I'm on a plane right now, watching the ominous line of The Wall through the window. It's a scar on the surface of the desert, too far away and too high to see over. The window is real, which makes this a spectacularly old plane, and I'm feeling stupid because I thought it was a viewer at first. My nerves are on edge and I'd like to take my mind off of what lies ahead. I unfold my notebook and start writing with flicks of my fingers and eyes. Optic/haptic interfaces are for grandparents and Luddites, I just haven't got around to getting an interface yet. The pilots have shut off all wireless and I desperately need something to do, so I start writing yet another journal entry about how I, and the rest of the world, got here. It's a stupid hobby of mine. And it might provide some blessed distraction.
I like history.
I think that's what really got me into junk mining. Being able to pay my rent probably had something to do with it too. But I still like history, and junk mining was a good fit for me.
It's amazing what people used to throw out. Back then it was probably easier to mine for raw materials than to recycle, but now that the mines are empty and oil wells are something you read about it's cheaper to dig down into the refuse of your great-grandparents than to process shale oil.
Plastic is good. Paper is useless. Metal is good. Used computer parts and all their rare elements are what keeps us in business. I found a broken 72 inch plasma TV once and got a bonus that I used to buy everyone a round of beer, with plenty of money left over for me. I can't believe we used to send this stuff to other countries for "recycling."
Each day, after the bulldozers have exposed new ground on the old landfill, fifty of us junk miners head out and start picking though it, looking for little glints of metal or plastic. It's hard sometimes, the weather can be bad, the seagulls are terrible, and even with nanotube weave gloves you can get some nasty injuries out there. We have to take immune boosters each week, and they itch like hell. Amm sliced her wrist to the bone once, and we had to call out a med-evac. We get hazard pay anyways, and the doctors can regrow pretty much everything except a brain (well, they can grow brains, but what's the point if it isn't yours?).
I guess they could use robots to do this, but then what would you make them with? The same precious materials we're trying to get? You'd probably have to use a fairly sophisticated neural net AI too, probably smart enough to feel pain and start demanding hazard pay, and then what are you gaining? Humans are just cheaper. Lunar mining is almost as cheap as us, and they don't have to worry about running out of junk anytime soon, but we're a small outfit and do pretty well anyways.
So, I said I like history, and there's tons of it down there. People don't realize that once something goes down into a landfill, it doesn't rot. There's no oxygen. It just steeps in anaerobic juices. And since paper's worthless I get to keep what I want.
My two most prized possessions are a newspaper from 1944 and a magazine from 1972. Nearly mint condition, albeit a little yellow.
I got into history when I was about five. That was when the Bell flu came around, the first time, and that's when my mother died. I don't remember much about her, she was beautiful, like all the clones, and always wore purple. I remember her voice better than her face.
Around 2040 people started selling cloned zygotes for parents that wanted healthy perfect children. Some people accused them of playing God, but really? Have you ever seen genetic diseases can do? I've read the books, pregnancy was a long ugly gamble. Congratulations, it's a girl, and she'll probably get brain cancer and die by the age of three. Here's a child with skin that cracks every time it moves, here's another that will never do anything but drool in a chair. Congratulations. Sign me up for fixing that sort of thing. It's just sad that we went about it the wrong way.
The problem is, it's hard to test every single genetic combination against every environmental effect. And testing brainless fast growing clones is time consuming and subject to hawklike ethical oversight. So it took years to perfect one genetic template. You could customize them a bit, skin color, facial structure, hair color, but none of the internal chemistry. They were effectively clones, and they were very popular.
When I was five years old 11% of the worlds population was a particular strain of clone. They had very good immune systems, but they had no safety in diversity. A disease that affected one would affect them all. And when a full tenth of the world's population is exactly the same on the inside it was all but destined to happen.
The average baseline human (I'm not entirely sure what that even means nowadays) had a 15% chance of dying from the Bell flu, which came from somewhere in Canada in 2066. A Bell series clone had a 60% chance of dying from the flu named after them. It was just some flu that exploited a particular cellular receptor common to all Bell clones.
