Monthly Archives: November 2012

Undercity, Ch. 7

Well, it’s a bit late and there’s no Chapter 8, but here’s Chapter 7! Expect Chapter 8 on Saturday, even if it’s not technically November. Thanks for bearing with my schedule these past few weeks.

Dad and I don’t talk much more. He goes back to working on his papers and I go into my room to work on a few assignments. He skips dinner, and I heat a precooked in the oven and eat it under the watchful eyes of my Penumbra digiframe. Lots of bands sell posters and music and other merch at their shows, but the members of Penumbra tend to subscribe to the Edd Davis school of thought when it comes to being a second-class citizen, and they give out little slips of paper with download codes on them. If you were wired up at birth with a device that lets you communicate with raw data being exchanged through the Network, why not use it to interact with your similarly wired up fans? That’s how you know they’re sincere. How many artists out there are willing to risk pissing off the State just to let their fans know that they’re not alone?

A few hours pass. Dad comes into my room with a stack of books and notebooks, loose pages poking out the sides. His face is deadly serious, and all I can think is, Oh, great, another lecture. Continue reading


No Post, 11/24

So, as some of you may have noticed (particularly if you follow my blog and you were sent an email with no content to speak of,) there was no post yesterday. Some personal things came up at the last minute, and I didn’t have time to produce anything of acceptable quality by my self-imposed deadline. You know what that means.

 

Double-post on Tuesday! Be here for chapters 7 and 8!


Undercity, Ch. 6 (Part 2)

Inside our apartment, Dad’s sitting at the table with a couple of pieces of paper spread out before him, a pencil in his hand, and a frustrated look on his face. He taps the pencil against the table, runs a hand through his hair. He hasn’t even heard me come in.

“Hey, Dad. How’s it going?”

He jumps in his seat and wheels around in his chair. When he see that it’s just me, he exhales sharply, his shoulders slumping. “Wow, sorry about that. You startled me.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” I set down my bag and go into the kitchen to get some water. “What are you working on over there?”

He looks down at the papers in front of him and frowns. “Oh, just bills and stuff. You know how it goes.” He scoops the various sheets into a pile and put hits his pencil atop them, folds his hands over the whole mess. “Nothing that can’t wait. So, tell me about your day.”

Despite the little voice in my head telling me not to get too deep into what happened, I tell him pretty much everything. I guess that talking to Bryant actually was good for me. I feel better about everything now that I’ve talked to someone who listened to me. Even if he had to because it was his job. Even so, I’m expecting Dad to tell me not to pick fights with the Magister, to stay out of trouble in school, or something like that.

Instead, his face darkens and he asks, his voice a dull monotone, “When did you start programming?”

I blink. This was not the response I was expecting. “What?”

“When did this start? How long have you been programming for?”

I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say.

“This is serious, Seph. There are a lot of reasons to get into programming, a lot of reasons not to, and damn near no good reasons to tell anyone if you have. So I’m going to ask you again: how long have you been doing this, and who else have you told?”

Disbelief gives way to angers. My hands ball into fists and I can feel my muscles tense up. “Shouldn’t you be talking to me like this when I tell you that I’m doing drugs or having sex with strangers or something, and not when I tell you, ‘Oh, guess what, I’ve taken an extra-curricular interest in something I used to hate, isn’t that interesting?’”

Dad’s expression softens somewhat. He sighs. But he’s still talking to me like I’m a child. “Look, it’s… it can be dangerous being a programmer. It’s a valuable skill, and there are a lot of people who want to use someone with that skill set. Some of them will pay you, some of them will try and take advantage of you, and…” He pauses. He looks down at the table, wrings his hands. “And some of them will try to control you. And I will not see that happen to my daughter.” He looks up at me. His eyes are wet and tired-looking, but his jaw is set with a determination that makes my own anger feel stupid and childish. “I will die before I let that happen to you.”

My muscles relax, and I start to feel embarrassed about my behavior. I walk over and hug him. “Dad, it was just some graphical stuff. Altering my node to look differently, that’s all. It was nothing.”

He hugs me back, takes a deep breath, and takes a step back to look at me. He smiles weakly. “I know. You’re absolutely right. It was nothing. It was child’s play. And that was enough, don’t you see? That was all it took for the Magister to decide that you had to be dealt with. All you wanted was for your world to look different, and he couldn’t let it happen.”

