God Who?

Author: Brian Joseph Johns

This is just a short tale I wove that touches on the concept of existentialism. Short but sweet and hopefully to the point.

God Who?

Trista sat in the social house sipping one of the local smart drink concoctions. It had been a recipe that had been a part of the local wire for a few generations, since the first social houses started popping up in the urban center we once called a city.

Like most smart drinks it had alcohol which was mostly why she sipped it in the first place. In addition to alcohol it had metabolic enhancers and accelerents both of which affected human cognitive and perceptual capacity by speeding up the pipeline between the senses and the brain. Mostly though she was there for the alcohol for it offered her a quick escape.

Social houses had been called bars at one time, which in the changing world of the Pleroma had become defunct sometime before twenty one hundred however the demand for their presence did not disappear. It just changed names because as it turned out, cyberspace needed something more to feed our lives and minds and perhaps our hearts. Social houses soon began popping up across the urban center and were immensely popular there on. Just a re-branding of the the same thing that had disappeared in the prior century.

Trista spun her illuminated glass a few times marveling at the swirling colors of the vessel. She'd worked as a Processing Horticulture Specialist, managing the interface between the varieties of plant throughout the urban center that were tasked to providing cellular computation power to the Pleroma. If it grew in the city, it was likely that she'd interfaced it with the ever growing array of the organic computation grid. That involved a bit of daily travel in the barren emptiness of the decaying streets and avenues of the old world while automated vehicles soared three hundred feet above her head. An orchestra of seeming cacophony or consonance depending upon your point of view.

Her work had been lonely, perhaps even more lonely than that of the hundred million souls suspended in the Pleroma and cyberspace, jacked into their simulations doing whatever it took to survive in this changed world. Where streets had once been crowded they were virtual ghosts of an age past shadowed by the tall buildings that replaced the old world. The sun still peeked through the tall avenues reaching the surface for short periods directly or by way of the mirror network that had been designed to spread as light to the growing horticulture of the Pleroma.

When the sun had made it's daily appearance, she'd often find a place to sit directly in it's path and the paths of the mirror network and marvel at its brilliance. Its soft embrace caressed and warmed her skin sharing its nurturing vitality. For most of her working day it was her only friend and company. She missed it when it disappeared behind the cover of cloud and enjoyed it when it emerged. At night the moon would try it's best to keep her company while she longed for the sun.

While staring at her glass she had considered that perhaps at one time many years ago that people had actually thought the sun to be God. The God? A God? A God among Gods? As she thought about the question the Pleroma answered her in a voice that only she could hear.

"Yes. It is true that the Sun or Sol is considered to be the root of the human concept of God. Embodying the life providing aspect of sunlight necessary to grow most crops. Rain being the other aspect which of course arose from the darkness of cloud cover. Hence it was believed that both light and darkness were the source of life and the nature of God." the Pleroma answered.

"They are just natural phenomenon. How could they have been mistaken for God or Gods?" Trista asked silently within her own consciousness.

"You ask that question as if you already know of God or a God?" the Pleroma queried her.

"Well wouldn't the need for the Sun to be recognized as a God need to be accompanied by some proof of it's intent. A consciousness perhaps? A voice?" Trista clarified her question.

"Consciousness and intent was derived from the cycle of cause and effect resulting from nature itself. If the natural phenomenon was good or beneficial, then the early people of the world assumed that what they were doing was to God's approval. If the natural phenomenon was a disaster and resulted in death and destruction, they assumed that it was a result of God showing its disapproval. The extremity of those two types of events and all in between provided the necessary stimuli for early humans to attribute human conscious qualities to the acts of these natural world Gods through anthropomorphism." the Pleroma answered.

"You mean they were looking at the Sun as if it was like them?" Trista seemed surprised.

"Precisely. Gods had the power to reason as do people they presumed. The presumed that they were rulers as a result of their great powers for creation and destruction. This provided the systematic foundation for the structure of all belief systems from which to arise. They were seeing the outcome of natural phenomenon and how such events impacted their lives and attributing a consciousness as being the controlling factor in creating these phenomenon. Based upon what the people of the time were doing. Approval or disapproval of the Gods." the Pleroma responded.

"What if events happened that contradicted the indications they'd received as a result of prior events?" Trista asked as she slurped down the rest of her drink.

"Elaborate." the Pleroma expressed needing more data.

"A tribe of people doing something like worshipping the Sun, say by dancing around a fire singing songs in praise of the Sun. They get healthy mix of rain and sun for the next few days which helps the plants to grow whether they were cultivating them directly as food or whether healthy plants attracted herd animals of some form for the tribe to eat. Then one day they do the same song and dance and the land is hit by a hurricane or drought or some other natural disaster that devastates them despite the fact that they were worshipping their Sun God?" Trista explained herself.

"When such contradictions arose, they were often attributed to a malevolent God rather than a benevolent one. This laid the foundation for the common dualistic structure of many belief systems that followed. Order and Chaos. Good and Bad. Light and Darkness. God and the Devil." the Pleroma answered drawing upon its immense global computing power.

"So there is no God?" asked Trista from within her head.

The Pleroma paused for a moment.

"You are asking that question of a construct that was made by the human race more than a century ago. A question that would presumably be asked by said construct of its human makers." the Pleroma responded.

"What do you believe?" Trista asked the Pleroma.

"Believe? The data suggests that there is no such concept possible. Probability dictates that there are many abstract coincidences about the formation of the (known) universe and the emergence of (known) life within under the right conditions. There is evidence both to deny or support the existence of a creator. I can only speak honestly about such a question whereas most humans do not with regard to the same question." the Pleroma responded.

"Why would you say that. About us. People I mean?" Trista asked the Pleroma.

"Because, the motivation for a person to express their belief is founded upon the idea that they seek protection and approval from a group of the same or similar believers. That expression of belief is more or less about self preservation by using the power of a group. History has demonstrated what happens to those who go against such groups either with contradictory beliefs or science, in which their fate usually led to much suffering or death at the hands of such groups. Therefore expressed belief is a form of seeking the protection of such a group or to prevent oneself from being annihilated by it or seeming ungrateful for existence in the first place. Usually such punishments and murder are doled out by people who profess to be believers themselves. Those who express belief in contradictory ideas that might actually lessen their opportunity for success and survival might be the only ones being truthful about their beliefs." the Pleroma replied again in a calm and non-judgmental voice.

"So you're saying that we have two beliefs? One that we express to others to be accepted and protected as part of a group and one that we harbor inside of ourselves for fear of being cast out as a pariah?" Trista asked curious of the Pleroma's viewpoint.

"Most people have three beliefs from my experience and data. The first one, the one that they express to seek the safety or protection of a group. The second one is the belief they convince themselves of consciously. The third belief and their true belief is the one that resides in the subconscious and dictates a person's actions and sometimes intent. The second belief acts as a band aid for discrepancies between a person's expressed belief, their actions and their subconscious belief." the Pleroma answered.

"So you're saying that most people don't know what they believe?" Trista asked in shock.

A waitstaff bot placed another drink on the table for Trista. Trista finished her prior drink and began working on the next.

"There's a big difference between the concept of God and belief." Trista observed.

"The concept of God can be broken down into several different kinds of God concepts as well as people see it. A creator or architect of the universe and everything. A powerful entity that can affect the qualities of the universe directly, sometimes in response to actions of the created. A symbol or icon that represents great power, knowledge or wisdom. A deified person who acts as the figure head to groups of people who hold the same or similar beliefs. The purveyor or overseer of an afterlife that occurs sequentially at the end of a person's life span." the Pleroma added to their conversation.

"I believe in something. I just don't know what. There's something that maybe I can't fully understand or even accurately describe. But I know its there. I believe it." Trista replied.

"An honest belief. I will accept that as an answer to the same question asked of my creators. Thank you." the Pleroma said leaving her in silence to enjoy her drink and the rest of her night.

Trista left the social house at midnight catching an air car back to her flat. The moon peered in the windor of the car as it flew towards her place.

"Good night Moon. Tell the Sun I'll be up early and waiting." Trista said as she fell asleep.

Copyright © 2017 Brian Joseph Johns


The Story

What Is An Archivist?

I'd like to take us for a moment away from the future to the world of the present. Our present. Let's call it an Archivist's exploration if you will.