I thought the world was ending when it came. School was canceled, I couldn't see my friends (being half-Bell I was vulnerable). Two kids in my kindergarden class died. Mom left work when all her coworkers got sick. Dad continued to work, since he was less likely to get severely ill. I spent my days reading everything I could about the history of the world and the flu. I thought I could cure her, in the grandiose way that all five-year olds think. I guess a five year old staying up late and reading about RNA is weird, but I didn't have much else to do.
You'd think that a vaccine would come easily, but the damn flu had already infiltrated one of the best immune systems money could buy. It was six months before they made the vaccine, and longer to distribute it. And then it mutated and another strain came right back.
Somehow, she got sick. And she coughed herself to death in her bedroom, the hospitals being so full they turned people away at the doors. Dad wouldn't let me see her, he was terrified I'd get sick too. I was confined downstairs until the very end. I think he knew she was dying, so he let me see her one last time and hold her hand. She smiled painfully at me and then I left to scrub my hands and change my clothes, and then she died.
Her death is strangely easy to write about. I can talk about her with Dad for hours and be fine, only to break down crying when the sun hits the kitchen countertops in a certain way or the wind makes the sound of her voice.
More than half a billion people died in the various waves of the flus. And then the drought happened and the red fungus and... it really wasn't a good time. Society keeps stumbling on, and I've heard that the only thing that saved us was the hives. It's probably true.
Hives are an extension of direct-to-brain computers, the interfaces, the plugs that you can get implanted into your skull that learn what you're thinking and let you pull up any information you want. I don't have one myself, which is somewhat odd today. I guess I just never thought it was all that necessary. Maybe I don't need cognitive prosthetics, or maybe I'm just hobbling myself in some stupid attempt at being unique.
I just really hate needles.
Interfaces are sometimes called external cognitive extensions. They generally consist of a fine mesh of wires implanted in your skull and piped into your thalamus. It can figure out what you're thinking and input sensory experiences that aren't actually real. You can use it to store every sight you ever saw, every thought you ever had. You can have instant access to all the information of the wikibases and Brainbooks. You can feel like you're in the same room with someone a thousand miles away. You can overlay the real world with mental images of your own (or someone else's) creation, or augment your abilities with all sorts of human apps.
They're overrated if you ask me. They have a major limitation, the crazy processing power required for all that doesn't come cheap. If you're not just shunting around information and doing small bits that you can buy your own server for you have to go out and buy a brainshare from a hive.
Hives creep me out.
If you put two people together long enough they'll start finishing each other's sentences, just from being around each other long enough. Start connecting them with an interface and things get a little more interesting. That's how you make a hive. If two people are connected via interfaces for long periods of time, they start specializing in the tasks they used to do on their own. Think about it, a normal human has two specialized brain hemispheres, connected by a bundle of nerves. It's also possible, but rare, to remove one hemisphere and have a mostly functioning human.
You already have two brains in your head. The only thing that makes them one brain in the bandwidth between them. What happens when two people have a similar bandwidth between them? Each person will start to specialize, and then it can get difficult to separate them. Start doing this with a lot of people and you've got a supercomputer that'll put any AI dreamers to shame. Now there are thousands of hives, with anywhere from a dozen to a million people. Start adding performance enhancers and conventional supercomputers and it gets freaky.
They saved us. They engineered the vats of yeast that provides much of the calories to the world. They put mirrors in the sky and fixed the weather. They created thousands of species of high yield crops, including the glorious cheesepumpkin, avoiding the dangers of a monoculture. It was the hives that put humanity back on its feet. It only required some people to lose their individuality, but they never seem to complain. They are godlike and unknowable and flat out terrify me.
Were people always at the mercy of faceless incomprehensible superpowers? I guess I shouldn't bite the hand that feeds me. Hive ADA sent me a note last week, a fully paid trip to zir New Mexico base. Ze wants to interview me for a position. I have no idea what position it is, why ze wants me, and I'm a little worried, but I've been thinking that maybe I should get out of the junk business.
I can still see the gray line of The Wall out to my West. Massive antennae arrays poke out of the desert between The Wall and civilization, constantly jamming the signals of whatever the hell is on the other side. That's why we have no wireless. The squat missile stations make less obvious structures, but more worrisome ones. I'm not sure I like being so close. I can't believe I'm glad to be in the embrace of a hive soon.