Authors: Paul Di Filippo
Paul Di Filippo
Paul Di Filippo
© 2010 by Paul Di Filippo
Copyright for digital edition for all languages
© Digitpub srl 2010
via Adige 20 - 20135 Milano, Italia
Cover by Roberto Grassilli
This title is also available in português and italiano
Converted in ebook format in October 2010
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Paul Di Filippo
Meet Russ Reynolds
Russ Reynolds, that’s me. You probably remember my name from when I ran the country for three days. Wasn’t that a wild time? I’m sorry I started a trade war with several countries around the globe. I bet you’re all grateful things didn’t ramp up to the shooting stage. I know I am. And the UWA came out ahead in the end, right? No harm, no foul. Thanks for being so understanding and forgiving. I assure you that my motives throughout the whole affair, although somewhat selfish, were not ignoble.
And now that things have quieted down, I figured people would be calm enough to want to listen to the whole story behind those frighteningly exciting events.
So here it is.
Mr. Wiki Builds My Dream House
It all started, really, the day when several wikis where I had simoleans banked got together to build me a house. Not only did I meet my best friend Foolty Fontal that day, but I also hooked up with Cherimoya Espiritu. It’s hard now, a few years later, to say which one of those outrageous personages gave me the wildest ride. But it’s certain that without their aiding and abetting, plotting and encouraging, I would never have become the jimmywhale of the UWA, and done what I did.
The site for my new house was a tiny island about half an acre in extent. This dry land represented all that was left of what used to be Hyannis, Massachusetts, since Cape Cod became an archipelago. Even now, during big storms, the island was frequently overwashed, so I had picked up the title to it for a song when I got tired of living on my boat, the
Of course the value of coastal land everywhere had plunged steadily in the three decades since the destruction of New Orleans. People just got tired of seeing their homes and businesses destroyed on a regular basis by super-storms and rising sea levels. Suddenly Nebraska and Montana and the Dakotas looked like beckoning havens of safety, especially with their ameliorated climates, and the population decline experienced for a century by the Great Plains states reversed itself dramatically, lofting the region into a new cultural hotzone. I had heard lately that Fargo had spawned yet another musical movement, something called “cornhüsker dü,” although I hadn’t yet listened to any samples of it off the ubik.
Anyway, this little islet would serve me well, I figured, as both home and base for my job—assuming I could erect a good solid comfortable structure here. Realizing that such a task was beyond my own capabilities, I called in my wikis.
The Dark Galactics. The PEP Boys. The Chindogurus. Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons. The Bishojos. The Glamazons. The Provincetown Pickers. And several more. All of them owed me simoleans for the usual—goods received, or time and expertise invested—and now they’d be eager to balance the accounts.
The day construction was scheduled to start, I anchored the Gogo Goggins on the western side of my island, facing the mainland. The June air was warm on my bare arms, and freighted with delicious salt scents. Gulls swooped low over my boat, expecting the usual handouts. The sun was a golden English muffin in the sky. (Maybe I should have had some breakfast, but I had been too excited to prepare any that morning). Visibility was great. I could see drowned church spires and dead cell-phone towers closer to the shore. Through this slalom a small fleet of variegated ships sailed, converging on my island.
The shadow of one of the high unmanned aerostats that maintained the ubik passed over me, the same moment I used that medium to call up IDs on the fleet. In my vision, translucent tags overlaid each ship, labeling their owners, crew and contents. I was able to call up realtime magnified images of the ships as well, shot from the aerostats and tiny random entomopter cams. I saw every kind of vessel imaginable: sleek catamarans, old lobster boats, inflatables, decommissioned Coast Guard cutters – And all of them carrying my friends – some of whom I had met face to face, some of whom I hadn’t – coming to help build my house.
I hopped out of my boat onto dry land. My island was covered with salt-tolerant scrub plants and the occasional beach rose. No trees to clear. Construction could begin immediately.
As I awaited my friends, I got several prompts displayed across my left eye, notifying me of four or five immediate ubik developments in areas of interest to me. I had the threshold of my attention-filter set fairly high, so I knew I should attend to whatever had made it over that hurdle. For speed’s sake, I kept the messages text-only, suppressing the full audiovideo presentations.
