a dark future blog…


January 25th, 2033 by d.s.

The city had been fairly decent for a change. When you are on the streets a lot , cold and slush just don’t sell. This past week the cold has been down into the negative numbers. Today it seemed like it would warm up. It was about 30 F at lunch. Now the wind is picking up and there’s snow in the air. It looks like we’ll have to deal with some weather after all. Mother Nature’s a bitch. I plan on holing up here and jacking into the Net to avoid dealing with it. Maybe it will go away on its own.

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January 25th, 2033 by d.s.

I’m jacked in and finding a plethora of old nostalgic crap in blogs from the past decade. The last century seems so long ago. I’ve decided to put Time on my list of bitches as well.

Here’s a sampling of some of my dreck in the form of dismal poetry. You know, it ain’t half bad. **poem here**

I’ve also discovered a cache of William Gibson stories. God, that man could write something wicked. I read that he was locked up in some nuthouse, for his own good, like ten, fifteen years ago. Someone else said he escaped this rat-race and he’s living on an island in the South Pacific. Yeah, right. I heard most of those islands were under water now. But, shit, you can’t believe nobody on the net.

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January 26th, 2033 by d.s.

The day has gone. Time to unwind. The day zipped past like so many days do it seems. A thick black elixir of caffeine sustained me though. I went out earlier. I bought some new speakers, because my old ones hummed. It wasn’t snowing yet, so that was ok. And, I stopped to get groceries. I can’t live on “virtual food” you know! So, I’ve been popping Mike & Ike candy, and trying hard to finish up something presentable here. Maybe I can run the spell checker (where’s the damn AI when you need it?!?), and I can turn on the vid-screen and pass out. Remember to breathe.

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February 12th, 2033 by d.s.

I’ve started teaching in my spare time. Like I have any of that. I have the loud ‘tick tock’ of the clock pounding in my ears all day, and I decide to spend my evenings and weekends preparing class lectures and teaching. I get a rush out of it though, getting up in front of a room of people who get a grade if they listen to me. It can be addicting to have people hang on your every word, when just an hour earlier some Johnson was telling you how stupid you are. So I climb into my little red, late model sports coupe and fight the traffic of the sprawl to cross the city and arrive at the University campus just in time for another three or four hour class, once a week. So I’m either jacked into the Net or racing across the Sprawl for more hours a day than I care to think about… but it keeps me from turning into an obese cyber-addicted geek behind my console all day, and it forces me into the grit of the real world. Being on campus takes me back to my early undergrad days. I feel detached from the daily grind, as if I am in a surreal, virtual world on campus. The clock tower stands out at the center of the campus, and the winter air seems brisk as I watch my breath condense on my walk back to the car. I like what I’m doing. It keeps me alive. It gives me perspective. I’ve had many other jobs… technician, a computer salesman at Manny’s Cybermart, a chauffer for cadavers… maybe this is a sign that things are starting to pay off. Well, I’d better not jinx things. Later…

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February 20th, 2033 by d.s.

OK. I’m not crazy, but I’ve been hearing that strange high pitched noise again. It could be the hours I’m jacked in, sitting in the dark, hour after hour. I’m sure it adds up. It could just be a left over ringing from the noise of the city or a loud heavy metal concert I attended as a punk youth. Then there’s the rumors about the new burger at McD. People say they’ve been experimenting on the public for years. First the NSA bought Google, then they scooped up major eCommerce sites like Amazon, then they bought McD. They already had all the electronic tracking possible, and with a legit fast food chain that was a major global, they could start to gather other things. They supposedly have been collecting biometrics for years, and recently started a rather thorough database of DNA for customers. Now they are supposed to be involved with Nanotech. Tracking devices, tagged fluorescent agents and now these little things that lodge in your brain and hum. Hell if I know what they do, but I’ve cut out the grease burgers ever since I started hearing the nose. You can’t be too sure, I always say…

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March 27th, 2033 by d.s.

