#ifdefDEBUG + ‘world/enough’ + ‘time’

a guest May 18th, 2016 164 Never
Not a member of Pastebin yet? Sign Up, it unlocks many cool features!
  1. #ifdefDEBUG + ‘world/enough’ + ‘time’
  3. Terry Pratchett
  7. This was published in 1990 in the anthology Digital Dreams, edited by Dave Barrett. I was tempted to ‘update’ this – after all, it’s about Virtual Reality, haha, remember that everybody? I am so old I can remember virtual reality! – but what’s the point? Besides, it would be cheating.
  9. I just liked the idea of an amiable repairman, not very bright but good with machines, padding the streets of a quiet, dull, sleeping world. Things are breaking down, knowledge is draining away, and he’s driving his van around the sleeping streets, helping people dream.
  11. Now, many years later, it appears rather chilly and maybe quite close to home.
  13. * * *
  15. Never could stand the idea of machines in people. It’s not proper. People say, hey, what about pacemakers and them artificial kidneys and that, but they’re still machines no matter what.
  17. Some of them have nuclear batteries. Don’t tell me that’s right.
  19. I tried this implant once, it was supposed to flash the time at the bottom left-hand corner of your eyeball once a second, in little red numbers. It was for the busy exec, they said, who always needs to know, you know, subliminally what the time is. Only mine kept resetting to Tuesday, 1 January, 1980, every time I blinked, so I took it back, and the salesman tried to sell me one that could show the time in twelve different capitals plus stock market reports and that. All kinds of other stuff, too. It’s getting so you can get these new units and you go to have a slash, excuse my French, and all these little red numbers scroll up with range and position details and a vector-graphics lavvy swims across your vision, beepbeepbeep, lock-on, fire …
  21. She’s around somewhere. You might of even seen her. Or him. It’s like immortality.
  23. Can’t abide machines in people. Never could, never will.
  25. I mention this because, when I got to the flat, the copper on the door had that panicky look in his eye they have when they’re listening to their internal radio.
  27. I mean, probably it looked a great idea on paper. Whole banks of crime statistics and that, delivered straight to the inside of your head. Only they get headaches from all the noise. And what good is it, every time a cab goes by, they get this impulse to pick up a fare from Flat 27, Rushdie Road? My joke.
  29. I went in and there was this smell.
  31. Not from the body, though. They’d got rid of that smell, first thing.
  33. No. This smell, it was just staleness. The kind of smell old plastic makes. It was the kind of smell a place gets that ought to be dirty, only there’s not enough dirt around, so what you get is ground-in cleanness. When you leave home, say, and your mum keeps the room just like it was for ten years, that’s the kind of smell you get. The whole flat was like that, although there were no aeroplanes hanging from the ceiling.
  35. So I get called into the main room and immediately I spot the Seagem, because I’m trained, you notice things like that. It was a series Five, which in my opinion were a big mistake. The Fours were pretty near ideal, so why tinker? It’s like saying, hey, we’ve invented the perfect bicycle so, next thing we’ll do, we’ll put thirteen more wheels on it – like, for example, they replaced the S-2030s with the S-4060, not a good move in my opinion.
  37. This one was dead. I mean, the power light was on and it was warm, but if it was operating you’d expect to see lights moving on the panel. Also, there was this really big 4711 unit on top, which you don’t expect to see in a private house. It’s a lab tool. It was a dual model, too. Smell and taste. I could see by the model number it was one of the ones you use a tongue glove with, which is actually quite okay. Never could understand the spray-on polymers. People say, hey, isn’t it like having a condom in your mouth, but it’s better than having to scrape gunk off your tongue at bedtime.
  39. Lots of other stuff had been hooked in, too, and half a dozen phone lines into a patch unit. There was a 1MT memory sink, big as a freezer.
  41. Someone who knew what they wanted to buy had really been spending some money here.
  43. And, oh yes, in the middle of it, like they’d told me on the phone, the old guy. He was dead, too. Sitting on a chair. They weren’t going to do anything to him until I’d been, they said.
