[This was published in the Timber Creek Review in 2005. I’m glad it was. Like “The Geometry of Near,” it’s a geek story, and the people on whom the character Gibby McDivitt was based comes clearly and with a chuckle to mind. The story links to “They Call Him Mister Tubby” in Imaginary Gardens (May 1998). The admonition for a snap judgement about the hero of this story, too, could be, “Think twice.”
“Gibby” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.]
The Palace of Dreams in Sheboygan Sprawl, disguised as one of those ordinary shops to which people still come when they want to be with people instead of simulations, is tucked into an alleyway behind cafes, mushroom shops, dollarmark stores and a franchised Thrift Shop. This particular P.D. is a Gambling Den. Some people enter, place bets and watch results without noticing anything unusual. Others pass through the portal and are never heard from again.
The close proximity of the Palace to the Thrift Shop is not accidental. The Palace of Dreams is the fulfillment of an implicit promise made by Gibby McDivitt and Thrift Shops, TTX from the moment they exploded onto the scene. Even Gibby didn’t know that, though, until his celebrated vision years later closed that loop of his life.
Thrift Shops do a booming business, selling decanting and AlterGene ™ kits on narrow margins, relying on volume and economies of scale to make a little money … make that a lot of money, multiply a little times millions of shops, it’s a lot. Thrift Shops, TTX is in all eighteen countries, six hundred fourteen sprawls, and every mini-hood – millions of near-identical plots of housing and retail blocks – has one.
There are only one hundred forty-three Palace of Dream shops, however, and they aren’t easy to find. They are disguised as gambling dens, eat-and-drinks, mini-massage shops, zero-day parks. No directory contains them, no map shows them, and no one who happens to enter one realizes what it is – until it’s too late. Part of the shiver of delight running down everyone’s backs right now is the fact that the Palace is kind of a secret, a rumor, really, a story of a secret that changes in the telling in a world in which privacy doesn’t exist.
But the Palace did not just pop out of thin air. We’re getting ahead of ourselves. There is a history which in retrospect makes sense. So let us return to the early years and what we know or think we know of the life of Gibby McDivitt.
Once upon a time, the CEO of Thrift Shops, TTX, Gibby McDivitt, was a pimply pasty-faced hacker of enormous proportions. Everybody knows the official picture of Gibby, an image projected for decades into the sim-world from an old photo, radically altered, the only one he allowed out, a fish-eye lensing from below and behind of his big butt and back and broad shoulders in his famous chrome-and-leather-flecked chair, his hands out of sight, presumably in his lap, his pumpkin-like head thrust forward at an odd angle toward a wall-screen where three naked women and two naked men play games, vaguely out of focus, with big colorful plastic toys.
Everybody knows too the story the corporation invented for public consumption. As a child and teen, the tale goes, Gibby virtually lived in his basement, or rather, lived virtually in his basement, hacking his heart out. At six he cracked open world bank crypto. At eight he listened to whispers from deserts and jungles of terrorists and cartel chieftains, at nine he heard similar whispers from corporate boardrooms. That was the end of Gibby’s innocence. He infiltrated metranets, piggybacked on satellite transmissions, mirrored multiple broadcasts, commandeered thousands of zombies, filtering massive downloads through an automated program he coded himself. He listened to intercepts and learned that boardrooms were a better place to play than the jungle or desert, so he sent transcripts of the sheiks and chiefs to secret email addys of corporate heads, world police chiefs, and top guys at Franchised Warriors, TTX. Then he intercepted their anxious conversations before they responded formally and learned of the close ties between sheiks and generals and chiefs and corporate boardrooms. The truth, as usual, was worse than anyone guessed. Ah-ha! thought Gibby. So everybody colludes, everybody hides behind false flags and dummy companies, everybody plays the same game.
Nothing, he realized, is what it seems – an important lesson to learn at such a tender age.