I’m spreading myself a little thin. I’ve been working like a bitch for this Johnson, spending 12 hours a day data mining and hacking corporate data files, as well as the teaching thing on the side… skipping things like sleep, the gym, breathing… stuff like that. I figure that I’ll have time for that when this project is over, right? But, like always, the project just gets bigger and more encompassing and the fragging Johnson wants more and more. Today I slotted my cred stick and find he’s shafted me. Paid me less than he agreed to. He knows I can’t do anything about it. I’m stuck on the lower levels of the Sprawl, an inch ahead of the bill collector, so I have to bend over and take it. Well, I’m not a spiteful person… proud, defiant, bullheaded, but not spiteful. So, I’ll finish my commitment to the prick and move on. Time to consider a big move, maybe I should sell out and become a shill for the mega-global corps — although I don’t think I could handle being a corporate wanker… some Dilbert in a cube. The teaching gives me some freedom, but only as side income. As a novelty. I did start up my book again. I’m up to chapter seventeen. Maybe I need to break free and become an author. If I did well there, a book or two a year would let me live where I want, teach, travel… that’s a pipedream. I better just get back to that work I was doing. Work hard, drink, die. I think if I didn’t get the shaft once or twice a year, I’d miss it.

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March 28th, 2033 by d.s.

I’m taking the tube across the Sprawl today. I guess I’ll be doing that a lot more now. Gasoline was once the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. Wars were fought over it. A yellow haze of hydrocarbons floated permenantly over the Sprawl, like a bad hangover. Now it’s all about hydro and hybrids – my little red gas hog is outmoded… politically incorrect. Antique is another word for old crap. You can’t find gas and you can’t find parts for old cars – at least neither come cheap these days. So I’m stressed out – What’s new? We all walk a fine line between reality (whatever that is) and the deep end. I was standing too close to the tracks earlier and a monotone voice came out of nowhere and said, “Step away from the granite edge.” It’s a metaphor for my life – I’m leaning over, peering into the abyss, standing precariously close to the granite edge. If I slip and take that plunge, it will be a dark spiral down, with no way back. Maybe it all adds up, the years spent swimming through the data streams – looking for patterns. The brain starts to act differently when you get back to the coarse, stank reality. But you can hide it. Things aren’t all ones and zeros here. There’s no checksum run on your humanity. It’s all about appearances here. So you can slide by; fake it. No one needs to know your secret. You play the game and hide behind your Shadz – just another guy in an overcrowded Sprawl. Well, this is my stop. Time to turn off; unplug; go numb; blend in.

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April 5th, 2033 by d.s.

There’s a war going on. It’s getting in the way of my work. I’m trying to data mine and it throws off my searches. I keep having to rewrite the search routines for my bots, or I search for the details on a new chemical process for rapid data retrieval from DNA storage and I get back a litany of results about DNA targeting weapons; genetically specific pathogens designed to kill only one individual or someone with a very specific combination of genetic and racial genes. It’s kind of scary to think that these things exist out there, passed from person to person without as much as a sniffle until they reach their designated target. Of course, the government denies that such biological vectors exist. They denounce the very concept as repulsive – only the kind of thing that the enemy would do. The problem is, the enemy is not very well defined. Haven’t been for a long time. Since the last century, the enemy has been terrorists. A label easily applied to anyone who suits the purposes of government and big business. I’d better be careful making such claims in public. They watch for things like that. But it’s true. There are cases that always happen and are quickly quashed about some country or political figure or foreign corporation that is either directly or indirectly giving aid and comfort to enemies of the free peoples of the world. It’s easy enough to cover up petty political agendas under the guise of fighting terrorism. So it’s become a low-level, continuous war fought in other countries. Not even front page news anymore. The people of the Sprawl, like me, have more important things to worry about, like paying the rent and buying groceries and mundane things like that. Of course, they herald some big success from time to time to justify continuing the conflict. They’ve put a big war machine in place, involving several very powerful global corporations that build the weapons. It’s a combination of big business, bureaucracy and inertia. It can’t stop, it has to keep going on or a lot of people are going to be out of a job – and we can’t have that. So they keep it on the back burner, but just visible enough to justify the latest tax increase or the latest violation of our civil rights. Anyone who argues that their privacy is being invaded is damned un-patriotic.