  45. Because of viruses, you see. People get funny ideas about viruses.
  47. They’d taken his helmet off and you could see the calluses where the nose plugs had been. And his face was white, I mean, yes, he was dead and everything, but it had been like something under a stone even before, and his hair was all long and crinkly and horrible where it had been growing under the helmet. And he didn’t have a beard, what he had was just long, long chin hair, never had a blade to it in years. He looked like God would look if he was on really serious drugs. And dead, of course.
  49. Actually, he was not that old at all. Thirty-eight. Younger than me. Of course, I jog.
  51. This other copper was standing by the window, trying to pick up HQ through the microwave mush. He looked bored. All the first-wave scene-of-crime types had long been and gone. He just nodded to the Seagem and said, ‘You know how to fix these things?’
  53. That was just to establish, you know, that there was them and us, and I was a them. But they always call me in. Reliable, see. Dependable. You can’t trust the big boys, they’re all dealers and agents for the afer companies, they’re locked in. Me, I could go back to repairing microswatch players tomorrow. Darren Thompson, Artificial Realities repaired, washing-machine motors rewound. I can do it, too. Ask kids today even to repair a TV, they’ll laugh at you, they’ll say you’re out of the Arc.
  55. I said, ‘Sometimes. If they’re fixable. What’s the problem?’
  57. ‘That’s what we’d like you to find out,’ he says, more or less suggesting, if we can’t pin something on him we’ll pin it on you, chum. ‘Can you get a shock off these things?’
  59. ‘No way. You see, the interfaces—’
  61. ‘All right, all right. But you know what’s being said about ’em. Maybe he was using it for weird kicks.’ Coppers think everyone uses them for weird kicks.
  63. ‘I object most strongly to that,’ said this other voice. ‘I object most strongly, and I shall make a note of it. There’s absolutely no evidence.’
  65. There was this other man. In a suit. Neat. He was sitting by one of these little portable office terminals. I hadn’t noticed him before because he was one of these people you wouldn’t notice if he was with you in a wardrobe.
  67. He smiled the sort of smile you have to learn and stuck out his hand. Can’t remember his face. He had a warm, friendly handshake, the kind where you want to have a wash afterwards.
  69. ‘Pleased to meet you, Mr Thompson,’ he said. ‘I’m Carney. Paul Carney. Seagem public affairs department. Here to see that you are allowed to carry out your work. Without interference.’ He looked at the copper, who was definitely not happy. ‘And any pressure,’ he added.
  71. Of course, they’ve always wanted to nail Seagem, I know that. So I suppose they have to watch business. But I’ve done thirty, forty visits where afers have died, and men in suits don’t turn up, so this was special. All the money in the equipment should’ve told me that.
  73. Life can get very complicated for men in overalls who have problems with men in suits.
  75. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘I know my way around these things okay, but if you want some really detailed testing then I would have thought your people’ll—’
  77. ‘Seagem’s technical people are staying right out of this,’ snapped the copper. ‘This is a straight in-situ report, you understand. For the coroner. Mr Carney is not allowed to give you any instructions at all.’
  79. Uniforms, too. They can give you grief.
  81. So I took the covers off, opened the toolbox, and stuck in. That’s my world. They might think they’re big men, but when I’ve got the back off something and its innards all over the floor, it’s me that’s the boss …
  83. Of course, they’re all called Seagems, even the ones made by Hitachi or Sony or Amstrad. It’s like Hoovers and hoovers. In a way, they aren’t difficult. Nine times out of ten, if you’re in trouble, you’re talking loose boards, unseated panels, maybe a burnout somewhere. The other one time it’s probably something you can only cure by taking the sealed units into the hypercleanroom and tapping them with a lump hammer, style of thing.
  85. People say, hey, bet you got an armful of degrees and that. Not me. Basically, if you can repair a washing machine you can do everything to a Seagem that you can do outside a lab. So long as you can remember where you put the screws down, it’s not taxing. That’s if it’s a hardware problem, of course. Software can be a pain. You got to be a special type of person to handle the software. Like me. No imagination, and proud of it.
  87. ‘Kids use these things, you know,’ said the copper, when I was kneeling on the floor with the interface boards stacked around me.