So while wannabe hackers rebelled against The Man, planting drive-bys and spraying graffiti on web-sites, Gibby put away childish things and became The Man. He saw that hacking for its own sake was silly. He tired of bragging rights, he had more trophies than all the rest put together. There had to be a bigger payoff, something to make the risks worthwhile. With great patience, he listened and pondered, educating himself in the ways of the world and building a database of clandestine relationships that became the core intellectual property of Industrial Discovery, TTX, his first hugely successful company. And what exactly did ID do? It wore a digital mask, that’s what, hiding behind shelters, veiled by a maze of dummy fronts while Gibby at ten a.k.a. his many diverse aliases sold information in packets of various size. He learned that the key was to leverage the known against the unknown, the possible against the likely, and he always hedged his bets.
Gibby McDivitt became a player.
That’s when he became McDivitt, too. Gibby whoever-he-was borrowed the name from a blonde starlet he loved from afar, whacking off with gusto to her wall-sized simulation. (That was Melissa McDivitt, of course, no secret there). No one knew his real name, but as Gibby said a thousand times until it became the well-known mantra of Thrift Shops, TTX, “What’s real anyhow?”
Gibby seldom left the immense padded chair which replaced the chrome-and-leather-flecked one when it collapsed. That meant he could focus on work and play in ways that healthier entrepreneurs could not. Persistence, obsessiveness and polymorphously perverse hunger and lust, those were his drivers. People who worried about the general good were lamers, Gibby decided. Wise beyond his years in some ways, obviously stunted in others, he focused not on making money, which past a certain point was just another way to collect trophies, but on the pleasures of adolescence which were infinitely saleable as well as supreme bliss to his quasi-developed mind. He played square-wall four-D immersive games in a room-sized knowledge cube, forty by twenty by twenty. He farmed out manufacturing, distribution, and marketing, managing legal issues by knowing the dope on competitors. As his confidence grew he used his name to brand his antics and achieved an astonishing measure of corporate glory, but that was a mere sideshow compared to the satisfaction of knowing his global impact, indicated by the distribution of millions of images of Gibby stooped to the screen in his pleasure dome, as well as the sales of octobillions of sexy digital stuff. A world of users, the ones who mattered, the ones who were plugged in or with it, internalized his image as a goal-state and hungrily swallowed whatever he sold.
This early success was years before Gibby practically invented the industry of SynthoLife ™ and began selling genemod kits under the brand-name AlterGene ™. This all occurred when the world was still simply digital, an innocent time of simulations and symbols, all outside the mind. For young Gibby selling sex was a labor of love. He downloaded millions of pictures and videos, looking and listening and lapping up every fetish and its variations. In his undisciplined ardor, however, he sprained both wrists and developed repetitive stress in both elbows. Sitting one day in the deep cushions of his padded throne, gloomy and inert, his impaired arms strapped to therapy-boards, he realized he needed an assistant. As so often happens in the world of commerce, fulfilling this need in himself simultaneously met the needs of countless others. He built Haptic Hands ™ and made a fortune selling them worldwide.
Haptic Hands attached to any console and worked with any OS. On spoken or tapped command they oozed Vaseline, canola oil, or mayonnaise to taste. The hands felt like real flesh, made from silica-carbonates (basic), vat-grown flesh (enhanced), or whole hands grown on the backs of pigs (super-deluxe). They could be fitted with leather gloves, red or blue latex, or cuddly soft white fleece. The best-selling plug-in was Sheepie, made of cotton wool, fresh liver delivered daily, and squeezable silicon-bubble liners. HandMate ™, designed for women, came with four hundred fourteen options ranging in size from the microtype egg of Zenillia pullata to Toro Gordo surnamed y Gigante.
Haptic Hands 2.0 added audio plug-ins in every known language and hundreds of scents. Pheromones quivered in the air, wall-sized 3-D images bucked and humped, and cries and moans exploded in octophonic Gibby-surround-sound ™ while Haptic Hands did all the work.
He made money hand over fist, so to speak. As the official corporate bio states, his companies “took the experience of Outside In as far as it could go.” They delivered the most real virtual joys a human/computer symbiot could design (supply side) or savor (consumer) but inevitably encountered the limitations of conveying experience solely to the senses. However varied or refined, spectator sex was equivalent to a hungry orphan standing in the snow, watching a family eat in a warm well-lighted cafe, his nose to the cold glass. The success of Haptic Hands, to the degree that it gave great fantasy, revealed the shortcomings of the Hands and of all simulated ventures: It ultimately felt like drinking from a dribble-glass. The user felt used … and very wet.
