James P. Patterson. More than a centenarian.
He was turning a hundred and thirty this year; a man extraordinary in more than a single way. Not only because of the enhancements - that he was a walking connection to the internet, operating without thinking. Or the compound implants running across his wet ware; the projection lenses; or the enhanced metabolism swarm of nanoids; or the repaired DNA strands... Under all that there was perseverance. It was a trait that had served the gang well.
Gregory was the eldest. He had picked them one by one from the mouldy basin the Silicon Valley was slowly turning into. Vision, energy and drive had been with Greg but to turn everything in his direction he needed more than selected geniuses.
Twenty young brilliant and educated men enrolled willingly in an experiment to further the scientific development that was necessary in neurology. They implanted brain interfaces inside their cortices, linking various portions of their neural networks across space. Connected to a central transliterating hub the impulses were travelling via a Wi-Fi signal. In that distant and hard beginning it was just impressions and sensations from a subject's everyday life. In turn it had helped to ease their studies, as even the sensation of satisfaction experienced by one was spread across the group. Not hive mind but 'stygmergia' to be precise. The young men were taking turns at the thing called 'living', while investing impossible amounts of hours working. Sex, drugs, alcohol, spending money and living of the resources provided by twenty ingenious hard workers - that alone kept somebody going on for sixteen a day without even lifting himself from the chair. It got better. A small obscure firm, providing excellent consultation on crucial points for newly spawned companies was formed on the market.
Meanwhile the technology was advancing. Pushes in fMRI and EEG techniques made it possible to translate words into neural pulses. They were becoming capable of intertwining greater and greater amount of information back and forth. Past the sensation of joy and relief, pictorial information, hard science reports and numbers were flying the web, picked up instantly by the team. Inquiries from the public soon followed and at the peak of the experiment they went independent. With the ability to learn, share, ask and receive from the encyclopaedia that the gang had become, they chose to distort the experiment. To the outside it seemed they had just settled at the emotional dispensation of feelings. With so much potential for computation, however, backed by technological skill, the gang adopted the technology for themselves and did not stop where the reports claimed it all ended. While Patterson has doctorates in some of the disciplines he is proclaimed expert at, most of the ones hung on his wall officially belong to his fellows from the group. Between themselves they know they could get all those degrees, but that would amount to too much suspicion and attention, so they shared them as a token of appreciation and acknowledgement instead.
E-mails, messages, hijacks of company post-it text walls started bullying targeted high-standing corporate officials. One by one they had identities being tweaked as well; small alterations here and there. Until frame, corporate deceit, bank forgery, tax inaccuracies, bribing proposals to government officials started springing up. And the Meta data was going in circles with tracks leading to an empty field in Kamchatka; concrete permafrost in Alaska or a lonely piece of land in the middle of the Pacific. Public opinion does not wait for the investigation to conclude and corporate interests need to be played out. As soon as somebody ended up with a crippled leg the protocol was clear: ‘Quit here for the sake of old times. Continue and I will join the wave against you. Part of the game.’
It was the big that benefited first, but some of the assets were economical time bombs, ticking as they were assimilated. In the following shock waves more conglomerates were segmented and the world of stocks became a sea of shifting powers. During the unbelievable fall of some of the largest, the small were picking up the pieces. A cheap patent here, a functionary gone bankrupt there. There were too many new and small players to keep track of at the same time. And the obscure consultancy agency had its share of the pie as well. A carefully selected delicacy of experts, technology and equipment that would just be swallowed and/or misused by this or that Asian company.
Most of the gang were unemployed on paper to reduce attention. The 'Emotional Brothers' were of no interest to R&D any more. The idyllic reports of shared good mood had stepped away to the trot of advancing science, churning papers on 'Wide Brain Interface'; healing cripples and connecting families across the world... so nice. But the gang were already the most advanced. Slowly some of them started acquiring assets and emerging with companies of their own. The brotherly attachment between them always came to the fore when observed by the adepts of the market. They had already been deemed relics of the past. But with an ever growing knowledge and super collective human brain it was only natural to continue developing. And so the relics outlived their time and plunged themselves into the future.
