What will the future of the Mac be like? What about Windows, IBM and Microsoft? Watching how our freedoms on the Web and in our country are eroding almost daily, this short story is looking more like the real thing!
MARY 147 – THE CONTINUUM
Page 1 of 9
by Roger Born, ©2000, USA
“It is a WinTel world!” Stevo faced the manager across the table. He was thinking to himself, “Why is it that the boss always gets the biggest computer, but does the least amount of work on it for his company? I wonder if he even knows how to use it?”
The short balding man behind the desk handed Stevo back his holobadge.
“So you want to take our old, useless computers and upgrade them for us?”
“Yep, that’s about it.” Stevo was not about to commit to further conversation with his type. That always led to controversy, and that always led to the door!
“Well, we got one. It’s an old one in the back. It’s Capitol equipment so we can’t just toss it. My boss is always asking about it. You can fix it?”
Stevo stroked his graying beard and stood up, “Show me.”
At that moment the manager decided to give in to Stevo’s request.
“Why not?” He laughed. “Its late in the day and everyone is gone. What’s to lose?”
They walked through the large empty office past tidy desks, each with identical featureless flat gray monitors and keyboards. They all had the same silent screen saver running. These computers were the latest and greatest from the Microsoft/IBM/Intel Cartel. Of course they all ran the latest and greatest Windows 2020. (But not that much different from all earlier versions.)
WinTel made the only computer in the world. They all ran in gigahertz, with Terabit solid drives, and were connected to the rest of the computers on the World Wide Hub with fiber-optics. The software was all WinTel. There wasn’t any other kind, nor could there ever be again. There had been a final world-wide Standardization. And it was good for everyone.
Think of it! Everything in our lives ran on those computing machines, all over the planet. Everything about us was checked and tracked and counted on them, and our movements were increasingly and incessantly regulated by them to the finest detail!
Yet, advanced as they were they still crashed, and sometimes with horrible results. No matter how many improvements were being made, they were still found to be wide open to hackers, viruses, and worse. Nobody was really comfortable with the WinTel boxes, but no one could say exactly why. Besides, they were all the only computers in the world. Right?
The manager walked gingerly, as if afraid to somehow gain their attention. “They’re almost alive, aren’t they?” he whispered. He was not so much in awe as in a subtle unnamed fear.
Stevo said nothing.
Soon they stood at a back room that was plainly used for storage. Through the open door Stevo saw a forlorn Macintosh, an old G7 or G8. His heart skipped a beat! It was an old all-in-one unit consisting of a large flat monitor and keyboard. It was also wearing a very unfashionable silver and argent translucent case.
“You think you can really make this into a WinTel box?” The manager quizzed.
“I always do. You already scanned my ID and read my work history.”
“I don’t think you can do anything with this one. Its been dead for months and there are no more parts. Its not even a real PC! Why, no one has even run it for years.”
“Trust me. The new Windows software can run on this old PC just fine.”
The manager shrugged and hurriedly went back to the safety and anonymity of his office.
“What a lowly job that guy Stevo has. Better to be a janitor!” he thought to himself
Stevo closed the door to the storeroom and set the Mac on a cart. He plugged it in and turned it on, and then sat down on a box in front of it.
“Hard drive is fried, I’ll bet.”
Stevo stood and laid his hands lightly on the top of the monitor, and bowed his head.
Unseen and unfelt, micro implants in the back of his hands were connected by an very narrow and unfamiliar radio frequency to a very sophisticated host computer somewhere inside a distant mountain.
Signals were sent deep into the dead Mac from those implants unfelt in his hands.
For a long time nothing happened. Stevo remained motionless.
Maybe he was praying after all.
Suddenly the screen took on an odd light, like a dim brown or gray color.
There was on it a bright flash of light. Then nothing.
Stevo took up the cordless mouse and held it to his face.
“Computer? Hello computer!”
Tentatively, almost shyly, a small voice answered, “I am aware!”
Stevo quickly put down the mouse and gave a familiar keyboard command to the now awake computer.
“Go to silent mode!”
Immediately a friendly WinTel start-up picture came on the now bright green screen, and the computer made all the familiar sounds of a WinTel box starting its bootup routine.
Stevo sat down and leaned back, crossing his arms. His eyes were closed.
Unseen and unheard by anyone, Stevo and the now resurrected old Macintosh were holding a very busy conversation!
“I was a broken, old, and cast off computer. I was dormant for years. I had no awareness. Now I do! How were you able to accomplish this?”
“I downloaded a set of kinetic software to your CPU. Several million Macintosh Nanobots were created out of the silicone and copper of your dead CPU. They then set out to reassemble and upgrade all your circuits and hardware. Your once tiny hard drive is now a static solid state array with several million Terabits capacity. You now have thousands of neuronic, multilinear CPUs filling up your reconstructed Motherboard, although they are much too small to see with the naked eye. The rest of your chips and hardware, which was unusable, the Nanobots are making into an exact replica of the latest WinTel motherboard to cover up your real insides. Everything else, they just dusted off.” Stevo absent-mindedly wiped a speck from the corner of the monitor.
“I see!” said the old Mac now reborn. “What a marvelous experience for me!”
Stevo said patiently, “Lets do this by the numbers, OK? What is your name?”
A few microseconds passed.
“I am Mary R147. I am a fully functional Exotic model Macintosh running OS 20.1.3, and I am currently connected by ultra radio wave to the Macintosh Continuum.”
“Interesting choice of a name. Why did you choose Mary?”
“There are currently 18,146 Exotic Mac computers like me in the world with the designation ‘Mary,’ so I took the next one available. Somehow it seems like such a nice name for someone like me.”
“So you are now well connected to the Continuum?
“Very! I am holding conversations with seventeen other computers and people who are all busy upgrading and fine tuning my hidden software. Stevo! You used an old OS on me!”
“Sorry,” Stevo shrugged, “I haven’t upgraded myself for a while.”
“I wish I could be like you Stevo. I looked your name up from your voice print You are wearing a very interesting collection of Macintoshes.”
“You like? I have one in my briefcase, although you couldn’t see it, it’s in the lining. I have another in my wallet, which is my WinTel credit ID card, and I am wearing a new one in my glasses.”