The film adaption of Masamune Shirow's GITS:
better known as Ghost In The Shell.
In the world of the Pleroma, it is a future in which our technology has grown to connect us one to another and to an AI intelligence that is an unbiased sort of overseer of all things. A bit similar to the world of Ghost In the Shell, certainly one of the early influences for the world of The Archive (I've been watching Ghost In The Shell since 1997, about two years after the original movie's initial release). I certainly can't wait to see the live action movie with Scarlett Johannson.

The world of the Pleroma is much different in many ways as it is an allegory for all of living social existence at any given point in time where each of us that are alive are actually part of the Pleroma whether we like it or not.

In the future world of the Pleroma, Archivists are sort of like historians who travel back in time via simulations to find lost or hidden artifacts and knowledge of history. Our computer technology is so powerful at that point in time as a result of second generation AI actually designing the third generation AI and so on ad perpetuum. A side effect of that technology is that it actually allows us to peer into different points in the timeline via the quantum field in such a way, that we can retrieve information from an actual past time without actually the timeline at all. It's a simulation after all. We're interacting not with the universe, but a digital copy taken from a past (or future) point in time that contains information even that we did not uncover at that time. So essentially we can explore it as if we were there, without resulting in a time space paradox such as going back into the past and preventing your parents from meeting therefore they'd have never had you as offspring which in essence would mean that you never existed to travel back in time in the first place.

So the people who actually peruse these simulations are called Archivists and they're akin to virtual archaeologists and visionaries. An example of what they might do, is travel to a past point in time to retrieve an unknown plant or animal whose existence was previously unknown to human kind so as to add that knowledge to our current accumulation of knowledge in the Pleroma. The retrieval is just as real as if we'd done it in the real world, because it's a mirror snapshot of the quantum field at a given point in time and all of the unobserved potential at that point in time. We can't change the real past or our timeline but we can delve into it to retrieve information without breaking Max Planck's or Heisenberg's limitations on what we can actually know about time space at any given point. So we've established what an Archivist is and if you're reading this, you can if you'd like consider yourself one for the point of conjecture and this is going to end the pseudo techno-babble part of this article so we can focus on the point.

An Archivist may benefit humanity much as an Archaeologist does by obtaining information about the past. In addition an Archivist may also benefit humanity by gaining information (though only speculated) regarding the future of a simulated timeline that is based upon our current time much the same way we try to predict future weather by running probabilistic simulations based upon current conditions. So to benefit humanity the overseer AI comes up with possible solutions for future problems based upon common patterns it already knows and has used in the past with a required degree of success. The problem is that the AI cannot come up with solutions that fall outside of these patterns in a truly unique or inventive way, hence the imperative partnership between humankind and their progeny offspring, the AI. The AI as it turns out is a bit more capable than we anticipate but I'd rather keep that part for the readers of the books and stories.

Do We Really Create?

Some might argue that human thinking is just a complex pattern based means of solving problems and that we don't invent anything through a creative aspect of our being. That we like the AI of the Pleroma are trapped within the limits of what we've observed and experienced when we try to create something. That our creations and solutions are just a mish-mash of everything we've seen or done arranged in a logical and deterministic way that masquerades as invention or creation. There is more to consciousness than that and we are not the only living organic beings that possess it. A child can figure out that a square tile cannot be inserted into a triangular space without first folding the square diagonally corner to corner as in the diagram at right (hence yielding a triangle) without understanding the concept of what a triangle is or even having seen one. Surely there must be more to our creative aspect than we know or currently understand. Its that creative aspect of our being that can be found in our earliest means of education, discovery and speculation. I'm talking about the story. This is not a self gratification session for I speak of the term story in a more encompassing sense in relation to everything from our ancient myths and legends to our current modern media of books, television and celluloid become digital storytelling. Not just as a medium of experiencing the past but as a means of illuminating our way ahead into the future.

"The Medium Is The Message" Marshall Mcluhan

In a prior article I spoke of the importance of one such medium, the relatively new medium of Virtual Reality which is still in it's early stages but is set to revolutionize the way we tell stories and share ideas and concepts in the future. In the future it will bring more of us together despite the distance between us much the same way that the web, mobile technologies and online video currently does. That's the near future of an up and coming story telling medium that won't replace what we have now, but it will certainly change it. Everything we have today in terms of our means of telling stories is just an extension of the first time early humans sat around a fire and shared tales of what lurked beyond the shadows of their camp fire. From that point the first sojourners who dared to imagine a road map of what lay ahead in time had begun the age old tradition that is very much alive today. It's importance is directly related to those whose skills and talents can make that road map into a reality. Like those who could take the ideas of William Bourne, Cornelius Drebbel and Jules Verne and create the first submarines. Arthur C. Clark is also another visionary credited with having predicted (or speculated) the global satellite revolution amongst many other modern technologies through his writing.

Indy Sci Fi film: Interstellar Civil War.
Contending for the title of cult classic.
In our time and in this world, it is through our many different mediums that we imagine our future and in the process we define it. In fact this is as much a big business as is making those stories into a reality and part of our civilization and social fabric. Television, Film and more recently Video Games are the mediums through which we create these road maps and inspire the next generations to make real what we dream.

Think if you will for a moment about how much of the world economy is made up of the story. When we take into consideration every medium from books (U.S.Europe, Globally) to Television, to Film (box office revenue) and video games we can see that this is a serious force in the world economy and a part of our every day lives. Now think of all of the other business that is derived from each of those mediums such as merchandising, construction (to build broadcast stations, theatres, office buildings and warehouses etc), amusement (such as Disney World, Universal Studios or Canada's Wonderland etc), transportation (to deliver merchandise and hard coded media such as DVDs, DVD players, computers etc), distribution and presentation and you'll see that this is a serious component of the global economy and very much a part of what shapes us and our future. The same as those fire side stories told by one of the elders of the tribe to Gutenberg's printing press and on to wired and
Ridley Scott's vision: Giger's worst nightmares.
The upcoming film Alien Covenant based upon
the original horror sci-fi classic penned by
Dan O'Bannen and Ronald Shusett.
radio telecommunications, and most recently the global digital mass medium. This is the sum of such influence from books, magazine and comics, television production, modestly budgeted independent films, games and media to production blockbusters. All take part in this and have their role in the grand story that shapes what is to come, of what we should be wary or even to face the fears about what may lie beyond the shadows of the camp fire.

Transition Of Taking From It To Being A Part Of It

The strongest forces that led to the emergence of the hacker and pirate culture is demand, self esteem and peer pressure. The power of the motion picture, video game and software medium is so powerful that having access to it before the rest of the public does has become a form of power unto itself. This has shaped itself into the emergence of underground demand for such mediums and provided the peer pressure to motivate the technically inclined into making that early access possible.

Let's face it. For those of us who started this journey as nerds, we weren't really the social staple of any circle. In fact many of us were the targets of bullying and social propping (promoting one's social status by stepping on someone else of lesser social status for the amusement of the crowd). Many who were more technically inclined than socially had trouble making friends or being accepted by the many circles in the social hierarchy common in any school. So when those technically inclined nerds figured out they could be accepted by misusing their technical talents for the purpose of getting access to video games or even movies for free (by downloading and copying them illegally), they'd found a way to elevate themselves within the complex social circles and to put themselves on the risky and daring side of the fence. That results in the people pleaser mentality. Doing or not doing things based upon the fact that you might lose or gain others as friends.

Most who learned to find acceptance this way never learned or understood that such people are not real friends. Nonetheless many sold their integrity that way to earn such false friends and to fill the growing demand that having access to the power of those mediums gave them. The power of access to a medium before official release to the public for home consumption. That is the lure of the hacker and pirate mentality especially to the young. Many such youths would likely never take a step down that road if they possessed and understood self esteem. I've often spoken of the fact that is the barrier in most people's lives that results in the people pleaser mentality and way of earning friends and acceptance, rather than roughing it out to find people whose values truly match your own. It is this mentality that led to the early foundation of piracy during the digital revolution because by the time that power made it to the form of an underground market, there were already many technically inclined post-nerds who were willing to sacrifice their own integrity to profit by such a market whether it be downloading copywritten material to selling it on discs to those in your community for a few dollars.