The way things look on the outside mattered to James. He had the feeling that the people around the giant tree at the edge of town would help him. After all they were organically savvied scientists, part of an institute knowledgeable about biology. He was remembering a tobacco brand with the catchy name of Oriental Premier. It was probably long gone from the market by now. It had been a unique sensation that he sometimes contributed to the gang - smoking a thin handmade cigarette, made after a long day of work. A ritual in the absence of all company, allowing the mind to quietly roam for a bit; a moment of utter freedom.
In the meantime he was walking the vast boulevards and streets of Metropolis in a pleasant surrender, trying foods that were unique for the day and probably wouldn't be produced ever again. A design of art, playing the tunes "A/T, C/G" anyway the artist saw fit. Still, the timer set on the slate was ticking. The simulations he had run earlier had given him the hours he could spend outside, so he could indulge a bit longer.
The various shapes, sizes and tastes were synchronous with the colourful hedonistic crowd and consistent with the sea of creativity and cultural diversity. It was a place where you could be a nomad; spend a year living on the heated streets and seek nothing else but intensity in discovery and depth of sensation. There was the deep immersion Zoo, where you could be the tiger or the antelope; the brain interface virtual games of fast paced action in a chosen setting; the history and food of an entire culture coming alive in the museums; emotions of a classical scientist living in memory banks, giving the emotions of their discoveries over and over again; virtual reality tele-operated robots in outer space; designer drugs; memory uploads; sex. Neural tweaking of the body to see the world through a different perspective. So much variation and so little time to try it all. And whenever practicality emerged from the phantasmagoria it was cultivated and sold to the wider market instantly, reinforcing the presence of the artists and strengthening the economy of Metropolis.
James spend good ten hours scampering the alleys, zigzagging between the sweet spots, slowly advancing in the initial direction. That would not have taken him far away, though. So when Phan finally found him, he was looking for a cab.
Phan's image came in full height - real time stream, with his surroundings filly visible. James lowered the intensity of the connection and reduced the projection to just that of Phan, now semi-transparent to allow him to see better his immediate surroundings.
'Are you going invisible again?' He asked him, a distinct Asian accent in his voice. 'I've been looking for you and you're not answering the calls!'
'Yea, sorry 'bout that!' James beamed. 'I'm spending' some time by myself these days, dog! How are you doing, you fag?!'
'I am good as always, bitch!' Phan nodded energetically, laughing. 'I am wondering if you're going to disconnect entirely, though. Absent for two sessions; we’re missing what you had to give.' The boyish round face settled on a serious expression; eyebrows raising, head inclining as if to scowl him.
'Yes, Phan, yes... I am. I will make it official sometime in the future. Maybe next session? I know, you've been everything to me. My brothers... But we were not created linked. At least I feel as much as an individual as a part of the group. Integrated,' he waved at a hover cab. 'But still far too ingrained in my own small world of thoughts. Very self-centred, I realise!' He got in the cab, gesturing the driver to wait. ' It’ll costs extra, sir.' He put it bluntly.
James nodded in acknowledgement, listening to Phan.
'So… Like. You... I guess. Since the old times you always gave something the rest of us could never come up with individually. You're a really egotistic bastard, you know that?!' Phan grinned without a trace of malice in his voice. 'Still... good to have known you.'
'You too! Listen, I know it's all too sudden, but I am sure you guys will do the same in due time. You cannot just stand there like pins in wood not nailed deep enough. One day the hammer will strike and you too will have to go under. Bite the tree from the roots, if you know what I mean. I've also disengaged all nanoids inside me as well.'
Phan stood still, hands on his waist in a thoughtful moment.
'Are you excreting them quite fast?'
'It will take some time to flush them out completely by sheer metabolism but a lot of them are gone already. No more gerontology for me.'
'You have to at least have a drink with us sometimes. With me, at least!'
'Sure. Of course!' James giggled. 'But I want you to know that what I have chosen is what really makes me happy.'
'I hear you. And prepare a speech while you're at it. We will love it. I am sure.'
'Yeah...' He said, detached.
'You got my message, right?'
