The journey of a thousand miles begins with 3103 steps.

by 10:32 PM 0 comments

Here is the first chapter of my new novel "pre://d.o.mai.n/theSagaof/MilesTorvalds"

I decided to post it here to give everyone a taste of what I'm doing, and to get everyones impressions. 

If you like it, please let me know.  

If you think it has problems, I would like to know what they are as well. 

Thanks in advance for any comments! 

CG 

pre://d.o.mai.n/theSagaof/MilesTorvalds

Chapter 1

By: Christopher Godsoe 

1.
Miles Torvalds unfurled the 3'x2' roll of fabric and looped each corner over the spindly stainless steel frame. A single connection later and the fabric burst alive with color and movement.

The loading animation meandered across the screen as he clipped the image sensor to the well worn contact patch at the top center of the monitor. It took several attempts to seat the camera properly so that it would solidly illuminate the power led, but Miles had been through the process hundreds of times and eventually made the connection.

He wondered if the genius that dreamed up the flexible display had realized the paradox of making something more portable only to be confronted with the monumental pain in the ass of assembly later. He had to believe that a few extra days at the design table would have likely devised a more reliable solution.

Of course, if he hadn't pressed the unit well past it's recommended service life it may not have been an issue, but such was the case when you were financially drawn as he and his family were.

The load screen disappeared, replaced by a solitary cube rotating slowly in the center of the screen. In the background, the morning dawn was breaking over the crest of a hill. The hill was actually a physical location, located approximately 3 miles from his present position. He loved the view there, and apparently he was not alone as someone had setup a wireless broadcast camera there years ago and still currently made sure it was operational.

His last visit to the clearing with the exceptional view of the mountains was when he had noticed it; the innocuous black box mounted firmly to a branch opposite the sunrise. It had taken him only three hours to locate the feed and gain access. The security was rudimentary, most likely the out of the box security enabled in hardware on the unit itself. It was a token gesture that Miles assumed meant that the proprietor of the camera with access to his daily moment of zen was not overly worried about others partaking as well.

Six months later, after a bad fight with his then girlfriend, he felt the almost overpowering need to sit and lose himself in the almost endless perspective at the clearing. At the time of course it felt like the end of the world, but as he neared his 19th birthday he had gained the necessary distance from his childhood to realize that such things are not the end of the world.

Now he longed for that naïve sorrow, that weight on his chest. He knew on some level that it would go away at some point. That knowledge that while difficult to bear, the pain was acute and he would, as his father was known to say, "live and learn".

He had taken solace in that vista then, and as his life began to unravel he continued to return there, if only by proxy.

Now, as everything felt as though it were in free-fall, he left it on almost constantly. Like any drug, the images had begun to lose their effectiveness over time with use.

He raised his hands, palms facing the screen and paused until the cube twitched slightly. He then rotated his left hand slightly and the cube responded in kind, rotating and displaying a grid of nine icons along its face.

Were this 2010 instead of 2025, the object would be instantly recognizable as a Rubik's cube, with each of the individual faces emblazoned with a application shortcut.

Miles extended his right index finger slightly and selected his mail client. The program filled the screen, already having pulled the most recent batch of rejection letters from hospitals.

He had been expanding his search further and further away from their home, knowing that soon he would pass the threshold where it wouldn't be useful to search any further.
As it was, the list of hospitals that specialized in the form of aggressive gene therapy his mother needed was small. The list of hospitals that still accepted research cases that the hospital would themselves fund reduced the list to a select few.

On the plus side, it was a list that he could manage to contact by hand, giving each request the sincerity it deserved. On the flip side, it meant that the list of possible saviors for his dying mother was frighteningly small, and shrinking exponentially by the day as he became more and more frantic in his search.

He had sent the requests without his mothers or fathers knowledge. They were proud, both of them, but he was not. He would beg until the end of the earth before he accepted defeat.

Secretly, he resented them for what he saw as, "giving up".

He clasped his hands angrily together and the mail program crumpled like a sheet of paper and disappeared.

He angrily spun his left hand and the cube blurred into a diamond shaped top as a simulated physical inertia carried it around.

He settled into thought, glancing around the cube at the scenic view it partially obscured.

He decided to voyage to the real location in the near future. Why this view captivated him so much he couldn't say. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that over the years the view had come to embody freedom in his mind at a time when all he saw told him freedom was an illusion.

His mother was a prisoner of her bed, her illness, and their house.

His father was a prisoner of his mother, although it was the last thing she would have wanted.

He was a prisoner of his love for them, which would not allow him to leave and pursue his new life when his mother had such little time left.

They were all a prisoner of the endless system of insurance, government, and selectively imposed legality that had denied his mother coverage when they had dutifully paid their premiums for close to three decades.

