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Sleep. The place that one is so loathe to enter and sointensely opposed to leaving.
With a whir, the gyroscopes andservomotors spun and rotated Chisa off the padded "floor" of thesleeping surface, the low gravity providing little resistance. Ozone's cloyingscent slipped under the dim cottony wall of her grogginess, bitter hints ofmachine oil sliding by with it.
The gentle tug of gravity faded as theharnesses pulled her away from the centrifugal walls and in toward the station'spivot. The haze in Chisa's mind suddenly melted away as the hornet-sting ofhypodermic needles bit the major veins in her thighs and neck. First dose. Chisaput aside her vain thoughts of returning to sleep, as a pharmacopoeia ofpsychoactives and stimulants blossomed poisonously in her bloodstream, adrug-induced jolt startling her heart into full drive. She resisted the urge topump her legs and neck muscles to get the drugs flowing evenly; electrodeshandled that while she was supposed to be logging in.
Chisa's limitedfreedom of motion was more than enough in the cramped office space"above" her sleeping berth. Behind the bulkhead whirled thefrictionless axis of the orbital station's artificial gravity mechanism.Centrifugal force was an imperfect method for imitating the cradling pull ofEarth's gravity field, true, and a tremendous waste of inductive electricity, butthis station was built primarily for planet-siders - those reliant on such forcesbecause they were born into it.
Chisa was part of the new wave, thethird or fourth generation sired and raised entirely on Earth's space-boundsettlements. Going to the planet wasn't an option for her - life in zero gravityhad made her bones and muscles vastly weaker than those of an Earthdweller's -but the corporation needed plenty of talented technicians in orbit.
Theinitial shock of the day's pharmaceuticals faded into the warm steady flickerthat would sustain her for a good portion of her shift. She slid her hands into aset of motor feedback gloves and clipped the polarizing spectacles to her face asthe red-green-blue lasers hesitantly traced her sunken Pacific features. Alifetime outside the gravity well and a lack of real meat had caused her to flirtwith anemia since childhood, but her months here on the company's poorly-catered'Scaper Node had exacerbated the problem. Now her usually pale skin was virtuallytransparent, sucking the green and blue laser light from view. A second later,though, the beams met up with the plastic lenses of her goggles and her feedbackgloves tensed into fists.
Speakers within her office capsule buzzedthrough the opening protocols of user identification and authorization. Thecompany logo sluiced across the upper limits of her vision, its dropletscondensing into a dozen other logos for the software companies, the hardwaremanufacturers, unions and corporate entities that sponsored one another and allin some way supported this particular Node. A receding wire frame blur and anaccompanying decrescendo in the noise feed told Chisa that the previous shift'soperator had transferred control to her and logged out. Chisa was flyingrelatively solo now, with only the A.I. assistant to aid her.
'Scaperswere some of the most vital people in the morass of data that constituted theNet. They're not as well known as the pioneering hackers who built, attacked andrefined the system, perhaps, or the tycoons and officials who control theorganizations. Even the dumb - and not so dumb - artificial intelligences thatmaintain and catalogue each twist and flow of the planet's information networkhad more fame than the 'Scaper caste. The reason for this anonymity was therelative incomprehensibility of their duties to the average user. To some librarypatron searching for information on the Franco-Prussian War, or a customerlooking for a retail store or a news feed, the A.I.s and automated programs cansatisfy their users with ease. Advanced users might not even need the help ofA.I.s. What commerce and standard academia desired was just digital information,hard facts, numbers: quantifiable and concrete data. From the simplestword-searching routines to Boolean queries to complex Shannon-function engines,all of the Net is wired for hard little shells of easily explainedinformation.
But even in the earliest days of the Net, in the dawn of the21st century, trends seemed to emerge that had the possibility of defyingconvention. Tera bytes and terabytes of hypertext, audio, graphics, video,applications, etc. on every subject imaginable, just within a few clicks ... anda few more clicks yielded geometrically more and diverse subjects. A directedapproach to one topic may veer off on a tangent, may strike dead-on, may give theprecise opposite of what was desired, or yield results with zero relevance. Or,again, it could yield a black hole, the now-mythical ERROR 404. And for each newitem input, several other items would vary it and output in a new form, and theneach would loop back in. It was a system of ever-increasing complexity andbreadth.
