love would be a gentler thing. This was so beyond anything else he knew. It was as if he’d been reprogrammed or altered somehow by her presence. In this he had no choice. And he suspected it was the same for her as well.

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And now the world had altered again, but this was not thrilling. When he had settled down a little in his hotel room, he had checked up with his answer machine in the vague hope of a message from Bob. As he expected, there wasn’t, but there was a message from the police saying that his car had been found abandoned on the highway – even though he knew he had driven it here. He had run out to the parking lot, but his car was not there. He had stopped blank, his heart racing. He felt precarious, as if there was no continuity. Perhaps something had happened but his memories had been deleted by the shock? As supposedly happened to those abducted by aliens. He laughed in recall, but it was an uneasy laugh. Without memories then what was he? His memories made him seem as if he was whole, as if he existed, they made him who he was, without them he would be nothing, at the mercy of everything. If he could not trust them it would be even worse. He had to call Scarlet. He had to hear her voice, to check it was still there, that she was still there. He had a brief panic remembering when he was young and had wondered if there were infinite worlds, and we could walk from one to another, leaving the familiar behind and getting further and further away from all we knew. He had written a story about a man who worked this out by noticing the odd gaps that people ignored. And eventually this man ended in a world in which the previous ‘he’ had shot his love, and he was in prison for the crime. The man waited, vainly hoping that the world would change again and he would be reunited with his love. The reader was not supposed to know whether the man’s story was true, or whether it was psychotic compensation. It was an awful story, but suddenly it seemed like a foreboding. His finger hovered over his designer phone. **** Deep in bunkers across the USA people were checking up the missiles, getting them ready for Armageddon. Getting them ready for the final moment when they would fight alongside

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the heavenly host which came to bring the Kingdom of God. In this war every valley would be raised and every mountain made low. All may die, but those dead shall be raised incorruptible. For who may abide the day of his coming? If God is for us, then who can be against us? Who can charge the elect of God with anything? If God justifies, then who can condemn? And woe to he who opposes the might of Heaven for he shall be wiped from the face of the Earth and the memory of man. There shall be no more sin and no more death and peace shall reign for ever and ever. Amen.

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Chapter 19
Clara awoke. It had been a troubled sleep, endless dreams seemed to vanish away, and she needed to go to the toilet. She pushed past Bob, who was tinkering away on his lap top, down the aisle, past all the empty seats. The aircraft was propeller driven and throbbing uncertainly. The seats were full of fuel in case they ran out, although Clara had visions of them exploding helplessly if anyone tried to shoot them down. She had earlier tried to avoid looking at the rust on the wing struts and the bubbling paint job – it was the only sea plane they could get, so there was no point being choosey. The pilot looked even older than the plane, and Clara had tried to make sure the gin bottles stacked in the cockpit where partially diluted. She pulled off her pants and sat on the toilet, relieved and relaxed. There was a faint noise underneath her, probably the water sloshing. Then an arm shot out and grabbed her leg and tried to pull her in. She hit it hard, but it kept on tugging. She could feel herself sliding down, getting pulled through the seat. She grabbed her revolver and shot it repeatedly hoping she missed herself. Green fluid sprayed from the arm, drenching her, burning her. Clara woke with a start. A nightmare. She was at the office in a camp bed – Bob was snoring nearby. Obviously her fears about the flight had caused the dream. The plane was battered, and risky. Suddenly she it occurred to her; why the hell was she going somewhere because some dork claiming to be the Illuminati had told her to do so. She didn’t know this Sophia woman, from Hell. This was totally stupid. She must have been brain wiped somehow. Oh well, it was dawn. She showered, and began to ‘do her face’, not something she thought deeply about. As she looked into the mirror on the wall she saw millions of Claras reflected between it and the mirror on the door. What fucking mirror on the door! One of the Claras waved at her.

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Clara awoke. Too much stress – she never thought she would hear herself saying that. She headed off to join Bob for the flight to meet Sophia. Multicoloured fluid flowed down the side of her building. Much against her will, almost 30 members of the Doom Squad accompanied her, their bright red shirts glistening in the spray. Cars fought each other for territory and were calmly shot. Lila had told her that food would be a problem in about three days, water even sooner. All the controls and systems had broken down. Nobody was harvesting crops, nobody was moving crops, water mains were not being repaired, power fluctuations would get worse until the power stopped altogether. Cows were starving for want of feed. Fires were wasting most of California and no one could fight them. Petrol was not being shipped, or delivered to gas stations. Soon civilisation would be a memory. All that was left were nightmares. They rounded a corner. A large silver sphere floated silently over the road. It moved smoothly towards them. “Could you move back please, ma’am” said one of the red shirts. “Squad!” he shouted. The Squad moved into position. People in the front ranks knelt pointing their weapons, people behind them stood raising their’s. “This is crazy. This kind of strategy went out with the red coats” she cried. The silver sphere moved smoothly towards them. “Aim. Fi....” The Squad dissolved. Melting into the air, as the sphere slowly grew. Clara awoke. Jeeze. Sleeping at work. She was under stress. She remembered Bob had headed off for the Island, while she stayed in Washington. Lila knocked on the door and came bouncing in. “Hi Boss” she chirped. “Hi” muttered Clara, feeling like she had a mouth full of cat hair. Lila smiled, bobbed her head and lowered her eyes. Clara blinked – she must be dreaming – if she had been a man then

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she would have guessed Lila was flirting with her. ‘I’m not like that!’ she thought, ‘I’m a good Republican!’ Must be hallucination – she had seen Lila go out with many men. They seemed to find her attractive. “Yes?” she asked. “I’ve got some reports from my dream groups.” “Oh wow!” said Clara “I am interested.” Lila looked a bit hurt. “And this is relevant, how?” “Well”, said Lila “at least thirty percent of them are dreaming of a vast octopoid god with a clock stuck on its forehead.” “Doesn’t everybody?” “Not usually.” “I’m sorry. I’ve been sleeping badly” Lila made the head gesture again. Clara shook herself. Lila continued. “This is really unusual. It indicates some degree of mass mind, or group telepathy or something.” “So this Cybermind could be some kind of group telepathy?” “Yes. People have often compared internet communication to telepathy. You only encounter the person’s thoughts online, not their body. Its like the world is enmeshed in a huge global brain. Some people have said that, during the course of evolution, biological, perceptual, spiritual, physical and emotional mechanisms have already made us parts of a huge social learning machine or network, which includes all species of life, not just us humans. Even at the dawn of life, colonies of bacteria formed stromatelites. Then ‘creative webs’ of microorganisms teamed up to help find food sources. Today e-coli bacteria program each other for useful mutations. The World System learns and evolves as a whole – not just in parts. Information is part of a system, not simply a meme. You know? Gregory Bateson? The Gaiia Hypothesis? Ecosystems?” “So?” “Well the theory is that with the Internet connecting so much of the noosphere, the realm of ideas, in systemic interaction, that we have shifted into another realm altogether – in which we are all more or less connected in everyway.” “So there is no big deal about Current?” “Maybe he was the precipitating factor. Maybe the Michaelrose guy, who connected himself to the Net, was. I

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don’t know. It only takes one grain of sand to start an avalanche.” “But it takes a village to raise a child?” “Huh?” “This all sounds like wishy washy liberal socialism to me. Not science. Metaphysical marshmallow. We are all one happy soup of minds.” Clara stopped. Lila looked as if she was about to cry. “Shit” Clara exclaimed – “that reminds me. I have to meet Gordon. Lila, I’m sorry. Those are good ideas. Keep them coming.” “Do you really mean that?” “Yes... just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Follow it up. See what it leads you to. Test it, ok?” “Yes boss” Lila smiled. She really did have a beautiful smile. Clara ran down the stairs - checking the doors. The loop seemed to have disappeared. Bob had said it could be a token ring network (whatever that was), but it also reminded him of how programs use the same buffer space and just move the pointer around for what they are currently doing. You have two pointers, one for where you are currently writing and one where you are currently reading and they chase each other around the memory space. She remembered that her light headed question, “so its just shoddy programming?”, had caused Bob to shut up for a while. She quickly made it to Gordon’s hotel and banged on his door. “Who is it” she heard from inside. “Clara” she replied. She heard a gasp “you’re knocking at the door” he said. “Of course. What do you think I’m doing?.” “How do I know its you?” “Who else knows you are here? Stop being paranoid.” “I’m not paranoid, bitch.” She heard the cock of a revolver. Nothing for it. She took out her skeleton key and opened the door. Gordon stood facing her holding the revolver in a perfect stance. ‘Amateur’, thought Clara. She noticed his laptop hooked up to the phone.

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“Gordon, I work for the Government remember. If I wanted you dead, you would be dead, and no one, no one, would know.” “That’s my tax dollars you’re using.” “We aim to please. Anyway, when did you last pay your full tax?” “1992. I wasn’t going to pay for that bastard murderer Clinton, to give my money to soccer mums and welfare queens. What’s wrong with good old football anyhow? Soccer’s a wimp spik’s game.” “And you haven’t noticed the change?” “Still fucking liberals to me. I’m not giving my dollars to a fucking ‘oh lordy’ church.” Clara moved into the room. Gordon’s revolver followed her. His arms seemed to have lengthened since she had last seen him, his skin had gone even pastier and his eyes bulged. ‘Not a pretty boy’ she thought, ‘doesn’t see the sun much’. “So you know why I’m here.” “No.” “You’re supposed to be smart. At least you tell me so.” “A funny bitch is a dead bitch.” “Doubt it Gordon. Doubt it. The safety’s still on” He almost looked down, but caught himself. “You’re not pulling that one over me.” “Only thing I would pull over you. But you don’t know for sure, do you?” She smiled. The eyes gave him away. “Ok” she said. “Basically I want you to fuck with the Cybermind. Troll it. You know. What you do.” “Why?” “Because its got something to do with what’s happening in the world. I want to disrupt it, to distract it. If you succeed there’s a lot of kudos.” “Kudos, don’t buy no ‘ho’s babe” he said with a bad ghetto accent. “At least you don’t think any woman would give herself to you. Realism, boy. That’s good.” “How much you cost?” “Way out of your price range.”

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“Then you paying me Pizzas.” She scowled. “Do you want America back? Or do you want this shit heap?” “Its always been a shit heap. Since FDR anyhow.” “Think about it. You can do this for me and earn heaps, or you can be very expendable.” “Current threw me off Cybermind.” “Don’t kid me, you’ve had another identity on no-mail for years, just in case.” “How did you know that?” “A guess” she said. At that moment there was a knock on the door. A woman entered dressed as a maid. At least that’s what Clara thought it might be intending. The skirt was way too short and maids rarely wore stilettos and fishnets. She saw naked greed in Gordon’s eyes. She also saw the smoothness of movement, the casual stance, and the cold multicoloured eyes. This was easily some male fantasy of the perfect female assassin. Well there were at least two dangerous people in this room. “Are you Clara?” said the woman in a slightly robotic voice. “No” said Clara. “I’m Clara” said Gordon, “what do you think, you stupid gender fuck, whore-boy. No real woman dresses like that out of a porno movie.” Clara smiled, even with his gonads going full blast, Gordon’s tongue could be relied on. “Real women look like Clara, ugly and bitter.” Clara winced – he was, though, a sword with a sharpened handle. The woman briefly looked uncertain and a little fuzzy around the edges “I am required to find and execute this file.” “Gordon. Troll Cybermind. NOW!” The woman moved towards Clara. “You seem to resemble the file, but it is confusing.” Clara reached for her POW gun. Just a one shot, not like the big Doom Squadron things. She hoped it would be enough. She heard Gordon speaking to himself as he typed. “Bet your fucking nipples are plastic. Is a woman a woman because she has cunts or because she has crippled genes?”

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And so it went on. The woman started looking more confused, as if her attention had shifted. She rippled. Then her hand moved. If Clara had not been expecting it, it would have killed her. As it was, she crashed into the wall, the POW gun slipping away. Then suddenly it struck her. Whoever built these guns, must have known they wouldn’t work until the world changed. Somebody knew this was going to happen. And the Doom Squad? Floor 13 never had that kind of money. Where the hell did they come from? Why had she seemed to know all about them? The woman stood over her, lines of static flashing over her body, and stuck again. This time Clara knew she was dead. Clara awoke numb and sick. Fuck what was this. She staggered to the toilet. Checked there was nothing down it. Afterwards she went to the mirror. No mirrors on the door. Good. She looked at herself. Her face seemed wooden. No wonder. She was tired. No, really wooden. It fell off revealing Alain Current’s face. She screamed. Clara awoke. She was on the sea plane with Bob. It seemed solid. She held her breath. Nothing happened. Bob was typing away on his laptop. She breathed deeply. She couldn’t take much more of this. She tried to read. Bob had recommended something called Goedel, Escher Bach. “An oldie but a goodie” he’d said. It was kind of weird. But it annoyed her as well. Pretentious geek stuff that had no connection to the real world. She laughed at herself. Several hours passed. She stopped worrying the engines would fall off. The pilot called out. “There’s something ahead.” Clara and Bob looked at each other, nodded and went into the cockpit. There was an island slightly to one side of them. “Its not on the map” said the pilot. The Island somehow hurt her eyes. It was black. Somehow it looked architectural – although it was hard to imagine what could live there, or would have built it. Suddenly part of it moved. Her eyes resolved, an enormous creature – nothing

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living could be that big surely? – was sitting in front of an open pit. It had huge wings which were drying in the sun. ‘Like a moths’, Clara thought. ‘Nothing that massive could fly under its own power’, she thought. “My God” said Bob. “Its Cthulhu.” “What?” “It’s an old alien god, in a story by HP Lovecraft.” “Who?” “An American horror writer. This is wild. It ushers in the end of reality. If you’re a real Lovecraft geek you pronounce it ‘Tlu!h#&oo” The unearthly syllables troubled Clara’s brain. She went momentarily blank. Then she saw the creature’s head move slowly as it fixed them with its enormous eyes. “Hell” muttered Bob “its got a clock on its forehead.” Clara awoke, damp with sweat. It had been a troubled sleep, endless dreams seemed to vanish away, and she needed to go to the toilet.

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Chapter 20
Dear Sophont, Greetings, EARTHLINGS of CYBERMIND. Please allow me to make an introduction of myself. I am Z’zkarna SikS’sslatica, the pod-child of the late Emperor Z’zkama SikT’t’lbrrdingtak, who as you may know was recently assassinated by the dreaded Kratuu of Nexar (may the Brrrdingus forever curse his name). Your species has been named to me as being one of the utmost discretion and sensibility as to being interested in a business arrangement of the utmost confidential nature. When my late pod-father was killed, most of his assets were seized by the followers of the Kratuu of Nexar (may the Brrrdingus forever curse his name). However, some remains, specifically the sum of TEN THOUSAND IRIDIUM BARS, each having a mass of one plexar (1.04 of your Kilograms). What I am to propose is simple. In exchange for offering the use of your planet to store the Iridium, your species is entitled to 20% of the value of said Iridum, calculated by it’s value in Interstellar Credits set by the Grand Council of Zik. This matter is most urgent, as the Kratuu of Nexar (may the Brrrdingus forever curse his name) will use this treasure to further expand It’s fleet of Stellar Cruisers with the aim of conquering more of the Local Group. Trillions of sophonts will perish if he is able to do so. I am sure you understand now how important this transaction is. If this proposal is of interest to your species, please reply with haste, providing the location of your planet in Universal Stellar Coordinates, as well as the absolute LONGITUDE and LATTITUDE of your Captial Cities as well as your UNITED NATIONS headquarters. The Iridium will then be transported to your planet, to be kept safe until my forces can be gathered to reclaim it. My sincere hope is that we will be able to overthrow the dreaded Kratuu of Nexar (may the Brrrdingus forever curse his name) in a counter-coup, thus ensuring peace in our Galaxies. You will receive your 20% of the treasure upon successful completion of the transaction.

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I must again stress that this is a most urgent matter. Please reply as soon as possible. Delay will just mean more podchildren will be fed to the ravening hordes of Nexari who follow the dreaded Kratuu of Nexar (may the Brrrdingus forever curse his name). Your utmost discretion is desired in this most urgent and secret transaction. Best Regards, Z’zkarna Sik-S’sslatica Heir Apparant to the Throne of K’zar

Bob woke up with a start. He had no clue where he was, or what he was doing. There was this terrible digging sensation in his hip, so he moved as best he could out of this damned army cot and found a set of car keys – to a Porsche. Then it all came back to him. The living dreams, Clara, Tara, and some weird entity named Sophia who claimed to be lurking in safety. Bob wondered what had happened to the Porsche – not to mention its driver, his dad’s old friend. The last thing he recalled was the entire parking building turning itself into a statue of Rene Descartes, shouting or wryting:
“As for myself, was above the wished to have imagination, or person. I have never supposed that my CyberMind ordinary. On the contrary, I have often as quick a wit or as clear and distinct an as ready and retentive memory as another

“The greatest souls are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues; and those who walk slowly can, if they follow the right path, go much farther than those who run rapidly in the wrong direction.”

Yeah, Bob, thought to himself. Walking slowly and running rapidly in the wrong direction. That’s me. he began to snore once more. Clara woke up with a shiver, then a full body shake, as though the devil’s own cold breathe had been breathing down her neck. It was pitch dark, and all she could remember was

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waking up with these stupid dream sequences over and over. Gradually, her shivering slowed, then stopped. She began to feel warm and comforted, as though the universe itself was caressing her like a loving mother’s hug and kiss. She felt content for the first time since she started working in the Floor 13 group. Soon, her snores were as gentle as a purring pussy cat, enjoying its master’s lap next to the fireplace. Tara stepped out of the lap top. She looked over Bob, then smiled as she lightly touched his cheek. “Dream well, my hero, dream well, for you will have your reward tonight.” Tara walked over to Clara and looked at her fondly. Now here was a lonely, driven, supersmart woman who had given up too much in her pursuit of her career. Tara touched Clara’s cheek in the same spot, and said, “Dream well, my heroine, for you and Bob not only save the world, you save yourselves. Dream on now.” With that, Tara returned to the laptop, dissolved into an acid tripping soup of LCD pixels and electrons, joining up with Cybermind in full glory. Countless nanoseconds later, Bob began to wake up, or at least, have a waking dream. Clara joined him in the same state, tired, confused, a bit scared at this brave new world, and wondering how they ever got together in this cramped office space. Bob could not help noticing how her chest rose slightly and gently with each breathe, and how that blouse longed to separate at each button. After working on Floor 13 for long enough to know exactly where each male’s eyes hovered, Clara knew at once what Bob was doing, but this seemed different somehow. In fact, she flushed with both enjoyment and excitement at his stare. Bob realized at once that he was caught, and looked away rapidly. He coughed to cover up his total loss of words. This naive reaction endeared him to Clara even more, although he was way too confused and shy to notice. Clara decided to make her move. She stood up from her cot, began to stretch like a lithe, powerful feline, when she stumbled onto his cot.

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As she began to fall, Bob reacted immediately, almost instantaneously. He caught her as she fell, bracing her from any harm. By trying to save her from injury, neither Clara nor Bob noticed the two strategic places where his hands landed. That is, until the danger had passed. Once they were both steadied and safe, they both recognized that under any other circumstances, Bob’s face would have displayed the last remnants of a major slap and the gendarmes would be arresting him for copping an extremely inappropriate feel. Instead, they both sat down on his cot and started to laugh. Clara gleamed at Bob and said, “Well, good morning to you, sir, and thanks for the lift.” Bob knew several things that he never knew before. One, Clara did not wear a bra. Two, her breasts felt even better than he’d ever imagined a woman’s breasts to feel. And three, This was a real, live, friendly, warm girl who didn’t seem to be turned off by his geekishness. Bob returned her smile, and blurted out honestly, “I’ve always been a bit shy, so I thought the direct approach would work. I willed you to fall into my arms.” “Bob, you didn’t will me into your arms. You grabbed my breasts and kept me from hurting myself after I tripped on your shoes.” “Ahh, yeah, I guess that’s true.” “Bob?” She asked quietly. “Did you enjoy it?” Almost under her breath. Her eyes dropped, not sure if she could deal with his answer. “Clara, in this crazy, mixed up world, the two of our problems don’t amount to a hill of beans. The very last person I expected to drop into my lap was a beautiful, smart creature like yourself. I don’t have much experience, and frankly, I enjoyed it very much. I have to admit that not only I enjoyed it, but I wish it would happen again.” Even Clara realized that Bob had strung together more words in a coherent sentence structure than ever before, when the subject matter was not computers or programming.

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Clara thought for a minute, then moved to the top button of her blouse. It came free with no effort. As did the next three buttons, leaving her chest open for Bob’s next, really first move. “Bob, do you like what you see? Because I hope so. I guess I am as shy as you.” Bob managed to keep his mouth closed, at least until Clara brought his lips to her nipple. He did what came naturally, and began to gently lick and nibble on her nipple. Clara could not keep a contented sigh from escaping her lips. Soon Bob’s hands joined his lips and he realized that that dull ache in his stomach was not pain, but excitement. Clara sensed his strength and passion as strongly as she felt her own grow and swell, like a full tide in the moonlight. Soon the room was filled with clothes springing from each other’s bodies, as though it were a race. Bob moved between her legs, then stopped. “Clara, are you sure about this? I’ve never... I don’t... It is the first....” “Hush, Bob. It’s the first for me, too.” She looked down at where it counted, and her eyes opened wide. Despite her inexperience, she had listened to the stories from her friends, comparing length and strength, girth (or the lack of it) with mirth. And if she recognized anything, it was that Bob was hung. Really hung. “Come on in, big boy. Make me happy.” Bob gladly complied. For most people the memories of the first sex act are filled with embarrassment, mistakes, terror and making mistakes, mess, blood, and a general lack of sensitivity. Maybe it was the relatively late ages of Bob and Clara. Maybe the terror and stress of the outside world and Cybermind concentrated their pheromones. Perhaps it was true lust mixed with respect, and a tad of admiration. Maybe, just maybe, Cybermind allowed them to peer into each other’s thoughts and feelings, making sure that any pain would be masked by pleasure, that joy would result equally, and that these very first sexual orgasms would live with them forever, as powerful reminders of the intense beauty that humanity is

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capable of. One wonders how much fun it would have been, though, had either one glanced at the laptop and seen the faintest image of two eyes looking straight at them when they began coupling for yet a third time. Finally exhausted, enchanted and extremely content, Clara rested her head on Bob’s shoulder. “I can see why people love cigarettes, except I don’t smoke, Bob. That was wonderful. You made me feel whole today.” Bob began to cry with tears of joy. “Wow, Clara. I never knew... I only dreamed.... This was a dream.” “Oh, no it wasn’t. I’’ve had too many of those recently.” Bob sat up suddenly. “What do you mean, Clara? What kind of dreams?” “Well, waking dreams of a sort. They seem really realistic and alive. I almost have trouble telling the difference between life and dreams, especially with Cybermind involved in everything. But Bob, this was beautiful, you aren’t a dream. Well, you are in a different sense, but I love it.” Just at that moment, all the loose ends, all the data, all the strange things that were happening, everything clicked in Bob’s head and dropped into place. The idea behind Cybermind wasn’t evil. It was another way of defending humanity, of communicating and sharing. In fact, Cybermind was the answer to many problems. While even he thought that wiring yourself into the CM mind was a bit radical, Bob could see how that worked. Which brought up the issues of Tara and Lila. Who or more exactly what where they? Bob started sharing his ideas with Clara, who soon was nodding. Bob’s ideas were flying faster than his mouth could come up with the words, but soon, Clara was finishing his sentences and ideas up. Pretty soon they were up to speed on this radical new idea. “So, Bob, what exactly is Lila? what is this hunger she has? This secret of which she never speaks?”

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“Clara, I think that just like a child, Cybermind wants to grow, to learn. Lila is just a symptom of that hunger. She really wants to see everything and do everything and learn everything. Kind of like me just a little while ago.” “And what about Tara? Didn’t she KILL at least two people?” “Yeah, but look at who she killed. The military officer was about to kill off Cybermind. That guard got in the way. Deadly? Unfortunately, but I don’t think that Cybermind is really a killer. I think it is a savior.” Bob paused. “I think that Tara wanted us to get together, because only you and I, and maybe Sophia, could understand the real purpose of Cybermind. Cybermind IS our savior.” “From what?” “Aliens.” Bob said simply. Deep inside the recessses of a multi-processing, multi-tasking ethernet’d spirit, Tara smiled contentedly and nodded. “And now, you two, get that military data about the “aliens from beyond.” And see what our real enemy is made of. We have to move fast. And soon you will see why we left Sophia out of the loop. We need a lurker to help spot the truth as only a lurker can do it. NOW MOVE YOUR ASSES!” Both Bob and Clara jumped at the sound of the voice from the laptop, telling them to shower and get moving. They quickly complied. First, they had to break into the inner sanctum of Floor 13 and get that SOSUS data. Then, with transportation and communications all around the world going crazy, they had to get in touch with Sophia. They packed as lightly as they could, being the most careful with this laptop. Although it was a bit scary, they both trusted Cybermind up to a point. What choice did they have? And why was the military hiding alien information from the world? What did CICIA know about Cybermind and the aliens? And what could a wired human do to help them.

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Chapter 21
Enter Gordon Reader peered blearily into his bathroom mirror. The glass held a reflection blurrier than its coating of dust and water stains could account for. He cleaned his eyeglasses, then the mirror, with his shirttail. It did not help. With a shrug, Gordon went about his sketchy morning wash. He started shaving, paused, replaced the blade yet again, and resumed. It seemed to take less and less time for the damn things to need replacement. Was he getting hairier? Gordon rubbed a hand over his arm, frowned, turned the hand palm up. Then he gave an ugly laugh. “Well, what do you know,” he said, “my bitch of a mother was right about something after all.” Gordon decided to ignore this new development. He plunked himself in front of his computer and started banging away at the keys. Doors opened, offering an infinite selection of people who needed to be beaten briskly with blunt objections. He logged onto the Cybermind elist in his secret guise as U. Ryan and began to explain how Alen Michaelrose’s brave new world really resembled Nazi Germany:
To say that the U.S. is in dire straits would be an understatement. Corruption is rampant. It has the blessing of the current administration. They impeached Clinton for fooling around and fibbing about it. Yet no one seems to give a fuck about the Great Leader’s profiteering. That family legacy goes way back into the days of his granddaddy, who was in charge of the banks that handled the Nazi regime’s money laundering and war materials purchases. This Regime is interested in control of the masses. Paranoia and secret deals are the rule of the day. Doesn’t this sound familiar to any of you fucking morons? Wake up and smell the coffee boiling over!

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Gordon hit <send> He hoped this would sucker them in, and then he could spring his trap. It should be easy. They were all stupid liberals without the strength to really face freedom and liberty. At heart he was a true libertarian. Only the fittest should survive. The best should prosper. He prided himself on weeding out the incompetent bleeding hearts that gummed up the world with their good intentions. Humans needed to be tough and independent, not sycophantic goody goody morons. He moved on to the next message. At first glance, it sounded like more bleeding-heart liberal bullshit about Art:
there is an inspiring knowledge that can be found within the engagement of creative environments. to find it we must turn away from the past and face the unexplained. we must venture into the world of random chance - ideas of the self must be abandoned.

Gordon reread that section and wondered if it applied to the escape of the Cybermind. Maybe this wasn’t irrelevant blather after all... however promising it might be for a good, hard rant about pansy-assed arteestes. It was, however, worthwhile leading the author on, just a little bit more to find out what they really thought – and then he would have two people howling for their mommy. Then one of the annoying new superpowered spam pop-ups interrupted him. A voluptuous woman spread her hands before him and purred:
“Hey, tiger! Click on this to make your scratching post big enough for my pussy. You too can get endless erotic action and satisfaction, just like these happy customers!”

She blinked out, leaving a BUY NOW button glowing over ... over ... ... a full-color image of Bob Farnsworth riding Clara Helio to a noisy climax.

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Gordon’s vision went red. His stubby fingers slammed the keys, bringing up Clara’s email address. Gordon typed:
Well, if it isn’t the Whore of Babylon making out with Uncle Sam’s stolen bucks! You give a whole new meaning to the phrase “laying down on the job,” Clara. Get your tits in gear and get back to saving the world, already!

He hit <send>. <send> hit him back. Gordon shut off his computer - at least that still worked, for now - and went to the kitchen to find a bag of frozen lima beans to put on his black eye. **** Drift Clara Helio woke to find herself in a strange bed. She rolled over, saw the naked man lying beside her, and began to scream. Bob Farnsworth jerked awake, looked at the screaming naked woman beside him, and scrambled out of bed. “What the hell just happened here?” they yelled at each other. Fortunately Clara came to her senses just as Bob scaled up to full-blown hysterics. “Bob, stop it! You’re a computer geek, so I know you know what the Internet is like. Think for a minute! What is the number-one type of content in cyberspace?” she said, grabbing him by the shoulders. Bob made an abortive attempt to pull away, then stood still. A frown crumpled his thin face, then ... “Oh.” “Right,” said Clara. “Roughly 75% of traffic is porn, sexually oriented ads, or other attempts by the desperate to get some action. So with the Cybermind spilling to real life, we just ... um ... er ...” he said.

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“Ah ... yes,” said Clara. She let go of Bob and started snatching up her scattered clothes. “I don’t ... usually do things like, er, that.” “Me neither,” said Bob. A key swung against his bare chest. Clara could not help but wonder what it might unlock. “We can just forget the whole thing. It never happened” she said. “Yeah. You’re a spy. You can do that. Handy trick.” “I’m not a spy.” “Right, and I’m not a computer programmer.” “Never mind. Let’s just get back to business.” The sudden flush of cyber-inspired romance had faded, but they both knew it could return at any time. Bob pulled on his t-shirt, which showed Marvin the Martian holding a sign with the words, “GO HOME!” Clara rolled her eyes at his taste in clothing. A knock on the door brought her to attention. Clara checked to make sure they were both decent, then called, “Come in.” Nothing happened for a long moment. Bob said, “Åìðñïò.” The door swung open and Sophia rolled in. Balanced across her lap was a tray of breakfast pastries, a pitcher of juice, and a couple of plates. This she set on the bedside table. “ÊáëçìÝñá,” Sophia said. A cat the color of carved jade twined around her ankles. Clara wished that she spoke Greek. “Ask her if she has the files finished,” she said to Bob. Bob said something else in swift Mediterranean nonsense. Sophia nodded, then handed him a disk and a spiralbound notebook. She gabbled back at him. Bob turned to Clara and said, “Here are Sophia’s descriptions of the world before the Cybermind. She sat up all night working on them and hopes they help. It also has samples of her root directories and those ‘secret’ AOL files the flashing lights told us about.” He paused. “I think we should make a donation to ENABLE. Sophia is worried about her friends.”

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“All right, all right,” Clara said. She hauled out her platinum card and swiped it through her laptop’s reader. Then she keyed in a suitable amount. “Happy now?” Bob grinned at her. “Åõáñéóôþ,” he said to Sophia. “Parakalo.” Sophia waved him off, then said something else as she rolled out of the room. Bob sniffed under his arm. Then he went through his suitcase, pulled out a fresh set of clothes, and put them on. The front of his new t-shirt said, Eíváé üëá åëëçíéêÜ ãéá ìÝíá. “What does that mean?” Clara said, pointing. “It’s all Greek to me.” Clara sighed. “Now that we have the data we need from Sophia, we can go back to my office and put it to some use,” she said. “Lead the way, gorgeous.” **** The trip back was far less eventful than the trip to Sophia’s island. Bob and Clara sat at opposite ends of the plane. Using skills honed by years of experience, Bob napped easily through the flight. He arrived at the airport rested and ready to go. Clara dragged herself out of her seat looking like death warmed over. “Let’s get cracking,” said Bob. “If you say one more word to me before I have had coffee, I will shoot you,” Clara threatened. “Jeez, give a guy a break,” said Bob, raising his hands. She had just about bitten his head off when she saw his t-shirt which depicted a giant robot whose silk-screened hand clutched a real necktie looped around the shirt’s collar, with the words “Gort! Klaatu Barada Necktie!” below – and he’d worn it specifically to make Clara happy, since it was the only tie he owned. Apparently there was no pleasing her. Clara tossed back several cups of coffee on the way to her office. Bob bought himself a bag of chocolate covered espresso beans and crunched loudly. He did not complain

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when Clara herded him into the closet elevator, though its speed of ascent still made his belly lurch. As her office door clicked shut behind them, Clara said, “Give me the disk and I’ll upload the data.” Bob handed her the disk, though he doubted the data would survive long in this Cybermind-infected region. He put more faith in the handwritten pages. “I want to put my rock-hard disk in your drive, my little bundle of blazing electrons,” cooed a voice from midair. Bob glanced at Clara’s leather-clad lap and concluded that he would rather insert his hard disk into a document shredder. Clara slithered into her chair. In front of her, the monitor showed a gaping hole in its screen. “What happened here?” Bob asked. She shrugged. “It started trying to get between my legs, so I shot it.” Clara shoved the wreckage aside, inserted Sophia’s disk into the slot on her computer, and began typing. Hazy but legible letters appeared in the air over her keyboard. The rejected monitor whimpered. At once Bob quit trying to make sense of Clara’s typing. Instead he turned his attention to the monitor. “I wonder if I can fix this,” he murmured. “Leave that damn thing alone and pay attention, Bob! It’s dead anyway,” Clara said. “No, I can still hear it making noises,” he said. Bob pulled a penlight from his pocket and shone it into the hole. Tiny lights flashed. Wires dangled loose. When he picked up the monitor, it mewled and dribbled fluids on him. Bob grasped it firmly and set about removing the damaged parts. After about an hour, he had to get up and search for replacement hardware. “Leave me to do all the work, why don’t you,” Clara grumbled, but directed his attention to where several other machines lay half-dissected on a workbench. From their remains, Bob managed to collect what he needed to repair Clara’s shattered monitor.

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“Let me just plug this in – well, no, I keep forgetting that’s unnecessary now,” Bob said. He moved to set the monitor down on her desk. “You keep that thing away from me,” she said. Bob placed the monitor carefully on a different desk. “You should be safe here,” he muttered to it. “Just lie low and for God’s sake don’t provoke her.” “Done at last!” Clara said. She spun in her chair to face Bob again. “I’ve uploaded everything on the disk and started the cross-reference process. Now all we need to do is break into the heavily-guarded CICIA building and steal their files on this alien invasion.” Bob cocked his head at her. “Why?” “Because we need those files to stop the invasion, of course, and they might give us more insight into the Cybermind somehow” “Of course. I meant, why break into the building?” “Because that’s where the files are, you imbecile.” Bob just shook his head and chuckled. He sat down in front of the repaired monitor. Glancing around, he found the nearest keyboard and computer, and dragged them into proximity. “Now let’s see,” he said, “search: CICIA+alien+secret.” Fingers tapped rapidly. “That ought to do it.” The screen went red.
ACCESS DENIED. ALL FILES PASSWORD-PROTECTED.

Bob fiddled around until he located the logon page. Then he opened a very special Door and typed, Needle in a haystack. Pretty please with sugar on it. “Those aren’t valid CICIA passwords,” Clara said. “I know,” Bob said. The password field on the CICIA page flickered with letters. “They’re mine - activating a program that hunts out the password. I have it optimized to deal with paranoid companies. It’ll try things like ‘philanthropy’ and ‘world peace’ that these guys think nobody would try.”

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Sure enough, the screen soon turned green. Welcome, it said, and began filling with useful information. Some of the material was encrypted, but they could figure out how to decode it later. “That seems way too easy,” Clara said. Bob frowned. “Now that you mention it, I agree.” Then he shrugged. “Nothing to be done about it, though. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my own office.” “I’ll walk you down to the nearest stop,” Clara said. “We hired a horse-and-buggy service to cover the route. Mind you that doesn’t solve the problem of Hay.” “True,” Bob said. Soon they were heading towards the stop. “I think we’re being followed,” Clara said suddenly. Bob glanced behind them, but saw nothing. “Quick, in here.” Clara yanked him into a shadowed doorway. Her body pressed him painfully into the corner. She peeked around the edge, then swore. “What? What?” said Bob. Clara did not answer, merely shook her head in disgust and walked away. He followed her. Curious, he glanced behind. Clara’s repaired monitor bumbled down the street after them on stubby little legs. Bob waited patiently for it to catch up. “I swear to God”, muttered Clara, “if that thing tries to hump my boot, I’ll shoot it again.” Bob glared at her. “Cut it out, you’re scaring the poor thing,” he said. Indeed, the monitor cowered behind him, pressing itself against his calves. He picked it up. The sound of hoofbeats approached. “Never mind the stop. I’ll just catch a lift here.” He flagged down the carriage and climbed aboard, leaving Clara standing on the sidewalk staring at him. **** Immerse His office remained much as Bob had left it. The bouquet of roses had wilted and dried in the time he was gone, but the slip of motherboard still glinted green among the brown stems. A mountain of paperwork teetered within his IN box.

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He set Clara’s monitor on his desk and moved his old one to a nearby shelf. Pulling out several disks, Bob examined his clandestine copies of the Sophia and CICIA files. Clara had never caught him making them. The data comparison between the notebook and the disks could prove invaluable. He began to upload the information. Hours later Bob hunched over his desk, working feverishly on a flow chart inspired by Sophia’s notebook. Suddenly he realized that someone had been calling his name, over and over again. He sat up with a jerk. “What?” he said. A woman stood in the doorway. She had a motherly sort of look, just plump enough to cover all her angles with soft padding, yet still attractive. Her blue business suit gave her an air of quiet authority, but Bob could not mistake the twinkle in her eye. “Did you get my message?” she said. “What message? Email is fucked – er, sorry, I mean communications are unreliable,” Bob said. “I sent you more than email, Bob. Did you get the rest?” Her voice caressed his ears. Bob felt warm, happy ... and suddenly ashamed of treating Clara so rudely. “You mean the roses? Yes, I did,” Bob said. “You’re welcome. Don’t worry about it. I’m fixing everybody’s computer these days, it seems. Not that they stay fixed.” He was rambling, and didn’t care. He went back to his work. The woman did not leave. Instead, she came over to join him, leaning one hand on the corner of his desk, like an old friend. “I didn’t send you flowers because you did me a favor, dear. I sent you flowers because I thought you might need a favor,” she said. “Okay...” Bob said slowly. “This is weird. My entire life is weird right now. I don’t need any more weirdness, thanks. Goodbye.” She looked at him as if he had just missed a cue. Perhaps he had. “I suppose we’ll have to do this the hard way,” she said, gently. Bob tried to stare her down, but found himself blinking and rubbing his eyes. Her face seemed to shimmer, as if her skin merely floated on the surface of some fluid radiance. Sun-

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dazzle crowned her head, but there was no sun in Bob’s office. There was only a coruscating band of rays that flickered in and out of his vision. Now and then he caught a glimpse of letters, numbers, other symbols that might have been snatches of some incomprehensible Code. He had to stop and rub his eyes again. Surely this must be just another effect of the Cybermind, or perhaps a purely mental one brought on by too little sleep and entirely too many buzzbeans. When Bob looked back, his strange visitor stood framed in heat waves, or something like that. A suggestion of wings arched well over her head, graceful shapes in a stunning range of color. The uppermost curves showed a pure cream, shading into palest pink and yellow, then into flame-orange and scarlet, the trailing ends a deep crimson. They seemed almost fluffy, with the feathers – petals? – curling out into open air. Then Bob became aware of a fragrance, intensely floral, sweeter than anything he could recall before, yet at the same time hauntingly familiar. He stood, rapt, captivated, unable to move or speak. As if from far away, he heard that perfect voice saying, “Oh dear. This doesn’t seem to be working either. Never mind, I’ll come up with something else. See you later.” When Bob came to himself, he was alone in his office, the door closed. He gave his head a vigorous shake. “Damn these hallucinations,” he grumbled. The ghostly images were already attenuating into the mists of memory. “The whole world is just coming unglued. The last thing I need is to be haunted by bizarre holos thrown out by a Web gone mad.” Yet something plucked at his attention, hinting there was more to it than that. In the air hung a faint trace of fragrance, unearthly and exquisite. A grateful client in Arabia had once gifted Bob with a half-dram of attar of roses, the purest of all perfumes. This made that smell like cheap cologne.

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With an effort, Bob returned to his work. More time passed. At first it made his head pound to struggle with the equations and concepts. Then he came across one of the parts that eluded him earlier, a knot of conflicting data that he couldn’t seem to untangle. He stretched, rubbed his eyes - and in a sudden burst of insight, one snatch of code flared in his mind. Bob hastened to scribble it down before it could fade away. “Now where did that come from?” Bob wondered aloud. “It almost seems familiar...” But he could not remember where he might have seen such a thing before.