Miles hated that feeling, that he had no control over his life, that someone else was pulling his strings, that he and his family were not free to live the lives meant for them.

So, in a nutshell, the mountain range partially occluded by atmospheric haze in the distance, the green grass and reflective water embodied the limitless optimism that he had possessed as a child.

Somewhere, along the meandering path of his childhood he had lost that innocence, that belief that all things were possible, and like most of the world, he would spend the rest of his life trying to close the curtain on reality and recapture that feeling.

The mountain range, that clearing, was his last little piece of that.

Miles caught the slowly decelerating cube and twitched it one more quarter turn to the right, selecting his social network  "LOCALE".

A flat grid emerged from the empty plane of existence between the very real plastic surface of the display and the very filtered image of the clearing. It tilted towards him at a 45 degree angle and shapes simulating the combination of old architecture and new construction of downtown emerged from the flat plane to fill the plane.

Small three dimensional avatars populated the map in the voids representing streets, occupied benches in the parks, gazed out windows in cafes.

"LOCALE, locate Skyler for me."

The map rotated and panned, then slowly zoomed in until the bright red mop of hair could be seen, then zoomed in further until Miles could see that he was feebly pushing his breakfast around his plate while his mother continued to apply her makeup as she sat on the couch.

He took another few bites before discarding the rest. Miles remembered when the ability to follow the majority of someone's day had held a sort of voyeuristic thrill to him. 

Obviously the program was entirely opt in, and you could turn off visibility to the network as you saw fit at any time, but the majority of the time people just left it on, realizing that in a world populated with traffic camera's, "Public disturbance surveillance", and entirely too much satellite observation, not much was secret anyways.

The majority of the youthful user base of Locale saw the networks ubiquitous surveillance as a way to give the government and observing entities the virtual "finger". 

The sentiment went, "If they want to spend that much money just to see what I'm doing, I'll give that info away for free just show them that they aren't the only ones with that kind of power".

The older generations were seen as power hungry, greedy, and protectionist.
The rebellious youths fought back against this the same way that rebellious youths always have, by flouting the system and spreading their wings to see how far they can fly before running into the bars of the cage.

Miles clasped his hands again to close the program, he had seen that Skyler was already on his way to meet him at the internet café that they frequented.

He closed his hand while twisting his wrist, making the gesture  that he had recently programmed to control the shutdown procedure, that of twisting out the still beating heart of an enemy.

A little dramatic, but then again, Miles had a lot to be angry about, and a lot of hearts that he would like to rip out, if only virtually.

2.
He could hear the raspy sound from the hall as he descended the stairs.

Every morning, the same sound greeted him, slowly growing in volume from his bedroom door to the hallway.

From the door to his room, some mornings he could convince himself the sound came from the tree whose branches bathed the stained glass window on the second floor landing in a kaleidoscopic shadow three quarters of the year.

By the time he reached the end of the hallway where the stairwell ended his capacious imagination was overcome by the stark reality that his mother was dying, and there was nothing he could do about it.

He could move digital mountains, work terabytes of data the way a sculptor handles softened clay, but in the real world, he was as powerless as everyone else.

The ravages of time would take his mother soon, the doctors had all but assured he and his father of that, but at least this morning she seemed to be alert and happy to see him. He could take solace in that much, at least.

"Good Morning". He tried as always to keep his voice cordial and even. He didn't want her to feel the change in him like she had in everyone else.

She had thanked him for it before, explained how everyone else handled her with what she called "kid gloves", and that she had been happy that he had not.

He told her that she would always be his mom, no matter what the test results had to say.

He had to be the strong one.

His mothers condition had broken his father in a way it could not his mother.

He was a beaten man trying to be the rock that she needed, but in reality he was having all he could do to keep himself going.

In many ways the crushing of his fathers spirit troubled Miles more than his mothers prognosis, itself dire. He worried that when his mother died his father may not last long without her.

He could see him enter the study from the corner of his eye as he approached his mother's bed, the stainless steel and dull plastic out of place amongst the well oiled shelving and antique table lamps.

The study had been converted from the poor man's library it had been in a previous life to his mothers makeshift hospice suite, and in many ways the conversion served as a microcosm of his fathers regression from a man that had a zest for learning, with myriad projects and interests, to his mothers caretaker.

Another sad fact in an entirely depressing situation.

Many of his father's old books still populated the shelves, collecting dust. Miles knew with every part of his soul that they would likely never be opened by his father's talented hands again.

He leaned in and gave his mother a light kiss on the cheek, an arm around her that was little more than a formality. The cancer had robbed her of so much muscle and bone mass that the healthy bear hugs he used to give her could cause irreparable damage.
"You hanging out with the guys today?" She asked him, the  exertion from the question enough to cause his mother's respiratory rate to climb.

