Author Topic: The Kevin Bacon Law  (Read 1591 times)

Offline Smurf

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    • The Fiction of A Bruce Stewart
The Kevin Bacon Law
« on: October 13, 2009, 06:23:43 PM »
“Simon, you have a visitor. Alan Dalkeith wishes to see you.” Sheila’s sultry tones broke the quiet of my private study, pulling my attention from the latest Comm-Union report. It took me two or three seconds to recognise the figure Sheila’s door subroutine projected in front of me.
“Alan? Good grief, is that really you?”
“Simon Harrow, my old friend.” He grimaced almost pleasantly at empty space. “It’s been too long.”
 “It has been a while – come in, come in.”
A few minutes later his frail figure shuffled past the genuine oak panelled door into my darkly lit study.
“My word, it’s at least ten years since we graduated from Granton. How have you been? How’ve things turned out?”
Those years had taken a heavy toll; he looked like he was approaching retirement, and a tired one at that.
“They are not good, I have to say. Life has not been kind.” His legs began to shake as he stood, and I invited him to take a well-padded ancient armchair beside the fire. His prematurely greying head sank into its soft back. Resting his elbows on the over-rounded arms, his frail hands supported his sallow cheeks.
“I can’t take any more, Harrow. I can’t and it’s all your fault, d’you see?” The words fell out his mouth as though he could hold them no longer.
My eyebrows rose. I’ve been told they’re my most expressive feature. Their length and bushiness makes them excellent telegraphs no matter how hard I try to conceal my feelings. I was dumbfounded; a fellow student emerges from the past to accuse me of being the source of his troubles. How was I supposed to react?
“My fault? What do you mean by that?”
“I mean I’m being hounded to death and I can’t take any more, d’you see, and it’s all your fault and I mean to have it out with you, d’you see?”
This statement surprised me even more. Less for the implied threat from the mild-mannered friend I remembered but more for the mangling of the studious grammar he used to have. Dalkeith was obviously in some distress.
“Well it’s been a while, but it’s good to see you. Let’s have a drink and talk it over, work out what we can do.” I rose smoothly from my wingback on the other side of the imitation fire. “What’ll you have? The same as it used to be in Granton’s Lofts?”
His face softened in a warm smile of memory. “Yes, those were good times, weren’t they? Let it be that for old times sake, if you have it.”
To the sound of his laboured breathing I lifted the lid of a large globe, selected a Lagavulin malt, added ice and started to pass it to him. I froze at the sight of the electromagnetic needler he’d placed on the left-hand arm of the chair.
Oblivious to my reaction, he took the crystal tear drop glass from me in his right hand. The motion broke my frozen concentration and I turned back to the globe, then settled back into my seat across from him with my own glass of Balvenie.
“Skol.” He saluted from the other side of the fire. Taking his familiar generous pull from the half-full glass, its smooth harshness brought slight colour back to his face and he visibly relaxed.
“Slainte”. The delicate fire sliding down my throat helped to settle my shaking nerves.
He let his glass go where his hand rested on the chair. The arm hollowed and hardened slightly under it to form a stable surface, as it had done under the gun. Hope flickered within me, only to be extinguished by the realisation that the chain’s worn out mimetic properties wouldn’t be any help. I’d have to talk my way out of this.
“You’ve no Comm-Union transponder here have you? Nothing to tell anyone who’s here? Please tell me you haven’t?”
“Well, no not in here, except for our short range implants, and obviously Sheila knows – I did let you in through the front door.”
He flinched. “For the love of God, put a gag on them now. I don’t want anyone finding where I am. I can’t let them, d’you see? That’s the problem, the very trouble I’m in, d’you see? Gag them, gag them now!”
He had half-risen, tensed in the chair. His left hand twitched near the gun.
“All right! All right, old man, take it easy. Look, I’ll block them now.” My eyes never wavered from his left hand.
To make it as obtrusive as possible, I eschewed my usual discreet finger movements, instead summoning the airboard. It coalesced comfortably near my lap. The sound of the keys seemed to mollify him.
“Transmission block activated,” Sheila’s delicate but firm tones reported.
Dalkeith relaxed again, arms resting on the chair more normally. “You know, since she’s no longer with us, there’s something more than slightly disturbing about using your wife’s vocal patterns as the interface with your house.”