  89. (I always call them coppers, because of tradition. Did you know that ‘copper’ as slang for policeman comes from the verb ‘to cop’, first reliably noted in 1859? No, you don’t, because, after all that big thing ten years ago about the trees and that, the university put loads of stuff into those big old read/write optical units, and some kid managed to get a McLint virus into the one in the wossname department. You know? Words? History of words. This was before I specialized in Seagems, only in those days they were still called Computer Generated Environments. And they called me in and all I could haul out of 5kT of garbage was half a screenful which I read before it wiped. This guy was crying. ‘The whole history of English philology is up the swanee,’ he said, and I said, would it help if I told him the word ‘copper’ was first reliably noted in 1859, and he didn’t even make a note of it. He should of. They could, you know, start again. I mean, it wouldn’t be much, but it would be a start. Often wondered what ‘up the swanee’ really means. Don’t suppose I’ll ever know, now.)
  91. ‘Kids use them,’ he said. You could tell he wanted to use a word like ‘bastards’, but not with the suit around.
  93. Not ones like these they don’t, I thought. This stuff is top of the range. You couldn’t get it in the shops.
  95. ‘If I caught my lad with one, I’d tan his hide. We used to play healthy games when I was a kid. Elite, Space Invaders, that stuff.’
  97. ‘Yeah.’ Let’s see, attach probes here and here …
  99. ‘Please allow Mr Thompson to get on with his work,’ said the suit.
  101. ‘I think,’ said the copper nastily, ‘we ought to tell him who this man is.’ Then they started to argue about it.
  103. I suppose I’d assumed he was just some old guy who’d hooked into one porno afer too many. Not a bad way to go, by the way. People say, hey, what you mean? Dying of an overdose of artificial sex is okay? And I say, compared to about a million other ways, yes. Realities can’t kill you unless you want to go. The normal feedback devices can’t raise a bruise, whatever the horror stories say, although between you and me, I’ve heard of, you know, things, exoskeletons, the army used ’em but they’ve turned up elsewhere. They can let your dreams kick the shit out of you.
  105. ‘He’s Michael Dever,’ said the copper. ‘Mr Thompson should know that. He invented half this stuff. He’s a big man at Seagem. Hasn’t been into the office for five years, apparently. Works from home. Worked,’ he corrected himself. ‘Top man in development. Lives like this. Lived. Sends all his stuff in over the link. No one bothered about it, see, because he’s a genius. Then he missed an important deadline yesterday.’
  107. That explained about the suit, then. Heard about Dever, of course, but all the pix in the mags showed this guy in a T-shirt and a grin. Old pix, then. A big man, yes. So maybe important stuff in the machine. Or he was testing something. Or they thought, maybe someone had slipped him a virus. After all, there were enough lines into the unit.
  109. Nothing soiled though, I thought. Some people who are gone on afer will live in shit, but you do get the thorough ones, who work it all out beforehand – fridge stacked with TV dinners, bills paid direct by the bank, half an hour out from under every day for housework and aerobics, and then off they go for a holiday in their heads.
  111. ‘Better than most I’ve seen,’ I said. ‘Neat. No trouble to anyone. I’ve been called into ones because of the smell even when they weren’t dead.’
  113. ‘Why’s he got those pipes hooked up to the helmet?’ said the copper.
  115. He really didn’t know. I supposed he hadn’t had much to do with afers, not really. A lot of the brighter coppers keep away from them, because you can get really depressed. What we had here was Entonox mixture, the intelligent afer’s friend. Little tubes to your nose plugs, then a little program on the machine which brings you out of your reality just enough every day for e.g. a go on the exercise bike, a meal, visit the bathroom.
  117. ‘If you’re going to drop out of your own reality, you need all the help you can get,’ I explained. ‘So the machine trickles you some gas and fades the program gradually. Gives you enough of a high to come out of it without screaming.’
  119. ‘What if the valves stick?’ asked the suit.
  121. ‘Can’t. There’s all kinds of fail-safes, and it monitors your—’
  123. ‘We believe the valves may have stuck,’ said the suit firmly.
