Chapter 1 - Understory
was sitting in the tub, watching the sun sink slowly into the tropical sea
leading up to its usual, but still surprising, final rush for the horizon. It
looked so beautiful that I felt a typical rush of guilt as I recognized how
lucky I was, not only a part of the small fraction of humanity that had
survived the apocalypse, but one of the very few who lived in luxury. It
clearly wasn't my fault that billions had died, but
how many thousands, millions had died due to my actions or, maybe, my inaction.
I had helped some, an extremely small number, who probably considered me some kind of saint. To a lot more, I was probably more of a
demonic, murdering bastard from hell.
would history view me, I wondered, assuming of course that we would survive as
a species long enough for anyone to really care. Although I tried to
communicate confidence that we should be OK now, with death rates dropping and
birth rates soaring, I knew that the way that we had fucked-up the environment
over the last century could come back and bite us at any time. Was extinction
really on the cards or was this just the inevitable pessimism associated with
advancing years and awareness of my own mortality? Only time would tell.
discrete cough brought me back to the present, reminding me that I was supposed
to be narrating my autobiography. A raven-haired girl - either Sue or Sophie, I
could never tell them apart - was taking my dictation down on an antiquated
solar-powered word processor. It was one of those things made to be sold in the
third world for a hundred bucks US in the '10s or thereabouts. Of course,
between the start of design and final production, hyperinflation had turned
this into about ten thou; but it was still about a hundred turn-of-the-century
US, if you calculated it in Mars Bars or some other real commodity.
or Sophie, was staring at me questioningly and I realized that musing on the
source of her tool had caused the restart of my monologue to die stillborn.
Happened a lot these days; old age certainly does not come alone, rejuv or no
rejuv. "Sorry, where was I?"
cooker," she replied, her dark eyes flashing as they caught the last
direct rays of the vanishing sun.
yes, the rice cooker hypothesis." I switched to auto dictate mode and
forced my mind back to the story of the collapse of civilization as we used to
know it. I'm not sure that I really believe it, but
it's such a great yarn that it deserves to be true. How many ends of the world
have there been? It's such a common theme in books,
vids and the old online games that you'd have thought that all options had been
covered. Asteroids, plagues, wars, invasions of aliens. There were even
Krakens, killer tomatoes, birds and demons in TV sets.
But nobody considered the humble rice cooker as the vector of the apocalypse.
true, it wasn't the cooker directly. Just that,
according to documents unearthed during post-mortem work now going on in Japan,
this seems to be the way that al-Qaeda inserted their virus into the global
internet. Now, you have to remember that, by the early
'40s, this Islamic terrorist group had been fairly well forgotten. Old fogies
like myself remembered the early 9-11 and LPG attacks. However, after the US
backed out of the Middle East, the collapse of the dollar caused more chaos
than a bunch of mad ragheads in caves could dream of and Arab terrorism
returned to being a much more domestic activity.
was inevitable that some opening for hackers would exist. Security was always a
big issue for communication in the various inter-, intra-
and domestic micro-nets that evolved into the U, the universal ethernet.
Nevertheless, despite gigabucks, anything that can be designed, can be designed
around. For every white hat, there is an equal and opposite black hat. For
decades this was the way that a large fraction of the rather incestuous
communities of IT cops and robbers spent their time.
the hack was actually done, the smart thing about the
particular virus used was its combination of high speed of propagation and long
incubation time. It was so small that it could spread undetected through the
entire U within its nine month gestation period: achieving
effectively 100% infection of every electronically interlinked piece of
equipment. In 2041 that was simply everything more sophisticated than a soupspoon.
Maybe even smarter, however, was its target: the Gödelization routine that was
the basis of all memory units. Of course, you don't
get these now; today it's back to the stone age of simple magnetic and optical
digital storage. But, for quantum computers, Gödelization was really the cat's
was a couple of Indian mathematicians who came up with a practical manner of
using QCs to both factorize truly huge numbers and break them down into a
minimum-sized exponential expansion. Something to do with minimizing entropy.
Or was it maximizing entropy? Whatever, it was number theory at its most
obtuse. Gödelization, on the other hand, is just a simple way of coding
information as numbers, the only problem being that the resulting numbers
rapidly become mind-bogglingly gigantic and hence the back calculation to
decode them is extremely laborious.