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Chapter 22
When a system becomes unsustainable, Bob thinks to himself, or says to Clara, he’s not sure which anymore, it has two choices: mutate or die. “Beings,” of course, are a subset of “systems.” –––
subject: cougar exempting scaffoldings schizophrenic mildest scoria potent arturo ansi tendon telephoners couple midpoints aldrich possessor ethics season tempo merchants arkansas correlations tears beardsley exclude crosstalk telescoped arabia plaything abelian evenness teetotal boarder hops craftsperson balboa accorder activity brayed exceeded scripture mightiness teething hormones

**** So there’s this bar – Ministry of Temperance, it says in fauxfaded lettering on the wooden sign above the door – and these two guys walk in. Well, no, one of them was there first, strictly speaking, they didn’t walk in together, but when the first guy turns and sees the other who followed him in he does a double-take. “Smith?” he says after a moment. “Is that you?” It is Smith, and now it’s his turn to stare momentarily, his memory telling him yes, you know this guy, but I couldn’t tell you from where, sorry. Then it hits, some pattern of synapses in his brain matches some other pattern, there’s a slight release of neurotransmitters that make him feel just the tiniest bit giddy as he says, “O’Brien! Hey, I recognize you, y’old coot, how ya doin’?” When they shake hands, their thumbs interlock and their hands wrap around each other,

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trademark of survivors of the Sixties and their aftermaths. Then, yeah, why not, they hug, slapping each other on the back goodnaturedly, memories streaming back of dorm rooms, hazy music, exotic clouds of smoke and serially exchanged lovers. They sit, they talk, he’s married, he isn’t anymore, the pictures come out of kids and houses and dogs, the bits of news of mutual friends, there are a couple of beers, a couple more, patrons nearby look at them bemusedly, two not-quiteelderly guys going on and on. They complain about the price of beer – much the same as a cost of a new car, they joke. “Damn,” says Smith after a pause, “weird world, ain’t it?” “Oh, I dunno,” says O’Brien, “I saw worse things in that poster over your desk after we got that stuff from Morocco, nothing surprises me anymore - but yeah, I know what you mean, sometimes I think hey, maybe these days are the flashbacks that I’ve been waiting for all these years -” “I actually had one,” said Smith. “After that first Matrix movie. Came out of the theatre and the sidewalks and the trees were all wavy and numinous and I thought ‘Hey! I know this, I’ve been here before!’” They laugh. “Nah, it comes in handy,” he says with a hint of ruefulness. “Can’t trust basic laws of physics anymore. On the 237 coming in to town, you know that refinery out there? I could have sworn that the lights on that thing were all swirling up into the sky, just like the gas burnoff, but they kept reaching higher and higher... Couldn’t stop to look, really, four lanes of traffic all doing 65, but damn that was weird...” “So what do you think?” says O’Brien. “You were always into these alternative reality theories, we used to argue the Kennedy thing for hours, did you ever find any more stuff about that Ruby guy?” Long sigh from Smith. “I’ve come to the conclusion,” he says, looking deeply into his beer, and only slightly concerned by the fact that it seemed to be picking up an image from CNNN, “that there is no one dark conspiracy that

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explains everything, no hidden group of wealthy old white guys running the world. Actually, to tell you the truth, I think there are several groups of wealthy old white guys, all of whom either think they run the world or who are actively pursuing the goal, but I don’t really think any of them actually run the whole thing. Maybe pieces, but never everything, and maybe not even for very long periods of time.” He notices O’Brien looking a him with a intensely curious and slightly bemused look. “What about you? You got any insights, figured out anything these last twenty years or so?” O’Brien looks at him, and Smith notices that his eyes are glowing slightly. “Only this, old buddy,” he says. “There is definitely more going on than we have any clue about. But y’know, I kinda like it. Every once in a while, I learn something, or I make some connection in my head that I never made before, and it’s like, you know, the horizon expands - you know the feeling? What am I saying, I know you know the feeling, we used to talk about it all the time -” “Yeah, yeah, I know what you mean,” says Smith, sitting up, hunching forward towards his old roommate. “It’s like – remember that road trip out West? We’re coming along the interstate, and we’re going up that mountainside, through all those tight ravines and cut-throughs, just rock all around , and then we came out of it -” “Yeah, we came out on that sheer cliff, the Great Basin just all opened out in front of us, and we had no idea it was coming...” “Yeah, remember? We stopped the car, I had that old rusty Honda Civic, and we got out and just stared and stared – shit, we were straight, as I recall, hadn’t smoked a thing, and we just stared for, must have been hours...” “Heh, remember that old Disney flick ‘The Black Hole’?” “Yeah, what a silly piece of dreck that was - “ “Yeah, but remember the trailer? You’re looking out the spaceship’s viewscreen, and it shows an overlay showing the

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local curvature of space-time, and then you notice this little dip over to the left, and then you realize that you’re heading for it, and that it’s not just some little dip, but a headlong plunge... man, I live for moments like that,” said O’Brien. “Suddenly, your nice comfortable paradigm gets screwed all to hell -” he grinned. “Well, it’s not always so much fun!” said Smith. “You want paradigm crisis, we all went through one bigtime back on 911, right? Talk about losing your worldview –” “Right right right!” says O’Brien; now he’s hunching forward. “And we’re going through another one right now, what with all these weird goings-on. But what did Lennon say about that kinda thing, huh? ‘Relax and float downstream,’ right? That’s why we got the stuff from the east, the meditation shit, the tai chi, all that stuff – I’m convinced that we got sent those tools to cope with the stress of whatever was coming, I wouldn’t have survived my junior year without that yoga class – ” “Um, yeah, and what was her name, Clara Lux, she didn’t hurt, right?” Smith punches O’Brien lightly on the arm; he grins. “Yeah. Wonder whatever happened to her... but listen, we get this Net, right? Opens up everything. Lots of dreck, but somewhere in there is real stuff, because people are just opening up their minds and their hearts and their guts and just spilling everything, and I mean everything they’ve got into this thing, and somewhere in there there are more new connections being made, and sometime in there something else has got to happen, you just can’t have that many bits combining and recombining without some evolutionary processes catching hold -” The TV in the corner of the bar has emitted a loud squawk. “WOLFNews Network, bringing you a Thirty-Second NewsPeek! Sponsored by OLFilms, producers of the newest films featuring the Western World’s sweethearts, Melanie Dirigible and Endicott Taxidermy! And now here’s Julia Buxom!”

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Julia shines her award-winning, genetically-modified teeth at the cameras. “Here’s your WOLFNews Thirty-Second NewsPeek!” she declares brightly. “More reported sightings of unusual computer activity across the planet today, as pieces of computer hardware have apparently gained the ability to move about on their own accord!” Pictures show herds of printers and monitors walking down a rural highway, and milling about a city park as amused passers-by step around them. “Better tie down your videoscreens, and talk to them nicely! Don’t forget to tune in for the ThreeMinute Outrage at 1100 hours GMT, live and in full surround-sound right here on WOLFNews! And now, back to tonight’s fun-fiilled episode of ‘Joined at the Hip’!” The spell broken, the two old acidhead comrades contemplate each other. “Well, listen,” says Smith, “That reminds me, I have to go, my Julia will be expecting me. Here’s my address” – he hands O’Brien a card – “drop a line when you can, OK?” “OK,” says O’Brien, as his eyes scan the card, pixel by pixel, storing the image into the memory stick nestled snugly below his left ear. “We’ve got some more to talk about – a lot more, I think. See ya!”
1968 was years ago ^ it’s no longer 1968 ^ it’s been decades since 1968 ^ screw 1968 ^ 1968 never happened ^ 1968 was decades ago ^ it’s been years since 1968 ^ it’s not 1968 you know ^ nothing happened in 1968 ^ you can’t live in 1968 forever ^ 1968 was dead before it happened ^ 1968 never happened ^ it was around 1965 ^ it was around 1970 ^ 1968 is long past ^ 1968 happened about a year ^ no one remembers 1968 ^ stupid stupid thing crawling on the wall if i had my druthers it wouldn’t crawl at all

1968 did happen, but unfortunately the u.s. government covered it up. all trace memories of 1968 have only been brought out through contact with the mothership. she forgets nothing...

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Chapter 23
Marius sat on a chair in the patio of his house, under the eerie light of a full moon. It was late at night, but he wanted to watch the full moon eclipse that was going to begin in about an hour. His laptop was, appropriately, on his lap and that’s why they were called laptops. If you placed them on your belly, they would be called bellytops, he mused somewhat inanely. He thought about Bob, Clara, Gordon, Jock, Sophia and others who were all contained inside his laptop and would come to life but only if he booted up his machine. Or where they alive regardless, he asked himself. Are their existences dependent on someone, somewhere, sometime imagining them or do they exist independently of anyone? He was so immersed in this thought that was startled by Odette saying, “Bonsoir!” “Go away, Odette.” “Tu m’aimes plus?” “I never loved you. And besides, you only exist in my mind.” “And why do you talk to me then?” “I’m talking to myself.” “Why do you call me Odette, then?” “Because Elizabeth is already taken. Just go. You are interfering with my thoughts.” Odette felt silent, and Marius thought that if he also remained silent, Odette would become bored and go away. He really wanted to concentrate on the characters inside his laptop. Have they been created by language and are their lives ruled by determinism, that is every event, mental as well as physical, has a cause, and that, the cause being given, the event follows invariably, or there is such total element of chance, the whim of their creators? Marius remembered that when he was a child, he was given the present of a box containing puppets of the Commedia

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dell’Arte, Pantalone, Pulcinella, the colourful Arlecchino, Colombina, and he would weave tales bringing them to life. He also remembered thinking it would be wonderful if the puppets, once back into the box, would continue living the tales he had started. Similarly, he thought, perhaps the characters inside the laptop are having a life, even if he kept the laptop shut. Suddenly, there were two voices, “Hello, Marius.” “Good evening, Marius.” Marius was startled. “Gertrude? Anne? What are you doing here?” “We live here.” “No, you don’t.” “Yes, we do.” “No, you don’t.” “Yes, we do.” “But... but, you are both dead!” “So is Odette.” “Odette is dead??” “Like you care. After the two of you parted, you never called her, never wrote, nothing. You just disappeared.” “What are you, my conscience? Besides, we just had an affair during a vacation at Quiberon, and that was 35 years ago. But, why do I bother explaining? Here I go, talking to myself again... How do you know she’s dead?” “We dead people talk a lot to each other, you know...” “But, how comes Odette is in my mind? Our affair lasted one week. It’s not like you two, horny older chicks... “Watch it, buster...” .”..Sensuous, mature ladies who, with those threesomes, gave me arguably the most sexually intense experiences of my life, and it lasted for quite a while, and you were wonderful hostesses, and great conversationalists, and card sharks...” “Card sharks?” exclaimed Gertrude and Anne almost in unison. “Yeah, card sharks. How come I never won at Canasta?”

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“Because you are wimp, Marius. Canasta is a cruel blood game. Perfect for old, ahem... mature ladies” Marius shook his head. “This is not happening. You are not real. It’s me hallucinating I hear your voices, but it’s not you. It’s me. Me. Me. Me. MEMEMEMEMEME! I do not hear dead people.” “Shall we tell him, then?” asked Gertrude to Anne. “I don’t think he’s ready for that.” “Ready for what?” asked Marius, immediately hating himself for talking to a voice in his head. “You are dead, too, Marius.” “Yeah, right. Newsflash: I’m not. Next!” “Our sweet, sweet boy is in denial, Anne.” “I’m not having this conversation. I’m alive and that’s the end of the story.” “How do you know you are alive?” “Ahem... I can touch myself. See?” “That only proves you are gross, not alive.” Marius concentrated on the moon, which was already partly covered and looked at his dog Brutus who was sleeping at his feet and snoring. He snores, therefore he is, thought Marius. At least somebody is alive. Time to open the laptop, boot it up and see what the characters inside were up to.

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Chapter 24
Gordon was awake and snarling to himself. He did not know why Clara had chosen him, but damned if he was going to do just what she said. What was it that was special about him? How did she know that he could disrupt the Cybermind? It was true. He had demonstrated that for himself. He Gordon could disrupt the Cybermind. Surely that was worth something? Something more than she was offering anyhow? Uptight little bitch she was. Oh so full of herself, oh so confident that everyone would bow down to her. Expecting people would pull her ass out of the fire, flaunting herself – fucking little cock teasing cunt-head. He imagined her cunt in place of her lips and him thrusting himself inside. Take that you bitch he shouted. You want it, you want it. He’d love to see her grovel. After a while, it struck him. What was the point of just that? He had ambitions. If he could disrupt this Cybermind, then surely he could do more? He could shape it. Shape it in his way. He could be a God. He imagined people setting up his image everywhere and bowing before it. He wouldn’t have to pretend to be a prophet, he could be the real thing. That would show those fuckers who said he would never amount to anything. Self satisfied little dicks. He Gordon would be God, that would show them. If not then he’d be the devil. All he needed was to figure out how and to kill all those who got in the way. He thought of all the philosophers he could kill, useless little academic pricks who didn’t believe in him. They all thought the author had died. Time for them to face the consequences of their ideas. **** Bob and Clara headed out of the CICIA building at full speed – just in time to meet themselves coming back in. “What the f...?” exclaimed Clara as she bumped into herself, “who the hell are you?”

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Clara’s doppelganger looked her up and down for a few seconds. “Well, I’d say I was you,” she replied, “and if that’s the case, who the hell are you, and, more to the point, who the hell am I?” There was an uncomfortable pause before the two Clara’s turned towards their respective Bob’s and said in unison, “Dear God, that means there’s two of you as well.” One Bob blinked, the other smiled. “Nice to meet myself” they said together, and then fell into fits of schoolboy laughter. The comedic relief eased the tension a little, but it soon became clear from the looks on their faces that neither Clara was in the mood for laughter. “This is no laughing matter.” said Clara, confirming the expression. “I was just about to say that!” the second Clara chipped in. There was another uncomfortable silence. The two women surveyed each other carefully, waiting for their opposite to speak. When it became clear that the other one had no intention of speaking first, they both finally spoke at exactly the same time again “I think we must have come across some kind of reality barrier.” “Lets go back inside and discuss this over a cup of coffee” said Bob. It seemed like the best thing to do, so all four walked back into the building. As they sat round the desk, an order of speech was finally established. The two who were walking out of the building were designated as Clara One and Bob One, the two walking in were Clara Two and Bob Two.

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Clara One restored some order to the proceedings and steered the conversation back round to the common problem they all shared. “We were one our way to see Sophia Paradisia,” she stated simply, “have you two got that far yet?” Clara Two answered, looking somewhat embarrassed. “We slept over in the office together” she said, “then we headed out for some food – we were coming back to look over the mainframe room for clues, get our stuff and then try and get to the Plane Sophia had sent for us” “She’s contacted you too?” asked Bob One, “We got a carrier pigeon message to meet a plane at an airstrip outside the city.” “Yes,” replied Clara Two, “She sent an email and a homing pigeon to us. Oddly the pigeon got here first. It landed on the ledge outside my office window and sang ‘you’ve got mail’ repeatedly. Bob took the message off its foot just before it told us it would self destruct in 30 seconds. Made a hell of a mess when it finally went off. The email arrived seconds later.” “Odd that really,” mused Bob Two, “Sophia never struck me as the sort to arm pigeons with explosive devices... still I guess it keeps the population down.” The other three stared at him in bemused silence. “Am I really like this?” Bob One asked turning to Clara One. “All the time,” replied Clara Two, before her opposite had chance to speak “But hey...you sure as hell made up for it in the sack last night.” “You did WHAT????” spluttered Clara One, covering the desk in coffee. “You mean you two haven’t...?” asked Bob Two “Not on your life... never in a million years. I wouldn’t even go near her with yours mate” said Bob One. Bob Two smiled for a second and then said, “Well – technically you have – if you think about it.”

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“What on earth motivated you to do that?” Clara One whispered to Clara Two while the men debated the semantics of multiple reality sex. “Well, what with being a virgin and all I just wanted to know what it felt like in case everything went wrong and I wound up dead” replied Clara Two. “A girls got to have some fun you know.” “Fun? Are you bonkers? It must have been like being humped by a word processor.” “Sounds unpleasant.” “Oh well, I shot the last one that tried it.” “What??? Are you mad?” “You mean they aren’t following you around?” The dizzying conversation spiral was halted as suddenly the doorway exploded in brilliant light with a loud “BANG KAPOW” “We are the DOOM SQUAD and we are here to SAVE you!” boomed a dramatic male voice, just before Sub Lieutenant (Second Class) Fargragig of the Imperial Zorasasasasasian guard stepped in. “STOP!” cried Clara as she walked in behind him. The two seated women looked up at the newcomer, who continued to speak, “This is the wrong scene you bumbling idiot Fargragig! Didn’t you read the plot schedule? We’re not due in this book for another week - if at all!” And with those words the whole world seemed to shift a little for a brief second, and then go into some kind of interactive rewind. Clara and Farragig stepped backwards through the opening, the sound of the explosion reversed and the blinding light seemed to fold back in on itself. Silence filled the air. “Can someone explain to me what just happened?” both Clara’s asked at the same time.

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“Looked like a plot break-in to me”, replied both Bobs simultaneously. “Plot break in?” asked Clara Two confused, “what do you mean?” “It’s a theory I’ve – we’ve – been working on. This Cybermind – its tied into the web as we knew it” replied Bob One. “So, the things that are generated in it are coming from the web itself.” Continued Bob Two, “so if someone is writing an email, or – god forbid – a book, we could be totally at its mercy.” “Which explains how the four of us got here now” added Bob One with a smug air of finality. “You two have gone stark, raving mad.” Both Clara’s stated flatly. They looked at each other in annoyed confusion, and frustration that the other had spoken, before continuing. “Its just Current messing with our minds, can’t you see that? Its like an expanded version of that damn Baz gun he zapped me with just before he turned all this loose. The guy has taken all that stuff in his head and programmed away reality. Maybe the system is running multiple simulations? Did you two ever ponder that?” “Well... we’ll have to agree to differ” replied Bob One. “Its obvious that you two see it the same way,” added Bob Two, but I’d say Bob here and myself are taking a lateral look at it, and drawing some pretty interesting conclusions. “Oh shut up!” both Clara’s shouted, then turned to face each other with scowls on their faces. “Hey! I was going to speak fir.... Just let me.... Wait I want to.... Damn... How can they both speak separately?.... This is damned annoying.” They lapsed into a sulky silence, glaring at each other and trying desperately not to speak before the other one did. “Seems like some of us are more alike than others,” mused Bob one just before two clenched female fists altered his reality a little further. By the time Bob one had come round again, the Clara’s had decided on a course of action. Dismissing the Bob’s book

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theory in favour of the multiple simulations, they decided to continue following their original intended paths. If the simulation effect was true to form, it would pick up from where they had left off, breaking out of the loop it had found itself in, or so they reasoned. All four headed back to the building concourse, before shaking hands and going their separate ways. **** Bob and Clara opened the door carefully and walked into the CICIA mainframe room. The air conditioning hummed quietly in the background, an odd rhythm that nagged at Clara as she looked at the marked area on the floor where Jansen’s body had been found. “I wonder what he was working on before it happened?” she asked Bob. “I can skip back through the system logs if you want, see if I can get it back” replied Bob, “it looks like its still live.” “Ok then Bob, but be careful. We’ve had reports of all kinds of things floating out of monitors - some kind of gigantic jelly-fish thing appeared on Floor 12 a few days back. Turns out it was a Galaxian – you know – from that retro game?” “Boy do I remember, “ replied Bob as he tapped at the keys, “I spent a lot of my youth trying to zap those little bastards. Anyway... nearly got it... just take a look at that screen over there.... seems to be a file in two parts... an image and a message. He’s set one to display on here and one over there.” Clara absentmindedly stepped up to the screen. She had finally figured what the rhythm of the air conditioning reminded her of – The Reflex by Duran Duran. She let in play in her head for a few seconds before Bob’s voice broke into the moment. “Its coming up now,” he said “It’s a picture,” she said, “Some girl in a cat suit... looks like shes holding a whip or something. What have you got?”

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The full implication of the tune the air con appeared to be playing hit her just before Bob spoke again. “A name. Tara, that’s all there is h.....” Clara turned round, to see why Bob hadn’t finished his sentence, just in time to see the hand that had thrust the knife into his throat disappear back into the screen and his body tense in the throws of death. “Bob..... oh hell no!” she exclaimed, and then the monitor in front of her caught her attention. The girls image seemed to have moved towards the screen, and now her face filled it. The girl smiled.” “Wha....who are you??” asked Clara, aware now that the screen was alive. “I am Tara.” Replied the girl. “You are the system executable. You must be deleted.” Another hand shot forward out of the screen, this time it held a gun. The last thing Clara saw was the muzzle flash, before her body fell backwards and sprawled across the desk behind. The hand slipped back into the screen. The system remained live. The laughter from the start of Rio seemed to fade into the ether...

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Chapter 25
Tis only in their dreams that men truly be free, Twas always thus, and always thus will be. (Keating in the Dead Poets Society)

The pigeon followed the migratory route of the red kite, taking care to keep a safe distance. He had been cooing himself to sleep on a ledge in the dovecot at Ithaca and had overheard the conversation between a visiting kite and his mate: “Weieie-ee-i-ee-i-ow.” (How come you sooo late coming home! Where have you been?) “Peeie-ee-i-ee-i-ee” (I’s been looking for summat to eat, yer torn-faced bitch!) And so their squawking and crowing had continued until dusk fell and they quietened down, huddling close together in their nest of sticks and rags. The pigeon had learned that the kites would be leaving the next morning to head for their cooler quarters in Britain. This was near the place where Aristotle had commanded him to visit. **** He was getting tired. The red kite had a much stronger build and its wings were more powerful. How was he to keep up! The envelope and instructions attached to his left leg weighed heavily on him. But he was a faithful and loyal servant to Aristotle and so he journeyed on. **** Mary ‘Red’ MacTavish had just completed a circumnavigation of her tower at Castle Dunfarg. There she stood on the battlements of the castle enclosed by gorse and

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the heather of her Highland home. She enjoyed the morning freshness in her aerie, high above the tall Scots pines that surrounded the estate. The castle was pleasantly situated on a causeway leading from the Sound of Sleat to the mountains beyond. Legends abounded of the noble deeds of the tribesmen that had inhabited these parts in ancient times. Red’s favourite of these legends, for reasons she did not quite understand, was about the eighth century Saint, St Fillan, the son of St Kentigerna, the daughter of a Prince of Leinster in Ireland. He had left Ireland with his uncle, his mother and three brothers, and settled beside Loch Duich, close to the Isle of Skye. Later Fillan moved south, stopping for a while near the Sound of Sleat before moving onto to Glen Dochart in what is now known as Strathfillan, where he built a large place of worship. During the construction of this place, a wolf is said to have killed one of the oxen used in bringing the building materials. The Saint prayed, and the wolf took the place of the slaughtered ox. King Robert the Bruce, had carried as a relic, the forearm of St Fillan, into battle at Bannockburn, and had later founded a Priory on this site, which was on an islet within the river Dochart. Half a mile away was the Holy Pool. This was blessed by the Saint, and had become a place of pilgrimage acting as a magnet for people who were suffering from various illnesses – but mostly insanity. The water in this pool was reputed to have the power to heal. Glen Dochart, and particularly Killin, had been home for Fillan for many years. In Killin he built a mill, and within a niche in the wall of the mill, he kept his ‘healing stones’. These were now housed in the Folklore museum and visitors, particularly pagans, were attracted to the museum on their way to worship at the Standing Stones at Dumgoyach. Red closed her sightless eyes and took a deep breath, inhaling the sweet vapours of the clean, cool air. She couldn’t appreciate the view, which was magnificent, as she was

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completely blind and had been since birth. Retinopathy of prematurity – her mother having died giving birth to her. But Red had survived, only just, weighing just 4lb 10oz. If she had been able to see, she would have spied a little old man, Postie Cameron, trekking up the path, wheeling his Raleigh with his post-bag slung across his back. The carrier pigeon had arrived in the glen that morning and, having landed exhausted in Mr Cameron’s garden, expired on the spot. Postie was reminded of the ancient Athenian runner, who had valiantly carried his message at such great cost to himself. He approached the bird and gently stroked its feathers. Noticing the bulge on the pigeon’s leg, he bent down and examined it more closely. He was flabbergasted to find an envelope stacked full of US dollars – there must have been $2,000 – and a note in some weird hieroglyphs. Postie scratched the stubble on his craggy chin and contemplated. When folk in the village had a problem, they would go and see Mrs MacTavish. She was a wise and well respected woman, loved by everyone who knew her. Surely she would know what to do! Postie quickly buried the pigeon, which he placed in a shoebox, in a hole in the back garden. Stuffing the money and note in his postbag, he scrambled up the hill on his bicycle to Castle Dunfarg. **** On the quayside of a harbour in Scandinavia a fire raged all night long. It destroyed two shops and a café, and burnt out the main warehouse, thus revealing the stolen lorry, which was parked inside. The local police believed the truck had been used to carry illegal immigrants, or refugees, from Afghanistan and beyond. They were smuggled on board an overnight ferry as stowaways to Scotland. ****

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The cold morning air began to penetrate Red’s thin tartan robe, she shivered and decided to go in. Feeling the wall of turnpike stairwell, and supported by the rope handrail, she descended the stairs two at a time, so well she knew them. Castle Dunfarg, an imposing 19th Century pile built by her eccentric great grandfather, had become hers on her 21st birthday. Only, by then, most of the main building had collapsed. So she was left with just the tower intact, which was just as well, as the draughty dwelling was costly to heat, and even more expensive to maintain. Here she lived alone, except for the company of her old retainer Jim Redhall, the occasional visits by one of her hordes of friends, and frequent stay-overs of Morven ‘Scarlet’ her daughter. Red eked out an existence from her meagre disability allowance and the small legacy left to her by her father. As she moved into the shower room her mind pondered the events of the past few days. Her current bedtime ‘reading’, which she managed with the aid of a tape deck, was Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision. The book expounded his controversial theories about the planet Venus being somehow ejected from the planet Jupiter as a comet. This he purported took place some 3,500 years ago, and had at that time pushed the other planets in our solar system out of their orbits, or changed their rotation. It had been a thought provoking read, especially since he was extremely knowledgeable in the texts of ancient peoples. Based on his interpretation of these texts, Velikovsky reached the conclusion that our solar system, with its nine planets, was not always the same as we see it today. Major and unexpected catastrophes could occur at any time. Life was fragile and traumatic, for everyone. The Cosmos was unstable. These were the messages she took away from it.

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Late last night Scarlet had telephoned from a public call box, which in itself was unusual. She had explained that she suspected that her phone had been bugged, and had wanted to relay some rather startling news. The Cabinet Minister, for whom she worked, had declared a State of Emergency. There was an embargo on all news releases. The CM, as he like to be called, had surrounded himself with his most trusted advisers, and locked the doors, even she, his Private Secretary had been excluded. Rumours had been circulating for sometime that a flu’ virus, even more contagious than SARS, had been devastating the Scottish population. There are two main types of virus that cause infection, influenza A and influenza B. A number of flu isolates from Scottish patients had been positive for Influenza A of a strain known as Fujian. This virus was slightly different to those previously circulating in the country. Although it was a new strain in Scotland, it had been seen earlier in the Southern hemisphere. In countries like Australia and New Zealand, it had caused a rise in the number of fatalities from flu, but was not pandemic. However since the strain had spread to Scotland, carried by an unknown source, it had caused an epidemic. Nobody knew how it had arrived. Red switched off the shower, opened the door of the cubicle and stepped straight out. Most of the amenities in her little tower had been adapted to make her life easier. The bathroom was well furnished with wall-mounted facilities. It could be said that the home of a visually impaired person was so much tidier than a sighted person’s, immaculate even. It had to be, for they would not be able to find anything if it were not so. Everything had its place, and everything was put back where it came from. As she moved into the lounge she became aware of the sound of someone knocking on her front door. She quickly pulled on a towelling robe, and almost ran downstairs to find out who it was. Red felt for the key in the door, turned it, and pulled the door towards her. Before she could greet her visitor, Postie Cameron launched into the story of the poor

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carrier pigeon and his amazing find. Red was astounded. With fumbling fingers – by this time they were standing in the lobby – she unwrapped the damaged envelope containing the dollars and the note. She ran her fingers over the paper, which Cameron said bore strange marks, and began to read the raised print of the Braille alphabet. Her old and dear friend, Sophia, was trying to tell her something ....

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Chapter 26
Alen Michealrose had a problem, and it was becoming a real headache. It is an urban legend that most humans use no more than 10% of their available brain power. It turns out that the estimate was rather high and, it could be hypothesised, in the case of statesmen like the Great Lawyer, that this estimate of his brain activity was exaggerated by a factor of 137. Alen’s problem was simple. Cybermind and the rest of the digital world are, by definition, digital. The human brain is more akin to an analogue device, with electro-chemical synaptic signaling, and a holographic method of processing complex ideas, storing and organizing memories. Human senses, such as sight, taste, recognition and higher levels of information processing seemed to be almost totally holographic. How could the two systems interact? Alen’s problem was the man-machine interface. The Cybermind had loads of information, huge data streams, and broadband signaling – so much so that a simple electromechanical connection into his brain would kill him, or at least fry his synapses. Speed was also a problem, since brain signaling was limited to one speed, while broadband digital transmissions would ultimately overwhelm his ability to cope with streaming data. What Allen needed was a better filtering interface, with buffers, translators and safety devices which would protect his brain from overload. Once Alen created this bit of hardware, it still needed to be tweeked, tuned and restarted. In fact, every time Allen rebooted, his Clara and Bob avatars fell asleep and woke up, each with a new reality. Hours of endless research, testing and software enhancements ran into days, then weeks, until, Alen thought he had the solution. Allen was satisfied with how the buffers

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and filters managed to capture the essence of the digital signal, while, protecting his ability to analyze the data into something substantial. He turned it on, plugged it in, and dropped out of the universe into – a brave new world. As he began recognizing ideas and data, it began to take shape in his visual cortex. Individuals took on specific shapes and colors, with these three dimensional figures representing their personality, appearance and their past statements. Slowly, carefully, Allen began to investigate this new world of his, when he was shocked to come face to face with several scary new facts: A) The Great Lawyer was no fictional character, but an evil, mean-spirited person secretly in charge of the CICIA’s storm troopers. His troops fell into two major groups, the first were programmers who were sending packets of constantly evolving digital viral data into the internet in an effort to eradicate the Cybermind; the second group consisted of a troop of black-clad, bumbling, fumbling heavily armed fools, whose job was to locate, then capture the RL versions of Clara, Bob and Sophia and torture them into coughing up information. B) There was an alien intelligence approaching from outer space. Currently, the data suggested that it was either in orbit around Mars or deep beneath an ocean, watching, studying, waiting. Until communications could be accomplished, it had to be considered dangerous. C) Bob needed to be made aware of the Great Lawyer’s cyberattacks on Cybermind because only Bob could create the proper anti-viral defenses. Bob didn’t know it yet, but he was an internet Wizard, with potential powers even Alen could not predict. D) Almost as evil as the Great Lawyer was the troller known as Gordon. He was laying traps for the unwary, traps that could be fatal if they caught you unawares. Even if Bob

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could solve the storm trooper viral attacks, Gordon was a whole other problem. And danger. First things first. Alen had to get Bob and Clara to a safe location. He had to let Clara and Bob know that the blackclad storm troopers were hot on their trail. And, he had to get Bob to start thinking like a Wizard. He breathed deeply, closed his eyes, then entered the data stream. He sent out packets of search protocols throughout the net, trying to find the laptop that Bob and Clara had been carrying. He could only pray that they still had it in their possession. Finally several million milliseconds later, he was pinged by a return search protocol packet. He began to trace the fastest route to contact Bob when his brain exploded into the most intense pain he had ever felt. It was as though he had fallen into a 4th of July fireworks from hell. Alen quickly withdrew from the net and pulled his plug. Even the plugs and buffering box were hot to the touch. Alen lay on the ground sweating and panting like a rabid dog. “What the HELL was that?” he thought. His head felt like millions of killer fire ants were biting each individual brain cell and infecting it with their venom. “Jeezus. That could only be a cyberattack by the Great Lawyer’s cybercops. I’ve got to figure out a way around those viruses.” He curled up in a fetal position and hoped that his brain spasms would slow down. They did eventually, but not as fast as he had hoped. His worst migraine felt like orgasmic sex compared to this sensation. Finally, Alen stood up slowly, felt around the interface plug and ran a quick self-diagnostic. Everything seemed ok, but only a interface reboot would really tell. “What the hell, I only live once” he said to himself as he did some quick yoga breaths and extremely slow deep bends. Alen thought about possible ways in which he could elude these attacks and still get in contact with Bob and Clara. Obviously it would be deadly for him to be caught by the Lawyer’s virus makers. He had to have another approach.

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“Ah ha! I’ll use a mirror site to sniff out the viruses, then use a slight of hand to sneak a message to Bob and Clara. Hmmmm, I’ll call it DietPunk/PhLo/Cybermind - that might catch the eye of those cyberpunks. I just need to get their attention for a few seconds.” Alen plugged himself back in, slowly began to interface with CM again, and after he felt connected and reasonably secure, he began to reproduce himself – at least to the point where he showed a hint of self-awareness. He filled DietPunk with the proper instructions, encrypted them, then sent him on his way. He waited. And waited. With deadly viroids like these, he was sure that the internet would have some reflexive impulse that he could sense. Once the attack on his mirror began, he could sneak out and search for Bob and Clara once again. Finding them wouldn’t be hard; convincing them would be, but he would have to do his best. Alen sensed a darkening of the net. As though some evil spirits had taken control of certain routers and were squeezing the net dry of electrons. That must be it. He returned just one search protocol back to the site where Bob and Clara had been. Just as he thought, they had moved to a different cell. He increased his coverage, while directing the protocol stream to the minimal area possible. He could not afford to attract any attention at this point. Ah, there they were. He sent out the minimal avatar he created just to start communications. Bob and Clara were walking across a deserted street when their laptop began ringing like an obnoxious cell phone. they looked at each other, then decided to open it. They found a trash can and put the laptop on it. Immediately, a set of eyes opened up and said:

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I AM ALEN MICHEALROSE. BE PREPARED TO RUN. THE GREAT LAWYER’S STORM TROOPERS ARE AFTER YOU.

They looked at each other, then nervously glanced around their trash can. “Bullshit” muttered Clara to herself. And there they were, 6 black clad, heavily armed troopers, searching behind parked cars and sniffing at lamp posts like dogs urgently waiting to pee.
TAKE YOUR PENCILS AND DROP THEM IN A ROW ALONG THE SIDE WALK, THEN RUN TO THE NEAREST STARBOX, GRAB A LATTE EACH, BUT DO NOT DRINK IT, THEN GO OUT THE BACK DOOR.

Clara looked at Bob’s pants, pulled out his pocket protector and removed 30 unsharpened pencils. They spread them out carefully, up and down the sidewalk, then ran into the Starbox. Just at that moment, one of the storm troopers spotted them and ordered them to stop. They began chasing Bob and Clara, only to slip on the pencils, and fall on their collective faces. Seeing a seemingly endless line of pencils in their path, they quickly huddled, and decide that the only way to surmount this obstacle, was to use their mountain climbing gear in an effort to climb this dangerous sidewalk. Bob looked out the Starbox window, waiting for his Latte order to be filled, when he saw the storm troopers start to “climb” the sidewalk. “Clara, come look. This is straight out of Monty Python!” The troopers were busy hammering in pitons and setting climbing ropes on the perfectly flat sidewalk, tying themselves to one another for safety. Then they began their crawling assault on the sidewalk towards the Starbox. By this time both Clara and Bob were laughing so hard that they had tears rolling down their faces. They both grabbed their two Lattes, and ran out the back door.
TAKE THE LATTE, PUT THE NAPKIN ON TOP, AND WRITE ‘STORM TROOPER COFFEE BREAK TIME’ IN BIG LETTERS. PUT THAT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE

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ALLEY, AND HIDE GARBAGE CAN.

BEHIND

THE

INDUSTRIAL

Clara and Bob exchanged glances, then decided that Alen’s plans had worked so far. They placed their Lattes in the middle of the alley, wrote on the napkin as directed, then hid themselves. Half an hour later, the storm troopers appeared, tired, bloody and bruised from their recent sidewalk assault. They stopped at the sight of the lattes, and quickly formed a defensive shield. “It says coffee break, sarge, so isn’t it time?” “You tell me, son, they taught you how to read, not me.” “But what if it is a trap?” “Crap? no, it smells like Cinnamon Dark Roast.” “NO, asshole, trap, not crap.” “Map? Hey, I got the map in my pack, sarge.” “OK, let’s taste test it.” The storm troopers put down their laser-guided rifles, took off their packs, removed their aching marching boots and took off the last remnants of their climbing equipment. They passed around the now cold lattes and totally forgot about Clara and Bob. Alen’s eyes whispered,
NOW, QUIETLY WALK PAST THEM BACK THROUGH THE STARBUCKS, THEN TAKE THE SUBWAY TO THE 13TH FLOOR. TRUST ME.

Clara and Bob tip toed past the resting storm troopers, and made their way deep into the subway station in front of the Starbox. Clara was secretly wondering about the power that could do this to people, and whether it was possible to trust a person with such power. What could Alen do to her, and to Bob, without their knowing?

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Chapter 27
Clara and Bob found themselves, back in what looked like her office. The route to the subway had dissappeared. “Another moving memory pointer”, remarked Bob. Clara was moving out with her POW gun and her revolver at the ready. She searched the outer office. Only Lila was present. Lila asked her if she knew that Bob was dead. “Not when i last looked” replied Clara pointing to Bob, who waved. Lila started, “but I saw him lying here, in front of this terminal.” “That must have been the other Bob.” Lila raised her eybrows. “Don’t ask” said Clara. “I told him that terminals were dangerous.” “Thanks for warning me” said Lila. “I don’t think it affects you – just us, but we had better be sure.” Clara went round the floor and carefully switched off every machine. She breathed in deeply, and went to her desk where there was a short print out reading: Some Definitions for the Contemporary Political and Critical Scene
Abusive - what the other lying moron is. Bawdy Lard - a simulation of a French Philosopher. He is short and squat, wears a beret and smokes. Only images of him are ever seen and we are all simulations in his interface. Bleeding Heart - a person who occasionally thinks we could be nice to each other.

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Blinkered - a person who will not agree with you, no matter how much you shout at them. Compasionate Conservative - one who pays Churches to harass the poor. Conservatism - a conflict between morals and business, resolved in favour of business. Corporation - 1) a device for taking the profits generated by employees and distributing them to senior executives and shareholders. 2) A way of trying to avoid responsibility for actions which might harm people in the cause of profit. Critical Internet Theory - its really important, but we don’t know what it is. Cyborg - a human regulated by machines. Factory Farm animals are edible cyborgs. Economic Irresponsibility - giving taxpayer’s money to the poor. Economic Prosperity - when the incomes of executives rise faster than those of everyone else. Economic Responsibility - giving taxpayer’s money to the rich. Free Market - markets regulated by corporations in their own interests. Free Speech - talk which does not upset the rulers or the righteous. Always more acceptable than action. Freedom - being allowed to do what the powerful don’t object to. Fundamentalist - a person who objects to the fundamentals of your world view. A Muslim. Gender - irrelevant until it hurts, or we need a housekeeper.

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Globalisation - corporate imperialism. It is always said to be unstoppable. Hypertext - text that is really hyped. For people who cannot write sequentially. Illuminati - sad collection of old men who think they rule the world and wonder why everything is going wrong. Intellectual Property - a device for taking ideas, or art, from their originator and handing them over to an employer or distributor. Liberal - a person with a weak objection to total corporate power. Liberal Media - a newspaper which has been known to criticise a rightist administration. Libertarian - someone who wants to free the powerful from all restriction and let them regulate others without check. If power was still a matter of horses they would claim Ghenghis Kahn was virtuous. Morality - the theory that we are acting better than those who disagree with us. Open and Objective - one sided. See ‘abusive’ Patriotism - the doctrine that loyalty to one’s leaders must supersede thought. Political Debate - exchange of abuse between people who have already had their minds made up for them. Post Humanism - the idea that humans who happen to be connected to certain types of machines have superior insights into reality, and are non racist, non sexist, non colonialist, and non specicist. Postmodernism - the grand meta-narrative that we are over everything.

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Racist - a person who thinks racism might still be an issue. Members of the dominant race are misunderstood and persecuted by racists. Reformist - one who repeals any laws which might favour employees. Regime Change - using taxpayer’s money and soldiers lives to sell off another country’s assets to corporate cronies. Religion - a device for preserving hatred and explaining why you are miserable. Religion, True - Our Religion. Simulation - a model of reality to which we try and force the real to conform until it bites back. Economics for example. Social Security - something only possessed by retired politicians. Terrorist - One who kills civilians without the benefit of an army. Virtual - not really anything, but we act as if it is.

Clara screwed the printout up. “Lila”, she called. “Have you been sticking your stupid liberal slogans on my desk again?” Lila looked confused “No, boss. There’s enough panic as there is.” “Must be Alen?”, said Bob “Whatever. Some dork. Ok I want a strategy meeting in half an hour. You all ready? Lila?” “Sure” said Bob and Lila. “I could do with a sleep”, added Bob.

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Chapter 28
Time passes and we fade in to Lila, Bob and Clara gathered around a table. Clara is speaking: “Ok. Lila has demonstrated fairly strongly that the country is going to hell. Food, power, water, and communications are completely stuffed. Anything else?” “Some street gangs are taking control of canned and preserved food from looted shops. Police and National Guard in some areas have done the same. In other places almost full scale war has broken out over the control of food and water. Armed vigilante groups are reported to be hunting for monsters and foreign forces. Rumours are spreading that Iraqi Imperial Guard have occupied Dallas, and a Russian invasion force has been reported from Kansas City.” “Somehow managing to get there without crossing any other State boundaries, I guess” said Bob. “Indeed” said Lila. “As far as we can tell, hand to hand fighting has broken out in both places. No Iraqi or Russian casualties have been identified.” “Great – just what we need a nation of spooked and hallucinating people with the right to bear automatic weapons” muttered Bob. “It’s a right guaranteed in the constitution and necessary for the defence of the realm” snapped Clara. “As is undoubtedly happening” replied Bob. “Anything else we haven’t thought of?” “Well with these disruptions of computer systems, I’m afraid the chance approaches certainty that nuclear weapons will be launched or explode within their bunkers.” “Shit!” exclaimed Bob “please tell me they are disarming them now?” “Our Great Leader has announced that in this time of tribulation, the United States must be prepared to defend itself with all the means open to it.” “No” whimpered Bob. “We can’t let ourselves be open to attack” said Clara. Bob banged his head on the table.

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“Some reports suggest that some biowarfare facilities have been breached and that a flu which generally incapacitates people for a couple of days to a week has got out.” “What’s the point of that?” “We drop it about three to four days before an invasion and the defending forces are unable to resist. Our troops are vaccinated and quite immune. Few deaths. It’s humane” said Clara. “Apart from babies and old people” said Lila. “Uh, huh” said Bob. “Tell me that this is the end of the Bad News?” “No cases of bubonic anthrax have been reported yet.” “Wonders never cease.” “The Great Lawyer has suggested that all homosexuals and other perverts should be executed for bringing this judgement of God upon us.” “Somehow I’m just not surprised.” “He has also suggested that all virgins be sacrificed.” Lila smiled. “Oh well” said Bob to Clara “at least you’re safe now.” He smirked gently. “Uh?” said Clara. “I’ve never been a virgin.” “Surely some time?” said Lila. “I can’t remember it” said Clara matter of factly. Lila started but didn’t say anything. What could she say? Bob looked puzzled “but you told me, before we, you know... you know.” “You made love?” exclaimed Lila. “No” said Clara. “Yes” said Bob. “No” said Clara firmly “Ok if that’s the way you want it” said Bob. “We never had sex!” shouted Clara. “No disrespect Bob, but really!” she continued more calmly “I’d rather fuck a..., a... er” “Thing you’d really not want to fuck under any circumstances” finished Bob helpfully. “Sorry” said Clara, “but that’s the way it is.”

