Friday, November 06, 2015

Day 6 - Social Disease

The dinner was fabulous; a dressed lobster with a sirloin steak and a collection of roasted vegetables arranged aesthetically in a series of small china dishes, a glass of champagne, and the company of one of the most beautiful up and coming actresses in the world. And he was, of course, livestreaming the whole night to his millions of followers so that they could enjoy an escape from their own far less exciting existences and understand how wonderful it was to be Jack Diamante.

His companion device whispered into his ear that his ratings were soaring; tonight was earning him more kudos points on the world ratings than he’d earned in the last week, and he was glad he’d let his previous companion device talk him into getting an upgraded model. Replete with near human-level AI and an array of sensors, it was already making better decisions for him than any of his previous companions. Leila, the actress, was talking away about something she thought was insightful but he didn’t bother listening, he had his companion for that.

Lean forward, flashed a message on his retinal implant and he did so, just in time to appear captivated by the actresses’ conversation. Now, say “let’s hope the legislation arrives soon, God knows we need it.”

“Let’s hope the legislation arrives soon,” said Jack, his voice smooth and deep, “God knows we need it.”

The actress smiled broadly, likely on command of her own companion device, and then turned her face away coyly for effect.

His ratings spiked that little higher, and the phrase ‘Erudite Jack’ was apparently now trending thanks to his companion device having initiated it through a series of proxy accounts a few minutes earlier.

The remainder of the evening went just as smoothly; more conversation and a little idle flirtation that was served up equally efficiently by his companion device. His model was clearly several iterations ahead of the actress’ device and so it was mere child’s play to stay one step ahead of her; by the end of the evening her device was likely convinced that he was totally besotted by her. Her attraction indicators were, his companion assured, at their highest point of the night.

The waiters cleared the dishes away and the manager came over to thank Jack for having made the decision to grace their restaurant with his presence, not mentioning the huge sum the restaurant chain had moved into his account three days ago to ensure exactly that. It was, after all, well known that having Jack Diamante frequent your establishment was a guarantee of a wave of new customers. His companion device tracked the correlations and adjusted his appearance fees accordingly.

They exited the restaurant together and into a sea of holo-drones and even the occasional reporter, hoping to stream a reaction shot or two. He let them get the first wave of shots before his companion device gave the command to activate a swarm of mirrored drones that ensured there would be no more photos. Images of Jack Diamante were a valuable commodity due to their scarcity and it was important to keep it that way.

He was three or four steps from the onyx limousine that waited for them at the kerb when he caught sight of a man in ragged clothes pushing his way through the crowd of drones. His companion device was already scanning him, running facial recognition against the FB database, but it came up completely blank. They weren’t in the system; which didn’t make any sense.

His companion device was already flagging emergency protocols and his two steroid enhanced bodyguards were already unfolding themselves from the back of the limousine, when the man reached him and clutched him tightly around the arm.

“You’re a symptom of this sickness,” slurred the man, his face contorted and his eyes bulging, “consider this a present from Captain Ludd.”

And then his bodyguards were on the man, grabbing him by both arms and flinging him away like a ragdoll. He didn’t bother to look and see what happened next; it wasn’t the kind of entertainment his followers were interested in seeing. The followers of the bodyguards, on the other hand, were just about to get the kind of livestream experience they lived for. He dusted his suit with one hand while the companion device released a mild sedative into his bloodstream to ensure he remained calm. Jack Diamante had to remain cool at all times.

He slipped into the limousine, closely followed by the actress whose name he neither knew nor cared. They’d take a ride, make out some, and then head back to his place for a livestream available only to his premium followers…


Jack awoke with a headache, which was very strange because his companion device usually managed his blood chemistry to ensure he didn’t get a hangover. He frowned, and winced, and then realised that he’d not been woken by the companion device; he woken up by himself.

He sat up quickly, he never woke up by himself. Something was very wrong.

“Analysis,” he said out loud to trigger the companion device’s self-diagnostic protocols.


“Analysis,” he repeated, louder this time. But there was no reply and he felt his heart racing away in his chest; his companion device wasn’t working. The device normally managed his anxiety and he wasn’t used to his body responding like this unchecked; he felt clammy and was finding it hard to breathe.

