The Game – Chapter 06September 1, 2009 at 7:09 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
Tags: advertising, advertitle, CBD, chapter, fabric violation zone, IT, Moore's Law, narcotic template renaturing, novel, PC, personal computer, recycling trigger, science fiction, speculative fiction, Stalingrad, technology, tractor
Myron Price sprinted up his stone stairs and fished a locking card from his runner. Entering the relative warmth of his cottage, he felt satisfaction at having risen early on another winter morning. Fourteen kilometres was pretty good for one who sat on his backside all day.
At twenty-five he was determined to maintain his physique, unable to fathom why so many men took thirty as their cue to obesity. Each run set him further from average and he was glad of the distance.
Myron towelled his face and relished the excitement of his day off. It had been a good month and his home-based software consultancy could tick over without him. His second reward was to be the latest performance PC. The Panrax 3700J boasted far more power than his business required and quite enough to make the most of the latest games.
Brochures littered the lounge. Though computing was his passion, Myron didn’t like online catalogues. In anticipating a major purchase, it was more satisfying to possess the desired object on glossy paper than to see it on a monitor. Faced with this reality, advertisers had met strict environmental standards with recycling triggers. Of the various triggers available, single-use literature employed fabric violation zones.
Tearing a zone initiated an accelerated weakening of molecular bonds which, under time lapse, looked like an eerie invisible fire. Showered and shaved, Myron ripped and binned the brochures he no longer wanted. By collection day, the paper discarded during the month would be reduced to fibres tailor-made for reconstitution.
Myron saved the well-thumbed Panrax brochure and felt a tug of pleasure. Soon he would own the finest PC yet built. Too distracted for breakfast, he left home with a light step and a sense of anticipation remembered from childhood.
Soon Myron was slicing through bubble wrap and tape. His face glowed as cardboard petals revealed the black device swathed in cellophane. His superseded PC called Franz Heilmayr, who looked up from his soldering iron.
‘Hello, Mr Price. What’ve you got there then?’
‘The new toy, just out of the box.’
‘I see,’ said Franz with feigned disapproval. ‘And what possessed you to purchase this…,’ he peered through his sandy fringe.
Myron grinned. ’3700J. I told you I was due for a reward.’
‘You must have done some very special work.’
‘Yeah, well, my company values me extremely highly. It follows that I should be compensated accordingly.’
‘I’m very happy for you.’
Myron knew his friend was envious, but not enough to begrudge him pleasure. ‘Thanks. Now, what say you come over and road test it with me?’
‘I can’t, I’ve got jobs on.’
‘Oh, bullshit! How can you think of work?’ Myron’s eyes narrowed conspiratorially. ‘I’ll let you take it to bits.’
Franz contemplated his bench. He enjoyed his work, but it didn’t compare to pulling apart the latest box. ‘You won’t have kittens every time I use my pliers?’
‘Absolutely not. Once we’ve seen what it can do, you may disembowel it — so long as you get us back online for tonight’s campaign.’
Franz’s pale blue eyes stared. ‘Shit! Is it two weeks already? Kiev seems like yesterday.’
‘Ja,’ said Myron, ‘und tonight is Stalingrad. We’re going to combine your paratroop strategy with this new beast. We’ll run their moves and send ours back so damn fast it’ll take their heads clean off!’
‘I still think they’re women,’ said Franz, referring to the team which challenged them fortnightly on PanzerNet. ‘Why else would they want to stay anonymous?’
Myron laughed. ‘Just because your dream girl has to be able to change a fan belt on a Tiger II.’
‘That’s not true! It’s their tactics; they’re diabolical and quite… merciless.’
‘Franz, I don’t care if we’re fighting gifted ferrets. If we don’t take Stalingrad tonight, our whole campaign’s at risk. So the sooner you satisfy your curiosity, the better we can ready for the fray.’
‘Alright; how does this sound? I’ll meet you half way. You play with your bells and whistles; I’ll come after lunch, look inside and get us up by 18:00. Then we can have a spot of pre-battle sustenance and I can enjoy the evening without freaking out about work. OK?’
‘You’ll miss the fireworks.’
‘I’m sure you’ll deign to run them again for me.’
‘Yeah, righto, but I want you here no later than 13:00. You know how carried away you get.’
‘Alright,’ said Franz, ‘See you then.’
Myron slid the 3700J into his workstation, then fetched a beer. It was mid-morning, but he felt like celebrating. He settled back to watch the PC self test and the beverage went warm in his hand. The industry managed to produce a unit totally superior to its predecessor every two years. Myron never witnessed the change without a feeling of awe. Would the technology never reach a limit? After wrestling with the improbability of his machine’s existence, he surrendered to the fact and simply enjoyed the invention whose complexity was approaching that of the human brain.
Franz Heilmayr shared Myron’s interest, but was less demonstrative. Dressed as usual in his rough, many-pocketed blouse and trousers, he removed the casing while Myron made a late lunch, then systematically disassembled the Panrax. Inside he discovered components which all but defied recognition. Paying homage to those responsible, he realised he’d have to study up to offer a customisation service.
Towards the end of his voyage, Franz grunted.
Myron looked up from a magazine. ‘What is it?’
‘Something strange.’ Franz slipped the Panrax’s manual into Myron’s old PC and a detailed schematic filled the screen. His tweezers held a blue, egg-shaped gob of plastic, three millimetres high and two wide. A fibre protruded from the narrow end. On the table lay a power module.
Myron felt a stab of anxiety. ‘You haven’t busted it, have you?’ He received the Look of Death. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean that. What is it?’
‘Good question, infidel,’ said Franz. ‘It’s a resistor, but as to its purpose, I know not. Even more amazing than my admission of ignorance, your manual doesn’t seem to know either.’