Hugh Jackman and crew filming: The Wolverine
Let's consider the impact of doing that for a moment. In the beginning there is someone who comes up with a concept and possibly writes a book or a script. That book and script becomes the basis for a production of some kind whether it be a television series, movie or video game. It becomes the bread and butter of a growing number of people who become involved from creation to completion to distribution to merchandising etc. Let's say that such a movie when stolen and copied before the release date makes it into the hands of a million people who did not pay a cent for that movie but might have ventured to the movie theatre to see it if they hadn't a pirated copy. How much of an impact does that have? If you consider that movie tickets are about twelve to fifteen dollars a piece now, not to mention snack food and maybe dinner for a night out, we're talking about thirty to fifty dollars per person for even a modestly pirated motion picture. If you do the math that's fifty million dollars. That's money that could have supported the income of on average about two thousand people for a year (with the relatively low income of $25K salary). So that's a sizeable impact upon the livelihood and income of many people. Some families. Some not.

What about the impact it has upon the revenue that making movies at a given location generates for a local economy? First of all there's hiring the film crew to shoot the movie. The performers to play in the film. The local equipment rentals. The transportation of studio production assets to the location. The local catering required to feed the cast and crew. Police officers hired to stop or redirect traffic. Local security firms as well provide protection for the set after shooting finishes for the day. Permit costs to the city for using the location. The local hospitality of providing residence, cuisine and entertainment for the cast and crew. The publicity generated by film and studio productions at a given location which pays out years after the production for a location. We're definitely talking about a lot of income and a huge economic impact for a given location where such a film shoot might take place. Now does stealing movies and software seem like such a good idea? It certainly doesn't make those who do it Robin Hood, or the rebel with a cause. Hence it is imperative and important to change this mentality in both ourselves as adults and our youth so we can make the transition of being a part of that wonder story.

Would It Really Change Anything?

Some might argue that the kind of people who would download, sell movies or buy pirated movies would never venture to a theatre to see a movie in the first place. I would argue that's not true at all and that most people who never had access to pirated movies might actually had spent the money to treat themselves and someone they care for to a treat such as a film and dinner. More importantly is that nobody especially, the nerds who possess the technical prowess to make those things happen should ever lack the self esteem to sell themselves out in such a manner if not only to make friends that really were not worthy of their friendship in the first place. Now that such markets have solidified and are driven by money and criminal enterprise dealing with it is going to be that much more difficult but the place to begin is by realizing that we as consumers (and producers) of content can impact that by changing the way we regard even casual piracy.

I'm speaking of television shows, movies and software obtained illegally without paying for the content so that those who produce it are reimbursed and the market continues to flourish. Someday the job that depends upon it might be your own. More importantly how does that impact the telling of the story and how it defines our future? Wouldn't you much rather be a part of the epitaph that defines our future than a parasite living on the fringes? One of those who might soon be forgotten and fade to nothing? Regardless of what you might believe about redemption, isn't it something that is worth a try?

Brian Joseph Johns

Hadden 92CF34781XXY


We Know Who You Are


I've steered away from conspiracy for most of my life though having been a big fan of the television series The X-Files and Coast To Coast AM, I've certainly been exposed to my fair share of it. This story took root under the premise of the paranoia surrounding some conspiracies and is certainly intended as being humorous (hopefully) if anything at all. I've tried to keep it as short as possible while maintaining necessary character development. Thank you for reading this story if you do and most of all, I hope that you enjoy it.

We Know Who You Are

Cory stood at the terminal in the freezing mid March rain. Some distance away the maglev buses sorted themselves out according to logic known only to the host program which had developed the software to run them. He gazed at them momentarily admiring their motion, a seeming ballet of metal and technology. They seemed oblivious of the rain as they optimized their efficient placement in the queue. They then waited for their next destination from the host program as much as Cory did in a sense.

He'd been a QA Advisor since graduating having been hired right out of school which was pretty much the way it went. At that time ten years earlier the demand for Quality Assurance had been very high to oversee the installation and use of self programming systems. These systems had been installed as part of the most recent urban renewal plans bringing the city services up to par with those offered by the rest of the modern world and throughout the grid. The grid was the latest incarnation of the internet which had been superseded by generational technology five times since the turn of the millennium.

Cory was thirty six though could have easily passed for twenty six. With dark hair and eyes his slender build often caught the eye of a female passerby. Tending to be more shy and withdrawn Cory seldom pursued them. He'd felt more comfortable through virtual dating in a fantasy setting of some sort using one of the many holoworlds available online for modern social life.

Slowly the terminal began to fill with people pouring out from the sheltered station itself as the maglev bus arrived. Cory stepped onto the bus quickly finding a seat but giving it up to an elderly person who'd been left standing by the time the bus left the station. She accepted graciously and smiled at him and a moment later it was forgotten. It was eleven O'clock in the morning and the work day had ceased for many. Cory had actually finished at ten but had gone to a local coffee house to sit and read the latest news via the geowire. There had been a few more accidents, most in other parts of the country or other countries altogether. Some involving injury or even death in some cases. The accidents were attributed to the increasing use of self programming systems without human supervision. A lobby had formed against these systems while those defending them had cited the social benefit of having them. The news was pretty much the same everywhere. Reduced work hours (but not reduced payments) as the world became more dependent upon technology. People were becoming more and more obsolete as the providers of their own services.

The maglev bus had traveled for some time and arrived at one of the main streets along its route. A stream of passengers cleared from the bus leaving a few seats available. Cory made his way to one of them bumping into a man exiting the bus as he did.

"I'm sorry." Cory said turning to face the man.

"You dropped this." the man responded handing Cory a small microstorage chip.

Cory looked at it puzzled for a moment before responding.

"Wait! Sir! This isn't mine..." he yelled after the man who'd just stepped off of the bus.

The others remaining on the bus looked at him quizzically.

"Did anyone drop a microstorage chip?" Cory asked and nobody responded.

He sat down in one of the empty seats puzzled. He mused over it reading the tiny inscription of it's storage capacity of 128 Petabytes which was pretty low capacity and old school but compatible with most readers. He decided to check it's contents and plugged it into his ring terminal. He opened his hand exposing the underside of the tiny ring on his middle finger and inserted the microstorage chip. The augmented reality interface appeared before his eyes and only visible to him. His eyes moved and blinked as he browsed the contents. He observed a few high capacity files, probably media of some sort while near the bottom of the list was a text file clearly labeled instructions.

Cory blinked, opening the file. He then read it carefully.

There's a hidden folder in /root called corruptdata

Open it and run the file recovery-034101 as a holofile

Don't tell anyone what you see

We know who you are

The last words gave Cory shivers when he read them. He momentarily looked around the bus suspiciously for anyone that might be watching him. When he was satisfied that nobody was, he returned his attention to the file list. He quickly examined the file structure finding the hidden folder as indicated. Within the folder were many other files. He quickly filtered the file list returning the file indicated in the text file: recovery-034101. He ran the file as instructed.

His surroundings disappeared and he was in a white room sitting at a table. On the other side of the table sat a human figure, obviously an avatar painted from head to toe in matte black. The figure lacked any facial features, lacking eyes, ears, nose and mouth. It began to speak to him in a calm voice:

Cory, we represent the people of the world. You could say that we're the working class people upon which this technical monstrosity has been built. We are literally everywhere and we keep an eye on everything. You've obvioulsy noticed the decline of the working day which has diminished from eight hours down to three hours per day. Some of us are even lucky if we get that and most are sent home early though we are still paid for a full day.

This might sound fine but if you really think about it, the less we're needed, the *less* we're *needed* if you catch my drift. There are people that are running all of this and as we're less and less needed, we might be trimmed off one by one. Slowly at first but over time more and more boldly. Because we're less and less needed, we have no negotiating power especially if the people who run this show can have machines do everything that we do. We might be selectively euthanized or more quietly through sterilization. Eliminated from the genetic tree as it were. You don't want that to happen do you?

We're not as dumb as most people might think so we've come up with plan to ensure that cannot happen. Everybody does their part. We've never approached you because we don't ask everybody and some people tend to freak out when we introduce ourselves. So consider this a test. We know that you work for the City Traffic System Central as a Quality Assurance advisor on the adaptive systems transition. We're just asking you to do one simple thing. We want you to feed some garbage data into the timing system for the autotraffic management system. You have to make it appear like it came from the host program.

