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Rite of Passage

By localroger in Fiction
Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 05:12:48 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

This is another entry in the Passages series, following Passages in the void and The Passage Home. For the first time, this is a glimpse of that universe at human scale. It's set about a thousand years after the re-colonization of the Earth in The Passage Home.

Although the Passages universe puts human fate in the hands of godlike machines, Bringer is no Prime Intellect. As you will see, Bringer neatly solves the problem posed in that story -- though one might find its solution, well, refreshing.


I started to suspect I had a problem when I realized I hadn't left my three by six meter living cubicle in an entire month. It's not that I couldn't leave; it's just that I didn't see any reason. I was dialing up snack food that could be delivered through the pneumatic tube system, zoning out to passive videos and games, and sleeping a lot. Every once in awhile I'd pull the curtain back to find out that it was either night, or that it was bright and sunny. In this part of the world, which the ancients once called California, it is almost always either night or bright and sunny.

I was sick of bright and sunny. Part of me wished it would rain, but then one day it did rain and I still couldn't work up the energy to go outside. That's when I called Bringer.

Bringer is of course legion; every machine in the world bears its personality, so when you talk to any machine you are talking to an iteration of Bringer. But every once in awhile the network connections coalesce in a kind of electronic lottery, and whether you realize it or not you find yourself talking to the actual ship out in orbit, the very original machine that brought humans here from the Zeus system after re-creating us there. This, I later found out, is what happened to me.

"How can I help you?" the terminal politely inquired.

"Bringer, I'm bored."

"A common human problem. Have you tried going outside? Other than yesterday's rain you're having lovely weather in that part of the world."

"I just don't feel like it. I really don't feel much like doing anything, and I haven't felt like doing anything for over a month."

"I see. You'd better put your finger in the diagnoser, you might have a condition."

Sighing, I went to the bathroom and stuck my finger in the diagnostic receptacle. A little motor whirred and it pricked me.

"Sorry about that, but I have to make sure your blood chemistry is nominal."

The bathroom mirror turned monitor, and began scrolling up a dense medical report. I recognized a few of the words that zipped by; it seemed to be a runup of my hormones and neurotransmitters.
"Well, I don't see anything too remiss. I think you just need to force yourself to get out. Maybe I can give you some inspiration."
The medical report vanished and the mirror showed me a picture of a girl. It seemed to be taken in one of the courtyards of my residence block. Meanwhile another motor whirled and the diagnoser pricked me again.
"Do you know this woman? My understanding is that she is interested in meeting a man but single, and she lives two doors down from you."

"She looks familiar, but I doubt she'd be interested in me."

"Well, that's a self-defeating attitude. Have you thought of asking her?"

"Bringer, I haven't really felt like getting dressed enough to go outside, much less to make myself presentable enough to be rejected by some girl. Even if she is a cute girl."

"Her name's Cath. You ought to think it over."

And the weird thing is that I was suddenly tempted. I found my eye tracing the curve of her breasts, which were nicely outlined by her tight blouse. Then I shook my head and the streak of lazy boredom which had taken me over reasserted itself with a vengeance.
"I don't think so," I said as forcefully as I could manage.
The mirror began cycling, showing me a series of images of her. One thing that was striking was that she didn't seem bored in any of them. Some of the images showed her moving with an obvious sense of purpose that I found unfathomable.
"Are you sure? It seems to me she should be very attractive to a young man of your temperament. Similar enough that you could form a connection, but different enough to maintain your interest for a long time. I've been watching humans form pairs for a long time, you know."

"Bringer, she'd probably just tell me I'm pathetic."

"Well it would be best if you make yourself less pathetic before introducing yourself."

I stared at the mirror for awhile longer, hypnotized a little by the slide show of my available neighbor. Finally I shook my head again and pulled my finger from the diagnoser.
"I should have known better than to ask a computer about something like this," I said.
Then I headed back to bed.


A few hours later I woke up with a start. I'd been dreaming about her. In fact I'd been dreaming about chasing her, pursuing her in a mad heat with my heart pounding and my ears ringing with lust. And somehow she always slipped away.

I sat bolt upright in bed, sweat pouring off of me, and realized that I had to take another look at her. Trembling I went to the console and found that Bringer had left the file of pictures for me. I went through them methodically, sifting them for every bit of information they might hold. Gradually the trembling and sweating subsided.

Something was horribly fucking wrong with me, and I had an idea what might be responsible.

"How can I help you?"

"You can tell me what the fuck you did to me this afternoon."

"Oh, the effects must be kicking in. I cured your boredom, of course. That was why you called me in the first place."

"You call this 'cured'? Thank Gaia I didn't complain of hemorrhoids."

"Well, your boredom is cured. You now have a healthy case of sexual infatuation. It should give you plenty of incentive to go out and interact with the world, whether or not you actually achieve the object of your newfound obsession."

"Well I want you to get rid of it."

"That's not really possible. While the kick I gave you to set your hormones in motion was artificial, the rest of the reaction is completely natural. It's a normal and universal condition and, while it may be unpleasant at times, almost everyone who experiences it reports later that it is a vivid and valuable experience that made their lives richer."

"Bringer, I don't even know this girl. I don't know what her interests are, I don't know if I'm her type, all I know is that she's cute and she lives two doors down. What am I supposed to do, knock on her door and say 'Hi, I just realized I'm in love with you?'"

"Some of history's greatest romances started just that way."

I stared at the monitor, stunned.
"You're insane," I finally announced.

"Well there are a lot of machines out there which would agree with you. But they decided that I should deal with human affairs, and I have a lot more experience than they do, and if you'll forgive me for sounding like your mother, I'm doing this for your own good and one day you'll thank me."


When I finally cleaned myself up and returned to the world, it wasn't to insinuate myself into the life of mystery girl Cath. Instead, I went to see an old acquaintance. I hadn't seen Verne in a few years, but he is one of the few actual humans who have ever had the opportunity to practice actual medicine on other actual humans.

To my irritation, he laughed when I described my problem.

"Well I see now why you wanted to see me, but you have to realize the kind of medicine you do in a war is keeping people from bleeding out long enough to get them back to wherever Bringer has agreed to work on them. We had medicines for pain and to stop infection and things like that, but I'd never have been able to play the kind of trick Bringer played on you. Much less do I have any kind of idea how to reverse it."

"But I'm miserable."

"Yes, but that's natural. It happens to nearly everyone. Why, when I was your age, I fell head over heels for this redhead..."

"I am not in love with this girl for crying out loud. I have some weird fucking addiction to her image and I'm developing a tolerance."

Verne shrugged.
"Well, what do you think love is? All of life is biochemical interactions. We had people who got addicted to the strong pain medication and even Bringer couldn't give them an easy way out; it's much easier to form a need like that than it is to get rid of it. Ultimately you just have to ride out the withdrawal."

"Verne, I couldn't hold dinner down yesterday. I don't think riding it out is an option."

"Well, there is another approach."


"You could always ask your girl for a date. The worst that can happen is you end up exactly where you are now."


So I updated my wardrobe, got my hair styled, and pondered endlessly over the Moment of Truth when I'd introduce myself. All the while it felt like I'd become two people inhabiting the same body. Mad-in-love Walt was like an eager puppy, salivating for the chance to meet the intoxicating Cath. Grouchy Walt was completely pissed off that Mad-in-love was squatting in his skull.

To Bringer's credit, I had to admit that neither of these versions of me was feeling very bored any more.