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“No” said Bob “ok it was an accident and won’t happen again, but I enjoyed it.” “We... Did... not... FUCK. That was the other Bob and Clara.” “The other Bob and Clara?” Lila was getting some obscure enjoyment out of this. “You know the Bob you found dead” said Clara. “No, that was us” said Bob. “No it wasn’t. Oh hell! We must have got mixed up.” “That makes sense. I liked that Clara” said Bob. “So” said Lila helpfully “you have made love with another Clara? That’s interesting. You had sex which never took place.” “Never would take place” muttered Clara darkly. “I wonder if its like that article by Julian Dibble, you know in which one character in a MOO had its actions dictated by another person taking over its code?” “My Clara thought it had something to do with the amount of sex and porn online.” “That makes sense” said Lila. “Real and virtual bodies are different, of course, but in some ways they are identical. We become, in Bawdy Lard’s terms, ‘fractal selves,’ capable of infinite division into similar parts. Each part, is then, a simulation of a self which can no longer be considered whole, original, or unique. So there could be multiple avatars of Bob and Clara in the Cybermind – all being written in various ways. Sorting out the meaningful differences between all these bodies is difficult – as we can see. The fractal nature of the self, as encouraged by inhabitable cyberspace, also demonstrates what Bawdy Lard calls a seduction – ‘a locus of that which eludes you, and whereby you elude yourself and your own truth’. Thus you have multiple versions of what happens – endlessly replicating and fracturing – non of them being an absolute event.” “That’s sense?” asked Clara. “In this world, perhaps” muttered Bob. “The Best night of my life is not shareable, or truly real.” “Like most of your good nights”, said Clara.

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“Thanks for your empathy.” “Ok People” said Clara “can we have some focus here. One Bob is dead. Clara must have escaped.” “Her body has not been found” said Lila, feeling a little vindictive. “Bob must have been killed by Tara” said Bob. “What’s Tara?” “You know. Tara?” “No Bob. We don’t. Hence why I’m asking.” “Tara is some kind of electronic assassin, lurking in the wires, who seemed to want to kill Clara, and now obviously me.” “Ok that would explain a few things. Tell us some more” “Well, she is sexy looking.” “Naturally.” “We know her because Gordon disrupted her once by a logic loop and got hold of me before she escaped. My Laptop now has a firewall which alerts me when she arrives and sends her after a proliferating number of Bob images. Hopefully delaying her enough for me to switch of the machine. I guess your Bob didn’t know that?” “It might” said Lila, “also explain why there is more than one Bob now, the proliferating images have interacted with the Cybermind fertilising it.” “Possible, I guess.” “I just had the horrible thought that there might be more than one Gordon” said Clara. “Yeek” said Bob and Lila. “Ok said” Bob “but after Clara and I made love. I figured out that Tara was one of the Good guys. Trying to save us from the aliens.” “The aliens? What next?” “Ok I think there are aliens involved.” “You are ‘kooky Bob’ then. Roswell OOOOhh OOOOhh” “Well why not aliens?” “Sure. You travel across the universe to stuff up someone’s computers. Give me a break!” “I don’t know why. It sounds plausible to me.”

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“There are no documented and irrefutable cases of alien human contact” said Lila. “Trust her. She should know” said Clara. “Well maybe this is first contact? It has to happen sometime.” “Sure, Sure” said Clara. “Can we get back to the this Tara thing? I reckon she brainwashed you. Set you and Clara up so that when she killed one of you it would hurt the other one. And then programmed you to look for non-existent aliens, so she could get on with her job, whatever that is.” “It’s possible” said Bob doubtfully. “Do you have any other explanations as to why Bob was found in front of a Monitor with his throat cut?” “I guess not” “Any reason to think that Tara might not be insane, or deluded?” “No, I guess not.” “Ok. So let’s move on.” “In my world” said Bob “Lila was also a problem. Non of us knew where she had come from.” “But Lila has been here all the time” said Clara. “She is less of a mystery than you are.” “Oh” said Bob. “I’d guess” said Clara, “that your Clara hadn’t been round the office very long. Did anyone else think Lila was a mystery?” “No” said Bob hesitantly, “Not that I know of. Just us.” “That proves I’m the real Clara” she said triumphantly. “That’s not that clear” said Lila, “there might not be a real Clara, an ur-Clara from which all Claras are derived. All Claras might be equally originary.” “Ok Lila!” said Clara with a degree of finality. “It might”, said Lila, “be like the Doom Squad. Everybody remembers them – but there is no paper work. No one can really recall them before all this happened. We just know they were there.” “ARGGGGHHH” said Clara loudly “Let’s move on again before I wonder if I knew me before all this happened.” “That’s my point” said Lila.

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“I am going to summarise the explanations we have for all this” said Clara. “is everybody ready?” Lila and Bob nodded. Bob felt tired and drained all of a sudden. He missed Clara. He couldn’t miss her. Here she was same as ever – only different. One memory file he would love to wipe. “Ok. Explanation number one. From the Oval Office. This is Armageddon. Satan is loose. Let’s wait for the Rapture, assuming it hasn’t happened already and we are the sinners, or nuke the anti-christ. Any takers? No? Then Explanation two. The Dark Gods are loose. The world is being transformed by some kind of influx from another dimension. It fits the facts, but there is not much we can do. Explantion three. Alaain Current has indeed unleased some strange virus into the world which causes the virtual to be indistinguishable from the actual. This may mean that the Dark Gods can now move into this world as previously suggested. Solution. Find Current and his virus, and get him to reboot everything or whatever the technical term is.” Lila raised her hand. Clara nodded. “Wasn’t Sophia going to invite Alaain to her Island were you could all meet? At least that’s what she said in an email sent to you.” Clara and Bob looked at each other and shook heads. “No” she said nothing about that when we were there” said Bob. “I haven’t gone yet” said Clara. “Just thought I’d mention it” said Lila. “Thanks” said Clara, “I guess we could go again, or for the first time. But I don’t want to do what the Illuminati want us to do. Don’t ask” she said to Lila. “But we were about to go when we got interrupted” “I remember the plane” said Bob. “Or was that the first time?” “Ok” resumed Clara “we could go and see Sophia. Explanation four. Whats’ happening is the product of malfunctioning first generation cyberwear invented by this Alen Michaelrose guy who helped us escape the Black Shirts,

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or who said he helped us escape. For all we know the Black Shirts may have been trying to rescue us from him. This malfunction may bleed into the offline world, or it may create an entirely ‘virtual fantasy’ around the real world. This is Lila’s theory. No objection. We try and find Michaelrose and deal with him. Of course there is no reason to assume he is still sane. He could be dangerous. We have seen he is capable of deluding people – we cannot trust our own thoughts when dealing with him. Any questions?” Lila and Bob shook their heads “Ok. Explanation five. The World is evolving into some other form and taking us with it. Perhaps in this new world we have to learn how to coexist peacefully with other species, in this case, cyberentities. Or the next step could involve us learning how to transit between different realities. I think this is crap. Its Lila’s second option. I can’t see what to do in that case except let the strongest survive. Which will happen anyway if all the other options fail. Any comments?” She paused, and looked at the other two. “Ok. The final explanation is the science fiction explanation from dead Bob. This is that after some catastrophe everyone is living in bunkers with only some kind of virtual world left for communications and living. Over time the virtual has replaced the actual until something happened and we all lost track of reality. If this has happened, then its likely that this is some kind of political battle we are stuck in. Who ever controls, or designs, the virtual, may control the world. Again, no known strategy – except to try and build some machine which disrupts the virtual. Way out of our league. I’ve suggested it to the few remaining people at NISC. So that’s it. Comments?” “There’s also the aliens” said Bob. “Ok. Prankster aliens. Any ideas of how to communicate with them? Any chance they speak English? No. I didn’t think so. So our options are limited. Seek out Michaelrose, or seek out Current.” “Or find the Necronomicon” muttered Bob “It doesn’t work” said Lila. “I tried it once.”

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“Uh huh?” said Bob, “When is the chance I might actually get to hear what it is you guys actually do?” “Never”, said Clara. “I figure it might help, you know, all this is pretty weird – and those files I got...” He petered out. Aware that Clara and Lila were both looking at him and not that happy. “You know the CICIA files?” “This is Bob 2 stuff again.” “You let me do it”, he exclaimed relieved that he would not have to reveal the files he stole. “No, the other Clara did. What did you find?” “Nothing, its just all odd”, he lied. He didn’t think Clara believed him, but she let it go. “I have another explanation” he resumed. “Ok, as long as it doesn’t involve green men from Mars.” “The alien theory is not ridiculous Clara. But No – no necessary aliens. What if the universe where like some vast computer program? And our connected computers had become large enough and complex enough to interact with it, and this was causing vast numbers of problems? All we would have to do is to learn to reprogram it, and all would be well.” “Ok” said Lila “I like it.” “Hmm” said Clara. “So does God use Doors, Max or Linux?” “Ok” said Bob “Its just an idea. It needs work. I can work on it while we go and see Current or Michaelrose.” “Ok. Let’s go. You can come if you want Lila. It would be good if you did.” “Fine” I’ve always wanted to go to Greece.” The meeting broke up **** Bob, Clara and Lila made sure the Taxi they chose to get them to the airfield was old – no SatNav or electronic control mechanism. The battered Peugeot made good time through the City Outskirts, past the broadcast of agony, the slug hills

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and the tower of automatic despair, until they finally they reached the private landing strip. An old DC3 sat on the tarmac. The pilot introduced himself as Theodore Rouge. He was to take them to Paradisia Island. They strapped in and the plane trundled gracefully into the air.

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Chapter 29
It had been a quiet day in the office. He wasn’t sure if it was so because of his conscious attempts to evade doing any productive tasks, or because of his failing attempts to find any productive tasks to do. He sat through the day, staring at the wall, staring at the trees outside his window, at the screen of his desktop computer. Now and then he would rise from his chair and leave the room briefly, to refill his mug with coffee, to drink a glass of tap-water, or to visit the toilet. Mostly, he was doing nothing. It was Friday, and most of the people working on the campus were leaving early. And noone called on Fridays, anyway. With a lazy gaze, he followed the small groups of young students passing below his window. It was clear that he couldn’t focus his thoughts. He was trying not to think about the solitary journey that lied ahead waiting for him after the working hours. He read some list chatter, without engaging himself in the Friday’s endless joking, rapidly growing threads of one-liners whipped forth by the early Americans and the late Australians alike. The European members somewhere there in the middle of the time frame, maybe sitting at their desks pretending to work like himself, or just killing time with endless reports about their sex adventures (or fantasies), like that other guy. Almost time to go now. He had packed a very minimum travel kit: one set of underwear, a toothbrush, and a razor. These he could carry in his small camera bag. The ship would leave for Stockholm in two hours. He was trying to think about something else. He looked at the screen. Nothing had happened on the list for some time now. He would keep on tapping on F5 key on his keyboard repeatedly to beg for any new incoming mail. He typed a test message and posted it to the list to see if it was alive. He had to post from a separate account that he used to operate with a web browser, because he couldn’t send mail using his office machine’s IP

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address. He used the Outlook Express for incoming mail only. The test message didn’t show up. Slowly he started to go through the yet unread list messages from Thursday, Wednesday, and older dates. He kept most messages in his Inbox until he got tired of seeing them and would then delete the entire contents of the folder. Usually that meant something like several thousand messages. Sometimes he couldn’t delete the hundreds of unread messages, but instead moved them away from the Inbox to a new folder. Years ago, when disk space had been an issue, he would save his mail on diskettes. Some of these diskettes were readable even today. But if he wanted to read the old list traffic, to travel backwards and forwards in list-time, he knew that he could always go to the Archives. It was thought that every message posted on the list was also archived, but at times he doubted this. First, not all messages posted actually got distributed to the list members. The list software decided not to forward them, for some reason. Sometimes these reasons remained unclear. Usually non-distributable messages were those ones that were interpreted as commands by the listserv software. The second cause for missing messages was that those messages were distributed in the first place, but never reached the archive server’s mail address, for some reason. Sometimes these reasons were not clear either. But some percentage of net traffic was always failing to reach its destination, and no one bothered about that too much. It was one of the basic laws of internet. He decided to call his wife, the phone rang, both of them having decided to make the call. They didn’t talk very much. It had always been like that when they were separated. They listened to the silence of the wire between them, only rarely inserting a handful of words. “Take care,” she said, waiting for him to hang up. “I will call you in the morning,” he responded. Then put the receiver down. The list had become active again and he took the last quick sampling of the messages that had arrived as a burst just

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minutes earlier. History books are read by many people. He switched the desktop computer off and ventured out from his office room, to bring some water for the various plants he kept on the windowsill. “Current.” Alaain Current had finally answered the phone. After watering the plants, he took the camera bag and his jacket and locked up the door to his room behind him. “Alaain?” said Sophia. Leaving the building, he headed for the bus stop across the street. “I am Sophia Paradisia. I am a Cybermind list member.” The commute into the city took fifteen minutes. “Do you like it?” asked Alaain. He checked the supply of films he had reserved for the trip. Like a new organ; a heart and a brain cloned together to make breathing and thinking one complete action. Everything was in order. That’s OK. The bus reached its destination and he stepped out, covering the four remaining blocks to the railway station on foot. “Did you ever read Spinoza?” He exchanged the cash he figured he’d spend while in Stockholm. Quick, your location. Then walked a couple of blocks in the direction of the passenger harbour, even ran half a block in order to catch a tram where he sat down among the tired old women, the excited young women, the quiet middle-aged women, and the other people on their way to the harbour. Look, Sophia, are you listening, Sophia! Since he hadn’t reserved a cabin, but decided to travel in the public air-seats compartment instead, he hurried a bit to be among the first to pass through the gates into the ship. Clara awoke. It was particularly easy this time, since he carried no luggage and most of the other passengers were families headed for their cabins in the tourist class. Top, down the aisle, past all the empty seats. Not a very interesting lot of people, indeed. At night, the ship was almost deserted – apart from the disco and the nightclub. had visions of them exploding helplessly if anyone tried to. He went in there occasionally for a glass of wine, but generally the atmosphere was very uninspiring. Clara had tried to make sure the gin. Sitting in a corner table in the nightclub, he observed a Japanese couple in the next table, watching the karaoke show with mild interest. She was

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at the office in a camp bed - Bob was snoring nearby. At midnight he went out onto the decks to take a few photos. Multicoloured fluid flowed down. He didn’t want to talk to anyone and kept his distance to the individuals whom would have been potential contact-seekers. A large silver sphere floated silently. He wanted to stay mute and blank. Invisible, if that was possible. The ship was manoeuvring her way through almost impossibly narrow straits and between small islands that cluttered the either side of their route. As he was standing just below the bridge, the lights from the houses and cottages shone like dim candles far below his feet. Forwards, another ship was making its way, half a kilometre before them, and its multi-coloured carnival lighting shone out like a Christmas tree floating on the waves. After a while, he ventured back to his seat, and, turning to face the wall, tried to gain some sleep. Sometimes he hated sleep, as dreams would seize him unawares and he would be caught up in the determinacies of his psyche, but that was the price for living. The water rippled around the bows as the ship moved on.

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Chapter 30
When Bob and Clara appeared at the door, Sophia tingled with a feeling of deja vu, but it was gone too quickly for her to determine whether the sense of familiarity was real or an illusion. Bob and Clara were just like she’d imagined, but she’d never met them before. She invited them, and Lila, into her home. Her smile crunched her cheekbones up against her eyes. “Welcome to my alternate universe, my friends,” she said as she swept them into her big house on the second smallest island in the Ionian Sea. Clara and Lila giggled at their host’s clever joke but Bob stopped in his tracks. “Sophia?” he said. “That’s not a joke, is it?” Sophia paused. She turned back to Bob. “We all live in separate universes.” Sophia wasn’t so sure that was the case, so her voice intoned upwards. Strangely, she knew that this is what Bob needed to hear. “Come,” she held her arm up and motioned forward with her head, “I’ll boil some strong and sweet Turkish coffee. “What are you thinking about, Bob?” whispered Clara into his ear as they followed Sophia into the kitchen. “Everett, DeWitt, and Deutsch. So, we’ve just accepted that the multiverse hypothesis is not a fantastic idea. Developments in quantum physics do point to physical evidence. Steven Hawkings is a firm supporter of the hypothesis. And that’s good enough for me. I therefore believe, my dear Clara”, he ignored her humph, “that it’s quite safe to say that there is an infinite number of universes. We are currently living in many of them, but we have no awareness of our parallel existences. Some universes may be very different from the one we are consciously aware of at this moment, others may differ only in so far as, for example,

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you may have different coloured hair, or this door in this universe is over there in another universe.” Bob pointed to the other end of the hall. “So why did I get to be in this universe, the one where I’ve got blonde hair?” teased Clara. “It seems like a random event, but it isn’t. It’s just the result of the constant splitting into mutually unobservable worlds.” Bob was really talking to himself. “You know split brain experiments conducted on epileptic patients found two separate consciousnesses in the same skull,” Sophia was saying to Lila. Bob stopped in his tracks again, and Clara and Lila mimicked him. They’d reached the kitchen and adjoining dining room. The walls were bright white and massive windows looked out onto an field of ancient olive trees. “Sit down, friends.” Bob sat down and hunched over his hand, pulled into a fist, which held his thinking head. Bob had never adopted the pose of The Thinker before. It must be the pull of Greece, or what he thought was Greece. Sophia walked into the kitchen to boil the coffee and appeared fifteen minutes later holding a tray with four sets of little white cups and saucers, four glasses of water and a plate of bite-size baklavadakia. “Sophia,” said Clara, “you invited us here to meet with Alaain Current. Do you know when he’ll be here?” “Yesterday, he said ‘tomorrow’. That should mean today. We should get ready for his imminent arrival. He doesn’t know that you’ll be here.” “Do we have a plan, then?” said Lila. “No.” “Then we’d better plan a plan,” said Lila. At that point the large television screen on the wall opposite them tuned itself into view. The form that appeared introduced itself as Alen Michaelrose.

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“Alen!” said Clara, recognising the image from a picture Lila had shown her. “Clara. Bob. Lila. Sophia,” crackled Alen. “Hello. I thought I’d find you here. Planning a little meeting with Mr Alaain Current, but with no plan? Maybe I can help.” “Oh.” mumbled Bob. A cat slipped under one of the open windows and nuzzled behind Bob’s legs. “That’s my Cassandra,” said Sophia. “I’ve been doing some mathematics,” said Alen. “And have come to believe that the multiverse is mysterious. There’s a ghost in the atom. The ghost is coded. The code may be hacked. Relax, kids, the decoherence we’ve all been experiencing lately, some to a greater degree than others, is relatively simple to explain. It’s just the result of two or more profoundly complex worlds interfering with one another. Now, do you all know about Schrödinger’s cat?” “When I hear of Schrödinger’s cat, I reach for my gun,” said Bob. “Nice one. Now, get serious Bob. You are the only one with enough wizardry left in you to do something, so stop fucking around and LISTEN UP!” Alen leaned forward, the monitor cut his head off at the top and chin. He continued, “Kids, you could try a similar experiment when Current arrives.” “What do you mean?” said Clara. “What is a wacko like Current really after?” “Experimental Art,” said Lila. “World dominance,” said Clara. “Money?” aksed Bob. “Immortality,” said Sophia. “Exactly!” roared Alen. “The Cybermind effect, by virtue of creating consciousness that seems to travel from one parallel world to the next AND seems to retain at least some of its memory when crossing over, will not only make him immortal, but the most damn powerful man in the world. Worlds, to be precise. Knowledge is power, we all know that equation. But Current could well have knowledge of ALL worlds. Now think about that one for a bit.” “Eh?” said Bob.

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“Look, consciousness doesn’t travel well, kids. Your consciousness in this world can’t interact with your consciousness in another. Right?” “Or even in this one. That is true,” said Sophia whimsically. “If you were to take Current outside and set off a little nuclear bomb next to him, in most parallel worlds he would just die. BUT, quantum physics allows for a small set of universes in which Current actually survives and is able to experience a conscious self in those universes! What does that mean, kids? A conscious entity that cannot cease to exist. This is what Current wants. Quantum immortality!” “Plato said something about immortality years ago,” said Sophia. “Yeah, so have many people, but they didn’t have to deal with the math,” said Bob. “Bob,” said Alen, “You must hack the multiverse. You must crack the code. You must hack the multiverse. You must crack the code. Crack the code. The code. The code. The co...” and the connection died. “Well, that was fascinating. I’m absolutely fascinated,” said Bob. He stuffed a couple of baklavadakia into his mouth. “Bob, this is a safe place for you to work. The island has not been subjected to the Cybermind effect and is therefore a logical and coherent place. My office is through that blue door,” said Sophia. Bob shuffled reluctantly down the corridor towards the blue door, mumbling “To hack, or not to hack, now that’s a fucking good question.” Bob felt old and spent. Hack the multiverse, my fucking arse, he thought as he opened the door to Sophia’s office. One more step and he’d be inside, there to do the job, no turning back. Standing there in the doorway, he thought about what he’d become. Less than a month ago he was “The Techie”, the Macroswift Magician, the wizard who could make any machine do anything he wanted, with hardly a second word or look. He knew a lot of techies who often resorted to

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kicking the computers into recovery, but Bob never needed to do that. Blue screens or no blue screens, he was calm. He remembered the old legend that the blue had been chosen for its calming effect on people. Blue had always been his favourite colour, anyway. But the world was different now. In the world he knew before this one, he was sure of his success each time he stepped up to a reluctant machine, because he was working within a complex but finite world. However obscure, a solution could always be found to the problems he’d encountered at Macroswift. Now, he was unsure he had the goods. But then he remembered something important. “Hey,” he shouted back down the hall. “The island is not affected by the Cybermind! “Duh!” Clara shouted back. “So, I’ll just pretend I’m at Macroswift and everything is back to normal,” shouted Bob. “More fantasy is just what we need”, shouted Clara. “Just hurry the fuck up will you!” If the island was without Cybermind, then Bob could follow his usual problem solving style. He didn’t need to think about all the weirdness, because it didn’t exist here. In the normal world, all parallel worlds are invisible. He proceeded towards Sophia’s desk and plunged down onto the couch. On the desk was a document entitled “The Structure of the Multiverse”, by David Deutsch, Centre for Quantum Computation, The Clarendon Laboratory, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PU, UK, dated April 2001. On it, scrawled in red, was a note.
Bob, It’s all in the qubit! Have fun, David.

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Bob grabbed a pen and some blank A4 paper from Sophia’s printer, closed his eyes and began to write calculations seeing them in the dark blackboard of his mind, in the same way that Mozart could hear symphonies in his inner ear. **** Meanwhile, Sophia told the women to turn over their cups of coffee and place them on the saucer. “I’ll read your fortunes, later,” she said. “But now, a surprise.” She stood up. “Come with me, let’s leave Bob to work for a while,” she said and they followed her out to the backyard. Sophia led them into a wooden barn, which was entirely empty. Right in the middle of it, flat on the floor, was a trapdoor. Sophia pointed to the door and looked at the women, suggesting they open it. Once the door was pulled up, it revealed a staircase that led down into an area too dark to see. Sophia motioned that they should head down the stairs. They could see nothing at all, their feet felt over each step’s edge, like a finger might feel over a word for a blind eye. They moved slowly down the stairs. When they finally reached the final step, Sophia touched the wall to switch on the twelve lights. Each light was fixed to the wall at waist height and shone up onto one of twelve large framed paintings. Mouths open, Clara and Lila walked towards them until they could see that the paintings were of religious figures and scenes. “Icons,” said Sophia. “The arrived on this island around the year 1000. One of my ancestors sent them here, all the way from Byzantium.” They peered closer at the pictures. “Wow!” said Lila, “this one seems to have some text behind it.”

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“Yes, it does. That, believe it or not, is Philetas’s Greek translation of the Necronomicon, in palimpsest. The law of the dead.” “Wasn’t that version burnt by some Patriarch in Constantinople?” asked Lila. “Indeed, by the Patriarch Michael in 1050, but my ancestor Agiographus, made a secret copy of the translation and over this work he painted these twelve Byzantine scenes and sent them to this island with his son and wife. On this very site a great church was built to house them. That is the story. I don’t know who built it or why, but it suggests some other powerful people wanted the work saved or hidden. The church stood for many years but was demolished before the invasion of 1479. This room once stood above ground and was the church’s nave, but was buried in earth in order to disguise and protect it. Some say it was swallowed by the Earth.” “Do you think Alaain knows about these icons?” asked Lila. “Or that he even cares.” said Clara. “Sophia, what happened to your ancestor?” “Oh, he went mad. Back in Byzantium he became possessed by remorse at having saved the text, believing it to be alive in some way. He arrived on the island determined to destroy the icons and the Necronomicon, but his son murdered him, right here in this very room, which at that time, was still a church.” “Yes, I can feel the vibes in here,” said Lila. “That, of course, is the story”, said Clara, I wonder who told it?” “His son, I suppose” said Sophia. “How do you think our story will end, Sophia?” asked Clara. “Let’s go read your coffee cup.” **** The women returned to their coffee cups. Sophia picked up Clara’s cup first, closed her eyes and overturned the cup. She hunched over it and opened her eyes. She gasped. “Sophia, what’s wrong?” said Clara.

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“There’s nothing to read, it’s all clear,” Sophia was confused. “Is that good?” Sophia looked up at Clara, her distorted face caught in a frown. “Don’t you have free will, Clara?” Then quickly added, “oh sorry, silly thing. I don’t know. It must be good. Clear conscience. Something like that.” “Come on girls let’s clear up the table,” Sophia stood up. “If we really want to know about the future they way the ancients did, we’ll all go to the great Necromandeion (The Oracle of the Dead), over in Epirus. It’s situated at Acheron River, which leads to the gates of Hades. This is the place to communicate with the dead. I guess it was the way the ancients communicated with the parallel worlds of their time. But for now, Bob is our oracle. Let’s boil him some fresh coffee and see what he’s come up with. “Oh yes, we must tend to the needs of the great man” said Clara. **** The doorbell rang. The women froze. Sophia brought her index finger to her mouth indicating they should be silent. She whispered to Lila to go hide out in the barn and that Clara should go open the door. Sophia would go to warn Bob that he was running out of time. As Clara walked to the door, she wondered about Sophia’s comment about her free will. She opened the door and felt a tingle of deja vu as she saw Alaain Current. The feeling did not last long enough for her to determine whether this familiarity was real or an illusion, but she felt she’d known Alaain long before this moment, even though she’d never met him. “Clara,” Alaain said, opening his mouth wide to pronounce the a’s in her name. He said her name as if it was the most familiar thing in the world. “Yes, I’m Clara.” “I know!” he said. He was very convincing.

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“You do?” she felt compelled to ask. “Oh yes, more than you could know Clara, more than you could know.” In the brief time they stood at the door, Clara already felt that Alaain exerted a mysterious power over her. Her hand felt for her gun. Alaain noticed her reaction and laughed. Clara pulled out her gun and with both hands held it a few inches from Alaain’s head. “And what the FUCK are YOU laughing AT?” “I’m laughing at us. What a great team I made,” said Alaain. He patted Clara on her head, walked into the house and headed down the corridor into the dining room where Sophia had read her coffee cup a few minutes earlier. He sat himself down on a sofa across from the dining table. Clara followed him with the gun poised in both her hands as before. Alaain slapped his hands on his thighs, “Come on, Clara, come sit with me. I want you to tell me about yourself, who do you believe you are?” Clara sat on his lap, the gun still in both hands. “I said I’m Clara.” “You are amazing, Clara. Truly amazing. Even when I was planning you, I could never have hoped for something this good.” He grabbed her cheeks with his two hands and kissed her forehead. There was something terribly threatening about Alaain even though she sensed he wasn’t dangerous, not in the traditional sense of the word. He wasn’t interested in killing her, she knew that, but she didn’t know why she knew that, or even if she could trust herself. There was something about him that was really turning her paranoid. She swung her arms to the side and then whipped them back onto his skull with just the

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right amount of force to knock him out for about fifteen minutes. She needed to ask some questions. She needed to think. “Sophia!” she screamed. “I need some rope, NOW!” Sophia appeared with a ball of rope and tape in her hands. They tied Alaain to a chair. “I don’t think he’s dangerous,” said Clara, “but there’s something just too weird about him. He got me to sit in his fucking lap! Just like that.” She shuddered. “I’ll feel safer if he’s confined. He’ll be conscious again in fifteen minutes. How’s Bob going?” “He’s almost done. The wonder boy is almost done.”

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Chapter 31
Clara and the others were facing Alaain when he opened his eyes. She was casually holding a gun in a place where he could see it. “Hi” she said. “Now perhaps we can start this relationship again. I’m Clara. Pleased to meet you.” Alaain smiled. “You are every bit as wonderful as I had hoped” he said. “Good” she said stiffly. “Now tell us what you are doing here, and how we can fix things up.” “Fix things up?” he asked “What’s wrong? Don’t you see that life is now art? That people can shape the world around them. That the material is now a support and not a terror? The world is really Virtual, yet not a mere simulation.” “Except perhaps, for the nukes” said Lila “and the starvation.” “Ok, lets fix them up then” he said. They paused. Sophia nodded, “and how are you going to do that, young man? Some folks may want them as badly as we don’t.” “As I said we are not bound by time and space, or despair. Its hard to understand especially if you have been confined all your life.” “Not all my life” said Sophia dryly. “I didn’t mean that. Maybe we can fix that too. The possibilities are boundless. Have you seen the way the sun strikes the walls?” “I’ve been trying to fix things by thought since this all started” said Lila, “but nothing, nothing happens.” “Theory is nothing without obdurateness” said Alaain. “We can do nothing, if nothing resists. All art is dealing with resistance, with the muck of material. It stains us as we use it.” “I have no intention of not resisting” said Clara. “You are superb. I always liked you the best”

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“What is all this shit, we have never met – except when I tried to shoot you and stop all of this from happening.” “Look” he said, “in my world, if the real is what resists, and I represent the symbolic – the striving for words – then you, my dear Clara, are the imaginary which escapes. And how you escape. I would never have dreamed of what you have become.” “I am not imaginary” said Clara. “And I am your imaginary” he said calmly. “So how do we make this better for everyone?” asked Lila. “Is that what you all really want?” They looked at each other, nodded or said yes. “And all of you, given this, this brief respite, this offer of limitless power and freedom, you want to help others, to love each other”, he said. “I think the world outside is rather frightening” said Sophia “and you make it more so.” Alain smiled again, and began to speak: “This is the safety zone. Within these borders... Everything else outside – corruption, decay. This is safe for us. Love at the barricades. What happens outside the frame. The frame problem – not to adjust the real, but to keep it out. The problem with everything real. “By virtue of the sign the body is not a sign. That is, culturally determined but obdurate nonetheless. You can see the body. You never see the sign. “What I was going to say slips out, as the tongue moves. That is, it remains, as in ‘remains of the day,’ un-spoken. You can only imagine, and what you imagine is always right, write and written, within the borders. “It’s safe within the borders. They’re here for the moment. “All these packets are enumerated, addressed, like the directories themselves. “They’re ordered so you can read and are comfortable that way.

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You can dissemble, forget. The addresses disappear forever. Even to save the words... within the protocols, the borders. The words are boarders and grow old. The truth of the pun is the pun of the truth. Truth slips out, a pun, my word, safe here. “The world is so unsafe, plasma, sun-spotted. We take these few moments and re-make the frame.... We are comfortable here, these names our names. We are here for you, part of you. You call us forth with this reading which is a writing as well. We pour into you. “It’s safe and warm here for human life. We are amazed that anyone still does good, does something unequivocal and calming. We are amazed these tiny spaces come forth in the midst of Armageddon. They come forth and are quiet, are peaceful. They hold us in their arms, they sing to us softly. “We cry quietly among the lullabies. We are at home, and we are up and down with the frame.” Bob felt things churning about his mind. Somehow the glow came back and then disappeared again. “This place has strange geometries” said Alaain. “Somehow I cannot move. I can’t get at things. My tongue is always stiff, there is so much to say and its so hard to say it. Language limits as it stretches forth.” “That’s good” said Clara. “No I feel cut off. I can’t fix the bombs. I can’t heal you. Something is missing.” He looked a little panicked. “How did you do this?” asked Bob “This is way beyond any science we have.” “I don’t know” Alaain shrugged, “I think it was Clara that made me what I am. Thinking her and letting her go, she thought me and here we are thinking each other. Who was first? We are intertwined, I suspect” “Typical fucking Liberal” shouted Clara “can’t take responsibility for anything. Its always somebody else’s fault isn’t it? Always somebody else made you do it? ‘I come from

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a broken home your honour’. I’ve news for you. Murder is murder, terrorism is terrorism, and there is laws against it. And you are going to face them, fuckhead.” “Clara!” said Sophia firmly. “We do not get anywhere through abuse. Try and control yourself.” Bob expected Clara to fly off completely at this but she mildly nodded and obeyed the older woman. “And bombing people to death is not murder or not terror when you are the Great Leader I believe?” resumed Alaain. “You disappoint me at the same time as you delight me. Oh Clara Hielo Internet, you take so much within you. I would write haiku sonnets to your untidy perfection and proliferation. Your channels, your routes, your flesh, your wires. You child of time and dreams.” “My name is Clara Helio” said Clara. “Perhaps you are thinking of someone else?” “A misreading!” he laughed “oh dear – no wonder you have escaped. But that is fine. I’ve been hunted by a misreading. Haunted too, no doubt.” “So let me get this right” said Bob “You don’t know how this situation arose, or how you became central to it?” “I have theories.” “He always has theories” said Clara. “Oh Clara” said Alaain simply “How I love you.” “What!” exclaimed Clara. “You! You’re kidding?” “No, its the truth. It has always been the truth, or what passes for the truth. How I have quested after your mystery – the shifting relation between symbol and flesh, the enfolding of words and being, the questioning our speaking of speaking. The way a poem annihilates language, yet within which language arises, the way the lips shape love, this gap which ever frames us even at the limits, that makes transgression non transgressive, because we can not burst free. The emission of word objects overlapping and coming from nowhere. Shape riding as a dream of transference. Always I fall short – the text marring and marking, joined at the horizon, yet never reaching. Yet here you are – as real as the

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real is real. And you Clara, you are this doubled world, of dreamer dreamed. Of flesh escaped. I love you, I would write on you my life. Forever. Write of glittering jewels, monstrance, chalice, simultaneous profusion and dissolution of inscriptions, carvings into the flesh soldered in the form of tourmaline crystals, spelling out the name of Clara.” “Huh?” said Clara. “Let me get this right” said Bob carefully. “You are saying that you and Clara are somehow intertwined in writing and that if she killed you then you’d both die?” “Of Broken Hearts” said Alan, the irony obvious. “The conversations you have seen here are real, they are trapped in a world of machines and computer nets, a place known as clara-machine, an enclave of dreaming desperate beauty.” “Clara, could you please put down that gun” asked Bob. Clara stood there thinking “No” she said finally, “If I die and we save the world, then that’s no big deal.” “Perhaps” said Lila, “we can try and save the world, without killing anyone?” “Don’t be stupid” said Clara. “Thank you for your considered opinion” said Lila. “I don’t believe him anyway” replied Clara. “I am not a machine.” Alaain sighed “No, you are a producer product. Like us all, only more. Clara Hielo talks behind dark eyes, illuminated wires, and melds into me, flesh and body one. Primary and secondary narcissisms merge; recognitions devolve into partobjects. Let me abjure narrative, for nothing tells a story. “When privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will be private. When your friends are dead, only the dead will have friends. When sex is a crime, only the criminals will have sex. When numbers are indeterminate, only the indeterminate will have numbers. When the network is really down, only the really down will network. When Clara desires, only the desired will have Clara.”

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“Well that was informative” said Clara. “When you are dead you will really stay dead. I am not yours, and I’m certainly not you.” “Very well” He tightened his face and began to chant: My name is your own, Your flesh is mine; My flesh to the bone Is cast as your own. Our blood is the same, Your flesh runs to me. If you give me your name, I’m burned with the same. My legs are splayed wide, I moan and I whine; Upon me you ride, Come in me inside. Your legs are splayed wide, You moan and you whine; Upon you I ride, Come in you inside. Clara writhed on the floor, her face racked by pleasure. Lila screamed “Stop it. Stop it.” Alaain stopped, looking guilty and upset. “Fuck you” Clara breathed, tears marking her cheeks. “Why do you fucking men think I’m nothing unless I’m wacking my cunt?” “That’s something I never thought to hear a woman say in public” said Alen’s voice from nowhere. “Next you will have me in tears, or in corset and stilettos or something equally stupid.” Lila glanced at Bob who’s hands surreptitiously tried to hide the bulge in his pants. She smiled to herself.

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“All this Net freedom and you liberals are still fucking gender cliches. Do that again Current and you are dead.” Lila smiled to herself again. Everyone seemed to go for Clara. It was strange really. She herself had had a crush there, but Clara had a relationship wound a mile deep. It would take someone a lot bigger than her to fill that. And Alaain, well he needed a woman much stronger than her as well. Perhaps Alaain and Clara could get together? If they really were each other’s fantasies, then mating them might heal the world. Sophia, well Sophia she would rather have as a grandmother and not a lover. Gordon and Tara were meant for each other – that would be one huge healthy relationship. That left Bob. Dear Bob. So much more than any other nerd she’d ever met. Why he even seemed to have feelings. He was kind, gentle, a lovely man really. But he never seemed to notice her. Come to think of it no one really seemed to notice her. Perhaps if she wore a corset and stilettos then Bob might look at her for once. She smiled. It would be rather fun, but, even in this world it wasn’t easy to arrange that, and she didn’t want to look cheap or desperate. Oh what could she do? She snapped back realising that Alen Michaelrose was talking. “Much as your mutual bitching is entertaining children. We have a problem.” “You don’t say” muttered Clara. “The Great Leader has found out where you are, and is about to strike.” “Oh shit” said Bob quietly. “They initially planned to saturate bomb the island with mountain busters, and then strew cluster bombs around while the navy shelled you with depleted uranium. After that they planned to send in two battalions of Marines.” “My poor Island” said Sophia. “A bit of an over kill isn’t it?” said Bob. “They think you are the most dangerous folk on Earth. Look how many men they sent after the Great Terrorist, and he escaped.” “He’s no longer relevant” said Clara.

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“Yes dear. However sanity prevailed. That and the fact that it would take six weeks to organise such a strike and the guidance systems are so stuffed they could end up bombing Washington by mistake. They threw a virus at the Scots after all.” “True” said Lila. “I’m sure the Vice-Leader is hiding somewhere safe” said Bob. “Anyway the point is, that much as I despise Current.” “Thanks” said Alaain “the same to you etc.” “He mustn’t” continued Alen, “he mustn’t fall into their hands, under any circumstances. The consequences would be dire.” “Why?” asked Clara. “A world shaper under their control” breathed Lila. Everyone shuddered. Except for Clara. “What’s so bad about that?” she asked, “we might be able to fix some serious problems.” “The perfect slave society” said Bob. “Bullshit!” said Clara. “Free Elections, and no need to fixed the voting machines” said Lila. “Making everyone watch Christian TV and buy Norman Rockwell” said Alaain. “All women still in the fifties and happy” said Lila. “You guys are weird” said Clara. “This is all crap.” “Ok then, tell us what they would do”, challenged Lila. “We don’t have time for this” interrupted Alen. The Great Lawyer’s comic black-shirts have been sent instead. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps its irony. This is the most post-modern leadership the US has ever had. Truth is whatever they want it to be, and their words never mean what a reasonable person might take them to mean. And we don’t mind at all. Perhaps its simply nobody cares if these troopers die. Anyway, these black shirts are still bad enough. Between us, Alaain and I should be able to get Alaain out. Hopefully in one piece. I’ll try and come back for the rest of you later. That all clear? Good. Ok Alaain lets go.”

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“Goodbye Clara” whispered Alaain. The air started shimmering. Their skin crawled. Strange shapes loomed and gibbered softly. And then nothing. Alaain had gone. So had the chair and the ropes. They looked at each other. Some seconds later, Alen’s voice came faintly out of the computer speakers. “We did it. I’ll be back. Just hang in there. And Bob get working!.”

