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Code World - "The Technology Infection"

The night of the techfection I was going downtown with Chris. He'd found an Aielee show was happening with hundred terabit lines for both the show and the patrons and he wanted to crash it, old-timey style. We weren't alone. As we roof-topped our way to the square where the cops had kettled a bunch of rioters and cleared the building they'd hid in, there were others ahead of us, moving fast through the illegal catwalks and rooftop venues set up for the show.

"Modifieds." Chris gestured toward them unnecessarily. They were prancing sideways like monkeys, likely short-term genehacked to make the trip easier, but dangerous. Some genes took, or RNAed themselves in and disrupted normal programming. We were roided for the agility and some muscle mass in case we had to shoulder into the invite-only venue, but I would never hack. The waterfront was littered with people who had hacked, some of them in the old days when researchers would pay you good money to inject, and some from more modern times, visibly beating back the cheap genework with ever more elaborate kits.

"Would you do it?" I asked Chris, for usually he was on the forefront.

"Did a plant thing once. Sitting in the sun, soaking up nutrient in water. That kind of thing."

I believed him at first, let him hack right in, then I saw his lopsided grin, the one he reserved for friends, or someone in his way. "That's a mod that'd cost you," I said, playing along even as we clambered up the side of the temporary staging that had sprung up for the show. The staging was grown on site, and by the look of the junctures, I would guess they had spliced in rapidity, for it was swaying just from the force of our climb.

"Come on." Chris beckoned and then disappeared into one of the lower floors. It would be a mistake to arrive together. With the venue over half avatars and the rest careless hacks and opportunists, we would blend better arriving one at a time. I went across the top floor, the doubled reed buckling with my weight and sending some of the avatars scurrying for the safety of more stable code. They'd given themselves away when the trunklines faltered trying to keep them solid. The monkey boys were way ahead of us, making for the centre ring, where code was flying as the show put itself together.

The swelling sound came at us almost physically through the air, and I settled into a sweet spot on the second to top floor to watch the fun. Some of the monkeys had pranced too close, and were being taken apart by the venue operators. There had to be some rules, they told us, even with an illegal venue, or else the sightseers would ruin it for the rest. They were right. I'd seen a show overrun by applets and avatars, weaving themselves into the code so they became the story, attenuating themselves even as they weakened the main show.

Some of the monkeys dropped back, burned from the lasers, and one of them came toward me, walking through three or four avatars-careless-before settling on a railing that divided the recording floor from the authorities who kept the peace and made sure they had a product to sell. "That'll calm the monkeys down," Chris said right behind me and I jumped.

"What the hell, man? I thought you were on the downside." I pointed to the floor below me.

"Nothing to see down there. You have the rich blood here." Even as Chris spoke Aielee fired up and hologram scaffolding rose into the night. The reals moved to see, but the avatars, at least those new to the business, stood where they were, forgetting their views from their displays at home didn't represent their view in the venue. "Amateurs," Chris snorted, and reached through one of the guests for a drink.

It was faintly illegal and mostly gauche to admit the avatars weren't real, that they were nothing more than an artefact of hundred terabit trunklines and someone's fear of leaving the house, but more and more people, like the monkey on the opposite end of the floor, were ignoring propriety and law. The reals were getting sick of avatars risking nothing and pretending to take up space.

As the show swelled around us, coding mixed in the crowd and the avatars came into their own. They were as much the show as the swelling balloons of hologram architecture that rose over the ruins of the old apartment building. Avatars flickered into different forms, fought mock battles and merged to hog space, bloated, hanging over the railing's edge and forcing real physics to bend with their excess, the floor dipping where the code was thickest, conforming the world to the image.

I was more interested in Aielee than them, so reluctant to go close to the edge when the building was so unstable, I peered around and through some of the guests, while Aielee rebuilt the apartment block that had been destroyed. Then they filled it with those avatars who had pre-booked and were willing to corrupt their own code with old timey imagery and Aielee control. It was magnificent. There were even belching trucks and cars in the street, laundry hanging off hemp lines, and people calling to one another from balconies.

"They must have had some footage," I called over to Chris, who was negotiating with staff, trading credits for space so we could stay.

"Nah," he replied. "They're riding off film space."

He didn't know what he was talking about. I'd seen film space and it always looked a bit hacked in the way it wove from one scene to another, but I kept my peace. He was the one trading credits after all, and he'd invited me.

Aielee was famous for building a scene and then bringing it to the crowd, political reruns and cop bait, and tonight was no exception. We knew what to expect, somewhat, when we saw the building rear into the sky, so it was no surprise when the building fell shabbily into disrepair, and the people fell burning and screaming from their balconies.

"I bet that got a few avatars who didn't look through their code," I remarked, but Chris was busy with negotiations, this time for a code entrance.