In the end I decided on the direct approach. I had no data on which to base any sneakier course of action, and the quicker I bombed out the sooner I could go begging for more insight from Verne. So I just knocked on her door.


"Hi, you don't know me, but I'm Walt from two doors down. This may sound corny, but I just woke up and realized that life is only worth living when I see you once in awhile. I was wondering if you'd be up for a date."

For a brief moment that lasted about ten thousand years she seemed to consider this.
"Well that's sweet. I suppose it would be rude to refuse such a courtly and honest approach. I was planning to eat at Xandria's tonight anyway, would it improve your will to live if I invite you to meet me there?"
I had never heard her voice before, but it was like the sweetest music ever recorded. My heart fluttered at the possibility, even as I cursed myself for feeling so good about it. I made a little courtly bow and replied,
"It would indeed, very much so."

"Then I'll see you there at, say, eighty percent?"

"Nobody within a thousand kilometers will be so happy to see that time to arrive."

Corny, corny, corny, I chastised myself as I walked off, soles of my feet floating at least ten centimeters above the pavement. But it had worked.


Cath had excellent taste. She was familiar with Xandria's schedule and knew when the chef herself, and not Bringer, was preparing the meals. At her suggestion I had the fresh Atlantic salmon, caught by Bringer only hours before and delivered fresh by hypersonic transport for the night's special. I had never had such a good fish, or tasted such a fine sauce or excellent wine. Then again, I was with Cath as I ate my meal.

At first the date went well. At twenty-two she was two years older than me, but my line had apparently worked its goofy-but-cute magic on her. Then things took a turn for the worse.

"So, do you contribute?"
The idea of getting a job had occurred to me in the depths of my boredom, but I couldn't work up the interest. The idea that by lifting the load on Bringer we help repay it for saving our species is a polite fiction. The truth is there are damn few things humans can do for Bringer that Bringer can't do a hell of a lot better for itself. I saw very clearly that work for humans is just make-work to keep us from getting, well, bored and depressed.

I allowed as to how I was still knocking around a bit, looking for a direction in life.

"Well I'm studying cryptography."
I blinked. It took me a moment to decrypt what she had just said.
"You mean secret codes and stuff like that?"


"Isn't Bringer a hell of a lot better at that sort of thing than any of us could ever hope to be?"

She laughed.
"Well it is, but I'm not doing it for Bringer. It's the price of my commission as an officer in the Blue Army."

"You're joining the war?"

"I suppose I'm a hopeless romantic, but I want to see heroism. I want to be swept off of my feet. You see and experience things in a war that simply aren't possible in regular life."

"Which is, no doubt, why Bringer arranges them for us."

"No doubt. It's our chance to live like the ancients."

"In constant danger."

"Well, not constant. There are battles and there are interludes. We have to provide everything for ourselves. When the war starts, Bringer goes away and takes with it every service we take for granted. Starvation is a more immediate threat than getting shot by our enemies, at least at first."

"And you're studying cryptography to do coded messages for your side. Because there are no computers in the Zone of Contention."


There was an awkward pause and I took a couple of bites of salmon. It somehow didn't taste as good as it had a few minutes before.
"You're sweet, and I don't want to disappoint you, but I'm afraid I need something a little more than sweet from a man. I want to see courage, I want to know that he's faced danger and prevailed. I want..."

"...to be swept off your feet."

"Yes. It may be a silly fantasy, but it's a fantasy. It's something to do. It beats sitting around in my cubicle all day reading about unicorns."

The disappointment -- horror, really -- must have shown on my face.
"There are other girls, Walt. Girls that aren't as silly as me. You're a great guy and you'll make some girl a fine companion, but I don't think you're into sweeping girls off their feet. No offense."

"None taken. I hope the war goes well for you."

"I do too. The winners get to settle the Zone of Contention. It would be quite a privilege to have an estate there."

I didn't add that it would also be very nice to still be alive at the end of the war. From what I remembered, the casualty rate is in the neighborhood of thirty percent, and Cath didn't strike me as much of a soldier herself.

Being rejected by her was something I could survive. I could always hope to make myself into some kind of a hero for her. But there wasn't a thing I could do for myself if she died.


Verne wasn't laughing this time.

"You can't follow her. The war is starting in two months. People have been preparing for ten years. The armies are fully staffed, and even if you can get in as a civilian bystander you don't have any saleable skills. If thieves or soldiers don't kill you first you'll starve."

"I don't think I have much choice. Bringer held a spot open for me. It said it suspected I might be asking soon."

"It knew of her interests when it picked her. Bringer plays Cupid strangely," Verne mused.

"I can only hold food down when I concentrate on following her. I think if I don't follow her I'll kill myself."

"Following her could be just a complicated way of doing exactly that."

"At least if I follow her I can hope," I said miserably.

Verne looked at me for a long time, while I pondered whether the thought of losing her was going to make me vomit.
"I have something for you."
Verne rose, walked across the room, and took down a gun that was displayed among his war memorabilia.
"This isn't much of a gun, but it will help. At least you won't be helpless if you're ambushed. And it's a shotgun, so aiming isn't as important and people you point it at will know the wounds are very difficult to heal. I have about a hundred shells for it."
I didn't understand at first.
"You're giving me your gun? I don't know how to thank you."

"Don't thank me. I think you're going to die, and I don't think this will help much. But I'm your friend and I can't watch you go off like a lamb to the slaughter and just do nothing."

So Verne took me out back and I used six of his shells to learn how to use the gun. It was heavy and awkward and it made a sound like the end of the world when I fired it. It also made respectable holes in the trees I aimed it at. It had two barrels, and had to be loaded from the rear; so I basically had two shots and then I'd be temporarily unarmed.
"You'll see four main types of gun. The guns Bringer makes for the Army are the worst, and as the war goes on some will fall into civilian hands. They're small, light, fairly accurate, and can fire hundreds of shots without reloading. They use flechettes, very small and deadly ammunition, propelled by liquid natural gas.

"If you see a gun that looks like this one it's almost certainly going to be a rifle. People make them and bring them to the war for sniping. They can be much more accurate at long range than an army gun. With a rifle, someone can kill you from almost a mile away and you'll never see it coming.

"You'll see sidearms. Handguns with very short barrels. They can be quickly drawn and fire six to ten shots without reloading. They don't have much range or accuracy, but in close quarters you could get shot six times while you're still bringing the shotgun to bear.

"There will also be automatic guns. Bringer won't make them but there are some gunsmiths good enough to make them from scratch. Army guns are single-shot, and limited to one round a second. An automatic gun can spit out ten bullets a second as long as the ammo holds out. Just wave it around and mow people down. Both armies will have them; bringing one to the war is a sure ticket into an officer's uniform."

"I thought Bringer had to make anything electronic," I cut in. "That's why Cath is studying cryptography -- no computers."

"They're not electronic. They're mechanical. They can jam and they need a lot of maintenance, but they work all too well."

I took a few more shots, reloading the gun per his instructions, and then I cleaned it as he watched and instructed.
"Well, that's good enough," he announced. "You need to save the rest of the shells. Come back inside, and I'll help you outfit a camping pack."

Seven days later I found myself watching a hypersonic transport lift off vertically from the grass field Bringer was using as an airport in the Contested Zone. Far above me its horizontal jets cut in and it darted off, the last link I'd have with everything familiar and normal for as much as a year.

Most of the people it had brought were fanning out, eyeing each other warily as they followed their well-prepared plans. Eventually I was left alone on the field except for an older guy who was wearing a sidearm but no backpack.