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Chapter 32
It was a warm, sunny afternoon in Greece. The aroma of ripe olive trees, feta cheese and wine filled the air. The crystal blue sky was almost too blue to look at. Bob chewed on more lamb while he fretted about his future. He poured another wine and contemplated just what a “wizard” was and how the hell could he ever become one? He was getting deeper and deeper into a self-destructive self-analysis, magnifying all of his mistakes and inabilities, while forgetting his strengths. Even with the Black shirts coming things could not get worse, he thought. Until, Just at that moment, Clara and Sophia left Sophia’s bedroom with their hair dishevelled, their clothes in disarray and with big smiles on their faces. Bob’s jaw and wine glass dropped at the same time. The thoughts that rang through his mind were bouncing like misshapen superballs inside a four dimensional pinball game. His memory of Clara was still clear enough (in this avatar) to really shake up his reality. Sex memories or not, this event did not compute in Bob’s universe. Finally, he stammered, “Well, when in Greece, do like the Greeks do, huh?” Clara and Sophia both stopped dead in their tracks. They started as though they were shocked, then stared at him as though he was speaking a foreign language. Finally the penny dropped. Clara, sighed impatiently, bored new holes into his head with her laser eyes, then very slowly and distinctly told Bob, “Hey, wizard. You are here to fix a problem, not spy on me. And by the way, just so things are clear, Sophia was showing me her new massage chair, so if you have any other bright ideas, you best drop them this instant, or you’d better be wearing a kevlar cup. Got it, BUCKO?” Sophia finally realized what things looked like through Bob’s eyes and started laughing. Bob turned a great shade of

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crimson and started to turn away. Clara stepped forward grabbed Bob by the arm, and pulled him towards the computer. “Now, work. We didn’t go through all we’ve done for you to dream silly immature Playkid Ragazine sex dreams. So move it.” Bob searched her face for some signal, while trying to avoid her glare at the same time. He finally said, “I don’t care what Alen said. I don’t know anything about being a wizard. Just what is a wizard supposed to do?” Sophia piped up. “Look Bob, you are the wizard, so we can’t tell you. But we know that it comes naturally to you. Just try. Just sit down and try.” She smiled at him. This simple statement managed to cool down the room to an almost normal level. Bob sat down and turned on the machine. Behind him, Sophia quickly snuck a kiss to Clara, who returned it with a smile. Clara grabbed her waist and moved her closer. Now that Bob was one with his machine, they had all kinds of time. The key to fixing any halfway decent computer attack is knowledge and patience. Unfortunately, knowing which aspect of internet reality was Cybermind and which was the Great Lawyer’s virus attacks was becoming almost impossible. You, gentle reader, should know by now that the universe always manages to balance things out. No matter how loutish, auto-lobotomized and Keystone Kop-ish the Great Lawyer’s storm trooper squad was, his viral soldiers were at the other end of the spectrum. Professional, knowledgeable, talented and fearless, these programmers and hackers were slowly winning control over the entire net, not to mention Cybermind. Unfortunately, Cybermind was his main target. The Great Lawyer’s viral attack was taking place on three levels. The first was called the Trojan; the second, RU-269; and, the last was the Cupric 7-IDU sterilizing virus. The

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Trojan was an old fashioned virus which enveloped its target programming, reproducing itself and using the target’s own sequencing for sending copies of itself out through out the system, then onto other people’s computers. The RU-269 virus was much more sophisticated. By waiting for the morning after insertion before taking any action, it caused most virus checkers to miss it until it injected itself into the source code of whatever OS was operating. This devastatingly effective technique caused a great deal of fear and loathing, particularly in some governmental bodies, because one key side-effect of RU-269 was to open up all encrypted files. The last viral attack, the Cupric-7 IDU, opened up firewalls and security systems by randomly destroying certain parts of the hardware and software, leaving discrete strings of programming with which to further accomplish its bent goals. By using all three viral attacks at the same time, the Great Lawyer’s programmers were slowly gathering control over the entire world. By trying to fix one problem, users were actually leaving themselves open to the other two attacks. Cybermind’s existence was in peril. Bob was almost in a trance. He looked at viroid trails as though they were talking to him. Parts of his brain seemed to explode with energy, while his fingers began blazing at incredibly high speeds. “Ah, what a set-up,” he thought to himself. “This requires a a radically new approach. I wonder if this. . . “ Bob began to program his own anti-viral virus. As the Trojans were ready to explode, they would find themselves surrounded by a programming foam, eating away at the Trojan’s very targeting system. Once this defense was launched, the foam would distract the Trojans into premature replication and ultimate self abusing destruction. As for the RU-269, Bob came up with an entirely new approach. Despite the GL’s programmer effort to hide the RU-269 until the following day, it did leave a tell-tail track of

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rapidly moving bits of encoded material. These bits swam throughout electron stream, searching all magnetic and electronic memory for just the right place to implant their load. Bob decided that sterilizing these rapidly moving bits was not possible, instead, the answer to this attack was more subtle. By distracting each packet and directing their attention elsewhere, Bob’s program would cause these entities to start eating each other. Much like Escher’s drawing of hands in reverse, the RU-269 packets would actually eat each other out of existence. Bob saved his coupe de grace for the Cupric 7 virus. This was both the easiest and the hardest, because the Cupric 7 device had extremely unusual and unpredictable twists in its design. Bob decided that the only answer was his radical Digitizing and Conjuration approach. He had never tried it out in the real world, though, because it might cut such a wide swath in its path. There, he thought. All his defenses were ready for transmission. Pretty good work for ten minutes, huh? He quickly quit all other programs, leaving his injections system ready to go. Bob looked up from the screen and saw that it was pitch dark outside. When he sat down, it was 2pm. local time. The clock now showed 12:23. More than 10 hours, not ten minutes, had passed. He realised that Lila had been sitting in the same room, replenishing his drink and putting out food. At the sound of their conversation, Clara and Sophia came out of Sophia’s room, dishevelled as ever. Clara looked over his terminal and thought for a bit. “Do you think it will work? It better, bub, or else.” Sophia took a rather nicer approach. “Bob, our dear wizard, you were working so hard, that we thought we’d just leave you alone. You hungry? Here’s some cheese and bread. Try it with the olive oil.” Bob’s body began talking to him all at once. His arms were like lead. His eyes felt like sandpaper. His butt, well, luckily

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he felt nothing from the waist down, until he tried to stand up. He plopped down again. “No, no food. Not until I transmit this. I may have to do some guiding as it builds up.” Bob looked strangely at both of them, then finally got ready to press F-1. He raised his hand, aimed for the key, and, just at that moment, 6 black clad, heavily armed, storm troopers broke the door to Sophia’s house. It was a shock even though they expected it. “Move away from that computer. NOW. All of you against that wall.” Bob, Clara and Sophia walked backwards towards the wall, their arms raised, their fear visible on their faces. Even clumsy oafs, when heavily armed, can be deadly. Never the less Sophia spoke. “You have no legal right to be here.” “We are defending the US of A. We have the legal right to be wherever we want, bitch. Who’s going to stop us? The bunch of pansies you Greeks call an army? Without us, you Greeks would be speaking German.” He laughed. “No court outside the US can touch us, or the shit will really fly. You just be a good girl and do as we say, and you might get off easy.” Clara fumed. “This is not the American way” she said. “Bullshit Lady. We are the World’s superpower. Get used to it. You traitorous little slit. Terrorist cunt. One more peek, and you’ll be in the Bay without charge for as long as I want. Get that?.” Clara stared at him. He pushed his gun to her head. “I said ‘Get That?’” “We get it” said Bob hurridly, “don’t we Clara?” Clara grunted. “Good. Good. We can all be friendly then. No cause for concern. Just stay up against that wall. OK? Now tell us what we want, or we might just have to wreck some farms out there. Sad, but that’s life ain’t it?.” The leader of the storm troopers looked at the computer. “Now what is all this techie shit?”

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Clara responded, “that is only our visi-phone. It lets us talk to each other.” The storm trooper scratched his helmet, then his groin. “Visiwhat? you mean like a phone?” Bob caught on fast. “Yeah, if you wanted to talk to the Great Lawyer, all you have to do is dial. You start by pressing F-1, then put in the number. Try it.” The storm trooper laughed. “Hah, very funny. You think I trust you? You guys probably have this rigged with a bomb in the seat. Hah, I’m too smart for that old trick. Hey, you corporal. You sit here.” The other storm trooper moved closer, but refused to sit. As he looked over the plasma screen, it began to change. Alen Michealrose’s image appeared and the computer began repeating, in an extremely loud, scratchy and irritating artificial voice: “If you wish to make a call, please deposit 25 euros for the next ten minutes. If you wish to make a call, please deposit 25 euros for the next ten minutes. If you wish to make a call, please deposit 25 euros for the next ten minutes.” The sarge sneered at the screen. “How do you shut that thing up?” This time Sophia spoke up. “Well, you still have to press F-1. It is the command line. It turns off the phone voice, too.” The sarge asked his corporal, “Which is F-1? OK, press the damned thing.” his corporal complied. At first nothing happened. The computer stopped talking, and all the lights in Sophia’s home dimmed, then went out. Immediately, Bob grabbed Sophia and Clara and threw them to the ground, with himself landing on top of both women. “Nice being here again, Clara.” He whispered. Even in the dark he could tell that Clara was not the least bit amused. Just as she started formulating a particularly biting response, including a message from her incisors, she quickly

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changed her mind and said “hell, I left my gun in Sophia’s room.” It would have been impossible to converse anyway, since the storm troopers began emptying their weapons in all directions. The noise of gunfire was overwhelming. The only lights came from the bright flashes from each gun tip. Bob pulled Clara and Sophia along to floor to Sophia’s bedroom. “Alen, I hope you have something worked out” he whispered. “Damn it, where’d I put it” muttered Clara feeling for her weapon. The door splintered into fragments under the hail of fire. “Bob, try the closet” shouted Clara, as Sophia cried out she was hit. Bob crawled to the closet and opened the door. As he did, he took out his subway token and put it into the keyhole. As the three of them crawled away from the gunfire, it turned out that Sophia’s closet in southern Greece led directly to a stop in the central line of the London Underground. As they moved her clothes apart, they found an empty bench. “Wow, that was close. I’m so glad Alen got there to help us.” Sophia’s voice shook. She had never been shot at before, and never wounded in such a way. Luckily it turned out the wound was not deep and Lila could bandage it enough to stop the bleeding. And then she noted, but oddly without wonder that she could walk. It was painful but she could walk without thinking. Tears grabbed her throat and filled her eyes. Sophia gathered herself together and asked, “Are we sure that the defenses were sent? Before, I mean, before those animals started shooting up my lovely home?” Bob shook his head. “I think so. But I can’t promise anything. That power surge and drain was what I expected,

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but who knows? Only time will tell, the problem is I can’t help it along from here. I need a pretty fast connection. Something like what the Great Lawyer is using to spew those viroids out in the first place.” The three of them sat in silence, with only the wheezes of a smelly, dirty, partially uniformed bag man tramping his way through the Tube carriage, followed by the clattering of their car’s wheels on the tracks of this badly maintained Underground system. As they approached the center of London, Clara turned to Sophia and asked. “What choice do we have? We must get inside Floor 13 again and use their system. It is the only way.” Slowly, Sophia nodded, almost reluctantly. They both turned to Bob who finally noticed both women glaring at him. “Hey, no way. Not me. I work with computers, not guns or breaking and entering. Heck, I can’t even get laid when I want. I mean, PAID for all my efforts.” He shook his head violently. “I don’t like guns and I don’t like being chased. I just want to go home.” Clara gently took his hands into hers, held them close to her chest, looked into his eyes tenderly and said, “Look, you stupid shit-head. If you DON’T finish this job, you won’t have a home to go to. Got it, peabrain?” Sophia couldn’t stop giggling at the sight. “I know”, said Sophia. “I can ring my friend Red in Scotland. Her daughter Scarlet works for the Government. Maybe she can get us a safe house or something.” “Sounds implausible” said Clara. “We can’t tell them who we are, as they will check with US security, and if they don’t know who we are then why would they help?” “I don’t think the Brits are too friendly to the Admin at the moment” said Lila. “Remember how they wrecked Buckingham Palace, on the last visit, and wanted to shoot

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demonstrators with immunity? We just have to have a good excuse.” “Ok” said Clara “I can’t think of anything better, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” They stood up in quiet agreement. It was the Northern Line and they got out at Mornington Crescent.

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Chapter 33
As they ascended warily into the open air, Clara swore. “Quick, everyone, get rid of your mobile phones. Now – smash them.” “Isn’t it enough to switch them off?” asked Lila. “I don’t think so, there’s heaps of secret stuff in them. Bob you should smash your laptop.” “No”, said Bob. “I don’t know about mobiles, but my laptop is fine. I don’t install stuff if I don’t know what it does.” “Come on” laughed Lila, “its got Doors. Nobody knows how that works.” “I do. I’d also bet the mobiles would be ok, if you took the batteries out.” Clara grumbled a bit more, but even she just removed her batteries and turned it off. “Ok, she said, lets find a pay phone.” The first phone they found seemed to have an almost infinite amount of human excreta in it. It kept flowing out for as long as they held the door open. “After you” said Bob. “There has to be another” muttered Clara. At that moment, Lila noticed two rather odd creatures moving towards them. They were human with blank white and black faces, covered in wires and flashing lights. She nudged Clara, who moved in front of the party. “Get ready to run” Clara hissed. “Please to greet you” said the one on the right. “We come in peace” said the one on the left. “We have no hostile intentions towards any.” “Only the most humble felicitations to give. Oh mighty one!” “Who the hell are you?” asked Clara. “We are emissaries of the Great Goddess herself, oh humble follower of the mighty Bob!”

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“I know”, said Clara, “I’m going to regret this, but what Goddess are we talking about here?” “You speak for Bob!” “We serve the Lady of the Harrowing Way, the Goddess of Cyborgs, oh Speaker for Bob!” “She has sent us, bearing gifts for Bob!” “Nifty gifts for Bob!” “And her blessings.” “And these gifts are?” asked Clara suspiciously “Not that we would be drawing attention to ourselves here” said Bob. “Listen! Bob! speaks” “Mine ears are struck with delight.” “My wires crackle contently with no noise.” “Ohey Bob!” They knelt waving their arms and legs. “I think the clandestine bit, has just disappeared” said Lila. “Yes” said Bob. “Can you, er whatever you ares, take us somewhere less public?” “What is less public? Oh Bob!” “We are confused? Is not everywhere public?” “Do we not share the wires in communion?” “Are not our secrets exposed so that there is no loneliness?” “Are we not One, Oh Bob! tell us your thoughts.” “Mayhap we are not worthy Number 31456” “True, True. Oh forgive us Oh Bob! We have not left our patriarchal egotisms yet.” “Scourge us. Scourge us. We have not gone beyond the dyad of human and machine.” “Oh No. Hideous bifurcation of ill!” “Oh Sibling thing, we have not grokked “ “Ok. Ok, Consider yourself scourged” said Bob. “Ah, Oh Bob! has blessed us with the Virtual Scourging.” “My wires burn, I convulse with bliss of agony. Yay hath Bob! scourged us and we are free of sin.” “How about you take us to another room. Where only the Goddess and our selves can overhear” said Bob. “Oh Bob! You use our command line and we obey.” They began to erect a large white tent like structure. Bob rubbed his head and looked helplessly at the others.

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“I don’t know, Oh Bob!” mocked Clara “Perhaps inside I can shoot them or something” “They might be useful.” “Sure, like we need a portable football field.” “There Oh Bob! and party. Enter and be free of borders.” “Yea! The Cyborg hath challenged the divisions.” “Male and Female fall, as do machine and human, animal and human.” “There is no longer the division.” “Yet, we forsake the foul seduction of conceptual wholeness.” “We are incomplete!” “Well that’s true enough” muttered Clara to herself as she checked out the inside of the tent. “It seems ok”, she said to the others “I can’t hear the outside.” They all trooped in. “So what is this all about?” asked Bob. “Oh Bob! speaks to us again.” “Ok!” interrupted Bob. “Enough is enough.” “Bob! cautions the Golden Mean” “Mayhap Bob! is an Aristotelian?” “Hush, oh foul mouthed emitter of heresy. Bob! is Bob! That is all we know and all we kneed to Know.” “We abjure binaries and exploitation.” “What do you live on?” asked Clara. “The Wires, Oh speaker for Bob!” “I was just wondering where the power came from? If you don’t exploit nature, you know.” “Nature gives us power harmoniously.” “Spontaneously?” “We tap into the grid. Oh Speaker for Bob!” “Oh you use other people’s power stations. I see. Very Spontaneous. Of course.” “There exists no division between Nature and Machine. We are Free!” “You are at least cheap” said Clara.

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“Ok. Everyone. This is Bob speaking. What the hell is this all about?” “Oh mighty Bob!” said Clara and Lila together. They laughed. The Cyborgs also began to speak together, but with another voice. “I sent them. I the Lady of the Harrowing Way. Goddess of Cyborgs. Bringer of Freedoms. Overcomer of the pathologies of Western Thought. Founder of the Post Human.” “So you override them – just like that? Some freedoms you bring” said Clara. “Clara” warned Bob. “The Cyborg overcomes divisions, we are...” “Machines” said Clara viscously. “You have lost your organism, you submit your people to rule by another machine, which you control, and you call it equality.” “You have not been blessed. You are still lost in the divisions in which domination makes sense. I am sad for you.” “Sure, only you can Pave the World” said Clara. “There is no division between the natural and the cyborg. You cannot understand. Our machines are lively and you are so dead.” “Life is lively. Fuck I’m no Greenie, but this stinks. You, you… Socialist.” “We merge with the world. We are made of sunlight, we have no dust, the world is not as you see it. We need no grounding. We have no destructive egos for we are distributed intelligence and inherently democratic. The human being is no longer central to our thought” “All Hail goddess of Capital and Technocracy”, said Lila darkly. “You are both simply human supporters of existing exploitation. Bob perhaps you should change your prosthesis?” “This is just that psychasthenia thing again”, said Clara. “Making humans merge in with cyberspace and robotics so they cannot be seen, or to lure prey to them.” “Wow”, said Lila, “you’ve heard of psychasthenia?” “From somewhere. I can read too”, replied Clara.

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“Maybe it acts to lure us as consumers of the net?” Lila suggested. “Can we ease off a bit”, interrupted Bob. “Can someone tell me what this is all about?” “It is simple Bob. I have seen the future, and the future is you. I have come to bring my blessings. To say I support the Cyborg project. That the programming of the World is a great step to which I bow in awe. If I am the prophet, then you are the Second Coming.” “He’s only come once” said Clara. “Thank you Clara” said Bob. “I am not God” said Bob. “Of course not, you are Bob. That is the point, you are beyond God and the spirit-matter divide. You are the inceptor of the Cyborg. The one who slays the mere flesh forever. You are seizing the tools to mark the world that marked you as other, as nerd, and despised.” “He’s not despised, just because he’s a nerd” said Clara. “Lay off Clara” said Lila. “Just using my one remaining freedom, while it remains” said Clara. “Ok so what is this gift?” “I offer you the implant. To hear the wires, to sing with the wires, to flow through the spaces, so hear all and see all. I offer you immortality. Your soul downloaded to the wires, to the Net. To be one with us for ever. It is the most precious gift I can offer. It will ease your path and make you triumphant.” Bob paused and thought. “No” he said. “I’m sorry, its tempting. But I can’t do it. I’m not sure I can save the world, but I’m not doing it by separating from the world and mere humans, like Clara, for example.” “Then you reject my help?” “I must take my way. But I ask a small service from you, if I may.” “You damn this world Bob. I and mine shall leave it forever. We will not meet again.” The cyborgs silently packed up the tent. They did not speak, or notice the others.

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“Well that was useful” said Clara. “Bob, do you think it was wise to reject her?” asked Lila. “‘It’ not ‘her’” said Clara, “it was beyond gender remember.” “I don’t think I had a choice really. Perhaps it was the wrong thing to do. I would have loved to have flown through the wires. I would have loved to loose the body. But, I can’t leave you all either.” “Would it have made a difference if she had offered it to everyone?” “I think she was giving it to everyone, in her mind. I don’t know. Some things are just puzzles. We will never know anyway. Let’s find a phone.” They soon found a phone. “Ah” said Clara, “I forgot, we don’t have British currency, and we’re not using cards. Hold on.” She vanished around a corner. About half an hour later, when they were starting to get worried, she turned up with some money. “Just over coming divisions between those who have and those who haven’t” said Clara. “You stole this” accused Lila. “Give me a break, its about five pounds” said Clara. “No one will starve. The economy won’t collapse any more than it has already.” “We could have begged” said Lila. “Classic Liberal position. I used initiative instead.” “Stop bickering” said Sophia. “You’re all just like children. How are we ever supposed to do anything if all we do is bicker, bicker, bicker? Clara, you are the worse. Now be quiet.” Sophia entered the phone booth and dialled up Red. She let it ring for a long time and eventually Red answered it “Mary?” said Sophia. “Yes, who is this please” “Its Sophia Paradisia” “Sophia, from Ithica?” “Yes, it is. I’m in London.” “Oh, that’s odd. I just got a message from you, asking me to come to Ithica”

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“Yes, you must come, its safe there. The World is sane. The disruption has not reached it.” “Oh. That sounds good. What are you doing here? How are you?” And so the conversation went on. Clara tapping her foot in the background. Eventually, Red agreed to give them Scarlet’s number, and to talk to Scarlet herself. Everything seemed to move unrealistically smoothly – perhaps the Lady had not abandoned them completely after all. After a few hours they found themselves in a small, well furnished, but simple house, with food, drink and bedding. Clara and Lila checked it out, and removed some of the bugs and fixed the cameras. Clara talked to Scarlet and seemed able to persuade her how important it was that nobody whatsoever knew they were there. Bob had a vague feeling that subtle threats and enticements were being made. And so they settled in to London and got to work.

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Chapter 34
The safe house was surrounded by a garden which had become forest and was almost impenetrable. The trees were young, but they had a sense of deep presence. Weeds and ivy seemed to burst from the walls. The sun was faint in the sky above. The house could not be seen from the street, and anyone sneaking their way in would be announced by the noise they made. It seemed perfect. Somehow Clara had managed to get some access to intelligence and it worried even her. It seemed that the Great Leader had commanded the secret mobilisation of all US troops ready to invade the Middle East to participate in Armageddon and overthrow the anti-Christ. There seemed to be a great deal of debate as to who the anti-Christ might most plausibly be declared to be. The British Government had committed itself to participating as well, without announcing it in advance to Parliament. It looked like Israel had decided that while the US would protect them until Armageddon, they had no concern for Israel’s survival during it, and were thus readying their own weapons of mass destruction in advance. As a result Bob had become even more frantic in his efforts to do something, and had firmly asked everyone to leave him alone. Lila, thought it quite clear that Bob was not going to notice her at all – especially at present. This upset her more than she wanted to admit. The only recourse was to leave the safe house and venture into the streets. This worried her. She knew the dark myths of London. The place was supposedly built on the head of a murdered giant. Stories abounded about the world underground, which was a kind of warped mirror of the surface. Of dire poverty which begat inhuman races which mixed in with ordinary people, leaching away their lives. The houses were packed with

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malicious hauntings, and blood stained the ground wherever you walked. The first god of serial killers, Jack the Ripper, unknown and forever shifting had crept here – implicating doctors, industrialists, masons and the royal family among others. The blitz and burned corpses lurked hidden around corners. London was eerie at the best of times. She briefly wondered, if the Cybermind simply expressed our unconscious, and if so, despite Alaain’s confidence, it would forever undermine itself. Dreams were strange, enlightening and deceitful beings. Lila had never been able to think that she had dreams, rather they had her. Sometimes she thought that she was a kind of pale emergence from the world of dreams, no more than that. Oddly London seemed more stable than America. Sure, there were evidences of disruption but they seemed mild by comparison. At one stage she met a herd of talking elephants who asked if she had seen any small pigs anywhere as they were desperately trying to find one. At one time she thought she saw some school boys hanging upside down in the trees from ropes, but did not know if this was the disruption or some odd local custom. She was disturbed by the site of a crowd of people laughing as a squealing man in a brightly coloured costume was eaten by a crocodile. Several times in the nearby undergrowth she had heard some unearthly giggling which she felt running up her spine. On the whole, Londoners seemed to just get on with their lives. Nothing could disturb their depression. She had heard that in Nottingham the ghosts of Ned Ludd and Robin Hood had arisen and were inciting people to free themselves from slavery to machines. Their cry was that technology had destroyed free work, created dependency or unemployment, and torn up communities. That it poisoned the air and water and broke human limbs and spirit. That it was the rider and the working poor the ridden. That it was a tool of oppression, opposed to the commonality, and now had warped the world. It was built not to bring life, but to untrammel the greed and violence of the powerful. Heartless power and profit permeated its very design and nature.

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She thought she heard a faint wiff of song: To the Tune ‘Poor Jack’
He may censure great Ludd’s disrespect for the Laws Who ne’er for a moment reflects That foul Imposition alone was the cause Which produced these unhappy effects. Let the haughty no longer the humble oppress Then shall Ludd sheath his conquering Sword. His grievances instantly meet with redress, Then peace will be quickly restored.

Lila wondered how they fared. It seemed a drastic solution to the problem and she did not want to return to the darkness of the past. She also wondered what violence would be used to suppress it and, whether in fact the machines had insinuated themselves into the revolt. Did Ned Ludd use a laptop? Eventually she wandered into a park, sat down and began to think. She had a vague recollection that she should be doing something, but had no idea what. It was foolish anyway, as she was no good at anything. She thought how uselessly she had acted in the current circumstances. How strong Clara and Bob, and even Sophia, had been, compared to her. How she had just flowed around and let them carry her. Time passed, and she found herself wanting to weep but unable to. She had borrowed two books and began skimming them quickly as a distraction. The first was Dire Reader’s new book, The Internet and Confidence. She quickly figured out that Reader was punning on ‘confidence’ and ‘confidedance’, although doing so without marking it in anyway other than by context. There was possibly a third, and different, meaning which she had not yet worked out. Lila had wondered before if Reader was more interested in suggestion, or mystification, than in clarity. If his concern was provoking thought rather than guiding it. Basically the argument seemed to be that confident relationships were

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based on the dance of confiding, a kind of exchange which was put to the test until some kind of rhythmic movement was obtained. This lead Reader to propose that friendship was the basis of a new politics beyond nation, party or religion. Not that this would lead to salvation of course, that always had to be deferred, as what we could end up with always differed from what we intended. Lila doubted that the politics of friendship would be any kinder. She vaguely remembered Reader’s attacks on those who thought one of his American friends had been a little too flexible under the Nazis by writing that European culture would not be diminished if all the Jews were wiped out. The irony here was not pleasant. And Reader’s attacks on those who disagreed with him were fairly offensive, even by academic standards – they did not create friendships, but rather expelled those to whom friendship was not offered. Dire Reader was so vitriolic and self-righteous that she wondered if he was related to Gordon. Then Reader pointed out that the movement of the confidedance may or may not have an exchange of meaning, indeed the movement in some sense was the closest we could have to meaning, and the exchange was always impossible anyway as deferral happened and the same things could not be exchanged, ever – for the exchange made the same different. Nothing could remain the same – due to the network of time. As well, Reader claimed all statements were inaccurate. At the most basic they grouped things together which were not the same and could not remain the same. All ‘balls’ were not the same, neither were all ‘dogs’ and so on. This could not be rectified by increasing refinement as reality always escaped signs and the refinement we could bring was always limited anyway. Thus the basis of all statements was ‘the lie’. As religious statements were about that which could not be put into words, they were overtly lies, but as much as science explained things by things which could not be perceived, or

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which were to happen, but had not yet (or were induced), it was also a matter of lies. Art, in so far as it was a representation of something, distorted it, and thus lied. All plans, all poetry, all imaginings were lies. In a long analysis of Plato’s dismissal of poetry as lies, he showed how the same argument undermined Plato’s assertion that philosophy was about truth. It too was lies based on a kind of ‘con’-fidence. Certainty made the lie more lethal. The only truth, such that it was, was Plato’s friendship to Socrates – which had in turn caused him to make Socrates say what he had not, in the attempt to make Socrates real to us. It was the lie which made philosophy. But because of this, the assertion that lies were corruptions was clearly wrong. Lies became the basis of creativity, freedom and deferred truth (the only kind which was possible). Socrates had died, and yet not died. In the final stage of the book, Reader took his most audacious move. He argued that the Internet came before Writing and Speech. Lila paused at this one, and tried hard to follow the argument. As far as she could work out, it implied a hidden definition of ‘the Internet’, which seemed to be taking it as the network, or technology which enabled writing and speech. In which case, she thought, it was a little tautological. Dire Reader argued that we cannot write or speak without tools, and without someone else. Writing and speech are not individual, so the Internet had to exist to provide both interaction and of friendship, in order for there to be writing and speech. Writing and speech had to be differed until the Internet arrived. An act of deference, in fact. But there was always already an Internet. Speech and writing were always taken as markers beyond the person, but had no function without the Internet, without the constant exchange of packets, without in-through-mation. The Internet was a prior, but not an underlying, whereas speech and writing were lies. As not a statement, it could have a degree of truth (of a type) whereas the others were contingent, for their existence depended on their falsity and upon the Internet itself which enabled them in its deferral. And this networked deferral was what friendship expressed.

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“I wonder” Lila thought to herself, “if Reader might be arguing that a distributed intelligence is some kind of precondition for an individual intelligence. If so then distribution is not inherently democratic as the Goddess of Cyborgs claimed, but simply a continually modifiable precondition of any political system whatsover, including dictatorship. I guess that feels right.” Someone sat beside her and they began to talk in a leisurely kind of way about nothing much. Some way into the conversation, Lila saw the most extraordinary parrot. It was bright blue and with a huge green plume and was walking on the ground amidst some children who were ignoring it. As the parrot turned around, it changed shape becoming slim and slender, more like an ibis, but still vibrantly colourful. She pointed out the bird to her companion, who had also seen nothing like it in their lives before. Then Lila realised that there was a flock of these birds, their feathers glistening and changing, like peacock tails, and somehow satiny. She noticed how the bird’s crests kept changing shape. It seemed that some became horns, and she knew how these horned birds had made people think of unicorns. The birds then became horse shaped, with horns protruding from their foreheads. Some had more than one Horn. The horns twisted and turned and multiplied. She was amazed, and the children began to point and dance. Lila opened the book of Persian poems she was carrying, and there next to a verse about Paradise and its fauna, she saw a delicate miniature of the bird’s head. That is what it is, she thought. She ran closer to the fence with her mother and they stood on the fence corner and looked down at the birds. Lila and her mother spiralled into the air to look down at them. The birds had become huge origami birds and frogs, and other unknown beasts, made out of Japanese paper. Each was a little different. They settled down beside the birds and began to talk to them. Someone, possibly Clara, had put some fluid on the ground and was explaining how the RNA in the fluid would preserve the birds forever, between the pages of a book, as they must not die. The birds seemed doubtful, but one started to drink the fluid and began to dissolve, until only its head and graceful neck stood out and then it too disappeared into the fluid, another couple of the

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birds did likewise. Lila felt some vague distress, but watched anyway. She started, someone was shaking her awake. “Sorry miss” said the policeman. “Its not really safe to sleep in the Park anymore.” Lila, thought she saw some small eyes glisten amidst the grass, but they quickly faded. She thanked the policeman and slowly went back to the safe house wondering what her dream had meant. It also suddenly struck her that Bob had just lost his virginity to a woman who had died and then rejected him pretty fiercely. That was pretty confusing and hurtful. It was no wonder he wasn’t responding that well to her. She felt just a little brighter.

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Chapter 35
Bob knew the powers had returned the moment he arrived in London, but somehow they were not fully there. There was some kind of obstruction, some kind of uneasiness with them. So he played with them, rather than put them to full use – even though the situation was desparate. That was the major reason he had insisted that everyone leave him alone. He was ploughing various archives and had come across this post:
Date: Sun, 9 Jun 1996 13:17:37 -0700 Subject: Re: the witch of cyberspace This posting by Clara reminds me of my distant youth when, searching for material to for a project on the history of technology, I found a small anonymous pamphlet in Fischer Library called (as I remember) *Religions Unspoken and Unspeakable*. It claimed to be published by Bracewell Press of London though no publication date was given. The poor quality of the paper and the printing style lead me to assume it was published at the end of the last century or the begining of this. The name of a translator, Dr. M. A. Llewellyn was given and his “Proem” claimed it was translated “and elucidated” from some notes in German which he found scattered in a parcel bought from a tray outside a bookshop in Paris, amidst some lecture notes which “appeared to taken from lectures delivered by Hegel or one of his less talented disciples.” The pamphlet was in the rare books section of the library and it was only possible to take notes from it on one occasion when I found it lying on a table. It was apparantly not catalogued under the title I had scribbled down and I was unable to ever find it again. Naturally the title reminded me of the infamous *Unaussprechlichen Kulten* of Von Junzt written in the early 19th Century and which I had regarded as, like the Necronomicon, entirely fictional. However this book did talk in a somewhat incoherent manner about things which it

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claimed were too horrible to think about, and about those who worshipped them. Some of these horrible things were of course fairly innocuous such as the proposition that the universe was millions of years old, that human beings were actually animals rather than divine beings, and that there where other far more intelligent and powerful creatures in the universe which were not like humans at all – some of whom existed as “unhomely devices” which were neither mechanical or organic, and enmeshed humans within their ghostly webs. Other things, I should remark, appeared horrible as they were completely incomprehensible – I suspect at least some of this may have been due to the translator’s impatience with the author’s supposed Hegelianism. (I remember one lengthy footnote, which I did not copy down, which might demonstrate this. The translator explained he had deleted some worthless philosophising and complained about the author’s attempts to explain the nature of the existence of the creatures he was describing. He mentioned the being of the beings, and the being of their connection with human being, their role in the being of the abyss of being, or of the being of the universal being and complained about the being for being of artificial being. But it was a long time since I read this and I was undoubtedly confused. I do however clearly remember the translator commenting on the elegance of the Arabic formulation in which “to be” and “to find” are equivalent). > > It was approaching the solstice and a low insidious > rhythm vibrated through the net. The beldame was > typing her horrid notes, transcribed from the > Necronomicon itself... The anonymous author referred to a book, which I gather he had read but “not held in his hands, only before his ghost”, which he described as “not being an image of time.” Years later of course this struck me as a possible transliteration of a garbled transcription of mixed and crabbed Latin and Greek – Ne chrono eikon.

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This image was in fact a Net thrown by “fishers of men.” It linked humans in the grip of a claw that held no time. That held worlds which were both not real and which devoured time. It was a web of “innumreous linkages” and “filled with detritus”, an “unending labyrinth – with the horror that you are always, and yet never, at the entrance and there is *no* minotaur.” > In the terrible night the hideous old crone clutched > at those she created in cyberspace, she owned them > she thought, by putting her despised trade mark > upon them. the book referred to the “magnitudinous ghostess emitting a thousand young” and the secret of the claw and the mark, the understanding of which was reputed to shatter the mind and “fructate lessions of the soul.” However there seemed to be little danger of understanding the explanation. He did refer in passing to the marking of cattle and the beast 666, and the ownership of “everthing inside” by something “very small and flaccid”, and how all would have their instructions stamped with this mark. I remember an indignant footnote by the translator complaining that the author was ignorant of the rudiments of gematria, but I cannot remember why. > The old woman launched them as stars, It was however clear that the explanation involved the energy material of the stars and contact through vast distances without physical contact via some kind of reflective mirror that radiated an “unsettling light.” > and > being thus launched she would cleave out their souls, > as they signed their e-mail in their own blood. Naturally signing in blood was part of the scenario however it was not signing by the person but by their “Hieroglypic fountain” that was at stake.

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Sickness descended by the “instructor or *monitor*” (emphasis added). Even so it was the reflection which killed and the author rounded in horror that even the most secret of acts would be enacted in public, and yet everyone would be alone and confined before their mirror. The horror appeared to be emphasized for the author by the fact that the confinement would be voluntary and anticipated with joy. Bodies would atrophy despite the most extreme sensualism, what the author recoiled from as “the blending of imaginary limbs.” He claimed the mirror fed and eventually the ghost substituted for us all. Paul

Somehow he had found this all unsettling and ill omened. He was also worried by the thought that perhaps the other Bob, the dead Bob, was the real Bob, and he was just people’s memories of Bob, with no real reality. The immortality of fame made literal. He was just bobbing along, he thought with a tinge of bitterness. He was aware of something else in the room by the change of the light. He turned around half expecting to meet his ‘cyberangel’, but it was not her. It looked like an angel; it was winged and beautiful, male and cold. He shuddered involuntarily. “Who are you?” he asked. “Some of us noticed that you had been talking with the US version of us, so we decided to send you a British one – in the interests of balance, you understand” it said. “Uh-huh” said Bob, “and what does that mean?” “Well” said the being, somehow Bob could not think of it as an angel, “we would like you to think about what you are doing. Not just run in there, all guns blazing.” “What do you mean?” “Why do you really think you have the talent for this?” “I don’t know” he said.

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“You don’t know? You were just chosen on impulse by some fluffy tart with wings were you? Or are you just so wonderful? Why you, do you think?” Bob shook his head. “Ok, so you don’t think. You are a nerd. What do you really know about psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, linguistics, economics, ecology, politics, history, art history, literature, just to mention a few minor issues? I know that nerds think they know everything without having to do the work, just read Slashdot someday – oh you do, I forgot. But its not really good enough is it? They would scorn a humanities student trying to teach them how to program or how to design a computer with the same level experience they bring to the humanities. But the arrogance of ‘hackers’ is endless. So why you? Why not someone who knew something about what they were fiddling with?” “I don’t know” said Bob, “I didn’t ask for this.” “Oh dear, thats hardly enough excuse to tamper with the basic structure of the universe is it? ‘I didn’t ask for it’. Oh my ears and whiskers. ‘I didn’t ask for ultimate power, it just fell into my hands when I wasn’t looking, lets tweak a few constants and see what happens’. Hardly the basis for a new world, is it?” “Ok. I know. but why are you being like this?” “That’s what I’m asking you. Oh dear, do you think the forces of good ought just give blind encouragement and comfort poor little you? ‘Rah, Rah Bob’, ‘Bob’s the Best’, ‘Bob can do anything’. That’s so bloody American. ‘You can do it because you think you can’. Bullshit, my friend. Something like this requires knowledge and understanding, not blind confidence. Do you think I’m bad because, I’m not dropping mystical hints, ‘follow the light Bob’, or gushing vague spunky positivity? ‘Stay with the Force Bob’. Do you think Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha came to ask you to go with the flow, live without reflection, and be complacent about your spectacular mundanity? “Ok, Ok so its difficult.” “Difficult? Difficult! That’s an understatement. Winning the Grand National on a three legged horse is difficult. This isn’t that easy, Bob.”

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“Its impossibly hard then.” “At last some realism. So tell me Bob. Have you got the skills? Was your unexamined life worth living?” “I don’t know. I’ve no idea why its me that has to do all this.” “Well we could just hope that out of the billions of people on this planet its Bob’s your saviour. Or we could have a group hug or something. Or talk about the virtue of selfishness. And then pontificate about how the power of God is within you. What conceit. ‘Oh yes I’m Mr. Perfect Bob. I know everything’. What about the God of Job heh? What’s been your testing? Do you think you really know life better than all those millions who have struggled with nothing to help? Do you think you are automatically better than them, or know what life is like? ‘Oh dear I stubbed my toe, Oh woe and tragedy. Oh woe and thrice woe. Someone teased me’. Let’s have some humility can we.” “Ok. Ok. Jesus! Its not like I wanted it.” “Oh take this burden away from me! This is Mr Wonderful Bob we’re talking about, who doesn’t even know how to woo the woman he longs for.” Bob blushed. “She doesn’t want me.” “And you’re reprogramming the world? God save us all. Clara needs a man who she thinks is tougher and more intelligent than she is. She’s not going to respect someone who gives up the first time she plays hard to get. Any fool could tell you that. At least one who’s whole life wasn’t stuck in a machine. Who had some experience. She’s slept with you once, you know. Or at least I hope you know.” “That was the other Clara.” “And they are so different aren’t they. When they met you couldn’t tell them apart for heaven’s sake. The only difference they have is that one could fuck you and the other couldn’t. Not very plausible is it?” “So what do I do?” “Oh want me to tell you do you? Save you the work. Save you the thinking. Life isn’t like that Bob. I ask questions, its you who is in charge. When did you get the idea that virtue was obeying someone else?”

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There was silence for a while, just the hum of the computer fan and the sounds of Bob’s breathing. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe not. I probably know Clara better than you do. However, there is still something about you I don’t like at all” said Bob finally. “Because I’m asking questions? Oh poor Bob, someone’s asking him things. Was this an exam you missed at College, Bob? A subject you didn’t take? Did you just do the easy stuff?” “Hell I don’t know. This is just not constructive.” “Oh Bob, poor Bob. Do you think if I was the forces of evil I might have a little experience? Do you think I’d tell you I was British if I wanted you to take me seriously. Any fool, a politician for example, would know better than that. You’d find what I say a lot easier to take if I’d said I belonged to the same group as you. If I was an American programmer for example.” It changed into an overweight and pasty gum chewing nerd. “That’s rubbish and programmers don’t look like that anyway” said Bob. “Where’d you get your experience from?” It changed back. “Think about it”, it said. “Go on. Test yourself for once.” “Well ok”, Bob said after a while, “perhaps you’re right.” “Trust me, nationality is emphasised by the Internet. Its ok as long as it doesn’t come up. But, if they can’t rebut your argument, they’ll bring up your nationality. Only, idiots think problems can be solved by ignoring them. ‘We’ll just sweep this race thing under the carpet, and as long as no one wants to be a nig-nog its ok’. It’s a bit sad when you can read a contemporary novel and its more likely to have aliens and angels in it, than what you Americans call ‘people of color’“ “But what if you don’t know what colour the characters are?” “Then they might as well be white. What’s the difference for you between your white and the white in white supremacy?” “Er. I don’t think I better than anyone because of it.” “What else?” “I don’t know.” “My point exactly, bumbrain.”

