The Friendly Buildings

Scattered among the brutally degentrified neighborhoods of the former New City lie the Friendly Buildings, windows unbroken, cameras spry. When the Cloud burst and even fewer people could afford aspirationally smart architecture, the company managing them disappeared a puff of shells, and the no longer maintained embedded computers were taken over after a brief but spirited digital free-for-all. It's said that the war was less than entirely bloodless, somewhere else whence the voices come.

The informal standing list to live in the buildings is long. Their systems mostly work, there are no surprise fees from automated revenue-optimizing high-frequency landlord bots, and the rents are very reasonable if you have a friend with hard-to-trace cryptocoins and don't mind making a favor now and then for the thickly accented voices that sometimes whisper at you in the stairs or even your living room, asking you to make strange purchases from fleeting online stores and then store the unopened packages until instructed to send them elsewhere, install or replace mysterious hardware somewhere in or around the building, or be present at a certain time and place to witness something and then lie about what you saw to the cops.

You can only live in them if and while the buildings let you, and their background checks are no less opaque than most buildings', except unfailingly fair.

Sometimes the voices are softer than usual, waking somebody up from hidden speakers in their bedroom walls.  Everybody fears hearing those whispers, but nobody has ever refused their request.  They just do the favor, their eyes not meeting those of the witnesses arranged by other buildings, and then they go back to theirs, never again having to pay for the rent of the apartments they will pace at night to try and fail to escape their nightmares.

Sometimes the buildings share new, expensive games in their internal networks, to the delight of the children in them.

The barista who could disarm nuclear bombs

She didn't know she could, not having seen one during the week the skillware was in her glasses's software library. But the company that supplied Starbucks with barista-guiding software had military contracts for slightly different sorts of skill, and was not above their occasional misplacement. For the week that took them to find and fix the problem, her glasses would have recognized an armed nuclear bomb and overlaid instructions for its safe disposal, which she would have followed with the same confident speed with which she operated espresso machines and greeted by name customers she had never seen.

Three days before the self-leaked military software was erased from a few hundred unsuspecting coworkers' glasses, she very illegally copied some files from her own to her little brother's in an attempt to make doing the dishes like she did at work a glamorous grown-up game. It didn't work.

The fourteen-year-old never saw a nuclear bomb either, but his aimless, obsessive testing of every possible software option activated detailed, context-specific instructions on his glasses for infrastructural sabotage and network disruption. As every good student and would-be employable person was taught to, he followed the instructions as well as he could without concerning himself on whys and what fors - for a month of so, at which point he lost interest, although the network of cells he had set up among other pre-teens was already growing on its own.

The Green Gears

Sometimes she pictured small computer screens inside each leaf, code scrolling through them like a bad movie's idea of what hacking looks like. She knew it was plain chemistry -- changes in molecules, rearrangements of the same universal atoms -- but it was also software that continuously adjusted plant physiology to internal and external conditions, even "downloading upgrades" from artificial viruses raining each night from drones like an invisible kabbalah - a highly structured prayer against hunger and war.

Thus was fed a world of dying soils, crumbling weather, and worse. With computers you could eat that were also plants that ran software.

Yet anything that thought could think anything; that had been Turing's insight, a century before and at the root of everything. What else might the world's farmed fields, its carbon-capture forests, the post-collapse artificial ecosystems, could be thinking about during the scorching days and the noisome nights? What other software was running on them, written by whom, and for what purpose? Only a minimal percentage of most computer's processing power was dedicated to its user's goals - the rest is overhead, copyright control systems, spyware, worms, and other crimes, legal and illegal, too new to have been named. What hidden code was running, even now, on the wheat fields and the Hail Mary pass of the kudzu forests?

But I exaggerate. For her it was but the ghost of an idea, perhaps a seed. Nothing as detailed or as passionate as what you just read, merely a passing fancy that often came to her as she fell asleep, and already forgotten when she woke up in the morning, the memory having been unweaved, as always, by the code running on her neurons.

Gold in the Blood

Genetic engineering could buy athletic potential, not the willpower to train and win, or at least that's what your father says every now and then. You think every generation wants to complain that things were harder for them than for the following ones, and mostly ignore him and everything else that's not directly related to your training.

He seems okay with that, although sometimes you notice him looking at you with something between envy and fear. But you don't really care, and you've never wondered if you could.

The Truth About Clones

"Forget all the sci-fi you've watched. The fantasy of the evil clone is a form of the terror of the doppelganger, which is our fear of our own Shadow. A clone is just a younger identical twin."

The prosecutor was calm and convincing, and you had read enough biology to know she was right, but you also knew that a clone was somebody with your face but not your fate, who would look like you long after your death. Sooner or later their face would no longer be yours but the other way around.

The jury knew what you knew, maybe secretly, perhaps without awareness. In any case their verdict of self-defense was unanimous.

You had read enough about clone murder trial statistics to know they would, and enough about the suicide rate of the cloned to tell yourself they were right. Your clone hadn't read any of it --he had been way too young for that-- but his last expression had been one of unsurprised sadness.

You killed yourself a year later, your will asking to be cloned again, leaving to him all you owned. No apology, though. You knew its pointlessness from the one your predecessor had left behind.

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