Randall sat on a gurney questioning his attending nurse. The nurse explained his latest episode to him. “Intracellular protein accumulation continues to affect
this small area,” the nurse said, pointing to a smudge on a holographic display of Randall’s brain.
“The Collection has found no cause for the toxicity. However, your episodes have become rarer over the years, which may be a good sign. We are able to produce new cellular structures as a defense but at this time we need to do more research into your unique phenomenon,” the nurse finished.
“Or you can do like they do in New Cali and give me a fancy new brain,” Randall said, grinning.
“Unfortunately, we are incapable of that at this time. You would need to be a citizen of that database for—”
“Yeah, yeah. I know,” Randall dismissed.
“I apologize. You are a scientific marvel, Mr. Sandoval,” the nurse added.
“Well, I feel marvelous,” Randall replied through a smile. “And I’m cute, too. Check out these biceps.”
“They appear to be very healthy,” his nurse confirmed. “See, you robots are just starting to understand what it means to feel. But ask your assistant—the woman who came in and did my vitals? She was blown away,” Randall insisted.
“To answer your earlier question, Dr. Kazan believes something called macroautophagy degradation is the main contributor to your pathology. We cannot prescribe anything other than the tablets to manage your condition,” the nurse responded over its patient’s jests. “And you’ll still need to make all of your appointments at New California Advanced Medical Institute 12 every other month,” it further instructed.
“Gotta make those. Thanks, doc,” Randall said before
hopping up and bowing his head.
“You are welcome, Mr. Sandoval. But I am not a doctor,” the
nurse reminded him, bowing in response. Randall exited the critical care unit towards the waiting area to inform his daughter, Meredith, that he was in good health and spirits. Meredith slouched in a chair, scrolling through old animations of her and her family. A story played before her in a hologram, an augmented reality program via her Collection only visible to her. The ocular projection was a perennial favorite, that of her and her late mother wrestling on the floor when she was twelve.
Meredith’s mother Madeline was fair-skinned, five-foot eleven, and perfectly Midwestern. She had worked six days a week and lived her life happily programming city-state humanoids. By all accounts faithful to Randall, Madeline was equally loyal to her work and motherhood. Meredith, their only child, was much more like her father at heart but cleverly stole her mother’s looks on the way out.
Meredith Sandoval was born June 26, 2114 to Randall and Madeline Sandoval in The North American Middle-Class State, in the conservative San Francisco, California section formerly known as Hayes Valley. The residential neighborhood was geographically designated as Middle State Hayes Valley, San Francisco, California and more commonly referred to as Middle State Hayes Valley. There was a park nearby and one of seven outdoor symposiums hosted scientific lectures and gatherings not far from their home. It was a comfortable existence. But today was not a normal day.
Meredith was planning to visit with her best friend who would meet her later in Old California Caracas, Venezuela in South America. After a few hours job searching followed by some raucous partying, the two of them planned on attending an important event that same evening—an event that would have significant consequences to the human race.
Three months ago, Social reported that The Collection had designed the technology to reconstruct the spatial and chemical mapping of a human brain using molecular manufacturing. Humans who had been cryopreserved since the late twentieth century had been reanimated and released from suspension. Supposedly, they were doing well.
Tonight, registered parties were invited to visit from behind ballistic glass at a facility in Middle State Scottsdale, Arizona. It was an exciting time. And Meredith had lost track of it, reminiscing. She swiped out of her story and stood up as Randall was entering.
“Dad?” Meredith said, before hugging and kissing her father on the cheek.
“Same song. Everything is okay. Take these pills, make these appointments, blah blah blah,” Randall responded.
“Do you feel alright?” Meredith asked.
“I feel incredible,” Randall answered like a father, confident no matter what the doctor would have told him.
“Good. Because I’m late. I’ll see you tonight or tomorrow,” Meredith said as she sprinted towards the entrance.
“Be careful, Meredith,” her father hollered.
“Always,” Meredith said to herself, exiting.
Of course, she said it to herself. She adored her father but
needed to feel independent. She would always be his little girl and Randall was a pound or two overprotective. He had good reason to be concerned for her safety. Despite having been born and raised in utopian Middle State, Meredith’s closest friends were crawlers—computer hackers—and citizens of Old California.
