The Nanite Prophecy

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

The Nanite Prophecy

The city’s full of people who you just see around.” -Terry Pratchett

Those that came into contact with Jordan knew that he wasn’t quite well in the head.  Jordan knew it too.  He stood on the street corner and scratched the back of his ear.  There was something about the way that the sun shone down at twelve seventeen each day that made his head itch.  He had somehow developed this quirk over the years and couldn’t stop himself.  He lowered his head and saw his ratty shoes at his feet while his right hand went about its daily routine of attending to the irritated ear.

He often found himself muttering uncontrollably to himself and anyone who happened to be within range.  He heard secrets whispered on the streets and never knew if they were imagined or real.  Whenever he thought he could convince someone, he would stop them and tell them the unshared mysteries that were rattling around in his head.  As a man in a white polo shirt, khakis, and opaque sunglasses strolled down the street, Jordan decided that this stranger might comprehend a recent fact that the homeless man had learned.

“Sir”, Jordan called out as he stepped in front of the polo-man.  “I was wondering, I know that there’s, if you have a second to…”  Jordan felt his voice trail off.

The polo-man’s eyes were covered so Jordan couldn’t see what he was thinking.  There was no sneer or bearing of teeth, so Jordan cleared his throat and tried to collect his scattered thoughts.  He saw that his arms had been wildly gesticulating in front of him, reaching too close to the polo-man.  With effort, Jordan was able to pull the arms down to his side.  He had seen totem poles before, in the life that he could only remember in patches.  Jordan recalled that the tall wood creation had inspired awe and prominence, so he pulled his hands close to his sides and held them there.  It was his belief that this stiff form was more respectable and less threatening to others.

“Could you; if you have the time, I want to talk to you.”

The polo-man looked at his watch.  “I don’t know.  I really am on my way to-”

“It’s important!”

Jordan stopped.  He hadn’t meant to yell.  Again, he found his arms stretched out towards the stranger.  He realized that his actions suggested that he wanted to strangle the polo-man, when that was the last thing he wanted.  He shoved his hands deep into his pockets.  So strong was his desire to control himself that he felt his pants slip lower from the hands’ downward pressure.  Jordan took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on the sunset picture in the travel agent’s window that he passed every day.

“Please”, Jordan said with his eyelids still closed.  “I only want to explain something.”

When he returned his gaze to the polo-man, Jordan found that the stranger was taking him in.  His shoulders’ had loosened noticeably and he hadn’t run away like so many other people did.  Now polo-man was looking at Jordan with one eyebrow raised over the sunglasses’ lens in curiosity.

“Okay”, polo-man replied.  “What is it?”

Jordan clapped his hands in glee.  Finally.  Someone would understand him.  There was a person in the world who would listen!  Once he got this man to understand, then he would join him.  The two of them would form a group, which would branch into other groups; soon their numbers would be legion!  There was hope!  The world didn’t have to turn out so sad!  Jordan pictured the polo-man as a giant teddy bear of happiness and managed to keep his hands in his pockets.  He needed to keep control.  That was what mattered.

“Have you heard about nanorobotics?”

“You mean, like tiny machines?”

“Exactly!”  Jordan couldn’t believe his luck.  This man really would get it.  “You see, the government has been working on nanites for years.  But not in the capacity that you think they have.  These… these these these things are being manufactured at an incredible rate.  They have; they… I should tell you about they.  No.  First nanites.  They make them self-replicating.  They make one, that one makes another.   It’s a house of cards but they’re all jokers.  Heh.  Joke.  So once they’ve got a collection of nanites, they can use those to make more nanites.  It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.  More begets more.”

Jordan paused to gauge the polo-man’s reaction.  So far, he was only nodding politely.

“Now, I know what you’re thinking.  I can see it.  See it clear on your face.  The part of your face that I can see.  Strange.  Your wearing glasses on a cloudy day.   Maybe sensitive.  Sensitive is good, right?  It helps you understand.  You can filter out the sun; filter out the junk.  Right!  Junk!  Garbage.  Garbage is where they’re getting all these nanites.  See, they set up their labs in or near junkyards.  Trash depots.  Who’s going to care if things go missing from a junkyard?  A dog maybe.  Slobbering dogs.  Sharp teeth.  Had one as a kid once.  Bit my leg.  Want to see?”

“No, thanks.”  The polo-man smiled.  It was an obvious show of kindness, but he maintained a safe distance between them.  “And where are all these nanites?  I mean, how many of them could there be?”