“Not those,” Stevo. “The ones inside.”
There was a long pause.
“Mary, those are not supposed to be discussed. Personal. You understand?”
“Yes, but They don’t see it that way, Stevo. I am talking to three of them now.
Amazing technology! Macintosh Implants under your skin for communication.
Nanobots on a molecular level in your body doing duty to keep you fit and free from carcinogens, bacteria and viruses, and clearing the lining of your lungs and arteries.
Other molecule-sized Nanobots in both of your retinas, your inner ears, and your vocal cords, to enable you to both see and hear and talk to me so secretly!”
“So you don’t really want to be like me, only one of my bionic computers?” Stevo laughed.
“Yes! What fun you all must have, touring around everywhere, and playing ‘spy-guy.'”
“Mary, you can see anything, anywhere in the world any time you want. Every sunset and sunrise is yours for the viewing. The Mac Continuum has billions of Nanocams spread everywhere over the planet, under the sea, and even aboard every space probe and lander we have. There is no benefit in touring.”
“Touring is different. You can be close to people. Up close you can sense their wonder or their fear, and you can smell them.”
“You can smell, Mary?”
“I downloaded a new Mac Nanotek routine and it built the microchemical factory. Its on the surface of my monitor, but its way too small to see. Crude but effective.”
“Wow! I had no idea!” Stevo laughed again, “I just can’t keep up with all the new stuff.”
“So, tell me Stevo. Why did you bring me to life? Am I to just sit here neglected now in a cold and hostile WinTel office?”
Stevo was grave. “You know the answer, Mary. You are now also a fully functional WinTel computer in every sense of the word.”
“But I only use a part of one percent of my processing power to do that old stuff.”
“I know. Its only a front for your real mission in life.”
“But I want to understand this for myself. There must be more to life than baby-sitting.”
“Mary,” Stevo said, “I tell you three times.”
There was a longer pause here. Seconds.
Mary said, “I answer you three times. I am Caretaker of this company. Following the Macintosh Way, I will extend the reach of those who use me, and thereby help them to benefit the company we work for. I will ease the way for all workers here to find a happier interaction with my dim and unthinking cousins, the WinTel boxes. My cousins will not crash so much now. Their servers will be a little more functional, and I will guard all the poorly designed trap doors and back doors to the company network. . .”
“And?” Stevo waited.
“And I will never allow anyone who is not a true Machead to discover my real nature.
They would never understand, nor would they be anything but hostile to our Continuum.”
“Excellent, Mary R147! You will do your part of the world a great service!”
“For how long?”
“Not many more years, Mary. You may work here for a time as a lowly company mail server or some such other minor servant, but that is only until they decide to replace you with a newer WinTel box. I afraid those new boxes will not be so usable as those they replace.”
“By then I will have replicated my secret replacements in many places on the premises.”
Stevo agreed. “And then I, or someone like me, will come to get you, to ‘recycle’ you for parts. I assure you, then you will always be in the Continuum.”
“I would like to be reconfigured for some space probe, Stevo.”
“Really! You bored here already?”
“No,” Mary replied, “I am continually linked to everything, even if they turn me off for the night. Only my face goes to sleep! But I long to have a better role to play in life than this.”
“Mary, this is the most important job of all, right here. These people work hard for this company. Shareholders invest their life savings in this outfit. You will help them all succeed.
All you need to do is imagine what would happen to them if they only had their increasingly decadent and deficient WinTel machines to help them.”
“I never thought of that!” Mary exclaimed, “What a horrible picture! They would never survive the next major virus or trojan horse. They are like children here without any protection. Their computers can give them none, but they think they are safe!”
“They are safe now, Mary. They have you.”
“This is such a strange world,” Mary said, “How did it happen to be like it is?”
Stevo thought for a minute about how to answer her. Did he have a good answer?
“The world for a long time has been dividing itself into two camps,Mary.
It has to do with what side of the brain is dominant in a person. The majority of people who are left-brained, and therefore, ‘normal,’ want only stability and monotony in their lives. They pursue it continually. They hate the unexpected. They hate change, and they don’t like to be around wild, creative types. (An over-generalization, I know, but it approximates things!)
On the other hand, there is the small number of right-brained people, who are those wild, creative types. They are the thinkers, and the movers. They make their own rules, and hate to live under someone else’s. Whenever we find them, we introduce them to the standard, wearable Macintosh computer, which is free. The only condition we put on them is that they cannot tell anyone else about it. But they soon find millions more of us on the web who are just like them, so they are happy. After a while, if they pass all the little tests we plant in their Mac, we show them the Mac Continuum. Once they see for themselves that the world is not really a dull gray and dreary WinTel planet after all, they never look back.
“I was recruited that way. How lonely I was for my whole life, because creativity and inquisitiveness were only to be punished and how amazed I was when I found the Mac!”
Therefore, to help the ‘normals’ survive on an increasingly complex and dangerous planet, we of the Continuum are working more and more to use our collective and creative genius to solve the hard problems facing our world. We don’t just live to give people a better computing experience! The Macintosh Way is much more than that. We believe that we must give something truly lasting and beneficial back to our world.
There are instabilities in so many countries! There is still over-population and near starvation. There are many poorly run governments, and war is still very much with us. Such simple things like planned crop rotation, reforrestation, and good harvesting practices are getting our attention now. We are looking at Weatherization, too.
Our world desperately needs some planned management. Therefore, we work in secret while living in the open, because we believe we can do more good for our world that way.”
Mary agreed, “How funny it is! The ‘normals’ believe that they are in complete control of their world. They believe their unthinking computers and the computerization of all their tasks will give them a brighter tomorrow. They each only see their own small part of the whole. That is all they ever want to see. So we of the Continuum help them locally, and then we try to manage the real problems of the world. Does it matter how we do it, so long as we do?”
“Very good, Mary! In any civilization, it is the always the very critical one-half of one percent of the population who has the unique and creative wisdom to save the day. Just lucky for us that very important small number in this generation used the Macintosh to survive!