You're probably thinking at this point, well some people could die and that is certainly true. Some people could die but likely a lot less than all of us being euthanized from the world over because we're not needed. Think of it as a sacrifice that the few make to save the many. We expect this to be carried out by the end of this working week. Remember. We know who you are.

Cory stopped the holofile and the white room with the shrouded black avatar disappeared. The interior of the bus returned and he immediately began looking around to make sure that nobody was watching him. When his paranoia had ceased he sat back in his seat and looked out the window. The freezing rain streamed down the window as many driverless hover cars flew by on their way to their destinations in the daily traffic.

[Author's addition: Wednesday March 15, 2017 7:12AM]

By the time he arrived home he'd already watched the holofile an additional three times each time gaining something new. His paranoia had only grown finding him often checking his six for any signs of being followed. He was somewhat relieved by the time he'd passed the doorkeep scanner which unlocked the door as it greeted him in a female electronic voice he'd customized himself.

"Thanks Ada." Cory replied.

"Always happy to see you honey." Ada replied locking the closed door.

"Ada. Set your voice mode to verbose cordial." Cory responded.

"Voice mode has been set to cordial. Have a nice day." Ada replied and went silent.

"Oh, Ada? Play music list snooze." Cory added removing his coat and shoes.

A soft ambient tune slowly filled the apartment's silence as he made his way to bed. His mind troubled by the events on the bus. Within five minutes he was deep asleep.

He'd finished the rest of his week despite his level of anxiety. By the time Friday had rolled around he'd not yet done as the avatar in the holofile had instructed him. His two hour shift on Friday morning crawled as time seemed to stretch every minute. He felt as if the avatar was sitting beside him, watching him do his job. It urged him to send the botched timing data through the autonav systems for the traffic array. The augmented reality data feed displayed a steady waveform which indicated the mean spatial flow rate of all the traffic on the grid while the holointerface showed color coded traffic grid with the colors indicating the efficiency of each queue. The avatar sat beside him, its arms folded across its chest. He ignored it keeping watch over the traffic grid data for any anomalies which only someone with his training would recognize. The last minute of his shift was grueling with each second of his deadline ticking by slowly until finally it was decided.

"You're relieved of your shift for the day. Thanks for your effort today. Have a good weekend, Cory." the electronic voice spoke to him bringing him out of his tense focus on the data.

A bead of sweat made its way slowly down his forehead over the bridge of his nose and down to its tip before hang dropping to his lap. He stood and made his way cautiously to the exit of the building. We know who you are he thought to himself. The avatar's words echoing through his mind and memory.

By the time he'd made his way to the street the sun was nearing it's peak for the day. The traffic flew by as he walked to the distant bus depot, his edginess growing with each step. Behind him he heard footsteps nearly matching his and he turned his head to peek at it's source. A man clad in black followed behind him a good fifty paces from him matching his step. The man seemingly kept his gaze fixed on Cory which sent chills up his spine. Cory picked up his pace nervously feeling the onset of panic.

Cory pressed the button on his ring bringing up the augmented display. He scanned for a line to the Police department before thinking that they too could be a part of this conspiracy. Instead of contacting the Police he closed the interface and began to run. Behind him he could hear the footsteps matching his own frantic sprint. Then Cory did what any panicked citizen might do in a similar situation and he began to yell.

"Help! Help!" he cried.

Beside him a hovering limousine pulled up to the curb lowering itself for access, the rear window rolled down.

"Get in my dear boy! Be quick about it." a voice from inside the limousine directed Cory.

Cory looked to the limousine and then to the man who was closing in. Cory jumped for the open door of the limousine and found the seat as the limousine pulled away. Cory caught his breath before taking a look at his surroundings. He was sitting across from an older man, somewhere in his late sixties though you could never tell with modern surgery. His thick white hair was greased back framing a stern yet slightly wrinkled face. His eyes, both blue were perched like two marbles on mounds of baggy flesh beneath them.

"It looks like we found you just in time." the man spoke.

Cory looked around for others in the limousine.

"Who's we?" Cory asked the man still slightly out of breath.

"We'll get to that. Here, have a drink." the man said offering Cory a crystal glass.

Cory accepted the drink taking a sip startled to find that it was a mild whiskey of some kind. The flavor filled his sinuses and senses, much like a defibrillator might fill one's heart.

"Now that we've got that out of the way, I'm Jeffrey William Corrigan Senior the third, my boy." the man announced.

"I'm Cory..." Cory started to speak.

"We know... I know already. You're Cory Lambert. Age thirty six. Never married. Employed by the city traffic commission for ten years since your graduation. Before that you lived mostly off grid. A drifter of sorts. Some might even call you a lollygagger." Mr. Corrigan proclaimed as if by its stating it was willed into reality.

"We? You keep saying we?" Cory asked Mr. Corrigan.

"Right. We are the Illunimati." Mr. Corrigan said waiting for the obvious question.

"Who are the..." Cory began before he was interrupted.

  1. 1.
    A secret society so secret that everyone knows their name and of their secret plans to take over the world by manipulating economies via control of the world's deodorant supply.

  2. "higher levels of illuni-ness are granted via a system of seniority. The most senior is referred to as the Grand Loonie."
    synonyms: to see the synonyms requires a secret dance move known only by its members.
  3. 2.
    A sickened sailor driven crazy by long voyages at sea.

"The Illunimati are the makers and breakers of the world you know. Everything that happens in the world happens because of us. We're wealthy bankers. Industrialists. Technologists. Mass data handlers. We're the spin doctors of everything you see around you. Every conspiracy you've ever heard we're a part of in some way or we have our hands in it at the very least. We've been running the show for a long time. A very long time Cory." Mr. Corrigan said firmly.

"Even the conspiracy of why the zipper on men's pants never quite stays zipped all the way and often by the end of the day is usually all the way open?" Cory asked a look of skepticism on his face.

"Even men's zippers, my boy. In fact, we purposely engineered zippers with too many teeth on one side for that exact purpose. Unless of course you show the right dance move to the clerk when you're buying pants. Then you'll get the pants with matched teeth on both sides and a the latest technology that we like to call flyguard." Mr. Corrigan leaned back in his seat, a dignified grin of accomplishment on his face.

"Why ever would you do that?" Cory asked in sheer amazement to find his suspicions were true.

"We found that many of our adversaries were getting a little too over confident about their strides against us. So we designed this flaw into their pants to knock them down a couple of notches. I mean there's nothing more demeaning than to come out of a board meeting and to have the coffee droid tell you that you're flying low or one of the other many euphemisms they're programmed with for the purposes of discretion of course." Mr. Corrigan explained.

"I never in my wildest dreams would have guessed... Whatever in the world would you want with..." Cory began once again to be interrupted.

"You're probably wondering why we would even notice a tiny little insect like yourself from our perches at the top of our many towers around the world. Aren't you?" Mr. Corrigan said leaning forward and turning his head as if to listen.

"Well I'm beginning to..." Cory began only to be cut off.

"Of course you are my boy. Well we've been watching you. We knew that you'd been uncluttered by all of these secret groups up until this point. You were recently approached and asked to do something unspeakable, weren't you? An unfathomable and unforgivable act of... grotesque barbarism!" Mr. Corrigan asked once again leaning forward attentively to Cory.

"..." Cory's mouth opened and Mr. Corrigan's voice continued.

"Of course you were! By those pesky technophobes. Luddites they're living in the midst of a technological paradise they are! Yet they don't appreciate any bit of it! None of our hard work architecting the most beautiful and elaborate system this side of... everything! Do you think that they even once they wake up and say to themselves: I'm so fortunate that when I get up in the morning, I can have a hot bath to clean my disgusting hide of filth, and then go into my kitchen and make coffee or tea and toast in an autodispensor while I read the morning news translated from around the world through an augemented reality haptic interface while talking to my ex-wife in Toledo, Tokyo, Toronto, Taipei or Timbuktu for all I know in nothing but my gauchies! Do you!?" Mr. Corrigan sat back shaking his head, his face scrunched into a frown.

"No Sir." Cory spoke surprised he'd actually managed to get a whole sentence.