“We must get inside the user experience,” Gibby wrote in a now-famous memo. “We must create the lived experience of every sexual pleasure, not only from external sources, but inside the subjective field of the user. We must paste it onto the eyeballs from the inside, then couple the subjective experience with a digital container of complementary design.
“Instead of making a filmic experience, we must alter user chemistry so that users co-create their own experience while interacting with digital simulations. This will enable users to choose and then design their own pleasures and engineer them so when we provide a container, they can use it to turn themselves on instead of counting on someone else to do it for them (all italics are Gibby’s).
“If we execute this game plan,” the memo concluded, “habituation will no longer constitute a boundary around profits.”
“Fetish mods!” said his Chief Scientist, the well-known Helly Gerlach, winner of two Nobels. “You’re talking about fetish-mods!”
Indeed he was. Gibby had been dreaming of fetish-mods for years. He had noticed when still a child the growing popularity of animal mods at hacker cons. Tigers with tattooed skin and fangs, spindly bird-men with feather-grafts, barrel-chested primates with thick fur became as common as Klingons at Star Trek fairs. The alterations, however, were cosmetic, however striking the results. Reconstructive surgery went mainstream around the same time, turning people into plastic manikins with implanted smiles. That was all fine, but geez, Gibby realized, if people could mess with their genes, grow feathers or fangs, then kits to make that kind of play possible would sell like crazy.
While he was dreaming, advancements in science made it possible to hack the genome. But that wasn’t enough. Genetic engineering meant shuffling and splicing genes, making tomatoes that didn’t freeze or fish that glowed in the dark, enhancing what evolution spawned, not creating new attributes, talents, new ways of being human, new experience, new varieties, new species, all out of whole cloth. Now, that was exciting!
The breakthrough was called SynthoLife ™ and it meant the generation of unique subjective and/or physical facts (tightly coupled) through the creation, manipulation and alteration of “artificial” protein clusters that in turn initiated body-or-brain to brain-self chains of new human experience. Instead of flooding the apparatus of cognition with conception-level scenarios (like three-on-twos on a vast dynamic screen) they could work at the level of perception; the very means by which we perceive and feel and above all get off can be hacked to the root, Gibby cried. We can hack the mind of God! We can use the best ideas of the biosphere but improve on them and in the lucrative domain of fantasy sex, invent any trigger, scenario or fetish! People can build their own pleasure-sensors and we can be their partners, fabricating the scenery. Give away AlterGene kits and let the good times roll!
Seized by the vision, Gibby beheld in his mind-space something akin to orgasmic pleasure but better, oh so much better. Oh yeah, baby! Better! Gibby saw like a mountain range that went on forever repeated peaks of orgasmic joy achieved through inner-built rituals and then – oh, and this was his genius! – then going ever higher through escalating sets of more, better and different experience using mix-and-match plug-and-play templates for which he already held the patents! had already data based as the matrix of his digital sex delivery system. The only limit to sexual pleasure was human imagination. His thousands of employees had plenty of that but would now be joined by legions of hackers making AlterGenies in their basements, thus combining the best of open source and monopolistic practice.
Gibby hired the best hackers and set them loose. Why, he wondered aloud, had he found so fascinating the primitive pleasures of hacking communications, mapping the digital world, understanding the energy flow in the hive mind? It was child’s play compared to creating new species.
“I was born to dream, yes,” he wrote in a memo to employees, “but this is not my dream, it’s yours! The dream belongs to the world! How do you want to come today? That’s what we sell, the power to make your dreams real! Our digital worlds cooperate or collaborate with your desires to create an authentic seamless experience of your own design and choosing!”
So AlterGenies were born – synthesized protein modules that generated self-defined subjective experience and/or behaviors that when triggered became self-fulfilling prophecies. The user was both arrow and target. Brain-and-body to brain-self, fffthwat! AlterGenies replaced the Digital Circus, making it seem so one-dimensional, so last year.
