[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in
Paradigm Theory's LiveJournal:
|Saturday, August 6th, 2005|
Hollin had spaced signs in a very logical fashion; at no point were more than three visible, and seeing three meant that you must be standing next to one of them. Milo was twenty minutes into the district when he reached a sign that did not reveal a third upon approach. His options were limited; he would have to search the local area until he found it, and then hope that where it once stood would be obvious. Given the length of some of the alleyways, the search may have taken a long time if Milo had not found someone to ask.
It was motionless, but staring at him from the interior of a crumbling brick cube not twenty meters from the junction where he stood. A blurry object had darted out from a rent in the wall and caught the sunlight. Three more followed, some going, some coming; birds, building a nest, their path tracing a line that directed Milo to the unmistakable pattern of an eye which observes the observer. Milo could not make out the contents of the old structure; he was standing in sunlight and the room was in shade. He had to approach it and let his own eyes focus to see that it was someone's storage closet that had been exposed to the elements for many years. Rotting cardboard boxes were sun bleached in great streaks. Some of them had rectangular holes sawed in them. Others, more exposed, had been completely bifurcated with a sharp blade. Some of the compromised boxes had collapsed, sending all they were supporting sprawling through the room. Oily dust hung in the place like a tenacious crust.
What Milo found was not exactly an eye, though it was a lens. A pale yellow bladder stretched along a steel ring, filled with a viscous liquid. Such an odd mechanism. The ring was housed in an elongated steel head that against its wishes had grown a weathered plating of rust. It was a formidable piece of metal; a bar with the thickness of Milo's shoulder, four feet in length and angled like a dentist's pick. It looked to Milo to be distinctly avian, though the eye was seated to the rear of the neck at one end of the bar, while the neck was anchored in the middle. The other end of the head was pocked with holes and arrays of stubby sensory devices, some of which had rusted completely away. The ones that remained looked like clusters of budding onyx mushrooms, some staggered, some arranged in hexagonal patterns. To what the neck led to Milo could not see. It was buried in boxes. Milo could usually place a 'bot pretty accurately, but he had no experience with those manufactured for industry. This one had some function that he could not guess. The steel was obviously not rust proof, but the machining had been undeniably skillful. The whole chassis of the head was hewn from what looked to have been solid stock. There was also no plastic visible, although he could not guess what the eye was made from.
Milo could see the lens flex and change shape as he approached. It was tracking him; keeping him in focus. Behind that yellow bulb was a camera that still worked. That camera might plug into something that could give Milo directions. Just as he was about to pipe up, a flying spider whirled in through the old wall and attached itself to the great head. Milo jumped back, suppressing his instinct to flee. He backed up, watching the thing crawl over the surface of the robot, and gradually realizing that it too was mechanical. Another landed in the same fashion. Both seemed to be skittishly probing the larger being, finding their way to the area behind the single, animate eye. There they both seemed to busy themselves in such a way that made the great head seem helpless, with their bursts of insectile movement, and its single, almost imperceptible sign of life. Was it alive? Milo did finally ask it. His voice made one of the spiders immediately fly off like a startled robin.
“...You awake, there?”
The voice that returned was a combination of jarring buzzes that were hard to compose into a voice. The second spider lit off at the sound, and Milo felt like doing the same. He thought that the buzzes may have said “Talk to me.”
“I'm trying to get to Hollin. Do you know Hollin?”
One of the spiders returned, and this time went straight for the back of the head. The sequence of buzzes may have been a reply, but Milo lost concentration when the spiders showed up again. The speech seemed to lose an element of complexity, degrading into an almost singular guttural hum, punctuated by silence or loud clicks. One of the spiders flew off again. The speaker must be shot, or perhaps it was never meant to talk to people. Milo didn't think that, though. Milo was pretty sure that it was no longer alive enough to give him any information.
He left the ruined bay, watching the forlorn eye follow his egress.
|Sunday, June 26th, 2005|
Hollin turned out to be a rather successful company, albeit under the public radar on account of dealing almost exclusively with industry. Their customers were almost exclusively employee benefits departments in large corporations, and to a lesser degree, infosec. The quarterly reports and stock record reflected a stable company of middle age. They had split from a dying parent company some thirty years ago, a typical birth that warranted not the slightest bit of press.
