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Donnelle's World

LJ Idol Week 32 - Intersubjectivity

LJ Idol Week 32 - Intersubjectivity

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Me me
I ordered my usual gin from the servo-bot and sat down at the bar. The air was redolent with the stench of the Hudson River; ongoing clean-up work hadn't yet reversed the eco-collapse of 2133, and ten years later it still smelled of death. You got used to it, mostly. It was worse in hot weather, and today had been a scorcher.

The last few weeks at work had been hellish, fighting to meet the fixed deadline of today's lottery, but we'd done it. The atmosphere at CyberCo had been triumphantly collegial. We'd declared it "beer o'clock" at three, and then left early. I'd come straight here, for my annual tradition of watching the lottery at my favourite bar. I nursed my drink and gazed at the screen.

The Lotteries head, Jaylene something-or-other, gave her usual aspirational speech- "think big", "make a difference", the same old stuff. Then the lottery-bot, gawky and angular, fished a ball from the spinning barrel and held it aloft. It was all for show; the barrel was nowhere near big enough to hold the 38 million balls needed to represent every law-abiding, employed, adult citizen of New York, not unless the balls were

<Implant query: container volume / 38000000, allow volume factor of 1.6 for movement> 0.32mm>

0.32 millimetres in diameter.

The ball the bot held aloft was much bigger than that, but no matter. Digits slid over its SmartSkin, displaying the citizen number randomly selected by the algorithms behind the scenes. There was no need for all the stage-dressing; you could just run a random number generator over the citizenship list and choose the first seven, but the flashing lights and glamour kept people tuned in. A voice-over announced the digits, and my implant

<Implant query: Citizen 752341857> Henry James Fernandez, b. 2108, Apt. 3012, 452 Foster Ave, New York, NY 10016. Three children, 2142 income of $132,023.>

flashed up his details, while the screen showed an animated cut scene with his name and photo. The upgrades I'd made to my implant weren't strictly legal, but I hadn't been able to resist the challenge of breaching and integrating a number of supposedly-secure city databases. It was useful.

I sipped my gin; it mingled warmly in my stomach with the beer I'd had at work. I wasn't alone. A rowdy group of college kids in the corner laughed over the traditional lottery drinking game; they each picked a digit, and every time their digit was announced they had to drink. One, with the pasty pallor of a physics student, argued it was unfair to pick 0, given that citizenship numbers don't start with 0, and that started a loud discussion about probability and the unlikely characteristics of each others' mothers.

It wasn't so long since I was one of them, oblivious to the real world; I'd graduated with an double degree in Mathematics and Computer Science eight months ago, and since then I'd been working at CyberCo. They provided the gear for the lottery winners, and I spent my days working with probability analysis and consensus, modifying differential equations with 30-plus variables and integrating the calculations into code. It paid the bills, and left enough time for my other interests.

The second ball was drawn,

<Implant query: Citizen 684128953> Alicia Rose Willcocks, b. 2122. Final year PoliSci student at NYU, with part-time employment at McDenny's. Minor traffic violation in 2141, expunged with the minimum 320 hours of community service.>

and the group in the corner started the next round, reciting each digit and pointing accusingly if the person took too long to drink. Alicia's details came on screen, and they whistled appreciatively at her picture. "I'd like HER number," some wit yelled.

I rolled my eyes as I took another sip. I'd had enough of that sort of nonsense at college. Despite many attempts since the late 20th century to address the gender imbalance, I had still been severely outnumbered in my classes. I've never been a stunner, but the very fact of my femininity had been enough to goad even the most awkward of classmates into propositioning me. Urgh. Not interested. Alicia, on the other hand... I'd appreciated her smile as much as the college kids, but I wasn't crass enough to whistle about it.

The lottery-bot reached into the barrel again, and grasped one of the swirling balls. I barely listened as I savoured my drink, until

<Implant query: Citizen 722148301> Shay Malloy, b. 2120.>

I realised it was my number, my name and face being flashed up on the screen. The glass slipped from my numb hand, and shattered against the floor, the abrupt noise interrupting the next round of "Drink your digit". The pale student stared at me, and a flurry of elbows and whispers flew around the group. Suddenly they were around me, crowding me with beery breath and exclamations.

"You won!" one yelled.

"Vote for cheap beer!" shouted another, to general cheers of approbation.

I ignored them. My implant was flooding with message pings, from friends and family. I started to check the one from my mother, but it was over-ridden.

<Message: Priority: Governmental Urgent, Classified. From: New York Lotteries and Electoral Commission> Congratulations on your election. Stay where you are.>

The group around me grew quiet and withdrew, watching as two large men in dark suits approached me. How did they get here so quickly? I briefly considered running, but my shaky legs wouldn't let me. I didn't want this.

"Miss Shay Malloy." It wasn't a question. "Please come with us," said the taller of the two suits, extending a hand. I didn't have a choice; I went with them.


The room at NYLEC was spacious and comfortable, with the pale cream furnishings of an institute that can afford plenty of cleaner-bots. I huddled in the corner of an enormous couch. Henry Fernandez sat opposite me, his dark face wrinkled with concern. We'd exchanged introductions, then left each other alone to ponder what would happen next.

