Stepping Up 2.01

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Wait, where did that go?

I think we swiped when we should have tapped?

Or maybe pressed?

Twitch made this seems so… well, I guess natural isn’t the right word.

It has become popular in these later years to ascribe causality, where the Ascension is concerned, to the emergence of the hivemind. That is, many would suggest that the ubiquitous accessibility of the entirety of human knowledge alone propelled us into the role we now know and enjoy across the verse.

The fact of the matter is that it was not the ‘what’ of the hivemind that was the impetus for the change, but the ‘how’. The accessibility of knowledge was not the great change. The majority of this knowledge was already available in that precursor to the hivemind, this technosocial construct our predecessors called the Internet.

In those last earthbound years, humanity had developed computing machines with the ability to store information, and perform rudimentary organization functions upon that information. Using carbon and metal wires, our forebears connected these machines to each other, making the information stored on one machine accessible from any other machine on the network. Wireless connectivity via low orbit satellites took this grounded system into the Cloud, allowing access from a much broader range of places.

This network grew more sophisticated, resembling a neural network in many regards, building the equivalent of cortical hubs. Information retrieval was standardized by a technosocial entity called a Virtual-only Ogler, or Voogle, because they allowed one to ogle the entire technosocial space. When you needed information from the system, you sent your Voogle into the network, and it brought you what it thought you wanted.

Technical intelligence was still lagging behind, so these Voogles did not always bring back what you did, in fact, want. The elimination of this inefficiency was one of the landmark improvements offered by the hivemind.

The other advantage the hivemind held over her predecessor was the access utility: the equipment one had to use to get into the system. Before the Three Laws unlocked the collective brainpower of humanity for direct access, humans had to carry technosocial access portals everywhere they went.

A great many resources in those last years were devoted to trying to make these portals more portable, and functional. Inventors toyed with embedding access points in clothing, and fashion accessories, but the most common portals were shrunken versions of the original computing machines.

Try just typing the address in again?

Where? The address space place disappeared.

How do we do the voice search thing? Where we can just talk to it?

I think we hold down a button or something.

There are no buttons! It’s just a big screen with speakers. Try more swiping.

The portals of the day were handheld and had wireless access to the technosocial space, where not only was almost the entirety of recorded human knowledge stored, but an increasing amount of daily interactions were taking place, taking advantage of the ability to circumvent the laws of physical reality by slipping into that parallel digital reality.

In the early years of the Internet, the technosocial landscape was a wild and dangerous place. There was no recognized authority in the Cloud, and behavior was regulated by crowd law, which is not famous for measured and appropriate responses. As more of the social, cognitive, and economic world moved to exist in this slice of society, it was inevitable what would happen. Of course, crime would follow the people and the money into the technosocial space. And where there was crime, violence must follow.

Fighting in the technosocial space took on a new layer, in a literal sense adding a new dimension to previous conflicts. The primary ways that this changed the nature of conflict from their traditional patterns can be grouped into three basic categories: attacking the technosocial space from within the technosocial space, attacking the Materia from the technosocial space, and attacking the technosocial space from the Materia.

The first most often took the form of trying to slip code either into or out of other systems: move some code out of a bank and you have money, for example. New security techniques were always in development to keep throwing up new barriers for the villainous to decipher.

To attack the Materia from the technosocial space involved getting code into one of the systems monitoring or maintaining a physical utility. One could slip some code into a power plant overclocking certain functions to cause a meltdown. On a more personal level, a technosocial revoking of one’s currency access cards would have very Material effects.

The last, attacking the technosocial space from the Materia, was the simplest, lowest point of entry to the technosocial battle ground.

This was one of the greatest weaknesses of the Internet: a great deal of it was still grounded on the physical world, in actual hard drives, and it was accessed through physical portals. The easiest way to attack the technosocial space was to either attack the physical substrate supporting the digital environment, cutting power, setting fire to the servers, etc…, or attacking the access points.

Stealing someone’s cell phone, for example.

“Tha’s’a nice phone.”

Kid was walking down the street with his head lowered, staring at the glowing screen in his hand, letting his body navigate the streets, very similar to what he did when staring up at rooftops. In the periphery of his vision he noticed that the way forward was blocked by two bodies, one of which had spoken, and spoken to Kid even.

Kid looked up and saw two boys standing in front of him. A snatched glance further up and around filled in details about where he was: one of the alleys he took on a regular basis, maybe halfway between the Library and his window entrance.

I think one of them was talking to us.

Yeah, but even though it sounds like a nice thing to say, he didn’t sound real nice while saying it.

Are we stopping? Are you supposed to stop when someone talks to you?

I don’t want to stop. We made one friend already. How many friends do we want?

So we don’t stop. A wave?

A nod, maybe? Which one spoke?

Left?

Kid nodded at the boy who he thought had spoken, and curved to pass the pair and continue on down the alley. The thicker of the two boys slid one step over to block Kid, again. Kid came up short, and took a half step back, looking at the pair closer. The thick one wore a white t-shirt over what looked like another white t-shirt, hanging down to almost his knees, where dark blue jeans puddled over tan boots.

The smaller one, though of about the same height, wore a black shirt tight against his chest and a big black jacket, brown fur lining the hood that rested on his back. His hair wove back and forth across his head in tight braids. The larger boy smiled.