While all positive things, the inference made Milo a little uneasy. Hollin was an established industrial service corporation; which is a different animal entirely from the business entities that one encounters day to day. A company that desires to sell human accouterments to humans is, in one way or another, founded on principles of interaction that every person can at least distantly relate to. The exchange of money for goods, the display of wares such that one may evaluate them for purchase, the drafting of a document detailing services rendered for money, etcetera. These companies are based on those principles, and that old and paradigm echoes throughout. To say nothing of the spirit of the company, certainly, but more of the species. Retail was a genus of company that still retained a vestigial tail, an atrophied appendix, and delicate grasping limbs for their symbiotic relationship with the human. It retained a symmetric face based on our own such that it would not scare us. It knew how to speak our languages and understood the inflections in our speech. It maintained compatibility with humans, which constrained the ways that the organism could grow and change over time. As different as the retail corporate entity was from the individual human, they could never grow too far away from one another.
Hollin was not one of these companies. It was an organ in the Industrial sphere. These companies had no such constraints as retail; they may use humans to accomplish things, but this is a means to an end. When not anchored to humans as the retail genus was, there were no evolutionary constants. These organisms needed only to be compatible with other similarly unconstrained peers. Whereas to deal with humans was to extrapolate all business from an ancient seed, from hardened logic that had been tested over thousands of years from dirty village markets to the late 20th century's Internet boom, to deal completely within the Industrial Sphere meant abandoning these precepts of human logic. Decades ago, the entire problem had been reset and recomputed, this time with the help of staggering computational power, and the effort likely continued to this day. This being known, most people stopped wondering about odd business decisions from these companies, and in many cases ignored them entirely. An entity may exist on paper due to arcane federal law, but in many cases the function of that corporate entity may be unexplainable. In this way the Industrial Sphere was an impenetrable forest that humans had neither the cognitive, or legal ability to explore. Hollin was an animal that lived in this forest, and Milo was agreeing to come to its den.
It took Milo a good four hours by train to reach Hollin; they were located in an industrial sector far out in the scrub desert. His shabby look had warranted sideways glances when purchasing the ticket. Who goes all the way out there? Only suits, and deliverymen. His stop was on a series of hills on the edge of a dry lake bed that housed the complex. When got off the train he could see most of it, sprawling to the horizon through the clear desert air. Hollin was part of a larger complex of buildings, but not like one might find in the urban territories. It was a lattice of cubes, typically four stories on a side and stacked on top of each other to form a huge hill shape. It was easily thirty miles in radius, and Milo couldn't judge how high it reached; towards the top of the hill the cubes were too far away to distinguish as individual shapes. The older cubes were towards the center and doubtless the oldest were obscured entirely from view at the base of the hill. Most were featureless; windowless beige shapes with the occasional orthogonal corridor leading to a neighbor. They tended to be more uniform towards the bulge in the center, and seemed smaller compared to the cubes at the fringe of the hill. The outlying cubes were larger and more likely to be specialized; some of them were outfitted with fume vents, generators, or waste sluices. Milo looked for company names or doors under awnings, but found nothing. The only visible writing seemed to be terse labels stenciled in Russian along the side of a massive cube about a kilometer away, blackened with soot and bristling with rusty pipe. Nothing around it was quite as dirty, but Milo could see the dark stain spreading from that point and diffusing outwards on the other buildings following the wind that came down from the hills. Milo knew that on some days that cube must spew plumes of black soot, but today it was dormant. It was very quiet; almost silent save for the occasional distant boom of heavy cargo being offloaded. In the distance, Milo could see cranes moving, and their booms rippled through the heat.
Milo did have instructions, though. It was another hour of hiking around the perimeter of the hill until he found the sign someone had put out for applicants. “HOLLIN”, it read, and an arrow pointed toward an alleyway between two cubes that seemed to have no entrance at all. Before entering, Milo realized the the shape of the hill was close to, if not exactly, a Gaussian curve.
Milo didn't know why, but this made him feel a little better. The air seemed a little cleaner than the urban territories, even inside the hill. There were dank areas and those choking with some nameless exhaust fume, but some alleys were long and cool wind shot through them at a steady pace. Following the signs, Milo hiked deeper into the complex and admitted that it had a strange beauty to it. Some cubes were clearly abandoned, their corridors fallen into the alleyways. These were the older, bottom layers of the complex. Some of the oldest were even made of real brick, and now used only to support whatever was above it. Some with strange geometry that sent light in baroque patterns across the ground. The silence was the thing that Milo was most unaccustomed to, though. While he passed the occasional motor spinning noisily, high up on the side of a building or pipe jutting from a wall, faintly echoing some internal racket, there were far spaced enough to enjoy a real silence that Milo had never really known before. There was also the strange aesthetics of the lack of human garbage. Garbage, yes; broken things fallen from overhead, sections of pipe, construction leftovers... But no food wrappers, no condoms, no clothing. The ground was dust, not dirt.