Gödelization with a bit of quantum-level mathematical legerdemain, however, and
you have the tool that revolutionized 21st century computing. The
Exabytes of information in a major library could rapidly be converted into a
gigantic number that was, in turn, reduced to a minute data string. Moore's Law
was kind of forgotten about then as, in effect, both processing speeds and
storage capacities were so large that they could be considered near as dammit infinite. This was a bit like invention of the
transistor, only with more immediate applications. QCs could carry out
calculations at gobsmacking speeds and the Gödelization trick made information
storage and retrieval trivial. The math professors shared a Fields Medal, while
the geek who patented the resulting software package became the richest man on
, Cof. This bloody thing keeps buggering about with
Gödelization, putting wee dots over the o." Sue-Sophie was clearly
ignore it: it's an umlaut. We don't have them since
the Germanic tongues joined ancient Greek and Sanskrit as dead languages. Along
with French and all their bloody accents; just shows that there's
some progress in the world, when you think about this at least! That toy you're using predates this giant leap for mankind. Anyway,
where was I?"
virus targeted the Gödelization routines."
OK, here we go. The problem with the subroutines involved was that they had
been bootstrapped by QC artificial intelligences... " It's all a bit
mystical when you try to put quantum operating procedures down in plain text.
The process that R&W came up with - the Indian guys were Rama and a bloke
with a name about half a paragraph long, starting with W and ending in -sing -
inherently allowed for the process to be self-improving as, apparently,
whenever a quantum calculation had been done once, it never needed to be
repeated. Incidentally, this little aside in their work proved unambiguously
that no higher intelligences exist in our particular neck
of the universe. Although this formally applied only to those using quantum
computers within our light cone, the gutter press interpreted this as
demonstrating that God did not exist, resulting in Rama being assassinated by a
rabid Christian who took this badly and W-whatever disappearing into isolation
in a military barracks somewhere in the foothills of Tibet.
the idea of lifting yourself by your own bootstraps, is nowhere better
applicable than in QC. Advanced quantum computers need electromagnetic fields
that preserve qubits for long enough to allow a calculation to be performed:
fields so complex that they can only be practically maintained by advanced QCs.
Basically, all you have to do is construct the first
prototype and then it's a self-propagating process. Well, self-propagating with
a bit of basic nanotech and given sufficient energy and raw materials. But with
the huge number-crunching capacity available, muon-catalyzed fusion and
directed transmutation become practical and hence you can build intelligence
into just about everything.
course, just because you can, doesn't mean you have
to. There's no physical law that makes you do it; just
the Law of Commercial Drive. This is probably the most powerful force for good
- or, more often evil - since the mid-20th Century. Take the
telephone. This was once something that was very useful
because it allowed you to talk to somebody when it was so urgent, or you were
so lazy, that a letter wouldn't do. This was changed a little when a generation
grew up with the things; then letters were a kind of emergency option when you couldn't get someone to answer the phone or you were
marooned on a middle-of-bugger-all desert island. But technology then allowed
mobile phones to do more things: act as calculators, diaries, cameras, music and video recorders, access the U. After a bit,
commercial pressure built up to use all technology possible to cram more
options into the smallest size Handy. It could, literally, sonic your teeth,
holographically analyze your painful big toe and guarantee your girlfriend an
orgasm. Oh, yes, and also allow you to talk to people.
More than 99% of the services provided by this workhorse of the '20s and '30s
were things that people at the beginning of the century hadn't
even dreamt that they could ever want.
this is where it comes to the rice cooker. You still remember that? You
probably could have constructed a form of mobile phone that could zap rice with
tailored microwaves, but purist Japanese would certainly not accept a
substitute for a nice, big, solid rice cooker. Of course, like all other bigger
service items such as air conditioners, hot tubs and toasters, the Drive
ensured that all possible intelligence was built in, along with full two-way
communication capacity. You never knew when you might need to reprogram your
rice cooker because you were going to be a bit late home or had changed your
mind about that curry and were going to have home-made sushi instead; the rice
cooker could then liaise with the fridge and the U food-provider to sort out all
the logistical details involved.