Chisa's gloves pressed hard against her knuckles, and herlaser-projected view followed the motion of her eyes and angle of her head,tracking an upsurge in the European Union's stock markets, spreading in raggedripples to other economic entities. She wondered what her co-workers were doingas they sat in their matching cramped offices and polarized goggles, gazing atthe same unfolding palpitations. She blinked at the sound and shaperepresentation of a Nipponese zaibatsu with holdings in Central America as itsmarkets bucked the trend and took a sharp dive. Her A.I. assistant was keepingrelated economic data on call, and she zoomed and panned to watch/listen/feel forall the market events currently transpiring within the Net's bounds.
Itwas exactly this kind of thing that the company's supporters were interested in.Banks, well-endowed universities and various other wealthy organizations andindividuals saw the Net for what it was: the largest manmade system everconstructed. The larger the system, the more difficult to comprehend, takenpiecemeal. But viewed as a big picture, things become simpler. No longer does oneneed to rationalize and quantify, as things become evident without finitecalculations to bog down the purity of the result.
That's what the'Scapers were for. A computer can do incredible things, things undreamt of byhumans, but only in the realm of mathematics. Computers can draw circles thatlook completely round to the human eye, but they cannot view them as anything butflawed approximations. Computers rely on numbers and quantifiable concepts fortheir "thinking." Humans can think in the abstract; without knowing thedecimal places of pi, or even the existence of the number, they can envision whata perfect circle would look like. Chisa and her comrades were jacked into themost powerful communication and analysis tools the human race has everconstructed, looking at the big picture, at the abstract, while the computerschurned away, splitting and re-splitting hairs.
So that was their job, asfar as the company was concerned: relaying stock picks, premonitions, informationthat might be helpful in business, politics or science. They were the augers ofthe new Rome.
But there was something else the company couldn'tunderstand, something only understood fully by the 'Scapers in the orbiting rigs,gazing down with the thousand eyes of Argus and speaking with the oracular tongueof Apollo. Others had glimpsed it, but hadn't realized it the way a personimmersed in the Net could. The jargon name for their occupation, 'Scaper, wasassumed to be derived from "escaper," for leaving the Earth andstandard existence in favor of the embrace of a nearly non-stop Net connectionand an orbiting space station. The elite few knew better.
The input/outputfunctions, the quasi-random associations and connections, changing and developingwith every click of a mouse or jab of a motor feedback controller ... it modeled,on a simplest level, the primitive operations of a brain. The dual nature oflogic and randomness, the meandering-yet-questing flow, even, one could imagine,the Freudian obsessions with sex and money found within the volumes ofinformation ... it pointed, in fact, to a mind. A huge lumbering mind made up ofbillions of other minds whose behaviors caused it to function similarly. It wasaware of its power, but unconsciously. Dreaming, really.
The Net wasdreaming. The human race, simply by following the muddled impulses of their ownindividual minds, had unknowingly brought into being a bigger mind, a biggerdream, comprised of everything humanity had ever done.
Chisa, along withher ilk, knew this. They took their slang title from their engineering of thisextra-global dreamscape. And they knew that one day the dream would end. One daythe Net would wake up.
A wireframe presence swept up over her, and thethrumming of a human heartbeat filled her ears. She had spent her entire workshift consumed by the eddies of economic ebb and flow caused by whatever piece ofinformation her peer had released to the company and its investors. A prick ofcold wetness jabbed her thigh, and she knew the post-workday narcotic had beenadministered. She gave a tactile nod to the 'Scaper who came to relieve her, andlogged out.
Sighing, Chisa sank back in the cradling nest of the zero-Gharness as the low, insistent drain of centrifugal force and narcotic numbnessgrabbed her. The servomotors deposited her gently on the padding of the sleepingsurface, and she went warmly to accept sleep's invitation. The Net dreamed on,and she followed its lead.