The trail of signs ended about a half hour into the hill, at a cube with a single nondescript door. It opened into a narrow hallway of only a few feet. Mil traversed it for what seemed like a hundred meters, and this ended in the strangest waiting room he had ever seen. The hallway widened by only about a foot or so, and there were some old chairs placed neatly in the recess. Another door at the end of the hallway opened before he could sit down, and a young man in a white short-sleeved shirt and tie greeted him. He seemed to be in his late 20's. His hair was combed back and he was clean shaven.
“My name is Allan. Did you have any trouble finding us?”
Milo shook his head.
“Great”, Allan smiled, and the smile seemed earnest. He held the door open in an indication for Milo to follow him. Milo was led through a series of equivalently designed hallways; all unpainted concrete with low ceilings. It felt like a mineshaft, but Allan didn't seem to mind at all. Allan also knew the building quite well; none of the doors were labeled in any way Milo could tell. They eventually came to a large room that housed a number of cubicles. The ceilings were a bit higher and the lighting was bright and florescent. Allan's desk was a simple affair, and Milo noted the furniture. Old. Stamped steel, dark green enamel.
Allan took out some papers, and look at Milo. “So you'd like to test for us.”
“Yep,” Milo said with a nod, unsure of whether he should add anything. Allan thought for a second, and gestured to Milo's midsection with his pen, searching briefly for a polite way to phrase what he was about to say.
“Well, as you know, we're going to have to inspect you quite a bit before any testing really begins, so I guess you could say I'm the first round.” He chuckled once in mid sentence. “...So I guess what I need to know is what you've got for us. If you have an infection in a more private area, we can go into an office.”
Milo shook his head, and pulled his shirt off, exposing a big, beet-red logo spanning most of his chest. That one had grown in just a few days ago, and it itched like crazy at night. Allan nodded and waggled his pen, indicating that this was more than enough and that Milo can put his shirt back on. He make some notes on a form.
“Anything else going on inside you that you know of?”
Milo lied, showed him a couple little rashes on his arms.
A few minutes of awkward silence followed as Allan filled out forms. Milo expected to have to sign them at some point, but the offer was never made. In the end Allan collected the documents together, stapled them, and smiled as if the whole affair was a done deal.
Indeed it was. Allan stood up and extended his hand to shake with Milo. “Welcome to Hollin.” He said, as if Milo was a full time employee. “Can you make it back here on Wednesday, noon?”
Milo was about to say yes, but Allan suddenly got a glassy look on his face. His eyes stopped tracking Milo and drifted a bit. His neck relaxed ever so slightly. He was either being asked to process something, or else a hell of a burst of communication had just erupted on their internal comms network, and Allan had to divert all attention to parsing it. A moment later he snapped back online.
“...And could you bring your dog, too?”
|Tuesday, June 21st, 2005|
Milo had only two frozen dinners left in the freezer. One was Salisbury "Steak", actually textured soy patty. They were allowed to call it anything they wanted, as long as the word "Real" was not used, and they used quotes. Sometimes it even tasted something similar to what they claimed it was. More big friendly letters proudly proclaimed the product to be Non-Toxic (when served as suggested). The second meal was Porq Sausages and whipped potatoes. Milo didn't want to think about what else besides barely edible vat-pig bits went into that. He noticed it was missing the 'Non-Toxic' label. He picked the Salisbury "Steak" and checked his computer, to see if Amy had found any leads.
Predicate Green Symptom was a demanding master. Milo had been fired from his Application Intelligence job when he couldn't juggle both at once. Eventually, even consulting became out of the question. Fortunately, he was able to find a career that let him survive, and provide enough free time to service Predicate Green Symptom.
Milo was a professional datapoint.
Amy was Milo's ferret program. He had started with an out of the box, commercial grade dataminer, then augmented that with his own AI code, and slapped on an avatar of a cute cartoon weasel. In screensaver mode, Amy was digging in a hole, with only her wriggling tail poking out. A touch on the screen attracted her attention, and she bounded to the foreground, holding a rather large dead rat in her mouth. Arrayed in front of her were five New York roaches, and two mice, all dead. The roaches were promotional offers, requiring permission, or human intervention. As he looked them over, Amy minimized and went into a sinuous weasel dance in the corner.