OK. So we have this insidious, low-level, permanent war going on in the background. But there was a time when it was covered by all the major news channels, and back then there were real terrorists and somewhat moral justifications for doing what they did. A combination of fear, the economy and high-tech led to a reinstitution of the draft. This amorphous conflagration was turning out to be much more protracted than the politicos first thought it would be. We could build more weapons, but it wasn’t very palatable to have eighteen-year olds dying on the front lines. It was all right to have a war that we were fairly isolated from. Conflicts, natural disasters, plagues; as long as it happened half-a-world away and we didn’t have to give it much thought, we could deal with it. When our kids started dying it was front-page news and that affected the opinion polls. So the solution was not to change from direct conflict to economic sanctions, but rather to invest in the new technologies and carry out wars by remote control. The use of nanotech, robotics, genetic pathogens, and unmanned vehicles, by air, land and sea, meant we could carry out a “clean” war. It also removed the immediate need to limit the scope and extent of these conflicts. Millions of kids were drafted now, but it was ok, because they would be safe at home. They would all be trained to man banks of video games. War was reduced to an arcade game. When accidents happened, they were always to strangers in strange far-off lands, and not friendly fire accidents against us or our allies. Of course, now we have millions of our young employed in rough economic times. They have safe, secure jobs. And we have to support our “troops”, right? So the conflict just became a way of life. The moral justification may have been eroded – replaced by economics and political agendas, but it wasn’t such a bad thing to stabilize the world, right? When this is all over, everyone will love us for bringing democracy to their corner of the globe, right?

I think I bought into all this when I was in college. The world is always much more black and white when you are young and idealistic. I think that’s partially because you want to believe that everyone is nice like you. You want to think that the justifications are moral and well thought out. Maybe you aren’t cynical enough yet, but you want to believe it because it makes the most sense. If the world is more complicated and situations don’t always have a right or wrong answer, then it’s a lot more confusing and hard to deal with. We want a government that is more like our parents. Fair. Just. With good moral foundations and compassion for us all. It isn’t until later, after years of experience to the contrary, that we realize that the government is an extension of corporate interests, and looking out for itself. Most individuals in government are good, but the system perpetuates the status quo and benefits the constituents with the deepest pockets, and sadly that is corporations and their bottom line, not the ultimate best interest of the consumer, the citizen, the voter, you and me.

When I was in college, my roommate joined up with the cyber-military. He went off for training and learned to kill by remote control. He used a joystick instead of a gun. But it all had the same effect on the other end. Someone died. He never seemed bothered by that. It bothered me that he didn’t lose sleep over it. He just went to war like it was going to work. He put in a few hours a week and one weekend a month. He flew recognizance drones, tanks, armored soldiers, battle bots, and then he came back to the dorm and drank and partied. He wasn’t atypical though. Many students took advantage of a free education, and like I said, it may still have had some moral justification back then. So I put up with it. I turned a blind eye to his occupation, as it were. I took out my student loans and rested better knowing that when I was paying it back for decades after I graduated, I wouldn’t have to brainwash myself that I was doing something noble by “playing war” on the weekends.

My roommate and I had a falling out about two months after he enlisted. I had a hard time liking him because of the cold and impartial way in which he served his country. He was charismatic though. Sometimes I forgot about our differences and enjoyed just cutting loose with him. I was a freshman, and needed someone to be my friend, and thought I should work harder to fit in. I didn’t have girlfriends. I was busy just trying to keep my head above water with my advanced classes. I would party from time to time, hoping that some girl would notice me and want to be with me, but I was shy and for the most part accepted that it was my lot in life to stick it out on my own. My roommate was better with the ladies. There were many times I’d return to the dorm and find a sock on the doorknob. It was a signal we had devised, so the person inside could have some serious privacy with a girl. Of course, I was never the one on the inside. I was always the one outside waiting for him to finish. There was one girl in particular he had been interested in for a long time. He kept having her over, but he couldn’t get her to go all the way. I respected him for being patient and having a long-term relationship. It thought maybe he was becoming more mature. I came home one night and after waiting for two hours, walking up and down the stairwell, I finally walked in on them. He was lying awake in bed. She was curled up, naked, on the floor. He hadn’t had the decency to cover her up after they had clearly had sex. Then I noticed the empty rum and gin bottles on the table. Pop cans were littered on the floor and a bag of chips had been spilled. It became apparent quickly that he finally decided this would be the night he would score. He got her drunk and fucked her brains out. He had a mile-wide grin on his face, but the poor girl was lying cold and naked, twitching on the floor. I moved to cover her up with my blanket, and my roommate told me to leave her, that she’d be fine. I just ignored him and covered her naked body. I cleaned up the room somewhat. My roommate was unhappy that I was making noise and keeping him up. I guess date rape is tiring that way. After a bit, the girl woke up and wretched in our trash can. I handed her clothes to her and turned away as she dressed. She was sick and embarrassed and stumbled out of the room quickly. I heard she dropped out of school; I never saw her again.