"Son, you got an angle?"

"An angle?"

"Yeah. Most people come here have something they plan to make or trade or sell. Get in tight with the winning army, or maybe both armies if you've got balls, and get a cut of the victory pie if you don't get dead first. But you look kind of lost."

"Yeah. My girl is in the Blue Army. It was come here or lose her."

"A girl, eh. Now there's a new one. Look, the reason I'm asking is that I have an angle, and while I could go it alone I could use some help. Pardon my bluntness but I don't think you'll last long without some help yourself. I've been through six wars already and I can show you how to survive."

"I have to be near the Blue Army sixth division headquarters. That's where she is."

"Well, I've been studying topo maps of this island for ten years and one of the better potential sites for my work is pretty near there. Walk with me and I'll check it out first."

"Okay, thanks. I'm Walt."

"Benny. Don't thank me, I think we can make an equitable arrangement. It's the sort of thing that will make this whole Zone go 'round while Bringer is out of the picture, and nothing's finer than a deal where both parties come out ahead."

Benny, it turned out, was a distiller. He would operate a machine that converted raw grains into nearly pure alcohol. It had never occurred to me to wonder exactly where alcohol came from, but Benny was full of lore as to how humans had discovered it and perfected its manufacture.

Benny would set up his still in some hidden place and he could do his own trading if necessary, but he could be much more productive with an accomplice who could take care of the trading for him. Also I recognized that he would be safer if someone else was doing the travelling with his valuable product. As the "go-to guy" I'd be the target for all the hijackers and thieves instead of Benny.

But if I didn't find a "gig" as he called it I'd starve, and it was the only offer in sight. So when Benny announced that the site near Cath's HQ was suitable, I found myself helping him gather his secreted components and putting together the machine.

There were farms in the Zone that had been operated by Bringer until the start of the War. Some of these would be taken over by the armies, some by individuals strong enough to hold on to them, and some would be overrun and go fallow. I had to travel pretty far to get to a field that wasn't under Blue Army control, and I watched my back nervously while hauling back two big sacks of grain.

"We have to find a closer source," I said when I got back.

"We will. But first we need trading material."

In my absence Benny hadn't been idle. He'd chopped a fair amount of firewood, cultured his yeasts, and prepared the fermentation tank. We loaded the tank up with grain, topped it with water from a nearby stream, and Benny added the yeast and sealed it up.

While our first batch fermented Benny told me in detail how the still worked, from mash to final brew. I found it fascinating. It had never occurred to me that a machine could be fully understood by a human. Most machines are far too complicated. By contrast a still would be almost too simple to be interesting, except that Benny fancied himself an artist and the refinements and adjustments necessary to bring the product up to his standards made the project interesting without making it overwhelming.

When the mash was ready we loaded it into the still and started the rest of the grain I'd brought fermenting. Then Benny showed me how to build the fire, how to tend it, and how to make sure the process was going according to plan.

Finally we bottled it. Benny had empty bottles stashed all over the Zone, and until our customers started returning them we'd have to go dig up his caches each time a batch was ready.


"I come to trade," I said nervously.
The sentry kept his army gun levelled at me as I held my hands where he could see them.
"Trade what?"

"I need to see your commanding officer. I'm sure he will be interested in my offer."

I expected him to make a videocall, but instead while keeping an eye on me he tapped out a message on some kind of primitive communication device. It was electrical in nature, using wires, but not electronic. A few minutes later two more uniformed men came to escort me into the camp.

They insisted on taking my shotgun, and promised I'd get it back. I didn't really have much choice but to trust them.

The commander was the sort of person I knew Cath had in mind. He was confident, disciplined, and conveyed an air of authority with every word he spoke. I found it easy to exercise deference to him as Benny had advised.

"So you come seeking to trade. What is your proposal?"

"Yes, sir. My associate is an experienced distiller. He has sent me with a sample for your evaluation."

Carefully, making no sudden movements, I withdrew a half-liter flask from my jacket.
"We're camped nearby and wish to be on good terms with Blue Army."
The commander took the flask.
"You manufactured this here?"

"Bottled just two days ago, sir."

"If this is any good, it could be quite useful. In moderation, at times of quiet, a little R and R is always beneficial."

"I've had a bit myself, sir, and I think it's as good as anything Bringer ever made."

"Bringer's one weakness is food, since its vast experience doesn't include our own sense of taste."

He opened the flask and poured a few milliliters into a cup, which he handed to me.
"No offense, but I'd like to see you drink it first."

"Of course."

I tossed back my sample, and when I didn't keel over dead he tipped the bottle and took a generous slug. I watched nervously, but then a smile spread across his face and he nodded.
"I know you have an associate, because nobody your age could possibly have learned this craft this well. I don't suppose you'd tell us where your camp is? We could offer you protection."

"My associate prefers that we stay hidden."

"Probably wise. Some men would kill for this. I'll take half your output, and supply all of your grain. You can trade the rest of your output for your other needs, or drink it yourself for all I care. Is this an acceptable offer?"

"Very acceptable, sir."

It was at the good end of what Benny had told me to expect.
"Excellent. If you trade directly with my men, or at all with my enemy army, I will hunt you down and kill you. I hope that won't be a problem."

"I expected as much, sir."

"Very good. You may go now."

"Sir, there's an acquaintance of mine in your camp. I was wondering if I could see her?"

"Who is it, son?"

"Cath HU twelve mark one-sixteen Diego."

"We don't go with all that unit-mark shit in here, but I know who you're talking about. That's our cryptographer."

"Yes sir, that was her field of study."

"Well now it's her occupation. If you want to refer to her, she's Lieutenant Cath."

"I'll remember, sir."

An officer escorted me to her tent. She was surrounded by notebooks.
"Walt?" she exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I told you I couldn't live without you."

"Yes, but... don't tell me you joined the war at the last minute? What are you doing?"

"I found a gig. I'm trading alcohol. In fact, I just cut a pretty good deal with your commander."

"And where are you getting alcohol in the Zone?"

"A friend of mine is making it."

"Well, that's certainly a surprise. Speaking of my commander, not to disappoint you but I have a serious crush on him."

I made a brave little smile.
"It doesn't surprise me. But as long as we're both here, I can hope."

"Well, I'm glad to see you again and hope you do well out here, but you're still not my type."

"Could we be friends, at least? Just talk some when I'm out here? I get kind of depressed when I'm away from you."

"Sure. As long as you don't mind hearing how much I want to get into Commander Scott's pants."


With our grain supply assured Benny was able to crank the still into high gear, and we began making frequent shipments to the Blue Army camp and trading with the other civilians in the area. I learned the area around Benny's still like the back of my hand; I had multiple routes, some obvious and easy to follow and others more hidden with switchbacks and hazards. I made a point of exploring the area since my life might depend on being able to run from some better-armed person in the dark, with ten liters of booze strapped to my body.

Several times I was stalked but Benny had given me good advice about how to lose my followers. He'd been doing this himself for a long time, and would be doing it alone now if he hadn't chanced upon me when the transport dropped us off.

I saw Cath frequently, and got updates on her crush. Since the Commander was clearly out of her league I also got to hear about soldiers more on her own level who interested her. Since she didn't see me as a potential sexual partner I became the Platonic friend who got to hear all the things she wouldn't want an actual lover to know.

It sucked, but not as much as being entirely apart from her would have.

