Distraction--excerpt

Distraction--excerpt - scar peeled a strip of tape from a...

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Unformatted text preview: scar peeled a strip of tape from a yellow spool and wrapped the tape around a cinder block. He swept ,. 'h a hand—scanner over the block, activating the tape. It was close to one in the morning. The wind out of the tall black pines was damp and nasty, but he was working hard and the weather felt bleakly appropriate. “I’m a cornerstone,” the cinder block announced. “Good for you,” Oscar grunted. “I’m a cornerstone. Carry me five steps to your left.” Oscar ignored this demand, and swiftly taped six more blocks. He whipped the scanner across each of them, then pulled the last block aside to get at the next level in the stack. I ' _ As he set his gloved hands to it, the lastblock warned him, “Don’t install me yet. Install that cornerstone first.” ‘ “Sure,” Oscar told it. The construction system was ' smart enough to manage a limited and specific vocabulary. Unfortunately, the system simply didn't hear very well. The tiny microphones embedded in the talking tape were much less effective than the tape’s thumbnail-sized speak— ers. Still, it was hard not to reply to a concrete block when it spoke up withflsuch grace and authority. The concrete blocks all sounded like Franklin Roosevelt. Bambakias had created. this construction system. Like all of the architect’s brainchildren, his system was very functional, yet rife with idiosyncratic grace—notes. Oscar had full confidence in the system, a pragmatic faith won from much hands-on experience. Oscar had 1a- bored like a mule in many Bambakias construction sites. No one ever won the trust of Alcott Bambakias, or joined his inner circle, without a great deal of merciless grunt work. Heavy labor was the heart and soul of the Bambakias intellectual salon. W. Alcott Bambakias had quite a number of unorthodox be— liefs, but chief among them was his deep conviction that sycophants and rip—off artists always tired easily. Bambakias, like many members of the modern overclass, was always ready with an openhearted ges— ture, a highly public flinging of golden ducats. His largesse naturally attracted parasites, but he rid himself of “the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots,” as he insisted on calling them, by demanding fre- quent stints of brute physical work. “It’ll be fun,” Bambakias would announce, rolling up his tailored sleeves and grinning fiercely. “We’ll get results." ' Bambakias was no day laborer. He was a wealthy sophisticate, and his wife was a noted art collector. It was for exactly those reasons that the couple took such perverse pleasure in publicly raising blisters, straining tendons, and sweating like hogs. The architect’s ruggedly .handsome face would light up with hundred—watt noblesse oblige as he chugged away in his faux bluewcollar overalls and back brace. I-Iis elegant wife took clear masochistic pleasure in hauling construction equipment, her chiseled features set with the grim commitment of a supermodel pumping iron. ' Oscar himself had grown up in Hollywood. He’d never minded _‘ the poseur elements in the Bambakias couple. The trademark hat-and— -cape ensemble, the hand—tailored couture gowns, the glam-struck Boston charity events—Oscar found this sort of thing reassuringly homey.‘ In any case, the construction system made it all worthwhile. There was no pretense to the system—no question that it worked. Any number could play. It was a system that could find a working role for anyone. It was both a network and a way of life, flowing from'its basis in digital communication and design into the rock—hard emer- gent reality of walls and floors. There was a genuine comfort in work— ing within a system like this-one, because it always kept its promises, it always brought results. _ - .56, This Texan hotel, for instance, was an entirely virtual construc— tion, ones and zeros embedded in a set of chips. And yet, the hotel direr wanted to exist. It would become very beautiful, and it was already very smart. It could sweet-talk itself into physical existence from random piles of raw material. It would be a good hotel. It would brighten the neighborhood and enhance the city. It would keep the wind and rain off. People would dwell in it. Oscar lugged the self-declared cornerstone to the corner of the southern wall. “I belong here,” the cornerstone declared. “Put mortar on me.” _ Oscar picked up a trowel. “I’m the tool for the mortar,” the little trowel squeaked cheerfully. Oscar put the trowel to use and slathered up a grainy wedge of thick gray paste. This polymer goo was not actually “mortar,” but it was just as cheap as traditional mortar, and it worked much better, so it had naturally stolen the word from the original substance. Oscar hefted the cinder block to the top of the hip—high wall. “To the right,” urged the block. “To the right, to the right, to the right. . . . To the left. . . . Move me backward. . . . Twist me, twist me, twist me. . . . Good! Now scan me.” Oscar lifted the scanner on its lanyard and played it across the block. The scanner logged and correlated the block’s exact locale, and beeped with satisfaction. 