'Yes. And I am with you on that one. Thing is I haven't thought about how you're going to do it. I mean take the whole world the way it is... still, I love the idea!'
'Every beginning is hard and ideology shifts with time. Sometimes belief is more obscure, sometimes it is very blunt and outright propagated. But the medium for interaction has always been the mind. Collectively we have complicated things in the last two millennia and I think it is time to focus on what is really essential.'
'Well, look at that!' James laughed sincerely. 'I see you've gone a full circle.'
'Is that how you see it?'
'Yes. A full circle, friend. From the hacking, usurping and sly mother fucker you used to be to the vision of what comes tomorrow. I think you are arriving at the same doorstep for the second time now, looking out there at the unknown. But this time around you have no fear.'
'And you have also gone a full circle, I take it?'
James just nodded slowly and looked at his old friend with affection.
'I will definitely see each one of you, Phan. I will be in touch, ok?'
'Looking forward to it,' Phan nodded. 'You take care, bitch!'
'And you faggot!'
Terminating the connection, James asked the cab man to head in the general direction of the tree, pointing with a finger at it.
'Can you go up?'
'No can do, sir. Air permit costs, you know. And they are pretty tight too.'
'Don't worry, I can pay.'
'Pay...? Even so, when they pull me over you'd have wasted your time anyway, man. Thanks, though.'
'Want me to work it out for you while you're driving?' James tittered.
'Hey wha-?' The driver turned around with a bemused expression.
'Yeah man, you have your slate, yes? Just send me the B-metrics encryption and I can make a transaction with your ID on it. Doesn't matter who pays, no?' James beamed like a sales person.
'You one of them wired techies, aren't you?' The man plodded. 'Al right whiz-kid... let's see you work your magic then?' He added slowly.
The cab joined the busy traffic on the ground and some fifteen minutes later it hovered to the upper stream of vehicles and bots and took its place in the high speed section. With laser analysing, satellite mapping and real time updates on the road robotic vehicles were just as good if not better. But the fact that somebody was conversing with you while giving you a lift was irreplaceable.
The cab stopped at its destination in the plaza after descending from the air traffic.
'Much appreciated, man!' The cab man was energetically shaking his hand. 'It's on the house, you don't have to pay.'
'Yeah? Thanks! You take care, bud.'
James waved after him and turned around to take in the grandeur of the 'tree'. The city plaza was a terrace elevated above the shore of the sea. Stairs were leading down to the wide open beach, in the middle of which grew the morphogenetic titan of a plant. Thick vines were intertwining into one giant stem, which was towering some two hundred metres above. It was heavily branched with trailing offshoots that were forming the somewhat round corona of the tree. Huge opaque fruits resembling pears were growing upwards from the branches. He could see people walking in and out of the apparently hollow fruits, strolling on the wide stems. Surrounding the main trunk were numerous elevator glass tubes.
Walking down the stairs he was stepping over small inspection bots, looking like slinkies; moving graciously with a slow stretch-shrink arching motion. There were quite a few around in the sand as well. Looking for somebody to talk to, he was browsing information on the web about the tree. Biology Institute Faculty. Theory of Biochemistry, Biophysics, various disciplines in Genetics, Histology and an interesting field studying the human super organism not as a collective phenomenon but as an individual whole - Homogeno Physiology.
He approached a man who was kneeling next to one of the bots, scanning with it with his slate, finger following details on the text flowing on the screen.
James maintained a respectful distance from the researcher - a young man in his twenties.
'I am not interrupting anything, am I?' He said when he met the man's gaze.
'No, I was just finishing. You here for the tour or?' He stood up.
'Hi. The name's Patterson. James Patterson.' He stretched his hand for a handshake.
He winced when James gave him a squeeze.
'Oh wow. I like the handshake.' He said approvingly.
James gestured at the small slinky drones, 'Doing maintenance?'
'Naah. Just collecting data for the new world. The terraforming project, you know? They need all the theoretical protocols we can come up with. I am going to construct some models after I am done here.'
They chatted about the work of young Michael and James slipped in some inquiries about sustainably developed organics with as little mesh from science or synthetics. Michael said they definitely funded such projects and proposed they should check the library, which was not exactly open sourced but accessible if you had endorsement from a member of the institute.