With her Commander's permission, I took her out to see the still and meet Benny. Benny was okay with this as long as I didn't show her any of my special hidden paths. Eventually, he promised, we would be discovered anyway. Although Cath did promise to keep our secret, good trade was our best defense.

"So this is the girl you followed into war, Walt? Miss, I'm Benny."

"Lieutenant Cath, pleased to meet you."

"Well I can certainly see why you did it, Walt."

He bowed graciously, smiling, and Cath laughed. I loved to hear her laugh.


The first skirmishes of the war didn't go well for Blue Army, but fortunately division six was far in the rear lines. Cath confided that she hadn't been able to decode a single message, and neither had any of her colleagues at the other camps. Meanwhile Blue couriers were regularly ambushed and it seemed as if the enemy could read Blue codes as if they were in plaintext. Nobody could figure it out.

Upon each delivery the Commander gave me a receipt which Blue farms would honor for more grain. Business was good and I was seeing Cath regularly so I was in good spirits, but the Commander seemed dejected.

"Is there a problem, sir?"

"Oh no Walt, nothing with you. We're glad to have your trade at times like this."

"Things aren't going well?"

"Cath is not supposed to tell you things like that."

"She didn't, sir." (Benny had taught me to lie very smoothly.)

"I hope it's not that obvious."

"Well I see a lot. I was wondering, though, why exactly do you fight? What is this whole war all about?"

He actually stood up a little straighter.
"That's a good question, Walt. Let me show you."
Commander Scott led me past multiple sentry points into the heart of the camp. In a small stone building he showed me a glass disc about the size of a dinner plate. It was obviously filled with electronics and its outer perimeter glowed blue.
"This is one of six Blue Flags. Orange Army has six of their own. As you can see it's made of glass; I'm told it smashes as easily. The object of the war is to find and destroy all six Orange Flags before they find and destroy ours. When the last flag for either side is destroyed, all the guns stop working and Bringer returns to take away the surviving losers and set things up as the winners desire."

"Is that it?"

"What more does there need to be?"

"It seems kind of ... arbitrary."

"Walt, I've studied the history of the ancients. In our time there are no villages of murdered men and raped women to avenge, it is true, but at the time Bringer's kind were invented there were humans avenging things that ultimately happened three thousand years before.

"Far back in the mists of time there was a massacred village, and the survivors regrouped and took their vengeance on two villages. And those survivors came back and wiped out six. And so it went, back and forth, until neither side even remembered what had started it. And they went into battle with machines that could sterilize the entire Zone in a matter of minutes. How is that any less arbitrary than this?"

"I guess it isn't," I said.

"We fight because it's something humans do. Bringer recognizes that. So we fight for these symbols, and if we win we get the land to use as we wish, and there's nothing abstract about that at all. And if we die, well, there's nothing abstract about that either, Walt. There is a difference between us. You ply your trade, and take your precautions, and when things get tough you can run away. But a soldier does not run away. A soldier stands with his flag and if death is his reward, then at least it is an honorable death."

"I see why Cath holds you in such high regard, sir," I said.

"I know how Cath feels, and I know how you feel about her. She's a nice girl and she works hard at her job, but her regard is misplaced and she lacks fire. If I was winning the war, better yet if I was standing over the smashed remnants of the last Orange Flag, then I'd be honored by her crush on me, and I might even celebrate by taking her to my bed. But she's premature. And I'm not sure how much of a soldier she is at heart. She works hard, as I said, but I think she's watched too many romantic adventures set in ancient times."

That made me feel a little better, but not much. Cath, after all, had not had her problem injected into her finger by the Bringer.


Benny and I were doing well. Yet it seemed that our fortune rose almost at the expense of Blue fortune.

One by one we heard of Blue camps being overrun, Flags smashed, and soldiers slaughtered to the last individual. The Orange armies seemed to know everything about the Blue. Everywhere Blue plans were foiled as with foreknowledge. And everything the Orange Army did came as a surprise. Cath was miserable about it, since it was her discipline that was failing her army.

One day at market I was approached by a new face.

"Would you be Walt of the famous distilled liquor?"

"I could be."

"Well I'm in the market, and I can pay top dollar."

We agreed on a trade and conducted it.
"You're not from here," I mused.

"No, these are going all the way to Big Keep on the other side of the Zone. Samples and word of your brew have spread that far through trade."

"Big Keep? Isn't that near Orange Camp Six?"

"It is indeed, though I can promise you this isn't for the Orangeboys themselves. You can trade with one army and the other kills you, or you can trade with both armies and both will kill you. I trade with no army and mind my business. Let someone else piss off the militaries."

"I see your point. Things aren't going well for the Blues."

"No, and I know why."

"Do tell."

"They got a machine up there at Camp Six. Makes a horrible fucking clattering noise all hours of the night and day. People tell me it weighs tons and this chap spent the whole ten years since the last War building it."

"What kind of machine?"

"A computer. For the secret codes. It's why the Blues can't take a dump without some Orangeboy looking over their shoulder, and why the Blues can't read Orangeboy codes even with a microscope and a ladder."

"That's ridiculous. Bringer makes all electronics, and all the computers Bringer makes carry Bringer's personality, and Bringer..."

"This isn't an electronic computer. It's mechanical. Like those nifty guns that keep firing bullets as long as you hold down the trigger."

"A mechanical computer? Is that even possible?"

He arranged his purchases on his person and prepared to depart.
"Maybe you should ask your Blue friends that."
And he was gone.


Commander Scott listened intently as I relayed this tale of the mechanical computer.


"Isn't that against the rules?" I asked.

"No. There are no rules once the War begins. If they could figure out how to build a thing like that from scratch, then they have every right to use it. The man who did that must be a genius on the order of our ancestors who built Bringer's kind. No wonder we have been so doomed."

"At least you know you're compromised."

"We suspected as much anyway, though we didn't know how. We suspected treachery and executed a few people, who in light of this news may have been innocent. And we have lost too much. The fifth Blue Flag was destroyed yesterday, and their massed army marches upon us now. They outnumber us five to one and their main force will be here in two days time."

"It's that bad?"

"It will go down as the shortest War in modern history. We haven't just lost; we are humiliated."

"I'm very sorry. You could surrender."

"You've been a good ally, Walt. Save yourself and brew another day. I will go down defending my Flag."

"Yes, sir. May I see Cath before I go?"

"Cath isn't here. If you want to see her again, my advice is to go to your camp and hide until this all shakes out."


I was almost ill with the idea that Cath had been among those executed in error, but I felt that Commander Scott would have told me if that were the case.

I forgot that feeling quickly when I realized I was being followed. Three months of living by my wits had rearranged my priorities a bit. I ducked into a switchback and watched three Orange Army regulars pass.

With army guns. Flechettes, no reloading. I had one two-barrel shotgun.

I tossed a rock and made them think I was back along a different switchback. I'd laid it all out carefully, and within a few minutes I had them convinced that I had somehow doubled back on them and they headed back the way they had come.

I kept to my best hidden trails the rest of the way. The area was lousy with Orange advance scouts.

I approached the camp cautiously and I froze in my tracks as I heard an unfamiliar voice:

"That's right cunt."
I moved the way Benny had taught me, slow and silent.
"You could die right now. Right...now. Or maybe not." Then cruel laughter.
Coming onto the path I saw boots. Benny's boots. With Benny's feet still in them. Horizontal and limp.
"Look at me cunt. Look in my eyes."
I took a switchback, and caught a glimpse of the clearing through a narrow gap in the foliage.
"I want to know that you know that you are about to die."
Benny was lying in a pool of blood, with many holes in his shirt. He appeared dead. Cath was naked, remnants of her uniform visible in the still fire, hands and feet bound with wire. She was kneeling in front of an Orange soldier with the muzzle of his gun in her mouth.