Myron pointed. ‘Did it come from there?’
Franz peered through his magnifying glass. ‘Yes, where a resistor has no place to be. Thinking I was onto another ingenious piece of redesign, I called up the schematic. The component isn’t named at all. See?’
Myron followed the tweezers but saw only a sea of angular tagliatelli. ‘I’ll take your word for it.’
‘Well, my word says it doesn’t match the product.’
Franz shook his head. ‘Not likely; the legal ramifications would be horrendous. Quality Control would never allow it.’
‘But it could be an error,’ said Myron, with no other idea to offer.
‘Possible, but extremely unlikely. I’d lay sixty to one against it.’
‘Well… what, then?’
‘I don’t know. There, I’ve said it again — that’s twice in one month!’ Franz rummaged in his tool bag and withdrew a slim rectangular card.
‘What’re you doing now?’
‘Keep your pants on; just a once over with the multimeter.’
‘Ah, to see if the resistor really is a resistor?’
Myron was pleased with his glimmer of understanding. Franz performed the standard tests, then pushed away from the desk and rubbed his eyes.
‘I’ll be damned; it is a resistor. But what’s it doing there? I’ve gotta get up to speed with this stuff if I’m to stay in business.’
‘Well it’s nice to see that hardware can be as fickle as software,’ said Myron. ‘I’ve always envied you working with things you could smash against the wall. I’ve never had that luxury with coding.’
Franz stared at the schematic. ‘Looks like you might be right about the typo. You should’ve taken my odds.’ He began to reassemble the PC. ‘Why don’t you call Panrax? They might send you a token of thanks.’
‘What would I tell them? “The thingo left of the jigger is light on for tendrils”? They’d think I was mad. You’re the boffin; you call ‘em. Just put me down for twenty percent of the reward, whatever it is.’
‘If it’s booze, you’ll not get a drop. Ignorant bastard.’
‘Oh-ho! Bastard am I? Gunner Heilmayr wishes to forfeit his chance to duel with the gorgeous tractor factory amazons using Colonel Price’s superior technology. The Eastern Front Dating Agency is no more!’
‘Steady on, you black mongrel. Drummer Price forgets that Field Marshall Heilmayr has his precious technology in a thousand pieces and that without a full retraction of his insulting outburst, such pieces shall be reunited nevermore.’
Myron leapt to attention. ‘Sir, I hereby request permission to withdraw my insinuation that you participate in our campaign merely to nurture twisted fantasies about women who are into turn-based battle simulations. Forgive me.’
Franz returned the salute. ‘You are forgiven. Your penance shall be to command auxiliary units for the first hour. Also, I want a beer.’
‘Yes Sir! Now, please put my baby back together.’
After three days, Myron had a good idea of what his machine could do. As he watched it handle his most complicated applications with ease, he felt humbled and even sad that he had nothing with which to challenge it. He imagined himself devising software of a complexity that demanded a new class of platform. His accounting and investment programs seemed drab and trivial by comparison.
On Friday he prepared for a drinking and bullshit session with Franz. Though alcohol, like all drugs, had been replaced by templates kind to bodies, it retained its disinhibiting effects. Narcotic Template Renaturing was akin to DNA engineering. Feeding off each other, the two research streams had developed in parallel. Just as it were possible to switch off codes for hereditary traits, adjustments in the molecular composition of intoxicants had swept away the undesirable consequences of a big night out.
Myron filled his freezer bag and wondered why many people had to be pissed to reveal their feelings. The situation had a flip side: if you wanted the truth from someone, you need only get him drunk. Myron resolved to raise the topic after a few beers.
‘It’s a funny old world,’ he said sagely to the mirror.
‘Mustn’t grumble,’ his reflection agreed brightly.
He lived in a doughnut-shaped zone that had once serviced the CBD. Now sourcing decisions were based on performance indicators and customers had abandoned their quest for human service. Materials and products sped cheaply and cleanly beneath the city, making it no longer necessary to locate close to clients. Zones became blurred as manufacturers moved out. Developers renovated most of the shells; councils demolished others for parks. A few niche businesses lived on among nascent residential communities.
Myron power-walked along reclaimed nature strips and bicycle tracks, past converted warehouses, concept domiciles and a growing number of svelte, well-designed public housing projects. Bricks and cancered concrete fought carbon fibre and Electroglass for his attention — two centuries of urban history framed in competing elevations.
The one constant among the farrago was advertising. Whoever owned a surface could rent it and few had resisted the temptation. Some builders even specialised in windowless homes, since unbroken surfaces commanded higher returns. Cued by their own flashing facades, owner-occupiers used the rent for gambling, intoxicants or take-away food. The fiscal advantage of prostituting the suburb thus returned via domestic budgets to corporate coffers.
A phalanx of these ‘advertitles’ pulsed a visual metronome at the end of Myron’s street — garish characters streaming over walls and roofs. As Myron approached, they quizzed his mobile and switched to products in keeping with his purchasing history.
PCs aside, Myron was one of the few consumers who bought only what he required. He was in tune with his needs and no advertising, however intuitive, could move him. Like his friends, Myron deplored the mainstream and was proudly immune to calls for conformity, unless disinhibited by narcotics. Stoned, he was as vulnerable as any to sugar and sex. In his defence, he’d once held that society had been psychologically drugged and was experiencing an era he termed ‘The Global Munchies’. As a Rational Man, he could connect with the majority only by submitting to a drug-induced transformation of identity.
Myron’s friends, themselves considerably disinhibited at the time, had replied candidly that he was full of shit.
Read Chapter 07.
Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.