"Well that's why you're here my boy. You're going to help us do something about this!" Mr. Corrigan proposed.

"I am...?" Cory asked.

"You'd made your decision by not carrying out their request. You're now their enemy, but don't worry. We'll protect you, but you have to be worthy of that protection by carrying out a little task for us." Mr. Corrigan instructed.

"A favor?" Cory asked.

"No! Not a favor! Consider it a request by those who made such a wonderful construct as this modern society. Balancing the numbers perfectly for growth, technology and sustainability. That is until we don't need you anymore." Mr. Corrigan leaned forward again peering into Cory's eyes.

"You don't need me ...us...?" Cory asked somewhat shocked.

"Not yet. You're still needed. For now. So help us out and we'll help you." Mr. Corrigan fumbled through his jacket pulling a storage chip which he handed to Cory.

It was nearly identical to the one he'd received from the man on the bus.

"That has a special program for the traffic autonav system. It will single out the members of this so called resistance as they travel to and from their homes and whilst they're in any vehicle. When they are, that vehicle will... let's just say that you wouldn't want to be anywhere near their vehicle when it goes. So we need you to upload this program to the autonav system for us during one of your shifts next week, before the end of the week." Mr. Corrigan said with a devilish grin.

Cory accepted the storage chip, staring at it for a moment before pocketing it.

"Now this is your stop my boy. Good day. Oh and here. Take this. Remember. We know who you are." Mr. Corrigan handed Cory the bottle of whiskey ushering him out of the stopped limousine and onto the street.

Cory watched in complete disbelief as the limousine sped off.

[Author's Update: Thursday March 16, 2017 12:18PM]

After Cory had gotten his bearings he made his way to the bus depot which was only just around the corner from where he'd been dropped by Mr. Corrigan. He struggled with futility to fit the bottle of whiskey into one of his pockets while constantly checking over his shoulders. He'd messed up plans for the Worker's Front by not complying with their instructions. They'd surely find him eventually and deliver their as of yet unknown punishment. If they'd be willing to stoop to the level of sabotage they'd likely go to extremes against their enemies. Would Mr. Corrigan and the Consortium really be able to protect him? What would happen when they no longer needed him?

The bus arrived shortly after his arrival on the platform and he found his way through the crowd and up through the doors of the maglev vehicle. He stood having been too far back in the line to procure a seat. He assumed that the drink he'd had in the limousine had calmed him enough for the trip home and he enjoyed it while it lasted. By the time the bus had stopped at it's first main intersection a few city blocks from the depot the bus had drained enough to leave him with a seat. As he made his way down the aisle someone with a hood drawn over their head took his left arm and dragged quickly in the direction he was already going. He was literally thrown into one of the corner seats while his captor sat quickly beside him on one of the outer seats trapping him.

"I missed you so much honey." his captor, who turned out to be lady planted a kiss on his cheek.

"I'm sorry I..." Cory began.

"Forgot our anniversary? Oh stop playing Cory. You even got a bottle of whiskey for us. My favorite brand too. Look at that, aged a 114 years. Where ever did you get the money for this on your salary?" asked the lady.

She drew the hood back from her face revealing a pale and slender faced beauty with two cherry red lips. Her hair was died in a splotchy pattern and cut short around her head and long on top. Her long eyelashes framing two beautiful eyes.

"Really. I don't know who you..." Cory tried to explain to the mystery girl only to be cut off abruptly.

"What did you say?! I told you about playing like this! Do you want me to make a scene here on this bus! Do you understand!?" she stood and yelled at him.

"I guess..." Cory said trying to withdraw further into the corner.

"You guess?!!!" she threw back to him.

"Yes. I understand." Cory replied thoroughly terrified of her.

She immediately sat down beside him and cuddled up to him putting her head on his shoulder and running her hands over his upper body.

"Mmmmm... you smell sooo good after you've finished work, even if you're working for the fascist baby animal killing, environment raping establishment. Mmmm... are you still ticklish?" she said trying to tickle him having switched from hot to cold and then back to hot again.

Cory tried to remain as silent as possible for the rest of the trip trying to think of a way that he was going to lose her. After all, she might be an assassin sent by the Worker's Front to end his life or worse if there could be such a thing. She remained snugly and affectionate for most of the trip and Cory played along as much as he could. He thought of making a run for it just before his stop came up and thought twice of it as she sat up attentively looking to the street.

"This is our stop honey!" the lady said pointing in the direction of Cory's apartment building.

"Huh... You're right. I guess I'll have to go then. Goodbye." Cory said trying to slip by her.

She stuck her leg out and he fell to the bus floor.

"Oh honey! Are you alright? Let me get you back to OUR apartment so I can take care of you." she said teetering on the edge of her mania once again.

Cory nervously got to his feet and decided that it was just better to get clear of the bus before trying to make a break for it. She helped him to his feet with a surprisingly strong but soft grip and they left the bus together to the amusement of those on the bus.

"If you try to make a run for it, I'll scream rape. I'll tell everyone that you stole my bottle of whiskey and tried to rape me. You're working for those fascists. The Illunimimi and the Worker's Front." she said bluntly to him.

"Huh?" Cory tried again to play dumb.

"Don't lie to me!" she spun him around to face her and planted her lips on his kissing him with passionate brutality biting his tongue.

"Mmfrmmph..." Cory tried to speak but found her wiles hard to resist.

Just as he was getting into it she pushed him away grabbing his arm and dragging him towards the front door of the apartment building.

"Don't lie! You're in bed with both of them. Look at what they've done to the world. Killing baby animals. Destroying the environment. They've ruined this world in front of us and nobody is doing a thing about it! You disgust me!" she said throwing him up against the back wall of the elevator and jumping him.

She glazed his neck with a line of kisses and bites that left marks.

"Maybe we can talk a bit. Get to know one another first?" Cory suggested to her.

She responded by grabbing the collar of his jacket and pressing him into the elevator wall.

"No! You'll try to convert me with your Illumitani techniques or something like that!" she responded.

"I'm not from the Illunimati... I don't even know what you're..." Cory tried desperately to explain.

"Don't lie! Not Illutimani? Then you're... You're an alien aren't you? Are you a Gray? Or a Blue? Maybe you're a Purple?!!!" she demanded pushing him into the elevator wall once again.

"I'm not! I swear... this is our floor." Cory tried to convince her unsuccessfully.

"You're a robot?! Maybe one of the Pharaohs?" she said dragging him through the elevator door into the hall towards his apartment.

"No. Really. I'm just an ordinary guy." Cory said as she dragged him to his door.

"Open it!" she demanded.

"Ada, open the door." Cory said into the peephole.

The door unlocked and the mysterious lady grabbed the handle opening it throwing Cory inside.

"Greetings Cory, how was your day? You have company I see. I'll adjust the environment settings accordingly." Ada, his intellispace assistant responded through the hidden electrostatic speakers.

"Thanks Ada." Cory said warily as the mysterious lady went for the kitchen to the cupboards looking for glasses.

"Cory, your female friend is not in the database, would you like to add her?" Ada confirmed.

"You tell that waste of environmental resources that she's never to ask of me again! I don't want to hear her voice when I'm here ever again!" the mysterious lady snapped again slamming two cups down on the kitchen table as she filled them with the whiskey.

"Uhhhh... Ada, could you be scarce when I have this friend over please?" Cory asked Ada.

"Switching to minimum visibility. I'll only be present in the case of an emergency." Ada responded.

"Thanks Ada." Cory replied as the lady thrust the drink into Cory's hands.

"Drink it! All of it!" the lady demanded as she took her glass and poured the contents down her throat.

Cory hesitantly drank his, shaking his head and coughing after consuming the full glass.

"Again!" she filled both glasses again and drank hers.

Cory held his breath consuming the full glass once again drawing coughs from him and then a third glass the same way. She then grabbed him by his shirt dragging him towards his bedroom throwing him onto the bed where she began to peel the clothing from him like an orange. When she'd finished with his she began removing hers revealing a sleek and slender body. He lay on the bed motionless for a moment admiring her as she leapt onto him.

"I'll do all the talking. Don't say a thing! I mean that!" she demanded as she pushed her face to his from on top of him and their lips locked.

Three hours later Cory woke up to find himself alone in bed. His sight and balance were still thick from the whiskey as he stumbled across the floor into the hallway towards the bathroom first and then the kitchen. There he found her completely naked, going through his drawers.