The first AlterGene kits were distributed free through the underground, letting hackers do proof of concept, test the betas – and get Mister Gibby and company off the hook. In order to get the goodies, users had to remove the LockTite ™ wrap which action in and of itself validated the User Agreement and sent a record of the transaction wirelessly to the Main Database. According to the pact, users signed off on all and any negative effects, including “unforeseen, unwanted, or otherwise horrific shocking or sickening alterations, mutations, psychotic breaks or unintended deaths.” Your miniature dick could become an anaconda and choke you to death, your quail-egg balls could inflate to the size of pumpkins, your clit could engorge like a puffer-fish, none of it would matter. The game could only be played with real meat, real money on the table of life.
The famous case of the Alligator Boy went all the way to the World Court. The panel of judges found for the defendant. “The creative use of AlterGene kits would be inhibited if the manufacturer had to accept responsibility for what users do with them,” the opinion read. “Thrift Shops, TTX is no more responsible for the misfortunes of this poor sad leather-faced lad than a pencil manufacturer for whatever a pencil-user might write with a primitive wooden yellow number two.”
In the aggregate, despite initially high but declining numbers of blunders, the risks were worth it, and anyway, real risk enhanced the rush of early adopters. Thrift Shops, TTX held an AlterGene Festivus in Times Square and one of Gibby’s look-alikes handed out hundreds of thousand of kits free to screaming teens.
They shut down Manhattan Sprawl for two whole days.
Meanwhile patents piled up. To use an AlterGene kit required that the user concede to Thrift Shops, TTX the first right of refusal if a marketable product resulted. The inventor received ten per cent of net profits. Gibby happily franchised patents in agriculture, medicine, cosmetics, physical enhancements like height and speed and wind and mental enhancements like making music or math or thinking fast or deeply or well. Let the biosphere recreate itself with gusto! Let new varieties of humans explore asteroids, plunge to sea depths heretofore unreachable, tunnel into caves and beyond to the center of the earth, plummet in meditation into inner space and return later with shining eyes proclaiming, “I understand! I understand!”
Let them do everything their hearts desired! Gibby laughed all the way to the digital bank, which was only a click away, and stayed faithful to his original goal which was simply getting off then getting off again then getting off once more.
The legislatures of the world were bought and paid for and he folded all of his smaller companies into Thrift Shops, TTX, the only place in the universe, digital or physical, where users could purchase AlterGene kits. Thrift Shops built in feedback loops by hiding Trojan genes that communicated chemically with sensors doubling as bioterror detectors so they always knew what users were doing.
The cautious grew custom fur, made tropical fish sing like birds, even grew shmoo-pigs that upon reaching a certain weight would hurl themselves into frying pans and cook themselves for dinner.
The more adventuresome followed Gibby into the Land of a Thousand Fetishes. They created sexual adventures for every trigger imaginable. No matter what happened in the world, someone somewhere was getting off on it because they had designed themselves to enjoy it. Meanwhile Gibby provided or licensed the right to provide the container.
Hackers brought their mischief and love of fun to the subculture too. They rewired shmoo-pigs to throw themselves out of windows, scrambled fish so they not only sang but screamed at all hours of the night. They created the choke-hold gene, a protein cluster that prevented orgasm just as it was about to erupt. They used monkey-like genes adapted to plastic splice-plugs and made household products and appliances cry “Snake! Snake!” whenever sensors detected a pencil or penis. They undermined fur-lovers in a retro gesture and turned them into hairless gray alien look-alikes.
Well, kids will be kids. Fun and games aside, Gibby was clear: he wanted to live forever in a blossoming garden of sexual delight. He didn’t even have to think about it. That passion, bone-deep, had been bred in him, and he never let an AlterGenie touch it.
Fixation on a particular stimulus, ritual, or bizarre family dynamic was identified as a function of the neuronal subsystem called G2. Once they knew which clusters of protein translated into particular simulations of external experience as it was replicated in adumbrated symbolic form in the subjective field of the human psyche, altering an imprinting or making one up was simple. Every imaginable attachment was generated, linked in odd combinations, and sold for gold.
Fetishes grew on the world farm like varieties of corn. A fetish was after all merely a constrained domain of involuntary excitement generally caused by an arbitrary imprint on an infantile nervous system. If a child was tickled by his mother’s toes, he might forever crave the sight or scent of similar toes. The polish would have to be identical (“I said rose pink, damn it! not burgundy!”), the wriggle of the piggy precise. Or maybe her dark hair brushed his infant face during a feeding. That was that! Forever the helpless lad would go weak at the sight or smell or touch of a brunette wearing a page boy or retro bob. Or maybe he quacked like a duck when lesbian sisters stripped down, ready to play, letting him watch. Because they were arbitrary, the variations were endless. And now people could plug in and play to their heart’s content, inventing the carrot, then trotting happily after.