His retina implant stayed completely dead and he realised that there was no red circle in the upper right corner; he wasn’t even livestreaming. He’d never paused the stream in the last four years; oh God he was going to be losing so many followers, so many ranking points.

“Think, think,” he said to himself, trying to remember what he was meant to do in the event of a companion device failure. With their advanced regeneration and healing systems, the failure rate was less than one in two billion hours but there still were ways to cope if the unthinkable should happen. He remembered something about a button in the kitchen, a red button.

The intercom button in the kitchen! Yes, that was it – he could connect with the depot and they would drone-ship him a new one in minutes. Now he just had to work out how to get from his bedroom to the kitchen. Companion devices dealt with all the unnecessary thinking such as moving around and, without its prompts, he realised that he didn’t actually know the layout of his own apartment.

He stepped out of the bedroom door and tried to remember if it was left or right, deciding to go with left and then feeling a brief burst of joy as he emerged into the living room. He remembered sometimes being in the living room and then shortly afterwards being in the kitchen; he was definitely getting nearer. And then there it was; the kitchen; and on the far wall the intercom button. He smiled, his awful day was about to get much better. He pressed the button.

“Hello, this is the home service, how can we help?”

“Hi,” said Jack, “my companion device isn’t working, you need to send me another one.”

“Voice print analysis underway. File not found. Request denied.”

The intercom went dead. He immediately pressed it again.

“Hello, this is the home service, how can we help?”

“This is Jack Diamante,” said Jack, “check my ratings and you’ll see I am one of the top 10k – do you know what my followers are going to do when they hear about this? Do you know what is going to happen to your stock price?”

“Voice print analysis provides no matches. Smart Web search reveals no references for Jack Diamante. Request denied.”

Jack stared speechless at the intercom system. What the hell was going on? He needed to find someone to help him, but if the intercom wasn’t working then that meant he had to. He hesitated at the thought but it was no good. He had to go outside.

He made his way carefully back to the bedroom, briefly taking a wrong turn before arriving back at his bed. Without his companion device to help him he wasn’t sure what to wear. Then he realised that without his companion device, he didn’t even know where the wardrobe was, so he simply picked up the clothes he had worn the night before from off the floor.

Twenty minutes later, he was still looking for his shoes when the door to his bedroom burst open and three uniformed security guards armed with neuro-blasters piled into the room.

“Get down on your knees and put your hands on your head,” shouted the biggest of the three.

“Wait,” said Jack, “It’s me! Jack Diamante! I’ve been living here for three years…”

The big guard turned to look at his companions, “You remember any of the people who live here?”

“Course not,” said the one on the left. “Got a device for that.”

“I’m not getting any matches on him at all,” said the third, “so he can’t live here.”

“This is all wrong,” said Jack, “My companion device…”

He never got to finish his sentence because the big security guard fired his neuro-blaster and scrambled his nervous system. If he’d been conscious at this moment, Jack might have noticed himself flopping around the apartment like a fish. Although, without his companion device he probably wouldn’t have remembered the word. He’d also have seen the second guard shoot him a second time while he was flopping, just to be on the safe side.


Jack came to on the sidewalk with his face pressed up against the paving stones. He groaned loudly; everything hurt. This was a new sensation, normally his companion device made sure he was never in discomfort. As it was, it felt like someone had put his insides in a blender. He tried to get up, pushing against the floor, and achieved about the same success as trying to push over a mountain; nothing moved and all he managed to do was make himself throw up.

“Feelin’ like crap?” said a rough voice from somewhere nearby and Jack rolled over to look up into the sky, where a silhouette loomed over him.

“Who are you?” said Jack through gritted teeth.

“I am the man who knows what you’re going through.”

“How can you possibly know what I’m going through?” grunted Jack. “I’m a 10K and I’ve just lost my companion device, I’ve just lost my rating. Can you even imagine what that’s like?”

The man laughed.

“You think that’s funny?” asked Jack, managing to prop himself up onto one elbow and take a better look at the man. He was old with long grey hair that hung down almost to his shoulders.