Quick, inquisitive, and tomboyish, twenty-four-year-old Meredith Sandoval was a Collection Administrator for the sovereign city-state called The North American Middle-Class State. She worked one hour a day building quantum programs and spent the rest of her time in the sovereign city-state of California, pejoratively called “Old California,” with her best friend, Trenneka.
Meredith was enamored by the prospect of becoming a resident of the sovereign city-state of New California, and not just for the opulence and opportunities a citizenship in that database would provide. She knew the only way to save her father’s life was for him to have some speculative medical treatment off-the-books.
New California was comprised of networked, self-sustaining enclaves and laissez-faire, free-trade economies. As political entities, they were one of three microstates and contained the distributed satellite offices of the United States, Canadian, British, Brazilian, German, Singaporean, Swedish, and UAE governments. As technical entities, they were databases for citizenship based on who and who didn’t have the Collection upgrade.
New California held the seats of global finance, culture, innovation, and safety, with progressive if strict citizenship and immigration policies. Citizens of New California tended to congregate and thus sections such as New California Dubai formed around them. The managed microstate by database model was strongly encouraged in North America by Congress and the public, following The Great American Tragedy and the destruction of the White House in 2054 and 2056, respectively.
The former alpha cities of the world that were interested in the upgrade for business purposes further encouraged their citizens and progeny to be upgraded. Consequently, citizens of London, England, for instance, who were upgraded, were designated New California London, England to The Collection. To Meredith, these were the luxurious residential sections and amenities of the global elite. And they had the means to save her father’s life.
The advanced medical technology developing in New California was not only unregulated in Middle State, it was unheard of. Meredith would need to find some legal way into New California, and into a scientifically advanced medical clinic owned by a consortium of crawlers from New California, before her father expired. She was up to the task. Meredith and her crew of misfits were more substantive than the crawler kids breaking Official Software Systems (OSS) for laughs.
They read and admired early twenty-first century thinkers like Deutsch, Paglia, Ostrom, Dennett, and Taleb. They took risks to some insight and to less avail. They were young and silly, but they had ambition, especially Meredith’s best friend, Trenneka. And Randall, with less than six years left to live, knew it.
Meredith arrived at the launch site to predictably short lines. She lived in one of twenty-three thousand bunkos across North America in Middle State Hayes Valley, two miles from Middle State California International Pad 4. Bunkos were high architecture, co-living residential complexes serving close to three-hundred million residents of Middle State California and Old California in the United States alone.
Middle State California International Pad 4 was usually crowded but not at this time of day. It was 09:38. Middle State types were across the country hard at work programming humanoids or developing bioinformatic technologies to improve citizen targeting.
Meredith stood in line, rocking back and forth, drumming her fingers on her crossed arms.
“Michael? Are there any complications with my flight?” she asked her Collection, a Merged Artificial General Intelligence and discrete set of biotechnologies allowing human brains to interface directly with quantum computers.
“The satellite has reported no change in trajectory, atmospheric drag, or aerodynamic heating. There are no visible or internal complications. I can begin compiling a full diagnostic if you’re—,” Michael began.
“Forget it. Just ready to get out of here,” Meredith replied.
“We are scheduled to arrive at Caracas in time for the parade,” said Michael.
Nothing was really bothering her except the kid waiting two lines over who was obnoxiously from New California, with his programmable Stretch (a molecular nanotechnological suit) and posh luggage, a thin piece of glass that printed physical objects.
His Stretch was designed to look as if he had large wings, sharp claws, and a three-foot tail. He was a darling boy with curly dark hair and bushy eyebrows, but it was no matter. Meredith couldn’t get his attention if she dropped dead. The kid was preoccupied with his music or with whatever was making him wiggle around like that. At that moment the reentry horns blew, capturing Meredith’s attention. The red lights came on. The rockets were returning.
Meredith approached a burly gentleman at the entry gate who said, “ID card, madam,” as she attempted to pass him.
“Shut up, Todd. Better day,” she said, flashing a metal Starship card attached to a lanyard that digitally displayed her photo, her name, tracking number, and citizenship.
“Better day, darling,” he responded, kissing her on her round cheek before she hurried past. “Be careful.”
“Always,” Meredith said to herself.
Meredith sprinted roughly two hundred feet across the terminal tunnel and up a set of stairs, finally turning left onto a stainless-steel scaffolding bridging the Pad tower to the ship itself. She boarded one of twenty-five spacecrafts refueling and scheduled for takeoff within minutes. The intercontinental transport ships required far less fuel and maintenance than the earth-lunar ships and had a purported reusability lifecycle of eighty years.