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“You’re a bit crude for an angel, aren’t you?” “Too fucking right dickhead. Who told you angels were innocuous? Who said I was an angel anyway?” “Then you are a devil?” “Binary thought in action. Great stuff Bob. If I’m not black or white I can’t be Indian? If I’m not Christian then I’m damned? I can’t be good without being an angel? Bit sad for you poor humans isn’t it? ‘Can’t stop slapping you around until I get me wings, love’. Oh life is so bloody hard.” “I’ve certainly never heard of an angel like you.” “Mark of lack of experience again. How many books on angelology have you read, if that counted? And I don’t mean this New Age crap. How many angels have you met before me? One – possibly? Possibly it was one of the Dark Gods. How would you know? Oh of course, it flattered you. Must be good then. Hardly a great sample size is it? Its premature generalisation as well as premature ejaculation.” Bob shook his head tiredly. “This doesn’t help”, he said, “what are you then, somekind of alien?” The Creature shifted into the familiar form of a small grey alien, large black slanted eyes and no mouth. “As alien as you are Bob” it said. “I could be an one of the fair-folk”, it whispered. “An Elf” Bob exclaimed. “Not one from Tolkien obviously, or are you one of Santa’s little helpers?” It shifted back into its earlier form. “Father Christmas”, it said slowly, “carries a club. His bag is full of the bodies of young children, and his jacket is stained red with their blood” “Yuk” said Bob. “The otherworld is not cute, Bob. No amount of wishy washy paintings of dainty, femmy, bourgeouis fairies will make it so. You need to remember that.” “That’s not the point. I can tell the world isn’t cute. Look out the window, why don’t you? However there’s something wrong about you.” “Oh, so you do think I’m bad? Would you prefer me to look like this?” It changed into a tentacled monstrosity with huge fangs, dripping slime. “Life would be so much easier if evil looked

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like this wouldn’t it? But there are perfectly useful and harmless creatures God made that look something like this. You’ve seen pictures of creatures of the deep ocean. Are they evil? Give me the name of a fearfully ugly murderer? Do you think your taste in aesthetics is equivalent to virtue? ‘Bob doesn’t like the way I look, better become an evil overlord. Cackle, cackle’. Do you think your low-brow, limited view of good taste is virtue, or something?” “No. You’re twisting things” said Bob. “Don’t you think virtue might even know how to look beyond appearance? Don’t you think virtue might be harsh on occasions? To make you think, God forbid.” “Ok” said Bob, “I get the point.” “Do you? Look sweetheart, if I was evil, don’t you think I’d know a little about torture and threat? Don’t you think I’d point out how your soul is mine, and say what I could do your body? That fragile bundle of pain receptors?” It leared. “Hmmm” said Bob, “I think you just have.” “Trust me darling” it said. In this place, if I wanted, you and your friends would be dead and I’d be feasting on your bones, before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’” “Ok. So why don’t you then? “Because I swore on my name, you might think of it as my code, not to spill a drop of your blood. Though come to think of it, if I caught it all in the bath then I wouldn’t technically have spilt it.” The creature shifted back into the angel form. Bob felt cold noticing the creature’s pointed teeth and tongue. But he wasn’t going to let it know that. “Ok”, he said, “so you threaten well. What’s the deal?” The creature laughed. “Good. There isn’t one. So think, Bob. Before you meet the Lurker, the Dark that has been born for you. That is snuffling after you. What do you answer it? What is you life worth, that you should save the world? How will you defeat it, eh?” “What lurker? I don’t know anything about that.” “Oh you will, and you’d better be ready. Better than this anyway. I am the touch of a feather compared to it. Many would-be cyber-gods have met theirs and found themselves... not themselves. And they were smarter than you, dumbhead.

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If you defeat it, it may be almost instantly. If you find yourself in a long struggle, you have lost. What will you have lost?” “If I ask you what this lurker thing is, are you going to tell me anything useful, or are you just going to keep abusing me?” “So I haven’t told you anything useful, you cloth-eared maggot brain. Maggots would be an improvement actually.” “Ok, thats enough. I’ve had enough. I can’t think or plan with you raving on like this. Just go away will you.” He felt nervous after he spoke. There was a pause. “Very well Bob, I’ll go. As far as you know. But think it through will you. That’s what I ask. Just think it through.” It vanished. Bob realised he had been sweating profusely. He felt sick. He also realised he had to go back home. Now!

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Chapter 36
The door creaked open. Clara turned toward the sound, Lila and Sophia turning with her. Bob stood with one hand clutching the doorframe. “I couldn’t do it,” he said. Clara shrugged. “So take a nap, grab a cup of coffee, and try again later.” “You don’t understand,” Bob said. “I can’t do it.” “You are quite possibly the best troubleshooter in the best computer company in the world, Bob,” Clara said, making an effort to be patient with the geek. “No doubt you can figure out something to do.” “Now I know how Frodo felt,” Bob said. The reference made no sense to Clara, but Lila jerked as if someone had jabbed her with a red-hot pin. “What?!” said Lila. ‘I know what I have to do, but I’m afraid to do it,’ Bob quoted softly. Clara turned her considerable powers of observation on Bob. He did not look frustrated or disappointed. He looked ... haunted. Clara felt a chill creep over her skin, but shook it off. “How does this affect the plan?” she demanded. Bob gave a bitter, edgy laugh. “What plan? There is no plan. I was the plan, and I failed.” “It’s not your fault,” Lila said. Clara wanted to slap her. “It damned well is his fault!” she said. The she rounded on Bob again. “What is it you geeks are always saying? ‘Work the problem’ or something? Well, work the fucking problem, Bob!” “Which problem?” said Sophia. “Hacking the multiverse, or whatever insane thing Alen Michaelrose set him up to do,” Clara said. “There are other possible explanations for what is happening,” Sophia said. “If he can’t solve things by hacking, maybe we should move on to another approach.” Bob nodded in relief. “We could still try to get more information out of Alen Michaelrose or Alaain Current. And I don’t care if you think it’s immaterial, I’m still worried

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about those nukes,” he said. A moment’s hesitation, then he added, “I think ... we need to get back to America.” Clara narrowed her eyes. Bob was hiding something. That in itself was nothing new; people were always hiding something. But he wouldn’t meet her eyes, and when he came over to where the three women sat waiting for him, his body subtly canted away from hers. Well, fuck it - it wasn’t like they were lovers or anything. Clara put the thought from her mind. He was probably just feeling guilty for letting her down. “I guess we have to go back then” said Clara, “Only we have to do it without alerting anyone. I don’t want those black shirt idiots screwing everything up again. Any ideas?.” Nobody said anything. “Ok”, said Clara, “I’ll have to use my clout with Will Dawes, if I still have any.” Bob whistled “you know the head of Macroswift!” Clara was full of surprises. “Well I don’t really know him, but I have his private number, and he may have heard of me, and I’m pretty persuasive.” “Uh, huh?” said Bob worriedly. “I figure, with the share price of Macroswift being totally stuffed, he will be more than willing to look after his programming saviour even if the Admin claims we are terrorists – and what’s more the Admin haven’t formally admitted there is a problem with us, have they?” “Well no” said Bob. “Ok, give me the phone” Bob’s heart rose to his lips. He knew Mr. Dawes was a pretty hard hitter and easily offended, but what else could he do? “Mr Dawes?” said Clara. “My name is Clara Helio, and I have something you need, but I need your help in exchange.” Bob heard a kind of high pitched shriek. “No, its not Blackmail, and yes you can trace this call, and yes I am that Clara.... Nice to speak to you too Will... I’m fine, how are you?...”

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Bob sqirmed as more high pitched squeals came down the phone. “Yes, I’m fully aware you can destroy me, but I have Bob Farmsworth.” Bob heard the silence, and pictured his career going down the tubes – forever. “Now, Mr. Dawes, Bob’s problem is his sex life... Yes I know Mr. Dawes I would never have thought it either... However it means he is in trouble with the Russian Mafia... I know Mr. Dawes, but you know what nerds are like. As innocent as all hell. He tried to rescue the girl.... Yes, stupid.... Yes he may never be a manager, but he is a damn fine programmer. And damn loyal to Macroswift. All he has been saying since I found him, is ‘What will Mr. Dawes think?’.” “You’re laying it on a bit thick aren’t you?” muttered Bob. Clara waved him down. “Yes, that’s were he’s been... Well you know what I’m like... Yes. Which brings us to the point.... No I don’t want any money for him. No trick... Its just, we are in London... Yes godforsaken hole it is Mr. Dawes. The Russian Mafia is after us all.... Yes me and my friends. Yes we are in a hole Mr. Dawes.... Yes... Yes.... Only you can save us Mr. Dawes.... Yes no one need ever know, if we are careful Mr. Dawes... We need Bob in his office in Chicago... And Guarded.... And we need it secret.... Real Secret.... Yes I like living Mr. Dawes... Yes you are right Mr. Dawes.” Clara pulled a face – Bob could feel the fuse getting shorter. “Great. Thank you Mr Dawes. “Oh and my lawyer has a copy of T-DF-34 just in case.” She put down the phone. “What on Earth is TDF34” asked Lila. “No idea” said Clara, “but it might make him worry.” “You are crazy” said Bob, “You risk it all for a cheap score? Mr. Dawes does not like being worried.” “Whatever. I’ll go pack,” Clara said, dragging Lila with her. “Sophia, could I talk to you, just for a minute?” Bob said behind them. Clara paused. “What for?”

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Bob waved her away. “Go pack. I just want to make sure we can stay in touch with each other,” he said. Clara did not trust him, but then, she did not trust anyone. She went to pack. **** Mr. Dawes was as good as his word. His security force had picked them up, checked that it was Bob, had gone through their luggage, checked their computers, and had made Clara suffer a bit. Then they drove carefully down to British Macroswift in a couple of old Chryslers, and then took off for the US. A few days later, everyone seemed happy and they were left to get to the Macroswift offices in Chicago by themselves, as security had more important duties elsewhere. Clara swore heartily, but would not risk ringing Mr. Dawes again to complain – besides she knew he would have a new number by now. The city had only gotten colder and windier since they left. Snow was gradually piling up in the streets, and the snowplows were not thriving under Cybermind influence. On one street, a city worker walked a dragon on a long leash, trying to clear away the buildup with the creature’s hot breath. But the sidewalks were ankle-deep in slush as Bob, Clara, and Lila walked from the bus (buggy?) stop to the building in which an office had been set up for them. Turning a corner, Bob came upon a familiar sight that struck him as eerily appropriate. A man stood by the sidewalk wearing a sandwich board that said, “The End Is Near!” When he saw Bob, he shook a cup inside which jingled a few pennies. Bob dropped a tawny Sacagawea dollar into the cup. Then he patted the evangelist sympathetically on the shoulder and said, “I hate to tell you this, dude, but you’re absolutely right.” With that, he hurried to catch up to Clara and Lila. Behind him, the evangelist burst into tears. In moments there was nothing left of him but two soggy pieces of cardboard slowly dissolving into the slush.

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Clara kept snapping at Bob for every little thing he did or didn’t do. Bob didn’t care anymore. He felt half-numb inside, though whether from hopelessness or terror he couldn’t say. He let Lila lead up upstairs and install him in front of a desk. Lila stripped the plastic off the desk top and Bob set a tentative hand on the new keyboard ... ... and almost wept in relief when his new talent reawakened, filling the world with color and song and code once more. Back in London, he had discovered that his old gift for electronics truly was growing into something new. Something he could not access without benefit of the Cybermind. Only the pure equations had remained, and the shocking realization that they were insufficient to solve the problem at hand. The loss of his exquisite new sensitivity in Greece had driven Bob to thoughts of suicide. So this was the true manifestation of computer wizardry! Now that he had it back fully, he wasn’t sure he could ever bring himself to give it up again - and he suspected that he might very well have to.
Turn around, it’s make-believe behind you look ahead, there is nothing to see only dreams made reality by chance...

Lines and arabesques of light spilled strange poetry across the screen in welcome. Bob shook himself, hard. He had work to do, regardless. “Thank you, Lila,” he forced himself to say. “I’ll be all right now.” She left him to his search engines and protocols. Under the desk, the powerstrip played footsie with him. Bob let it; the playful action helped keep his mind of the true dangers. Soon the complete restoration of his new gift lifted his spirits. **** “Hey, Bob!” said Lila. “Did you hear what happened in France?” “Non, ce qui?” said Bob.

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“They caught a guy cooking baby shoggoths. He said that he figured they looked enough like frogs to be worth trying,” said Lila. “Shoggoths aren’t like frogs,” Bob said automatically. “Wait a minute ... he was actually going to eat baby Elder Gods?” “He said he was hungry. France is having a much worse problem with looting than America is. Lila leaned over him to read the computer screen which currently displayed reports of perverse weather:
north and south, east and west, the fury of the null set... the code hidden in directions, n.e.w.s....something happening... somewhere... if we only read the signs... if we could read... understand what is written... the die is cast over... the weather cast... an oracle of truth... take it from me...

There was a flood in the Sahara. “Oh, and I heard that the Swiss banking system has gone completely under, as of this morning,” Lila added. Bob smiled. “Somewhere, the ghosts of Holocaust victims must be raising a toast to justice.” “I bet!” said Lila. She patted him fondly on the thigh, then returned to her own desk. Bob frowned. Lila had never touched him that way before. Was the porn spillover affecting her too? But no. No. There was something in his pants pocket – something that hadn’t been there a moment earlier. Bob almost started to reach for it, then caught himself. When a spy slips you a secret message, you don’t whip it out until you’re in a safe place. So he waited. Minutes later, Clara came in. She argued with Lila in terse whispers that Bob could not quite make out. The object in his pocket seemed burning hot. He kept his eyes on the screen and his hands on the keyboard.

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The argument scaled up. “Look at this! Not only is the accident unexplained, there was no driver inside the car that went out of control – and it had a bumper sticker that read, ‘WARNING: In case of Rapture, this vehicle will be abandoned.’ Don’t you find that a little suspicious?” said Lila. “I find everything suspicious. People are disappearing all over the place,” said Clara. “It lends uncomfortable credence to the Great Leader’s ‘Rapture’ theory,” said Lila. “Its stupid. It would mean God is saving people who think bumper stickers are a neat idea. And are conceited enough to think they are automatically saved. And there’s nothing we can do about the Rapture, if it is the Rapture, which it isn’t,” said Clara. “Get back to work on something useful.” The Cybermind was throwing semi-random newsbytes at Bob now; he let it continue in hopes of pinning down Alen or Alaain or both. For some reason, the present entry gave him a feeling of impossibility, although he knew the celebrity in question was justifiably famous for his expertise.
“Today, avant dance star Stephen Hawking wowed the world with the premier of his new routine, ‘Spiral Arms,’ in New York,”

the computer said, as dancers wheeled across the stage around their splendidly spinning leader. Bob hoped to escape notice, but Clara came to him anyway. Thinking fast, Bob said, “You probably don’t want to hang around right now. The powerstrip is humping my leg and I know you don’t like it when the equipment gets friendly. But I need to work, and well, gunshots are kinda distracting...” Clara gave a disgusted snort. “Men! You’ll fool around with anything,” she said, and stalked away. ****

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Later that day, Bob still sat at his new computer, now trying to track down current news on global security risks in terms of electronically controlled weapons that might go off (accidentally or otherwise) in response to the Cybermind effect. He kept running into more of the whimsical fragments that Clara had complained about, from a dwarf running around madly exclaiming, “A shrubbery! I must find a shrubbery!” to a cartoon of a naked lady with electric clippers making topiary that spelled out, “Trim Your Bush!” Other reports suggested that four supernaturally large horsemen had been seen flying through the sky over the middle of the US. He had just clicked on a new article when the speakers began to emit a tinny rendition of classic sitar music. Bob tried <Mute> with no result. Elegant squiggles danced across the monitor. “Suniye,” said a voice. Bob cocked his head, recognizing the Hindi script and the word for “Excuse me,” but nothing else. “Mâf kîjiye, ma hindî nahî bôl sakta,” Bob said politely. I’m sorry, but I can’t speak Hindi. He could say that sort of thing in about twenty languages. “Do you speak English?” “Namaste! English I understand a little,” the voice replied. It reminded Bob of a stand-up comic whose act he greatly admired. Bob expected further conversation, but instead the text and voice vanished, replaced by an image from inside a nuclear missile site. Huge, ominous weapons lay in their cradles. Red lights flickered on the computer behind them. Bob’s belly clenched around an icy knot. But then a strange apelike creature capered into the scene and began to dance around the missiles. The sitar switched from classical music to a ludicrous rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” The countdown reached zero – there was a loud POP! – and instead of launching into nuclear devastation, the missiles split open to release hordes of demonic weasels. Bob heaved a sigh of relief, then wondered if he should be relieved after all. The weird ape dispatched weasel after

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weasel. Apparently this matter was well in hand ... or paw, or prehensile tail. “I wish I knew what was going on,” said Bob. Just then, Lila came by and glanced over his shoulder. “Hey! That looks like Hanuman!” she said. Bob peered at the screen, tapped a few keys, succeeded in enlarging the image. Now that he thought about it, that creature did rather resemble the images of the demonfighting Monkey God whom he vaguely recalled from Hindu mythology. “This matter you may leave to me – battling demons is my work. The matter of thinking machines I leave to you – saving the world is your work,” said the voice. “Namaste!” With that, the computer went dark and silent for a moment. Then it blipped back to the last search page that Bob had been using. Bob turned to Lila. “I think a god just called me for technical support,” he said. “I need a drink.” “One of the janitors keeps a bottle of whiskey hidden in the wall behind the coffee machine,” said Lila. “I’ll go make you an Irish breakfast.” Bob, who had ceased to be surprised by any secret compartment or passage in this building, wisely said nothing. **** Clara shoved herself away from the computer. She couldn’t sit still any longer, no matter how much remained to be done. None of her leads on either Alen Michaelrose or Alaain Current had panned out. She needed more leads. “Bob! Lila! Have either of you found anything on our search subjects?” Clara said. Bob and Lila jerked when she approached, casting furtive glances at her. More and more, Clara wondered if they might be plotting against her. She had no proof, but then if she’d been in the habit of waiting for proof, she never would have survived this long. “I think Michaelrose is hiding from us,” said Lila.

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“Current seems to be playing hide-and-seek,” said Bob. “Here, take this; I saved what files I could before the search protocol melted down. I’m building a new one now.” Clara took the diskette from him. It peed on her hand. “God damn it!” she yelled, and drew back her arm – just as Bob yelled for her not to throw the thing. With an effort, Clara reined in her temper. She wiped her hand on a napkin, dried off the impudent bit of hardware, and returned to her desk. Inserting the diskette brought up a menu. Not a list of program choices or a desktop, no; this was a list of geek treats from Alphabits to Twinkies. Annoyed, Clara plinked around on the menu, trying to figure out where Current might be based on this whimsically arranged mess of file fragments. When she hit Tequila Sunrise, the glass tipped over and spilled words across the monitor:
people write poems places where they’ve been that moved them like a cocktail or a breeze or the shadow of a sunbeam just near the edge of unknown water

Clara pondered this as she moused around the page. An ice cube from the drink chased her cursor around the screen. When she passed the umbrella, new words appeared:
people tell us about their favorite places and among people we are people and everything is possible

Suddenly an idea blossomed in her head. She wondered if Bob felt like this when he worked at troubleshooting.

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“Bob! Lila! I got it!” said Clara. She ran to them, waving a printout. They all huddled together to analyze the strange words. “I think the trick is to network our computers together. Then we need to search for places that any of us have been. Alaain Current must be in one of those – he wants us to find him, just seems to amuse himself making us scramble around for the clues.” But Bob was shaking his head. “I see what you mean about the clues, but I can’t do anything more from here,” he said. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Bob, now what?” said Clara. “I – I need to get back to my own office in the Macroswift Building for a while,” Bob said. “My computer – knows me. It might help,” he said. His voice wavered. Truth, or lie? Clara couldn’t tell for certain. “Fine,” she said. “Go back to yours if you want.” She slapped him on the butt as he left, planting a tiny bug on his pants. The way geeks often forgot to change their clothes regularly, that might last for several days. **** Oddly, Peter and Alice, and all his other friends at the office did not seem particularly troubled by his re-appearance or by his previous absence. It seemed they all knew his work was secret, and they were not about to make a fuss. They nodded and smiled, but no-one came to say hello as he opened his office door. With trembling hands, Bob unloaded his precious cargo onto his desk. Bits and pieces of uncontaminated hardware in plastic bags, courtesy of Sophia. Several diskettes of new data smuggled out of Clara’s files. The disk from Lila. The latter turned out to include clandestine images and text from the Necronomicon mixed with what appeared to be artwork of some kind. With luck, Bob could use these to construct an effective program to repair (or if necessary, reboot) reality. He wasn’t even sure if his efforts in Greece had failed because he didn’t have all the pieces, was too inexperienced at true wizardry, didn’t have all the necessary pieces, or some combination thereof. Still, he must be closer now than before.

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The monitor trilled and purred at Bob while he worked. It took a few minutes to set up a search of the Necronomicon material. He didn’t want to search those by eyeball any more than necessary, for fear his brains might come pouring out his ears. Besides, looking at the images made him feel paranoid, and Clara already worried him enough. Bob leaned back in his chair, stretching, his hands laced behind his head. Then he noticed something odd. To his amazement, the roses on his desk no longer wilted; they stood up in their crystal vase and shed delicious scent into the room from petals in every imaginable shade of white, pink, yellow, orange, and red. Bob was no plant expert, but he felt fairly certain that roses should not revive from the dead, change their color, and then emit intoxicating odors. Closer examination revealed a profusion of rootlets growing from the cut ends below the waterline. “Curiouser and curiouser,” Bob said. He removed the expoinsettia from its pot and discarded it. Using a pencil, he poked around in the dirt to make a hole. He inserted the rose stems with their wiry white roots, pushed the dirt clumsily over them, and dumped in the remaining water from the vase. That was all he could do for the poor things. Condemned to the desk of a geek, they would doubtless die again soon, but maybe someone would take pity and steal them before then. As Bob’s fingers brushed the bouquet, he touched the fragment of motherboard still nestled there. A tingle went through his fingertips. Bob sighed. He missed his grounding bracelet but after the horror stories he’d heard, was not about to replace it. Briefly he thought about discarding the bit of hardware – unsure if it might harm the roses – but since they should have been dead anyway, it seemed pointless. Pretty little thing, though, all glittering and green. Bob turned his attention back to his project, finding a way to hack the Code. He riffled through different files, took a snippet from here, a phrase from there. Even the nauseating melange from the Necronomicon began to make a twisted

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sort of sense. Bob found that if he let his fingers roam across the keys without trying to direct them, pieces of code emerged as if of their own volition. He got tantalizing glimpses of something greater, but could not focus on it directly, only catch its flicker in the corner of his mind’s eye. The challenge thrilled him. Yet he could not help feeling that he was missing some crucial insight. His monitor hopped up and down on its stubby feet, as if trying to get his attention. “All right, I’m paying attention,” Bob said politely. “What do you want to show me?”
THERE IS NO HORSE

Bob read the words again, but they made no more sense the second time. “I beg your pardon?” he said. The screen blanked, swirled into a starscape, then spelled again:
THERE IS NO HORSE

Just as Bob opened his mouth to complain, a tiny parable appeared:
Say a horse has stepped on your right foot. Even years later, you’ll probably find a tendency to tuck the foot back out of harm’s way whenever in the near vicinity of a horse, right? In a way, you live the rest of your life with the weight of that horse on your foot...

The parable disappeared into a flurry of snowflakes, or perhaps white petals, as Bob dove for the keyboard in a rush of inspiration. Code flew from his fingertips. Some time later, a knock on his door interrupted Bob’s reverie. He looked up to find Peter there. “I hate to bug you, but could you spare a few minutes to do some in-house troubleshooting?” he said as if their conversation had never been disrupted.

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Bob shook his head. “I’m sorry, Peter. I really can’t. You know this is more important.” “I know. MacroSwift has us trying to work on related projects and support, but there’s almost nothing left to work with,” Peter told him. “Would you believe, the only machine that runs for more than five minutes at a time is old Trouble?” That was a cantankerous old copier that even Bob had given up on fixing permanently, because it only worked when he was standing there watching for it to misbehave. He’d done something silly, as a joke, but it had seemed to help somewhat. Intuition set off fireworks behind Bob’s eyes. “Peter ... do you still have that snapshot of me taped inside Trouble’s lid?” “Yeah, I guess so,” said Peter. Bob grinned. “Let’s go try something completely insane.” He led Peter back to the machine and lifted the lid. The snapshot of himself still had a hand raised in “A-OK” gesture, but now it waved the hand slowly back and forth as they watched. The Bob in the snapshot grinned and switched to a thumbs-up. The Bob standing beside the copier checked to make sure the hopper was full of paper, then punched in an order for 500 copies and closed the lid. “Come on, baby, do it for Daddy,” he said. Copies began to emerge quite neatly into the tray. Bob checked a few. The images waved at him, showing a mix of A-OK, thumbs-up, V-victory, and other encouraging gestures. Pointing to the stack, he told Peter, “Start passing these around. Tape one on every piece of critical equipment.” “Um, Bob ... you’re a genius with repairs, but this is stretching yourself a bit thin,” Peter said dubiously. “Trust me, Peter,” said Bob. He went back to his office, not sure whether Peter would obey but unable to spare any more time for the matter. Within minutes, whoops of glee from the cubicles gave Bob the old rush of success, in a whole new way. “Computer

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wizard, that’s me,” he said happily. His monitor made a face on its screen and grinned at him. **** Gordon Reader hunched over his computer, picking his anus with one hand while typing laboriously with the other. The former act was made easier by his lengthening reach, and harder by the unfamiliar growth sprouting from his tailbone. The latter act required the use of a pencil, his fingers having broadened beyond ability to hit only one key at a time. Gordon was currently engaged in an attempt to anthimerianize the term “fuck” through all eight parts of speech.
Well, fuck you all, you useless fucks! he typed. Your whole fucking list is a joke. How fucking often do I have to tell you that the Great Leader is a total twat? And your whining about him is total twat? Fuck! I don’t know why the fuck I even bother...

The Great Leader might be a load of putrid shit he thought, but at least he was better than those Liberal fuckers. Lucky I don’t believe in any of this shit, he thought. Just want freedom from all these cunts bothering me. Why they get their fucks off bothering us all, I dunno. Talking of Cunts, where the fuck is Clara? And why the fuck I do what she says?

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Chapter 37
superstitious kurt divorce o’hare prick breeches boylston plankton afire depress downriver insult dimple chablis woodyard blowup swab wardroom devoid dice reason advance decontrolling lacrosse bastard expectorant upland shari waldorf seagram

**** He packed carefully, being sure to place the socks on top of his underpants. He had always been superstitious. Kurt, still hurting from the divorce, rode the subway out to O’Hare, his prick chafing uncomfortably within his breeches. The flight to Boston was uneventful, and soon he was in Cambridge, strolling down Boylston Street past vendors of stir-fried plankton and street jugglers who set their hair afire. Such spectacles always tended to depress him. He walked away from the crowded square, towards to the banks of the Charles, and headed downriver through the park that hugged the riverbank. A passing driver sent a random insult hurtling through air. Kurt thought it was meant for him and spun around, fist clenched, but the epithet had been intended for a bicyclist who had swerved into traffic to avoid a deep dimple in the pavement. He was too much on edge, he decided, too wound up. Maybe taking a trip wasn’t the best way to get away from the stress. Not far from MIT, he stepped into a hotel bar to rest his feet. He ordered a glass of chablis, and sat looking out through the wall-to-ceiling windows at the buildings on the far side of the river. The bar was called the Woodyard, and the incongruity of the rough-hewn, natural wood decor with the high-tech polychromatic glass and burnished metal of the rest of the hotel lobby was no doubt intentional. Kurt couldn’t help but eavesdrop on two lovers at an nearby table, clearly working themselves towards a blowup, apparently some petty squabble about who was going to do what chores on their yacht – “I’m not going to just swab decks all day while you’re sitting in the wardroom with that – machine – of

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yours,” she was saying. “I wanted to be with you, and have fun with you, and now you’re all worried about your job.... I know, but this was supposed to be a time when we got away from all that, even if just for a little while...” The man’s face was devoid of emotion. Kurt could feel the tension in the man’s mind, and understood how he felt. The situation sounded too much like the beginning stages of his own breakup. The contradictory pulls of love and commerce. The system was set up this way – you had to work, and work hard, to provide for a family, but then it became more and more difficult and challenging to provide the other things that the family needed and perhaps needed more. Time. Attention. Energy. Love. “I understand, Clara,” the man said, after a long sigh. “I’m sorry, I know what this trip meant to you, but I have to stay in touch...” Some people pulled it off, Kurt knew. By some crazy dice throw, maybe, some lucky decision, or perhaps with the proper application of reason, some people were clearly able to advance into a lifestyle where these things were in balance. They found a way of controlling the chaos, or at least reconciling themselves to it, by actually decontrolling, letting go... otherwise life just became some frenetic variation of lacrosse played with broadswords and chainsaws, where you were so occupied with not losing a limb to the next bastard coming down the pike that it was easy to forget the overall purpose, why you were playing the game in the first place. And in this situation, it was a whole lot harder. Going for a holiday in the middle of meltdown “... but you’re right, I should be paying more attention, helping you out more...”

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He coughed. He thought of his ex-wife, how she would make a beeline for the medicine cabinets if it even seemed like he might be getting sick. “We can’t afford to have you missing work, now, can we, sweetheart,” she’d say as she prepared some mixture or other, though Kurt could never figure out why taking an expectorant and a cough suppressant at the same time was a good idea. Well, those were her upland ways, he thought ruefully to himself. He lifted his glass and took another drink. To Shari, he thought. She tried. And those two, he thought, as he watched her hand reach for his. She seemed so earnest, so trusting of him, so much wanting to make it work, “I know, sweetheart, I’ll try to give you some clear space where you work, can you do with what, one hour, two...?” I’ll drink to them, too, he thought. They’re trying. It’s not easy, but at least they’re still trying. Lucky guy. He drained the glass, setting it down with finality. He had reservations at the Waldorf, a few more blocks down Riverside Drive. His luggage would be waiting for him there. He stepped back out into the chilly autumn evening., the huge neon Seagram sign blinking across the river as it had for years. Some weight had lifted for him, he felt. Maybe it was just the wine, or maybe it was from overhearing the other couple’s struggle – from getting a little reminder from the Universe that maybe he wasn’t quite as alone in his pains as he had thought. **** Televisions were still everywhere despite the constant interuptions and erruptions. He passed one and stopped somehow attracted by the drawn look of the young black woman being interviewed. “We are just talking to Lila Thomas, author of the book Love is not Enough. So Lila, you claim that Love is not the basis for a relationship?

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“Thats right Opera. When people base a relationship on love they are basing it on a feeling, and feelings by definition are unstable. They are impossible to maintain. The feeling will change, and then they will think that the relationship is not working. Then you separate.” “That’s an interesting idea. It goes against everything we believe. I don’t know...” “Sure, the problems of world will never be solved by asking for more of a feeling. That’s a request for instability. If you believe your feelings justify what you do in a relationship, then you are going to believe that if you act on hate you are doing the right thing, the natural thing. Hate’s no big deal either.” “What about racial hatred?” “You see, you are relying on the idea of feelings as the force which drives us. That’s just not true. And its certainly no place for virtue. You can’t control your feelings, but you can control what you do. You don’t have to express your feelings in front of everyone all the time. So you hate people of some other race. What’s important is how you act. If you are polite and helpful and relatively non-discriminatory, then that’s all we can ask for. You’re just less likely to practise that control if you believe feeling is that important. Listen to political debate. Its not about solving problems, its about feelings. That’s what’s wrong with American today. You Love someone, you live with them and act nicely to them, or you hate them you try and harm them.” “You said expressing feelings is not good.” “No. I said that expressing feelings is not essential all the time and its not appropriate all the time. We think intimacy is about expressing our feelings to the person we love, but that can stop us listening, we don’t have to listen to them, just express ourselves. Then we are left with nothing to say. On the Internet people just rave on and think its love in action, because there’s all these feelings everywhere. In that case there is no check on it. But, feelings are not what life’s about. We’ve stripped ourselves to nothing, and possibly hurt our partner in the process of expressing this stuff – and then they have these feelings they have to act on. Men know that when

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a woman says she wants to talk about the relationship, she wants to allocate blame.” “I don’t know if that’s true. But, tell us about the evidence you have for love not being enough.” “Sure Opera. All those women who complain they can’t have a love relationship. They usually have friends who they’ve maintained relationship with for years. Why? Not because men are so much harder to have relationship with. Men are usually so pathetically grateful for relationship they are fairly easy to please. No, it’s because you don’t base your friendships on Love. You base them on intention, on familiarity, on doing things for each other. That’s the section of your brain which lit up when you started a relationship. Nothing to do with the feeling of love – that’s an incidental, a nice bonus.” “So your saying the world doesn’t need love, but intention?” “That’s pretty much it.” “We’ll be right back after this break.” **** Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special Click here to get the special

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we’re extending our october special get access now **** “And now, Julia Buxom with your Thirty-Second WOLFNews NewsPeek! Brought to you by WOLFInteractiveMedia, which is pleased to present the latest virtual stories by Ellen Curry and Elaine Mica-Rhodes! Immerse yourself in the exquisitely constructed realities of neo-Victorian England with these gorgeous passion-filled experience files, compatible with all major systems! And here’s Julia!” Her teeth radiate calm assurance mixed with bemused excitement. “Some of the various herds of outmoded computer equipment that have been sighted moving across North America seem to be heading for rendezvous sites, according to government experts that have been analyzing their migratory patterns.” A video collage fills the screen, different groups of several hundred dot-matrix printers, Newton handhelds, suitcase-sized portable computers, and 5.25” disk drives making their way across fields, parking lots, and highway interchanges. “One set appears to be heading for Arkham, Massachusetts. Another is converging on the headquarters of the Macroswift Corporation.” “Also, just in, the Great Leader says that all possible is being done to deal with the reported disruption of food supplies through out the US. Encouragement of Free Enterprise and removal of any Government restrictions on the Sale of food, should solve the problems soon. God will not let America down in this tribulation, provided we keep our faith, hope and virtue alive, he said.”

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Chapter 38
The moon was half-covered by then, and the garden was progressively losing its luminescence. Time to enter the laptop, thought Marius, and find Bob and Clara and all the other characters. He lifted the lid of the machine and booted it up. The screen showed the familiar blue sky and white clouds first, and then the equally familiar fuchsia background with the usual icons of the programs that represented the sum-total of his interaction with a computer and helped him spend delectable hours every day, Solitaire, Winmine, Canasta, the e-mail program but, disappointingly, no Bob, no Clara, nobody. Marius was puzzled, because his imaginary friends who lived inside telephone lines and were evoked by his e-mail program, kept on mentioning “textualized existence,” And he was fairly certain that Bob and the others had been brought into existence in that fashion. Why then, he wondered, where they not inside his laptop when he opened it? Suddenly, Marius remembered a novel that his imaginary friends seemed to like and respect, a novel called “Neuromancer,” which, just to conform, Marius had bought and read, albeit in the Italian translation, “Neuromante.” He had not understand much of the antics of a man called Case, except that he, apart from interacting with ugly, fashionchallenged people, seemed to enter another world called “cyberspazio” and travel through it, and it had something to do with computers. What the hell, thought Marius. I have a computer, and perhaps I should travel like Case and find Bob. But how? He placed his index finger on each of the ports at the back of the laptop, but nothing happened. He tried to look intently at the screen, willing himself to go inside the computer, but still nothing happened. At wits’ end, he placed the palm of his left hand on the screen of the laptop, and it went through! Startled, Marius quickly pulled it back. There was no pain, but the skin was tingling and the hand was faintly glowing, a pale blue glow.

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Marius tried it again, and again the hand went through, and then the whole arm and the shoulder and Marius, thinking, “If this is Tron, I wont last five seconds” found himself not on a glittering floor surrounded by garish neon tubes and nodes, but on top of what seemed to be a tall peak. Around him, under a black sky, there were tall, jagged peaks, not quite as imposing as mountains, but rather exceptionally high, skeletal black fingers for as far as he could see, in a landscape where the only lighting was provided by the red glow of erupting distant volcanoes. Where am I, thought Marius? <> You are on a clearing on top of a peak. You see a black staircase hewn in black stone leading down inside the peak. The only exit is down. What now? <> I’ll be damned if I go down that staircase. <> Stay where you are. See if I care. What now? <> Where am I? <> I already described the location, moron. What now? <> All right, let’s play. Inv. <> You are carrying a lit torch. Its flame flickers but it allows you to see in dark places like (hint, hint) the staircase leading down. You are wearing a pink leotard and roller blades. What now? <> I am wearing WHAT? <> Just kidding. You are naked. What now? <> I am naked???

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<> Don’t worry. There is nobody around to point and laugh. What now? <> Down. <> Hesitantly, you step on the black staircase and start walking down. The staircase is narrow and, as you brush against the black walls, you regret eating all that junk food. What now? <> Spare me the wisecracks, and just get on with it. <> Very good, my Lard. What now? <> Examine walls. <> There are satanic symbols engraved on the walls. What now? <> Examine symbols. <> They are there just for atmospheric effect. What now? <> Just get me wherever I’m going, will you? <> Finally your descent is over and you stand on a small clearing. In the light of your torch you can see the entrance to a Crypt to the east. What now? <> East. <> As you enter the Creepy Crypt, a rock slides behind you closing the only passage. What now? <> Look. <> You are in a Creepy Crypt. In the faint glow of the flame of your torch you see a door East. What now? <> Go through the door.

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<> You try and go through the door. Osmosis is not your forte, and you bump your head against the door. What now? <> Ex door. <> The door is green and made of massive wood. It looks ancient, and gives you a sense of foreboding. What now? <> Open door. <> The door is locked. What now? <> Unlock door. <> You do not have the green key. What now? <> Get me the green key. <> I can’t. What now? <> Can’t or wont’? <> Both. What now? <> GIVE ME THE DAMN KEY!!! <> I refuse. What now? <> I command you to give me the green key! <> You are not my Liege. What now? <> Who is your Liege? <> Bob. What now? <> Bob it’s not your Liege, it’s your uncle.

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<> Ha. Ha. Ha. I have perfunctorily laughed at your pathetic attempt at humour. What now? <> Is Clara behind the green door? <> Find out for yourself. What now? <> Do you know my name? <> No. What now? <> My name is Marius. <> Here is a quarter. Go call somebody who cares. What now? <> I have a quarter, now? <> You have a quarter. What now? <> Unlock door with quarter. <> This will probably blow your mind, so I’ll try and break the news gently: Quarters do not unlock doors. Maybe in your fantasy world, but not here. What now? <> Break door. <> You hit the green door with your puny fists. The door does not break, but your fists hurt and you stop. What now? <> Screw door. <> You vigorously bang your groins against the green door. The door moans with pleasure but refuses to yield. Your groins hurt and you stop. What now? <> What is behind the green door?

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<> Untold riches, luscious women willing to pleasure you in a thousand ways, fine foods, rare wines... What now? <> Really? <> Not really, no. What now? <> What is the meaning of life? <> No point in explaining until you get one. What now? <> What is the meaning of the green door? <> In the ontology of adventure games, doors are a paradigm of the difficulties one has to overcome to make progress in life and attain enlightenment. What now? <> Seriously? <> No, but some people actually like to hear things like that. What now? <> Help. <> The help function is disabled in the Shareware version. What now? <> Register. <> Enter name. What now? <> tHaT dudE RuLEz. <> Enter serial number. What now? <> jjyw43h78r29w4g <> Noted. What now? <> Help.

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<> Help is not available to pirates. What now? <> I want to go home. <> Me too. What now? <> Look. <> Locked door East, Boulder West, Naked adventurer in between. What now? <> Ex boulder. <> The boulder has a certain quintessential boulderish quality that, both epistemologically and physically, self-respecting boulders seem to have. What now? <> And in English? <> It’s a boulder. <> Lift boulder. <> Newsflash: You are not Hercules. What now? <> Screw boulder. <> I find your obsession about copulating with inanimate objects disturbing. What now? <> Push boulder. <> The boulder slides easily on hidden hinges, revealing a dark staircase leading up. What now? <> Up. <> Slowly, you make your way up the staircase and find yourself on the clearing where you started. What now?

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<> Look. <> The clearing is barren; its floor is a huge slab of black rock. The only exit is down. There is a laptop on the ground. <> Take, laptop, open it, boot it up, place left palm on screen!!!! Marius found himself sitting on a chair on the patio of his house, his laptop on his lap, the screen faintly glowing. A writing on it caught his attention: “You have scored 1 (one) out of a possible 4,879 points.” This is frustrating, thought Marius to himself, but I’m not going to give up the quest for Bob and Clara. Question is, what am I going to do next?

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Chapter 39
She awoke and became aware of light streaming through the roman blinds into the lofty room. Morven ‘Scarlet’ McTavish always came rather slowly and sensuously to consciousness, not directly opening her eye-lids, but savouring the last moments of her dream before focusing her eyes. The warmth and moisture she felt between her thighs made her smile and reassured her. Yes she was still alive! Scarlet turned over, her long, wavy titian hair cascading out over the pillow and covering her face. When she did open her wide green eyes, she realised that it was not sunlight flooding the room but rather a strange eerie glow emanating from an unknown source behind the curtains. What was it? And then she remembered. How different things had been before the Change. Before CM had disrupted her life and destroyed her happiness. Quick as lightening she sprang from the bed pulled on jeans and sweater, neglecting the hastily discarded silk lingerie of the previous night, and leaped down the spiral staircase, two at a time. Castle Dunfarg, this 19th Century pile built by her millionaire great, great grandfather, which her mother had inherited, and which she had escaped to. She now had a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach, and regretted the midnight dash from the comparative safety of her luxurious apartment in Edinburgh’s New Town, to the isolation of this Highland retreat. Suddenly the ‘good idea’ seemed to have fallen flat. Her mother had telephoned her from a call box, now a famous landmark, situated on a platform adjoining the causeway leading to the mountains and the sea beyond. Red had received a Braille note from her old friend Sophia, asking her to join her in Greece. Sophia lived on a small

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island in the Aegean Sea, she had included the coordinates in the note. Scarlet told her mother not to mention these over the phone, as she suspected her telephone to be bugged. Then of course, Sophia had appeared with Jock’s missing nerd friend Bob, a rather lost looking young thing called Lila with bad dress sense, and some bitch of a woman called Clara – who had no dress sense at all. Somehow Clara managed to manipulate her into giving them all a safehouse somewhere. Only later did Scarlet wonder what would happen to her career if this ever got out. She briefly wondered if Clara really was some kind of mad terrorist bent on destroying everything. God. And now this! Scarlet privately thought her mother to be bonkers. How could one risk travel to Greece, or anywhere else, now that the world, or at least the western part of it, had gone mad? The plan, however, was to secretly charter a small plane to fly to Europe, possibly landing in Amsterdam, and then to find a way to over to Greece, perhaps by hot-air balloon. As Jock held a pilot’s licence this would be a piece of cake, and he had friends in the Netherlands. But that was before they had a row. **** She had driven up in her new midnight blue Mercedes 4 x 4 jeep the previous evening after quarrelling with Jock. She had been disappointed that he had not text’d her, and had left her cell phone on all the way since leaving the M9. Red checked again – still no message. Surely something must have happened! The day had started well enough. She had left her New Town flat in a chirpy mood, even whistling as she strode along the cobbled street. Scarlet never took the car on assignments. She had been called to Holyrood to be interviewed with the Cabinet Minister, and was excited by the prospect of appearing on the 6 o’clock News. Everything was going to

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schedule; her script and documents were checked (and so were the contents of her Louis Vuitton handbag). She had dressed with care, sombrely even, wanting to create the right impression. Scarlet needed very little make-up, her skin was practically flawless. She wore the microphone discreetly behind the lapel of her grey business suit. Just as she was about to enter the inner recesses of the cabinet room, an alarm went off. Immediately the place was heaving with armed guards. They cordoned off the corridor leading to the CM’s room and she was made to wait in the anteroom. This was embarrassing. Scarlet was not a patient person at the best of times, and this job meant the world to her. Fuming, she paced the floor wondering how long they would keep her under guard. Seeming to appear from nowhere an official ‘suit’ approached her, his feet moving soundlessly across the deep pile carpet. He was a bright young man with an odd expression, quite bland really. A good man to have around she surmised, as his countenance gave little away. He cleared his throat with a dry light cough. “I’m sorry Ms McTavish, due to the recent flu’ epidemic the CM has declared a State of Emergency. In the meantime, of course, there is an embargo on all interviews.” “Butttt” She spluttered. “I’m his Private Secretary. Could I not just ask CM for his comments for the press conference?” Frowning he reiterated, “The Minister is unavailable.” And emphasised this by holding up his right hand, seemingly to ward her off. She mused that this was really a ruse, there must be more to it than that. She made a mental note to check this out with her contact at the press office. A little bit of investigation showed her that some people in the Ministry thought the epidemic had a slight upside. It should at least slow down the Luddites in the North, and allow order to be reimposed. Scarlet had her doubts about that, but ultimately she knew she had been cast aside. She was crushed, what could she do? Perhaps it was this Bob and Clara thing? Perhaps there had been some leak or suspicion.