"Yes, I'll be back in time for lunch. Rest and try not to talk too much. Dad's going to start telling you what to do again as soon as I leave and you need to save your strength to argue with him".

His mother smiled but said no more, only nodded and turned her head to smile at her husband.

"Oh, she knows better than to argue with me," his father said with a smile.

His mother rolled her eyes theatrically and Miles smiled back at her as he turned and left.
Once he was out of eyesight, his pace quickened.

He pushed through the front door and out onto the street, the first few steps somewhere between a dash and a sprint.

After a moment, he could feel the ethereal tether pulling at him from his mothers bed losing its grip, and he slowed to a more casual walk.

A few more corners, an unmarked side street and he reached the coffee shop where he and his friends hung out. More commonly, it was referred to as an internet café, but as he and his friends carried more mobile processing hardware in their pockets and backpacks than the café could boast in its entire commercial life span, they rarely made use of those services.

The din of clacking keys, clicking mice and techno music did remind them of their childhood, or the abbreviated few years of awkward adjustment that served as one anyways.

They could feel at home here. Too young to drink, the seedy little internet Café served the purpose of the local bar where everyone knows your name, but no one judges you. It was a place to belong for a generation that didn't want to belong to anyone or anything.

Miles noticed the familiar red mop of his cousin Skyler's hair and gave it a shake as he curled around and slid into the opposite side of the booth.

"Hey, how's it going?" Skyler's predictable greeting.

Innocuous enough, but Miles knew what he really was asking was, "Hey, how's your mom doing? How's your father holding up? We worry about you."

Miles gave his standard response, "Same old, same old."

Which was of course code for, "Things still suck, they're just taking their time progressing. I see her every day so I can't really tell how much worse she is getting over time."

Skyler opened his pack and handed Miles a box wrapped in packing paper.

The little box broke through Miles melancholy demeanor immediately.

He looked up at his cousin with an expression of amazed delight.

"Dude, your sideARM came in?"

Skyler smiled crookedly. They both knew what the box contained, a state of the art mobile computer that the hacker community had come to refer to as a "sideARM" in deference to the handguns used by police officers while referencing the processor architecture that it employed.

In many ways, the mobile computing devices served much the same purpose. As the government and law enforcement became more corrupt, the hacker community had begun to assume more and more of the "Robin Hood" role. They attempted to right as many wrongs as possible, while at the same time attempting to cover their tracks well enough to elude the cyber crime division and live to fight another day.

Skyler's parents, Miles fathers brother and wife, were wealthy. They had none of the struggles that Miles' parents did in trying to assume his mothers expenses while trying to keep the mortgage paid.

Skyler had asked multiple times for Miles blessing to ask his parents to help, but Miles father forbid it.

The one time Miles went around his father's back and mentioned it to his mother, she explained to him that it was not his father's decision to not accept the help, it was hers.
The offer of financial help from his Aunt and Uncle had made Miles' parents uncomfortable around their own family, and after a few quiet visits they stopped visiting, requiring Skyler to ask the same questions every time he spoke with Miles and hoping for different answers. It was also the reason why he felt the need to hide his meeting with Skyler from his parents to avoid exacerbating their shame.

Her body may have been failing, but her mind was still sharp as ever. A lifelong accountant, she knew the expenses that her husband was struggling with, and knew that when she was gone the debts would still need to be satisfied from somewhere.

When a treatment became available that could possibly cure her at considerable expense, Miles father had spent weeks trying to find a way to pay for it. He explored all possibilities, from selling the house to taking out loans with near larcenous interest, all of which were vetoed by his mother.

His father had argued with her for hours when she finally gave him her decision. His father had admitted to him later that he would continue to find a way to get the money.

Miles had a similar plan, but the odd programming jobs he had taken, data retrieval, etc, had only yielded enough money to help with monthly expenses. Miles had written a subroutine and snuck it onto the family mainframe that would misrepresent financial transactions from the hospital, making them less than expected by the amounts he deposited, in effect laundering his contributions in a way that would not allow his family to know how much he was helping.

"That's not mine." His cousin smiled at him deviously.

Miles didn't understand initially, but caught up quickly.

"No…..you didn't."

Skyler's smile spread into a wide grin."Damn right I did."

Miles leaned over the counter and gave his cousin a one-armed hug. "I can't pay you back for this."

Skyler's jovial expression hardened, became determined, resigned.

"You're going to need it."

Chris Godsoe

Developer

Christopher Godsoe is a science fiction author in Central Maine. A single father, he spends his time enjoying video games with his son, cooking, and is an unrepentant film buff.