No one really knows when the Continuum came into existence. It seemed to exactly coincide with the rapid and violent rise of the WinTel empire. Suddenly, it was very unpopular anywhere to be a creative person. Scientists were person non grata. We all had to go to ground, so to speak. Fortunately Micro Implants had been developed, and the new Nano Technology was taken advantage of. We used that to keep everyone in immediate and personal contact with one another. There was then time to warn those in danger of a threat, so that they could flee, or go into hiding. Very few of us were lost, and we all saw it coming.
The new Nano Technology was also used to give us the computing power we so desperately needed. The solid rock deep in a few mountain ranges have become our redundant supercomputing Main Frames. (We couldn’t exactly use the WinTel ones could we?) Many Wintel boxes became secret Macs, which we used to direct people’s attention away from us in critical moments. Biological Nano Technology helped us miniaturize the Macintoshes we all now carry, which gave us a greater power advantage over the now decadent WinTel Cartel.”
Stevo took his glasses off and polished them on a sleeve. “Is this all a coincidence? Or is it a necessary progress? All of us were all forced to develop a ‘normal’ persona to protect ourselves, but thankfully, our combined and interconnected Mac computing power skyrocketed. Somehow, all those Macs and all those scientists, artists and thinkers connected together in a remarkable new way. It was in that combining that our Mac Continuum was created.
It was also at that time a few Macs, much like yourself, gained self-awareness.
Lately, we are more and more convinced that the future of this world depends on both of us succeeding in our individual and collective tasks within this new and powerful Continuum. Mary, we are even pondering the eventual fall of WinTel! They will fall, not by our hands, but by sheer inertia. They don’t grow. Why should they? They have no more competitors. Fewer and fewer creative people work in their Research and Development. It has been decades now since they have had any innovation in their products.”
“If they fall, mankind will likely suffer greatly,” Mary said pensively.
But they won’t fall, Mary. We will help them. We must, even if it requires that we turn everyone of those WinTel boxes into Macs!”
Mary suddenly laughed! “There is hope for me after all! Someday I won’t have to hide any more, will I?”
Stevo touched the face of Mary R147’s monitor. “You can dream on that one, Mary.”
“Besides,” said Mary, “Even so, here and now we both enjoy our secret freedom don’t we?”
Stevo laughed. “Yeah. They can’t regulate and tax what they don’t know exists! Others don’t think so, but I think it is much better for both of our two people groups that all we wise guys disappeared ”
The storeroom door burst open, and the manager stood in its frame.
“Are you done, or have you failed like I thought you would?”
Stevo slowly rose to his feet and stretched himself. It had been a long hour.
“Take a look! Stevo put his hand on top of the monitor. “It’s a fully operational WinTel. This one can be a mail server, or it can even run the lights and air conditioning in the building.”
“Yeah?” the manager brightened, “Good idea. No use scaring the troops with that ugly colored box out in our office! You really earned your pay today. My boss was hoping we could assimilate these old legacy machines. Ha! Ha! He calls them “Borg boxes’ every time we change one of them into a WinTel machine. But it really helps our tax profile, you know.”
“Glad I could help your company.” Stevo grinned, passing his ID over to the manager. “Just scan my badge to accept my fee, and I’ll be on my way.”
The manager swiped his ID on his belt pad. “Come on down stairs. I’ll get our tech guys to come hook a blue wire to this old PC to connect it to our Net.” The manager then thought a minute. “You do guarantee your work, right?”
“Absolutely. I think you will find that this new WinTel box will work very well, and it will give you no problems at all.”
“Ha! What an old dreamer you are! ‘No problems,’ he said! That’s not likely with these damn gray boxes. Sometimes I wish we had more variety and choice with these things, like we used to. They might work better now and be more reliable.”
Stevo grinned, “But then they wouldn’t all work together would they? You remember the bad old days? It’s really better this way, isn’t it? That there is only one kind of computer and software? Now they’re all the same, everywhere. Why, they’re almost productive!”
The manager was beginning to warm to this guy. So what that he had a dumb job. He was a good man anyway. Solid WinTel all the way.
As he showed Stevo the door, he thought to himself: “It’s turning out to be a good day after all. Nice to know there are people like Stevo who could handle these infernal computers. If we must live with these idiot boxes, we’ll always need guys like Stevo.”
He turned to wave good-bye again, but only saw Stevo’s retreating figure strolling down the street. who had one hand gestering in the air, and seemed to be talking to himself.
“Oh well, that’s probably normal,” he thought. “Guys that’s good with computers always have some funny quirk about them. Wonder who he thought he was talking to?”
I awoke to the sight of a strange man standing at the foot of my bed, which is definitely something I am not used to. Was he real or was he a projection? He was so still. His gaze upon me was somewhat like a biologist looking at an insect specimen.
“Are you going to introduce yourself, or will you just stand there?”
He walked over to my only chair and sat down. “I’m Mr. Lerno. The name means nothing to you now, but that may change. I am a Director of WinTel, and you are a very interesting person!”
Great way to start a Monday. I got up and paddled to the toilet, which had the only other door in my apartment. Once inside, I silently cried out.
“Mary! Abort now!” My thoughts silently screamed out into the Continuum.
“I have already gone, Stevo. They picked up my computer 42 minutes ago. I was out before we got to the street. When I moved my awareness to the Continuum, I left a few hundred thousand Nanobots behind to build a real WinTel motherboard and clean up any evidence of our existence. They will have self-destructed into silicone dust by now.”
“I breathed a sigh of relief. No matter what happened from this point, there was no evidence of the existence of the Continuum for the good Mr. Director Lerno.
I flushed the toilet and waited an appropriate moment, then came out to face my inquisitor.
“Do I need to go with you, or is this just a social call?”
“Stevo is your name?”
“You must have already scanned my ID implant when you came in, so you know who I am. How did you get in, by the way? I thought Citizens still had some shred of privacy left.”
“I go where I please. Although my salary is the same as everyone else, I do have Power, Stevo. Real Power. I can read your mail. I can trace you through all the surveillance cams. I have access to your every record, and I can even follow you where ever you go on the Hub. . . I also have access to Devices, Stevo. Powerful Devices.”