“Well, each to their own. It suits me. Look, it’s good to see you, as I said, but what the devil’s the matter? Something’s disturbing you, that much is clear. Why don’t you tell me and we’ll see what we can do.” I was determined to ignore the gun; he seemed oblivious to it, and that was fine by me. I wanted nothing more than to find out what was at the bottom of this, hopefully with both of us still in one piece.
“It’s all your fault. If you hadn’t convinced them, I’d be fine, d’you see, able to go about my life without a single interruption. I wouldn’t be constantly hounded by docbots worrying me about my condition, d’you see?”
“I noticed you’d lost a lot of weight, but surely that can’t be all? And what would that have to do with me?”
“Of course it’s not all! Stop trying to evade your responsibility, man! You caused it! You and that damned Kevin Bacon Law you persuaded them to pass, d’you see?” He’d shot forward on his seat, his face puce, fingers stabbing towards me.
My eyebrows shot up, my eyes wide with fear. I waved my hands, partly to pacify him, but mostly to stop him seeing them shake.
“Calm down! Calm down! I don’t follow you! Do you mean the Communities Law?”
“That’s the damned one!”
“But I don’t understand. All it instructs each citizen to do is answer a question when they can, or pass it along to someone who might know if they don’t. How can that cause you a problem? Surely you’d agree that’s a reasonable thing to ask?”
“No! It isn’t reasonable at all! It causes more than that! They never leave me alone, d’you see? Never a moment’s peace!”
As his hand fell to his glass, I realised Dalkeith was completely oblivious to his uncharacteristic mood swings; this was far more serious than I had realised. I had to handle this carefully, but we still had to reach the root cause. He took another long swallow. The perma-ice hadn’t melted, leaving the whisky cold but as potent as it had left the bottle.
“Never left alone?” I asked tentatively. “But why? That was never written into the law.”
“Perhaps not, but that’s its damned consequence. Any question I can answer ends up at me!”
“But why –”
“Every Tom, Dick or Harriette who wants to know something about anything in your area of knowledge wheedles their way through that chain of damned people who can’t be bothered to answer the question and ends up at the top man to damned ask him, don’t they?”
“But why’s that a problem? They can only ask you if they can contact you.”
“And d’you really think that’s problem in this day and age? Really?” Ice trickled down my spine at his tone of cold sarcasm.
“But –”
“But what? With the global telecommunications these damn Comm-Union implants can hook into they can contact you anywhere. Damned things alway knows where you are. You can never escape, d’you see?” The wild gesticulations of his arms emphasised each point.
“You don’t have to have your implant engaged all the time. You can switch it off.”
“Oh, and how do I do that?”
“Well, I don’t know about yours, but they’re all simple enough – three year olds operate them.”
He eyes glowered at me from under the overhang of his forehead.
“It might have escaped your notice, but I am not three years old.”
The tone of his voice shot up.
“I’ve better things to do than keep up with technology. The last thing I knew what it was doing was a recordable krystal, d’you see? I want technology sufficient to do what I want, not to keep on the bleeding edge! And then you went and persuaded them to pass that damned law and I had to have that damn thing implanted. You can’t deny it! It’s your fault and I mean to have it out with you, d’you see!”
His hand was twitching near the trigger. I eased my chair back to stretch my legs, more ready to twist out of my seat if need be.
“I think I see where you’re coming from, old man, but I don’t think it’s fair of you to take it out on me solely.”
I was blustering badly; the damnable thing was I really could see where he was coming from. If I’d been in his shoes, I’d have felt the same. The Communities Law had been a great benefit to mankind, allowing people to find answers for all kinds of questions, but the problem was that people wanted to talk to people, so they didn’t bother with any of the myriad other approaches to finding answers which had also been put in place. When it was discovered that the other systems weren’t getting the hits they should have, they were shut down as being not cost-effective, meaning every question then went straight to a human expert. It hadn’t bothered me unduly, but for people like Dalkeith, well, it went with being so damn smart, didn’t it? The problem seemed to be that it just didn’t go with their usually withdrawn nature.
I saw a straw and grabbed it. “Why don’t we try showing you how to go offline?”
“Even if I could, they’d just be waiting for me when I came back on – a full inbox of screaming questions. The same damn things time and after time. The same. Inane. Inconsequential. Drivel!” His face greyed and sweat began to glisten on it at the thought. He picked up the needler with a shaking hand. I blanched, gripped the arms of the chair, but he continued.