The first development concerned an adjustment to the local property-tax rates. “Glamorous Glynnis” had just amended the current rate structure to penalize any residence over 15,000 square feet that failed to feed power back to the grid. Sixty-five other people had endorsed the change. I added my own vote to theirs and tacked on a clause to exempt group homes.
Next came a modification to the rules of the non-virtual marketplace back on the mainland, where I sold many of my salvaged goods in person. “Jinglehorse” wanted to extend the hours of operation on holidays. Competitively speaking, I’d feel compelled to be there if the booths were open extra. And since I liked my downtime, I voted no.
Items three and four involved decriminalizing a newly designed recreational drug named “arp”, and increasing our region’s fresh water exports. I didn’t know enough about arp, so I got a search going for documents on the drug. I’d try to go through them tonight, and vote tomorrow. And even though I felt bad for the drought-sufferers down South, I didn’t want to encourage continued habitation in a zone plainly unsuited for its current population densities, so I voted no.
The last item concerned a Wikitusional Amendment. National stuff. This new clause had been in play for six months now without getting at least provisionally locked down, approaching a record length of revision time. The Amendment mandated regular wiki participation as a prerequisite for full enfranchisement in the UWA. “Uncle Sham” had just stuck in a clause exempting people older than sixty-five. I wasn’t sure what I thought about that, so I pushed the matter back in the queue.
By the time I had attended to these issues, the first of my visitors had arrived, a small vessel named
The Smiling Dictator
, and bearing a lone man. The craft crunched onto the beach, and the guy jumped out.
“Hey, Russ! Nice day for a house-raising.”
Jack Cortez – “Cortez the Queller” in the ubik – resembled a racing greyhound in slimness and coiled energy. He wore a fisherman’s vest over bare chest, a pair of denim cutoffs bleached white, and boat shoes. His SCURF showed as a dark green eagle across a swath of his chest.
“Ahimsa, Jack! I really appreciate you showing up.”
“No problem. The Church still owes you for retrieving that Madonna. But you gotta do
work nonetheless! Come on and give me a hand.”
I went over to the
and helped Jack wrestle some foam-encased objects big as coffee-table-tops out of the boat. When we had the half-dozen objects stacked on land, he flaked off some of the protective foam and revealed the corner of a window frame.
“Six smart windows. Variable opacity, self-cleaning, rated to withstand Category Four storms. Fully spimed, natch. One of our co-religionists is a contractor, and these were left over from a recent job.”
By then, the rest of the boats had arrived. A perfect storm of unloading and greeting swept over my little domain. Crates and girders and pre-formed pilings and lumber and shingles and equipment accumulated in heaps, while bottled drinks made the rounds, to fortify and replenish. The wiki known as the Shewookies had brought not materials nor power tools but food. They began to set up a veritable banquet on folding tables, in anticipation of snacking and lunching.
A guy I didn’t recognize came up to me, hand extended. His SCURF formed orange tiger stripes on his cheeks and down his jaws. Before I could bring up his tag, he introduced himself.
“Hi, Russ. Bob Graubauskas—‘Grabass’ to you. Jimmywhale for the Sunflower Slowdrags. So, you got any solid preferences for your house?”
“No, not really. Just so long as it’s strong and spacious and not too ugly.”
Grabass began to issue silent orders to his wiki, a ubik stream he cued me in on. But then a big woman wearing overalls intervened.
“Margalit Bayless, with the Mollicutes. ‘Large Marge.’ You truly gonna let the Slowdrags design this structure all by themselves?”
“That’s good. Because my people have some neat ideas too.”
I left Large Marge and Grabass noisily debating the merits of their various plans while I snagged an egg-salad sandwich and a coffee. By the time I had swallowed the last bite, both the Mollicutes and the Sunflower Slowdrags had begun construction. The only thing was, the two teams were starting at opposite ends of a staked-off area and working toward the common middle. And their initial scaffolding and foundations looked utterly incompatible. And some of the other wikis seemed ready to add wings to the nascent building regardless of either main team.