I never felt right about that whole situation, but I ignored it. Just like the war, it was something I couldn’t handle if I looked at it straight on. I didn’t know how to respond. I was disgusted with my roommate, and I was disgusted with myself for my inaction. I tried to just ignore it and forget it, but I never will. I guess I’m just messed up that I let it continue to bother me. That’s the way I am. I’m stuck in the Sprawl, in a situation where I have almost no power to affect a change on the system. I just keep trying to do the best I can with what I can control, day after day, and I turn away from the awful things I see around me because if I let them get to me then I won’t make it through the day. Our brains were designed that way, to avoid dealing with trauma head on. We have the ability to ignore the really big things that would otherwise incapacitate us. I can’t say that it doesn’t affect me though. I know it’s there, even if it’s in my blind spot. It makes me dark and cynical. But I move on, and hope it gets better tomorrow. Right now I have to get back to work.

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April 24th, 2033 by d.s.

The Sprawl is one of those things that looks good from a distance. When you look at it from the restaurant on the 100th floor of the Zaytec Building, the city is beautiful as it spreads out below. At night the glow of tail lights make the streets and arteries of transportation pulsate like data flows on the net. As you sip your martini, the Sprawl is Art. Most of the beautiful people don’t ever walk at lower street level, where the urban decay shows the roots of the old city. Where all the litter settles and the ugly washes off the city and pools, gray and dull. The poor and disinfranchised live here. They walk. They don’t have the latest hydro-burners that ride the high street levels and park in the expensive garages with drivers and gates the latest in shiny plastic and chrome. The underbelly of the city is grime. It gets on your clothes and skin and gives you a ghost-like palor. If you live here you know. You know because of the persistant cough from years of testing biological agents on the poor, and because you don’t have health insurance. You know because the grime gets under your fingernails and you can’t ever seem to get it out. You know because you are close enough to see the pixels.

What really separates the haves (above) and have-nots (below)? Is it fate? Is it education? Is it that some eagerly play the game, and others like me detest the game because it is all fake smiles and platitudes and there is no real susbstance to it? Cheating the poor out of their savings, or the elderly, or the sick, or the many who get involved with the law because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Real-Estate salesmen, doctors, lawyers – all with their special cliques and circles of friends who all dress alike and think alike? Why do the people who play the political games and accept society at face value end up with the high-rise apartment, maybe a cabin at the lake. Vacations and perks. While the rest of us who want to think and feel freely, who are creative and demand justice, equality and freedom of expression end up down here? I’m educated. I’m capable. I’m also a geek. Technically capable and quick to question authority. If you are close enough to smell the bullshit and ask, “Why?” then you are only destined to rise so far in the world. I guess I can take comfort in the fact that most geniuses never became rich, but were rather poor and subjugated by the wealthy morons who play the game well and don’t have a clue otherwise. Some of us feel that to sell out is moral defeat, while others in society play it like a board game, only interested in the things they can acquire before they die. For all the frustration I feel (the liquor courses through my veins as we speak), I can rest better knowing that I am a unique individual who is poor, but in a way superior to those who buy into the latest theory on management and economics without so much as a thought. I’ll sleep well tonight (not just because of the liquor – that’s just to remove the veneer of frustration) because I can see the pixels, and moreover because I want to see the pixels.

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May 1st, 2033 by d.s.