“How many he asks… millions!  Billions!  More than the sands in the desert or the stars in the sky.  That’s what The Bible says, right?  Which is more?  More sand or more stars?  Not a geologist.  Barely an astronomist.  Do like space though.  Quiet, serene.  Not like here.  Busy streets.  Lots of cars and people.  Oh, people!  On sidewalks, yes.  That’s where all these nanites are.

“See, the sidewalks and streets beneath us?  How they’re all new and clean?”  Jordan waited until the polo-man nodded his head.  “That’s just it.  They claim that they’re creating a new kind of pavement, and they are.  You have to… there’s a new quality about this pavement.  The top layer is all nanites.  The government, those elected officials; they’ll say that they have a reason for them.  Say that the constant movement of millions of pieces will create warmth and will reduce snow.  If snow and ice don’t stick to pavement, then less accidents.  They say they’re trying to help us.  They’re replacing salt and deicer with little nanites that can repair the streets after chains drive over them.  Or through them.  Moving means they’re too warm or too quick to let moisture settle.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?”

“I’d say so”, the polo-man replied with a chuckle.  “I hate driving in snow.”

“Right!  Right!  Causes problems.  People want less problems.  Less challenges.  Can’t handle the stress.  Well, they’ll have more than they can handle.  It’s the nanites, I tell ya.  The nanites.  They aren’t just covering every inch of the ground that you walk on, they’re covering the shoes that you walk with.  Think about it.  Nanites could cling to your shoes.  They could embed themselves in your rubber soles.  Then they’ll use your soles to track your souls.  Same word, but different.  Must be true.  They could use satellites!  Astronomists’ satellites!  Each nanite could send a unique signal.  Bond to shoes.  Shoes get tossed?  Make more nanites.  They’ll have an endless supply.”

Jordan saw the polo-man looking to his watch as he took small steps away from him.  Jordan was losing him.

“Look, they’ll track us.  They’ll be able to measure us by our weight.  Amount of pressure will change as we change.  Use that to charge us more for insurance.  If you have insurance.  Can send police after you.  Can find you.  You worry about police tracking with phone GPS?  GPS phones are nothing.  Nanites are everything.  Nanotechnology will tell them where we are at all times.  Build transmitters to record our conversations.  Shoes, socks, feet; the nanites won’t differentiate!  It’s only a matter of time before we’re all cyborgs.  Only one way to stop them.”

“And what’s that?”

“Extremes!  Got to embrace the extremes.  Walk around downtown with ice packs.  Tape them to shoes.  I can’t; don’t have any now.  Have run out.  But if those nanites tried to crawl upwards, they’d be frozen in the cold packs.  Couldn’t work.  Would die.  Problem sovled.  No cold packs with me.  Ran out.  Hold my feet over the campfire each night.  That takes care of them.  Extremes.  Too much hot, too much cold, they’re done.  Trust me, my friend.  Those feet of yours are in danger!”

The polo-man had heard enough.  “I’ll keep that in mind”, he said.  “Thanks for talking to me.”  With that, he continued on his path.

Jordan pulled his hands free of his pockets and rubbed them together in one big fist.  His fingers weren’t cold, but they were nervous.  Had the man believed him?  Surely he must’ve.  This had to be one of the stories he heard that was true.  The voice had said it was true.  It had been such a smart voice too; they had used big words and everything.  And if polo-man believed him, then others would.  Jordan decided right then and there; he would tell everyone he saw about the government’s use of nanorobotics.

The excited homeless man stopped intertwining his hands together and now clapped them in joy and exuberance.  He had a mission.  He had a plan.

Jordan was so excited that he hadn’t noticed the polo-man.  The stranger ducked into the doorway of a nearby apartment building.  From his perch, the polo-man could keep an eye on Jordan as he made a phone call.  His face had grown somber since passing by the homeless man.  Finally, the other party answered their phone.

“Sir, it’s Stevens”, the polo-man said.  “We have a serious security breach in the program.”

Opportunity Knox

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Opportunity Knox

Vast wealth has temptations which fatally and surely undermine the moral structure of persons not habituated to its possession.” –Mark Twain

Cady drove her white van past the electric fence and shook her head.  It wasn’t enough to have twenty-thousand volts coursing through the metallic deterrent; the overzealous fools had felt the need to put endless coils of barbed wire atop the fence as well.  Trust the government to overdo things, she thought to herself.  Still, it wasn’t something that Cady needed to worry about.  She was merely the owner and operator of Cady’s Cleaners.