As spimed materials churned under supervison like a nest of snakes or a pit of chunky lava or a scrum of rugby robots in directed self-assembly—boring into the soil and stretching up toward the sky—I watched with growing alarm, wondering if this had been the smartest idea. What kind of miscegenous mansion was I going to end up with?
That’s when Foolty Fontal showed up to save the day.
He arrived in a one-person sea-kayak, of all things, paddling like a lunatic, face covered with sweat. So typical of the man, I would discover, choosing not to claim primary allegiance with any wiki, so he could belong to all.
I tried to tag him, but got a privacy denial.
Having beached his craft and ditched his paddle, Foolty levered himself out with agility. I saw a beanpole well over six feet tall, with glossy skin the color of black-bean dip. Stubby dreadlocks like breakfast sausages capped his head. Ivory SCURF curlicued up his dark bare arms like automobile detailing.
Foolty, I later learned, claimed mixed Ethiopian, Jamaican and Gulla heritage, as well as snippets of mestizo. It made for a hybrid genome as unique as his brain.
Spotting me by the food tables, Foolty lanked over.
“Russ Reynolds, tagged. Loved your contributions to
Foolty was referring to a crowdsourced sitcom I had helped to co-script. “Well, thanks, man.”
“Name’s Foolty Fontal—‘FooDog.’”
FooDog was legendary across the ubik. He could have been the jimmywhale of a hundred wikis, but had declined all such positions. His talents were many and magnificent, his ego reputedly restrained, and his presence at any non-virtual event a legend in the making.
Now FooDog nodded his head toward the construction site. A small autonomous backhoe was wrestling with a walking tripodal hod full of bricks while members of competing wikis cheered on the opponents.
“Interesting project. Caught my eye this morning. Lots of challenges. But it looks like you’re heading for disaster, unless you get some coordination. Mind if I butt in?”
“Are you kidding? I’d be honored. Go for it!”
FooDog ambled over to the workers, both human and cybernetic, streaming ubik instructions with high-priority tags attached faster than I could follow. A galvanic charge seemed to run through people, as they realized who walked among them. FooDog accepted the homage with humble grace. And suddenly the whole site was transformed from a chaotic competition to a patterned dance of flesh and materials.
That’s the greatest thing about wikis: they combine the best features of democracy and autocracy. Everybody has an equal say. But some got bigger says than others.
Over the next dozen hours, I watched in amazement as my house grew almost organically. By the time dusk was settling in, the place was nearly done. Raised high above sea-level against any potential flooding on deep-sunk cement piles, spired, curve-walled, airy yet massive, it still showed hallmarks of rival philosophies of design. But somehow the efforts of the various factions ultimately harmonized instead of bickered, thanks to FooDog’s overseeing of the assorted worldviews.
One of the best features of my new house, a place where I could see myself spending many happy idle hours, was a large wooden deck that projected out well over the water, where it was supported by pressure-treated and tarred wooden pillars, big as antique telephone poles, plunging into the sea.
Three or four heaps of wooden construction waste and combustible sea-wrack had been arranged as pyres against the dusk, and they were now ignited. Live music flared up with the flames, and more food and drink was laid on. While a few machines and people continued to add some last-minute details to my house, illuminated by electrical lights running off the newly installed power system (combined wave motion and ocean temperature differential), the majority of the folks began to celebrate a job well done.
I was heading to join them when I noticed a new arrival sailing in out of the dusk: a rather disreputable looking workhorse of a fishing sloop. I pinged the craft, but got no response. Not a privacy denial, but a dead silence.
This ship and its owner were running off the ubik, un-SCURFED.
Intrigued, I advanced toward the boat. I kicked up my night vision. Its bow bore the name
. From out the pilothouse emerged the presumptive captain. In the ancient firelight, I saw one of the most beautiful women I had ever beheld: skin the color of teak, long wavy black hair, a killer figure. She wore a faded hemp shirt tied under her breasts to expose her midriff; baggy men’s surfer trunks; and a distressed pair of gumboots.
She leaped over the gunwales and off the boat with pantherish flair moderated only slightly by her clunky footwear.
“Hey,” she said. “Looks like a party. Mind if I crash it?”
“No, sure, of course not.”