“Yeah, I think that’s funny,” said the man dryly, “You see there was a time when I was 1K, three whole months when I was in the top 10 and two hours, one Tuesday afternoon in October, where I held the Platinum position, where I was at the very top of the tree.”

Jack looked at him, with his mouth opening and closing like one of those things whose name he couldn’t remember.

“But,” spluttered Jack, “But, that’s not possible. I’d recognise you.”

“Really?” said the man, “Well, how about you tell me anyone who’s in the top 10 right now?”

“Well, that’s easy,” said Jack and then realised that he was looking to the upper right of his retinal implant for the answer. The implant stayed resolutely dead. He tried to remember who was in the top 10; he watched their streams all the time, but couldn’t remember any of them. It was just a vague blur in the back of his head.

“You see what I mean,” said the man, “Using the companion devices all these years has given us brains like porridge and a memory a goldfish would be embarrassed by.”

Jack pretended to know what porridge and goldfish were, and just nodded.

“So, like I said, I’m the man who knows what you’re going through.”

“How did this happen?

“We chose you,” said the man, “our analysis told us that, beneath that veneer of idiocy, there’s actually some decent material under all there.”

“Wait, are you telling me you did this?”

“Damn right,” said the man, “One of our operatives hit you with the Captain Ludd virus last night; it obliterates the defences of the companion device and then slaves it to start a data deletion cascade throughout all systems. Eight hours after it hits, you’re no longer in the system.”

Jack blinked. He understood very little of what the man had just said.

“Wait, are you telling me you did this?”

“It’s going to take a little time, but you’ll understand eventually,” said the man, “we’re just trying to free humanity from slavery. We’ve become zombies that follow the blood trail of capitalism and celebrity. So, yes Jack, we did this to you.”

Jack wasn’t sure what to feel. Normally, in situations like this, the companion device would have given him detailed instructions on the type of emotional response that was appropriate but, without guidance, he just felt a tightness in his chest and a pounding of blood in his temples.

“You’re getting a little angry,” smiled the man, “That’s good. That’s natural. It’s the first baby step.”

“But why do this?” said Jack, involuntarily clenching his fists. “Why ruin my life?”

“Because humanity deserves better than this. We’ve let ourselves become neutered and tamed; we spend our lives gorging on the banality of other people’s lives and neglect our own development. If we don’t stop this now, we’ll be extinct in three generations time. We’re going to take back our humanity a little at a time.”

“I don’t understand,” shouted Jack.

“Don’t worry,” said the man, “You’ll understand everything soon enough. Now, let’s get going. We don’t have much time.”

Jack clambered gingerly to his feet and stared hard at the man.

“And what if I say that I’m not going anywhere with you?”

The man laughed, lazily reaching into his pocket and removing a neuro-blaster and, before Jack had a chance to say anything, the man had fired it at him. Jack flopped around on the paving stones and the man reached down and grabbed hold of his jacket, dragging him backwards along the ground to where a van was waiting.

“I never said you had a choice…”


It took three months for Jack to adjust; three months to re-programme his brain so that he was capable of more than the mundane and trivial. He still sometimes forgot words, and his sense of direction was never going to match that of a companion device, but he did everything himself and he’d discovered he had a considerable talent for mathematical equations. He’d lived off the grid with The Group, and he’d learned about the Captain Ludd virus and how humanity had become like sheep. And tonight was his chance to take things a step further because they’d managed to refine Captain Ludd.

The version of Captain Ludd that he’d been hit by had worked effectively, cutting his ties to all records and removing him from the system, but it was a time consuming process to take people one at a time and every time ran the risk of the operation being compromised. It had been Jack’s hidden mathematical skills that had been the deciding factor in improving Captain Ludd; he’d worked out how to replicate. Tonight was going to be the start of something big.

He waded through the cloud of holo-drones and grabbed hold of the arm of Erin Unique. She looked at him confused, her companion device trying and failing to recognise him, and he smiled back at her.

“I have a present for you from Captain Ludd,” said Jack with a grin, holding onto her tight while the nanobots did their job, “A social disease…”

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