Meredith was one of seventy passengers who sat down quickly to be fastened to their seats. Not long after, the departure horns blew. Red lights reflected off Middle State California International Pad 4. The rockets took off. At seventeen thousand miles per hour the boosters separated, and the spacecraft reached equilibrium in under a minute. Passengers were unlocked and turned slowly to face upright. Flight attendants were discharged from their takeoff and landing positions and began service, unfolding the kitchen to offer in-flight meals, drinks, and entertainment.
Meredith had opted for a window seat to watch the sky. She adored the speed of the ship. She was happy to be getting out of the country to visit with Trenneka whom she hadn’t seen in days. She was looking forward to investing in something new after a month of no deal flow.
There were no capital markets in Middle State. The sixty- nine-year-old database was a New California experiment designed to test the idea of a post-scarcity economy. The experiment was doing surprisingly well, as crime in Middle State sections had decreased ten percent year-over-year since its inception in 2070 until there was no recorded criminal activity by 2074. Poverty and subsistence living had also been eradicated with high levels of productivity. Citizens were known for their civic pride and benefitted from the mass-production of humanoids possessing a work ethic far surpassing that of a human.
Despite Middle State’s high quality of life, Meredith preferred to pass the time trading contracts in The Collection with Old Californians. She liked old hardware, fringe software, and beta- testing new experiences. Old Californians were libertarians of a sort who fought and won at the ballot box against having the Official Software Systems Collection upgrade ninety years ago when the technology was introduced.
Meredith’s friend Trenneka was having a better day. She arrived at Fiesta de San Juan Bautista that morning and was dancing up a storm with strangers in the street to a thunderous and hypnotic drumbeat. Her jam sweat beat off her breasts and neck tattoo in explosions. She relished every moment of what she always believed to be the best moments of her life.
Born in the Old California section called Old California SoMa (South of Market) San Francisco, Trenneka was a beautiful African-American girl with knotty dreadlocks and Peruvian brown skin. She was even more gifted than Meredith at understanding and manipulating digital and mechanical systems.
Both of Trenneka’s biological parents were absent shortly after her eighth birthday. Her father died from a drug overdose. Her mother was “a feckless, selfish, timid whore, who abandoned my brother and me with an Old California dunko family,” Trenneka would say. Dunko, a classist pejorative derived from the term bunko, except with a substituting “d” for “dirty,” referred to the sensation of animal manure adjacent to early co-living spaces outside the old cities. The phrase also referred to any section whose residents were not legally upgraded.
A frequent runaway, Trenneka had been attracted to boys who played challenging puzzles and classical computer games since the age of eight. Over time, she became seduced by how the games worked. Her obsessive tinkering became a tool of subversion, as she beat more and more experienced children at games and sold scripts to earn currency for herself and the family. Over the years, these activities became weapons of expression.
She once ran away with a boy whom she believed she loved deeply. She was twelve years old. The boy was fifteen. The two played and broke (hacked) games together. Her guardians were furious when she returned a week later, carrying the boy’s hardware with blood on her knuckles. She had accused the boy of striking her on her knee.
The parade at Old California Caracas was beginning to turn up. A lithe, pretty girl in attendance began dancing next to Trenneka. She was enhanced with matte finished skin, intentionally distorted facial features, and the ability to elongate herself. Every other one of her fingernails were painted either lavender or white, which suggested she was from the New California Peninsula section. New California Peninsula invented the OS.
The pretty girl revolving in front of Trenneka either lacked self-consciousness or could afford not to have any. Her body moved. Her nose extended three inches long which Trenneka knew was fashionable and a sign of extreme wealth in New California. Her eyes were wider (2 inch (5.0 cm) in diameter) to make room for her Collection’s vision and the amount of features she could manage through her heads-up display, such as infrared-sensitive receptors. And of course, everyone knew the “snake eyes, long snout,” look was en vogue.
The girl’s hair was pansy purple, an inch off her head and neat, programmed to move as the host saw fit. Her breasts were modest and visible through her molecular Stretch, which gave the impression that she was nude. Nudity was legal in any New California section but illegal in Caracas. Trenneka cupped the pretty girl’s lower back and pulled her close, grinning like a mad woman. The pretty girl grinned back.
“You know you’re breaking the law with that fancy, rich girl tech,” Trenneka remarked.