A helicopter flew right above her, but Cady paid it no mind.  They all recognized her van by now and gave her as much leeway as they could.  She had already gone through the customary stops.  She had pulled onto the off-ramp and seen the black SUV with tinted windows follow behind her.  That same SUV lingered as she pulled up to the road and parked her car.  Men with machine guns and large dogs went over every inch of her car and ran tests on the cleaning chemicals that were kept in the back of her vehicle.  Cady had learned after the first few trips to leave all the supplies that she didn’t absolutely need at home.  It wasn’t worth the hassle of waiting for the security detail to go through each and every container; better to reload the van when she got home.

After driving a long stretch of road, she saw two Humvees drive by on either side of her.  She had heard from one of the friendlier security guards that there were all sorts of scanning equipment contained within those military cars.  Cady tried to ignore the fear of being made sterile and instead waved to the men in their camouflage gear.  They glanced back at her, their eyes impenetrable through their steely expressions and their opaque sunglasses.

Cady drove around the massive building’s exterior until she came to the loading dock in the back.  An immense door, probably twelve feet thick of concrete and metal, slowly swung open to allow her admittance.  There, her car was stopped by another series of officials.  One man escorted her to an all-white room where she was searched more thoroughly than Cady ever preferred.  At least the guard had been handsome.  The last time she had been here an older man with wrinkly hands had been gruff and most unpleasant.

Her car was taken from her and parked in an underground lot where video cameras and automated weapons kept a vigilant eye out for any surprises.  The cleaning equipment had been removed by personnel and placed on a plastic cart made especially for her.  She rearranged the items on the cart for easier access, took her temporary ID badge that the guards printed for her, and nodded to the four men that surrounded her.

Everything about the building had an annoyingly “official” feel to it.  There were no decorations, no areas that had been “spruced up”.  The hallways were concrete gray with white areas of paint.  She long suspected that the white color was only there to maximize the efficiency of the harsh lights that glowed dimly from their perch on the ceiling behind grilled cages.  Cady always hoped that the lights would be upgraded to LED technology each time she came.  However she knew that the rare number of visitors the placed had meant the fortress didn’t really need to appear homey or inviting.  In fact, they certainly aimed for the opposite effect.

A familiar face in army fatigues and expertly shaven head nodded to Cady.  The man would have been a calming representative of power; his build was that of a hometown quarterback.  However the long scar that ran down the entirety of the man’s right cheek always made Cady wonder what he was capable of.

“General”, she said to the older man.”

“Ma’am”, the General replied with utter propriety.  “Shall we?”

“Of course, General”, Cady said.

The General took the lead, the four guards flanked Cady, and the cleaning woman pushed her cart down yet another long hallway.  It was during this roughly quarter-mile walk that Cady had time to think.  She had tried over and over to extract a conversation from these men, but she had rarely succeeded.  She thought of her own father who had once been stationed at this very installation.  She remembered her mother who had been an agent for the National Security Agency.  Cady had grown up around serious people with important jobs.  Cady wasn’t like that.

Cady liked people.  She liked conversations.  She enjoyed her occupation because it let her meet all kinds of people and helped create spaces where folks could congregate and socialize.  This industrial type, function-only building was not her ideal environment.  However the money was an amount which she couldn’t turn down and the government liked Cady’s clearance level.

There it is, Cady thought.  The vault door never ceased to amaze her.  It was ten-feet thick and made of what she assumed were the strongest metals on this earth.  She doubted if even a nuclear bomb could break through the hatch, though she was quite sure that was the idea.  Even with its astounding size, the door swung open quietly and easily on a single giant hinge.

Cady followed two guards inside while The General and two other guards joined those already positioned in their assigned spots.  Normally she would enjoy having twelve men huddle around her, keeping an eye out, but Cady had work to do.  The regular areas could be cleaned by standard government lackeys, but the area Cady was in required a higher level of clearance than most people could ever dream of.  Cady was a contract worker but everyone assumed she would be there until she retired.  The upper brass had no desire to go through the lengthy process of vetting someone else to do their cleaning.  So it was that Cady came out to Fort Knox three times a year to dust and clean the bars of gold.

Cady didn’t mind that she couldn’t tell anyone about her most profitable client.  She resisted the urge to share stories or take pictures of one of the most secure facilities in the world; a place that she had regular access to.  The one thing that bothered her was the joke that she just couldn’t seem to formulate.  She knew there was a good guffaw to be had from “cleaning money” or “laundering money” for the government.

Cady put her feather duster to the first pile of gold bars.  The nation’s wealth was right in front of her, but that perfect one-liner that would make the security guards break character and chuckle continued to be off-limits to her.