One man's spam was another man's meat. Milo rejected one, and accepted the others, entering the Turing security codes. The mice were surveys, which he'd fill out after dinner. He peeked under Amy's nest pillow, and saw that she'd made 36 GCU in unsupervised etrades, a better than average haul. The rat, however, was the big prize. Unspecified medical experiments, paying up to 1000 GCU, apply in person at Hollin Pharmacology. He touched the 'more info' icon, to see what Amy had found out about them.
Hollin Pharmacology was a counter-advertising company, releasing cures and vaccinations for the latest advertising plagues, sometimes only days after the initial outbreak. No current or pending consumer or class action lawsuits. Currently trading at 32 1/4, up 1/8. Milo had never dealt with them before. "Hollin Pharmacology" he said, out loud. Sometimes, Predicate Green Symptom would give him a twinge, but none came this time. Medical testing could be risky, but so far, he had trusted Predicate Green Symptom's judgment, and had suffered nothing worse than a bad rash.
He stroked Amy's reward button once, then thinking about the possible thousand, touched it again, holding it for a second. Milo smiled as he watched the cartoon ferret writhe in orgasmic bliss. With luck, Amy would find offers like this again, and she'd definitely bring them to his attention.
|Sunday, June 12th, 2005|
It was dangerous to even be in the vicinity of an Ashleigh. The advanced nodes within the collective excreted an oil from their pores that helped them gain new membership. The oil was a carrier for a symbiotic bacteria which eventually colonizes most of their skin, giving them their characteristic greasy look. The bacteria used to be a promotional scheme from back when Ashleigh was alive and selling albums; the advertising firm would mist a carrier suspension of the disease into mall food courts, movie theaters, or anywhere where potential Ashleigh fans might be. The idea was to give out a free antibiotic keyed to the promotional infection at the concert.
At first this was all guerrilla marketing; so aggressive, so edgy that the prospect was only discussed within the clandestine bureaus of the most powerful agencies. These were the black-ops departments that gave Madison Avenue their edge over the foreign companies that never seemed to get it right. If you didn't have the kind of cash it took to hire these people, you were stuck with a hack-job Asian mafia descendant. They'll tell you that all the kids are about to buy pink t-shirts because thats what their Romanian mil-surplus dissection robots spit out when they fed a handful of runaways into it. Of course it's bad intel and everyone knew it, so the only alternative to Madison Avenue is to aggregate as many of the hack jobs as you can afford and hope you can mine some patterns out of their results. If you bought Madison, however, you got genius like the Cola plague. Of course you can't tell people that your agency was responsible for their kids running a near constant 99 degree fever or that you knew why they were itching night and day. However, you could make your soda cure them, forming a deep association between your product and the relief of pain. It worked beautifully. So well, in fact, that it was impossible for it to remain clandestine after the technique was on the market for more than a few years. Agencies rushed to provide competing services at lower prices. Fab houses sprouted up all over the major export zones and price plummeted until your company's custom infection was something you bought in package deal with pop-up ads and a billboard. There was a time when the malls in the poor districts were permanently coated in a thin layer of yellow oil; a soup of promotional diseases that nobody could be paid to clean up. The higher class malls advertised nightly sterilization. The choice was not a good one, though. Richer patrons were high profile targets that attracted the best the field had to offer. The air outside these places was likely to be bristling with something that may not be a disease in any overt sense; or may not even be curable. It was a few years ago that men in Kansas began to develop uncontrollable erections when they saw the logo for a locally made brand of paint. Shopping at a lower class mall was not much better. It meant that after infection you may never find the brand of West-African beet juice that would make your cholera go away. It was common to see the homeless absolutely plastered with logo-rashes; red and then eventually a deep cancerous purple wherever several overlapped.