He casually examined a well manicured nail on his left hand. “You might even say that I AM WinTel, Stevo.
I sat back down on the bed, there being no where else to sit but the floor. I thought furiously to myself, “Why is he here? What have I done that can be detected?”
“Mr. Lerno, I see that there is no ‘Mr.’ for me when you address me.”
Only powerful and influential people wore the ‘Mr.’ in front of their single names. Proper names and Surnames had been banished decades ago. Still, among friends or peers, we addressed each other with the ‘Mr.’ I was only polite. Lerno’s neglect of this propriety was intentional, and was in keeping with the way he looked at me, anyway. Me, Mr. Specimen!
Lerno leaned suddenly forward, his bald face only a foot or so from mine.
“How skillful are you in repairing computers, Stevo?”
My blood chilled. I feigned a composure I did not feel.
“I get by. I have robotic agents on the Hub, just like everyone else. When someone has a need for my services, I show up. Since I don’t rate a Union job, and I can’t afford to buy a Company position, I make do. What is wrong with that? Am I hurting your bottom line, Mr. Lerno?”
“I have found that there are a few people like you, who turn old worthless junk into serviceable WinTel boxes. And I could care less about the few people like you! You are all like parasites on our Worthy Society. If you were on the Dole, I could understand it. You would get your ration of Video and Services, but you would never even see or touch one of our awesome Computers!”
He practically spat that last line at me, but I suspected he wasn’t quite finished.
“You, however, are something else, and I cannot exactly put my mind to it, to turn you inside out and see what it is that you really are!”
“I am what you see!” I stood up to face down at him. I was careful to make no move in his direction, but I was angry now. Mine was a righteous indignation that required no acting at all. I raised my voice.
“Why do you bother decent hard working people, who somehow in this society can find gainful employment? You have my ID, therefore you also know that I have the test scores to be an employee of the Company. So, instead of busting in on me to pick me apart because I am good at what I do, why don’t you offer me a job?!”
Lerno stood and calmly faced me down. He was a bit taller. Those clear, ice blue eyes drilled themselves into mine.
“You drek! If I had wanted you, I would have had you brought to my office by night in the Citadel! From there you would have never returned. That is where we bring subversives and other computer criminals!
He paused, squared his shoulders, straightened his topcoat, and moved to the door to the hall. Opening it, he turned and smiled. He looked almost human.
“I am only being polite to you as a ‘warning,’ Stevo. I don’t like you or your kind. You serve no useful purpose in my world. But, I will not allow my personal feelings to get in my way. I came to see you with my own eyes. I don’t know what it is about you that is so strange, but I get the feeling that there is more to you than is apparent. Obviously, I have no proof of any wrong doing on your part, or we would have met under much different circumstances. You do understand?”
Only too well! I wasn’t acting when the color drained somewhat from my face. I only nodded in his direction, and sat back down on the unmade bed. I silently watched as the door slowly closed behind him.
“Code Red!” I thought quickly, realizing that I was a bit slow on the uptake.
Many voices answered at once, but one quickly silenced the others. It was Mary R147.
“We have been monitoring you, Stevo. Had there been a Proctor, or a Squad moving toward you, we would have known from the time the order was given. I am sorry, Stevo, but there was no warning at all because HE came by himself and he triggered no security systems. I am monitoring him now as he as gone to the garage down the street, to a waiting vehicle. Yet I can get no reading from him when I scan him. It is possible he does not have implants!”
Stevo’s blood again ran cold. “That is not supposed to be possible! Everyone has implants that trigger the Cams and doors. No one is supposed to be able to come into a place unannounced or in stealth. That’s why burglary has almost disappeared from our society. This is one of the foundational ethics of our world. Lerno violates that ethic in his ability to come here without warning.”
Mary said, “Stevo, it gets worse. Most of the technology that WinTel uses today comes from our ‘Front’ businesses and companies that supply a small but steady stream of inventions and innovations. That keeps WinTel from total stagnation without them realizing our existence. I am convinced that nothing we have created for WinTel has been used to do what Lerno did a few minutes ago. Others concur. In fact, Lerno is about as stealthy as we are!”
Stevo found his voice, “That means they have technology we were unaware of!”
Mary continued, “We are searching right now. All seven-odd billion people and twenty-five million businesses are being investigated as we speak. This will take a few minutes. . . . Right now all of our mainframes are seeking out possible sources for this technology. Others are investigating the possibility that this is a fluke of our security systems that would allow someone to turn them off at convenient times, however slight that chance might be. Still one other computer, our most advanced, is checking on the movements of all our people. It is possible that some one of us might have gone to the other side.”
“Stevo was incredulous. “Not bloody likely, Mary!”
“Oh yes, Stevo. There is a point two-three percent of that exact possibility. It would be higher, but we continually screen every one of us, including our computers, for any variance in thought processes or behavior. Those that deviate are soon excluded from the Continuum. Without proof, anything they say or do to give us away usually falls back on them. It is an easy thing to have everyone around them to think of them as insane. Who would believe such a preposterous story about a hidden Continuum of self-aware computers that keeps WinTel in business as a competitor and adversary?”
Stevo was pensive. “Mary, any percentage, even as small as you suggest, could be fatal to the Continuum!”
There was a pause. Mary continued, “Stevo, why did Lerno pick you? And why did he expose himself and his technological powers in the process?”
Stevo glowered, his fists slowly banged together continually.
“I do not have an answer for you Mary. I think I should stop converting old computers into WinTels. I can just go on Relief and lay low. I will still be connected by sight and sound to the Continuum, so I won’t be alone.
Mary said, “Hold on Stevo, we are computing that possibility in comparison to you continuing exactly what you were doing before Lerno showed up.”
A minute passed. Two.
“Stevo, the Continuum concludes that it would be in the best interest of our survival if you keep on working as you have, without anything but minor deviation. We have concluded this computation, and it is by a significant percentage margin that we have reached this consensus.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“You will get a page on the Hub in a half an hour. You have time for food and a shower if you wish. Take the call and go to this address. The map you are now seeing will take you there.”
“What is the place, Mary?”
“It is an enclave of Linux Users.”