It’s May Day in the Sprawl. Just a day like any other day. No one remembers the Cold War, or knows what May Day signifies, they just know the weather has been decent lately and the days are getting longer. People seem to sense the summer coming on. It isn’t oppressive yet, like August, when you walk outside from an air conditioned building and it’s like hitting a wall. The thick, humid atmosphere makes you start to sweat as soon as you enter it. It has the smell of the city. It’s such a dramatic change from indoors that light itself seems to bend as it goes from one medium to the other. Well, like I said, it’s not like that yet…

I’m sensitive to the weather because the car is gone and I’m riding public transportation again. I ride in the discrete annonymity of a brightly lit bus or subway. No one looks at anyone else, just down at their feet. Riding the bus is a humbling experience. In a way, it’s the freedom of not having to worry about a broken car, insurance, and all that goes with owning a car in the Sprawl. But on the other hand, that belief quickly gets old and you are soon enough willing to brave the insane traffic and outrageous parking prices just so you can have that perception that you actually have control of something in your life. You don’t really. The routine of the bus is always the same – as long as you are there on time, you get where you’re going on time. If there is something I like about public transportation, it’s the feeling that I’m on time and more reliable. That is, of course, until the summer repair season hits.

The dog days of summer haven’t hit, but now that the weather is consistant the streets and bridges seem to all be under construction. One thing that has changed little in the past century is the “make-work” programs dreamed up by bureaucrats in the Department of Transportation. If I were a violent man, I might suggest a lynching was in order. Because the union workers won’t work at night, the total cost to the Sprawl of the daily commute has jumped immesurably. Sitting on the bus, as the trip to the University used to take 20 minutes by car, and 40 minutes by bus, now stretches to an unbearable 90 minutes each way. Streets are reduced to single lanes, bridges are blocked off, traffic is re-routed, assholes in cars try to circumvent the queues by passing on the shoulder and waiting for some sap to let them cut in front of the line (and there always is one!) I just know that what has become a pain now will get only worse as it warms up.

One way or another, the construction will go until the fall and then take a break for a few winter months before starting up again. Plenty of time for drivers to forget any of the humility they might have gained by sitting in line each and every morning and afternoon. It’s bad enough that no one knows how to merge or use their blinkers, but the construction just stresses everyone out and pushes them closer to the breaking point in a place where the tension goes up exponentially with the temperature. It’s pretty normal now, which is a sick thing to say, but in the Sprawl in the heat and humidity of August, with the city in gridlock people get road rage and tempers flare. Angry words turn to riots that ripple throughout the streets of the Sprawl. Then the police suit up in their riot gear and suppress the unrest. A few people are killed (maybe blamed on heat stroke or gangs) and curfews are inacted for a month, and some people are arrested and some just disapear. Then the heat dies down and the water rationing ends and the curfews are lifted and the construction season ends. A cycle of discord brought on by an increasingly artificial, antisocial, over-governed, society – consumed by commercialism and blinded by the very technology that was supposed to free it. All I know is that I am glad I have air conditioning and a high-speed data line in my apartment. When the semester ends, I won’t be teaching again until January, and I don’t plan on leaving my aparment or taking the bus unless I absolutely have to, until the temperature and stress level goes back to a safe and bearable level. Maybe I can finish up this job for this Johnson who hired me to locate someone for him, then I can get out of the Sprawl for a while and relax.

Well, it’s my stop. I’ve gotta go.

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May 15th, 2033 by d.s.

I’m covered in sweat. I’m pulling the last of the rig off of me. I’ve been immersed in the net for maybe 8 or 10 hours, trying desperately to cover my tracks and evade the Feds. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

This all began with a phone call back in February. Everybody’s got a number now. Most people get their phone number when they are a kid and never change it. The telcos now have to let you take your number with you. In a way, your phone number is a personal thing, like your social security number or your National ID – ‘cept everybody has one to their own personal phone in every country pretty much. I guess maybe not in China, or some outlying area… but I’m off the point, which was that some Johnson got my number and called me about a little routine tracking he needed. He wanted me to find someone on the net. Not usually a big deal, but in this case I had searched for about four months, and had nothing to show for it. If I couldn’t score, this guy would probably not find the charity to pay me for my effort. People pay for information, and usually that means something positive. An address or something tangible. I had nada.

For several weeks, I searched public databases and followed trails the twisted and turned and all ended up in dead ends. You typically start with a search of public records. I pay for a service that lets me into all of the normal places, DMV, court records, credit reports. There was nothing in the “public” domain that could lead me to this Alan Smithee. I didn’t have much to go on from the start – a name and some sketchy background information, a former address, former employer. The guy didn’t have any friends or relatives from what I could tell. He was a scientist that kept to himself. There were records that he attended a certain college and worked at a certain laboratory after graduation. Not much to go on. It wasn’t until last week that I thought to hack into some private databases. The local grocery, some net subscriptions… the data didn’t amount to much. If I could locate some actual records of his activty on the net, I might have more to go on.