Ashleigh came about some time just after the peak of this movement, just after Congress declared the practice to be protected free speech. She wasn't even a very notable pop star, and that probably explains why the promotional epidemic wasn't as controlled as it should have been. Whatever bargain genehouse the promoter hired didn't test their product nearly as well as they should have. This was apparent after the first couple of public scenes; a speckling of kids within the forest of heads moving throughout the mall dropping cold to the floor as soon as the new Ashleigh video hit the monitors. The first round of infections didn't have much brain left to salvage, and for this the fines on Ashleigh's promoter were rather steep. This was the reason they cited for not being able to improve their product adequately in time for the next round of infection. This time they were required by the courts to offer medical care for those that were no longer ambulatory, and the answer was the cortical shunt. Surprisingly, it was the shunt that really caught on. The engineering company had a right to install the networking circuitry for DRM enforcement on the shunts, and this was accomplished at first by forming a department to review the cognitive throughput of each device. Humans weren't able to process this much data, so it was mostly the job of a collective of specially written AI's. Knowing that any drop in academic performance by the afflicted would open them up to massive liability, the central system also took the liberty of computing or correcting any higher logical thoughts that a shunted individual may have. Parents liked it because their kids did better in math class, but the humanities teachers remained concerned. The shunted kids all turned in the same essay with trivial semantic changes, always just slightly more than the threshold for cheating. Even more annoying was their ability to draw a full-color advertisement in the middle of an English exam with the accuracy of an industrial plotter, and time to spare. The centralized AI network became expensive, though, and the engineering company that had made it eventually went out of business. The AI department incorporated, and this was the formal beginning of the Ashleighs. The shunts were now produced somewhere offshore in one of many shifting manufacturing cities. The disease was also somewhat refined by this point; airborne, and able to persist on outdoor surfaces.
Milo scratched a perfectly square rash that was developing on his thigh. He would probably discover several of such things when he showered tonight.
|Wednesday, June 8th, 2005|
Lost in thought, Milo at first missed the characteristic whining, but was brought to attention by the second warning, namely Daisy gnawing at his ankle. It was a core behavior, unaffected by his modifications. Daisy needed a walk.
Daisy's organics were simple, and she was genetically closer to a tank-pig than a real dog. And with only a primitive digestive system, the results tended to be messy. Milo was thankful that Predicate Green Symptom had not required a larger animal. He prepared in the familiar ritual, making sure Daisy's I/O ports were in secure mode, adjusted her aluminum foil wrap, and put a little foil hat on her head. You couldn't be too careful, with all the Viral Intelligences and Agent Instances out there. For himself, he put on his favorite hat; a red shapeless mass of a style popular when he was a teen, and lined with more aluminum foil.
Daisy limped alongside with the lopsided gait of a broken toy, not quite bright enough to favor the broken paw, whining when her weight came down on it. The familiar faces of strangers looked past them, or turned away as they walked past. Milo was not only used to it, he prefered it. It was easier to think when people didn't insist on talking to him. A trio of cancer-punks shuffled by, their tumors exposed and colored an angry red, but they stepped aside as Milo walked past. The park was usually crowded at this time, an early summer evening just before sunset, but Milo had no problem finding an empty bench to sit, while he let Daisy limp off. "Sol-Dor-Bin", she wheezed.
Unacceptable. Milo would have to come up with something better to block the transmissions. Maybe some kinda of metal cage would do the trick. Until then, he could store Daisy in the microwave.
"Excuse me, sir?" It was a female voice. Milo frowned, annoyed at the interuption, and turned. She was young, no older than twenty or so. Her brown eyes seemed to focus at a point a few miles beyond Milo's head. Dark brown stubble covered her scalp, and at her right temple was a gauze pad, colored yellow from seepage. A cortical shunt. "Have you heard the Word of Ashleigh?" she asked.
Seemingly in an instant, Daisy was at his side, barking. Milo felt a shiver of revulsion. Unclean! He scooped up Daisy and ran. When he reached his apartment, he slammed the door shut behind him, and bolted and chained it immediately.
He'd heard about the Ashleighs before, but had never seen one in person before. One frontal lobe was replaced by a hub and shunt, forming a network. It had started as a fan club for an aging pop-star, who died not too long ago under mysterious circumstances. They made groups like the Oncologarchs and the Teratoma Angels seem mundane.
It took a very long time for Milo to decide that Predicate Green Symptom was something outside of himself. He was sure that the name itself was generated purely from noise. When he was asleep and the language parser in his brain was free to flop wildly about, unfettered by commands from the visual cortex, he would read in his dreams. What he read was not real language, however; but dream language. It is this language that may appear in dreams as gibberish with mysterious context attached to it, and as such it does not follow the same grammar or syntax as anything that someone who is awake may be expected to write. In fact, someone who is awake usually finds it almost impossible to write in the same grammar that one can read when asleep. Likewise, dream language never conveys the intended meaning to someone who is awake.