'Is there something specific you're looking for?'
'Tobacco. As close to the original as possible,' James smiled, shuffling legs skittishly.
'I wonder what you mean by original,' Michael replied with a grin.
James could probably just browse and order the thing; get it delivered through a hover bot almost instantly, but it has been a long while since he had done outreach in the physical sense of the world. It felt so new and oddly, strange but fulfilling as well.
'There are farmers, who are into it, yes,' Michael was summarising, going through some abstracts. 'Old style crop growth, apart from the entire regular meta gene crosses breeding. Small and affluent audience as clients; special requests about fruits, veg and whatnot. No surplus, low yields. Interesting... do you want to hear what they use for fertiliser?'
They ended up having a laugh about it.
James took the details and left the institute unexplored. It was getting dark and in his head some twenty hours have passed on the dial; he wanted to be home before the time has elapsed. He bid Michael goodbye, who was a bit disappointed by now with James leaving without even checking out the inside of some of the fruits.
The farm he chose was not far away. Judging from the photos it was situated on top of a short block of flats, some thirty floors; the greenery of the farm carpeted the elevated open space.
A man by the name of Ganesh Dhagat had politely answered his message and agreed to welcome him even in the budding darkness of the evening.
Dark-skinned, short and with blood-shot eyes Ganesh was already standing near the landing pad on the side of the building when James was dropped off by the hover vehicle. Tall grass was surrounding the edge of the wide roof, waving in the breeze; red tomato fruits were heavy on vines supported by thin wooden stakes. A single apple tree in one corner, still not ripe enough; A cherry and a pear for each of the other two; herbs were making their way in another rectangular patch of land next to the tomatoes. There were other unfamiliar plants in different shades of green.
'They only give fruit once a year,' Ganesh proudly opened; his English heavily accented. 'These are grown the way my fore bearers would have a thousand years ago. I am glad you've come to share my passion. Welcome!'
'A thousand years ago tomatoes were not present in India, were they?' James gleamed, laughing. There was no India to speak of today, though.
'I see you are very knowledgeable about the world, Mister...?'
'Patterson. James Patterson. My pleasure, Sir! Please, James will do.'
'Ah, such courtesy!' Ganesh exclaimed with a loud voice, smiling widely.
An energetic conversation about the farm ensued - a small business on the side that Ganesh was running as a hobby. Apart from all the modifications and designer processing, the traditional superannuated farming was somehow fashionable among people who could afford extravagance. As they talked on Ganesh's loud voice trumped over the urban background; he was quite ecstatic when he was explaining the history of some of the plants. The way they would be grown originally; where the seeds had come from. He himself looked like a relic from a long-forgotten past; still upholding his Hindu tradition, but despite, prospering. Even with the latest fads in business.
Ganesh prepared tea, picked from the garden; carefully selected leaves from an unknown to James plant. They sat and chatted on, the initial excitement reduced, while Ganesh was slowly shredding wide tobacco leaves, left hanged in a cabin - the only construction on top of the roof. The rhythmic almost ritualistic moves of the cleaver against the wooden board had a calming effect on James and he found the crawling darkness of the evening soothing.
'You do really have a beautiful place here,' James uttered. He was looking at the dark shapes of the city; at the giant spires rising from the plateau of concrete. The traffic had not receded at the slightest and a familiar buzz was omnipresent; somehow distant, though; detached. The soft breeze from the sea had a chance to penetrate this far away and he could feel the fresh draft and distinct smell of the saline. There was an unobstructed view of the orange sunset between two beaming spires. 'A really unique place,' he concluded, thoughtfully.
Without answering Ganesh just offered him a thin cigar, wrapped using the same leaves he had stuffed it with. Both of them indulged, breathing in the thick and tasty smoke.
Sat in silence they watched the last of the orange rays of the sun as it descended. The flavour was rich, somehow sweet and James' head began to swim a little in a pleasant release and intoxication. He stretched his legs and moved cosily in the chair, relaxing his entire body. Overhead the stars were beginning to twinkle.