We waited, expectant, knowing Aielee was going to rough its way to the next scene, and that some of the venues were going to be hit. Sure enough, cop avatars came through with bulldozers, just like reals, and when they code-splintered the fragile scaffolding that held the venues, some avatars at first reeled and then grinned, confident in their safety. "They don't know Aielee." Chris was at my ear again.

The scaffolding splintered and shook, and then was under the bulldozers. Avatars, their code compromised from being on the Aielee trunklines, fell under the treads and were crushed, realistic blood spewing from ghostly veins and amongst them, some liquid blood too, as monkeys and a few other reals were caught in the destruction that was Aielee's take on the scene. Our building wasn't ripped, probably because Chris had an in, but it was about then that everything went to shit.

Avatars were popping in and out, worried they'd be taken down next, and likely some of them were struggling with Aielee code, for the two that had merged suddenly went on a feeding frenzy and gobbled up several others around them. Finally, as they ballooned, the scaffolding under them, coded for the show, buckled and spilled them to the lower floor where they struggled as Aielee had them absorb more avatars and then take on those parts of the building that were show images.

"That's cool." I leaned over to Chris, who was chatting with a monkey and gesturing towards the avatars. Everyone's coding was compromised and as the venue filled with cops, springing out of the willowy walls and from the floors, the floor heaved under the code weight and we watched those people who thought they were safe at home duck and run from cops, whose batons were out and spraying bright streamers of coded mace. Avatars ducked past us crying out and fell over the edge of the venue to be taken up by the bulldozers and pushed towards the apartment building that now filled up with rioters and activists.

Belatedly, I realized the apartment building was stacked. I pointed it out to Chris and the monkey. "Those are avatars in there, side coded away from their venues."

"Yeah. They went with cheaper channels and now they're paying the price."

The monkey gibbered a moment and I stared until I realized I was being brain hacked. Chris had apparently told the monkey what I thought of modifieds.

"Yeah, fuck you too," I said to his monkey hoots of delight.

Aielee was in full swing. Avatars were trying to code back into the show, and the display was happening all around us when my watch started to shift. The monkey noticed it first, although it was on my wrist. It was an old timey watch I'd bought in the street on the way in. Digital face, grey, plastic all around instead of printed metal. I thought it kind of said something about me, although I wasn't sure what that was.

I glanced down as it folded open, leaving a slide bar, analogue-style, and some characters in Japanese. I wasn't about to ask an avatar to down speed the language so we could tell what it was, so I followed the only thing I understood on the device and slid the bar to English. That started something. The watch folded, unfolded again in another origami like configuration and then chattered out commands. The coding that held the venue together responded and our building began to shift on its temporary supports.

"Oh shit," the monkey said as he slid backwards towards the edge. Chris and I held onto the railing and watched as our venue, made from code-weaved RNA-hacked fibre, strode towards the bulldozers and the hapless avatars fighting their hacked substrate. I was drawing attention. The monkey's exclamation, and the massive code stream coming from my watch, lured the crowd to me.

Luckily, Chris was on the ball, for he pulled a knife, and against my thoughtless protests cut the strap and threw the watch into the scrum, where it tipped over the edge, falling the ten floors or so past the programming it was rapidly decoding. "Time to exit, man. Show's over."

Taking Chris' advice, I heaved through a dozen closing avatars who were gasping, trying to find the code source before their data ripped. Wishing I'd monkey hacked, I dropped with Chris to the next floor, and then leapfrogged from our tottering building to another only slightly more stable one which was turning questing floors to the code source that was getting stronger.

"What the hell was that?" I asked Chris when we were sliding down a stairwell that had no steps, since it was built more for verisimilitude than human feet.

"Easter egg," Chris yelled back triumphantly. "You were the one who brought in the Easter egg."

I'd heard about them. Apparently at some of the bigger shows one of the designers would slip rogue programming into the main scripts, unwind the whole thing. The effect was supposed to be amazing, kind of a fractal free-for-all where avatars blended with background and show structures took on animation. I'd even heard at one of the Aielee shows the Easter egg had spawned a whole new code structure and now the block where it happened was unsafe and shifting, like hacked water. Easter eggs were hidden in a real device, usually slipped inadvertently into the show, and they were triggered by an event, or sometimes a command.

"How did they plant that on me?" I yelled back to Chris, for I was outpacing him now, the roid implants kicking in.

"You never know." Chris grinned and I realized.

"You set me up. You brought me out to be ripped at an Aielee show." I was touched. It was the best present he could have given me, and there was no way I could repay him.

"You told me you'd never seen one of their shows. I called in a favour." Chris caught up to me and we panted against the side of a building waiting out the cops fanning in from the burbs now that the call had gone out. "Their stuff's amazing, but now you have a story to go along with it."

I was quiet. I owed Chris big time and I had no idea what to say.

"Come on," Chris broke the silence. "Let's head to a connection and we'll avatar in and see what you did. I think they'll be a while cleaning up this one."

 

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