“You know I don’t give a fuck,” her dance partner clapped back, stretching her eyes even wider.
Trenneka held the pretty girl who, despite her fancy rich girl tech, was in no mood to be punked by a dunko. Trenneka stared at the girl who smelled Trenneka’s attraction and kissed her before pushing her away to dance with someone else. Just then Z, Trenneka’s illegal Collection, relayed an incoming notification, which she ignored. She was receiving a message from Meredith saying she had landed. Trenneka watched the girl from a distance.
“Hey!” Trenneka yelled.
The pretty girl turned toward Trenneka and, still dancing, contorted her face into a cartoon-like hamster. Trenneka laughed and marveled at the display.
Meredith arrived at Middle State Venezuela International Pad 1. It was the new and only Starship Pad in this section. She took a shuttle to the main event one mile away and observed a boisterous and prosperous Old California Caracas. The section’s economy was booming and was embracing technologies beyond cryptocurrency finance and credit markets, and its analog bread and butter, international tourism. The section was becoming known for its advanced humanoid services, shuttle and AV manufacturing, and its higher learning institution, Second School Robotics.
The new president was young, funny, attractive, and had big ideas for Old California Caracas. The section was popular for its unregulated, encrypted hideouts in virtual realities. The two-term senator and the metal-head crawler alike could be found in darkling corners of The Collection playing out dark, expensive fantasies. Caracas was home to a dense population of talented crawlers and mechanics. The realities crawlers created were decentralized high fidelity experiences.
This mostly unwelcome phenomenon of unregulated free trade and competitive sports, however, replaced the slower legal tourism months with travelers who were Old California rich. Many of these travelers smuggled expats and currencies into what they believed to be a low-key, sympathetic, anarchist paradise, which boosted Old California Caracas’s economy in the summer.
“Michael? What is Dummy’s ETA?” Meredith asked her Collection.
An image of Trenneka constructed to reimagine how she might have looked at nine years of age materialized over Meredith’s visual context of Caracas. Michael presented a map showing Trenneka’s precise coordinates with a walking route leading to Meredith’s location.
“She is approaching your three, approximately thirty-three fe—” Michael replied.
“I see her,” Meredith interrupted, dismissing the interface.
“Well. You’re in a good mood for once in your miserable life,” Meredith began as Trenneka approached. The girls embraced one another as if they were long lost sisters.
“Hey, pretty boy,” Trenneka released and smiled with that same creepy grin.
“Are we still going to see the mummies in Midi-Scottsdale after we eat and party? Please say yes,” Meredith begged.
“Incredibly,” Trenneka replied. “But after the parade and after the mummies, I have a job for us.”
“Radical. So, who do we have down here now? I’m almost completely allocated. I sold thirteen percent of myself this morning to an outfit in Old California Perth for new hardware. For some grid project I need to finish. I’m not broke yet, but I will be in a couple of days, for at least a week, unless I—”
“Shh shh shh shh shh shh,” Trenneka interrupted, her right index finger pressed against Meredith’s unbuttoned lips.
“Listen to me, Meredith. Hear me. I found a way into the promised land,” Trenneka said.
“Fuck off,” Meredith scoffed. Trenneka didn’t flinch. “Trenni. We need coins. Not some over-the-top break the OS shit.”
Trenneka stood there, grinning.
“Okay. So, what’s your plan? Wait. First tell me which section. Peninsula? No, I know. New Cali Manhattan? Lunar fucking City with the... things, and the super-rich dudes in craters who live for fucking ever? Or maybe you mean that fucking thing up there floating above the clouds with—”
“Shhhh shh shh shh shh,” Trenneka hushed, with her entire hand over Meredith’s face.
“I will give you all of my hardware if you stop doing that,” Meredith responded.
“Let’s get some fuel. See a bonfire. Fly home. See some twenty-first century people get thawed out—” Trenneka said.
“That’s not how it works,” Meredith mumbled back.
“—and then I’ll tell you how we get into New California. And not just us. Randall, too. I think this is the one,” Trenneka finished.
Meredith looked at her best friend, the raging, live-action avatar who had defended and befriended her all those years ago on C-List. The two young women crossed the street where they approached a bot, this one a cheap, section-owned, autonomous food kitchen on wheels.
“You like tequeños?” Trenneka asked her best friend.
“Why do you always ask me that when we come here?” Meredith replied.