  125. Well. Good thinking. Seagem don’t make valves. The little gas units are definitely third-party add-ons. So if some major employee dies under the helmet, it’s nice to blame valves. Only I’ve never heard of a valve sticking, and there really are a load of fail-safes. The only way it’d work is if the machine held some things off and some things on, and that’s purpose, and machines don’t have that.
  127. Only it’s not my place to say things like that.
  129. ‘Poor guy,’ I said.
  131. The copper unfolded at high speed and grabbed my shoulder and towed me out and into a bedroom, just like that. ‘Just you come and look at this,’ he kept saying. ‘Just you come and look. This isn’t one of your bloody electronic things. Poor guy? Poor guy? This is real.’
  133. There was this other dead body next door, see.
  135. He thought I was going to be shocked. Well, I wasn’t. You see worse things in pictures of Ancient Egypt. You see worse things on TV. I see them for real, sometimes. Nearly fresh corpses can be upsetting, believe me, but this wasn’t because it’d been years. Plenty of time for the air to clear. Of course, I only saw the head, I wouldn’t have liked to have been there when they pulled the sheets back.
  137. She might have been quite good looking, although of course it was hard to be sure. There were coroner’s stickers over everything.
  139. ‘Know what she died of?’ asked the copper. ‘Forensic think she was pregnant and something went wrong. She bled to death. And her just lying there, and him in the next room in his little porno world. Name was Suzannah. Of course, all the neighbours are suddenly concerned that they never saw her around for years. Kept themselves to themselves,’ he mimicked shrilly. ‘Half of ’em afers too, you bet.
  141. ‘He left her for five years. Just left her there.’
  143. He was wrong. Listen, I’ve been called in before when an afer’s died, and like I said it’s the smell every time. Like rotting food, you know. But Dever or someone had sealed the room nicely, and put her in a body-bag thing.
  145. Anyway, let’s face it, most people these days smell via a Seagem of some sort. Keeps you from smelling what you don’t want to smell.
  147. * * *
  149. It began with the Dataglove, and then there were these whole-body suits, and along with them were the goggles – later the helmets – where the computer projected the images. So you could walk into the screen, you could watch your hands move inside the images, you could feel them. All dead primitive stuff now, like Edison’s first television or whatever. No smell, not much colour, hardly any sensory feedback. Took them ages to crack smell.
  151. Everyone said, hey, this is it, like your accountant can wear a whole reality suit and stroll around inside your finances. And chemists can manipulate computer simulations of molecules and that. Artificial realities would push back the boundaries of, you know, man’s thirst for wossname.
  153. Well, yeah. My dad said once, ‘Know where I first saw a microchip? Inside a ping-pong game.’
  155. So prob’ly those thirsty for pushing back boundaries pushed ’em back all right, but where you really started seeing reality units was on supermarket checkout girls and in sports shops, because you could have a whole golf course in your home and stuff like that. If you were really rich. Really very rich. But then Seagem marketed a cut-down version, and then Amstrad, and then everything went mad.
  157. You see people in the streets every day with reality units. Mostly they’re just changing a few little things. You know. Maybe they edit out black men, or slogans, or add a few trees. Just tinkering a bit, just helping themselves get through the day.
  159. Well sure, I know what some afers do. I know kids who think you can switch the wires so you taste sound and smell vision. What you really do is, you get a blinding headache if you’re lucky. And there’s the people who, like I said, can’t afford a rollafloor so they go hiking through the Venusian jungles or whatever in a room eight feet square and fall out the window. And afers have burned alive and turned into couch crisps. You’ve seen it all on the box. At least, you have if you’re not an afer. They don’t watch much.
  161. Odd, really. Government is against it. Well, it’s a drug. One you can’t tax. And they say, freedom is the birthright of every individual, but you start being free, they get upset. Coppers seem to be offended, too. But … well. Take rape. I mean, you don’t hear about it these days. Not when you can pick up Dark Alley Cruiser down the rental shop. Not that I’ve watched it, you understand, but I’m told the girl’s very good, does all that’s expected of her, which you don’t have to be an Eisenstein to work out isn’t what it’d be like for real, if you catch my drift. And there’s other stuff, I won’t even mention the titles. I don’t need to, do I? It’s not all remakes of Rambo XXIV with you in the title role is what I mean.