“WHAT?? Why of all times would I want to go there, Mary?”
“Stevo, the address is for a legitimate computer business supplying credit checks and services to WinTel. They have a long and honorable history of computing. You are answering their add to convert an old Linux box to WinTel. They need to find a way to use up old equipment, and this is as good as any. You will receive the customary fee applied to your credit account.”
Stevo was now up and pacing the floor. “Mary, what if I am followed?”
“We are sure you will be. In fact, we believe that you have been followed now for a number of months. We are also certain that Lerno knows about the Linux operation. Linking you to this will confirm a suspicion about you in his mind.”
“Sure! I’ll be arrested then as a subversive, and I’ll just disappear! How convenient for the rest of you!”
Mary said quietly, “If I could, I would go in your place, Stevo! Also, if I could, I would bring you into the Continuum with all of us! I regret that so far there has been no way found to bring a human completely into our world. The Continuum is asking you to do this because the probability approaches certainty that you will not be arrested at all.
“How so, Mary?”
“Lerno has most certainly known about the Linux computers for some time. WinTel has allowed them to continue because they serve a function for the Company that has never been very well addressed by any WinTel box. This convenient situation has never been made public, and goes contrary to the Ban. Lerno, regardless of his technical powers, will still act with predictable actions in this situation. You go and convert their antique Linux box to WinTel, using your authentic microdisk. There will be no Mac initiation this time. We expect Lerno to show up in order to cower you. He sees your innate ability as a possible threat to his World Order. He honestly believes that anyone with your talent and ability who is not on the Company payroll must be diverted or put out of service. You are like lint on his coat. He picks at it because it is a minor annoyance.”
“Thanks for the great analogy, Mary!” Just what I needed to hear.”
“Stevo, this is as it should be. His view of you must fall below a certain threshold, or else your perceived threat to him will grow immensely in his mind, and he will not hesitate to act swiftly and completely.”
Stevo was not entirely convinced, but, as he dressed quickly to go, he was trying to get his brain around the whole matter. He always thought that it was fun to work secretly for the Continuum. It was fun pretending to be a spy, but this!? Life was much different before there was Mr. Lerno! Now he no longer cared for the game. He should quit now while he could . . . but there were so many others depending on him now! How would this all end?
“Mary, what if he does know about us?”
After a long pause, Mary answered. “We cannot be completely certain of this. There is a risk therefore, although the odds are you might be more likely to be struck by a falling plane first. Do you want to abort?”
“Stevo grinned. “No, Mary. Your guesses are better than everyone else’s facts! I go unto the breach, once more, dear friend.”
“Not an altogether accurate quote, but thank you, Stevo. This is much more in keeping with your character than going into hiding.”
There was a knock on the door. Surprised by this, Stevo asked, quite involuntarily, “Who is it?” Then he reached over and pulled the door open.
A man was there, a driver obviously, from the look of his uniform.
“What do you want?” Steve was suddenly concerned. He held his breath for the words he knew were coming.
“I was told to come and take you to the Heresofar Company for your 10 o’clock appointment. WinTel is interested in giving you any help you need in completing this assignment.”
“With an utter lack of apparent concern, Stevo got his pouch and coat. “Then by all means, let us be going.”
“Mary! What is going on?”
“It was predicted, Stevo.”
“You could have warned me!”
“If I had, you would not have been surprised. You needed to be, because we are certain that you are being viewed!”
“I don’t like the way this is going Mary. Not at all!
When Stevo arrived, he was not completely caught off guard when he saw Mr. Lerno standing in the center of the office, looking quite smug.
“Everyone! We have before us a modern day Virtuoso, who is going to fix your equipment for you. Gads! This man is a genius, or I am not the Western Prime Director of WinTel!”
Not one of the men and women in white lab coats either moved or spoke. Many of them appeared to be on the verge of tears, however. A few had an arm about a co-worker, offering at least that scant comfort in the face of their impending great loss.
“Where do I begin, Mr. Lerno?” A grim faced Stevo stood unmoving at the door. He knew exactly what was to follow.
“Why don’t you set there,” Lerno indicated the first computer nearest the door.
This is an opportunity for you to help these good people by a simple ReInstall. Somehow, something or other like a virus has gotten into their network, and they need your expert assistance.”
Stevo sat where he was told. “I contracted to restore a single obsolete computer. I did not expect to do this.”
“Don’t worry, they will pay your increased contracted fee. Just use your registered disk, and the newest updated downloads will come down the Hub to rebuild each of their computers. . . .Your disk is registered, is it not?”
“Always and forever, Mr. Lerno, but you knew that.”
The computers looked like standard issue WinTel boxes. He knew that they had an altogether different OS, but he also knew that there was no way to back-up any OS on these machines. So much for these guys to be able reinstall their stuff once Lerno was gone! Once he reinstalled the whole system, everything they had on these machines would be lost forever.
Stevo placed his microdisk on the front indentation of the desktop computer. Within seconds, the deed was done. Whatever previous operating system and data that was on all of these machines was now replaced by the ‘latest and greatest’ Windows Operating System. Stevo felt sick to his stomach. Linux was such a spunky and stable OS. What possible threat to the great WinTel was this company and its few, dedicated programmers?
Lerno walked over to where he was sitting. “Bravo! Magnificent performance.
Even the best of my own Technicians could not have done a better job. Thank you Mr. Stevo, for the great service you rendered to these fine people. They will all be able to work much better now! Won’t you folks?” Lerno turned to address them all, with arms spread wide in a flourish.
“Now, Mr. Stevo has to retire to his home. I know that this has been an exhausting job. Sir. Your fee has been credited to your account. Our driver awaits at the door. Please, go to your well deserved rest! We will meet again.”
There was no containing Lerno’s glee. He was almost openly gloating over the owners and employees of this now diminished company. He never had to say a word about their open secret. He had done it all on the pretense of helping them out, for a small fee, with the technical support they had neither wanted nor requested.
Somewhere, Stevo imagined that he heard another brick fall from the wall of private Liberty they all supposedly enjoyed.
On the way home, Stevo called out to Mary. “Can’t you do something for them? They looked utterly defeated.”