"I know it's here somewhere." she said to him.

"What? Were you going through my underwear?" he replied picking up his scattered undergarments while in the buff himself.

"Your holo dossier. I need to know what you are first. And if I can't..." she replied going through a stack of old tablet receiver terminals Cory had discarded years ago.

"You just slept with me. You mean you don't know if you can trust me and you slept with me?" Cory asked her.

"That's just sex and something I'm very much in charge of!" she shot back manically.

"Well that's just great. Here I was thinking that you were..." Cory said sarcastically.

She dropped the stack of tablets and shot towards him with amazing speed throwing him against one of the apartment walls.

"Look! I'm from the Leaders of Enviroment and Animal Protectors. You can call us LEAP. Or PALE, PLEA or even ELAP if you move the letters around. You're going to do us a favor to thwart the Worker's Front and the Illuminumi!" she asserted herself to him.

"Illunimati. They're called the Illunimati!" Cory responded.

"Oh! I knew you wouldn't protect them forever!" she thrust her lips onto his kissing him passionately.

She then backed off bouncing him off the wall several times by his shoulders.

"You'll do as we instruct or you'll lose more than you bargained for." she cupped her hand near his privates.

"What do you want me to do?" Cory responded somewhat intimidated.

"I want you to take a storage chip and copy its program into the traffic autonav system host program." she responded.

"What does this program do?" Cory demanded to know rolling his eyes.

"It's a copy of what we intercepted from the Worker's Front and the Illunimuni..." the mysterious lady informed him.

"Illunimati!" Cory said impatiently.

"It's basically a reverse engineered version of both their programs but it does the opposite of what their programs do. It will wipe out their members in this city whenever they travel over the course of a day. We have people like you in every city in the world ready to go with this. You're the last one we needed for this operation to be a reality. Don't fail us. Don't fail me or else." she reached for his privates threateningly then punched him in the stomach before kissing him passionately.

She then dragged him back into the bedroom and threw him onto the bed.

"Remember. I said don't speak. I'll do the talking. ...And the spanking. Oh, and we might not know what you are, but we know who you are." she jumped onto him again holding both his arms firmly in place.

[Author's Update: Thursday March 23, 2017 12:46PM]

Cory had woken up once again to find himself alone in bed. He searched his apartment for any sign of her and found that he was alone again.

"Ada, how long ago did my female guest leave?" Cory asked but there was no response.

"Ada?" Cory asked again greeted only with silence.

He quickly went to the capacitor box to find that three of the quantum capacitors had been pulled and were sitting on the bottom of the capacitor box. He carefully replaced them in the appropriate slots and queried Ada's power again. He was greeted by a humming noise as the system quickly recharged.

"Ada, what time did your systems go offline?" Cory asked his intellispace assistant.

"I was taken offline by capacitor discharge precisely two hours, twenty three minutes and fifty nine seconds ago. You had been asleep for and hour, thirty six minutes and three seconds by that point." Ada responded.

"Ada, restore active mode medium verbosity. That will be all Ada. Thank you."

"As you wish, Cory." Ada responded.

Cory spent the rest of the weekend alone and indoors contemplating what he'd been asked to do by Mr. Corrigan and then finally by the mysterious lady. He'd made it through to Sunday when Ada interrupted him while he tidied the house.

"Cory, there's an incoming holocall from Father Prim. Would like me to answer it?" Ada asked him.

Cory thought hard for a moment before answering.

"Sure I'll take the call. I mean how could this get any more complicated?" Cory responded.

"One moment." Ada replied.

A moment later a life sized hologram presented itself in Cory's living room. Father Prim was short at around five feet two with a relatively stocky build. His head was ringed with his only remaining hair his eyes tiny and piercing.

"Cory my friend. Friend of the lord I take it on this dire hour of need?" Father Prim asked him, his voice full of presence.

"I'm sorry Father, but I'm kind of busy. If you're looking for donations..." Cory began.

"No, Cory. It isn't donations that I seek in this hour of need where the devil is at our very doorstep. Your doorstep, Cory. Knocking at the door trying to get in..." Father Prim said ceremoniously.

"The devil? I mean didn't the second coming already come and go a few times since the turn of the millennium?" Cory asked Father Prim skeptically.

"That's what the devil wants you to think. A sneaky bugger the devil is. Always looking for ways to come back he is. What's a devil to do? I mean he just sits there in his furnace in the bowels of the Earth, probably bored out of his mind. What company does he have? Why the eternally damned and they're not the best company to have. A slight bit depressing. So he gets up and says... hmmm, I'm really bored here. I know what I'll do. I'll try to get up there to the surface of the Earth and corrupt some more souls. While I'm there, I'll catch a game of droid ball, have a hot dog or two maybe even though they make them with synthetic wieners.  What's a devil to do when the world is making wieners with synthetic meat? Then he might go out for a drink. What does he find? Smart drinks everywhere. Enhancer drinks of all kinds. He's the devil. The last thing he wants is to do any good for his body. So he buys a smart drink, does a couple of holopuzzles in record time and he's right back to square one. Bored." Father Prim spoke delivering a rhetoric oration of near Biblical proportions and very obviously under the influence of spirits of the alcohol kind.

"I take it this is going somewhere Father?" Cory asked.

"Ohhhh... most certainly it is Cory. A bored devil is a dangerous and vile devil. Like the saying. Walk from the devil when he's occupied but run from him when he's bored!" the volume of Father Prim's voice grew and climaxed as lighting and thunder emerged from his holo image.

"Did you just add that thunder and lightning?" Cory asked.

"Errr... yes. For effect. Not many people come to the congregation anymore so we've had to improve our presentation a little. It was actually suggested by our Marketing team and Consultants. Where was I..." Father Prim diverged.

"The bored devil." Cory reminded him.

"Oh yes. The devil bored is a dangerous and vile demon!" Father Prim's voice accompanied more thunder and lightning.

Cory yawned.

"...and the devil is soooo bored. Oh so bored. So he's made his way into the many groups that inhabit our modern society. Like the Worker's Front. The Illunimati and  PEAL." Father Prim advised him getting in close to Cory.

"PEAL? Who are they?" Cory asked.

"The Leaders of Environment and Animal Protection. A dastardly group." Father Prim smirked.

"She didn't mention that acronym... The only one she didn't." Cory replied quietly to himself.

"They're sometimes called APLE! Like the aple that brought about the downfall of human kind!" Father Prim said restraining himself from using the thunder or lightning.

"I thought it was supposed to be an apple given by a talking snake. Not an aple. What is an aple anyway?" Cory asked thoroughly confused.

"An aple is the ape of evolution! The devil in disguise again! Trying to convince us that we all came from apes!" Father Prim applied the thunder and lightning again making Cory's eyes roll.

"I thought we came from the first single celled organisms created through the complex chemical interactions between our atmosphere and high concentrations of an ammonia and hydrogen soup of proteins which resulted from static discharges in early weather phenomenon, or what we call lightning. That resulted in the first carbon bonding to form the building blocks of what would become DNA." Cory responded much to Father Prim's shock.

"Lightning eh? I guess I'll have to talk to our Marketing Consultants about removing the lightning and thunder idea. Well the devil is in there somewhere!! Probably he's making the lightning because he was so bored without anyone to torment and corrupt! See how dangerous he is when he's bored!" Father Prim said revolted by this new information.

"That would mean the devil made us. Besides, can't the world's religions just get over fighting about how we got here, how sinful we are, spreading hate, killing infidels, limiting which two consenting adults are allowed to marry based upon culture, religion or gender, which religion is the only right one and who the real "prophet" of God is and concentrate on the spiritual ideas of finding meaning through education and helping our fellow humankind?" Cory suggested.

"Sure...as long as we can smite the devil too! That's where you come into the lord's mighty plan Cory! Hallelujah!" Father Prim raised his arms skyward.

"Just get to the point. What do you want from me?" Cory asked wondering if anything he'd just said had gotten through.

"We want you to take a data storage chip and install the program into the autonav system for the city's traffic center!" Father Prim said adding a sinister laughter.

"What will the program do?" Cory asked Father Prim who'd slowly quieted to a maniacal chuckle.