  163. I reckon what the coppers don’t like is there’s all this crime going on in your head and they can’t touch you for it.
  165. There’s all that stuff on the TV about how it corrupts people. All these earnest professors sitting round in leather chairs – of course they never use their machines for anything except the nature programmes or high-toned stuff like Madam Ovary. Probably does corrupt people but, I don’t know, everything’s been corrupting people since the, you know, dawn of thingy, but with afers it stays inside. They aren’t about to go and knock over some thin little girl in cotton underwear coming back from the all-night chippy, not after Dark Alley Cruiser. Probably can’t, anyway. And it’s cheap so you don’t have to steal for it. A lot of them forget to feed themselves. Afers are the kind of problems that come with the solutions built in.
  167. I like a good book, me.
  169. * * *
  171. They watched me very hard when I checked the gas-feed controls. The add-on stuff was pretty good. You could see where it was hooked into everything else. I bet if I had time to really run over it on the bench you’d find he had a little daydream every day. Probably didn’t even properly come out from under. Funny thing, that, about artificial realities. You know how you can be dreaming and the buzzer goes and the dream sort of incorporates the buzzer into the plot? Probably it was like that.
  173. It had been well maintained. Cleaned regularly and everything. You can get into trouble otherwise, you get build-ups of gunk on connectors and things. That’s why all my customers, I tell them, you take out a little insurance, I’ll be round every six months regular, you can give me the key, I’ve even got a bypass box so if you’re, you know, busy I can do a quick service and be away and you won’t know I’ve been. This is personal service. They trust me.
  175. I switched off the power to the alarms, cleaned a few boards for the look of it, reseated everything, switched it back on. Et wolla.
  177. The copper leaned over my shoulder.
  179. ‘How did you do that?’ he said.
  181. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘there was no negative bias voltage on the sub-logic multiplexer,’ which shut him up.
  183. Thing is, there wasn’t anything wrong. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find a fault, there was nothing to say that a fault existed. It was as if it’d just been told to shut down everything. Including him.
  185. Valve stuck … that meant too much nitrous oxide. The scene of crime people prob’ly had to get the smile off his face with a crowbar.
  187. The lights came on, there were all the little whirs and gurgles you get when these things boot up, the memory sinks started to hum, we were cooking with gas.
  189. They got excited about all this.
  191. And then, of course, I had to get out my own helmet.
  193. Viruses, that’s the thing. Started off as a joke. Some kid’d hack into someone else’s reality, scrawl messages on the walls. A joke, like the McLints. Only, instead of scrambling the wage bill or wiping out English literature, you turned their brain to cheese. Frighten them to death, or whatever. Scares the hell out of some people, the thought that you can kill people that way. They act illogical. You find someone dead under an afer unit, you call in someone like me. Someone with no imagination.
  195. You’d be amazed, the things I’ve seen.
  197. You’re right.
  199. You’re clever. You’ve had an education.
  201. You’re saying, hey, I know what you saw. You saw the flat, right, and it was just like it was really, only maybe cleaner, and she was still alive in it, and maybe there was a kid’s voice in the next room, the kid they never had, because, right, he’d sat there maybe five years ago maybe while she was still warm and done the reality creation job of a lifetime. And he was living in it, just sane enough to make sure he kept on living in it. An artificial reality just like reality ought to have been.
  203. Right. You’re right. You knew it. I should’ve held something back, but that’s not like me.
  205. Don’t ask me to describe it. Why ask me to describe it? It was his.
  207. I told the other two and the PR man said firmly, ‘Well, all right. And then a valve stuck.’
  209. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I’ll just make a report, okay? About what I’ve found. I’m a wire man, I don’t mess around with pipes. But I wouldn’t mind asking you a question.’
  211. That got them. That got them. People like me don’t normally ask questions, apart from, ‘Where’s the main switch?’
  213. ‘Well?’ said the suit.