When Milo was asleep and looking at a vast, dilapidated white fence that separated two countries, “PREDICATE GREEN SYMPTOM” was written there directly in front of him. Not written in paint or pencil exactly, but written in visible ideas. The meaning of the name was apparent to Milo and this caused him to wake immediately and struggle to keep it in memory. As with many memories of dreams, though, they are quickly purged. Milo was left with only the syntax of the name, and a vague but strong notion that it was important. Eventually he forgot it entirely. It was some weeks later that the back room had become occupied.
What followed was a long process that usually left Milo more exhausted when he woke up than when he went to sleep beforehand. With the back room closed, the dream language flowed each night. At first it was like a constant stream, present amongst the other imagery in that night's session of REM sleep. Milo could regard it with passing fascination as he jogged through his own stream of conciousness. As time passed, the language became more forceful. Less a stream and more of a thick, whipping tendril that entered from the vanishing point and flailed around violently, holding his attention captive. It was a brown and slick jet of ideas that thrashed like a strip of spring steel, and came so fast an overwhelming that Milo could make little sense of it, even when asleep. He would awaken feeling like he had been studying for an exam for the last eight hours. Even when half asleep, the language eventually grew into a forceful, grunting whisper that snapped on as soon as his conscious mind ceded control. As if there was a pressure of ideas built up from the day that burst and spewed forth a torrent of unintelligible tirades that never ended.
Milo always knew that this was Predicate Green Symptom. The name was peppered throughout the language. He would say the name back, and the name would echo, again and again. A month after the back room was off limits to him, Milo's dreams were entirely fixated on Predicate Green Symptom. Milo would talk to it in dream language... His own dialect for which he had a mapping to waking language in his head. He was frequently exhausted in his dreams and could beg it only to stop for a moment. One day it seemed to comprehend, and the torrent deflated slightly, like a fire hose. Then, after a unit of time that has no equivalent in conscious thought, Predicate Green Symptom spoke Milo's name. It spoke his name several times amongst a less exasperating sputter of ideas. Over months, it learned more words. Milo did not feel that he was teaching it so much as handing over the ability to communicate as payment, to buy rest time for his brain.
All of this conversation was such an abstract affair when examined upon waking that Milo could do little about it. Only very simple things at first, like a recognition of when it was proper to stand by the door, were possible. It was months before an idea as concrete as a puppy could be translated into memory that made sense upon waking. Coding from specifications laid out in dream language seemed likewise impossible. However, the dialog improved. Milo was told when he was wrong. He would begin programming not knowing what kind of data structure was required, only knowing when it was right. “Now this array is too big”, he would know. “It must recurse here,” he would also know, having a picture of a recursing tree in his head. Somewhere in this process, something that he was doing began to give the dogs an extremely virulent cancer days after hydration, and it was important to have the dog ready when this cancer was ripe. Ripe was the closest word Milo knew, anyhow.
“Unclean” was also an approximation of something that Predicate Green Symptom had told him about. Waking time was finite. There was a dirt approaching. Maybe it was dirty things, or dirt that was on things. It could be something abstract in and of itself; an approaching meme that was the enemy of Predicate Green Symptom. Milo did not know.
From under the foil, the latest Daisy buzzed and picked up one last transmission.
It said, before its voice codec trailed off in a guttural hum.
The voice was neither masculine nor feminine, and it was accompanied by a gurgling hum. Milo thought it sounded a bit like a washing machine with a bad cold.
"Who are you?", he asked.
"Predicate Green Symptom," was the reply, and the way the voice made his guts clench suggested that Milo accept it. He bit his lip and hoped he didn't offend it, whatever it was.
The voice spoke again, "I need things. You will know. But they will try to stop you."
"I'll try," said Milo, his voice cracking a little. He dared not ask who They were.
He stood there, staring at the door in silence for half an hour more, before it felt like time to leave. But as he turned away, he heard the voice whisper "You are better than they are."
Milo's relationship with the voice slowly evolved. It rarely spoke, and when it did it never revealed much. However, sometimes after a silent session of staring at the door, he would come to an understanding. The voice would need a dog this time. Or, next time, make it talk. Or that 'They' were 'The Unclean Ones'.