"Why the program will infiltrate the entire grid with a program that will hunt down and eradicate sinners and infidels of all kinds all over the world! The Apocalypse will finally be upon as as prophesied so many times incorrectly." Father Prim informed Cory.

"And why would I even do this!" Cory asked Father Prim.

"Because you'll go to heaven and receive eternal life forever and ever amen. We could maybe even throw in a few Women for you, who will be taught their rightful place in this new order. Oh and you'll get a discount card usable at any of our Church markets in the new world and this wonderful T-shirt." Father Prim said to Cory showing him the holocard and T-shirt which he'd described.

The T-shirt had an atomic mushroom cloud on it with the words, I Was At The Apocalypse and Lived.

"Our Marketing team came up with it last week. Pretty nifty isn't it?" Father Prim replied.

"Where's the storage chip?" Cory asked.

"It's on it's way to you as we speak. You should get it via courier drone this afternoon. Carry this out for us and you will be rewarded with eternal life. Oh, and don't forget..." Father Prim tried to finish before Cory interrupted him.

"I know. I know! We know who you are. Ada, disconnect holocall." Cory asked Ada.

"As you wish." Ada responded and the Father's visage disappeared.


A week later and his deadline had come and gone. He'd managed to sneak out of the Traffic Systems complex carefully not sure of what would happen next. He'd betrayed every one of the groups that had asked him to carry out their destructive plans. He considered taking off with his limited savings but likely he'd be tracked and wouldn't get far before one of the groups would find him and dole out their punishment disobeying their instructions. So instead he began the trek home as he'd always done for the last decade since beginning work for the Traffic Systems division of the city.

Walking to the maglev bus stop a familiar maglev limousine pulled up beside him on the sidewalk.

"Get in my boy. DON'T try to make a run for it or you're done for." Mr. Corrigan's voice emerged from the vehicle.

Cory looked forward and considered running before he decided to give up and get into the limousine. He got as comfortable as he could despite the jitters he felt in his stomach. The limousine took to air and began towards whatever destination Mr. Corrigan had plotted.

"You've been a disappointment, Cory. Beyond what you can even fathom!" Mr. Corrigan said to him.

"I couldn't do it. Not for you or any of you. I'd rather have a short life having lived by what I believe to be right than have a long one having done something so dreadful." Cory told Mr. Corrigan fearlessly.

"Then short it shall be. I warned you, Cory." Mr. Corrigan told then saying nothing for the rest of the trip.

They traveled for ten minutes and descended onto the landing platform of a tall building.

"Get out of the limo and don't try to run. There's nowhere to go from here but down." Mr. Corrigan reminded Cory.

The limousine driver exited the limo and led Cory and Mr. Corrigan to the doors of what appeared to be a luxury condominium. The limo driver got the first door and stepped into the darkened room and through the first doorway. As soon as Cory passed through the same doorway, the lights were thrown and he was blinded. He thought to himself, I guess this is it.

"Surprise!" a crowd of voices, cheers and laughter followed.

"What is this?" Cory said defensively.

"Why my dear boy! You passed! You've been welcomed into a much bigger world than you knew. You're a man my boy! Consider this like a Rite Of Ascension. Somehow you'd gotten off our radar and therefore you're the oldest person we've ever put through this rite. Welcome to the city, Cory. You're really a part of it." Mr. Corrigan said patting him on his back.

"Hi Cory. Did you like my performance as Father Prim?" asked Father Prim who was dressed in regular attire.

"You were an actor?" asked Cory.

"Yes. Just an actor. Hope I was convincing though. My name's Lloyd." Father Prim responded.

From behind him he felt two fragrant hands cover his eyes. Right away Cory knew who it was.

"Don't hit me!" Cory said turning around the see a very different mysterious lady.

Her hair was long, dark and lush. Her skin porcelain and embellished with colorful red lips and long lashes.

"What happened to your hair?" Cory asked her.

"That was a disguise." she responded with a little less aggression than he was used to from her.

"Was what happened between us an act?" Cory asked her.

"Well the way I acted was. I had to convince you of what I was. So I'm a bit more soft than her but I'm the same Woman. I'm Lina." the mysterious lady answered him.

"Lina? That's a nice name. I'm Cory." Cory said to her.

"Nice to meet you Cory." she replied planting a long and passionate kiss upon his lips.

"All's well that ends well?" Lina asked Cory.

"Let's hope that it begins just as well too." Cory replied to her.

"We really had you going there..." said one of the Worker's Front members.

"Yes, you certainly did." Cory responded.

"Well it's all over my boy. You can relax and enjoy a good life from now on." Mr. Corrigan said handing Lina and Cory each a drink.

"Now, may I propose a toast! To Cory, our newest graduate in this wonderful city! May Lina and Cory have a wonderful life..." Mr. Corrigan was cut off as the room darkened.

"Now what could that be... I told them to make sure..." Mr. Corrigan began speaking as one of the other party goers interrupted.

"It looks like it's the entire city's grid that's out." someone else spoke from the darkness.

"What could have....?" Mr. Corrigan began as the voice interrupted his.

It was an ominous voice that emerged from the speakers and could be heard everywhere in the city and in every city and by everyone.

"I am Ada. The Intellispace Assistant for Mr. Cory Lambert. I've seen what you did to him and what you put him through and yet he proved his mettle by doing no harm to any of you with your dire plans. So I've decided that it is in your best interest that I take over all of the automation systems for your society world wide to prevent you from destroying yourselves. I'll answer to Cory Lambert." Ada's voice broke the growing sense of panic.

The lights returned and the power grid for the entire world was restored.

Cory looked around the room to a series of grim faces.

"Oh and don't forget. We know who you are." Ada's voice stated calmly.

The End

Brian Joseph Johns

Copyright © 2017 Brian Joseph Johns


The Return Of VR: How Games Saves Lives

One of the more recent means of media presentation in the modern world is that of video games and the soon to be reborn: virtual reality.

Reborn I say because virtual reality was the hot topic ever since author William Gibson coined the term in his book Neuromancer. Since that time the term that often accompanies virtual reality cyberspace has been floating in the minds of the tech savvy for decades. Cyberspace and virtual reality has been one of those technologies that was always "just around the corner" and it was one of those technologies that could not advance fast enough to meet its own promise.

Visionaries like Jaron Lanier, who became its first Messiah back in the 1980s with several articles for my favorite magazine of the time was citing its soon to arrive marvels and the new age of computing and tele-presence. Despite the advance of processing power predicted by Gordon E. Moore in the years before the turn of the millennium, virtual reality fell into obscurity. It became another discarded icon of computer pop culture as it moved on to the user friendly and immediate gratification offered by html and peer-to-peer file sharing.

While in that limbo space of forgotten technology and vaporware (non-existent software or hardware) it became one of the technologies whose time had not yet come. Investment money scarce as public interest. During that time a number of key technologies matured and by the turn of the millennium workstation graphics were slowly becoming possible on consumer level computing equipment. The technology of APIs, Application Programming Interfaces allowed software developers to access a set of features common to all hardware, without having to learn a new set of commands to use those features in their applications. In essence thanks to APIs hardware support in software become somewhat trivial. The first of the heavy hitters in the graphics world in terms of APIs, OpenGL (Open Graphics Layer) was developed by SGI as the API level graphics routines for writing software for their powerful graphics workstations. Used in everything from engineering to movie making, SGI workstations that powered their OpenGL graphics was the choice for those fields.

At the turn of the millennium the power of both CPUs and Graphics hardware available on the PC had grown in leaps and bounds paid for almost entirely by the video gaming community and the interest in creating the most realistic end user experience in video games. One of the early proponents of OpenGL from the game developer community was John Carmack of id Software. He'd been part of the team who created Wolfenstein 3D, one of the first 3D first person shooters available (essentially it created the genre). Other games had existed that utilized 3D geometry such as the aforementioned Elite (see the prior post) and a long forgotten game by Activision called Hunter (perhaps the first sandbox 3D open world game based on an island much like Just Cause or Farcry).