  215. ‘See,’ I said, ‘it’s a funny old world. I mean, you can hide a body from people these days, it’s easy. But there’s a lot more to it in the real world. I mean, there’s banks and credit companies, right? And medical checks and polls and stuff. There’s this big electric shadow everyone’s got. If you die—’
  217. They were both looking at me in this funny way. Then the suit shrugged and the uniform handed me this print-out from the terminal. I read it, while the memory sink whirred and whirred and whirred …
  219. She visited the doctor last year.
  221. The girl who runs the supermarket checkouts swears she sees her regularly.
  223. She writes stories for kids. She’s done three in the last five years. Quite good, apparently. Very much like the stuff she used to do before she was dead. One of them got an award.
  225. She’s still alive. Out there.
  227. It’s like I’ve always said. Most of the conversations you have with most people are just to reassure one another that you’re alive, so you don’t need a very complex paragorithm. And Dever could do some really complex stuff.
  229. She’s been getting everywhere. She was on that flight to Norway that got blown up last year. The stewardess saw her. Of course, the girl was wearing environment gear, all aircrew do, it stops them having to look at ugly passengers. Mrs Dever still had a nice time in Oslo. Spent some money there.
  231. She was in Florida, too. At the same time.
  233. She’s a virus. The first ever self-replicating reality virus.
  235. She’s everywhere.
  237. * * *
  239. Anyway, you won’t of heard about it, because it all got hushed up because Seagem are bigger than you thought. They buried him and what was left of her. In a way.
  241. I heard from, you know, contacts that at one point the police were considering calling it murder, but what was the point? The way they saw it, all the evidence of her still being alive was just something he’d arranged, sort of to cover things up. I don’t think so because I like happy endings, me.
  243. And it really went on for a long time, the memory sink. Like I said, the flat had more data lines running into it than usual, because he needed them for his work.
  245. I reckon he’s gone out there, now.
  247. You walk down the street, you’ve got your reality visor on, who knows if who you’re seeing is really there? I mean, maybe it isn’t like being alive, but perhaps it isn’t like being dead.
  249. I’ve got photos of both of them. Went through old back issues of the Seagem house magazine, they were both at some long-service presentation. She was quite good-looking. You could tell they liked one another.
  251. Makes sense they’ll look just like that now. Every time I switch a visor on, I wonder if I’ll spot them. Wouldn’t mind knowing how they did it, might like to be a virus myself one day, could be an expert at it.
  253. He owes me, anyway. I got the machine going again and I never told them what she said to me, when I saw her in his reality. She said, ‘Tell him to hurry.’
  255. Romantic, really. Like that play … what was it … with the good dance numbers, supposed to be in New York. Oh, yeah. Romeo and Juliet.
  257. People in machines, I can live with that.
  259. People say to me, hey, this what the human race is meant for? I say, buggered if I know, who knows? We never went back to the Moon, or that other place, the red one, but we didn’t spend the money down here on Earth either. So people just curl up and live inside their heads.
  261. Until now, anyway.
  263. They could be anywhere. Of course, it’s not like life but prob’ly it isn’t death either. I wonder what compiler he used? I’d of loved to have had a look at it before he shut the machine down. When I rebooted it, I sort of initialized him and sent him out. Sort of like a godfather, me.
  265. And anyway, I heard somewhere there’s this god, he dreams the whole universe, so is it real or what? Begins with a b. Buddha, I think. Maybe some other god comes round every six million years to service the machinery.
  267. But me, I prefer to settle down of an evening with a good book. People don’t read books these days. Don’t seem to do anything, much. You go down any street, it’s all dead, all these people living in their own realities.
  269. I mean, when I was a kid, we thought the future would be all crowded and cool and rainy with big glowing Japanese adverts everywhere and people eating noodles in the street. At least you’d be communicating, if only to ask the other guy to pass the soy sauce. My joke. But what we got, we got this Information Revolution, what it means is no bugger knows anything and doesn’t know they don’t know, and they just give up.
  271. You shouldn’t turn in on yourself. It’s not what being human means. You got to reach out.
  273. For example, I’m really enjoying Elements of OSCF Bandpass Design in Computer Generated Environments.
  275. Man who wrote it seems to think you can set your S-2030s without isolating your cascade interfaces.
  277. Try that in the real world and see what happens.
RAW Paste Data
We use cookies for various purposes including analytics. By continuing to use Pastebin, you agree to our use of cookies as described in the Cookies Policy. OK, I Understand