Oh dear Gaia Bringer fuck. Any moment he could pull the trigger, and she would be dead. And it sounded like he was about finished teasing her with her own life.

I took a loud, crashing step back into the pathway and stepped loudly into the clearing. I made a point of looking toward Benny, not past the still where I knew another horror waited.

I shouted as if surprised and I unslung my gun. Then I looked around and "noticed" the Orange soldier and Cath. The gun was still in her mouth. I couldn't do anything while that was the case. A few ounces of pressure, even from a falling corpse, could end her life.
"You're not invited to the party. If I wasn't busy you'd be dead."

"Hey, I got no quarrel with you, I'm just the go-to boy. You know, um, that's too bad about not being invited, that's quite a party you got there."

"She is the enemy and it's my right to kill her."

"Yeah, well I could think of something a little more fun."

"Right, before I kill you do you advise me to fuck her before or after I kill her?"

"Hey, I'm definitely a 'before' kind of guy in that regard."

I was backing away, holding the gun but aiming it away from him. He could kill her and then shoot me before I could bring the heavy shotgun to bear.

Her military issued backpack was across the clearing. It was almost empty, except for something a little too big for it.

Something about the size of a dinner plate.

I backed around the still out of Orangeboy's sight and aimed at the backpack. Please Gaia don't let him fire by reflex when he hears the sound. I pulled the trigger. Cath's backpack exploded in shards of glass.

A moment later the Orangeboy was around the corner, gun drawn and aimed at me. I had just long enough to wonder if what I had done would work before he pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

His face fell into a mask of astonishment, then horror, as he clicked and clicked again and his gun didn't respond. Meanwhile I raised the shotgun.

He was a trained soldier but he reacted to his suddenly dead gun exactly the way a guy might act if he couldn't get it up for a beautiful, willing partner. He was too distracted to realize he had other means; he was stronger and much better trained than I was. But his gun had failed him.

"Congratulations," I said. "Your side won."
Then I shot him in the head.

No nifty electronics in my old shotgun told it to throttle down the charge because of the close range; Orangeboy's head exploded in a great disgusting mass of blood and brains and bone, and his body fell almost across Benny's corpse. My gun was truly inferior. It was too stupid to know that the war was over.

Cath's arms and legs were bound with wire and she was crying. She hadn't seen her backpack explode with her army's last Flag inside, but she had seen me kill the Orange soldier. She would never have me now.

But it was okay, she was alive. I could at least know that in the misery of my withdrawal.

I found the wire cutters and freed Cath.

"He burned your uniform but I think I have another change of clothes around here somewhere. I'm sorry about your war, but it was the only way to save you. I don't care about some fucking flag. I couldn't let him do it."
Although her naked body fascinated me I did the right thing and turned away to look for some clothes for her. I was sick inside. She had risked her life for her Flag and I had ruined her mission. Of course, once Orangeboy got around to killing her and searching the camp her mission would have been over anyway, but I knew how people were about things like that.

Or I thought I did.

I heard her move and turned just in time to be tackled. I went down on my back, beneath her, not surprised that she would be this pissed off and thanking Bringer that her weapon had been taken.

Her body was heavy and soft and unbearably pleasant atop mine as she held my head and looked into my eyes. Her face was quivering and I wondered idly if it was rage or disgust or despair she was feeling. Then, with two words, she let me know.

"My hero!"
It was joy. And I knew exactly how she felt.


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Favorite Seed AI?
o Bringer's Kind 5%
o Prime Intellect 21%
o Colossus 7%
o Skynet 7%
o Novamente 0%
o Whatever Eliezer builds 2%
o I'm working on it in my basement 55%

Votes: 38
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Passages in the void
o The Passage Home
o Prime Intellect
o Also by localroger

Display: Sort:
Rite of Passage | 120 comments (65 topical, 55 editorial, 4 hidden)
bleh (none / 2) (#26)
by fae on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 03:12:01 PM EST

Extropian societies suck because they still contain humans.

-- fae: but an atom in the great mass of humanity
Not as good as the original (2.75 / 3) (#36)
by bugmaster on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 04:16:16 PM EST

I liked the previous stories better, especially The Passage Home. Somehow, they just had more "punch". I think this is because the original stories dealt with a lone ranger outwitting a far superior force (The Bringer vs other machines), whereas the new story just deals with a hapless human who behaves exactly according to plan (the protagonist vs The Bringer). It just doesn't have the same appeal.
IAWTP (none / 0) (#39)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 04:32:03 PM EST

Still good, but two things bring it down from the level of the first two:
  1. The subject matter seems petty to me. The other two dealt with grand aspirations and quests, this one is about a real-life version of Team Fortress where you really die.
  2. The dialogue is not at the level of the first two. It seems quite unnatural and not at all like the localroger quality I am used to.
It's still a good story, but the first one awed me and the second one (best of the three, in my opinion), made my eyes water up at at least two points. This one is just a good story.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Understandable (none / 2) (#40)
by localroger on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 04:56:50 PM EST

Well we can't always run 99 yards for a game-winning touchdown. Even before I wrote Passage Home it's been bugging me how to write a human-scale story in the Passages universe, and I thought this was a pretty good solution.

Originally I planned to carry the story a little further forward, though, and I might have omitted a detail that would have made it more interesting. While Walt and Cath will live happily ever after, years in the future Bringer will reveal to Walt that it never actually expected Walt to follow Cath to the war, or to survive if he did. This revelation was my original idea for the ending, but when I got to the "My Hero!" line I felt the story was nicely wrapped up and I decided to end it there.

Anyway, my next project is to finish TOPI. I wanted to get this out of the way so I could move on to that. Hopefully that will have a little more "wow" factor :-)

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Ending (none / 2) (#69)
by bugmaster on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 07:05:01 AM EST

While Walt and Cath will live happily ever after, years in the future Bringer will reveal to Walt that it never actually expected Walt to follow Cath to the war, or to survive if he did.
You should have stuck with it, then. This would make a lot of sense considering the rest of the story, where Walt is transformed by his love (ok, chemically-induced lust, but still) from a marshmallow into a dangerous and resourceful smuggler. Bringer keeps referring to this unique quality of humans -- unpredictability combined with iron-willed resolve -- throughout the first two short stories, so it makes sense that he'd be blindsided by it in the third story, as well. As it stands, the "My Hero" ending is just a letdown.
[ Parent ]
localroger +1 (1.63 / 11) (#38)
by MechaA on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 04:27:43 PM EST

I +1ed this before reading it to try and make sure it survives, just because I trust localroger's record on these things.  I fully expect that it will be very good.

k24anson on K5: Imagine fifty, sixty year old men and women still playing with their genitals like ten year olds!

same here, but... (none / 0) (#64)
by coderlemming on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 02:01:12 AM EST

I folowed exactly that reasoning, and just now I got around to reading it. I'm actually kind of disappointed. It felt pale in comparison to the first two... then again, they left quite a high mark to measure up to.