I have nothing to say to this. We are both silent and finally Dad says, “Your mother used to program, you know.”

I blink in surprise. Dad doesn’t talk about Mom often, and I’ve never heard this before. “She did?”

He nods. “She had a real talent for it. She was very good at imagining the way things interacted with each other. When you’re working within a node, that’s all it is. Seeing how everything interacts.” He taps me on the forehead. “The Interface gives us all the same tools, but it’s up to us to use them. Some people just crunch numbers, some people use the tools in new ways, and some people make newer and better tools.”

“Is that what Mom did? Did she make tools?”

Dad shakes his head and smiles. His eyes drift down again, and I see that he’s looking at the papers he was working on earlier. They’re covered in numbers, equations, drawings, doodles. Some of it’s circled, some of it’s underlined, and some of it has been furiously crossed out.

“No,” he finally says. “She made worlds.”


Undercity, Ch. 6 (Part 1)

Sigh. So much for a normal post. Once again, this is about half of the chapter. Come back tomorrow morning for the rest, and be ready to boo me if I do this again on Saturday!

A little while later, the Magister comes to tell us that Self-Expression is over with and that we’re free to go. As I’m heading for the door, he hands me a sheet of paper and says, “I’ve prepared a copy of the questions I posed in class today. I expect you to look them over and bring written responses to each of tomorrow.” I frown. I’m just about to express my displeasure when I remember that Bryant’s in the room and that it probably wouldn’t reflect well on either of us if I started fighting with the Magister immediately after our first session. So instead I just stick out my hand to take the paper. All of a sudden, Bryant says, “Magister, not to tell you how to guide your proteges, but Persephone and I have just had a long and draining talk. I’m sure that she has no shortage of things to think about on top of her other assignments. Perhaps the responses could wait another day.”

The Magister stares at Bryant, his expression unreadable. I can’t decide if I think he’s going to fire Bryant on the spot or if he’s in shock because he can’t believe that a lowly member of the faculty at the academy would dare talk back to him. Instead he gives a curt nod and says, “Very well.” He turns to me and clears his throat. “Take some time tonight to reflect on ‘Notes from the Singularity’ and be prepared to share your thoughts on it in two days’ time.” His eyes narrow and he sniffs. “I’ll be expecting an extra impressive set of insights, given that you have extra time to consider the work.” With that he turns and exits, leaving the door open behind him. Bryant and I stand there in silence, listening to the Magister’s footsteps echo down the hallway and up the stairs leading into the Administration Building proper.

“Charming, isn’t he?” Bryant asks.

“All Magisters are charming,” I mutter. “They get it as an implant when they leave the Magisterium, right after the stick.”

Bryant chuckles at that, then excuses himself to go to his office.

Jaclyn’s waiting for me at the entrance to the Administration Building. On days when we have Self-Expression, she usually waits for me, since everything ends at the same time anyway.

“So, what was that about?” she asks as soon as I’m close enough to hear her.

“What was what about?”

She punches me in the arm. “Don’t play dumb. Becquerel told me that the Magister sent you off with some head shrinker because of something you did in class yesterday. What’d you do? How’d it go?” She jabs in the ribs with her finger and grins. “Tell me everything. Omit nothing.”

I stick my tongue out at her. “He gave us an in-class assignment that was rigged so we couldn’t complete it. I did something he didn’t expect to try and complete it, and he flipped out.”

Jaclyn arches one of her eyebrows and waves her hand, gesturing for me to go on. I sigh and continue.

“I tried running a simple little program I’d come up with to identify files foreign to my node. No big deal.”

Jaclyn stops dead in her tracks and looks at me.

“You wrote a program.”

“Yeah.”

“And you ran it in the middle of class, where you had to know the Magister would catch you.”

I shrug. “Evidently.”

Jaclyn smirks. “Well. Look at you, you rebel!”

Despite myself, I smile. Jaclyn’s never called me a rebel. And to be fair, I’m not one. Not really.