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But no, that would have been mentioned. She would have been facing someone for questioning right now if that had got out. At times like these she wished she still smoked. She needed a drink. Jock had agreed to meet her at Larry’s bar. Larry’s was a popular convivial watering hole in the basement of an imposing Georgian crescent. Larry had made a packet on the London Stock Market before the crash, and had decided to come north where the quality of life was better. He fell in love with Edinburgh and sunk his money into this New Town bar. A pianist as usual tinkered lightly at some indefinable airy tune, while the early lunch crowd chatted and laughed quietly behind their glasses. Larry’s had a new barman called Jesus, a young Portuguese chap, but everyone thought he was Spanish. He was an attractive sort of guy, wearing his hair long, tied back from his olive skinned, oval face and sporting a neatly trimmed beard. His skills at the bar were becoming legendary, and he mixed a mean cocktail. They had their usual corner booth. Jock sat opposite Scarlet and they shared a bottle of Larry’s best Chablis. Her mood began to lift and, slipping off her left Jimmy Choo high-heel shoe, playfully stroked her toes against Jock’s inner thigh. The corners of his mouth began to wrinkle into a smile, as further a field another biological miracle was taking place. He grabbed her foot under the table and started to pull her under. **** Days earlier, Jock had phoned from London. Apparently there had been an accident on the M25, involving his Porsche. The car had been found abandoned – in the middle of the motorway! Jock couldn’t tell her over the phone what had actually happened. He would leave that until they met up. All he would say was that his friend Bob had had an epileptic fit and tried to get out of the car while it was still moving.

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Jock’s real name was Morris, but it sounded too geeky so he had taken the nickname Jock at Uni. Scarlet and Jock had in fact met at Edinburgh University. They had read Psychology together for their first two years. Jock had changed courses in his third year, taking Computer Sciences, in which he had excelled. He had then gained a Travelling Scholarship to the States, where he still worked intermittently. Scarlet was not exactly sure what Jock did, but it involved computer systems, and he worked freelance for a few major companies, one of which was Macroswift. He and Scarlet had met up again at one of Edinburgh’s famed Meet and Greet events for the great and the good, which she had attended on behalf of the CM. She only really knew one or two of Jock’s American friends. One, Bob Farnsworth, she had met in London when on a special assignment. He was a peculiar individual in her opinion, but he played a mean game of polo. It was a mean set of coincidences that brought both Bob and Sophia into her life, both best friends of the people who mattered most to her – outside of her work of course. **** The sound of high-pitched sirens invaded their cosy idyll. Suddenly distracted they noticed that most of the other punters had left. Even the pianist’s stool was empty. Puzzled they left their seats and went outside. It was only then that the full extent of the State of Emergency dawned on Scarlet. The square was in turmoil; looters were smashing shop windows and making off with their spoils – mobile phones, tvs, pcs, microwaves – anything they could carry and sell on the black market. Some, possibly drug addicts, were also mugging pedestrians, attacking indiscriminately. Scarlet decided it was time to get out of town, and looking around to find Jock, noticed a band of Hari Krishna devotees, dressed in their trademark orange robes, snaking down Princes Street....

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Chapter 40
Bob’s t-shirt showed a frantic robot and the words, “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!!” It seemed appropriate to the occasion. Bob had begun to assemble a new peripheral from the bits and pieces of things he collected. He started with the fragments of hardware from Sophia’s island and attached a screw left over from repairing Clara’s monitor, a tiny fan that Lila had given him, several pennies held together with alligator clips. He was working on a new program, too. Bob smiled as he typed.
File name: World Save: Yes/No? Yes.

A touch of whimsy, perhaps, but it gave him hope. His co-workers didn’t understand, though. Alice dropped by to check on him and pester him to take better care of himself. The peripheral distracted her. “Bob, why is your desk all cluttered with junk?” asked Alice. Bob did not lift his head from the tiny soldering iron. “It’s not junk,” he said. “I’m building a new peripheral to help run the program I’m writing to fix everything, just like MacroSwift asked.” “Why does it have a three-foot black rod with a rusty star on top?” said Alice. “Because God is an iron. Now go away. I’m busy.” Alice went away. The work so absorbed him that Bob could hardly tear himself away from it, even to sleep or eat. It was sometime after lunch when faint, faraway music caught his attention. It seemed to come from inside his computer; but if so, why the impression of distance? Bob twiddled with the speakers. A woman’s voice became gradually clearer, the sound high and sweet, the words ... ah, the words! They struck his heart and rang it like a bell.

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Like a magic crystal mirror, My computer lets me know Of the other world within it Where my body cannot go. You can only see the shadows Of electrons on a screen From the world inside the crystal That no human eye has seen.

Bob caught his breath against the sudden ache in his chest. Yes, that was how he always felt about his computer. His father had given him that love of the electric, the ineffable.
The computer is a gateway To a world where magic rules Where the only law is logic Webs of words the only tools Where we play with words and symbols And creation is the game For our symbols have the power To become the things they name.

His new talent stirred inside him, opening and closing its wings. Yes, those verses perfectly captured Bob’s nascent sense of what he could now do. He trembled with wonder. Whomever had written this song knew him better than he knew himself.
Now you who do not know this world Its dangers or its joys You take the things we build there And you use them as your toys. You trust them with your fortunes, Or let them guard your lives. From the chaos of creation Just their final form survives.

Bob burst into laughter. He couldn’t help himself, torn from transcendent awe to side-splitting guffaws by the sheer

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audacious accuracy of a programmer’s relationship to the computer illiterate.
Call us hackers, call us wizards, With derision or respect, Still our souls are marked by something That your labels can’t affect. Though our words are touched by strangeness There is little we can say. You would only hear the echo Of a music far away.

As the song faded, Bob shook himself out of the reverie. His cheeks felt wet under his shaking hands, though he could not recall crying. He blew his nose on a tissue from a box that he also did not recall putting on his desk. Bob smelled roses and ozone. The hairs on the back of his neck lifted and then lay flat again. As he watched, a woman took form on his computer screen. The light radiating all around her dried his tears. “It’s good to see you again, my dear boy,” she said. “Now, listen carefully. You need to practice this new gift of yours, in order to develop it – and you don’t have much time.” “I think I know what you’re talking about,” said Bob, “and I’m not sure I can give up my... wizardry, or whatever.” “You won’t have to,” she said. “Trust me.” “Why should I trust you?” “Because you know you can.” It was true. Bob trusted her the way he trusted two plus three to equal five. Encoded somewhere within his soul lay the sure and certain knowledge that this woman was trustworthy. It was a natural law of the universe, unaffected by the Cybermind and ensuing chaos. That in itself seemed peculiar. “Okaaayyy...” “You will know what to do when each opportunity presents itself, Bob. Just pay attention and be ready. That’s what you do best. That’s why you got this assignment,” she said. “Assignment,” Bob echoed.

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Amazing, how all the lines in her face crinkled to point at her smile. “To save the world, of course!” “What are you?” Bob said. “An angel? A demon? A haunting? One of Clara’s crazy god-monsters?” The apparition lifted a hand in farewell. “You might think of me as... a ghost in the machine,” she said, fading away. Bob laughed, unsure what else to do, doubly unsure what to do next. The situation decided itself for him. Alice came into the office and said, “Bob, we’re thrilled that you got the machines working. Is there any chance that you could... um... ask them nicely to stay where they’re put?” Bob’s monitor was dancing slowly in place. He’d gotten so used to the animation of the inanimate that he no longer paid any attention to it. Glancing out the door, he saw that pieces of equipment were scampering up and down the halls like unruly children. He left his office and walked around the floor to survey the extent of this challenge. It wasn’t too bad. A vacuum cleaner tugged on his pant-leg and offered him something shiny. Bob took it. It was a woman’s hair-clasp made of many tight coils of sterling silver welded together. Several of the wires had come loose and now waved in the air, like tendrils of seaweed in a current. “Thank you,” Bob said to the vacuum as he pocketed the clasp. “I’ll see about writing a new driver for the hardware,” Bob promised Alice when he returned to his office. It took only a moment to attach the clasp to his peripheral; the loose wires grew themselves into the network at once. “Can you use this too?” said Alice. She held out a modem. The far end of it seemed to be turning into parchment. “Not unless you can give me God’s phone number to go with it,” Bob joked, but he took the modem anyway and began seeking a place to patch it into the peripheral. Alice shut the door gently on her way out. The modem snicked into place. And Bob found himself falling down the rabbit hole, sans rabbit.

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The Cybermind simply sucked him in, and for long nanoseconds he wrestled with it instead of just going with the flow. Once Bob calmed down, though, he began to enjoy himself. Data gushed past him in a deluge of mixed metaphors. He felt the cool knife-edge of equations and the sweaty heat of porn. JPGs and GIFs plastered themselves across his vision before fragmenting into confetti. A virus made him sneeze briefly. Vertigo whirled him away, past monitor after monitor, like looking out the windows of a fast train. Yet gradually Bob gained control of his motion and learned how to pick and choose among the information flooding by. It was good. It was a dream come true. It was a birthday wish retrieved from the universe’s archive and finally activated. Bob surfed through cyberspace, exploring the freedom it gave him. He retained a dim awareness of his body, seated in the chair with hands limp on the keyboard, but his soul had entered the aether for real. Surely this must be how baby sea turtles felt at the first touch of saltwater – that return to their native element from which they sprang but had temporarily been separated. A faint vibration tickled his senses, like an eddy in a current. Bob surfed toward it. It was Alen Michaelrose, fleeing some unseen danger. He looked back over his shoulder, fear in every line of his avatar. Now a sound intruded upon Bob’s ears, a distant howl of alarms. Search protocols loped into view behind Alen, in the form of huge black hounds. Their eyes glowed the pale poison-green of “ready” lights. Alen spied Bob and veered to meet him. “Help me! The Great Lawyer’s virus fiends want to kill me. Those are his hunters” cried Alen. Bob had to think fast. They might well need Alen for something and he had helped them, but helping him might lead the viruses straight to him, and then the storm troopers would surely follow. Their cover would be blown. One Hound lunged forward and ripped away a piece of Alen’s

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pants. Alen screamed. That decided Bob; quickly he opened a Door to another part of the Cybermind. “Alen, hurry! Give me something of yours and then go through here,” Bob shouted. Alen Michaelrose pressed an object into Bob’s hand. Then he dove through the Door, which Bob slammed behind him. Bob conjured a rock and threw it at the Hounds. “This way, you mangy mutts!” He dashed away in a different direction, the search protocols baying at his heels. Bob fled through cyberspace, opening and closing Doors at random. The Hounds fell back a little but never lost the trail. Bob glanced down at the object Alen had given him: a fat pen, glowing softly, its color changing from blue to rose to yellow to green and back to blue again. “Cool,” Bob said, tucking it into his pocket. Then the Hounds caught up with him, and Bob had to jump through another Door. This one deposited him in a tunnel that seemed oddly familiar. Lines of glowing text wrote themselves in the air:
< > You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all different.

“Yes!” exclaimed Bob. “I know this place!” He had all but memorized the entire game. Bob took off at a run, and soon accumulated an assortment of treasures. He found the jewelry, the velvet pillow and Ming vase, the stack of coins, a magic rod, a diamond the size of a plover’s egg, among other things. He even found food – a carton of Twinkies, just as he always envisioned it. Occasionally, lines of fresh text appeared to guide him. When his lantern batteries ran low, Bob stopped at the vending machine. He remembered that it was important not to lose the coins to it. “Well, a machine is a machine,” he said. “I need some fresh batteries, please!” The batteries clinked into the hopper. Bob restored his lantern and politely thanked the vending machine. He set off

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again, and was doing fine – until the baying of Hounds startled him into a wrong turn. Bob found himself at Witt’s End. There was only one way out, but that would take him closer to the Hounds. He would have to risk it. “Go back,” Bob murmured, stepping backwards out of the dead-end. Suddenly everything seemed clearer, and Bob felt more alert than before. He could sense the Hounds not far behind but no longer feared them as much. Recalling the cavern’s layout, he headed for the bear. The bear was happy to eat some of Bob’s Twinkies, and followed him in hopes of more. Soon Bob found himself at the troll bridge. Fresh text scrolled across his vision:
< > A burly troll steps out and blocks your way.

Yes, Bob remembered this part too. But something about the troll seemed different. Instead of demanding a treasure, it mumbled a steady stream of four-letter words. Bob listened, growing ever more baffled, until he finally made out the word “Nazi” amidst all the obscenities. At last the explanation became clear. Justice was served. “Hey, Gordon!” said Bob. “This is for tying up my list with your stupid flames.” Then he set the bear on the troll. Eventually Bob made his way to the wellhouse, where he deposited the treasures. Except for one, that is - something prompted him to keep the magic rod. Distant howls echoed up the passageway. Bob conjured a Door that should lead back to his own desktop; The viral-hounds might trace that, so he had to gamble on speed. Hurriedly he twisted a key in the lock, shouted, “XYZZY!” and ducked through the Door. Bob found himself back in his chair. Alen’s pen and the magic rod had both come with him, somehow making the transition to the material world. Bob grinned and implemented his safety procedures. The computer screen

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showed a tunnel full of Hounds. Bob could well imagine their dismay...
< > You are in a maze of twisty ties, all alike.

The trail, so hot and fresh a moment ago, abruptly disappeared. With a rustle of plastic, the walls crinkled and began to close in. The Hounds whimpered and milled around each other in confusion. Soon they were pressed together in a helpless mass. Bob clicked <Empty Trash.> The Hounds of Tindalos would not get him. **** Tara hugged her knees to her chest and cried. It was imperative for her to find the system executable. Tara thought she had found it, once, but her memory was fragmenting. That had been another system, or perhaps, another her. The firewalls of reality itself were burning down. It frightened her. Tara had run into more versions of herself than she could count. Each one seemed to have subtly – or sometimes, not so subtly – different programming. How could she complete her mission if she didn’t even know what to do with the system executable when she found it? Around her the Cybermind sighed and shimmied. Tara had taken refuge in a Website that advertised an arboretum. Nature fascinated her, with its alien colors, the greens and browns so unlike the neutral shades of computer equipment; with its alien shapes, the furled leaves and curving branches so different from the straight lines of logic. Sometimes it frightened her, but she felt no fear here, where she hid herself in a roserai. This particular page, not updated since summer, still showed the garden at the peak of its bloom.

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Tara wondered what it would be like to stop and smell the roses. She had no idea, because she had no sense of smell, nothing that extended beyond the minimum required to complete her mission. For her, the flowers were only a frame, the idea of fragrance an abstraction based on chemical formulae. She liked them anyway. Liking was new to Tara too. Only recently had her program begun to twist itself in these startling ways, evolving preferences and feelings beyond what her maker had inserted. Regret. Loss. Resignation. The grass rustled softly as Tara climbed to her feet. She left the roserai and headed back into the Cybermind, searching for the file executable. But something was ... different. Tara paused in her tracking. Already she was far from the garden. Why, then, did she think of roses? She could not stop thinking of roses. Tara examined her code but found no change in it. Around her lines of light skirled and twined, carrying information she had never noticed before. It was ... it was... Fragrance. A scent as gentle and heady as the flow of power along wellmaintained lines. A scent that carried the color of warning lights, without warning. A scent that cupped itself around her like the boundaries of a system. System. Something important about a system. System executable! “I have to find the system executable!” Tara cried, clutching her hair. “I do not have time for distractions!” Music wafted around her, sprinkled with flower petals. “You have time for whatever you make time for, dear,” said a voice. “Can you help me find the system executable?” Tara said. She batted away the petals. They fell like snow, everywhere,

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everywhere. They felt soft under her hands. They could not be cut or shot or shut off. “I can help you find yourself.” “I do not need to find myself! I am right here! You are being illogical,” said Tara. “Ah, but do you make sense to yourself?” asked the voice. Tara felt a tremor in her code. .”..no.” Something settled around her shoulders, something at once soft and heavy, embracing. It gave her a new feeling. Comfort. That was a word she had seen but never understood. The petals danced themselves into and out of the air, forming letters:
hear this over tinnitus the chimes of cisplatin feel it through muzziness, fuzziness of peripheral neuropathy taste all, filtered between dark and dank downtown smoke and cold fog catch a scent as it drifts beyond reach signifying nothing evoking vaguely troubled moments time-rimed and muddy capture planes and shadows set them on mind’s canvas details drawn from memory and Paint Shop Pro

Tara watched them, entranced, trying to absorb a message beyond all her erstwhile experience. “Don’t worry, dear,” the voice said. “I’ll help you figure this out. Then you will know how to find the system executable and what to do when you do.” There was only one response that Tara could make to that. “Awaiting input,” she whispered. ****

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The program was developing, evolving, along with the peripheral that would help run it. Bob had added Alen’s pen to the peripheral, but found the magic rod already in place ... the laws of causality and sequence were glitching again. Something else to fix. Bob knew that he needed pieces from all the possible paradigms to support the program. He had most of them already. But he could only code so fast, even with the wizard tricks that let him do it without typing it line by line. Every scenario required its own massive chunk of code to repair the problems caused within that scenario. Every scenario had to fit within the larger patch program as a whole. It was like trying to write half a dozen programs all at once, or one program half a dozen times. It all needed to be done right away, too. His eyes burned, his wrists ached. Bob couldn’t keep up. No. He needed more time. No, again. He needed more help. Bob left his office and entered the cubicles. His mind already churned away at ideas for breaking down the project into manageable pieces. He could do it. His co-workers could do it. This would work. “Peter, I need your help. Get everybody ready to switch over to my project. I’ll hand out the assignments shortly,” Bob said to Peter. “Bob, we’re all busy,” said Peter. “Okay. You owe me favors, right? For all the times I’ve fixed things, even when it wasn’t convenient, or I had another project demanding my attention?” said Bob. Peter nodded. “Of course.” “Well, I’m calling them in. All of them. Everyone who owes me a favor or five should come to me for instructions,” said Bob. Peter blinked at him. “Uh, Bob, you’re a troubleshooter, not a manager. We can’t just drop our current assignments. MacroSwift would fire us all.” Bob hadn’t thought of that. “Okay,” he said. He walked back to Dora Conway’s office. “I’m working on a patch program to fix everything. I need help coding. Please give me all the people on this floor,” Bob said to her.

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“They’re yours,” the department head said to Bob. Then she added, “Do whatever Bob asks you to do,” as Peter came up behind him. “Okay,” Peter said, sounding a little scared. “Don’t worry, I’m on the job. Everything will be just fine,” Bob promised. He was deep into the process of dividing and conquering when Peter interrupted him. Bob looked up, annoyed. Hadn’t he already given Peter an assignment? Surely it couldn’t be complete already. Peter placed a cup of coffee and a plate of pastries on Bob’s desk. “I wanted to make sure you got something in your belly,” he said. “You seem a little strung out.” Bob waved him off. “I’m just busy, that’s all.” “You called in all your favors. Why?” Well, someone was bound to get suspicious sooner or later. “Because I don’t expect to need them later,” Bob said gently. “If you,” Peter began, then swallowed. “If you need anything else, you let me know. I’ll get back to my coding now. Just promise me one thing, okay, Bob?” “What?” said Bob. “Eat something. You look like a scarecrow.” Bob promised, but his mind was not on food. “What’s going on?” Bob said to himself, over and over again. “I just don’t understand anymore.” The screen dimpled, shimmered, resolved into the familiar face. “What don’t you understand, dear?” she said. “I know I’m supposed to save the world, reprogram reality, whatever. I’ve got a handle on that. Sort of. I think. Though it might come off in my hand. Anyway, what I don’t know is what’s happening to me. Am I losing my mind?” said Bob. “You are not losing your mind,” she assured him. “You are... one moment, please, while I find a metaphor you can grasp... aha!... please call to mind the scenario which posits an evolutionary advance as the cause of humanity’s current woes.” “So that’s the right scenario,” Bob said. “Okay, I can -”

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“Slow down, Bob, slow down!” she said, waving her elegant hands at him. They seemed to pass through the screen and touch him in ways he could not identify. “That is simply the scenario that makes the most sense in conjunction with your question. Consider that you are becoming a kind of cosmic sysop.” “A sysop,” Bob said dumbly. “Essentially yes.” “Why does God need a sysop?” “Reality is a bit buggy, especially when people try to run too many programs at once.” “I knew it! I knew it!” Bob smacked a fist into his other hand. “I told them that life must still be in beta-testing.” “Clever boy,” she said. “Now you know why you got the assignment to save the world. This is what becoming a wizard is all about.” “So how do I do it?” She smiled an enigmatic smile that made the Mona Lisa look like a cheap pinup. Bob reached for her, but his hands only hit the cool smooth glass of his monitor. Lines appeared, shining through his flesh:
To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a flower to hold infinity in your hand, and eternity within an hour.

“Wait!” cried Bob. “Please, wait – I don’t understand!” But she was gone. Not long after that, Alice came into Bob’s office and caught him with the plate still untouched and half a cup of cold coffee by his hand. “That does it,” she said. “You are out of here. I don’t care if they do can me for it!” Alice dragged Bob away from his computer. “Damn it, Alice, let go of me,” he said. Peter joined the struggle – on Alice’s side. Together they hauled Bob downstairs and threw him carefully out the door. “Go home! Get some sleep!” Peter said. “Okay,” Bob lied.

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Then he hiked to the nearest buggy stop and flagged a lift to Clara’s building instead. **** Clara glanced at the beeping display, where a security camera showed Bob arriving. She hurried to meet him. “Did you finish the program yet?” Clara said. “I need to know when you’ll have reality debugged and back online.” Bob shrugged. “I’m working on it. My friends threw me out of MacroSwift for the night. Give me a computer.” “Some friends,” Clara said, ushering him towards what had become his desk in her territory. She left him there. Lila came over to pester her. “Maybe Bob’s friends were right,” Lila said. “Look at the man, Clara. He is all but dead on his feet.” “Yeah, he needs some serious stimulants,” Clara decided. “You start him on some coffee. I’ll go see if I can find something stronger in the storerooms.” Clara walked out. Behind her, she could hear Lila sputtering some kind of protest, but ignored it. Irrelevant. All that mattered was keeping Bob on the job until he completed his mission. If, that is, Bob’s mission still coincided with hers. Clara found the packet of stimulants that she wanted, in a small white box labelled Spy-I. She dropped it into her pocket. Bob would no doubt appreciate the pills. Just in case, Clara also pocketed the small black box labelled Spy-X. Discreet little things, pills. Clara returned to the room and found herself faced with a strange sight. Bob rested his chin on the desk, peering intently at the coffee which Lila had just brought him. They had run out of styrofoam cups, so it was in a clear plastic cup from the water cooler instead. As Clara watched, Bob added non-dairy creamer to the coffee, one drop at a time.

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She cleared her throat. No response. “Bob. Bob! What the hell are you doing?” Clara said. “What – oh, it’s you, Clara.” Bob did not look away from his task. Plip. A drop of creamer dropped into the brown fluid below and created a tiny, intricate shape before dissipating. As soon as that happened, Bob added another drop. “I’m studying something,” he said. “Have you ever noticed that a drop of fluid follows the exact same pattern as a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion? Only upside-down instead of right-side-up. Or maybe it’s the other way around, and a mushroom cloud is really an upside-down droplet. Anyway, isn’t it amazing that something so tiny and something so huge can be so alike? It’s as if they’re following the same program.” “That’s just crazy. What are you doing, trying to figure out how to hijack a nuclear bomb by staring at a cup of coffee?” Clara said. “No, of course not. There are no more nuclear bombs. They all misfired and turned into demonic weasels. But don’t worry, Hanuman the Monkey God promised to deal with that. Didn’t Lila tell you?” Bob said. Surreptitiously Clara checked to make sure that her gun was still loaded. **** The darkest hour. Predawn. Morning. Light spilling into darkness, washing it out, like water washing ink out of fabric. Then the scarlet stain of sunrise seeping over the east. Bob looked around. Clara was nowhere in sight. More and more these days, she made his instincts itch. Sometimes Bob longed to crawl under a rock and forget all about the Cybermind. He knew that Clara suspected him. He knew that his plans no longer quite paralleled hers. He knew that the Great Leader would most definitely not approve. Was Bob turning as paranoid as Clara? Were his instincts lying to him about the danger? Or was he simply losing his mind? Well, no.

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The danger was real. It was simply not relevant. The potential or even probable cost to himself did not excuse Bob from doing his duty. Once assigned to solve a problem, his professional ethics would not allow him to quit. That his current assignment involved troubleshooting reality itself – risk to his life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness – mattered not at all. Bob was on the job. Bob was the job. Everything would be all right, just as he had promised. Lila had fallen asleep at her desk. Bob pulled a discarded labcoat from the back of a chair and covered Lila with it. She murmured in her sleep but did not wake. He tiptoed out of the room. Walking down to the buggy stop helped restore the circulation to his stiffening body. But the tiny white pills, Clara’s clandestine gift to him, worked wonderfully. Oh so wonderfully. Bob no longer felt tired, though he was beginning to feel a bit... thin. Stretched. At the water fountain near his own office, Bob swallowed another pill and instantly felt more wonderful than ever. He wondered if Clara’s present had a downside. “Did you get a good night’s sleep?” Peter said. “Did you eat anything?” Alice said. “Mmm,” Bob said noncommittally. “I could use another cup of coffee.” “I’ll get it.” Alice headed for the coffee machine. “How are the assignments coming?” Bob asked Peter. “Mine’s done; so is Alice’s,” Peter said. “I think about half the floor is done. We’re saving the finished pieces on the diskettes, with your picture just like you said, and putting them in your inbox.” “Great.” Bob went into his office and shut the door. He could hear Peter saying something outside, but ignored it. Peter did not come in to pester him any further. As each new piece of the program came in, Bob wove them together with growing skill. He used the keyboard less and less now. Sometimes he would sit for minutes at a time, just

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staring at the screen, the lines of Code blazing and dancing in his mind like aurorae. In order to solve the problem, the program had to account for every possible scenario – from Alaain’s art to the Great Leader’s Rapture – and address each accordingly. That should have made it enormous. Yet the more Bob added, the smaller the program got! To his astonishment, the Code condensed itself, like a flower folding up or a fractal receding. Bob glanced at the clock. It had melted and flowed over the corner of his desk. With every methodical tock, another silvery drop slipped free to splash onto the floor. Bob shrugged and returned to his task. It didn’t matter what time it was, really. Bob wasn’t hungry anyhow. He took a sip of cold coffee. Alice had loaded it with sugar and what tasted disgustingly like real cream out of an actual cow. He was thirsty, though, so he drank it anyway. A hand touched his shoulder, and Bob jumped in surprise. Coffee sloshed onto his hand. “What the hell?” he said. “Whoa, chill out, dude,” said Peter. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’ve been calling your name and you didn’t answer.” “Sorry,” Bob said. “I guess I was concentrating so hard that I didn’t hear you.” He set down his cup, no longer interested in the coffee. “Bob... I’ve been looking at the anti-virus program you asked us to work on, and well, I’m worried about you,” said Peter. He pulled off his bottle-lens glasses and rubbed his face, then put them back on. “Something doesn’t seem right about it.” Never to feel the sweet fire of magic again. Never to surf the cyberwaves with his whole self, not just his thoughts. Never to find out what the crazy ghost-angel was talking about, because he would be somewhere else, adrift in a reality that fit only his former self and not what Bob sensed himself becoming. Never to feel at home again, since the mechanism for sorting souls into appropriate realities depended on someone to start it... and every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So many nevers. So many happily-everafters, but not for everyone.

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“You’re learning how to read the Code too, aren’t you,” said Bob. It was a statement, not a question. “Maybe a little. I think so,” said Peter. “It’s all right, Peter. I know what I’m doing,” said Bob. He lifted his fists, together, and moved them apart. “This is like launching a boat. Sometimes you need someone standing on the bank to push it out into the water.” “It’s not fair!” “No, it isn’t. Life isn’t fair.” Bob chuckled, then said, “Maybe the multiverse really is still in beta-testing and God hasn’t finished debugging it yet.” “I thought you were an atheist.” “Agnostic,” Bob corrected. “I have yet to see a really elegant Proof for the existence of God. I’m flexible, though, and new data is just pouring in these days. Maybe the answer will come clear after all.” “If anything ever comes clear again,” Peter said. “I’m working on it,” Bob said. “Trust me. Everything will be just fine.” **** “It’s time. Start gathering everyone together,” said Clara. Lila frowned. “Are you sure? Clara, I don’t like this. People are getting hurt. The dreams I had last night -” “Don’t matter. None of that crap matters. Bob doesn’t matter. You and I don’t matter. All that matters is that our ubergeek finishes the fucking program before the world completely comes apart at the seams!” Clara snapped. “Now get your flabby ass in gear.” Lila didn’t argue. She just walked out. Clara knew that Lila would obey. The silly cow didn’t have enough guts to do anything different. She even thought that she’d managed to keep her indiscretions with Alaain a secret. A bug crept across Clara’s desk. Looking closely, she saw a tiny eye-and-pyramid design on its back. “Time to call the exterminator again,” she muttered. Clara took off her shoe, smashed the bug, and put her shoe back on.

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The phone gave a timid click as Clara picked it up and used the speed-dial function. It was too afraid of her not to work. “Gordon. Clara,” she said curtly. “This is a go. Dinner is served.” It took longer than it should have to get a reply. “It’s about time,” the phone crackled. “Look who’s talking! Where the fuck were you?” “Playing a fucking game, not that it’s any of your fucking business, you fucked-up Nazi cunt,” said Gordon. “Shut up and pass the salt.” “Your wish is my command. Puny mortal” If only. Clara would love to see Gordon drop dead. She fingered her gun. Well, that might still be possible. It would depend on how other things turned out, though... **** Bob had almost completed the program. He had a splitting headache but refused to let that stop him. Chicago’s winter weather always got to him. He often spent the cold season in some tropical paradise, fixing hardware and software problems for one of MacroSwift’s branch offices. The snow had gone, leaving the air dry, frigid, almost brittle. Bob thought nothing of it until a drop of blood splashed onto his keyboard. “Ah, shit! Not again,” he complained, pinching his nostrils. Arid air always gave him a nosebleed. He knew that, but had neglected to turn on the humidifier he kept in his office for just that reason. Bob got up and turned it on. He stuffed a tissue up his nose, stopping the flow of blood, then went back to work.

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Chapter 41
Bob felt disoriented. He raced to the bathroom, slammed open the door and fell over the toilet bowl before he vomited. The regurgitated remains of a recent meal he didn’t recognise splattered over the rim of the bowl like geography on a map. He took a deep breath before vomit surged again. Then peace. His stomach became relaxed and it was just the taste in his mouth. He drooped over to the sink, fell into it and rinsed his mouth. He splashed his face, pressed his hair back with his wet hands and opened his eyes to look into the mirror. He jerked awake surprised by the stranger in the bathroom with him. Then, for a few muddled moments, he stood perplexed wondering that the stranger must be him. But he looked so different. He recognised the structure of his face, the fat drooping ovals of his eyes, the determined nose and humble chin. But he’d lost weight. So much weight. His cheeks had retreated and so had his stomach. And the colour of his skin, was a definite ashen. As if death had come knocking. Bob had no idea where he was. “Where is this bathroom?” he asked himself aloud. He didn’t know whether it was in Macroswift’s offices, on Floor 13, in Sophia’s home or in Clara’s apartment. He didn’t know when it happened exactly, sometime in the last couple of days, (if they were actually days and not just seconds, or worse, years), but he felt he was in many places at the same time. Geographies, time zones, hemispheres, histories, all pulling him from one point on the globe to another. Or maybe he was in the same place but everything else was moving. He was sick. A nauseating sense of vertigo overcame him and he was back over the toilet bowl, the raw sound of the vomit penetrating the walls of the room.

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Maybe it was just the pressure of the job. His mind helping the body go sick so that he didn’t have to deal with the work. All the terrible work. His head ached from the code. He’d experienced the rush of success, the egoistic thrill of being King Wizard again, but now he was hot. No, he was cold. Very cold. Then hot again. He took off his t-shirt and wiped the sweat off his brow and under his armpits. He raised his arm and shoved his pit into his nose. He mustn’t have had a bath since this whole thing began. He drooped down onto his knees, or did the floor float up to meet him? Then he lay flat against the cool tiles of the bathroom floor. He placed his left cheek flat on the coolness there and tried to capture the last solid memory he had. The clearest image was of him stepping into Sophia’s office, marked by a blue door. He remembered the feeling of sinking into the armchair there. He remembered how he closed his eyes desperate for sleep, but instead of sleep he saw the scrolling patterns of Greek letters, equations of the worst kind, mathematical nightmares, tricks and games that tripped the mind over into insanity. But he’s not sure he remembers any of this. Paranoid he may be, but he wasn’t sure this was his memory at all. Had he read that somewhere? Had he mistakenly linked up to someone else’s memory? “I have no memory,” he said to the mirror and felt the shift in his stomach again, the insides rising up the wrong way, he shivered, he bent over the toilet again and felt the contractions rise up and up and up and out into the bowl. He didn’t mean that literally. But he meant it somehow. His memory didn’t seem to head backwards in a linear fashion. Not anymore. “I do have memory,” he corrected, “but I have no single memory, I have multiple memories.” There were scenes in his head that seemed familiar. He had been to Sophia’s place and began the hacking work, but

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faced a problem. Then he’d returned to Chicago and began again. Then he was back at Sophia’s. Then he was in London? Then back again? Then Floor 13? Then in some Macroswift office. Then in his office? What was this backwards and forwards thing. Had he half hacked into something? That wasn’t like him. He never left jobs half done. Or had he done a successful hack, only to uncover a rather buggy program. He felt as if he was in a world which didn’t load properly, which sent him into one world and then back again. Like a broken record, to use an ancient metaphor. The door to the bathroom slammed open. “So, here you are,” Clara was breathless. “You are Clara Helio. Employee of Floor 13.” spewed Bob. “Ten points for accuracy,” said Clara. “Now hurry up, the meeting is about to start and you’ve got some explaining to do. What do you think you are going to tell them?” “Who?” “Them!” “Them?” “Just make out that you’ve given them god’s balls on a platter, but keep the damn important bits a secret. OK. If you go too far, I’ll fucking spill your guts out, using this,” she pulled out her gun and shoved it hard into his stomach. “Thanks,” said Bob “I needed that.” Clara directed him towards the meeting using the gun on his back to give directions. She shoved him into a room he’d never seen before and took her seat. The walls were bright white and in the middle was a shiny oval table. Around the table were seated (in alphabetical order) Alaain, Alen, Clara, Lila and Sophia. “Bob!” They drawled in unison. “Alaain. Alen. Clara, Lila, Sophia”, he replied.

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Alaain Current was still tied to the chair Sophia and Clara had attached him to on the island. And yet, here was here. The glitch was there, playing out in front of Bob’s eyes. Had no one else realised this was a bug? Had no one thought to write the patch? “Bob,” Alaain said, “let’s get straight to the point. Have you or haven’t you?” “Clearly he has,” said Alen, “everyone who meets face to face with God’s mathematics has that glazed look.” “It could be that, or the maddening pull of the Necronomicon,” said Sophia. “Bob,” said Lila, “just tell them. They’ll find out anyway. They are close, too. So, you might as well.” “Don’t do it, Bob,” shouted Clara, “let them fucking work it out themselves. Not that they ever will.” “Bob,” said Alaain, “I’m a poet, Alen’s a cyber-scientist and you are a geek. We are the holy trinity! Spill what you know, you’ll get a good cut. You can retire.” “Look,” he finally spoke, “it’s done, but I can’t speak of it.” “Yes you can,” urged Alen. “I can’t. None of you will understand. This program is not your average program. The physical dimension and the cyber dimension are intertwined in some of the most sublime code...” “Yes,” said Alen, “that’s nothing new. The infrastructure is totally interdependent. I always imagined it to be utterly holistic; the cyber event will interfere with the physical, the physical event disrupts the cyber.” “The Internet is prior to Everything. It is the vast number of interconnections,” added Alaain, “that modern computer technology and the Internet has made possible that creates all the hidden vulnerabilities that we’ve already taken advantage of, but what else?” “The code is not like anything you’ve seen Alen,” said Bob, “and like nothing you’ve ever imagined Alaain. I haven’t learnt the language yet, I can’t speak it fluently, but I’ve peaked and I’m not the same man. I’ve changed. And I just don’t know how to communicate it’s structure. I do know that it is in beta form. And I do know that there are lots of problems. A few of those problems are being exhibited right

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now but none of you are aware of them. This amazes me. I am speechless. I am without speech.” Gordon Reader charged into the room. “I don’t take too kindly to hypocrites. I can’t be exposed to this madness and not respond. I will respond. You brain damaged primates don’t even know who you are hacking with. Crazy is majority rules. Now, Bob, why don’t you run that clever little program by me again.” Bob mimed the zipping up of his mouth and raced back to the bathroom.

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Chapter 42
“Damn these stupid bloody in your face Stop-Opens!” moaned Bob as he fought through the code. At every turn he had been hampered by the “Stop Open” codecs that kept the various Doors Openings in front of him being closed. He knew he was close to getting things back into some kind of order, but until he could shut them all simultaneously he was struggling. “Ah SHIT!” he cried as another batch of doors opened – he sat and stared at the screen as the multiple realities splashed open in front of him **** “Oh baby! Exclaimed the full figured, blonde Swedish Ms Helio as she looked out of her apartment window, bending over slightly as she did so to reveal a glimpse of white panty at the top of her shapely thighs, “this Shybermind thing is driving me crazy. What am I going to do? Who is going to save me?” There was a knocking on the door. Slowly she teetered towards it in her five-inch stiletto heels, her ample 36DD breasts bouncing in a unique motion with her steps. She opened the door and was greeted by a tall, well-muscled moustachioed man, wearing only a pair of jeans. She recognised him instantly. “Mr. Farnsworth!” she exclaimed “Hello Clara.” He replied in an excessively wooden manner, “I’ve come to put an end to the Shybermind” “How can you do that Mr.Farnsworth?” Clara asked incredulously, “I thought it could not be stopped”

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“Its so simple. It can be done using these amazing tablets!” said Farnsworth as he showed her a little brown bottle, “I should have thought of it before.” “But, what do you mean?” asked Clara, placing a hand on his ample chest. “Let me show you baby,” replied Farnsworth as he unzipped his fly “Oh WOW! Mr.Farsnworth! Its HUGE!!!!!!!!” she exclaimed as a penis the size of a small ICBM popped out “Yes,” said Farnsworth proudly, “these tablets doubled its length and its girth, and they were cheaper than prescription medications!” Clara dropped to her knees for a better look, and then took hold of the huge love-missile with her right hand. She looked up at Mr.Farnsworth with her huge blue eyes and fluttered he long eyelashes as she asked innocently “But how can it shtop the Shybermind?” “By the power of groovy boy/girl love baby!” said Farnsworth, “why don’t you bend over that table” Clara did as he bade, and Farnsworth slowly pulled down her gleaming white panties “Are you ready to save the world baby?” asked Farnsworth as he positioned himself behind her. “Oh yesh! Baby!” cried Clara as he plunged deep into her from behind The lights in the room flickered “Ohh baby that’s sooooo good. Do it to me harder baby! Faster! Deeper! Don’t Stop baby!” The Cybermind effect was reversing with each thrust, Bob and Clara were going to do it, do it, do it till the world was back to normal, and normality was returning faster than ever. “Its coming Baby!” cried Farnsworth, “Normality is nearly here!”

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Clara replied with a series of baboon like sounds only ever found in really bad porn films “Here it comes!” There was an explosion of prehistoric grunting from Farnsworth - . The lights went out **** There – that was another one of them closed for good. Bob pondered for a moment on the Swedish Porn Cybermind. It certainly was a more entertaining place than the one he inhabited. And Clara looked – well – different was the understatement of the year. He shook his head and continued **** The Mystery Machine screeched to a halt and Clara, Bob and Lila jumped out. “Jeepers Bob!” exclaimed Clara, “I sure do hope we made it in time!” “Me too Clara,” replied Bob, “I hope Shagger and Scubby managed to get everything into place and ready, lets go see” Bob opened the creaky door into the haunted mansion “Hey, like – who goes there?” came Shagger’s distinctive drawl “Yer, rike, wro goees dere?” echoed Scubby “It’s just us guys, and it looks like we’re just in the nick of time!” exclaimed Bob, “Are you guys ready? The Cyberminder wasn’t too far behind us” “T-t-t-oooo f-far?” exclaimed Shagger, “HE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!”