by default, every piece of equipment that could possibly be interlinked, was
interlinked - and the linkages were often simply left to themselves to grow and
mesh as was needed, under the directions of the ever-present QC controllers.
the stage was set for a life of luxury for everyone on this somewhat
shagged-out old planet. Of course, getting as far as 2040 with the huge
population wave breaking at that time was, in itself, an
amazing tribute to the power of the developing technology. Despite runaway
global warming, exploitive mining of all major groundwater resources, pollution
of land, air and water and population spread to even the most unsuitable
locations, for decade after decade we managed to totter on the brink of
multiple catastrophes. There were, indeed, some close misses, but disasters
were contained and the final collapse never came. The support infrastructure
provided by the directed efforts of unlimited computer power always managed to
haul the coals from the fire. Everyone, or almost everyone, became complacent.
Why not? The QC-driven artificial intelligences could solve any problem they
were presented with. So why worry?
girl entered the spacious onsen and sat behind my hard-working secretary, A blonde:
Helga or Heidi. Heidi, it was; a rusty relay in my cortex tripped and reminded
me of her confused expression when I had laughed after she informed me that her
brother was called Peter. One of my masseuse team. She was starting to work on
Sue/Sophie's neck, evidently a very pleasant experience if the low moan was
anything to go by.
my distraction, the moan changed into a muttered "... and the Survivalists
weren't in much better shape." Even with her eyes closed, the black-haired
girl radiated amusement in the way she could read my questions before I had
even get around to framing them myself.
the Survivalists and a lot of other groups of varying degrees of nuttiness did
their best to stay out of this joined-up world and retreated to their backwoods
fortresses with their over-dimensioned arsenals and under-dimensioned
libraries." Nevertheless, in general these weren't
the types to stick to flintlocks when the latest smart rifles could shoot round
corners, penetrate DU armor and had hundred shot magazines. Also, if you're living out in the boonies, you need a car: which
meant a rather smart piece of kit after hydrocarbons were phased out as fuels
in the early '30s.
course, there were some pastoralists who really did opt out - the Amish and a
range of other God-bothers come to mind - but they were few and far between.
They had to be. The option of opting out of all technology more sophisticated
than a horse-drawn cart or plough was available only to very
small communities that were privileged enough to have access to the
large areas of land needed to support their low-tech lifestyles. With global
populations heading for ten billion, there simply wasn't
enough space to have very many of these.
then there was me. I wasn't the only one, of course,
but there weren't a lot of folk wealthy enough to live their hobby of freezing
time in the year 2025. Well, actually, I suppose there
were plenty of people rich enough; it's probably fairer to say that there
weren't many people weird enough to do such a thing. That's
when I picked up my nickname - Cof. The Crazy Old Fool, that's
what my neighbors called me. Actually, that was the
polite ones. Crazy Old Fuck was probably more common, especially amongst the
let out a very un-ladylike snort and broke into my monologue. "You're
joking, Cof, aren't you? That's not really where your
name comes from, is it?"
fucking right it is! In the early days, I must
confess, I was a bit pissed off when I first picked up
on the name they called me behind my back. Anyway, with time, I kind of took to
it. Especially after the way things turned out. Anyway, it was a hell of a lot
better than being called Herman."
snort and a giggle from my secretary. "Mmm, maybe you're right." The
tall blond looked thoughtful. "Cof's definitely a slicker name than
Herman. And we probably all agree that you're pretty
crazy, like a fox. Yep - Crazy Old Fox - that'd just about sum it up."
Smart as shit, all these girls. They knew exactly how to
play me: no sycophancy, but just enough casual banter, with the odd hidden
stroke to my ego, to keep me amused.
well, whatever. The key thing was that, by the mid '20s, I was rolling in dosh.
It was all a bit of a fluke, really, because I started off as a lowly materials
scientist, developing piezo-electric organometallic polymers for use in data
gloves: you know for those old clunky virtual reality systems. I had produced a
fantastic tactile membrane, which was not only incredibly sensitive, but also
registered and simulated the sensations associated with contact with fluids.