7 Oscar had been installing blocks for two solid hOurs. He had simply walked onto the site in the middle of the night, logged on, booted the system, and started off where the krewe had stopped with darkness. This particular Wall could not rise much higher. All too soon it would be time to work on the plumbing. Oscar hated the plumbing, always the most troublesome construction element. Plumbing was a Very old technology, not so plug—and—play, never so slick and easy as the flow of computation. Plumbing mistakes were permanent and ugly. When the plumbing’s time had come, the Bambakias construc— tion system would wisely balk. All higher function ceased Until people came to terms with the pipes. Oscar removed his hard hat and pressed his chilly ears with his work—gloved hands. His spine and shoulders told him that he Would regret this in the morning. At least it would be a new set of regrets. 5 f Oscar stepped under a paraboloid constructiOn light, to search for the shipping boxes full of plumbing supplies. The nearest light smartly rotated on its tall pole to follow Oscar’s footsteps. Oscar stepped up onto a monster spool of cable for an overv1ew. The cone of light rose with him and flew across the trampled winter grass. Oscar suddenly caught sight of a stranger, wrapped in a baggy jacket and a woolen hat. The stranger was lurking outs1de the plastic orange safety fence, standing on the broken sidewalk, under a pine. I Bambakias construction sites always attracted gawkers. But very few construction gawkers would lurk in cold and darkness at one in the morning. Still, even little Buna had a nightlife. Presumably the was just drunk. ' Oscar cupped his gloved hands to his mouth. “Would you like to help?” This was a standard invitation at any Bambakias site.‘ It was very much part of the game. It was surprising just how many selfless, ener— getic volunteers had been permanently lured into the Bambakias krewe through this gambit. The stranger stepped awkwardly through a gap in the orange netting, walking into Oscar’s arc—light. “Welcome to the site of our future hotel! Have you been to our site before?” I ._ Silent shake of the woolly head. Oscar climbed down from the spool. I-Ie retrieved a box of vacuum—wrapped gloves and carried it over. “Try these.” The stranger—~41 woman—pulled bare, ‘spidery hands from the pockets of her coat. Oscar, startled, looked up from her fingers to her shadowed face. “Dr. Penninger! Good morning.” “Mr. Valparaiso.” , Oscar fetched out a pair of ductile extra~large, their floppy plastic fingers studded with grip-dots. He hadn’t expected any company on the site tonight, much less a ranking member of the Collaboratory’s board. He was taken aback to encounter Greta Penninger under these circumstances, but there was no sense in hesitating now. “Please try these gloves on, Doctor. . . . You see that yellow ridge of tape across the knuckles? Those are embedded locators, so our construction sys- tem will always know the position of your hands.” ' Dr. Penninger tugged the gloves on, twisting her narrow Wl‘iStS like asurgeon washing up. Bruce Sterling “You’ll need a hard hat, a back brace, and some shoe caps. Knee guards are a good idea, too. I’ll log you into our system now, if that’s all right.” ' Searching through the krewe’s piled supplies in the gloom, Oscar dug up a spare hard hat and some velcro—strapped toe—protectors. Greta Penninger strapped on her construction gear without a word. “That’s good,” Oscar said. He handed her a pencil—shaped hand— scanner on its plastic lanyard. “Now, Doctor, let me acquaint you‘ with our design philosophy here. You see, at heart, our system’s very flexible and simple. The computer always knOWS the location of every component that’s been tagged and initialized. The system also has complete algorithms for assembling the building from simple compo~ nent parts. There are millions of possible ways of getting from start to finish, so it’s just a question of coordinating all the efforts, and always keeping track. Thanks to distributed, parallel, assembly process— ing . . .” ' “Never mind, I get all that. I was watching you.” “Oh.” Oscar