I called in some favors and came up with a login for a government contractor. This access in turn let me onto a trusted computer and from there I could exploit a vulnerability in the outdated database being used by the department of records. In turn, I was able proxy an official request for net records from Homeland Security. I didn’t expect it to turn anything up. I indicated in my request that the person was on a terrorist suspect list, I figured it would bypass some security checks that way and return a quicker result. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

I use a graphical interface that lets me navigate through the net, moving from one data store to another as though the net was a physical place. Data flows with neon colors through routers and switches. The world I see when I “jack in” is full of color and motion. Processes are animated as people or animals. Security guards check for identification, dogs sniff packets for content, cameras monitor, shop keepers run virtual storefronts, like an online mall crossed with the old movie Tron. In fact, I can apply skins to my interface so I can view the net in a number of ways, depending on my mood. Again, I’m off the point.

I was working on another job last night, dispatching agents and searching the records of a startup company for an investor, when a monkey ran up to me and handed me a note. I know, a pop-up window would have done, but I have this thing for monkeys. Anyhow, my query was returned from DHS on Smithee. I reprised my role as government contractor, which changed the appearance of my avatar, and I reentered the branch office for the department of records. When I went to the virtual mailroom to claim my package, I found instead of a brown paper wrapped package that was large enough to contain Internet records for Smithee, a small express envelope with a return receipt. I forged a signature and opened the envelope. It contained an address for a private DHS data store and an access code.

I flagged down a taxi and arrived at a warehouse on a side alley. It was a small nondescript warehouse in a run-down neighborhood. It belied the importance of the data held inside. My credentials were accepted without question and I was ushered into the warehouse. It was a seemlingly endless data store, shelves piled high with papers, bundles and printouts, file cabinets, vaults and bookish clerks running about with their arms full of books and documents. I walked over to the front desk and a clerk took the letter from me and ran off to fetch my prize.

I sat down at a table with the results of my query. I wasn’t allowed to make copies or take the data with me. It was evident that the government had taken an interest in this Smithee guy and had systematically taken to erasing all records of his life after a certain date. The care with which they had done this indicated that there were very powerful people involved in covering up his disaperance. Smithee was working on a top secret project involving tracking people using tools that had been designed to monitor for terrorists. People had been assured by the government that these tools would not be used to track the behavior of “regular citizens” – however the privacy we take for granted is just an illusion. The documents indicated that he had learned that the sensors and tags and security devices were being used to watch and correlate what everyone did. The RFID tags in your groceries and clothes, the biometric scanners that scan your eyes and watch how you move in public places, the sensors in your cars and houses and the millions of net locations you visit over your lifespan all were cross referenced in a giant government data warehousing project. Public and private data was combined, correlated and used as the government saw fit. Normally this is a good thing, but it invites the corrupt to abuse it. Which it seems is what happened. People were disapearing, like Smithee. He seemed to have been visiting certain sites and communicating with certain people, I made a mental note of this. It all reached a climax when he was researching political contributions for a recent campaign. I got the feeling that he’d found some of the officials who were abusing the project and was going to turn them in. And there was no indication of where Smithee was now, but there was a code indicating he had been detained and that was the last entry.

I had been pouring over the records for the better part of an hour. I was about to leave discretely when a clerk came up to me. He informed me that my credentials had been declined when they were reviewed. He asked me for my credentials again. I pulled out something that looked good enough to keep them busy for a few minutes and handed it to the clerk. He asked me to wait. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I had to find a way to quietly exit the warehouse, but all eyes were on me as he walked away. Now, in the real world, a person would just shut off their computer and the problem would go away, but an abnormal exit would give me away. Not only would it lock me out of my system backdoor, but disconnecting improperly would allow them to trace the connection back, eventually, to my local switch. Even if I powered down, there were records for everything. I needed to backtrack and lead them in the wrong direction before disconnecting.