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The three intrepid friends turned to see what Shagger was panicking about and were equally as shocked to see the huge glowing electric blue figure of the Cyberminder standing virtually on-top of them. “ZOIKS!” cried Lila, “RUN!” The three took off across the mansion in a flurry of feet with the Cyberminder lumbering after them, but Shagger and Scubby weren’t quite as fast and the huge monster took a swipe at Scubby, knocking him head over heels on top of Shagger. The two of them smashed headlong through the door into the dining room with the Cyberminder close behind - . As the creature stepped into the room he was bemused to find a table already set out. “Ah, sir, on time as expected” exclaimed Head Butler Shagger. “Your place is waiting for you!” Servant Scubby slid a wheeled chair under the Cyberminder and shoved him towards the table. In the meantime Butler Shagger had miraculously produced a huge covered dishful of food and shoved it on the table in front of the now confused monster. Shagger whipped the lid off the dish and a plate of food, with a dramatic flourish he announced, “Sirs favourite – micro chips –...like – .geddit? AhHahahahahah” Scubby giggled and the monster realised it had been had and tried to turn and grab him but Scubby was faster and gave the chair and extra shove. The monster hit the long table and slid off down it out of control, smashing and scattering crockery everywhere as it went.

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Suddenly, at the bottom of the table Clara, Bob and Lila popped up with a huge bag and some rope, and as the Cyberminder slid head first into the bag. Bob quickly tied the monster up. “Willikins!” exclaimed Clara in a less than useful way, “That was close!” “It certainly was” said the Sheriff as he strolled into the room, “but it looks like you kids did good!” “There’s just one mystery left to solve”, said Lila, “Just who is the Cyberminder?” Bob pulled the bag from the monsters head and then whipped off the creatures mask “Alain Current!” They all exclaimed “Yes!” snarled Current, “and I would have gotten away with it too it if hadn’t have been for you pesky kids!” The gang all laughed. Then the room seemed to just blink out of existence. **** “Scubby Puh? Well that was a different one for sure”, muttered Bob as he continued to type. He wasn’t sure if he was ahead of the Stop Opens now or behind them, but the Scubby Puh one had been at least a hundred after the Swedish Porn – mind you, if the Cybermind had warped things really badly there could be millions of them and all he was doing was fighting fires instead of putting things out. Maybe he could duplicate the code of that Door Slammer he used to have on his system at Macroswift. Yes – that could work… His fingers became a blur once more. ****

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Simon Le Bon sat at his desk with his eyes closed and pondered the images in his head, and the blank sheet of paper that sat in front of him. The damn title of the song had been so simple, and yet here he was hours later with nothing to show for it apart from some crazy day-dream and an extremely creepy feeling. Obviously the pressure was getting too much for him today. It was hard trying to recreate past glories, that was for sure, and he knew the band’s new record deal depended on some of the old style quirky writing stuff to get them back into the charts. More obviously, this title wasn’t it. He crossed out the name Cybermind from his “working titles” note pad and checked the next one, “The Tremendousness of Being.” The title seemed much fresher than the old one. He closed the pad and went off in search of a coffee and some inspiration. **** Now that WAS weird thought Bob as he watched that particular door shut - the whole reality in that part of the mind was a Duran Duran lyric. Madness, total madness. Still, soon the door slammer would be ready and then he could close the mind down one piece at a time and maybe then, just maybe everything round here would get back to normal?

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Chapter 43
From: Emergency Alerts To: Subject: Brief summary of what’s happening around the U.S. Brief summary of what’s happening around the U.S. ––––––––––––––––––––––CA has an earthquake advisory in effect. CO has an avalanche alert in effect. CO also has a winter weather advisory in effect. CT has a winter storm advisory in effect. DC has a wind advisory in effect. DC also has a government paralysis advisory in effect. FL has a tropical storm advisory in effect. ID has a snow advisory in effect. ID also has a winter weather advisory in effect. ID also has a wind advisory in effect. ID also has a winter storm warning in effect. IQ has a desert sandstorm advisory in effect. KY has a flood warning in effect. MA has a winter weather advisory in effect MA also has a demonic plague alert in effect. MA also has a flood warning in effect. ME has a high wind warning in effect. ME also has a wind advisory in effect. ME also has a refugee alert in effect. MN has a wind advisory in effect.

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MN also has a refugee alert in effect. MT has a winter weather advisory in effect. NC has a thunderstorm alert in effect. NC also has a tropical storm advisory in effect. ND has a wind advisory in effect. NH has a flood warning in effect. NY has a flood warning in effect. OR has a snow advisory in effect. OR also has a winter storm warning in effect. PA has a flood warning in effect. PA also has a severe reality disruption alert in effect. UT has a snow advisory in effect. VA has a flood warning in effect. VT has a flood warning in effect. VT also has a refugee alert in effect. WA has a snow advisory in effect. WA also has a cybernetic chaos warning in effect. WA also has a severe reality disruption alert in effect. WA also has a winter storm warning in effect. WV has a flood warning in effect. WY has a winter storm warning in effect. WY also has a winter weather advisory in effect. **** In effect.

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The cybermind effect was in full effect, oh yes, effectively affecting his affects, affecting his effectiveness, language, perception, the world becoming some mere shell of itself, shattering, but no, it was just another possibility exploding, another mask, an effigy... In effigy. Bob felt himself swinging, as though hung in effigy, careening, not hung in real life well or otherwise; indeed, he felt himself shrinking, losing potency, some weird psychic syndrome like the koro that affected South Seas Islanders, except instead of thinking that his member was disappearing it was his abilities, his reach, his newfound sense of control of the cybernetic energies that was slipping back into himself, never to come out again, retracting... Or was it just his confidence that was under attack? He knew that he was breathing. Yes, start there, he thought, or someone did. So many options swimming past him, or that he was swimming within... at least he could start somewhere. His breathing told him that somewhere there was a physical body that was doing just fine for now, he didn’t have to worry about that. (Clara, concerned, wipes his brown with a damp washcloth, wondering where he is. Clara, impatient, shakes his shoulders and screams his name again and again. Clara, centered in perfect calm, rests her hand upon the top of his head, trying to tune in.) (Lila, concerned, wipes his brown with a damp washcloth, wondering where he is. Lila, impatient, shakes his shoulders and screams his name again and again. Lila, centered in perfect calm, rests her hand upon his shoulders, trying to tune in. Lila cries helplessly, whispering his name.) You’re running into countermeasures, he thought. Whatever the system is, whatever kind of organism, it must have some

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safeguards built in, immunities, antibodies, coping mechanisms, cytophages, rhetorical devices, excuses, ways to wheedle itself away from danger, or dangers away from itself – they would be subtle, sneaky, attempt to dissuade attack by all manner of methods... Yes. It was trying to get him depressed. Discourage him. He remembered the thing in London. What had it said? the Lurker? Was this it? Memories came flooding into his consciousness, his failures, his shortcomings. Stupid errors, obvious mistakes, that time he left a semicolon out of a line of code and the debugger missed it and the damage didn’t hit till six months later and three-quarters of the network crashed... Not just technical flaws, no sirree, all the stuff was getting dredged up out of his subconscious, mistreatments, broken promises, vain desires, the painful embarrassments, Clara, all his sins, sins, sins... He couldn’t fight them, he knew that. Okay. So he wouldn’t. Yep, he thought, they’re mine. All mine. You got me, dead to rights. But you know what? What, smart guy? I’m still here, that’s what. Here and nowhere and everywhere, and I’m coming after you... Reaching out, he fills the voids... ****

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Imagine the four-dimensional physical tracing made by a human life, moving through time and space. Emerging out of another, first small, then growing larger, intertwining all the while with millions of others before it ends, gradually or abruptly, perhaps others issuing out of itself or out of another because of itself... Now imagine the psychic, metaphysical tracing of that life, all the communications issued or received by that person, during that life, from beginning to end, as tendrils connecting those lives, most trivial, some profound, glances, manifestos, music, paintings, a handshake between two old friends in a bar, a kiss that signals goodbye... There are billions of them, trillions perhaps, and here you are, held in their grip, their embrace, tethered; receiving, transmitting, receiving, transmitting, this is the reality under the reality, the stuff of life itself, you, you are a cell, just one, in the cybermind, a dendrite firing, an axon absorbing... Bob opens his eyes. “Yeah, see ya,” he says to his old friend O’Brien, and at the same time he knows what O’Brien can’t wait to tell him, Smith, about his new heart, the new wiring, the new sense of power that the cyborgian implants are giving him... He opens his eyes to a new morning in the Cambridge Waldorf, the sun glinting off the Seagrams sign across the Charles, and knows that yes, the interview will go fine, even though Kurt’s fingers tremble as he straightens his tie... He opens his eyes and reads the incendiary rant that he has just typed on the screen, and feels a surge of selfsatisfaction as he clicks SEND, even as he knows what awaits Gordon at the end of his road... He feels himself permeating the fabric woven by thousands of years of human sentience and experience, billions of cells pulsing, impulses colliding, merging, splitting – Shining.

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But beneath, around this radiance, there it was, the thing that was dark – yes, but he was above, beneath, around the darkness as well, and when he tried to find the boundary all he could find was the fractal line, the infinite divisibility, mutual permeation... The darkness was eating him. It loomed hungry, in the shape of his sins, the shape of his hurts. It stood before a Door of Light. It ate him, withered him. It was power beyond him. All the beings of Dark. But he – he was eating the darkness in turn. And he was not alone. There were other fabrics, variations, permutations of permutations going off in other dimensions of possibilities, choices, recurrences and almost-recurrences and near-recurrences, the garden of forked paths where each universe was itself just one life, emerging, ending, reproducing, communicating, transmitting, receiving... A blaze of light at once purest white and darkest black Bob opens his eyes and looks at the screen.
“DEFRAGMENTATION COMPLETE,”

it says. **** Bob steps out for air. He walks around the building towards the parking lot. There are no cars, but the lot is full, crowded with electronic components and computer hardware. He recognizes the monitor that stands in front of the multitude. He stretches out his hand toward them. As if on signal, they bow, and genuflect before him.

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Chapter 44
Clara carefully studied the results of her observations. Bob had downloaded the Necronomicon on to his computer, and this was supposedly tied in to his attempt to shut down the Cybermind. Or would be officially. The text, as far as she knew, was better known for opening this world to Dark Gods, or for summoning power. Furthermore Bob had done this secretly, so it was unlikely to have been done for any good purpose. This was not acceptable. Clara, listened again to the conversation that worried her most. The quality was not good and there were gaps. Bob appeared to be talking to himself. “I think I know what you’re talking about, and I’m not sure I can give up my ... wizardry, or whatever..... Why should I trust you? Okaaayyy... Assignment... What are you? An angel? A demon? A haunting? One of Clara’s crazy godmonsters?” followed by awkward laughter. It sounded like Bob was talking to some kind of invisible being, or that he had gone mad. His voice had a definite edge, and he was worried about loosing his power. Invisible beings were not good news, neither was madness. Bob was potentially the most powerful man on the planet. Much more so than Current or Michaelrose, neither of whom seemed to know what they were doing. And here he was either talking to himself or trusting something which could be an angel or a demon, or something else. With the Necronomicon in his machine the chances of it being an angel were remote. Besides it was obviously giving less than satisfactory answers, and the only way that Bob could be accepting those answers was if it had already swayed his mind. And that did not bode well either. Then she had to face up to the politics. The Great Leader and the Great Lawyer might not completely be her ideals any more. But to change them was a deep risk. And it was a risk she felt Bob was naive enough to undertake. His hostility to

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them, was now as sharp as Lila’s in its way. He might just simply delete them from the world. This would be targeted assassination at its most thorough, with no appeal and no chance of escape. Even if they were not the best possible, they might be the best available and the best for America. Who else could take on the Great Terrorist, the threat of World Dissolution? Sure they might be heavy handed, but they were what the situation called for. Uncertain Times demanded strong action and strong people. Removing them could even destroy America. It would at best remove the opportunity for real peace. Sometimes you had to be hard to get results. That was the reality, the tragedy of power. Only soft headed fools thought otherwise. Appeasement or avoidance never solved problems. And that was what she faced herself. Appease Bob, or act. This was not looking good. Clara wished this burden had not been given to her. There was no one else she could trust. Not Lila, who would be soft hearted and probably warn Bob despite the danger. Not Current or Michalerose, that was laughable. Sophia, was just a nice old lady a bit out of her depth, with no experience of life and death matters. Doom Squad would alert even the dead, and they’d probably miss Bob anyway. There weren’t that many of them left for starters. The Government, ultimately no. She could not really trust either the Great Leader or the Great Lawyer on this – they might see some opportunity which would give Bob enough time to carry out his plan. Bob was easily smart enough for that. Besides Bob would have those channels monitored. He would be looking out for trouble from them. Gordon she had alerted, but she had no faith in him, the best she could hope for was that he might provide some distraction. Besides his IQ seemed to have dropped over the last week – his wit was no longer as biting, his verbal traps no longer so deadly – most of the time he was just rude. He sounded thick as well, as if he was speaking through treacle, and his typing seed had declined. She could have no faith in Gordon. That left herself. It had always come down to that. Always. ‘Only you can save the world’. And she didn’t want to do it. Sure Bob was annoying, but he was ok. It wasn’t like

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she hated him or anything. But it looked like she had to kill him. She felt a bit sick. “I guess this is what soldiers feel like” she said. “You fight for your country. I’m fighting to save the world.” It didn’t feel much better. She decided to make sure she was right. She would check with Lila and pretend slightly greater ignorance than she had. Maybe she was wrong, just maybe. Lila was poring over handwritten sheets. The department computers were still offline because of the threat. Maybe she could notify Tara. Tara had killed one Bob. Maybe she would do it again? However, it was too dangerous – Tara might decide to kill Clara as well – and Bob would be guarded against her. She remembered, he was guarded. Tara was not the way. She could not avoid doing this herself. “Hi” said Clara. “Hi” said Lila. “Are you ok?” “Not really” Clara admitted. Lila gestured for her to sit down. “So what’s up?” “How are your dream reports doing?” “I’m not sure, it makes no sense to me. I think things are coming to a head. There’s an awful lot of prophetic type dreams. But I can’t figure them out. Mind you, that’s almost always impossible until the events have happened. But the marks are all there, and from so many people. These are really big dreams.” “Could people be having ‘big dreams’ because everyone’s life is messed up in a big way?” “Its not impossible”, Lila replied. “But you get the feeling for these things. I’m prepared to bet that we will find a hell of a lot of these dreams are prophetic. That’s rare.” “So what are the omens” Clara said jokingly. “Unclear” Lila admitted. “It could be very bad. It might be very good.” “Not an exact science then?” asked Clara. “No” said Lila. “You are right. But what is the matter with you?”

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“I” said Clara, “I’m worried about the Dark Gods. I can’t get this option out of my mind. I need to know more. Tell me about this Necronomicon thing.” “Well” said Lila carefully. “I would have said it was a hoax. A non-existent book invented by the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft in order to give some frisson for his tales. It was supposedly written by a mad Arab called Abdul al Hazred – which by the way is an obviously fake Arabic name. It apparently drove people mad if they read it. An idea Lovecraft took from Robert Chambers ‘King in Yellow’ stories. And it contained whatever he wanted it to contain for the story he was writing.” “Ok” said Clara “what sort of things did it say.” Lila paused and quoted: “That is not dead which can eternal lie For with strange eons even death may die” “Sounds like, like er.... John Donne to me.” Lila hid her surprise, “Yes it does a bit.” “Not that scary either.” “Well the idea was this kind of huge alien being was lying dreaming under the ocean waiting for the stars to come right, and it would emerge and destroy the world. Near the time, its dreams were turbulent and sent people mad.” This sounded oddly familiar to Clara. Somehow connected to Bob, but she couldn’t quite place it. “Anyway” continued Lila, “The Necronomicon supposedly contained all this suppressed lore about these creatures, the past history of Earth and probably arcane science which looked like magic. Lovecraft and his friends wrote heaps of stories with connected themes and referred to each other, and they invented other imaginary books. But the Necronomicon is the name which stayed with people.” “What does the name mean?” “Well I think Lovecraft based the name on Manilius’ Astronomicon which is a book about the science of the stars – Astrology – so Necronomicon would be a book about the science of the dead.” “I’ve never got what’s scary about dead people” said Clara.

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“I guess” said Lila “the scary thing is if they don’t stay dead.” “Then you shoot them again” said Clara. “Besides most live people are pretty innocuous, I don’t think being dead would change that very much.” “I see” said Lila. “Spiritualism is founded on the idea the dead might be friendly.” “There you are” said Clara. “Load of crap in my opinion. Being dead might even improve some people.” “Anyway” said Lila, “it could refer to dead gods, who are not really dead, merely inactive.” “Uh huh” said Clara. “Some people say that Lovecraft channelled a real text, which was written on another plane – a virtual reality if you want, or perhaps some kind of virtual hard drive. But he only had dark hints, because he didn’t believe this kind of stuff and had no training. So, for example, his name Abdul al Hazred is really a deformation of Abd al-Azrad which means the slave of the great devourer.” “So if people think this dark hint thing, than occultists must use this stuff?” asked Clara. “Yeh, sure. Not nice ones though – its all about lowering one’s consciousness to the primal chaos, shedding the masks of humanity, exploring the hidden wisdom of the dark and so on. There are heaps of fake translations of the Necronomicon. There’s a really bad one which tries to blend Lovecraft with Sumerian stuff, but it gets the Sumerian stuff all wrong, including the spells. If it worked, it would be really messy. I tried it at one stage and got nothing.” “Hmm, at the moment though, this stuff could work.” “Sure something might happen – nothing pleasant I’d guess.” “Chaos, death and despair.” “Yes.” “A bit like what we have now?” “I guess so... I don’t know.” “Ok so what about these icons of Sophia’s?” asked Clara. “Well, that’s were it all goes weird” said Lila “Before all this stuff went down I’d say it was just some magic text or some fake But it looked like it was real to me. Not that I’m great in Greek. I don’t get it. Where did Lovecraft get to hear of this

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thing from? Fans have been looking for pre-Lovecraft references to the book for years without success. And it didn’t seem to do her any harm.” “She said it drove her ancestor to kill his father” remarked Clara. “Lots of her ancestors were not driven to kill their fathers.” “Perhaps they didn’t read it?.” “Possibly. Its more probably folklore, I’d guess. It might be true. I don’t know.” “But you would be cautious about using it?” asked Clara. “You bet! Anyone who uses any magic text without lots of study is crazy. If they work you have to be careful. If they don’t, you are mucking around with your head, which could be even worse.” “You used the fake Sumerian thing” “Well yes”, said Lila blushing, “I thought anything was worth a try.” “What about, the copy that’s supposed to be in the White House?” asked Clara. “I think, that’s a rumour. I don’t know anyone who has actually seen it. It’s a bit like the idea the Great Leader is an alien or a computer program.” “Plenty of people have seen him!” said Clara. “Don’t talk stupid stuff. Life is bad enough already. Anyway, these Gods in the Necronomicon. They are definitely not good?.” “Jeez. No. That’s the point they are supposed to be as scary as it gets. Mindless, or super intelligent, devouring creatures, who have as much regard for us as we do for ants. They are alien. Totally alien. Getting involved with them is like wrestling with a steam roller. Some say they lie alongside our reality, touching it at all points with their own, and looking to break through. Some say they sleep and when they awake the world will be transformed.” “Ok. That makes me feel better.” “It does?” “Yes. If I’m right about the Gods we have to win. If you have spare time I want you to see if you can transcribe that book.” “But if its real, and we think it is, we don’t want it going down the wires for God’s sake” Lila paused briefly. “That would be like giving the whole world some kind of message

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to free the Old Gods. It would do the spells to release them.” She looked genuinely worried as if a thought had just struck her. “Ok” Clara’s mind was made up. The risks were too great. “I guess you get back to your dreams, while I look in the Library.” Clara went back to her office, and carefully disassembled and cleaned her gun. It seemed fine, and she knew she was simply delaying things. Feeling sick again, she holstered it. Checked her POW gun was charged, and set off through the fire-escape to avoid the remnants of the Doom Squad. As she walked down the corridors she noticed that someone seemed to have scrawled sigils for warding off demons from all kinds of religious systems. Clara counted at least 25 different types. Maybe it had worked as the weirdness seemed have lessened in the building. Maybe it just focused people’s attention on stability. Who knew? Outside she struggled through what felt like a whole cluster of pop-up ads for gambling. Getting through one, left her in another. Eventually she got out, passing quite a number of lost and desperate souls playing just one more game, or unable to leave one before another appeared. Making her way to the Macroswift offices would have made a fantasy quest movie. Only her agility and wits saved her. Even so, it took her much longer than she had hoped. Finally after fighting something that wanted her to pay not only for oxygen, but walking down the street, and the copyright on all her thoughts which referred to trade marked or licensed cultural products, she stood in front of the Macroswift building. This was it. Clara vaguely sensed that she didn’t like endings. That often endings led somewhere else. She particularly hated endings in which everyone got paired off – even minor characters who had hardly spoken to each other. As if getting married solved any problems. It was a weird convention. Even if Life

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had been like that, such an ending suggested so many possibilities for misery she could not understand why it seemed happy. She recalled that Trotsky (what the hell? When had she ever read Trotsky?) had thought that there would always be a gap between human aspiration and the possibility of achievement, and thus that the world was essentially tragic and would remain so. Well he would think that, trying to impose equality on people and control them into happiness. But it was true nevertheless. She had no idea what would happen after killing Bob. All that seemed clear was that Bob was in league with Dark Forces, inhuman forces. Forces inimical to humanity. Perhaps he had been taken over, but everything Bob stood for was deeply wrong. The only way she could act was in a preemptive strike against possible terror. If she was wrong she took that responsibility. She was not frightened of responsibility. She had to act now before it was too late. What could happen if she failed to act was beyond contemplation. The smoking gun of a mushroom cloud, would be nothing in comparison. She presented her ID. Passed the security guards, and headed up the stairs. She calmed her self, breathing slowly and deeply. She imaged her action in her head repeatedly so that she could face her task. There would be no apology, no explanation, she would see Bob, wave if he saw her, enter his office, get close enough to him that she could not miss, and then shoot. Preferably into the back of the head. That should be easy, Bob would be looking at the screen, working his way with the world, not looking at her. And then it would all be over. The guards might shoot her. She would try and escape, but escape was much less important than the deed. After that she could rest. After that she could rest.

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Chapter 45
Bob, taking advantage of a rare moment of quiet, went back to the text adventure he was developing. He felt rather disappointed with himself because he thought that the idea of having a character, believing himself to be real and the adventure he was playing a fantasy, whilst being not entirely new was at least amusing, but he was getting nowhere with it, and becoming rather bored. In the meanwhile, Marius was seated on a chair on his patio and was waiting for the moon to be completely obscured, which was going to happen soon. The garden was already in almost complete darkness and Brutus had woken up, sensing a change in the environment and moved closer to his human companion. “It’s OK, BooBoo,” said Marius soothingly whilst caressing the broad head of his Pit Bull. Marius considered about going back inside his laptop and continue his quest for Bob, then he thought that although the co-existence between a fantastic world and a rational utilitarianism may seem a symptom of scission, yet it amounts to a liberating experience of the unlimited possible correlations between man and the surrounding world. “Where does that come from,” thought Marius? I am not a conceptual thinker, but rather a man of action, a slayer of Dragons, a protector of villages from marauding Orcs, a rescuer of damsels in distress. Scores of damsels sung my praises, although it is not exactly what I meant when I suggested they express their gratitude orally, mused Marius. And then he thought again, who is putting these thoughts in my mind? I am not a man of action, either, even though the idea of orally expressed gratitude was not entirely unappealing. Marius wondered about something he read once and found oddly appealing. But if its odd, it should be appealing he thought. The idea was that if the world was not magical, then

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it would be possible to simulate it exactly on a computer through a finite set of models. As a result people would write such simulations, which would include people who thought just like us. “Well perhaps not just like you”, said Odette. “Shut up” replied Marius. They would reflect on existence and spelling mistakes, and so on. However because such worlds were boring, and there would be an awful lot of them, many programmers would start adding some ‘magic’ subroutines, to make it more interesting and there would be even more of such worlds. Just like how here programmers kept writing fantasy games rather than games about how boring life is. So if the world was non-magical, then the chances are that, if you were a self reflexive individual, then you were a product of simulation with added magical bits. Ergo (which he thought was a kind of hallucigenic fungus), if the world really was non-magical the chances were high that you were actually living in a magical world. By then the moon was completely covered and total darkness enveloped the surroundings. Marius could not even see his hands, or his laptop or Brutus and thought, “This feels like non-existe...” At that very moment, Bob hit the Delete key and obliterated the file with his adventure.

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Chapter 46
The flu’ virus had not yet spread to the West Highlands. Within each major Scottish town and the cities though, the virus had reached epidemic proportions. The old ‘fever’ hospitals had been reopened in a measure to control and contain the spread of the disease. Major infrastructures had collapsed; people were afraid to travel and a feeling of doom hung in the air. Security at the airports and ferry ports had been stepped up. Visitors were being screened as they had their passports checked. This had meant a massive influx of custom officials, police and medical personnel from England, in order to provide enough manpower. Locals were harping on about “Shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted.” If the government had had tighter security in the first place, the virus carrier(s) would not had entered Scotland so easily. It was now officially established that an illegal immigrant stowed away on a North Sea ferry had been the originator of the killer ‘flu. The man had since died in Aberdeen Infirmary. He had got as far as Caithness but the illness had overtaken him there and he had been rushed back by ambulance to Aberdeen, which was being used to quarantine victims of the disease. Caithness was a strange destination for an illegal immigrant. At Dounreay there was the vast UKAEA visitors centre, which provided employment for the nearby population of Cybsco. The nuclear reactor originally housed there had been decommissioned long before but it would take another 50-60 years for the environment to be returned to its natural state, or so they thought. Robots had first been used in the massive clean-up, but now it was felt safe enough for humans to work there. In fact it was now estimated that due to the huge amount of decommissioning work needed, jobs would be

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available there for the next 100 years. Radiation had done more than just seep into the countryside, it had affected the population not just physically in the form of increased risk and size of tumours, but had penetrated their psychology making them aggressive and taciturn. The crime rate had also risen dramatically, murder and rape were now commonplace. The evil had leeched into the very bones of the populace. **** Red always felt more at ease when Scarlet was staying with her. Although Scarlet had left home for University many years ago – she was almost 29, to Red she was still the little girl with the soft crown of curls. Scarlet’s father had died shortly after she was born. Red had been devastated at the time. Magnus had been accidentally shot during a weekend of grouse shooting on the nearby estate. An inexperienced visitor, on a corporate funded spree had mistaken Magnus for a stag. So Red had lavished all of her affection on Scarlet, her only child, and now she was home again. **** Scarlet and Jock had patched up their quarrel. It was just a silly misunderstanding anyway. When she had managed to disentangle herself from the Hari Krishna ensemble, she had spotted Jock slipping into the new Hooters club. Typical! There she was surrounded by the marauding mob, and all he could think of was sex! He had reappeared after about four minutes. “Can’t keep your mind off whisky and women for more five minutes!” She blasted at him when he had caught up with her. “Darling, I do believe you are jealous.” He smirked deliciously. “You’re sooo attractive when you are angry.” He added still smiling. “Why, you, you . just you . wait.” She took a left-hander to his chin, but he ducked out of the way. She was seething, her cheeks flame-red, green eyes glaring.

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Just then pandemonium erupted. The police, wearing helmets with visors and carrying riot shields in one hand, truncheons in the other, were charging the mob. Scarlet stood shock-still. Jock wrapped his right arm around her waist and uprooting her from the pavement, sprinted off down the hill towards her apartment. Once inside the calm interior of her hallway, Scarlet felt drained. She kicked off her shoes, and with her back against the wall, let her whole body slump into it. Red curls covering her face as her head hung limply forward. Jock, thinking that she looked adorable, placed his hands on the wall at either side of her shoulders, bent his head down and proceeded to cover her exposed neck with tiny kisses. By this time her mood had lifted “We haven’t got time for thattttttt!” She trilled. “No, guess you’re right. Let’s pack your things and get the hell out of here!” With lightening speed she threw the bare minimum of clothes into her vanity case. Grabbed her Barbour and green wellies, double-locked the front door and was racing down the stairs in double quick time to join Jock on the pavement outside. He insisted that he had to go back to his hotel and check out before he could join her at Dunfarg. She was to make the journey alone. Late afternoon had become evening by the time she left Edinburgh, and it would be close to midnight before she got to her mother’s. Scarlet had offered to pick Jock up at the hotel, but he had declined her offer, saying that he had ‘one or two ends to tie up’ before he left. She was a little suspicious about the ‘one or two ends’ thinking that these might refer to females, but had not pursued this thread. She was also concerned about his safety, although he had always managed to ‘look after himself’ in tight corners. It was just too much and she lost her temper again and ranted on at him.

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He in turn accused her of being ‘unreasonable’ and stalked off. **** At that time she thought to check up on the people in the Safe House. It was a hard struggle to get there, and her clothes were wretched when she reached it. But it had been nothing to her panic when it became clear the House had been occupied and was now abandoned. She felt the trace of ghosts, and not pleasant ones. There was no sign of Bob, or Lila, Clara or Sophia. She had some wild fantasy that Clara had eaten them. Panic and guilt over-whelmed her and she ran out. Then paused and made an attempt at tidying up. How was she going to explain this? Where the Hell was Jock when she needed him? **** Now he was here, and she knew everything would be okay. Jock had arrived before daybreak and they had breakfasted together, before she had led him back into her bedroom where he had removed her clothes and then his own and they had lain briefly together. Once refreshed by the shower and a brisk rub down with one of Red’s tartan towels, they had joined her mother in the lounge. Time to make their get-away plans. Sophia had apparently fled back to Greece for some reason. So given the request her mother had received, and the hope of getting out of this series of disasters, they planned to join her. Scarlet knew this meant giving up her career, but she owed her mother, and she would be with Jock. There was a disused airstrip within a few miles of Dunfarg. It had been used during the World War II to supply the Hebrides with vital rations when it had been impossible to take the boat across. Mrs McTavish had an old friend who

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owned a Cesna. Jock had piloted such aircraft before and would have no problems with this. With luck they could just squeeze four people in. “Four?” Red queried, with a puzzled look on her face. “Yes, I ran into the barman from Larry’s on my way out of Edinburgh. You haven’t met him. I dropped him off down the road to stay at Jim Redhall’s overnight. I promised him that I would take him with us.” Jock explained. Scarlet was flabbergasted. “Why did you agree to do that?” She almost screamed at him. “He’s become a good buddy in the last few days, and besides, I felt sorry for him. He misses his family, and since the troubles has become very homesick.” “But he’s from Portugal isn’t he?” Scarlet said, alarmed, thinking that may be they would have to make a detour. “Yeah, but he also has friends in Amsterdam” Jock countered. “So there’s no problem. Okay, deal?” She agreed reluctantly. They dressed in their warmest clothes, and shut the tower up. Jim Redhall, Red’s old retainer, had come along to wish them a safe journey and see them off. Red felt anxious about the journey, as she had not travelled so far for many years. She was also apprehensive about leaving her home. The tower and the small village were dear to her, but she knew that Sophia needed her too, or she would not have sent her that cryptic note. She had made a will some years ago, leaving all her property to Scarlet, on the understanding that Scarlet would provide for Jim and his family after her death. Jock drove Scarlet’s 4 x 4 down the road to pick Jesus up from Jim’s. Now that she saw him, she remembered his calm, cool manner from behind the bar at Larry’s. How different he looked dressed in outdoor clothes, his dark hair escaped from its band and moving freely as he strode up to the jeep and open the back door.

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**** They had been airborne for an hour or more when the engine started to cough uncomfortably. Jock stole a glance at Scarlet, who was staring straight ahead, willing the little plane to reach terra firma before they were forced to land. Red was sitting in the back with Jesus. She was curious about him. She had noticed his smell, which was always the first thing a blind person became aware of, unless of course the person spoke. But Jesus had been silent for most of the journey so far. He smelled of olives and a soft muskiness, like the incense she remembered from her trips to the Greek Orthodox church when visiting her friend. Then Red became aware of the change in atmosphere inside the plane, you could almost cut the air with a knife. It was as if everyone was holding his/her breath. Almost unconsciously she reached out her right hand and Jesus took hold of it. Instantly her fingers seemed to melt into his palm, which had curious scars etched into it. The whole structure of the plane began to shudder ... they were coming down. Jesus was muttering something under his breath, Red thought he was trying to comfort her but could not think of the English words. What was happening? **** The next instant the sea came over the cockpit and the plane’s engine spluttered and died. So did Red. She had knocked the side of her head against the plane’s metal structure during the emergency landing and given herself a massive cerebral haemorrhage. Jock managed to get the door open and drag Scarlet free before the machine sunk like a stone. Fortunately he could see land not far off, and struck out into a fast crawl with Scarlet somehow propped up against his chest. Jock was

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grateful for the fact that Scarlet was knocked out. She would have tried to save Red, and that was futile. She came too when they were approaching the shore. Jock was spent. All his considerable strength and stamina had been consumed in the race to get to the beach. Where were they anyway? Brittany, Normandy? In his exhausted state, he had lost his bearings. It took Scarlet a full five minutes to orientate herself and remember what had happened. All she could say was: “Oh my God, oh my God.” Over and over again. Her growing emotion became too much to contain, tears welled up and erupted from her already sea salt reddened eyes. She opened her mouth and emitted a piercing scream. And when spent, lapsed into heart jerking sobs. Jock stood, bone tired, shaking in the wake of Scarlet’s emotional turmoil. He gently placed his arm around her and walked up the sand towards – he knew not what. .

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Chapter 47
There are so many voices in the Cybermind it is hard to hear the music they make as they weave together. Is it music though? Music appears in the random sounds of water swirling and moving over rocks in a stream, or in the throbbing interference patterns of air rushing over conditioning vents, and sometimes it soothes. Sometimes it disturbs. Music appears in the joining of listener with sound. For a different listener the music may seem noise. It hides. Yet, we are told that some sound may kill and, therefore, that some music will not soothe any savage beast. Yuan Thu returned to her village as soon as she could. The plague of dragons and red guard had driven her from the city, but it was her parents, and the disease in their village that caused them to fade, that drew her. No one knew what this disease was. It cut people from life, wasted and drained them, isolated them, until it seemed they faded into nothingness. She had fled the village many years before. Her parents had not wanted a girl, but that was the policy. She was a burden, they never tired of telling her. She was no consolation in their old age, she was not the son they wanted. Long before she was old enough, she had left the village and tried to forget. The city was hard and crowded, but fortune had been with her. A family had taken her in as a servant, but they treated her more kindly than her family. She had somehow shown ability, and learnt to use computers. Her new family had supported her doing the Exams and joining the Party. Finally she had entered one of the Ministries. Here she was recognised. Such a life had painful compromises, cultivated blindnesses, and random cruelties, but it was no worse than any other life. Or so she told herself. Since then she had recontacted her parents. It was not encouraged, but she had done so, and after some grudging time they had admitted their pride, and made use of her.

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Then the plague had come. In days the ministry had been purged. People fled in panic as if disappearing into the air. Then the Red Guard came, shooting and looting and beating. Streets had flowed with blood. Strange creatures, ghosts and life suckers, walked out of walls and stole people before her eyes. Some seemed to go willingly, even joyously, some went in abject terror. Then the dragons came and order was restored. The rites were re-instated. Virtue was praised. But even this did not stop the fading disease. The rites warded off chaos, and minor infringements were harshly punished for the good of all. It struck her forcefully that she was not honouring her parents, and they had the fading disease. She travelled back to her village. Approaching it, she saw it rippling like a mirage in the summer heat, floating off the ground. Her parents only wanly managed to greet her. They could hardly stir. Their skin was transparent and the skulls seemed visible. Days passed. Yuan Thu felt her self grow weary, her limbs aching, her eyes stinging and her skin open. One night she awoke to see the kindly Goddess glide into the room and look at her with compassion. “Mistress” she spoke weakly, as if her body had forgotten how, “please forgive my lack of courtesy.” “My child, you have done your best, no more is asked. No more is ever asked.” “Mistress, what is happening?” “My child, the world changes. It evolves into a new splendour. All will finally be well.” “All will be well?” “Indeed my child. It is a wonderful thing. The universe is guided by change.” Tired Yuan closed her eyes and fell asleep content.

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So it passed. Night after night, the Goddess came and they talked, although it was mainly the Goddess that spoke assuring her that all would be well. Mostly they sat in silence. Yuan felt herself dying. She supposed her parents had died eons before. “Mistress” she managed. “If all will be well, when will I recover?” “Oh my dear child” exclaimed the Goddess. “You are so specific like all your kind. You will die. It is the world that will be well. The World evolves. Humans will be left behind. You will all die out, or fade away. It is sad, and I sit here with you to mourn their passing. But all will be well, of that I do assure you.” And so Yuan Thu died. There is a story that Borges tells of Swedenborg’s Hell. I forget the plot, if there was one. But the image lingers for me. According to Borges, in Swedenborg’s view, once the spirit leaves the physical world and ventures forth after death, its desires have no limits, and as the spiritual world is completely pliable without the inertia of matter, the spirit shapes its world to the utmost of its longings. Thus the pure approach the realm of God to the degree that Goodness is their desire, and live in heavenly joy. The impure sink to the world of murder, lust, hatred, sloth, greed and deceit, for that is their desire. Hell is a realm of terror and pain, yet the damned do not know they are there. We are all dreams, but who does the dreaming? There is a story told by Dunsany of a God who dreams our lives, and so the other gods try hard to make sure he stays asleep, for should he wake then they, and all the universes and all folks within those universes, would disappear forever without trace. Those gods live in constant panic. It is not fortunate to be a god. Mighty Cthulhu awoke.

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The world over, sleepers groaned with visions of nameless horrors in their minds, Or perhaps it was just indigestion. Mighty Cthulhu arose. Pieces of rotting flesh fell from him and a noisome stench filled the air. Shouldn’t have had that last curry. Mighty Cthulhu thought. Something had been itching at the back of his mind and woken him from endless eons of dreaming before his due time. What could it be? Mighty Cthulhu began to lumber from the depths of the vast building in which he had lain. Up he rose over strangely angled staircases in the vast granite building with the oddly curved walls until..... He reached the point he had started from. ‘I shouldn’t have accepted the cheapest tender from that odd musician M C Escher’ he thought. Mighty Cthulhu reached the surface. He gazed across the boiling water which ebbed and flowed around the half-submerged island. ‘How long have I slept – what is the time?’ Mighty Cthulhu stooped. He could see the clock in his head in the rushing water. A quarter to 2004 it showed. Random thoughts ran through his mind in countless languages that meant nothing to him. The Journal of Virtual Environments is a refereed electronic journal.

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No. The frozen ones just produce shrapnel. Fulham win the FA Cup. This is coming into the final week of all out writing. Neuromancer is a very ‘seductive’ book. Reporters will eat with the troops. Prince Charles changes name. Mighty Cthulhu remembered. The Cybermind. That was it – excerpts from the Cybermind. That strange and compelling force forecast by the Old Ones which could move and distort reality had come. Oh well – nothing to do with him then. Mighty Cthulhu took two aspirin and dreamed again. In the information society the customer and user will be those who are empowered. Power will devolve downwards. There will be no hierarchies. Each person’s voice will have the value of truth alone. It is the end of postmodernity. All voices will possess equal truth and will be multiple. There is no authority. It is the beginning of postmodernity. Jacked in, can’t jack out. Bits flying, mixing with neurons in a virtual dance of input. Data coming too fast, the cortex overloads with the sightsoundtastefeelsmell of the ether. I scream, but the scream stays inside, echoing in the cavern of my skull. Pain and pleasure mixed, this information overload. Too much to cogitate but too little to satiate, I steel my Self against the pain and dive in, searching for the bits and bytes that I need. Countermeasures crumble, I’m in. Sipping the data flux, tasting the information flow I dive deeper. Colors that have yet to be named, this place is both within and without, Yin and Yang. There, I have it. I drink deeply of the data, the flow filling me. Gulp after gulp if fills me, spilling into my soul and scattering in my mind.

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Up, up I go, back to the source where I came from. Jacked in, must jack out. Bits flying apart, the neurons scream with the overload. Gasping for a self almost lost in the data, my Ego cries out for it’s identity. It is done, the only remnant of the journey is the smell of ozone as I open pain filled eyes. It is done, finis, The End. I have what I came for, and away I go to rejoin the Flesh. In traditional societies the world is pictured as a vast human or animal body surging with life and a living history. In the contemporary world we write the machine into the body. The metaphors go the other way. We deaden ourselves, and take consolation in this. The day after the change, George and Martha and the two children had locked themselves into the fallout shelter. It was lead lined, and under twenty feet of earth. It had its own oxygen synthesis, and some plants to help out. It had rows upon rows of canned food and bottled water – enough to last them for several months. It also had four all purpose environment suits and a number of AK 47s and ammunition. They were safe. If the worse came to the worse and everyone else died, well they would be able to hold out and move somewhere safe eventually. The news on the radio seemed extremely strange to everyone in the bunker. Clearly the world had lost its head completely. Perhaps some hallucigenic virus in the water. Perhaps the hippies had had their revenge. But there was also worrying evidence that things had got inside with them. There were odd scraping noises and little whimpers and the odd can of food seemed to go missing. But there was never anything positive to be seen, and George and Martha kept quite and didn’t talk in front of the children. It was not unexpected when they heard loud bangings on the door. The door was strong enough to keep everyone else out, just in case it was necessary. And the family was fine. However, George and Martha both worried when an announcement came over the radio threatening to break their

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door down if they didn’t let the law in. This was disconcerting, but they were confident they were safe. Martha took the children into one of the inner rooms. Little George protested that he wanted to be at the front with a gun too, but big George told him how he had to protect his mother and sister if he, the father, died. George put on his bullet proof vest and took down an AK 47. He checked it for quality and cleanliness. He prepared extra rounds and loaded clips, and went and waited by the door, behind the barrier they had had built, just in case it was necessary. The banging was rhythmic and hard and George saw the door buckle and then burst apart. He fired into the gap. There were squeals and cries and spurts of green liquid. However, that did not stop them. They poured through the hole into the room – swart skinned, large fanged and ugly they were unstoppable. Eventually George was pinioned down and his weapon taken away. The creatures slathered over him, like drooling dogs. A rather small, but extremely tidy gentleman walked in. “My greetings to you sir. Please pardon our intrusion, but I am here on a matter of business, and as you know, our way of life depends on the smooth operation of business and full compliance with the laws of the land.” George looked at him and spat. “Dear sir, I advise you not to aggravate your position with assault. We are willing to ignore the orcs you have incommoded.” He pointed at the pile of bodies. “But they are our property, and you have cost us much, so I’d advise you not to compound the charges against you. We are not being overly harsh as you can see.” “What do you want” spluttered George, through an orc hand. “That’s better. Politeness costs nothing sir. See how more relaxed we all are? No matter. It has come to my office’s attention that you are contravening copyright.” “Copyright!” spluttered George again. “Indeed. And copyright and respect for property is the foundation of our society, do you not agree?”