Unfortunately, this was just when QCs were bringing in immersion holograms and
tactile force fields, so the entire project went belly up and, after a decade
and a half of work, I was shown the door; with the patents covering my polymer
work in place of a gold watch. The stroke of luck, though, was that I was
living with my sister, who was completely addicted to masturbation."
snort was even louder. "Come on, Cof, you're making this up! You can't
tell us that you got mega-rich because your young sister liked to jack-off!"
listen, wench, and you might learn something! Anyway, she's my older sister, even if a bit better preserved than I
am." We were, I suppose, a very strange family. Our parents were both
career managers, who seemed to have decided together that a nuclear family with
one of each would be a good thing to have. It fit in with the house in London,
the flat in New York and the Villa in Tuscany. We had au pairs and housekeepers
who looked after us and occasional visits from the Old Dears, when they could
conveniently fit it into their busy schedules. So we grew up very
close, with my sister, Andrea, taking the lead role throughout, even
though she was less than two years older. We separated to go to University; I
had seven years at Edinburgh while she spent nine at Heidelberg. However, after
we graduated, she suggested getting a flat together in Oxford. We lived
together there for about fifteen years.
My amanuensis called me back to the present from the beginning of a stroll down
a long and winding memory lane.
yes, I was coming to that. We grew up very close
together..." As children we bathed together, slept together
and went through puberty together. We had some very strange au pairs but one,
in particular - Margit her name was - had a major influence on us. She was
completely casual about clothing; I guess her family was solid German FKK. When
working she wore short skirts and loose blouses, but never knickers or bras.
When in her room after work, she never wore anything, even when we came to
visit her, as we did with great regularity. I guess Andrea was about eleven or
twelve when Margit taught her how to masturbate properly and gave her free
access to a drawer full of sex toys.
my sis took to wanking like a dog to water. I think
she also took to Margit, although it wasn't for
another decade or so before she finally gave up experimenting with boys and
decided that she was 100% lesbian. At this time,
remember it was at the end of last century, it wasn't easy for young girls to
get their hands on porn. So, although younger, I got pressurized into
purchasing the porn mags and vids that my sister craved. Not a problem for me,
though, I quickly grew keen on those things, almost as much as she was.
this was, what, when you were in your teens?"
but this is all background so that you can understand that, when we shared the
flat, we didn't have the most conventional brother-sister relationship."
you were shagging your sister?"
I wasn't. Apart from anything else, she's
fucking lesbian to the core, as I told you. We just were very casual and
relaxed about nudity and sex. She had her girlfriends stay regularly and I had
mine. She was always flirting with my girls and, I must confess, I chanced my
arm a couple of times with some of her bi pals. Yes, well, it might have ended
up with three or more in a bed on a couple of drunken occasions, but I never
had sex with my sister."
did get a little bit strained when Andrea finally found her perfect girlfriend,
the one she wanted to spend her life with. I thought it was finally time for us
to set up on our own, but her partner, Tina, was a commercial pilot and actually spent more time overnighting around the world than
she did in the UK. So we had a two-phase life; I was gooseberry to the two
lovebirds when Tina was at home and it was back to normal with Andrea
masturbating to old lesbo sex videos when Tina was travelling the globe. That
was the thing about my sister, she considered onanism to be a social thing.
Thought it was really sad to be wanking alone, when
you could be doing it along with others.
something to do with the influence of your au pair, Margaret was it?" Heidi
was clearly fascinated.
I corrected, automatically. "You could be right; I've never really thought
about it. It was just the way she always was."
but I still don't see... "
Christ's sake, I'm getting there, woman. If you'd stop bloody interrupting I'd be able to tell the
blond rolled her eyes and mimed the process of zipping her lips closed.