Of course there was plenty of funny stuff, too, the things they loved to showcase in what they called “News In Depth,” those three minute briefs consisting of a few dozen pictures and thirty or forty words of text. One AlterBoy (as they called the first designer mutants) became excited when a woman simultaneously removed her long white leather gloves and whistled Hey Jude, the entire thing, followed by a heartbreaking rendition of Yesterday, his erection rising only at the last plaintive note. Another required that two men and two women dance in a syncopated rhythm while spitting lemonade out of their mouths in an endless shower called the Pink Fountain.
The really astonishing thing, Gibby reflected, was this: however unusual a passion might seem, within days web sites depicting it sprang up with thousands of graphic images, videos and narratives. AlterGenies did not need to be marketed. Users hunted them down like hounds, swapped and modified possibilities, stored up future thrills like squirrels hoarding nuts.
Then the seemingly inexplicable happened.
At first slowly, then at an accelerating pace, sales of AlterGene kits began to decline. When Thrift Shop analysts examined the data, the sound of hundreds of hands slapping hundreds of foreheads echoed around the campus. They titled the report to Mister Gibby, “A Collective DUH.”
Habituation had once more reared its debilitating head.
Gibby knew from the experience of cycling through excitements that there was a pattern to pursuit. At first he couldn’t get enough. Then he still wanted whatever it was but less often. Then he became bored and needed something new. He either had to escalate to more complex or challenging thrills or change the game he was playing.
Gibby cycled through fetishes, scenarios, and rituals almost as quickly as he ate. If he was no longer excited by a bald woman riding a tricycle in a Wonder Woman costume, he altered his genes and craved Batman or Robin on a snowboard. But he learned to his chagrin that no matter how often he changed pleasures, the joy-to-boredom cycle picked up where he last left off. The content was irrelevant; the experience itself grew tired, the habit of it, the pattern, the very essence of the thing he loved. The rapidly accelerating decay of the cycle was progressive and relentless. He might try a new scenario every day, or three a day, or once an hour. Nothing worked. Even with AlterGenies making all things new every morning after breakfast, the world could not generate sufficient carnal delight to keep him happy.
Gibby’s tantrums were legendary. Employees told stories of his wall-sized digital image apoplectic with rage and frustration, his fleshy arms flapping like flippers over the sides of his leather chair. His forehead wet with perspiration, his eyes buggy, his cheeks flushed, Gibby fulminated until he couldn’t breathe, then sat there gasping for breath, his anger unabated.
But this was his gift: the sane part of his brain remained aware of what was really happening. So Gibby knew that if he felt this way, others did too.
That’s why Gibby the super-sized love-bunny might grow angry or depressed but never despaired. The difference between good and great, he knew, was how one responds to adversity. He instructed R&D to find a fix.
The solution was ingenious and made Gibby happier and fatter than ever.
“Mister Gibby, if we develop a mod that lets users turn on the pleasure center in their own brains regardless of their predilection, they can experience the mother lode of ecstasy. Instead of chasing after the right trigger, the right fetish, the right scenario, the right woman man or animal, the right plastic appliance, users can go straight to the source of their joy.”
“But didn’t we learn in the last century,” asked the savvy entrepreneur, “that rats will press the pleasure-center button unceasingly and die of hunger, chained to their bliss?”
“We anticipated that question,” said the Chief Scientist. “The protein-globe that enables this action will have fail-safe splices. Built in obsolescence, for one. Its effectiveness will degrade over time. And we’ll change the license. Instead of buying outright, users will have to lease. They’ll pay by the minute in increments, barely noticing the drip-drip-drip of their money into our coffers. Our fortunes will expand geometrically as the user-base continues to grow.”
So iTouch ™ and the Golden Globe ™ went to market.
The upward-chaining mod was a big seller at first but once again habituation flattened the trajectory of sales, and it happened a lot faster than anyone anticipated. Undifferentiated pleasure, however – well, pleasurable – steeped the brain in PEA but soon became banal. The power of the drug wore off. Within six months, the world said, once again, ho-hum.
