Our seventh entry into our contest is from best-selling author David Brin, a renaissance man and much sought after speaker in the scientific and literary community. Accomplishments, publications and successes too numerous to mention, but after reading his entry, I suggest you visit him at www.davidbrin.com
Here is is playful look at our proclivity to self-destruct. Best read from the ground floor of high-rise.
So, David, thanks for dropping by…
By David Brin — July 2013
“I don’t know how much more of this day I can take. I’m just this close to throwing myself out that window!”
Carmody yanked his thumb toward the opening, twenty-three stories above a noisy downtown intersection. Flecks of insulation still clung, from when old Joe Levy first pried it open, during the market crash of ’65. Fifteen years later, the window seemed to offer a harried man like Carmody a tempting, easy way out.
“Tell somebody who cares,” snarked Bessie Smith, who managed Food & Agriculture accounts via a wire jacked into her right temple, while throngs of little robots swarmed across chin, cheeks, and brow, crafting her third new face of the day.
“Yeah, well they’ve stuck me with a portfolio that… aw hell!”
Symbols crowded into Carmody’s perceptual periphery, real-time charts reporting yet another drop in Airline futures. His morning put-and-call orders had wagered the industry’s long slide would stop. Well, goodbye performance bonus. Gaia would sigh and cancel her latest art purchase, then wistfully mention some past boyfriend.
And maybe your wife and kid would be better off…
As if summoned by his glowering thought, Gaia’s image sprang into being before him. Her dazzling virtual avatar shoved aside graphs and investment profiles. Now apparently in fine fettle, Gaia shone at him with active hair follicles framing her head like sea-weed. A blast of pungent charisma-from-a-bottle made Carmody curse and shut off the smell-o-vision feature of his immersive goggles.
She knows I hate that.
Gaia’s avatar waved her finger like a wand, casting reminder blips:
STOP AT AUTODOC TO ADJUST YOUR IMPLANTS. FIX THAT DAMN MALFUNCTIONING MOOD FILTER!
ELDER-CARE SAYS PICK UP YOUR DAD, OR WE’LL PAY STORAGE OVERCHARGES.
Carmody winced, hating whoever invented avatar-mail, endowing voluptuously realistic duplicates with artificial intelligence. He tried to will her image to a far-back corner of the percept. Mr. Patel will have my hide if I don’t file my report on transportation trends. I still think —
Resisting his efforts to dismiss her, Gaia’s avatar clung to one of his maglev-zep performance charts. That chart collapsed and surrounding data got caught up in the meme-storm as she blew backward in a blur of data-splattered robes.
Carmody’s percept reached overload. Graphs whirled into a funnel-cyclone, draining his entire week’s labor – and his wife’s protesting analogue – toward some infosphere singularity.
“Cancel!” Carmody shouted. “Restore backup five minutes ago!”
He kept issuing frantic commands but nothing worked. Reaching and grabbing after the maelstrom, he did something wrong, triggering a cyber lash-back! Bolts of lightning seemed to lance his eyes. Carmody tore off the immersion goggles and suppressed a sob.
I used to think I was so hip with specs and goggs. Only now, kids are replacing them with contact lenses and, even eyeball implants that juggle ten times as much input.
Can I be obsolete, so soon?
“Bob?” A real voice, grating in his real ears. “Bob!”
Worse, it was Kevin, standing next to the desk. “Are you okay, Bob?”
Eyes still smarting, Carmody shook his head.
“Fine.” He put up a brave face, knowing better than to show any weakness to this young jerk, clearly angling for Carmody’s job. Still, an inner voice moaned.
I can’t take this anymore.
“Well, I’m glad ,” the younger man said. But a smug expression told Carmody everything. The breakdown of his percept and loss of all that work… it was Kevin’s doing! Some trick, some hackworthy sabotage Carmody could never prove.
Must he gloat so openly?
Still smirking, Kevin continued.
“I better let you know, Mr. Patel is on his way. He wants a word with both of us.” Kevin’s anticipation was so blatant, Carmody had to quash a sudden, troglodytic urge to erase it with his fist. Kevin might have at least learned some surface tact, if he had gone to university or worked at a regular people job. But no. His generation just absorbs technical skills directly, like suckling –
The right metaphor wouldn’t come. And strangely, that was the last straw for Carmody.
Enough is enough.
“You look terrible,” the younger man added, with faux concern. “Maybe you better visit the loo and clean up, before… Bob? Mr. Carmody? Where are you going? Mr. Patel wants…”
One hand on the window pane, the other on its frame, he stared down twenty-three stories, inhaling deeply, feeling resolution build, amplifying his sense of panic into something that abruptly felt more manly.
Time to end this.
Carmody felt eyes turn this way as the window swung wide and his left foot planted on the sill, pushing till he teetered along emptiness.
“Bob. What’re you doing?”
Carmody glanced back. None of his co-workers rose to stop him.
“I’m taking the easy way out.”
And – after inhaling one more deep breath – he jumped.
Carmody’s gut roiled with caveman terror as the first floors swept by. But at least his life didn’t pass before him.
He knew he should be composing himself, but as wind stung his eyes and tugged his hair, a distracting shadow encroached from an unexpected direction. Carmody flinched to see another figure hurtling Earthward. Suit flapping, clenched fists outstretched as if trying to outrace Carmody to the pavement. Dickerson of accounting.
Well, that sonovagun always seemed too-tightly wound.
Oh? An honest part replied. And you? Taking the coward’s way out.
Carmody told his frantic mind to shut up and to focus on what mattered, with so little time left. Only does anything at all matter, at this point?
Abruptly, a shout overcame the throbbing wind.
“Dickerson is such a show-off! Mr. Saung told us all to jump!”
He glanced left to see a woman dressed in the pinstripe of a company attorney, arms spread like Carmody, delaying the unpleasant inevitable. Told you to jump? Wow. That Saung is worse than Patel. Maybe I should have stayed and fought it out….
But no regrets now. He saw her frown, in concentration, preparing for the fast-looming street.
Of course, that’s what I should do.