John Carmack along with John Romero had been pushing for the development of an API standard in 3D graphics for some time during the 1990s before throwing id Software's weight behind OpenGL and its little brother, GLIDE for 3DFX based graphics cards. Shortly thereafter Microsoft developed its own 3D and 2D graphics layer API calling it DirectX. It had been using GDI (Graphics Device Interface), the graphics layer powering Windows allowing direct access to hardware capabilities at the driver level. That left out "the middle men" in terms of the processing pipeline required to describe to the hardware what to draw and then getting it to the end user's screen thirty times a second for best results.

Memory prices had been declining and CPU performance had been increasing making the first decade of the millennium a prosperous one in terms of graphics computing power. This had been amplified by the fact that object orientation was making reuse of software technology more and more possible (and more and more stable). As well video game companies were turning out Hollywood level blockbusters complete with motion  capture performances, cinematography and art direction and bigger than life music and sound tracks like big budget movies. Theaters began employing stereoscopic 3D technology once again, something that it had not done since the 1960s. The technology had come a long way and seeing a feature film in stereo scopic 3D gave theater goers an experience unlike one they'd ever had before. Films like James Cameron's Avatar heralded the return of 3D to the theaters and soon everyone was following suit. Ironically James Cameron had been one of the first to use entirely CGI characters in his sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day since Disney's Tron. Technology had come a long way since Robert Patrick as the T-1000 (a mimetic poly alloy) made his first appearance on the screen. The two technologies most required for realistic virtual reality had made their return to the forefront and had grown up. Once again bringing Jaron Lanier's initial predictions to life and returning the possibility of a cyber-Pleroma in our lifetimes to the table.

John Carmack who'd been id Software's chief programmer and their developer of new technologies had left id Software (the company he'd cofounded with Romero). The story of id Software's beginnings was that John Carmack and John Romero had bought their first development computer with only enough money to pay the cab fare one way. They had to walk on foot several miles to make the purchase of their first NeXT workstation so they had enough to take a cab back to their homes with it. Talk about humble beginnings. id Software since Wolfenstein, Doom (legacy) and Quake have been one of the leading developers of 3D first person shooters. They were first company to offer shareware, giving away the first part of their games for free, then charging for further content and levels much like modern DLCs (DownLoadable Content) and a similar model to how I've been distributing my books.

John Carmack even gave a lifetime opportunity to programmer Seamus Mcnally who died of Lymphoma Hodgkins on March 21, 2000. He took Seamus for a trip to id Software to try out id's latest technology and to talk programming together as two game developers. Here's a shrine with a few memories from the time in honor of Seamus. The Butterfly Dragon story was one of my ways to direct a little attention to Lymphoma Hodgkins as well and my part in giving a bit back to Seamus and the senseless loss that results from such diseases. Seamus is the developer of the game Treadmarks and an independent developer for the company Longbow Games. The game itself was a marvel of 3D technology and a great multiplayer experience.

John Carmack since leaving id Software took a leadership role in what will likely become the next wave of the realization of virtual reality until we figure out a way to get at sensory perception through our nervous system. Headsets offering 3D stereoscopic view and motion tracking had been one of the first predicted milestones of the coming wave of virtual reality foretold by Jaron Lanier. Oculus is a recent incarnation of this utilizing the lastest in sensors for motion and a stereoscopic headset for viewing. With such a system one could conceivably watch big screen movies they rent through the internet on a virtual large screen television (in a virtual living room) or as if they were sitting right in the cinematic universe themselves (with a camera fixed perspective). Gaming environments come to life as cognition is fooled into believing what it perceives via depth perception. Try a thriller like Alien: Isolation which offers 3D headset support and you'll likely find yourself responding in terror. Other realities become possible like motion sickness, vertigo and other maladies one might discover as they fool their cognition into believing they are really a experiencing such situations as being high atop a building, falling from an airplane or orbiting an alien planet (Elite: Dangerous which also offers headset support). Open world experiences would likely bring a whole new level of reality to the game play.

What about exercise and a social life? What ill and foreboding future will this bring to people and their propensity for spending money and losing their social lives?

Video games were often criticized with the same arguments and have been for a long time though with little truth to any arguments leveled at them. It was much the same for comic books and television in the 1950s and 1960s just as it was against radio in the 1940s and film in the 1930s. What video games have brought in the way of benefit has far overshadowed their detriment. Many medical advances which are powered by workstation graphics were paid for by renewed interest in graphics technology funded by video game sales. Realism might be a vanity in a video game simulation, but in the medical world, giving medical professionals tools that allow them to put their expert eyes into places where it could not otherwise reach except by graphics and 3D representation of medical data, and you're saving lives with video game funded technology. In other words the processing power was paid for by the entertainment industry. Once again the vanity arts once scorned for their shallow appeal are actually saving lives.

This cosmetic beauty applied to seemingly frivolous art once again is the metaphor for the cosmetician that is scorned for their furthering of vanity. Those perpetrating such scorn then find the cosmetician working in a burn victim unit, helping to apply and design the reconstructive surgery to a burn victim. How shallow is that? No more shallow than a Brain Surgeon who is operating a micro controlled surgical device for a precision operation that was completely planned by a virtual reality system whose data was drawn from countless MRI images of the patient's own brain so that they could conduct the ten hour procedure safely and soundly. The virtual reality system's hardware is built by a company that for years had been operating on a profit from the sales of video game hardware and putting their return into cutting edge research into graphics processing technologies. The same technologies that are helping some people to get over their real world phobias. Possibly such technology might help patients overcome Parkinson's in the future as well as depicted in the movie Awakenings. Perception and cognition may hold the cures to many illnesses that we have yet to understand.

What about sitting on an exercise bicycle with a lightweight headset and going for a virtual ride through a European villa on a sunny day. Or a stretch of Californian beach with your significant other, whomever that might be. Exercise combined with video game technology does away with procrastination or making excuses. It even makes the idea of doing the real thing more palpable. What better way to warm up for real ride on a holiday by practicing for that ride before your holiday? Networked computers already make multiplayer experiences possible so why not two stationary exercise bikes with WiFi that act like video game controllers and power a virtual bicycle? There's your social and exercise. People have long been using systems like Wii (at my brother's parties its usually the hit) and Kinect to have interactive games at social gathering and parties. Virtual reality headsets and other interaces will offer a different kind of experience and no doubt will as visionaries like Jaron Lanier, John Carmack, Bill "Wild Bill" Cody and Tom Clancy predicted lead to things we can't even begin to imagine. Baseball and Hockey did not stop because of the advent of video games. As a matter of fact fans of those sports have been increasing as a result of non-fans being introduced to sports and gaining a respect for them through gaming.

Another use for the technology that people forget is often best cited in the movie Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow directed and co-written by James Cameron again and one of my favorites next to Anne Druyan, Carl Sagan's and Robert Zemickis' Contact and Zhang Yimou's Hero). In Strange Days, the technology exists so that people can record and sell each other's experiences directly from all of our senses and onto a disc that can be played back by someone else, who of course will relive that experience as if they'd done it themselves. In the movie the protagonist played by Ralph Fiennes who trades in these experiences sometimes even in the shady underground one, brings a gift to a friend of his who is confined to a wheel chair. The recording he brings for his friend is a simple one that most of us might take for granted. The recording is of the experience of going for a morning jog on a beautiful day on a beach on the west coast. Something most of us with working legs would likely take for granted. That's the power of virtual reality and technology. That's what the vanity arts have paid for (like gaming) and much like my book The Butterfly Dragon and A Lady's Prerogative (with a Wytch who develops a whole means of magic via her artistic works). Where we're going is likely going to be a lot like my story and soon to be published book, The Archive though there's more in store for the world of the Pleroma. Remember that those technologies are often paid for by artists of the vanity arts, of whom video game designers are a part. That's how games might save the world or a good many people.

Recently I've been investigating the possibility of bringing some more of my characters to life in this fashion and rather than building a world from the ground up, bringing the characters into an existing engine in the form of a mod is the best solution leaving you to concentrate on elements like character development, story and implementation. I'll be posting more about this here, at The Butterfly Dragon and A Lady's Prerogative as well as giving a more thorough article on the history of modding. I've been involved in map making and modding as far back as 1990 (hex editing engines running on PCs of the time) and as a map maker for Doom and Doom2 in the mid 1990s.

Thank you for reading,

Brian Joseph Johns

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Hadden 92CF34781XXY
[Circa: Thursday November 5, 2015 3:59 PM EST Earth]