I turn and we start along our walk again, Jaclyn peppering me with questions for our entire trip through the city. Did you get in trouble? What was the psycho like? Did he get you in trouble? Did you cry? Are they going to lobotomize you? Why’d you start writing programs anyway? Where’d you learn? Finally, we reach her apartment and we part ways. She gives me a hug and says, “I fully expect every electronic system in the school to be dancing on your strings by the end of the year, you know.”

I roll my eyes. “Come on, Princess. Give me a break. You know I’m just starting out.” I wink and grin at her. “Give me until the start of next year instead.”

 


Undercity, Ch. 5 (Part 2)

This is the second half of Chapter 5. Chapter 6 will post on Tuesday night as normal. Enjoy!

We’re sitting in one of the other archives, a small one, just me and Bryant. He’s seated at an old desk, a pen and a notebook before him, his hands folded on top of the clean white pages. I’m sitting in an uncomfortable chair pushed back from the desk, my arms folded across my chest, my body set at an angle to him.

I haven’t said anything yet, but I think he knows that I’m not happy I’m here.

“This must have been something of an unpleasant surprise for you, Persephone. I have to admit, I was surprised to see you in the classroom. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, though. Obviously this was the academy you’d attend, living where you do, and when I was asked to speak with a class of Interfaced, well… I suppose it was inevitable.”

I shrug.

“I can tell you don’t want to be here, but we’re stuck until your class lets out. Magister’s orders. So, if you like, we can sit here in silence for the next seventy minutes, or we can talk about something. Anything. We don’t have to discuss your class yesterday.”

I shrug. He sighs.

“I’m not your enemy, Persephone.”

I grunt. “Maybe not, but this feels like a punishment. All I did was pass the Magister’s stupid test in a way he didn’t expect, and all of a sudden I need to talk to a psychologist?”

Bryant is silent for a few seconds, studies me, and then he says, “Why don’t you explain to me what happened?”

“The Magister gave us an assignment on the Network. He didn’t tell us, but it was meant to be impossible. We were supposed to get overwhelmed and give up. I didn’t give up. I tried something he didn’t expect, and he got mad.”

Bryant leans forward across the desk. “Something in the Network itself, you mean?”

I nod.

“What did you do?”

It’s my turn to study Bryant for a moment. He seems genuinely curious. I figured he’d just be going through the motions, that a psychologist like him would ask a lot of questions while maintaining professional distance. He’s either very good at looking interested or else he actually does want to know what I did. “I ran a program I wrote to try and identify the virus he’d put into the system.”

Bryant leans back in his seat. He folds his hands in front of his mouth, and his eyes stare holes into me. “You wrote a program.” It’s not a question, or a challenge. It’s an invitation to go on.

“Yeah, I write programs sometimes. Nothing, you know, nothing big.”

“Who taught you?”

I shrug. “No one, really. My dad’s supposed to have a knack for that kind of thing. My mom did too, supposedly, before she died. Maybe it’s just like a family gift or something.”

Bryant chuckles softly. “Come, now. Someone must have taught you.”

I frown. “No one taught me. I don’t even talk about this kind of stuff with my dad. I mean, there are some articles and guides floating around on the Network about programming, and I’ve taken a look at some of them, but no one’s taught me.”

Bryant grunts. We sit there in silence, me not knowing what to say or having any idea what he’s thinking.

“That’s very impressive, Persephone.” I shrug. I suppose that it is. A thought occurs to me, though, that maybe this guy is a techie. Wouldn’t that be perfect, if the school psychologist were a tech fetishist and he was hired specifically to work with at-risk umbras? He’s saying something. I shake the thought from my head and ask him to repeat himself.

“Why would you want to learn that kind of thing?” he asks. “Most Interfaced don’t. The State frowns upon Interfaced acquiring the skills on their own. Why bother?”

I shrug. “Why not? I mean, it’s something I can do. It’s something any umb– I mean, ‘Interfaced’ can do. It’d be like if you were told you couldn’t learn how to write because you couldn’t be trusted with your hands.”

Bryant nods and writes something down in his notebook. “Interesting analogy.”

“Are you saying you disagree with me?”

Bryant smiles and shakes his head. “This isn’t about what I think or feel, Persephone. This is about you.” He smiles a bit wider. “But for the record, no, I don’t.”