“We’re not rats, then,” Mister Gibby said with obvious irony to his lab man.
“No,” said the scientist ruefully, thinking of his stock options, tugging on his vee-shaped goatee. Gibby looked at the wall-sized face and the silly hair on his chinny-chin-chin and said, “Shave that goddamn thing, will you?”
The next time his image appeared the scientist was clean shaven but also quiet. It was the marketing director who had a solution.
“We need to create a world-wide immersive multi-player virtual environment,” Dorothy LeGume said to a jubilant Gibby. “We’ll call it WorldSpace. It will be brimming with all of the stimulations, attachments, plug-ins, mods and vibrating goodies developed since Haptic Hands … plus an evolving family of AlterGenies to enable users to plug into WorldSpace and become adept at developing scenarios and rituals as a – get this, Mister Gibby – as a team endeavor.”
This was the level of genius Gibby had nurtured in the hive mind of Thrift Shops, TTX, coming to flower. WorldSpace was the supreme pay-off. No longer would individuals lose themselves inside whatever fantasy they had altered themselves to enjoy. They would find greater and greater satisfaction only when they enjoyed sex as a tribal pursuit. The sex itself was the prize, yes, but the complex scenarios of meeting the right people in the digital space, dealing with disappointments, bouncing back, everyone pacing themselves so they all got off at the same time – this was the real reward. They would hunt in packs like wolves and devise alliances spanning the globe. The highest highs would no longer be achieved by individuals, couples or groups in isolation but by those who learned to play their roles in whole societies. AlterGenies to help people become better team players would raise the bar to a new level of competitiveness. Teams would scrounge the nooks and crannies of complex simulated worlds and work tirelessly into the night to create the precise scenarios needed to get off – then explode when and only when everyone was ready. The ripeness was all! Afterward the memory of their mutual orgasm popping through the population like a chain reaction would inspire them to build the next one even better.
Best of all, it would all take time, lots of time, patiently and painstakingly to plan and then execute the fantasy needed for a society to reach a collective climax. Millions would have to learn how to play together to maximize the mind-blowing peak of each, and time, Gibby knew, was money, honey. Time was the ticking of millions of tiny payments drop by drop into the coffers of what now ceased to be known as Thrift Shops, TTX.
WorldSpace, TTX, was the new holding company that absorbed Thrift Shops and the other companies created to sustain the vast play space. Collective play became huge, bigger than AlterGenes even, and soon the tail wagged the genemod dog. Hackers developed mods to equip people to play at a global level, and as people learned that delaying pleasure increased their ultimate ecstasy, a new kind of world emerged.
Within two years seventy per cent of the world’s population was engaged in WorldSpace. Never before had so many been willing to postpone pleasure for so long in order to reap delirium later. Their single primal scream when the spit hit the fat was heard around the world – and, according to the space station crew in low earth orbit, even in space (although that report was suspect, because all of the crew were players).
Secondary factors kicked it. Pleasure for some could only be postponed so long. Not everyone could wait. The impatient making up the tail of the bell curve resembled little children twitching to go to the restroom. So sub-scenarios evolved, littler worlds within WorldSpace, letting the least and the last reach frequent mini-peaks of elation while practicing patience at the same time. Little dribbling come-times functioned like training wheels. In turn, nested levels of different sexual timelines enabled the building of incredibly complex games. The top rung held the Masters who reached higher and higher levels of completion but every rung had to be linked and tuned to the one below and above.
The real surprises were always unforeseen. The biggest shocker was the discovery that the supreme peak toward which multiple games began to build simultaneously in a kind of trans-orgasmic frenzy would be reached only after a fifth of the players were dead. Twenty per cent, in other words, were setting the stage for a blockbuster blow-out that they themselves would miss. Even more shocking was that after this was known, they played anyway. AlterGenies making self-sacrifice rich and delicious replaced their original goals and those who survived to rise to the heights even felt let down, wondering if they had won the red ribbon instead of the blue.