I had some tricks up my virtual sleeve that would cause some confusion. The clerk protocol was designed to reply to all internal queries. Even though my credentials were being reviewed, I could create a denial of service of sorts by sending out a large number of queries. My avatar moved quickly and clerks began to run off to begin a series of pointless searches. The DoS was having an affect, and the graphics of the warehouse began to pixelate. The engines behind the data store were bogging down. I made my move for the door and ran.

There were agents of the system behind me that were attempting to initiate a trace. Men in black were following me. I had to route my traffic in such a way that they couldn’t trace it back to my apartment. I cursed myself for not performing the hack from an anonymous location. I had been too self-confident, now I had to prove that I was up to the challenge. These agents were good, they followed me as I ran and commandered a car to follow me after I hotwired a motorcycle. They knew the grid well, I’ll give them that. It wasn’t easy to evade them. I spent a couple hours of close calls trying to avoid their detection. I knew the underbelly of the grid, the outskirts and the dark alleys. I knew the crooked businessmen who set up shop, with temporary and always changing addresses, names and aliases to servers off-shore. While I didn’t rat out anyone I personally knew, I passed through enough shady businesses and porn sites that any government agent should have been distracted. Yet these agents were different, thorough, relentless. They wouldn’t stop for an easy bust, and didn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about the mob or the gangs. I had hit upon something big. Something that could get me killed. Something that had probably gotten Smithee killed. I had written the number down on my Avatar’s arm, so I could check that out later. If I made it back safely.

It was the last turn, a route through a test switch that shut down every morning at 4 AM. I had to time my passage just right. By now I had switched “vehicles” several time. I was as indiscrete as I could be in an old Monte Carlo with Mexican plates. The switch played out in my visual net as a drawbridge, going up at 4 AM on the nose. It was a cliche, jumping the open drawbridge, but to the DHS agents it was all ones and zeros. I couldn’t allow myself to get drawn into the reality of the net I was playing in. That was just a contrivance that helped me act and react on the timeframe that the processes and agents were operating at. If I bought this as a literal translation, I’d lose my objectivity and get caught. But I played the game well, and at just a microsecond before 4 AM, the Monte Carlo flew over the drawbridge and the Feds were left behind. Their trace program had failed and after putting a few virtual miles between us, I pulled over and unplugged. That’s where I am now. Unplugged. Awaken from the self-induced coma that we call “jacking in”.

I’ve got some diagnostics to run, just to be sure I made it out safely. I will let my system surf random sites (from all the logs someone might collect on me, I always have it appear that I am just surfing the net). Once I feel safe, I’ll pass out for a few hours and then go someplace safe to conatct Mr. Johnson. He owes me.

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May 20th, 2033 by d.s.

My Johnson didn’t get right back to me. It was almost a day before we talked, and then he was very secretive. With what I’d found out, I didn’t blame him. Most all the mundane matters in my own life were less important now that I was paranoid about my latest hack. The hardest part for me was keeping up the illusion that nothing had happened. I wanted to get away for a while and let things cool down, but that would draw attention to me and I couldn’t have that.

I met up with him this morning. It was involved and in a way, the backtracking and deception was a real-life replay of my net running a week before. Anyhow, I have some extra zeros in my bank balance… and no minus sign in front of it. Real cash that will appear to have come from a legitimate job, tracking down a cheating husband. I have more work to do, but it’s nice to feel that the heat is dying down and my job is almost over. I just have to figure out the code. There’s no doubt left in me that he met his demise, just like I would if I wasn’t carful. If I don’t take this all seriously. It’s easy to treat it like a game sometimes, but once in a while you have a close call, and you have to slow down, focus and think. Each move now has to be careful and calculated. Precise. Mistakes will get you killed. The graphics are like a good addictive game, but the results are real-time. In the flesh. When the pixels fade, some guy in a suit has a gun to your head. Not the way I want to end up.

So I left our meeting just as carefully as I arrived. Always looking over my shoulder, but not in an obvious way. It’s taken the whole day to go and come back, but I have something to show for it. A payoff for my efforts. I was starting to think the Johnson wouldn’t come through, and then this. I debate if it’s worth it – worth the risk and all, but I think it is.

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August 15th, 2033 by d.s.

[…………..session established…………..]