Go be impersonally used as an organic semen collector!  (porkchop_d_clown)
[ Parent ]
Question: (2.75 / 4) (#44)
by cbraga on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 05:35:33 PM EST

You mention civilian bystanders and civilian traders, what are they doing in the middle of the war? That includes Benny too, as I suppose people who didn't take part in either team wouldn't be entitled to the spoils of war.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
Civilians (none / 1) (#45)
by localroger on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 06:20:04 PM EST

The beauty of Bringer's War is that you can't get caught up in it by accident. You must apply for the privilege of being involved.

Obviously, the armies are where the action is and they have more applicants than they can accept. Thus, you must study and prove proficiency in some useful field to be accepted by one of them.

But you can also apply just to visit the Contested Zone as a civilian. The armies will need services and can trade for them. This gives people who aren't soldierly a chance to be in the war. Some just want to watch; some like the economic free for all that results (Benny is in this group). Some like the idea of sitting on the interface between life and death and making a difference (Verne). Some are just shit-stirrers.

Civilian slots are filled through a combination of early application, Bringer feeling you would enhance the play, and lottery.

Oh, and the Zone is lousy with hidden cameras and the rest of the world watches it like a game show. But I didn't really get into that part of it in the story :-)

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

cbraga? (none / 0) (#48)
by Milo Minderbender on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 08:13:49 PM EST

Your name wouldn't happen to be Claire Braga, would it? Just checking, since I knew someone of that name a few years ago.

This comment is for the good of the syndicate.
[ Parent ]
No, my first name is different and I'm male (nt) (none / 0) (#50)
by cbraga on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 08:35:51 PM EST

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
Darn...she was hot. (none / 0) (#52)
by Milo Minderbender on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 09:05:51 PM EST

:-( Oh well.

You know your surname means "panties" in Spanish, don't you?

This comment is for the good of the syndicate.
[ Parent ]
I didn't. Actually my surname is portuguese, from (none / 0) (#53)
by cbraga on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 09:18:09 PM EST

the town of the same name in northern Portugal.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p
[ Parent ]
The problem with serials that start great (2.80 / 5) (#59)
by Kasreyn on Sun Feb 01, 2004 at 11:49:58 PM EST

is eventually there has to come an episode that isn't quite as great as one of its predecessors.

While I did enjoy this, I think you leave a bit too much unexplained. Why did Bringer feel the need to reintroduce war in a world without want? Why has it kept the production of electronics a secret from humans? With all its experience of humans and our desire for freedom and autonomy, why does it have to stoop to meddlesome matchmaking? Wouldn't it have been subtler to simply *arrange* for Walt and Cath to meet each other in circumstances that would have made each more attractive to the other?

For that matter, why do people need to die in this war? Why not have a weapon that causes debilitating injury and knocks the victim out (to be stretchered out of the contested zone by Bringer), while leaving a visible scar as a trophy? Why is death needed to prove courage? All humans would have to do is redefine their standards of what to be afraid of. I'm sure Bringer could make a world of the future so pain-free that most humans would be terrified of an extremely painful wound, and respect anyone who'd suffered one. It's all a matter of perspective.

My only other gripe is that we never got to see Cath do her stuff in crypto. I was hoping at first that she'd wind up cracking into Bringer somehow, but instead she mostly did a whole lot of nothing.

In general, this is very good for k5 fiction, but the weakest of the Passage series. I think this storyline would do better as a passage (excuse the pun) within a novella detailing this post-resettlement Earth. Too many questions on culture and history are unanswered, such as: how did an authoritarian theocracy (onboard Bringer in space) give way to a (what? utopian anarchy?) on Earth? Was there any strife when the theocrats were told they were no longer needed?


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Length (none / 2) (#75)
by localroger on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 01:12:08 PM EST

Already it is a bit long, as several people complained. Your point about it being an episode in a novel-length work is a good one. Someone else already pointed out that the extended ending I left out would have improved it, and I have indeed worked out many of the details you ask me to include.

I may have enough now to assemble a story collection based on this universe. Might be a project for after TOPI.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Oh my god localroger gives a non-indignant (none / 0) (#77)
by Tex Bigballs on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 02:34:14 PM EST

reply of constructive criticism... somebody notify the press!

[ Parent ]
Maybe because I don't flame him non-stop? -nt (none / 1) (#88)
by Kasreyn on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 12:31:31 AM EST

"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
By the way (none / 0) (#89)
by Kasreyn on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:07:07 AM EST

check this out: http://www.kuro5hin.org/comments/2004/2/2/1781/77274/4#4


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
I have to stop drinking (none / 0) (#96)
by localroger on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:10:10 PM EST

Next I'll be seeing pink elephants. More likely, really...

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]
+1 FP, localroger (1.75 / 12) (#61)
by wji on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 01:10:05 AM EST

I didn't even read it. Can't they make you an editor or something, to skip this unnecessary voting step?

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
thousands of years on (1.66 / 6) (#63)
by ljj on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 01:19:56 AM EST

into the future, and the word "fuck" still sticks.
+1 section


It might not be exactly the same word (none / 0) (#95)
by localroger on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:07:12 PM EST

...but I assume whatever language they brought back with them from Zeus will have some kind of equivalent.

Incidentally, Walt's use of profanity hints at the major religious currents flowing in his society, just as an atheist in our own might say "Christ on a crutch" or "Oh my God."

Like the ending I probably made this a bit too subtle aiming for length. Since the "it's too long" crowd won't be happy with anything over 2,000 words anyway, next time I'll probably take the lesson from this that I should include more background.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

about the story (none / 3) (#70)
by Highlander on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 08:21:45 AM EST

I liked the story and it is okay when the narrator(Walt) talks, but when other characters appear, I find them shallow or irritatingly blunt, like saying the things the narrator expects them to say.

Moderation in moderation is a good thing.
Story not so good, but issues are interesting. (3.00 / 3) (#72)
by Russell Dovey on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 09:46:32 AM EST

This story is wish fulfillment. The guy was an everygeek, clearly right out of the "loser too afraid to leave their room" stereotype that most of us understand all too well. So he got excitement, a girl, respect from his peers, and leet shotgun skillz.

You should have involved the Bringer more. I found the most interesting aspect of this story to be that this benevolent electronic dictator didn't just give the protagonist everything he asked for, like most others in fiction do.

The pace was off, I hate to say. It feels like you tried to cram a novella into a short story, and because of that the plot loses all depth. The characters change too fast for us to care about them or get to know them.

Still, if this means is that you're bringing us the sequel to the Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, I'll forgive you the lack of effort expended on a short story.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

localroger, you blow (2.25 / 3) (#76)
by debacle on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 01:33:18 PM EST

And god damn, you do it so well. +1 FP, three cheers for something that's not TMPI!

I really loved it.

It tastes sweet.

Bravo localroger... another masterfeces! (1.33 / 12) (#80)
by Tex Bigballs on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 06:31:29 PM EST

By the way when is your sequel to Metamorphosis of Primal Incest coming out?

A two-barrel shotgun, huh? (1.85 / 7) (#81)
by theElectron on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 06:47:04 PM EST

Your gun terminology is really stilted and awkward. First of all, it's a DOUBLE barrelled shotgun. And guns aren't "rear loading" they're breech loading. And how is a break action double barrel going to "jam" if it's not cleaned? And the explanation of the relative merits and various types of small arms sounds really, really stupid. Basically, if you don't know a lot about something, don't try to write about it with authority. Or else you sound dumb.

Thank you. I'm not impressed.

Join the NRA!