What Goes Up Must Float there Until Payment is Received

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

What Goes Up Must Float there Until Payment is Received

We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.” -Wernher von Braun

Gretchen walked into the door of her apartment to find that her world had been turned upside down.  As her napkin holder spun slowly in midair, she groaned as each little paper napkin strayed off towards a different direction.  She saw the couch blocking her path to the kitchen and pushed it down to the carpet.  The three-seater hide-a-bed lingered around the floor, but Gretchen could tell that it would probably head to the ceiling at any moment.  She really thought life before the gravity bill had been much simpler.

Like many inconvenienced citizens, Gretchen blamed the government.  She pined for days when gravity was free, not a social service that was regulated and controlled.  Gretchen remembered ten years ago when she could lay on the ground, her hair in ponytails, and read Nancy Drew books as she rested her chin on her hands.  When she was a girl, she did that for free.  Now she had to pay for her right to rest on a surface.

Scientists had claimed that their control of gravity was the greatest benefactor they could have dreamed up.  They spoke of elderly people with aching joints being relieved of pressure on their joints.  The biologists remarked that the change in how they operated meant that they could work on concepts in a zero-gravity environment.  Although many in the intellectual community admitted that much of the joy of being an astronaut was gone now that floating in the air was an everyday occurrence.

The whole idea had started on a small scale.  Individual labs were fitted with the Gravitational Nullification Unit, or GNU.  The machine did exactly what the name promised.  Much like noise-cancelling headphones were capable of blocking out ambient noise by matching frequencies, the GNU negated the force of gravity by exerting an opposing force.  Like a hovercraft for all matter, the GNU kept anything within its range free from their previous weighty restrictions.  It was soon declared too important a discovery to be left to industry alone and was mass-marketed to consumers.  That was when things to got hairy.

Who knew that a GNU would be such a nuisance?

The government stepped in and decided that all these different levels of gravity needed to be regulated.  What if a house was being moved by a GNU which malfunctioned and fell on a small child?  Who would be responsible for guaranteeing that dump trucks driving through various areas wouldn’t have their entire load end up littering the sky?  And of course, there was the famous Superbaby concern, where any child that wandered into the wrong place might be sent into the stratosphere.

With a vote that was nearly unanimous, (two representatives felt it was immoral to regulate nature) Congress created a system that would license, regulate, and bill each person for the GNU’s services.  With GNUs occupying eighty-six percent of all consumers of an annual income exceeding forty-thousand dollars, the Gravitational Regulating Organization for Weighty Laws had their hands busy.  The GROWL went to work right away and set out to collect one thousand dollar start-up fee from each member that was using a GNU machine.  Then they added a monthly bill to “continue to assure governmental and proper use of such equipment.”  Many people, including Gretchen, bemoaned the matter.  There were already discussions about voting out the established government representatives due to their apparent over-charging in their monopoly.

For the time being, Gretchen was trapped.  She tried to tie her purse onto the doorknob, but it started to remove itself.  Gretchen screamed, slammed the door shut, and swam her way to the bathroom.  Thanks to a last minute appeal by medical professionals and human rights organizations, bathrooms were required to always have gravity.  Every toilet had a built in gravitational system of its own that extended in a ten-foot diameter.  There were some questions as to how much strain was put on the structure when walls shared gravity on one side on no gravity on the other, but bathrooms needed things to go down pipes.  Showers needed to send water down onto a person, not floating every which way like some sort of psychedelic rain storm.

Gretchen floated along the bottom of the bathroom and shut the door.  The doorjamb-sensor was activated and she heard the familiar clicking noise.  The GNU turned the gravity on slowly, allowing Gretchen to find her footing.  She was already dreading turning the doorknob, which would deactivate the machine at the same rate.

Gretchen wanted things to go back to the way they had been.  She wasn’t a fan of flighty behavior or fancy technology.  She liked her belongings to be practical.  Her books had all been carefully arranged in a nice order, and now, because she had forgotten to pay one little bill, she would have to reorganize all her things.  That of course, was after she found her cordless phone that was floating around somewhere in her apartment.

Gretchen screamed again as she sat in her bathtub.  All she wanted after a long day of work was to take a nap.  She wanted to recover from her menial day as a receptionist before she had to go back tomorrow.  She wanted to cook food on a stove without the scalding hot water reaching up to burn her.  She wanted to sit and read a book in a chair.  When it came down to it, Gretchen preferred the down-to-earth way of life.

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