well, I really felt it was time to go, but didn't have the heart to leave my
sister on her lonesome. I first rigged up a two-way vid link, so the girls
could share a lesbo vid and also see each other on a
split screen, but it still didn't have the intimacy that my sister wanted. Then
I got fired ... "
was serendipitous, I suppose. I had patents to a material with no applications
and a sister who was desperate for closer contact with her lover. It only took
a couple of hours of programing to set up a prototype for interactive pressure
transfer between two sheets of polymer and five minutes to talk Andrea into
giving it a try. It was successful beyond my wildest dreams: now when Andrea
touched herself, Tina could feel every sensation - and vice versa. As soon as
one of them became moist, the other could feel it directly. According to my
sister, the realism of the contact was unbelievable and, although planned to
help them when Tina was abroad, this quickly became a major component of their
love life together, as they experimented with a wider and wider range of sex
first version resembled a very tight pair of diaphanous panties, but, for
Christmas, I treated them to body-suits of the same material. Probably the best
present I have ever given anyone: I don't think they
emerged from their bedroom until the evening of Boxing Day. Just then I
realized that I might have a commercial product on my hands. I contacted the
biggest producer of marital aids, as they were then called, and the rest is
invented all those things, yourself?"
initially it was just the pants and body suits, focused on the female market. I
admit that I was rather naive; I hadn't realized that
self-abuse had such a huge customer base. But my commercial partner certainly
did. Although the firm was based in Sydney, Australia, they assigned a product
development agent to work with me as soon as we had agreed a contract. She was
an Ozzie called Kelly and didn't at all look the part of a sex toy
Actually, she looked like somebody's mum. Dumpy and homely. I'm not at all what you would call a shy person, but I
confess I had problems at first even discussing our products with her. It just
shows how wrong impressions can be. She was born for the job, being the
possessor of one of the dirtiest minds that I have ever encountered. I had
thought my sister had pretty wide experience of sex
toys, but this was nothing compared to Kelly. The company she worked for had a
massive catalogue and she appeared to have tried them all.
was an extremely productive collaboration. She dreamed up the specifications
and I did the actual design and programing. The most fascinating work I've ever done. Until then I had no idea of what people got
kicks out of doing to themselves - and how keen they and others were to share
the experience. It was easy enough to couple suits and toys to vid or holo
links, the critical thing was that I had the patents on the magic polymer.
Within a year, Kelly had her own design team and I was back to fundamental
materials science: building in temperature functionality and improving textural
sensitivity and mechanical performance. This was cutting edge stuff, a film as
thick as a few coats of paint that could transmit the full sensations of being
reamed by a twelve-inch todger.
very thought brings tears to my eyes," Heidi grimaced theatrically.
you've tried it yourself?"
silence was broken by a giggle from my secretary. "You walked into that
Heid. Folk rarely admit to it, but I guess everyone has tried some alternative
options in secret at one time or another."
I suppose that was something contributing to the huge success of the toys. In
private you could try anything at all that you had ever dreamt of. It was the
logical end product of an evolution that started with
Paleolithic Venuses and dildos carved from wood or stone and took off with the
first internet porn sites. Of course, it also helped that, by the '20s, the
population explosion was really pushing demand on resources to breaking point
and any option that could satisfy the natural human imperative for sexual
gratification without risk of producing children was strongly supported by
national governments, even if such support was tacit
in most cases."
surely contraception is an easier solution to that problem."
in a lot of developed countries but, even in some of these, there were religious
taboos that limited application back then. But the real problem was what was
called the third world in those days - Africa, Central America, Central Asia -
where population growth rates were highest. Not only were there cultural blocks
to acceptance of chemical contraception, the actions of some of the bloody aid
agencies very seriously fucked things up."
was some mega riot somewhere: in Africa?"
had clearly forgotten that she was supposed to be staying quiet but, as my
faithful scribe was taking it all down, this was probably as good a way of
getting my story documented as any other.
in the old Republic of South Africa. Some fuckwits in a US-sponsored charity
decided that adding a contraceptive into local drinking water would be the best
way to solve the problem of population growth. They couldn't
have screwed up things better if fucking-up scientific population control had
been their original intention. Not only was the action uncovered only after
water had been contaminated in five major cities, but the contraceptive effect
was racially selective for blacks and Asians and caused irreversible loss of
reproductive capacity for both men and women."
term mega riot hardly covered the response of the affected population and their
neighbors: it was closer to civil war. Although the US link was exposed and
resulted in the bombing of embassies and consulates throughout the African
continent, blame was extended also to Europeans and the local white
populations. The final death toll will never be known, but it was certainly
many tens of thousands in Africa - and almost fifteen thousand in Washington DC
as a result of weaponized cholera released into a
reservoir in a revenge attack by black African terrorists. Typically, most of
those who died in the States were poor blacks living in sordid ghettos, rather
than the white fatcats and politicos who had been targeted.