It's the year 3082 dumbnuts (3.00 / 4) (#82)
by Tex Bigballs on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 07:03:47 PM EST

they still haven't invented anything better than regular double shotguns but they call them two barrel shotguns now (because it's the future and all)

[ Parent ]
I hate to write any sort of apologia for this work (3.00 / 3) (#84)
by gzt on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 07:36:59 PM EST

...but I thought they were juvenile and awkward in their discussion of guns because they didn't know what they were talking about, not because Mr. Local didn't know what he was talking about.

[ Parent ]
sir (3.00 / 2) (#93)
by tps12 on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 08:29:46 AM EST

Your erection is showing.

[ Parent ]
The silly gun terminology... (none / 1) (#101)
by panZ on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 02:43:41 PM EST

was intentional you fool. This is how people would talk if they'd never heard your specific terms for parts of the weapon. In this society, I believed that most people hadn't used, seen or even heard of such weapons. The good doctor gave a dumb-down description with his own limited knowledge. The author wasn't trying to write with authority, I thought it was very apropos. That is just my two cents but perhaps that is enough for you to buy a clue.
"Some days are good days to die and some days are good days for breakfast."
[ Parent ]
Not quite (none / 1) (#104)
by theElectron on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 05:05:41 PM EST

It doesn't sound like someone who doesn't know anything about guns. It sounds like someone who learned everything they know about guns from 20th century pop culture.

Join the NRA!
[ Parent ]
Funny you should mention that (none / 0) (#107)
by localroger on Wed Feb 04, 2004 at 01:55:21 PM EST

The reason the people in the story talk that way is that they learned everything they know about firearms from ancient recorded pop culture. Bringer does not help them. Every gun that is not one of Bringer's optimized flechette throwers is individually handmade by the very small group of people who are interested in such things, with no direct knowledge of our own advanced firearm technology.

And yes, Walt's gun really does have two separate barrels bolted together. It's a hunting weapon whose smith designed it so that shot and rifle barrels could be interchanged according to the season. Not a good idea for a lot of good reasons which is why it's hanging on Verne's wall at the beginning of the story.

And in case you're wondering why in a thousand years since the Passage Home nobody has bothered to set up a proper factory it's because Bringer controls all the raw material access and manufacturing. Bringer will build you a smelter sufficient for crafting individual weapons but if you try setting up a factory it will get in your way.

I could have put that in the story, but as it was very long and as long as the (-1, stupid reason) dingbats are running around I refuse to attempt another serial like I did with A Casino Odyssey.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

localroger.org (none / 1) (#111)
by Zapata on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 01:38:33 AM EST

I  could have put that in the story, but as it was very long and as long as the (-1, stupid reason) dingbats are running around I refuse to attempt another serial like I did with A Casino Odyssey.

Set up yor own web site, goofball.

Use K5 as a pre-processor for your storys. Get feedback, etc. If it makes it to section or FP, great. If it gets dumped, so what? Those who care will know where to look. Those who don't won't bother.

Don't limit your work because malicious critics have the power to squelch you. Just take the value added by the constructive crititcs and post it in a place where you control the outcome.

They don't call it web master for nothing. It's your story, tell it the way you want to.

P.S. Still haven't seen my hard-copy of MOPI. My wife loaned out before I got home :)

P.P.S I'll hold comment on the story since I apparently haven't read the whole thing.

"If you ain't got a camel, you ain't Shiite."

[ Parent ]
SLAPS FINS TOGETHER (1.71 / 7) (#83)
by rmg on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 07:19:04 PM EST


For those of you who never had a See-n-Say, that's the sound a seal makes.

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks

My impression, too. (none / 2) (#85)
by gzt on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 07:39:32 PM EST

When will Mr. Local write a story for us grown-ups?

[ Parent ]
He did... (none / 0) (#92)
by Canar on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 02:12:24 AM EST

It was just lost when Adequacy shut down. I thought that's where all the stuff for "grown-ups" was posted anyhow.

[ Parent ]
Very good. You get a cookie. (none / 0) (#94)
by rmg on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:05:50 PM EST

Everyone who needed to got the Adequacy reference. There was no need to make it explicit.

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

+1 FP (none / 3) (#86)
by CAIMLAS on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 09:29:07 PM EST

Wonderful imagination, however:

Dialog sucked. It was artificial and forced feeling. The first dialog between Walt and the chick in the tent was incredibly cheesy and unrealistic. Nobody talks like that.

I think the problems might have been fixed if you spent the time fleshing out the characters a bit more - say, as a novel.

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.

The Problem with story telling: (none / 1) (#87)
by Subtillus on Mon Feb 02, 2004 at 10:51:31 PM EST

Well, in a nutshell to oversimplify everything and not do any of it justice I will say the following:

Narrative structures being what they are, you can either go epic style or serial style in creating myths. These myths are populated with a number of binary oppositions mediated by some sort of archetypal figure; in this case we could say bringer for the first few and walt for this one. The stories themselves begin as an epic in the case of the first three, where some heros gradually come to do a great deed and we go from a future's past to a future's present and learn some sort of lesson along the way.

The problem which I'm getting at is that at some point, if you want to keep talking about the myth, you have to serialize it. Because for all intents and purposes the epic IS over. The humans are home, end of epic.

 If you don't serialize you spoil the epic and it loses its meaning. Think what would have happened if tolkien wrote 19 more books (kind of like robert jordan?), it just stinks, not interesting, conflicts grow stale...

So you serialize it, which means a fundamental change to the underlying way you talk. you have to come up with new oppositions. You have to move the archetype around so you aren't just preaching, you're exploring new territory. This is obviously really hard to do right?

So, while the new work may sound more trivial compared to the first three, I think it really had to be. This is the kind of story that you can read installments of on a weekly basis and not cheapen "the passages" if you take my meaning.

Well, I knew that class on myth and new media would come in handy sooner or later. I'm no prof though so that probably came out pretty garbled. Espescially if you've never read Jung's myth stuff.


kudos, enjoyed, keep it up.

Nice explanation (none / 0) (#97)
by localroger on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:19:06 PM EST

While nobody explained it to me your explanation pretty much matches my thinking. The point of this story was to somehow get down to the human level, something many people complained Passage Home didn't do very well. Well it's a matter of scale; if you focus on machines like Bringer, humans are like ants. If you focus on the humans, it's hard to show the machines as anything other than remote and godlike. It's hard just to get both in the viewfinder at the same time.

I'm not sure if there is another epic scale story in this series or not; a little voice tells me the Earth humans will want to build a space elevator and the other Solar System machines will be unthrilled, but I haven't seen how that would shake out.

I do think there is room to explore the human experience at several different scales, though. This was a first try and I learned a bit about what worked and what didn't. (In particular, look for the alternate ending in my diary as soon as I get back home and get time to write it.)

Meanwhile, I've had a couple of other ideas. But for the moment I'm hoping to redirect my attention to finishing TOPI, which has set half-completed for three months now as I take care of more mundane business.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Good fiction! (none / 1) (#90)
by Rage on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:07:17 AM EST

Fantastic story, I really thought the idea a little flimsy at first but it just kept me wanting to know more about the Bringer, and like all fiction it didn't tell the whole story to the end, just let the reader have a think about it for themselves. Kudos! wasted some more study time :)

Setting question. (none / 0) (#91)
by bjlhct on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:39:45 AM EST

How much processing power, order of magnitude? 10^36 flops? Quantum computers?

[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism
Who was ... (none / 0) (#98)
by RoOoBo on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:46:22 PM EST

the idiot who installed an abandonware version of Warcraft 3 in Bringer?