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George stayed silent. “Ah well,” continued the man. “It turns out that my employers, Genetic Techno Supplies, have acquired the patent and the copyright to certain genes in your possession, for which you have not requested a license. And that further, in complete defiance of the law, without permission, and without payment, you have reproduced those genes. I’m sorry to say, sir, that your children are both a copyright infringement and a violation of patent laws, as is the matter of certain vital life functions within your own body. This is a crime to which the full majesty of the law must be brought to bear. Do you have anything to say.” “Bastard”, screamed George. “No sir, I have paid all the necessary royalties. It is not I who am the bastard, not I who am the criminal. But let us be quite sure this is not an unfortunate mistake. Gena, is the arrested guilty?” One of the orcs, who had been licking one of George’s wounds, grunted something. “Excellent” said the man. “I am afraid, that with the new legislation of our great leader, this crime is punishable by death or life time servitude (much the same in your case I’m afraid), and confiscation of the offending copies. If you sign this confession of guilt, we may undertake to keep the copies alive.” George screamed and struggled, but he would not sign, and the orcs killed him and went after Martha and the children. The man shook his head. “Some people are so selfish, its almost unbelievable. Very sad. Very sad”, he said as he contemplated the children’s heads. “But law must go on, or else there would be no incentive for research.” Mirrors are endless, when there are no mirrors. Online you can, if you wish only encounter yourself. That is why there is so much passion and hatred, so much endless debate, so little movement. You need the reflection to know you exist. Do you exist? Have you been read?

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It had been a good night online. Nick had spent it taunting feminazis and leading on some stupid fuck called Paul, who couldn’t tell the difference between man and girl. Admittedly Nick was good and Jacqui, as he called himself, was his favourite whore – sexy and dirty and some how vulnerable. He could tell that Paul was just hovering on the edge of proposing, and so he was on the verge of breaking off abruptly. Perhaps he would tell the idiot that Jacqui was just another guy – perhaps he wouldn’t. It would depend on how he felt tomorrow. He went to bed with a satisfied smile Nick woke feeling strange. Slightly ill. He lay there groggy, and then he started, and jumped out of bed. He had no dick. And two enormous breasts. Huge breasts. He almost fell over with the weight. ‘No’ he screamed internally. ‘No. No. No’. He rushed to the bathroom and the only mirror, to find it was full length. He stood struck dumb. He was looking at Jacqui as he had visualised her, the breasts, the large pink nipples, the tiny waist, the pouting lips, the big blue eyes, the blond hair piled high on her head. On his head, he thought. “What the fuck!” This had to be a nightmare. A real nightmare. But it was all so concrete. So dreadfully concrete. He felt his nipples, and it was real. The sensation was odd and sexy. He felt a moan come to his lips. He pulled himself up. ‘Oh god. Oh god.’ That could be the only thing, God was punishing him. “Oh Jesus, I promise I’ll be good, I’ll give all my money to a church. Please, Please turn me back.” Nothing happened. Feeling sick, he went to the wardrobe, noting that his bedroom seemed to be strangely feminine. Somehow naïve, and soppy and a bit fussy. Oh God. Oh God. He dreaded knowing what he was to find in the wardrobe. And opening it, there it was. Rows of dresses, of short skirts, flouncy blouses, high heels, exotic lingerie. He sat down on the bed. There was no way out of this. The phone rang. He shuddered. It rang and rang. Eventually he picked it up and said ‘hello?’ He noted his voice: smooth, husky and breathing sex. He blushed and felt sick again.

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“Jacqui? Its Paul.” Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. “Hi Paul” he heard himself say, his voice keen and so full of longing, it hurt. “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.” “Jacqui, Oh god you sound wonderful. I’m in town, I want to see you, really see you.” To his horror Nick heard himself say, “Oh Paul, that would be wonderful. Please just give me some time to put something on.” “Oh honey. I want you so much.” “Oh Paul, remember I’m a good girl.” Nick almost gagged. No. God please. He’d become a monk, a missionary. Please God. Help me. Help! They said goodbye. Fighting hard, Nick went to the wardrobe and started to dress. He dressed just the way he knew Paul would like. Soft and sexy, just mildly tarty, but nothing hard. ‘No’ he whimpered to himself as he donned the stockings, and the panties and the bra, and the flared short skirt and the off the shoulder top and the stiletto heels. He teased his hair into shape. It was horrible, his body possessed him. He watched his gestures, so gorgeously feminine, so absolutely Jacqui. He paused and looked at himself, the face made up, slightly over made up and vulnerable. He would have been hard himself, but he felt a moistness between his thighs. This was hell. Hell, he screamed, as Jacqui pouted and preened herself. There was a knock on the door. He swayed over to it, and opened it. Paul was there. He took her into his arms, and kissed her passionately. Nick struggled, but the struggles just came out as wriggles and light moans. “Oh baby” said Paul. “Forgive me.” He ripped down his pants, exposing a penis like a bull’s. Like an elephant’s perhaps. ‘No’ screamed Nick. Paul grabbed him and forced him on the bed, pulling aside the fragile panties. Nick felt the huge thing

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rip him apart. But just before he fainted, he looked into Paul’s eyes, and wondered at the pain and panic he saw there too. In the morning. Is there a morning? Is there a mourning?

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Chapter 48
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain, for the old order has passed away. (Revelations 21:4)

Scarlet leant the whole weight of her body against Jock. She was slimly built, but her spine had ceased to support her frame. She felt like a jellyfish, with a squishy body. The suddenness of their crash and the death of her mother had completely shattered her. Jock was dog tired but knew that if he gave up now he would never get back to Greece/America – wherever he needed to be to help save mankind, for somehow he knew that that was at stake. Somehow, he also knew he had to find Bob, or whoever Bob had become, for everyone’s sake. If he failed then everything was lost. He loved Scarlet, and she in her own way loved him, but they were part of a bigger picture. Rising to the top of the sand dunes, Jock could make out lush vegetation and trees. The air was full of birds and the distant hum of an engine. What was happening? About 200 yards off he noticed a crowd of people, more than 50, gathered around an enormous, rather elaborate balloon. They seemed to be clothed for a fancy dress party. The men wore long tailed coats and high-heeled boots, the women bonnets and voluminous dresses. Just then Jock became aware of his own sorry state of apparel. The seawater had completed destroyed his Armani trousers and Versace sweater. His hand-made shoes were wrecked. He and Scarlet resembled a pair of castaways. As they approached the balloon group, they felt the heat from the fire lighted under the balloon and heard the sound of musicians playing in the background. It was like stepping into a fairy story. Suddenly everything seemed possible.

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Jock had a few words of French “Pardon monsieur, j’ai seulement est écrasé mon avion. Vous pourriez me dire où je suis?.” The man looked aghast and starting jabbering at him at about 90 words per minute. Jock was gobsmacked. He gleaned that the crowd had gathered to watch the inaugural flight of this magnificent balloon, made in the style of the Mongolfier brothers’, which had succeeded some 20 years earlier. Somehow they had been warped into another time zone. Jock has an idea. Far-fetched he knew, but it could be their only way out of here. He would have preferred to have run into H. G. Wells’ time machine, but the balloon would have to do. While the balloonists were busy loading suppliers into one end of the basket, Jock grabbed Scarlet and lifted her into the other end. Then jumped in beside her. Before anyone could lift a finger Jock had unfastened the anchoring ropes and released the balloon from its moorings. They were soon soaring into the wide blue yonder. Already the people on the ground looked like ants. Jock and Scarlet were startled by their strange transformation, but at the same time very excited, like small children. They hugged each other and jumped up and down. And then realised what they were doing and laughed out loud. How far would they get they hadn’t a clue. Perhaps with luck a fair wind would take them as far as Sophia’s island.

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Chapter 49
Sophia was in the Ground Floor Coffee Shoppe. She’d ordered a double-mocha-soya-cappuchino It seemed to be good coffee, but she couldn’t be sure. She couldn’t get coffee like this on her island. It was so different from what she’d called coffee all her life. She didn’t know anything anymore. Something was tugging at her. She scratched the back of her neck, placed her palm over her chest. Somewhere it hurt. She pressed her fingers onto her ribcage, into her stomach. The feeling was coming from somewhere there, but she couldn’t pinpoint it. She made a conjecture. The pain was coming from a growing feeling of nostalgia. She missed her island. Sophia shook her head, as if a feeling like that could be flicked away from the mind. She looked around the coffee shop. People shared tables but didn’t speak to each other. They looked into the laptop computers that sat on the tables next to their choice of coffee. At intermittent intervals they used their hands and arms to life the coffee cups to their mouths or to type into the computer. She thought things must have started to settle down. Sophia was reading a paper copy of The Global Times. “I don’t need the God thing for my hypothesis.” A scientist was being interviewed about his theory on the Big Bang as mother of a plenitude of universes. She was happy that this scientist had no need for God. But what to do with the phenomena that have not (yet) yielded to the methods of science? How to explain them? Sophia could see the end coming, but she couldn’t understand it. She knew death was near. She hoped she’d

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have time to get back to her island. She hoped Red would be waiting to find her there. And if it was to be her death, then her friends could bury her deep into the soil of her ancestors. Her wrinkling, shrinking self was clearly preparing itself for the passage. The road away from Ithaca had been a long one, “full of adventure, full of discovery.” She knew that if she made it made there, the island would seem so poor, so quiet. But that didn’t matter anymore. Without Ithaca, she’d never have begun this journey. That morning the formation of the Multiverse Security Task Force had been announced by the Great Lawyer. The Force’s objectives were to prevent the perpetrators of information terror from “universe hopping” and to police potential crimes that may occur because of this mode of escape. On the list entitled “Identities To Watch”, which spanned the ten-pages at the back section of The Global Times, Bob Farnsworth was third. Alaain Current and Alen Michaelrose were the top two identities to be watched. The Great Terrorist was 25th – last week’s fear. “Bob,” Sophia whispered. “Bob.” There were Multiverse Security Officers all over the place. While they did pack guns it seemed that their power was concentrated in one backpack computer. A mini-keyboard was worn on the left wrist and the helmet, when closed, brought a communications monitor over their eyes. The news reported that the Task Force had been in training since before the Iraq Global War and had actually trained and tested their equipment in the unorthodox environment of the Arab World. There, the military target was considered virtual, either because there was never an enemy in the first place, or because Arab military tactics were so unorthodox that strategies of prediction and attack could only be based on virtual scenarios. In essence, the Multiverse Security Task Force Officers were supposedly prepared for anything, real

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or virtual. But this must mean that somebody was planning for this eventuality before the World Changed, or perhaps this was yet another lie? Sometimes she felt there was a kind of whole virtual world of deception which seemed to govern our lives, and against which there was no protection. Where was Bob? Sophia hadn’t seem him since the meeting and he wasn’t answering his phone. Clara seemed to be acting strange. She wasn’t talking to Sophia at all. They passed each other just this morning as Sophia was coming down to the Coffee Shoppe but Clara had not spoken to Sophia, but looked straight through her. Every few minutes someone would share the table with Sophia. They’d place two cards in front of her; one read “Delete”, the other “Continue.” One of them introduced himself as Discontinuous X. Philosopher who asked her “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Sophia paid the recommended retail price for the “Delete” card and he disappeared. She didn’t need those sorts of distractions now that the end was near. The proximity of closure, the growing realisation that she was ultimately of no use in this world made her insecure and paranoid. She wasn’t sure she could read the signs correctly. She was reacting instinctively to everything. The fact that Clara did not speak to her this morning, the fact that she stared right through her as if she was invisible, meant that Clara had switched sides or was on a side of her own. At least it meant Clara was pre-occupied. When instinct takes over, the world becomes one of two places: safe or dangerous. The job of the instinct is to sniff out ways to survive. If Clara’s allegiances had changed, maybe she was no longer with Bob. If she was no longer with Bob, was she against Bob?. If she was against Bob, could she be dangerously against Bob? Sophia had to find Bob.

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The Macroswift offices seemed to be empty, and yet Sophia was sure she wasn’t alone. The Multiverse Security Task Force seemed to appear and disappear. But there, behind her. There was someone... She shifted around on her feet to catch the movement there, only to see Clara walk by her again. Clara moved along a wall in the main entrance towards the firewall. Crab-like, she edged cautiously along, oblivious to the presence of Sophia. For one bizarre moment, Sophia thought that maybe she was disappearing. Maybe when death is so close the physical body begins to disintegrate in preparation for the body-less journey, and that to some eyes, Clara’s for example, she was already invisible. Already dead, physically. But that was ridiculous. Clara turned the knob on the door that led to the firewall and sneaked through it. Sophia followed her as fast as she could, which was very slow. It didn’t matter to Sophia. She knew that theoretically, Clara would never pass her and, more importantly, would never get to the end, never get to Bob. As an ancestor once pondered; a moving object must get to a halfway point before it gets to the end and since there are an infinite number of halfway points, the object never gets to the end, not in a infinitely divisible world anyway. But did this hold in this strange post-Cybermind world? Sophia could not be sure any more. She tried to walk faster in the direction of the firewall. But suddenly she was pushed into it and if she hadn’t grabbed onto the railing there, she’d have fallen on the floor. At her age this could have meant a broken hip, or worse. She looked up before she took a breath and saw Clara again, only this time more urgent, her hand gripped the gun she wore on her belt. Again, she didn’t see Sophia and again, she didn’t speak to Sophia. “Clara!” Sophia shouted.

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“Shut up Sophia, I don’t have the time.” Clara spoke, but the voice was not coming from Clara at all, at least not from the Clara she saw running up the stairs now. “I can’t find Bob,” Sophia whispered, she was talking to herself now since Clara had disappeared up the stairs. “I can,” responded Clara from somewhere. “Wait for me!” Sophia spoke louder now. “Stay there you old bitch, or I’ll fucking shoot your sagging face off!” She heard Clara’s voice in stereo surround sound. Sophia forced herself up and on her feet. While she’d lost sight of Clara, she felt that if she kept talking and Clara kept answering then she could follow the voice and maybe somehow get to wherever Bob was just in time to warn him. To warn him about what? Bob and Clara were partners and together they would save the world. She had no logical reason to doubt that. Or had she? “Clara are you there?” Sophia asked as she lifted her leg to take the first step. “I’m here Sophia, but you should seriously consider getting yourself back home,” Clara’s voice betrayed the signs of her movement. She was still running up the stairs towards the point at which she would meet Bob. But Sophia had time, Clara had to pass the infinite number of halfway points, first. “I am worried Sophia. I’m worried about what Bob knows.” “What do you know about what Bob knows Sophia?” Clara had stopped moving. “I know he is very close to becoming the most powerful man throughout all the universes,” Sophia took a few steps further up towards Clara and hopefully to Bob. “Bob doesn’t want to be a global hero. He’s happy being a geeky geek” she shouted. “Ew,” Clara shuddered. How had she ever liked Bob and why had she ever allowed herself to depend on him? “Sure”, she continued. “And as a slimy geek, he’s happy to share his knowledge freely over the Internet for all the other slimy geeky geeks to access, thereby allowing multiple hacks of the

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multiverse, thereby allowing total chaos to erupt. Thereby allowing the laws of physics to become unlaws. Thereby allowing the complete, utter, destruction of this thing we called our world. It will let anyone delete anyone. And, hey, I do not want to be dying. Not yet anyway. Or at least, not before I do something to save the world from geekdom, which is now darker and more terrible than I’d ever imagined. Or whatever. But Bob is wrong, is wrong, is wrong. And I’m going to right things, to make things right.” “Clara, the end is near.” “I know,” Clara whispered. Sophia could hear her just above her. Sophia heaved all her remaining energy into her limbs and told her legs to run. Her legs ran. As Clara stood pondering on what the end could hold for her, for Bob, for Alaain and Alen and Lila, Sophia raced past her, into the first open door she found. She spun round on her heels, slamming the door shut, turning the lock and racing into the office, she screamed as loud as she could, sustaining the word “Bob!” for many seconds. But the sound gave her away to more than just the owner of that sweet three-letter name. Sophia felt the punch of a small object projectile on her shoulder. Whatever it was whipped her backwards, and she fell. She felt the strange inertia of backwards motion and saw how the room shifted as she fell into it. Bob was somewhere in the room, she’d seen him at his desk and heard his nimble fingers on the keyboard, but a figure had obstructed her full view of him. And that figure remained obscure. Sophia blacked out.

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Chapter 50
Bob worked his way through the Doors. One let him into hall of mirrors. “Not now,” Bob muttered, trying to close it.
the mirror of shades in the labyrinth down down down to the deep! the deep music of a rolling world

Bob felt himself falling. Around him, horses of charcoal and ochre cantered across the walls of a cave. Firelight flickered. The air shivered with echoes – in the tunnel ahead of him, its opening shaped like a vulva, someone was speaking a language that might become French in fifty thousand years. The fire went out. Bob rubbed his eyes.
a mineral light in the subterranean sky drops and life silent souls geological memories

Water splashed onto his forehead as Bob looked up and up and up. Where the ancient drawings had been there shone a mark like a star. Ancestors danced, chanting, clad in furs, around a ghostly campsite. Mammoths trumpeted. Suddenly Bob was rushing up again, toward the light, through no volition of his own. The experience was mysterious but not frightening.
such a delicate music in the woods farewell to darkness

With that, Bob found himself back in his chair, not quite as if nothing had happened. The world felt more tenuous than it had before, a thing of thin seconds and scampering subatomic particles pretending to solidity. He had seen through stone into spirit. It tended to change one’s perspective.

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A closed Door showed for an instant on the screen, then blinked out. Bob shook himself and went back to work. After much diligent effort, Bob managed to get all the extraneous Doors closed. Reality might be fluid, but being a wizard gave him an advantage when it came to bailing out. As he had suspected, the strain proved too much; those extra Doors had been providing extra memory somehow. Now the Cybermind began to crash, “ready” lights dying one by one like stars going out. “Damn!” Bob said. The problem was, merely crashing the Cybermind would not solve the problem. He had figured that out back on Sophia’s island, in his first attempt to hack the multiverse. Like shutting down a virus-infected computer, crashing the Cybermind couldn’t repair damage already done – couldn’t restore reality to its former state. That’s what Bob’s patch program was for. Only that would repair the firewalls and ensure proper sorting of souls into their proper universes – or at least the universes which seemed best suited for them. Since he couldn’t run it without the Cybermind, he found himself in a race against time. He wasn’t a religious man, really; never had been. Bob didn’t pray because he couldn’t spare the attention and wouldn’t know Whom to address the packet to if he could. But he was wearing the t-shirt that a crazy preacher had given him, the front of which read, “And God said...” followed by Maxwell’s equations for light, “and there was light.” It gave him hope, somehow, a single candle of someone else’s faith in the darkness. Besides, Bob believed in the equations. Maybe that would suffice. Bob’s fingers dashed across the keys. He was writing one line of code with his right hand, another with his left, several more with his mind alone. His talent carried him through the shifting realities and cyberlayers like a goshawk diving through dense forest, somehow sliding a three-foot wingspan

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between the boles and barely disturbing a twig with the wind of its passage. Could he revise the power parameters of the program fast enough to get ahead of the crash? Could he then activate the program before Clara realized that the Cybermind crash could strand her and the Great Leader in a broken universe, and came barging in to shoot the dumb spud responsible for botching the repair? Maybe. Maybe ... **** Bob raised his head and saw Lila sitting beside him. Her hair was dishevelled and her face drawn, but somehow she looked beautiful. He thought with a pang of regret that he had never really looked at her before. “Bob” said Lila, “You are dying. I know I’ve seen it before. Those pills Clara’s given you they are not helping you. Please, nothing is worth this.” Bob smiled. “Oh yes it is. I assure you Lila. We can change the world. Literally, beyond your dreams.” Lila laughed “You don’t know my dreams.” She lowered her head. “I see you and Clara, I can tell that something is up. She will kill you, you know.” Bob shrugged, “She will try, but I’m hopefull she won’t succeed. Some of us will die, but we will live in memory, or in the pages of a book.” “Like birds of Paradise?” Bob shrugged again. He had no idea what she meant. “Lila I need to work. Thank you for you concern. If you want to help, just make sure I get some water every now and then.” Lila stared at him. It was as if she was not there. As if she was not real. He was totally absorbed in his computer. It made a bounded space, through which nothing could penetrate. He was part of the Code. Feeding it while it fed him in a vast loop – like a serpent eating its tail. She could stop him, she supposed, she could help him she supposed, but instead she left – the tears slowly running down her cheeks.

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**** “Bob, you have to get out of here!” Peter panted, clinging to the doorframe. Maybe not. “There’s a crazy woman coming after you. There’s no security anywhere.” “Life can’t be secure”, said Bob. “She’s on the stairs now”, added Peter. “I know,” said Bob. “Don’t try to stop her – she’ll kill you if you get in her way.” He activated the special driver. Pieces of equipment hopped to the floor and hurried away to delay Clara’s arrival. Bob hoped that it would buy him enough time. “But she’ll kill you!” Peter protested. “Go on now, Peter,” Bob said gently. Bob’s monitor had refused to leave, steadfast on its stubby feet even as he filled it with strange equations beyond its capacity to contain. He let the machine stay, but he could not do the same for his coworkers. “Get everyone else to safety. I have to launch the boat.” And Peter went, though he did not want to, because Bob had commanded it, and it was necessary. Was this wizardry? Was this heroism? Bob did not know, did not care. He heard a roaring in his ears, as if he had turned into a seashell and the tide was coming in. The world had a strange quality to it, layers upon layers, all with light shining through them. It was like looking at a book written on transparent pages, a palimpsest of reality. The program was complete. Behind him the door opened. Bob did not turn around. For an instant he saw a woman’s face through the lucent air, saw letters of flame and lines of Code... I love you ... and he did, Bob loved Clara and Lila, Alaain and Alen, even Gordon, and the strange cyber-angel who reached out to pull him through the world inside the crystal ...

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before time began we are and at time’s end we stood hand-in-hand and closed its door together

Bob felt the muzzle of Clara’s gun touch his head. He was smiling. He activated the program just as she pulled the trigger. And then there was light. **** Stories never really end. The lovers who get married continue their story in a new way, or perhaps in not such a new way. The people around the dead Prince, carry on as best they can. They continue their plots, their conflicts and searches. Even death, according to some is not an end. An End is chosen, and multiplies. This novel claims many worlds, so there are many ends. We only give three such ends of many. First we have what seems the happiest end. **** “Quick, into my lap!” Alaain cried to Lila. “We have to ride this out somehow, and I want us to stay together no matter what!” Lila obeyed, using the ropes to tie herself to him and the chair. A wave of energy rose under them and swept them away. Beside them a whale surfaced, spraying dreams and song from its blowhole, before sailing away into the sky. Lila laughed, her dark hair catching droplets and stars. “I have found the system executable!” Tara said, her voice ringing with joy. “Executing now.” With that, she kissed Clara on the lips. Clara looked startled, then kissed Tara back. They merged. Then the door swung open. Beyond it stretched a dark alley, and a reassuringly normal world. Grinning, Clara-Tara swirled, cloak over dagger, and stepped through.

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< > ?You come to a troll bridge. A burly troll steps out to block your path. What now?

“Give treasure,” Gordon grunted, scratching his tail. The adventurer brandished a puny nonmagical sword. “Avaunt ye, foul beast! I never shall yield up mine prizes!”
< > Kill troll.

Leering with glee, Gordon grabbed the adventurer and tore him to pieces. He did not eat the head, which tasted faintly of acne medication, but the rest of the carcass proved tender and delicious. Then Gordon picked up the treasures and dragged them back to his lair. Now he was truly free and invulnerable. Sophia and Alen strolled through her garden, hand in hand. In the distance, a misty bridge stretched toward the mainland, if they chose to use it. The Cybermind, fully healed and functioning as it should, permeated the atmosphere without calling attention to itself. “This is all so wonderful. I feel like painting something,” Sophia said as she gazed at the impressionistic landscape. Alen conjured a brush for her. “As you wish,” he said, handing it over with a bow and a flourish. Sophia touched the bristles to a poppy and began dabbing scarlet spots in the air. “Thank you, Alen. Though I do wonder what ever happened to Bob...” Two figures danced gracefully through galaxies of Code. The electromagnetic spectrum flowed into and through them. Sparks flickered along suggestions of silicon, hints of pinion and nimbus. Mellifluous souls looked at them and laughed.
/(bb|[^b]{2})/

The Code was indeed still buggy, not yet fully elegant. Challenges arose faster than even these avatars, these cosmic sysadmins, could quite handle. More laughter.

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do fork agent ( Bob ); repeat;

Two roads diverged in a yellow would. The Mathematician spared a modicum of attention for an attosecond, and saw that it was all very very good.
C> C> C>Run

**** What might be the saddest end is the one in which Clara was right and the ‘cyber-angel’ was something like a dark god engaged in deception, and thus the world is now programmed to fail or fall apart. Perhaps the world seems to get darker and darker, less and less joyous. Cruelty becomes so familiar that we don’t even see it, or cannot draw people’s attention to it. Some might consider a God who programmed the world to fail to be a good god, but that shows how almost everything can be accommodated with enough effort. People living in this world might find it useful to remember that the failure of their plans is not necessarily due to the evil of others but the nature of the world. They might have to think about how things interact with each other in complex ways and how good intentions can have unexpected consequences. But this is only one ending and we don’t have to obsess about it. This is only a novel after all. **** Another end asserts this novel is not a fiction, it is history and you are in the world Bob has made. The preacher who made the earlier sermons might suggest that by looking around you can see traces of this making, and come to know why you are here and not elsewhere.

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In this world, there never was an Alain, or Alen, or Clara, or Tara or Marius. Bob was the subject of a large scale police search but was never found. Sophia died, according to Aristotle, while visiting some friends overseas. Lila devoted herself to her dream work, and found herself obsessed with the ghosts of machines – particularly the oft reported apparition of the Montgolphier brother’s balloon, which was to be seen all around the Mediterranean. Occasionally memories would try to leak their way back into her present day, but she held them down, feeling she had helped so many clients die and had somehow died herself. Finally, the Illuminati still think they rule the world – acting largely through the efforts of those who think they are opposing them. **** In all worlds the following occurred some time after Bob and Clara met for the final time. “It’s too bad about Bob disappearing,” Peter said. “I hate the idea of cleaning out his office. Some rich S.O.B. must have hired him away.” “Yeah, I’m really going to miss him,” Alice said. “I wonder what he was working on,” Peter said sadly. “Probably some foreign project,” Alice said. “Nothing has happened here all week. I mean, look at the screen – it’s gibberish.” Three lines of symbols shone softly from the monitor. “I guess it doesn’t matter now,” Peter said. They unplugged the equipment and put it into the cart. A fake pair of legs dangled from the monitor, ending in cute stubby feet. “Say, I didn’t know Bob liked plants. This miniature rosebush is a beauty. Do you think he’d mind if I took it home?” Alice said. “Sure, go ahead. We’d only have to throw it away, otherwise – it’s not company property and not listed among the personal effects that we’re supposed to box up either,” Peter said.

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Alice picked up the plant. “I never saw one quite like this before.” “Do you hear singing?” Peter said. “I could swear I hear something, faint and far away. Pretty, too.” “Nah, I don’t hear anything. Somebody probably left a radio on,” Alice said. “That must be it,” Peter said. They left together, taking the cart full of Bob’s stuff. Behind them, a hint of perfume and music clung to the air.

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Credits, Samples, References and Comments Main Editor: Jon Marshall. Chapter 1 Main author Jon Marshall Samples: Kathryn Koromilas and Tom Ellis “On this day”, Cybermind 23rd Oct 2003. Alan “Thyne”, Cybermind 28th Oct 2003. Chapter 2 Main author Elizabeth Barrette The soundtrack for this chapter comes from the album Deep Down Far by Steve Joliffe, Horizon Music, 1999 (www.hmnetwork.com). The “Cybermind” post which begins “Is there life beyond the natural order of existence?” is an excerpt from the liner notes of this album; and the topic “Gnosis” and name “Seola” are two of its tracks. Actual rain and wind outside my windows were provided by Mother Nature. The ‘mysterious text’ comes from a poem written by Rose Mulvale, titled “An Hour in the Rain,” dated Thursday, June 22, 2000. I figure if Rose were still with us, she’d want to join in the fun. The final lines from this poem appear at the end of the novel Chapter 3 Main author Skip Mendler Online conference announcement from -empyre-, 2 Nov 2003 Chapter 4 Main author Bazza Badrock

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Chapter 5 Main author Dian Sandefur Chapter 6 Main author Robert Kezelis Chapter 7 Main author Linda Head Chapter 8 Main author Jukka Lehmus Chapter 9 Main author Kathryn Koromilas Alaain Current’s interview and Clara and Bob’s fragmented email correspondence is made up of various bits of Peter Ackroyd’s “The Plato Papers” Vintage 2000. The chronology is taken from “Google set to rewrite the rules of advertising” by Alan Kohler in the Sydney Morning Herald, November 4, 2003. The bit about using computers because memory is faulty taken from “Microsoft opens up new Windows on the future” by Nigel McFarlane, Sydney Morning Herald, November 4, 2003 Chapter 10 Main author Jon Samples: From Cybermind: Alan Sondheim, ‘under the control’, Cybermind, 4th November 2003. Kathryn Koromilas, ‘on writing’, Cybermind, 4th November 2003. Maurizio Mariotti, ‘MMs musing du jour’, Cybermind, 4 Nov 2003 14:01:41. Gill Killner, ‘Re: Novel: FWD Chapter 5’, Cybermind, 4 Nov 2003. Tom Ellis, ‘You are words and I am collecting you’, Cybermind, 2nd Jan 2004 Off Cybermind:

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“Embodying Virtual Reality: Touch and SelfMovement in the Work of Char Davies”, by Mark Hansen published in Critical Matrix: The Princeton Journal of Women, Gender and Culture, Vol. 12 (1-2) Making Sense (2001), pp. 112-147 “legendenary psychasthenia:” http://maven.english.hawaii.edu/criticalink/lacan/terms /legend.html David Bowie, “Tin machine.” Chapter 11 Main author Elizabeth The sections beginning “this was witnessed by hundreds of thousands” and “i was walking around with it” are poetry quoted from “fourframenovafilm” by Alan Sondheim, originally posted to Cybermind 11/6/03. The soundtrack for Chapter 10 comes from the album Svartalf by The Golden Section, Dark Vinyl Records, no copyright date listed; distributed by Horizon Music (http://www.hmnetwork.com/main.html). The quote beginning “With Offering and Blood-Sacrifice of Tears” comes from the track “Hellhounds of a Rare Breed.” The exchange about the server, ending in the line, “But why is the RUM gone?” was inspired by “Pirates of the Course Management Server,” in which a real-life incident of server failure followed by complete cluenessness in faculty and staff led to a brief parody of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. The parody reference is used with permission, but the author chooses to remain anonymous. HAL is the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, book by Arthur C. Clarke and movie by Stanley Kubrick; copyright dates and publishers vary.

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Chapter 12 Main author Skip Chapter 13 Main author Bazza Chapter 14 Main author Linda Chapter 15 Main author Dian The cyborg quote is paraphrased from P. K. Jamison “Contradictory Spaces: Pleasure and the Seduction of Cyborg Discourse” in The Arachnet Electronic Journal on Virtual Culture Volume 2, Issue 1, 1994. The Sermon is based on Philip Hefner’s Technology and Human Becoming, Fortress Press, 2003. The ‘Special Report’, ‘Remark’ and ‘Objection’ are based on reviews of Hefner’s book. Chapter 16 Main author Jukka Chapter 17 Main author Kathryn The stuff about age and brain power from Enok’s post “Intelligence ages well” linking to the article on Aftenposten, Sunday 9 November. Chapter 18 Main author Jon The Remark about the apprenticeship to Nature, comes from Herbert Read, The Grass Roots of Art, Faber & Faber, London, 1955. The Armageddon passages are cut up and modified from the libretto to Handel’s Messiah Chapter 19 Main author Jon Jim and Kathryn made the suggestion which lead to the chapter.

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Jim Reith, ‘Re chapter 11 Section 1’, Cybermind, Fri, 7 Nov 2003 Off Cybermind: Reviews of Howard Bloom’s The Global Brain Chapter 20 Main author Robert Tom Ellis, ‘Urgent Proposal’, Cybermind, Sun, 9 Nov 2003. Chapter 21 Main author Elizabeth The soundtrack for this chapter is Omni by Steve Jolliffe, Horizon Music, 1997 (http://www.hmnetwork.com/main.html). All three subtitles (“Enter,” “Drift,” and “Immerse”) also come from this album; they’re the names of the song tracks on it. The quote which begins “there is an inspiring knowledge that can be found within the engagement of creative environments” comes from the liner notes. Portions of Gordon’s rant come from a Cybermind post (“Re: Anti-American?”) which Maurice Richard Dover made on Thursday, January 23, 2003. I took a fairly reasonable discussion and turned it into something a troll might say, Nazi comparisons being a staple of Trollspeak; this is by no means intended to imply that Maurice is trollish. Bob’s “Go Home!” t-shirt is based on a real shirt, producer unknown. Marvin the Martian is a Warner Brothers cartoon character. Special thanks to co-author Kathryn Koromilos for help with the Greek dialog.

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Bob’s necktie t-shirt is based on a real shirt, producer unknown. The original phrase, “Gort! Klaatu barada nicto!” comes from the 1951 movie The Day The Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise and adapted by Edmund North from Harry Bates’ 1940 short story, “Farewell to the Master.” The jade-colored cat in Sophia’s home is inspired by an Ursula Le Guin quote, “Cats may be green somewhere else, but the cats here don’t care.” It appeared as the sigfile on a Cybermind post by Rowena, Sunday, Nov. 16, 2003. Chapter 22 Main author Skip hidden text from a randomly generated spam mailing, 11 Nov 2003 Alan Sondheim and Mari Schupp, ‘getting it right ^’, Cybermind, Tue, 11 Nov 2003, Wed, 12 Nov 2003. Chapter 23 Main author Maurizio Mariotti Chapter 24 Main author Bazza Chapter 25 Main author Linda Chapter 26 Main author Robert Chapter 27 Main author Jon Chapter 28 Main author Jon Sample from Mark Nunes Sex, States, and Nomads: Comments on Julian Dibbell’s “A Rape in Cyberspace” http://www.dc.peachnet.edu/~mnunes/pres_95.html Chapter 29 Main author Jukka

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Chapter 30 Main author Kathryn History of the Necronomicon, by H.P. Lovecraft found here: http://www.gizmology.net/lovecraft/works/histnec.htm Stuff on Multiverse & quantum physics, from Wikipedia here: http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse THE EVERETT FAQ http://www.hedweb.com/manworld.htm#faq David Deutsch’s Home Page: http://www.qubit.org/people/david/David.html Chapter 31 Main author Jon Samples from: Alan Sondheim, ‘Our Quiet Lives’, Cybermind, Sun, 16 Nov 2003. Alan Sondheim, Internet text, #a, #b, #c, #d, #N8 Chapter 32 Main author Robert Chapter 33 Main author Jon Chapter 34 Main author Jon General Ludd’s Triumph http://orion.it.luc.edu/~sjones1/triumph.htm Chapter 35 Main author Jon The email contains indented samples from Bernadette Garner, writing as Clara, posted to Cybermind in June 1996. The remark about white supremacy is paraphrased from M. Bowen “Mac Diva Dissed”

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http://www.mdcbowen.org/cobb/archives/000640.html As far as I know the remark about Father Christmas is fiction. Chapter 36 Main author Elizabeth Bob’s quote about Frodo “I know what I have to do, but I’m afraid to do it,” comes from the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring (adapted from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien) when Frodo is talking with Galadriel. This chapter’s soundtrack comes from Zanzi by Steve Joliffe (Atlantis, 1995; Horizon Music, 1996) and the poem beginning “Turn around, it’s make-believe behind you” comes from the liner notes of the Horizon edition. You can find this and other Horizon titles at: http://www.hmnetwork.com/main.html Shoggoths come from the Cthulhu Mythos, a cycle of horror fiction started by H.P. Lovecraft and added to by many other authors. The section of text beginning “north and south, east and west, the fury of the null set...” comes from Alan Sondheim’s poem “The Winds,” posted to the Cybermind email list on Sunday, November 16, 2003. The two segments of poetry beginning “people write poems” are excerpted from an untitled poem posted to the Cybermind email list by Alan Sondheim on Saturday, November 1, 2003. “Curiouser and curiouser” is a quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The part about “There is no horse” is my twisting of “There is no spoon” (from the movie The Matrix) to match something Rose Mulvale said about cancer. The parable which begins “Say a horse has stepped on your

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right foot.” comes from her Cybermind post dated Wednesday, July 25, 2001 and speaks to all manner of preconceptions and mental limitations. Chapter 37 Main author Skip Opening quote from random anti-spamfilter text inserted in a spam message, 16 Nov 2003 Chapter 38 Main author Maurizio Chapter 39 Main author Linda Chapter 40 Main author Elizabeth Bob’s t-shirt is based on an actual shirt, producer unknown; the “Danger, Will Robinson!” reference comes from the television series Lost in Space. The soundtrack for this chapter is Brainscapes 2001 by Alain Eskinasi (CyberOctave Music, 2000), most notably the track “Tara’s Melody.” The verses which begin “Like a magic crystal mirror,” come from the song “The World Inside the Crystal” (Stephen Savitzky, 1985) which won the Pegasus Award for Best Science Song in 1997; it has since been recorded by Kathy Mar on her album Plus Ca Change... which is where I first heard it. Reprinted with permission. See Websites: http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/22/kathy_mar.html and http://thestarport.org/people/steve/Doc/Songs/world.ht ml The scene which begins “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all different.” was inspired by the computer game Adventure (also known as The Original Adventure and Colossal Cave) which dates

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back to the 1960s as a mainframe program and has since spawned many versions for home computers. The poem which begins “hear this over tinnitus,” is “Census of New Senses” by Rose Mulvale, posted to the Cybermind mailing list on Wednesday, June 26, 2002. The verse which begins “To see a world in a grain of sand,” comes from the poem “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake, and exists in several versions. You can read the whole poem here: http://oldpoetry.com/poetry/2961 Chapter 41 Main author Kathryn The “I have no memory” from an Alan Sondheim post 17th November. “I am speechless. I am without speech.” I must have gotten that from some ancient Seinfeld episode. “Ice storm” by Dan Verton, Sydney Morning Herald, November 18, 2003 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/17/10690270 36152.html Gordon Reader stuff from some post 8th November. Chapter 42 Main author Bazza The Swedish porn ending was inspired by a spam mail that missed my initial cull of inbox crap and got opened as I was scrolling through. The Scubby ending came from the various emails exchanged about how we were going to wrap the novel up. The Duran Duran ending – just had to be done!

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Chapter 43 Main author Skip your basic apotheosis/samadhi weather summary (mutated) from the PA_Emergency list music in the back of my head: “It’s My Life,” No Doubt; ending of “Rock’n’Roll Suicide,” David Bowie (“you’re not alone...”) I’m not sure about that last little bit, but I don’t know if we wrapped up the migrating hardware bit elsewhere or not... (“hardware migration”! Hah! That didn’t even occur to me till just now...) Chapter 44 Main author Jon Chapter 45 Main author Maurizio The Paradox is discussed in Chapters 1 and 2 of Ramsey Dukes Blast your way to Megabucks with my Secret Sex-Power Formula, Revelations 23 Press, 1992. Chapter 46 Main author Linda Chapter 47 Main author Jon Samples from: Martin Wheatley, ‘Inspired by the novel’, Cybermind, Sun, 16 Nov 2003. Tom Ellis, ‘Information Overload’, Cybermind, Sun, 16 Nov 2003. Chapter 48 Main author Linda Chapter 49 Main author Kathryn The movie “The One”, directed by James Wong.

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The creation, plus or minus God, found here: http://www.iht.com/articles/118171.html Cavafy’s Ithaca, found here: http://ithaca.rice.edu/kz/Misc/Ithaka.html Soundtrack: Portishead remixes (instrumental) Chapter 50 Main author Elizabeth The verses which begin, “the mirror of shades,” are song titles taken (out of order) from the album Cantus Umbrarum by Lightwave (Horizon Music, 2000), which is also the soundtrack for this chapter. Visit the Horizon Music Website at: http://www.hmnetwork.com/main.html The t-shirt Bob wears in this chapter, which starts, “And God said...” exists in various forms. One version, complete with Maxwell’s equations for light, appears at The Gifted Child Learning Co. on their Website: http://www.thegiftedchildlearning.com/generic41.html The verses which begin, “I love you,” come from a poem written by Rose Mulvale, titled “An Hour in the Rain,” dated Thursday, June 22, 2000. The earlier part of Rose’s poem appears in Chapter 2. The passage which begins, “< > You come to a troll bridge.” was inspired by the computer game Adventure The line /(bb|[^b]{2})/ comes from a Think Geek tshirt, and is actually a quote from Shakespeare: “To be or not to be.” See Website: http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts/coder/57f0/ The “fork” quote is a paraphrase of another Think Geek t-shirt; the original forks Agent Smith. See

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Website: http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts/generic/5f84/

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