jammed his spiel back into its can. He tipped up his plastic hard—hat brim and looked her over. She wasn’t kidding. “Well, you do the mortar, and I’ll carry blocks. Can you do mortar?” “I can do mortar.” Dr. Penninger began carefully lathering goo with the garrulous trowel. The components chattered on cheerfully, Dr. Penninger said nothing at all, and the pace of Oscar’s work more than doubled. Dr. Penninger was really going after it. It was the middle of the night, it was lonely, desolate, windy, and near freezing, and this scientist really meant business. She worked like a horse. Like a demon. Curiosity got the best of him. “Why did you come here at this time of night?” Dr. Penninger straightened, her trowel clutched in her dotted glove. “This is my only free time. I’m always in my lab till midnight.” “I see. Well, I really appreciate your visit. You’re a very good worker. Thanks for the help.” “You’re welcome.” She glanced at him searchingly across the airy pool of glare. It might have been a piquant glance if he had found her attractive. “You should visit us in daylight, when we have the full krewe at Work. It’s the coordination of elements, the teamwork, that’s the key to distributed instantiation. The _structure simply flies up all at I 5i once sometimes, as if it were crystallizing. That’s well worth watch- mg. She touched her gloved hand to her chin and examined the block wall. “Shouldn’t we do some plumbing now?” Oscar was surprised. “How long have you been watching me?” Her shoulders lifted briefly within the baggy jacket. “The plumbing is obvious.” Oscar realized that he had disappointed her. She had hoped that he was smarter than that. “Time for a break,” he announced. Oscar knew that he lacked the searingly high IQ of Greta Per'minger. He’d examined her career stats—of course—and Dr. Greta Penninger had always been a compul— sive, overachieving, first—in—her—class techie swot. Still, there was more than one kind of smarts in the world. He felt quite sure he could distract her if he simply kept changing the subject. He walked inside the, jagged circuit of raw cinder—block walls, where a fire burned in an old iron barrel under a spread of plastic awning. His back hurt like a toothache. He had really overdone it. “Cajun beef jerky? The krewe really dotes on this stuff.” “Sure. Why not.” wka{ goes. T’V‘S l' . r Teal/Mao lo 87 P‘th’. QCLS’y w lxxcx’r are (Lev P’V S’CO" an 9. Sisal mg.) 173 guffofed 7v be 0i U533 I77 7 7 é Q s ‘I 3 }'\ Oscar handed over a strip of lethally spiced meat, and ripped into V‘ another'blackened chunk with his teeth. I-Ie waved one hand. “The site looks very chaotic now, but try to imagine this all assembled and complete.” “Yes, I can visualize that. . . . I never realized your hotel was going to be so elegant. I thought it was prefabricated.” “Oh, it is prefabricated. But the plans are always adjusted by the system to fit the exact specifics of the site. So the final structure is always an original. That pile of cantilevers there, those will go over the porte cochere. . . . The patio will be here where we’re standing, and just beyond that entrance loggia is the pergola. . . . Those long dual wings have the guest rooms and the diner, while the upper floor has our library, the various balconies, and the conservatory.” Oscar smiled. “So, when we’re all finished, I hope you’ll visit us here. Rent a suite. Stay awhile. Have a nice dinner.” “I doubt I can afford that.” Clouded and moody. What on earth was the woman up to? In the blue—lit gloom, Dr. Penninger’s wide—set, chocolate-drop eyes seemed to be two different sizes . . . but surely that was just seme weird illusion, something about her unplucked brows, and the visible tension wrinkling her eye— I i . AEOJT 'i'rg qCaad i’r-Cn‘eg (bare. ’7’“ 35 What d9 y'aJ field: if $’\09le ’De agile/2 "' """ " I can feel my life just ticking away.”— ‘hfl‘mmhmml” Oscar deftly poured two cups from a ban cooler. Here, let’s enjoy this sports—performance pseudo-lemon coction.” He dragged a folded tarp near to the fire barrel, carequ to scorch himself. He sat. Dr. Penninger collapsed heedlessly to earth in a sharp sprav kneecaps. ‘I can’t even think properly anymore. They don’t le think. I try to stay alert during those meetings, but- it’s just imposs -... —_-—...__—O a- -_--_—A .._..._--—. €43]? Bruce terl' . 5 1mg Distraction 6‘??? ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/08/2008 for the course COMP 1100 taught by Professor Aleshunas during the Spring '08 term at Webster.

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Distraction--excerpt - scar peeled a strip of tape from a...

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