With that comment, our conversation opens up. I start telling him everything, about Robert Sherman and Jaclyn and my mom and my dad and everything. He listens intently, nodding at all the right times and asking gentle questions when I start to become quiet. I can tell that he’s very good at this, and I know I’m only here because the Magister thinks I’m some kind of threat to society, but in this moment, I don’t care. It’s nice being able to just talk and have someone sit there and just listen.

And then he asks me how I feel about living in the shadow of Sky City, and that sets me off all over again.

“It’s terrible, you know? I just want to get out. I just want to… I want things to change. It feels like everyone’s either happy where they are and they don’t care who gets hurt so they can stay there, or else they’ve given up and resigned themselves to a life of being crapped on from above.” I motion with my head towards the ceiling. “Literally, in this city.” I shrug and sink into my seat. I’m tired. It feels like I’ve been talking nonstop for an hour. “I know I’m repeating myself, but I just really mean. I wish things were different. Sometimes I just want to make them be different.”

Bryant sniffs. “Do you really mean that? That you want to be one to start making changes in the world?”

I blink. I think about it. I’ve never really thought about it like that before, not even to myself, but the words sound right in my head. I nod. “Yeah. I do.”

Bryant says nothing. Slowly, the corners of his mouth turn up, and he is smiling. Grinning, even. “Good,” he says. “I do, too.”


Undercity, Ch. 5 (Part 1)

So, this is actually a little more than half of Chapter 5. I had a nice buffer built up for a while, but I got complacent and fell behind somewhat. The second half will post tomorrow, and Chapter 6 will post on Tuesday night as normal. Enjoy!

 

The walk to the academy is the same as it ever is. I meet up with Jaclyn, we trade barbs, and we make it to class just in time to get a dirty look from the Magister without actually getting into any trouble. Today we have History, Science, and Self-Expression. Students are supposed to be able to use Self-Expression explore their hobbies and interests and passion. Some students learn music or art or writing. Some practice athletics. The important thing, the philosophy behind it all, is that the student be free to choose for themselves what they do with the time. Students are discouraged from, say, just falling asleep in the librarium, but if they really want to, no one stops them.

All except for umbras. Umbras have to learn how to be a better umbra.

History class isn’t very exciting, but then, I don’t ever find History class very exciting. Everything before Year Zero just seems so far away and impossible to know for certain since so much changed after the Singularity. That’s probably not quite fair, since even today there are people who would have been alive to see everything change, but they’re few and far between. Once they’re gone, all anyone will know about what life was like back then is what the State-approved textbooks tell us.

It’s strange. Sometimes it feels like I know more about ancient civilizations, the Romans and the Greeks and the Ottomans and the Chinese dynasties and everything than I know about my own great-great -grandparents. Continue reading


Undercity, Ch. 4

Not too long after that, class ends. The Magister doesn’t assign us any real work, but instead tells us to reflect on Jay Buss’s “Notes from the Singularity” essay. The other umbras grumble about it, since that essay was required reading for us all years and years ago, same as Frankenstein. I don’t say a word, though. The Magister is looking me in the eyes as he emphasizes, very slowly and deliberately, that he wants us to carefully consider how the Singularity could have been avoided. For some reason, I hear Professor Cook’s voice in my head asking how the Singularity could instead have gone differently.

I walk home by myself. Normally I would at least walk with Jaclyn, but she got to leave hours ago when free period first began. It’s not much fun walking back, not after the day I’ve had. I don’t want to look at anyone. I’m walking along with my head down, not looking at anyone, not speaking to anyone. This is how umbras are supposed to walk, I think. Not bothering anyone, not even by being noticeable. Head down, keep it all to yourself.

As I’m passing through the downtown area, a lot of the workers who spend their days serving the people of Sky City are just getting back. They step out of the big metal freight elevator and pour into the streets of Undercity like insects swarming. They all seem to have the same tired and weary looks on their faces. None of them seem to have any interest in looking at each other or speaking with each other. They probably just want to get home, like me, and try to put everything behind them just so they can do it all again tomorrow.

They say that the people in Undercity never see Sky City, but that’s not true. We see it every time we look up. And some of us even get to see it from the inside as we clean up its trash, wait its tables, care for its children. Continue reading


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