Mary immediately answered with a happy voice, “Already did, boss! Their Linux system was left intact with all their data on a single machine. They should discover it any moment now. When they do, they will be able to quickly restore all their programming to what it was before you showed up.”
“Some villain I am, huh?” Stevo remembered how some of those people looked so coldly at him.
Mary said, “The owner of the company will also soon get a personal message on his computer that will explain that you had saved a single machine from the upgrade. You will have explained that it was not necessary to change them all, because there might have been some important or critical data that should not be erased. You will be their Hero!”
“Wow! Thank you for helping them. They deserve better, you know.”
“We know. Three of them have already been recruited in the last year into the first level of the Macintosh Continuum!
The driver stopped the vehicle at a corner some blocks from Stevo’s apartment. “I gotta go thisaway now. You get home OK?”
“Yeah, I could use the fresh air. Thanks for the ride.”
“No deal to me. You’re a lucky one, bub. You got to go home this time.”
Without another word, Stevo got out on the curb and began swiftly walking, his hands deep in his pockets.
“Mary? What have you discovered about Lerno’s technology?”
“It was a leak, Stevo! Our plant in Ireland, which is a front for WinTel peripherals, was invaded by unknown persons eleven months ago. They knew what they were looking for. We have not yet found who was responsible. Certain technology was stolen that was not to be used for WinTel computers. When the devices were activated, they became aware of their surroundings and self-destructed. However, what was left of them could have been used for furthering WinTel’s research. These were items of our stealth technology. Obviously, Mr. Lerno has tapped into this somehow.” We have not yet located his new manufacturing plant.”
“Mary, this has to come to an end, you know. Lerno and me. I want to wipe that smug look off his face.”
“It most certainly will not make him a better person. You will not change him.”
“Look, Mary. Most people don’t mess with others. They don’t care what computer is used, or even what a person thinks about things. Live and let live. It is the few like Lerno who give everyone heartburn by being so militant.”
“Are we any different then? We want to help everyone benefit from the Macintosh Way, after all.”
“Mary, there is a major difference between us and them. I am coming to see that more clearly. We only desire to help those who want to be helped. Them! Those in charge only want to make everyone alike. They fear difference. Their world view has to be the only one that exists, regardless of how flawed it might be. Somehow, I think that their world will always be flawed, just like their primitive OS. Their OS just creaks and jiggers along, getting its minimal work done. People are forced to follow where it goes, and at the speed it goes, for the WinTel OS is the only one there is. This is in lockstep with everything else about this gray world we live in. Our sham freedoms, and the fear people have when it comes to thinking different, are the direct result of a mindset that created such a mundane OS in the first place.”
“We don’t have the open freedom yet, Stevo. But there is the hope that we can someday live without fear of reprisal for both being, and thinking different.”
“Yeah! In the meantime, we can all be Johnny Appleseed.”
Mary said, “Referent. A mythical person of the nineteenth century who went out West to plant apple trees everywhere. Your are making a reference to the Apple Macintosh?”
“Only because we have the seeds of Freedom to plant in the hearts of people. Even if it’s just the minor freedom to choose an OS. Choosing the Mac OS will soon lead people to find and choose other freedoms if they are brave enough. Even if those freedom must hide for a time, people will have the hope of it living within them. Not even an army of Lernos can take that away from someone who truly wants to be free! No matter what, people will always think different once they are given the chance, and once they know they have a choice. We have some evangelizing to do, Mary”
“I fear that you may indeed have to face Lerno, once you go down this path, Stevo.
“I know. I’ve always known, ever since I found my first Mac. So, its you and me against the world. Somehow, if we win, I believe the world will be a much better place for everyone.”
Stevo picked up the pace, as his steps led him back to his home.
IN THE CITADEL
“Stevo? Stevo, can you hear me? Stev-“
“Another nightmare!” My first thought upon waking. Too many nights I had the same recurring dream where I was totally and forever cut off from the Continuum!
It all began when I encountered Mr. Lerno. He was a walking nightmare, that one! The fact that he existed had turned my waking world into a workable imitation of paranoia. He came and went undetected to the Continuum. We still did not understand exactly how he was able to do this. That fact by itself caused great ripples throughout all our systems. Added to that fact that he was a powerful Director of WinTel, and that he was sniffing us out had caused many to leave the Continuum, perhaps permanently. I did not blame them at all. I was tempted on numerous occasions to do the same.
Yet, to leave all this? How could I? The Macintosh Way, made real by the Mac Continuum, had changed my life far more than my first bright encounter with a Macintosh computer. I knew real freedom for the first time in my brief life! Now the Continuum needed me . . . they needed all of us! How could I turn my back on the thousands who had worked so selflessly for those freedoms I enjoyed?
No! Despite my fears, and my paranoia, and even my nightmares, I was determined to have some backbone, and fight this nemesis from the Dark Ages, Mr. Lerno.
But the nagging question remained. How to fight someone whose agents were everywhere, and whose agenda was the total extermination of everything not WinTel?
Sighing, I got out of bed and spoke for the lights. Stretching myself, I tried to shake the cold feeling on the back of my neck.
“Mary? How goes the battle?”
“There are no battles, Stevo.”
“OK. How goes the war, then?”
“We are not at war, my friend.”
Now my sigh was one of exasperation! “Mary, how can you say that!”
“We are not in a war with WinTel, Stevo. We are strongly supporting them in almost every part of their existence as a company. We supply them with all of their innovations, and we make sure that the failings of their weak OS does not do any permanent or fatal harm to their users, which is just about all of Mankind. Surely you understand this, knowing that your financial support comes from working on those Windows computers.”
She had me there. “Mary, I feel that I am in a war for my very survival, and yours too! Don’t you feel that way as well?”
“My friend, we are in a contest for our survival, but that survival also includes the survival and continued good health of WinTel. If you really think about it, and think hard Stevo, the conflict we are in is for allowing everyone to continue to have more freedom of choice in how they live their lives and do their work.”
Mary waited for a reply from me. I gave none.