No one could have predicted these events from initial conditions and then-current assumptions. Complexity meant, apparently, that while everyone could predict something, no one could predict everything, No one foresaw, for example, that a following would develop for AlterGenies that kicked in when dying players’ vital signs ebbed to a minimal level, giving them a rush at the last minute of life that soon drove Hospice out of business.
Or that as a consequence of that, Near-dead Headers would engineer a mod that triggered a similar experience but moments before the time of death. The rush was not quite as intense as the Dead-Head Splurge but did have an upside – letting players live to play again.
And so it went, an upwardly spiraling evolution of self-similar nested levels of play, horse after cart and cart after horse, until WorldSpace became so complex it was unmappable. That meant even more unforeseen consequences, including mini-breakdowns, odd pockets of gravitational collapse, and the rearrangement of partnerships and alliances from societal levels down to the individual bonded pair.
Gibby was sitting in front of the Wall of Knowledge watching sixteen scenarios play, the data from their interaction correlated, mapped and rendered as a visualization of SynthoLife in action. It looked to his growing dismay a lot like what they used to call life. For the first time ever, bewildered by too much complexity, Gibby felt overwhelmed. His hands hung limply like vestigial flippers over the worn arms of his chair; his Haptic Hands too hung limply from his console in precise imitation of the world-weary “richest man” at home.
The press release said later that he sat there a long long time under a great cloud of darkness that began to contract and threatened to constrict to a yinyang point when suddenly, inexplicably, the miniscule speck ignited, fission or fusion in Gibby’s brain, expanding with nova-like bright white light.
Gibby McDivitt arrived at lightspeed at the omega point of his vision. What had always been implicit, he saw in retrospect, was manifest at last.
Userspace called it the Palace of Dreams.
Every strength is also a weakness but every weakness can be turned into a strength. By the second decade, so many people were engaged in WorldSpace, searching for stable relationships, learning to be flexible and mend when alliances, treaties, and even those little momentary peaklings of sexual ardor that occurred when AlterBoy and AlterGirl met up and got it on, all broke and literally vanished from the screen. In basements everywhere hackers hustled to make themselves capable of being resilient, endure terminal breakdowns, and plan for the long term. Not only did they mutate to enjoy different kinds of sexual excess, they mutated to endure the failure of unpredictable relationships in a near-chaotic world. The collective wisdom of hackers turned as the winds of necessity demanded. UeberSynthers ramped up to the next level and influenced WorldSpace from a LEO point of view. They not only knew how to get granular, writing tight and elegant genemod code, but could also see the Big Picture. They tolerated ambiguity and endured complexity in a world that wanted both variety and order but preferred the latter every time. Because the complexity of WorldSpace meant that no one could know what was coming next, hackers released into the wild viruses that compelled the herd to confront the unknown, the unexpected, and the malevolent, doing the world a favor by being sheep in the skins of wolves. People got sick from diseases that never before existed but the ones who survived were resilient and strong.
Learning how to fall down and get up again became a new definition of elegant. The standard was applied intuitively to every level of the game from single individual to global organum. To a degree the game stayed true to the original vision and players still pursued pleasure according to sophisticated algorithms that minimized habituation and maximized delight. But it came to be done in ways that were congruent with each interlocking circle at every level of the game. Insight cascaded into design and engineers built a well-organized failsafe space pervaded by the seemingly accidental.
Then Gibby wrote what historians have labeled the Last Memo, authorizing the Palace of Dreams. He never used those words, of course. Instead he sketched out a design in broad strokes and delegated the execution. Soon the first betas were being tested, inserted with stealth into a few select locations, and rumors spread of a wondrous new endeavor that delivered astonishing outsized satisfactions. One sub-group, Blazing Saddles out of Singapore, used the name “the Palace of Dreams” and it stuck. It referred to a new WorldSpace that went so so far beyond the current game it needed a different name (WorldSpace 2.0 did not test well in the marketplace). They whispered of magic portals through which unwary players walked or accidentally stumbled, finding themselves suddenly in a brain-training space of unforeseen transformation.
In WorldSpace 1.0, because levels of interlocking play had to connect to the ones below and above, there had to be a common language. The lowest and highest levels could still communicate through clearly defined coupled links. Transactions plugged into both ends using meta-code they all understood.