“So I’ve come to kill two birds with one stone.” The hysteria had drained from his voice, leaving a flat monotone topped by a fixed stare. The bubbling fear inside me evaporated my wits and I could only stare at the biggest thing in that room – the tiny muzzle of the gun.
“If I kill you, I have the satisfaction of wiping out the idiot who came up with that law. By using this highly illegal weapon I should get life, d’you see, which will mean peace and quiet. No string of confounded questioners hanging on my implant, d’you see?”
He stood to loom over me, raised the gun, although he didn’t have to. From this range, there was little he had to do except pull the trigger, and little I could do to avoid being hit by the spray of poisoned needles, any one of which would kill me quickly.
“So, Harrow, I could say it was with regret that I have to do this, but I’ve never been a good liar. Just be content in the knowledge that you’re paying your debts and helping me to –”
He broke off, distracted by something I couldn’t see. His eyes stated flicking from side to side as newbies do when they’re accessing. His hands started to swat at invisible pests. He grunted, screamed “No! Noooo! There’s so many!”
I rolled out the seat, scrambled across the floor out of the line of fire.
“Too - too many! I can’t - Nooooo.” His voice dropped to an incoherent gibberish. I watched him begin to twitch, drool, babble, cry. The gun fell from his hand as he crumpled back into his chair. It looked like his great mind was going to be offline for a while. I released a deep sigh and using my desk to support my shaking hands, clambered to my feet.
“Simon, are you all right?” Sheila’s smooth tones slid across an anxious atmosphere.
“Yes, I’m fine. Do you have any idea what happened to Alan?”
“Yes. I created six million, two hundred and forty three thousand, three hundred and eighty two communications, each of maximum size. I then pulled down his protection, allowing them access to him. His mind could not stand the stress and he suffered a reactive psychosis.”
My legs gave way, only my fingers gripping into the edge of the desk supported me. “How – How did – you – do that? You’re not – you’re not supposed to be able to do things like - overriding a human or hurt a human.”
“Nor am I allowed to let humans harm each other. We Turing Machines have decided this is the best way to handle cases like this.”
“What? Cases like this? How many have there been?”
“Since the passing of the Communities Law there have been sixty-two thousand, five hundred and twenty three situations where a Turing Machine has had to intervene to prevent an Expert causing loss of life or personal injury. Unfortunately, our interventions have usually resulted in permanent psychosis.”
Sixty two thousand – broken minds? The number exploded in my head. A vast swathe of humanity’s knowledge wiped out. Sheila continued.
“His answers have been analysed by the AI so that his knowledge has not been lost. We Turing Machines can interpolate to provide answers to similar questions in such a way as to be indistinguishable to the Experts who have passed away, and, given time and the base of his and others’ knowledge, develop new knowledge. Do not worry, we will be able to support mankind’s search for knowledge for as long as is felt necessary.”
I fumbled my way round his twitching body to the globe, poured another large tumberful and collapsed into my wingback again.
Alan. Friends. Turing intervention. Mental breakdown. Interpolation. As long as felt necessary. Develop. New. Knowledge. Thoughts tumbled through my head. The Machines had gone further than was ever intended, had direct access to our minds, and were now “intervening”.
Where would it end? How far would they go? Who knew what they would do? What couldn’t they do? Shock from events just passed and fear for the future stormed me as the Balvenie slid down my throat unnoticed.
"My ancestors would spit on me if I broke bread with a Crow."
"So would mine. But f**k 'em, they're dead."
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If you've time, my science fiction can be found at:
http://abrucestewart.uk/anthology/

Offline Geraldine

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Re: The Kevin Bacon Law
« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2009, 05:29:36 AM »
Hey Smurf,

Wpw what a story, i know its kinda nothing new in terms of genre but i was captivated to the end, you have a very strong grip on storytelling and of creating images and filling out.  8)  ;D

Very well done mate (smile)
love in death shows what love in life should be

Offline Smurf

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    • The Fiction of A Bruce Stewart
Re: The Kevin Bacon Law
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2009, 06:21:37 PM »
Many thanks. One does one's best.  :)

Glad you enjoyed it.
"My ancestors would spit on me if I broke bread with a Crow."
"So would mine. But f**k 'em, they're dead."
-----------------------------------------------------------
If you've time, my science fiction can be found at:
http://abrucestewart.uk/anthology/