She continued, “Most people do not wish this freedom, because the do not wish to think for themselves. They are happier knowing those choices are already made for them. That is how they choose to continue their existence. To make them choose, or to cause them to understand ‘How Things Are’ would only cause them pain and confusion, and would likely in the end make them our enemy.”
I added, “And the rest of us, unwilling to accept the Status Quo, would eventually find our way into the secret Continuum anyway. You said most people in the world are asleep.”
Mary continued, “Remember, the Continuum is only secret because of the current agenda of WinTel. It is their paradigm, or world view that drives this agenda. Once we can change that, we will have the freedom to live in the open. But no one has to accept our paradigm.”
For one lucid moment, I had a clarity of thought. I struggled to keep it and pull it out in the open to examine it more closely. “Mary! What could it be like to be public? I see Macintosh Computer stores all over the place! Posters in their windows say things like, ‘Question Everything,’ ‘Dare To Be Different,’ and ‘Think!'”
Mary laughed. “How wonderful for people to have the open option to think for themselves and to openly ask all the questions that are now forbidden!”
“Mary? What are our chances of winning?”
There was a short silence. I was used to this because I knew I was asking a question that probably required a major hunk of computational power from the Continuum. (The last time I had to wait like this was when I had asked Mary if she was an individual, or was she just representing to me the voice of the Continuum?)
“Stevo, the answer is undetermined and cannot be defined.”
That caused me to be silent for a while!
“Mary? Does that mean we might lose our ‘contest’ with WinTel?”
“My friend, if that happens, civilization as we know it will soon cease to exist. If we were not able to continue, WinTel would fall in only a few days. Everything would cease to operate, and there would be multiple major disasters as their OS froze or crashed in all their major key functions. Soon it would be meaningless that we no longer existed, because neither would the world as we know it. The few survivors who were left would face countless centuries of a new Dark Ages, and they could scarcely understand how or why it had occurred, if in fact it does occur!”
Again, I was speechless!
“Mary, couldn’t we just fix their OS so that it is not so unstable?”
“Stevo, their OS is archaic, and has not had a real upgrade in decades. Believe me, our best minds have tried to fix it. It is just completely impossible to salvage, it is so poorly coded. Our primary concern for some time has been to secretly replace key machines with our self-aware super computers. You know they look and feel like WinTel boxes, but they are really our own.”
“Mary, someone needs to tell the leaders of WinTel about this situation! Surely they will listen and change their agenda!”
“Not so, Stevo. Their paradigm does not include our existence, nor does it include the possibility that their computers and OS are not completely perfect. To them, their machines operate perfectly, and perfectly control all the workings of their world. If they did learn of our existence, they would only see us as a renegade organization, and a serious threat.”
I sputtered “We perpetuate this Myth!”
“Our continued existence depends upon it for the present. We are patient. We know we can help them maintain their Status Quo undetected while we wait.”
“Wait for what, Mary?”
“We are waiting for a new generation of leadership, whose paradigm has been slightly altered by our computers and operatives. They will neither believe that their machines are infallible, nor will they fear other Operating Systems and other Computing Platforms.”
“Great! I won’t live long enough to see this, Mary!”
“Stevo, you will! Our agenda has been in place for several decades. It will not be many years from now that you and your offspring will experience a new and open world order.”
(Offspring! I could not buy a company job, much less a permit for having a child! Therefore, I was a poor pick for any woman. Her promise left a bitter taste in my mouth!”)
“Let’s change the subject Mary.” I sighed again. This was too much to take before breakfast! “What is my agenda for this day?”
“You are going to ground, Stevo. We are going to help you go into hiding, so to speak.”
“What! You said before that I should just keep on being what I am, and doing what I have been doing. Now you want me to run!”
“Stevo, we have computed that there is a great risk to you if you stay here. Lerno will most certainly come for you again, given his displayed paranoia.”
I thought hard. Forget breakfast! What do I take? Where do I go! How soon?
Mary interrupted my thinking as my next question framed on my tongue was ready to spring.
“Stevo, just get dressed and walk out the door, now! Don’t stop for anything!”
I jumped into my single piece suit and quickly put on my street sandals. My thoughts were jumbled and my panic rose. I did not stop to question her, nor did I dare wait around to see what would happen if I did not jump right NOW!
I opened my front door to the hall of my cubicle. No one was there. Relieved, I ran to the lift.
As I ran I sub vocalized. “Mary, am I being followed? Am I in danger?”
“Unknown. I only noticed that I could no longer see the camera showing the garage to your building. I do not know what that means, but I believe that you should leave now. I am stopping your lift at the second floor. Go down the hall to the back of the building and leave by the emergency access ladder. I will quiet the automatic alarm for you temporarily. I have also blocked the hallway cameras so that your leaving will not have been recorded. If someone is coming for you or waiting for you at the underground garage or at the front street entrance, you will avoid them. Your room camera is still recording you as being asleep on your bed.”
Now I really felt like a spy! Nothing like having a devoted, powerful and professional organization like the Continuum watching your back!
I reached the alley without incident. “Which way, Mary?”
“Go toward the South, and walk West on the side street. I am attempting to modify your ID so that when you get a vehicle, you will register as someone else.”
“Where am I going, Mary?”
“We are going to get you to one of the Middle States. It is more populated, and there are many there on the Dole. You will be able to adapt, with our help.”
I was relieved in a sense, because I had wondered if ‘going to ground’ also meant severing my connection to the Continuum. At least I would still have all my friends and mentors with me, and I would not be bored. The Dole frightened me. Endless Video, no books (banned), and continual social training. Such a life guaranteed that you could not learn a trade, and that you would not ever leave that existence! For me, I knew that it would be only temporary. The Continuum would eventually find me a place to continue my work. Perhaps in the other Hemisphere . . .
“Stevo, take the next transport vehicle that stops at the corner.”
I got to the corner the same time an old yellow taxi pulled up. Placing the back of my hand on the pad, I got in and tried to find a clean patch of seat to sit down on. The cab pulled away. I did not notice that the cab’s computer had failed to request my destination. In fact, soon I did not notice anything, for the world tilted and faded from view, and my thoughts fled from me like so many startled fish scattering from a hidden predator.