That smile…

Reminds me we’re hungry.

I don’t think that’s a good sign.

Maybe with the talking after all?

Can’t go worse than not talking went.

“Um, thanks? It’s, ah, new.”

It was new. Well, new to Kid. He had found the phone sitting on a bench outside of a bar last night and seized more than just the moment.

Inebriation had been proven to be one of the few forces in the pre-Ascendant world that could separate a person from their technosocial access portal, so the alleys and benches around one of the city’s many alcohol dispensaries proved fertile ground for phone harvesting.

Which is how it came to pass that Kid had gotten to show his new technotoy to Twitch at the Library that morning. They had looked the phone over and Twitch had done some things to it that Kid hadn’t quite understood, which seemed to involve squeezing the phone, opening it, removing things and blowing on it. When Twitch had snapped the phone back together he explained how to find Internet spots around the city, and then showed Kid where the Internet was on the phone.

Then Twitch recommended asking the Internet to teach him how to use it better, and Kid had spent the afternoon wandering from wireless hotspot to wireless hotspot, figuring out how to use the Internet, introducing himself to his phone.

“I thin’ ya’shuh giv’i’ t’me.”

The smaller boy in front of Kid took a step forward, and his big friend matched him. Kid inched back.

Maybe talking wasn’t the way to go.

Some day we’re going to meet someone who uses complete words and I’m going to wet myself in relief.

Um, I vote don’t do that?

Here and now plan? Unless you’re suggesting the wetting.

No. Not yet. Running, maybe?

Did you hear that?

Was that from. . .

A glance over his shoulder revealed three more boys spread across the mouth of the alley, closing toward Kid, foot traffic flowing undeterred along the street behind them. Kid slid a foot back and edged closer to the wall, trying to keep both groups in his line of sight, and slid the phone into his pocket.

I guess that’s a no on the running.

I’m reconsidering the wetting, personally.

The thick one is getting pretty close over here. More talking?

“Um, I don’t know.” The wall pressed his bag up against Kid’s back, and he continued speaking, “I want to…”

Before he even knew how he was going to finish his sentence side of Kid’s face exploded in a flash of light and pain. By the time his vision cleared Kid was slumped against the wall, hand held to the side of his face, feeling the beating of his heart in the pulsing heat of his cheek.

GAH. FAHHCCKK

A ah. Ah. 

What? What the

. . . 

I think we’re on the ground.

“Aien nobody ax you a fuggen queshun.”

Talking is definitely NOT the way to go.

Gonna be hard to run while sitting.

This is not going well.

The thicker boy stood over Kid, hand still balled in front of his chest. The three boys at the end of the alley drew closer, and the smaller boy with the fur hood slid into Kid’s line of sight, and squatted down to look Kid in the eyes.

“You goan gimme tha’ phone, or we goan beatcho ass an’en tak’it.”

That was also not a question, for those keeping score.

Do we want to give him the phone?

We could find another one?

How soon? And Twitch already set this one up for us. I want to keep it.

Um. Thoughts on how to make that happen.

I think someone hit us.

Ah, yeah, I had noticed that much.

We could hit them back?

Kid looked up at the boy in front of him, flicking his eyes across the rest of the group. His shoulders slumped, head dropping in the face of the aggressive stares. The squatting boy flashed from intimidation to celebration just as Kid’s arm whipped out, snapping a closed fist right into the grinning mouth.

The stranger spilled from squat to sprawl, raising a hand to his face and coming away bloody. With a wordless snarl baring teeth rimmed in crimson, he sprang to his feet and with his four friends began kicking and dropping heavy punches down on the wriggling boy on the ground.

This really doesn’t seem to have gone well.

That’s the last time we go with your plan.

Anything helpful?

Use the bag.

Kid curled tight, ducking into his arms, flipping about to try and keep either his knees or his bag between him and the worst of the blows. A kick knocked his arm numb from the elbow down and his bag was pulled away sharp as one of his assailants tried to wrench it off the boy, exposing his back to the kicks of the others.

We should try to get off the ground, there isn’t much we can do here but get beaten.

Why not?

No time, ok up how?

Make a gap?

Kick!

Kid wriggled like held fish, leaning on the straps of his bag as it was being lifted, snapping a leg out to stomp onto the shin of a leg wrapped in brown denim, tucking his other leg up so his knee almost reached his chin, the rubbery bottom of his shoe scraping over the pebbles and glass shards covering the alley floor. Kid snuck a look between his body and the waiting ground to see the body attached to the leg he’d kicked collapse into the boy next to him.

There!

I can’t believe that worked.

Twist out or flip out?

Which keeps the bag?

Flip!

Kid swept his kicking leg from where it was still extended behind him up in a familiar tucking motion while bunching the leg beneath him to thrust his weight up and backward into the opening in the enemy forces, snapping his head back to begin the launch just in time to see a mass of flesh fill half of his vision.

The side of his head exploded in another flash of light and pain, smashing Kid into the wall beside him as his plant foot slipped out from beneath him and another fist caught his exposed ribs as he slid down the wall, curling and tucking the bag firmer against his back beneath an incensed rhythm of blows.

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