" Sue/Sophie reminded me.
well, as you can imagine, all this fuss led to a great reluctance to use
chemicals that were predominantly produced by Western megacorps and might be
part of a plot to sterilize the populations of less developed countries. It was
a bit of a global catastrophe but, for me, one with a silver lining. The kit we
were selling was not only perceived as safe but also, due to its rapid initial
spread through Europe, the States, Japan and
Australasia, seen as an indicator of development and cultural sophistication. I
remember in 2030, the year that the population hit nine billion, we estimated that
our total sales had topped five hundred million. That's when I decided that I
was rich enough to stop working and sold out."
sold out? That's crazy! That stuff must have been
selling like hotcakes. There's even a fair amount of
pre-QC kit that some of the staff here have, but they hoard it like gold dust.
You must have lost a fortune."
I did sell my share of the company plus the patents for a small fortune. No, I
should be honest here; it wasn't really a small
fortune, it was actually a fucking huge one. Certainly
it was unspendably huge for me. Remember, only a decade earlier I had been an
unemployed boffin sharing a flat with my sister. But, after I hit fifty, I
decided that there were other things I wanted to do with my life. Earning megabucks
was too distracting, so I just took a bulk sum and decided to turn dosh into
you guessed that things were about to go belly-up?" my secretary enquired.
Unlike Heidi, she had clearly remembered the initial thread that had led to my
diversion into the sex toy business.
hadn't the foggiest idea, to be honest. Well, predictions of the collapse of
civilization were produced on a regular basis but, as a last minute solution
always seemed to emerge, the rantings of global catastrophe Cassandras weren't taken too seriously. I suppose I expected that some kind of local disaster was inevitable, but not anything
like what actually happened."
there is anything that explains my decision to set up this estate, it's
probably that I'm basically an antisocial hedonist... "
with an inordinate fondness for young ladies!"
yes, indeed, with a desire to be pampered by beautiful women. And, thinking of
this, it's about time I got out of this tub before I look like a prune...
you mean, more like a prune!"
clambered from the bath and posed in profile. "That's the only problem
with the toys I produced, too much self-abuse and you go blind. If you weren't being regularly rogered by huge virtual dongs, you'd
realize that your employer is a veritable Adonis."
smirked as she looked me up and down and then turned to pat down a thick towel
on the massage table. "Not too bad, for someone of your advanced
years," she conceded.
bad? Not bad? I'll have you know this is the best kit
that money can buy. I got this rejuv in 2035, when the technology got really
nailed down. The entire shooting match is biological age thirty, and will be
for decades yet."
about the brain though," Sue added. Based on that comment, it must be Sue,
I concluded; blunt as baseball bat, that I certainly remembered about her.
that was a bit of a miscalculation." I clambered onto the massive massage
table and made myself comfortable, face down, while a huge towel was draped
over my body. Heidi then turned up the lower edge and started to apply pressure
to points on the souls of my feet.
miscalculation, but also maybe a stroke of luck in my misfortune. Gluck im
Ungluck, as they said when German still existed. There was no way that I had
been going to let anybody bugger around with my brain
until the procedures were mature and proven to be without long-term side
effects. Early cortical rejuvenation was entirely biochemical and, to be
honest, was a bit hit and miss. Some brain functions were certainly improved,
but loss of blocks of memory was a common result. Then came the brain implants.
These were much better targeted and, if anything, improved memory retention;
but I just didn't like any invasive technique that
involves a bunch of glorified mechanics guddling about within my skull.
Finally, in 2040, biomechanical tuning using a combination of nanomachines and
external EM control fields emerged. After swithering for months, I finally
booked in for the three weeks of treatment required. It would have taken place
in March 2041. The rice cooker time bomb went off on February 20th.
So I was just too late for brain rejuv. Who knows if this technology will ever
be recovered but, in any case, it probably won't be
until it's too late for me. On the other hand, if Gödelization had been lost in
the middle of treatment, I certainly would have been one of the billion or so
people who died immediately as a result of this hack