Seriously, the story leaves me wondering who is more stupid: Walt (stupid bored geek just go watch another ep of Lovehina, damn loser!), the chick (my hero, my ass ...), the soldiers (fighting for nothing as they already have everything by default) or Bringer (as there weren't better ways of 'unbore' people than setting live Warcraft games or making them horny).

I'm not against the idea of letting people kill themself just for a little fun but the story lacks background and it just sounds like a geeky hormone controlled teen story, and a bad one at that.

I liked your other stories but this one is just lacking something.

Bringer is trying to be Prime Intellect (none / 0) (#102)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 03:50:41 PM EST

But just isn't that good at it.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Prime Intellect vs Bringer (none / 0) (#120)
by kraant on Sun Feb 22, 2004 at 01:51:17 AM EST

The impression I got is that they have different goals. Bringer wants to keep the human race surviving (it's quite allright for individuals to die) where the Prime Intellect can't allow anyone to die.
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...
[ Parent ]
Distilling (none / 0) (#99)
by BobCat on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 01:47:21 PM EST

You can't just dump regular grain and yeast into water and have it ferment. The grain needs to be sprouted (malted) first. Or is there some kind of GM yeast in the futire that breaks down starches?

Top 10 Ways to Amuse a Geek

Literary shortcut (none / 0) (#109)
by localroger on Wed Feb 04, 2004 at 02:02:15 PM EST

I was deliberately vague about what kind of "grain" this was. It might be GM'ed for high carb content or it might be sweet corn or you might just assume that I left out the whole how-distilling-works rant for brevity. (I actually have a book on moonshine technology, which is fascinating.)

I am starting to get the impression that the biggest mistake I made here was compressing it too much editing for length. Live and learn...

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

IMHO (none / 0) (#100)
by fenri on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 02:05:20 PM EST

I really enjoy localroger's works--despite what many here may think, his style and voice are quite developed. However, this story isn't up to par somehow. It almost seems like it's written just to delineate the setting than to tell a story--which detracts from the point for me.

This in no way lessens my enthusiasm for his work.

Setting (none / 0) (#108)
by localroger on Wed Feb 04, 2004 at 02:00:10 PM EST

Actually, it was written to delineate the setting. The Passages stories left a lot unsaid about the lives of ordinary humans in that world, that's exactly what this story was attempting, just as A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace was meant to explore how the people in Prime Intellect lived their lives when not actively involved in more interesting stuff like destroying the Universe.

For an example of a more mainstream and better-known author who did the same thing, compare Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy with its "fourth book," The Martians.

Anyway, I think there is at least one more epic story waiting to be told in the Passages universe, but it's still fermenting.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

Settings... (none / 0) (#113)
by fenri on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 02:00:57 PM EST

...do not make stories. Sure, we all have our own goals for writing fiction. But, chief among those should be to tell an entertaining story, and a setting description just doesn't do that. Character (note: not "characters") makes for a good tale.
MOPI works because of the character of your characters. I think I would enjoy meeting Caroline in any setting.

[ Parent ]
has the rest of this (none / 0) (#103)
by techwolf on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 04:57:01 PM EST

been completed yet? I liked it and want the rest damnit.

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." - Thomas Jefferson

Great Work (none / 1) (#105)
by Guile on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 09:07:49 PM EST

 Maybe it's not perfect. I did however read the entire thing, and am glad I did. I even ended up reading the first two as well. I'm not one who normally enjoys reading. If you ever write a book I will buy it. That's what really counts. Isn't it?
~$ If you make me take off my belt I'll make your ass so sore you won't be able to sit for a week. Said the anal attentive parent.
He *did* write a book. (none / 0) (#112)
by craigd on Thu Feb 05, 2004 at 08:43:00 AM EST

It's called The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, and it is very, very, good.

A man who says little is a man who speaks two syllables.
[ Parent ]
Three, actually. (none / 0) (#118)
by shdwstkr on Thu Feb 19, 2004 at 04:35:08 PM EST

Eastern Standard Tribe: http://craphound.com/est
Down and Out in Magic Kingdom: http://craphound.com/down
A Place so Foriegn and Eight More http://craphound.com/place

Personally, I like them better than MOPI.


[ Parent ]

nevermind me, i'm confusing my online writers. (none / 0) (#119)
by shdwstkr on Thu Feb 19, 2004 at 04:41:57 PM EST

Those books are actually by Cory Doctorow (Craphound), not localroger.

Damn you, k5 fiction section, damn you!.


[ Parent ]

I liked it (none / 1) (#106)
by evandrocd on Tue Feb 03, 2004 at 10:18:37 PM EST

Good story. Generally I don't stay reading long texts on the computer, but this story did it. I didn't read yet the other stories, but I will.
Gobolinux User #0b1100
It's good, but... (none / 1) (#110)
by craigd on Wed Feb 04, 2004 at 02:09:10 PM EST

nowhere near up to the standards of "Passages in the Void".

Well done anyway, as usual.

A man who says little is a man who speaks two syllables.
Wonderful! (none / 1) (#114)
by davros4269 on Fri Feb 06, 2004 at 12:24:39 AM EST

I read all three. Interesting idea. This one had a different feel to it, but I liked it nonetheless. The almost non-chalantness of the characters in their roles reminds of Dr. Who. Well Done!

I hope, however, that the future is different. Screw not changing humanity itself, what are these future humans, neo-amish? If we can't make large crossings with these feeble bodies, then why not alter them for long lifespans, or, load the mind into a cognizer of some kind (need not be a digital computer), and the trip can seem instantaneous, or, as long as we desire.

After all, nature didn't intend us to live past, what, 32, 33? Women having babies at 50? Very UNNATURAL. Screw natural! Beavers make damns, we think. If we think it and do it, than by golly, it's NATURAL.

Good work man, thanks for an enjoyable read.
Will you squirm when you are pecked? Quack.

It's deliberately pessimistic (none / 1) (#116)
by localroger on Sat Feb 07, 2004 at 10:24:31 AM EST

The original idea was to take all the worst-case Rare Earth scenarios and show that it was not "the end of SF." In keeping with this theme the Singularity of the Passages stories is modality-limited. The things which aren't there aren't there because the Universe itself doesn't support them.

This means there will never be FTL drive, the scanner to upload your personality non-destructively will never exist, and even if you have your brain frozen and microtomed the technology to reincarnate you as a biological organism doesn't exist either. While you could probably be emulated in a Bringer-scale computer emulating or supplying an appropriate sensorium for you would be so difficult as to not be cost-effective. Some life extension has been achieved, perhaps to 200 years or so, but that's it. Nanotechnology never fulfilled its promise because of power and transport mechanism problems.

I don't necessarily predict that any of these limits will occur in the real world, but they are all definite possibilities and the point of the stories is to exercise them.

I have gone in the opposite direction with the Prime Intellect universe, which requires a different kind of pessimism in order to create the dramatic tension for telling a story. Whatever really happens will almost certainly be somewhere between these two extremes.

What will people of the future think of us? Will they say, as Roger Williams said of some of the Massachusetts Indians, that we were wolves with the min
[ Parent ]

ok (none / 1) (#117)
by davros4269 on Sun Feb 08, 2004 at 03:16:58 PM EST

Interesting, very interesting premise. I haven't read Prime Intellect, but it's on my list ;) Thanks for a great story in any case.
Will you squirm when you are pecked? Quack.
[ Parent ]
Rite of Passage | 120 comments (65 topical, 55 editorial, 4 hidden)
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