When he brought Daisy number four, the first one that could speak, his curiosity overwhelmed him. He had his blindfold on, as instructed: a sleeper's eyemask, covered by an entire roll of medical gauze, and sealed by duct tape. It took Milo almost fifteen minutes to put it on, and he had to keep his head closely shaved. He had scratched three times before opening the door and tossing Daisy in. The familiar thump was accompanied by Daisy's yelping, "ow! fuck!", and followed by whining which was suddenly silenced. He closed the door, and began unpeeling the duct tape, and waited for a response. It never came. When he found it was time to leave, he paused, then asked, "Why? Why do you need these?"
Milo suddenly felt as if he no longer had any skin, and was covered in salt. Even over his screaming he could hear the response like the roaring of a waterfall, "Predicate Green Symptom!"
When he woke up, he no longer felt like asking any more questions.
Milo shook his head. He urged himself to pay attention, there would be time to daydream later. His duty was to stand at the door until dismissed. He shifted his stance from one foot to the other, trying to quash the impatience rising withing him.
He felt it. It was time. But so soon? Had the voice read his mind and become offended? With a dejected sigh he walked back to his bed and flopped down, staring at the ceiling.
This time would be different. It would have to be. The Unclean Ones were closing in. This Daisy would be the last one, and if he failed to deliver, bad things would happen.
Very bad things.
The voder started in immediately with a stream of phonemes. This had been a persistent effect after Milo had removed the blanket protection architecture in order to insert his own code. Dog voders are are rarely made with more precision than required for barking and diagnostic coughing, and in Daisy's case it typically used a set of auxiliary nerves tacked onto the voice box. She seemed to take the lack of control over her voice box with a confused acceptance by letting her mouth hang open and trying to maneuver it towards her broken limb via the neck. Once she achieved this, managing to press the tongue against her paw, she seemed to resign to only letting her eyes move. The transmission continued through this, already warped from over compression and emerging from the dog in forced rasps. Milo knew it probably wasn't English, but the word sequences had a distinctly military inflection; even, copious whitespace between individual words, never too many syllables, and sometimes long repeated sequences.
Somebody knew they were transmitting on a low bandwidth channel.
Milo covered Daisy in a sheet of aluminum foil and listened to the sequence peter out into a long, dry wheeze. If he let it continue it would go until the larynx was ruined, it it would become infected shortly thereafter. He began setting Daisy's paw with the splint he had been perfecting over the last ten generations. It placed the bones at an odd angle that would make it hard for Daisy to walk. With any luck she would heal before developing anything terminal, like the last Daisy. It had been nearly a month since he'd successfully deployed a dog into the back room, and he was worried that confidence in his ability to deliver would be diminished. Not that he was being graded. Not that he even received much more than short words of acceptance from the other side of the wall. Still, he wanted to deliver. Whatever was in the back room, he did not want to go away.
It was a span of years before Milo ever heard speech from the room. It began as only a certainty one morning that there was something in his workshop. The lights were not on, but Milo dared not enter because he knew, for some reason, that something was in there. He was so certain that the first day he sat by the door, listening and hearing nothing. The following week he purchased a stethoscope, and finally a small camera he intended to slide under the door. This he did not do, however, for by this time he knew that it was improper. Eventually he also knew not to loiter by the door until it seemed proper to do so; a feeling of moral obligation. These sessions were initially awkward, since Milo did not have any reason to be standing there. He would often tell himself that he liked to read there, bringing a book with him but never getting father than a few pages. Eventually he just stood in front of the door and looked at his shoes until it was the right time to leave. This was usually a span of an hour.
Then one day, it finally talked to him. “Hello Milo.” it said. Milo did not jump when this happened, because he practically expected it.
Milo rested his hand on the new dog, and absently stroked its coarse fur, feeling the soft vibration of the impeller starting, and the sudden pop of the capsule containing the animation catalyst releasing. It would take half an hour for the half terabyte of AI markup to transfer to the new dog, and slightly longer for the synthmeat to finish rehydrating.
On Milo's desk was the skull of the second Daisy, its lidless eyes staring sightlessly. He kept the brainchip on his eGo chain. He had hacked the boot-code and tore out the non-essentials, replacing it with his own, special data. A dozen or so generations back, out of curiousity, he looked at the the datastream, but it had already evolved into incomprehensibility. It was fortunate that the low end models used old, cheap processors. The newer ones frequently broke back compatability. With proper care, a high end dog could last years, a cheap one like this could last a year. At least in theory. The quarterly change of Med-grade heme suspension could buy another ten dogs.