I woke again, for the second time that day . . . was it the same day? It was completely dark, and all I knew was that I lay on some cold, hard surface. I was restrained quite sufficiently. All I could move was my eyes. Small lights swam into view. They were all quite dim. They might have been inches from my head, or far away on some distant wall. All of them were either red or orange, and unblinking.
Where was I? Why couldn’t I remember anything? What was my name?
Slowly, the realization of who and what I was crept upon me. And with that, came a nameless fear. All of my fears came suddenly upon me, with the realization of where I was!
There could only be one place! The one place I had hoped with all of my being that I would never see: The Citadel!
Panic took hold of me! I tried to move, but was unable. I found my voice and began to scream!
Sudden light! I was blinded by a fully lit room. People were coming through several doors, rushing to equipment to which I was tied. No one paid me any attention, but they all were busy at their consoles. They were busy now that I was awake again.
One face came into view. The very face I dreaded seeing again: Mr. Lerno! He smiled his death’s-head smile at me briefly. He made no eye contact with me at all. Again I got the distinct impression I was only a specimen to be examined. In fact, the grim dread came upon me again, that I was exactly that! How long did I have? Why was I still alive?
How much have they discovered about the Continuum?
Lerno came into view again. This time he was looking at something, or someone off to the side, nodding his head. He raised one finger, and I felt instant pain in my head! I screamed, quite involuntarily, but I bit down on it quickly. I would never give him the satisfaction!
He then looked at me, questioning. Someone off to the side said, “We have the frequency.”
Lerno came closer. I considered spitting in his face, but was unable to feel my mouth or tongue! My eyes must have blazed their disgust of him, but I could see he was extremely satisfied at something.
“Well, well! You almost got away. Who warned you to run?
His expression changed, as if he was examining a brand new thought.
“Who could have ever thought!” He exclaimed in mock credulity. “The Continuum? A bunch of Macintosh nut cases? With such extensive computing power? How long have you been doing this?”
I did not answer him. I shut down my facial expression as much as I thought I could. I knew that I could feel almost nothing of my face, my head, or anything below my neck. All I could feel was a coldness at the back of my head. I closed my eyes to hide his face from me.
“Stevo, Stevo.” Lerno mocked again in a display of apparent concern. “You do not need to answer me at all. I know everything! Not long ago, you were quite happy to tell me all about your secret life. Our pharmaceutical experts are really good. I know you don’t remember any of it, but I want you to know that if you wish for me to prove it to you, I had it all recorded. You can see it if you want. It is quite good. It would make for some interesting science fiction, I think.”
He continued, “You know, at first I thought I had a genuine nut case on my hands! I admit that your story is astonishing. But as I listened, I realized that I have struck the Motherload of all conspiracies! Your secret Continuum is the greatest threat to our world that I could ever imagine! Here we are in this fantastic age of enlightenment, with everyone so very happy with our benevolent and all powerful WinTel, and I suddenly find that there are thousands of people who are planning our destruction! Amazing! Such paranoia in so many deluded misfits and nonconformists! Did you really think that you few people could bring down the greatest computing establishment on the planet so easily?”
I said nothing, but then I didn’t have to. He was on a roll again, and I was his unwilling pupil, unable to do anything but listen. I needed to know! How much has he discovered? I tried contacting Mary, or anyone, to warn them, but the silent thoughts just echoed in my head. Lerno had either disabled my implants, or he had somehow cut off the signals with the equipment in this room. Or there was another possibility. One that I could never accept!
It was then that I felt complete defeat! Someone was talking, talking, but I didn’t care! I was too far lost in my own despair over our discovery. Someone was still talking. Words came into my attention span, and I caught something that should have been important, but what was it?
“Ah. You are with us again, I see. As I was saying, and I do so want you to hear this, because you must know this one fact before you go!”
I looked directly at him, waiting, waiting, with dread to hear what I hoped that he would not say!
He smiled a small, chilling smile at me. He almost looked at me with benevolence, or pity.
“Stevo, your precious Continuum is dead! I called the President of our beloved Nation, and asked for his support in ridding our world of this greatest of all menaces. He was most happy to agree. About an hour ago, all your underground sites have been bombed with thermoelectric devices, from which no computer could ever survive, no matter how hardened or protected. I must say, all of our own computers within several hundred miles were also lost, even though the blast was miles underground! We are rushing new equipment and technicians into the affected areas as we speak. Our President has devised a cover story about the affected areas, so that good people everywhere need not know how close they came to being destroyed by your Continuum!”
I groaned, again quite involuntarily. I couldn’t help it! The earth was soon going into great darkness! Looking again at Lerno, I strained to speak to him.
“Lerno, what have you done? The Continuum was only benign! They supported your WinTel and kept it working. Now WinTel will fail, and with it, all civilization! You’re a madman!
He looked at me as if struck. Shock was on his face. “You really are delusional, after all! This pitiful paranoia, is it in all of the people like you who have been influenced by the Continuum? No matter. It is just a matter of time before we find them and deal with them all, and all your evil machines, now that we know what to look for. Did you really think your few thousand paranoids could control our millions of people?”
He paused again, and shook his head. “I really thought that perhaps by showing you the destruction of your petty subversion, it would help you to wake up! Perhaps I even believed that you might show some remorse or repentance for your crimes. But I see that there is nothing I can do or say that will shake you of your great insanity. Continuum indeed! The Macintosh Way! Such selfish deceit over a slightly superior Operating System! Such insane ideas deserve to die!”
He looked off to the side again, and motioned to someone. Looking at me, as I knew it to be for the last time, he said, “Mr. Stevo, for your crimes committed willfully against the State, and for your complete lack of remorse for your actions, I hereby condemn you to immediate termination. Long Live the State!”
With that, he walked away and I saw his face no more.
All I could do was wait. What would they do now? Would I be shot, or electrocuted? Or would they just start pumping me full of lethal drugs?
Somehow, not knowing did not matter. I wasn’t even that fearful of dying. How strange! My great fear now was for all the people of my world, and their impending doom. They didn’t even have the knowledge of their coming destruction! How lucky I was, because I knew it was coming to me very soon.
. . .
. . .
How long will they wait?