Every eleven years, solar activity reaches a maximum. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections are more common during the Solar Max. When the Sun aims toward Earth and shoots off a billion tons of charged particles moving at a million miles an hour, all Hell can break loose. That’s what happened. That’s why I’ve been offline. Down and out in a high-tech world without power and communications. We weren’t prepared and we paid the price.

Sometime in the past two months, the days are sort of a blur and me without my digital counterpart to remind me about things like this… activity on the Sun picked up. We have had issues every couple years with certain old satellites. No biggie. But this year was different, huge flares targeted Earth and what would have gone mostly unnoticed a few solar cycles ago, had a big impact this time around.

There was little warning. When the energetic wave of alpha particles and protons hit, solar powered satellites in their path were put out of commission. The great mass ejection of fast-moving Hydrogen gas pushed back the Earth’s magnetic field, which usually envelopes the planet and channels charged particles toward the poles, leading to the Northern Lights. With the Earth vulnerable, the effect was devestating. All the satellites that weren’t specially sheilded, which was about two-thirds of them, were destroyed or sent spinning out of their orbit. Many burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. It offered a good show. Shooting stars filled the sky. Normally, the light polution of the Sprawl would prevent you from viewing such a spectalcle, but the violent wave of energy that hit also took out the National Power Grid. Transformers blew, and most cities were plunged into darkness for days.

For the most part, computers and electronics on the ground were unaffected. They weren’t directly taken out, but without electricity and communications, they were useless. Then the riots and civil unrest came like a third wave.

In the Sprawl, you look out for your own. In times of emergency, people watch out for one another. The riots were to be expected. So, most people stayed at home, expecting the governments to provide military support. They were safe at home, for the first few days. Then people started dying from the heat. People needed food and water. Clean water. Safe food. It wasn’t pretty. It was the kind of thing they say could never happen. We were living through the aftermath of a war we never fought.

I had friends outside the city, and I walked and hitched rides and left the Sprawl. It kept me alive, I’m sure of that. It was over a week before power was fully restored, and then we had rolling brown-outs. Emergency aid helped those in need, but by the time it was all said and done, the population of the planet had been reduced by a few million.

The Sprawls were hit the hardest. The dense megalopolis that spread down along the coastline was in gridlock. And the summer had just started to heat up. The Feds lost the ability to track people with the RFID tags and biometric scanner, so anyone with the nerve could get through the checkpoints. Bullets still worked though. The private police of the mega-corps weren’t afraid to use them either, to protect their property. The mega-corps had generators, and the mega-rich were above all the dismay in their air conditioned high-rises. Hydrogen generators were quickly brought online to keep them cool, while the masses below were left to the heat and the riots.

I have to sign off now. Running on battery power. I’m still not back in my apartment. I don’t know if I have much to go back to there. It’s going to take months to stablize the cities still, to get them back to some state of normalcy. And, years to replace all the burnt out infrastructure. The satellites and power stations, electronics, lost data. Destroyed by a unforgiving nature and the violent side of Man.

Did I find the guy I was searching for? I’m sure I won’t hear from the Johnson again, but yes. I found him. For what good it will do. I imagine prisoners didn’t fare well through all this. And for all my efforts, the credits I earned are probably so many lost bits in the now defunct data stream. But I’m resiliant. I can bounce back. I’ve got more motivation and purpose now than I’ve had in a long time, and I think that having to rely on myself and not use the Sprawl as an excuse and my electronics as a crutch will bring out the best in me. I only hope in the long-run it makes us all stronger.

[…………..session disconnected…………..]

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August 18th, 2033 by d.s.

I am working on posting old journal entries from before the solar storm and the meltdown of society. I’m stuck working with tinfoil and twigs, so cut me some slack.

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This is a story of a future in which the population keeps growing, technology keeps advancing, and people are caught in the crossfire between an Orwellian government and corrupt mega-global corporations. The world of the Sprawl is a dark, urban dystopia, full of conflict and passion and a growing divide between the highest and lowest echelons of society.

Follow Johnny Dark, as he dives deep into The Net, to mine data and search for patterns in the data stream. All along, Johnny tries to make ends meet and stay alive as society follows a dark spiral into chaos.

This story presents posts in chronological order, then to now, top to bottom.

To reach the author: 'ds' at 'arcology.com'.

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