Old Daisy lasted seventeen days.
A soft beep signaled the end of the download, and Milo unhooked the cables. Already, New Daisy's chest was rising and falling rhythmically, the organic boot sequence progressing smoothly. He still had a little time. He cradled Old Daisy's body in his arms, carrying it to the kitchen closet. He spread Daisy out on the shelf counter, then cut carefully into the soft belly with electric scissors, wrinkling his nose at the smell. "Don't want to puncture the gut like last time," he muttered to himself.
Milo grabbed the edges of the cut, and pulled. Even through the fibrous bag of connective tissue, he could see the tumors spreading through the swollen organs. "It must have been unbelievably painful," he whispered. He tossed the carcass into the disposal and flushed twice.
On his desk, Daisy was stirring, the synthmeat muscles flexing as they awakened. Milo took her left forepaw, already warm, then twisted until he felt the tendon snap, then let it lay there at an impossible angle. Daisy whimpered, as if having a bad dream.
At last Daisy opened her eyes, and whimpering, licked her broken paw. Her state of the art digital eyes focused on Milo, and her ears flattened. And in her throat her voder chip struggled with sounds it was not designed to make.
"Jesus god, not again!"
What has gone before
Milo was home a little bit late today, but it didn't really matter. The only other inhabitant of his apartment was a small dog that was, as expected, dead on the floor. "She would have to not only pick a spot on the carpet to die, but shit herself in the process," Milo thought.
Her name was Daisy, and aside from the bowel failure (typical when the breed is killed improperly), she looked as if she had wedged herself partially under the couch and then found something on the ceiling that made her very angry. Milo sighed, and tried to finesse a paper towel under the mass of feces such that it separated cleanly from the carpet with only partial success. He wouldn't try and play garbage can basketball with the paper towel, but he would play ninja stars with the dog. He flicked Daisy into the air with as much spin as possible and just the right arc, and watched all her limbs splay out in the air in an off-white blur. Daisy hit Milo's desk straight against the shoulder; there was enough fur to stop her momentum with almost no bounce; almost as if the corpse were carefully placed on the desk (score).
This breed came with a flap over the data port that you exposed by yanking on a little tendon that peeked out from the underbelly of the animal. The nice ones had better ways of doing this; some had a marsupial pouch that you pulled open after death that exposed a nice OIB port grown into new skin. Some of the high end foreign models even had an entire gland; a lattice of blood vessels just below the ribcage that were kept empty of blood by an internal sphincter. Upon death it would relax, engorging the structure such that it would break its seal and inflate into a stylish data interface. There were even tutorials online detailing where to inject the muscle relaxants to get to the port while it was still alive. Daisy, however, was not nearly as cool. The tendon Milo yanked on pulled a crudely made device out of the belly of the dog through a weak point in the skin. It was connected directly to the spine via a flimsy thread of the same tendon material with a core of neurons. Once you broke the skin there was nothing else you could really do with the body; they went bad faster than cafeteria seafood.
The new Daisy was the same breed. Not any particular breed, really. These were more of what a foreign marketing committee thought Americans would expect a dog to look like. Triangular ears, short beige fur, and a head that seemed to be plagiarized from a Labrador and scaled down to fit. It reminded Milo of grape candy that was more purple than grape flavored. Not bad, considering. The really cheap ones were put into production before the designers even got them to look like dogs, so Daisy wasn't the bottom of the barrel entirely but was what your typical chain convenience store would sell next to the beef jerky and generic brand condoms.
Daisy came in a clear plastic package with a cardboard backing that featured hastily drawn cartoons of what could be assumed was the dog, doing a host of dog things. Daisy wasn't a name given to the dog before sale, of course. Milo had owned a naturally born Bichon Frise many years ago and her name was Daisy. This Daisy came with a bright banner across her packaging that read "BLISTER PUPPY". The brand name was a combination of bad English and the slang that came around when these types of pets became cheap enough to make it out of the Neiman Marcus catalog, through the mall and the home appliance centers, and finally into the grocery and drug stores where they were typically offered in blister packs. He stuffed the packaging detritus into the convenience store bag and set the new Daisy next to the old one. The new one came with a little suction cup that covered the right eyeball and extended into an OIB port whose connector dangled on a little wire, coiled and secured with a tie wrap. This Milo unraveled and plugged into the old Daisy. Old Daisy barely shuddered