The Palace of Dreams was rumored to be different. WorldSpace 2.0 had to be backward compatible with the original somehow but bridges could not be defined in the language of one point oh. A language had to be created through which one could define everything, links, the overall, the way it all connected.
The only one who could do that was Gibby McDivitt. He must have done it. But Gibby wasn’t telling.
It was a very tricky puzzle and UeberSynths loved puzzles. They knew that the actions of those who played in the new space affected directly the ones who lagged behind, so there had to be a way to get there from here and a language to say how to do it. But even those who found themselves in WorldSpace 2.0 didn’t know what it was, or how they got there, or if they did, they didn’t know how to say it.
The Palace obviously contained hints, puzzles, and metaphors to point the way to the portals. Theoretically any player could pass through. Yet everybody knew that only a few would do it.
Thus began the Great Thrust-up, a progressive filtering of players into the DreamPalace. New species of AlterGenies, self-motivated and mobile, crawled through the space like aphids servicing ants. Ordinary players would report that comrades had gone off to make a bet, get laid, or have a meal and were never heard from again. Legal documents authorizing the distribution of their worldly goods circulated which suggested they had not died, but had certainly disappeared. This meant that a route out of WorldSpace 1.0 existed and was legally sanctioned. The Palace of Dreams was real.
This is what someone somewhere suggested might sometimes happen:
An AlterBoy or AlterGirl is fresh from a weekend mini-peak with a momentary mate. They are thinking dreamily of their roles in different scenarios. Spent though they are, they are already anticipating future pleasures, perhaps that very afternoon, a romp with a panda, perhaps, or a tryst with an OctoBun or Yummy. While thus distracted they walk past sugar shops, mushroom shops, the High Life, the Come-on-Inn, idly noticing whores and wares on display in the windows. Perhaps they intend to buy an option on a future possibility. Whatever the incentive, on impulse they choose a door and go inside, stopping in their tracks in sudden darkness unfolding from behind like wings. Uncomprehending, they recognize a moment of transition but have no idea where it might go. They are in a liminal condition not linked to prior knowledge or planned by their team.
If they turn around, they discover that the door to WorldSpace is closed. Above it crossed swords glow faintly, barring the way. The only direction to go is forward toward more.
The darkness turns out to be a thin fabric, barely a quarter-inch thick. If they move forward, the darkness becomes light and they enter a simulation that seems deliciously real.
Life in the Palace of Dreams is radically unstructured, seemingly devoid of order. Those who can stand it discover that the best way to play is apparently at random, planning nothing, trusting their intuition. They learn to release the whole notion of aiming at anything, instead responding to whatever is before them. As they progress the mind they used in the past is seen to be a construct of the brain. They look at it but can not answer the question, who is looking? Nevertheless, the translation of body-or-brain to brain-self is explicit and complete. So they see. They see that the only game worth playing is making AlterGenes to enhance that fundamental transaction.
They see too that to do that, they must pay attention to subtle currents stirring around them – follow directions – and act as if.
Salting the sequence with indeterminate genes.
Palace players are pleasure seekers but differently, finding deep quiet delight in making things happen through all the concentric circles of WorldSpace. They never see how it happens exactly but trust from effects that it does. Their ultimate satisfaction is delayed seemingly forever, although there are rumors that one day everything will be made explicit. Meanwhile they fly by night, luxuriating in thermals.
But that’s an abstraction. Anyway, who has a clue? Certainly not those who think they do, and not Gibby McDivitt, that’s for sure. Gibby is more principle now than person – the world has turned him into a projection of their collective selves. The real Gibby is busy again, busier than ever. Just when he thought his career had peaked it was transformed. When he thought he had experienced everything, everything disappeared and a new board was set up for the next game.
Of course most of us can’t see that. All we see is that old photo of Gibby, his cracked butt and back and broad shoulders in a chrome-and-leather-flecked chair, his head thrust forward at an angle toward a wall of knowledge where a bright fog unceasingly coalesces and dissolves, looking now like naked women and men playing some kind of game, now like a mist after a brief shower illumined by the sudden sun.
Does Gibby know who dreamed it first? Or which one is dreaming? Knowledge or the molecules of knowledge?
The only one who can say is Gibby himself, whoever he is, wherever he is, and the only certain thing in the whole wide world is that Gibby McDivitt will never tell.