Alicia was ushered in, still in her McDenny's uniform. Despite the unflattering beige-with-yellow-trim clothes, she was stunning. Her dark eyes were wide, glittering with calculation and suppressed fear, but she maintained a casual demeanour as she introduced herself. We chatted about the superficial pleasantries of people in unwanted situations, telling me nothing my implant hadn't already reported.

The other chosen citizens gradually arrived, escorted by their own pairs of large men: Maria, a middle-aged Latina who owned a well-known bot distributor; Sherm, a 20-something who worked "whatever's going"; Charlotte, a dancer from Brooklyn with two children, fretting about whether her mother would be able to pick her kids up from school. Rickard, a perfect blustering example of middle-management in a grey suit, demanded to know how long this would take; we shrugged and ignored him. We all knew the theoretical premise of what was about to take place, but the practicalities hadn't been covered in our civics classes.

The door opened, and Rickard fell silent. The head of NYLEC came in, as pristinely groomed as when she'd appeared at the start of the lottery, followed by a few others in less formal clothes. They were techs; I knew the type, and they carried CyberCo-branded boxes.

"Good afternoon," the head announced. "I'm Jaylene Davidson, head of NYLEC. No doubt you have many questions-" she raised a manicured hand to silence Rickard as he began to blather- "and they will all be answered in time. You all know that New York is governed by consensus. Each year we select seven good citizens, assess their values and priorities, and use our analysis to form a consensus. Your consensus will drive policy and funding decisions in the coming year."

Charlotte tentatively raised a hand. "How long will it take? My kids..."

"The process takes several weeks." Charlotte gasped, and adopted the glazed expression of someone accessing her implant. Jaylene continued, "During that time, you will-" Charlotte twitched, as if receiving a painful electric jolt, "-not be able to access messaging. Any dependents will be taken care of by the city."

Alicia spoke up. "How do we do it? I know it has something to do with our implants."

"You will be fitted with a headnet. We'll put them on now, to give them time to integrate with your implants before we begin in the morning. The headnets assess your response to a range of topics. Your responses will be averaged out to form a consensus. Any questions?" Her tone was polite, but the expression on her face was cool enough to quell even Rickard.

She nodded curtly to the techs. The scruffiest one, clearly senior, fiddled with a handheld device, while the others moved around the room, fitting a stretchy net over each of our heads. One by one, a light lit up on each headnet, but the tech behind me muttered and fussed, pulling and adjusting it. The senior tech came over.

"Is there a problem?"

The tech behind me mumbled something about non-compliant settings, and the senior tech caught my eye. His eyelid flickered.

"I'll sort it out." As he adjusted the headnet, he tapped the handheld device, apparently calibrating some settings. From his smile, he succeeded, and the techs moved back to stand behind Jaylene. The senior tech gazed blandly at me, and a brief expression of abstractedness passed across his face.

<Message: Priority: Classified. From: Benjamin Cleaver> Do not react. I will contact you later.>

He winked at me.


The evening passed with more briefings and acclimatisation. The real work would begin in the morning. We were shown to individual bedrooms, each sumptuously furnished in pale neutrals. I collapsed onto the bed and stared at the ceiling.

<Message: Priority: Classified. From: Benjamin Cleaver> Are you alone? Respond if so.>

I considered his message. Concealed surveillance aside, this was as alone as I was likely to get. I composed a message and replied: <I am alone. How are you messaging me? I thought we couldn't access it.>

<Message: Priority: Classified. From: Benjamin Cleaver> I set up an internal commnet on your specific headnet. I needed to talk to you. You are not here by chance.>


<Message: Priority: Classified. From: Benjamin Cleaver> I accessed the algorithms for the lottery selection and made sure you'd be picked. I need your help. The city needs your help.>

<What's going on?>

<Message: Priority: Classified. From: Benjamin Cleaver> Jaylene is working with CyberCo. She's being paid off by the Chief of Police. They came up with a scheme to reduce unrest in the city. They want to take consensus to the next level - feed it back to the populace so that they will all agree with the city's policies. They've put a feedback loop in, to override your response and encourage you to respond as they want. Then when they have the nicely-packaged consensus they need, it'll be pushed out to the citizens.>

<That's horrible! Can they do it?>

<Message: Priority: Classified. From: Benjamin Cleaver> CyberCo has the tech. You've been working on some of it. That's why I need you.>

<What can I do?>

<Message: Priority: Classified. From: Benjamin Cleaver> I hope you will be able to disable the override.>

<OK. I'll try. What do I need to do?>

I waited, lying awake until the dark hours of the morning, but my implant remained silent.


Please note: this is the first part of a two-part story. The second half is for the second topic of this week, Overwatch, and can be found here: http://jexia.livejournal.com/1338376.html
  • I'd come straight here, for my annual tradition of watching the lottery at my favourite bar.

    Well this sounds ominous. But reading on, maybe it doesn't. And then reading on, maybe it is.

    What the hell is going on here?!

    Rickard, a perfect blustering example of middle-management in a grey suit, demanded to know how long this would take.

    I know exactly who Rickard is. We all do. Nice and efficient way to create a perfect image of a side-character.

    As for the piece itself, I am very intrigued, and I cannot wait to read the second half. In the adjacent window. As soon as I hit the Post Comment button and close this one.

    See you again in a few minutes!
  • Nice set up. Definitely makes me want to read more. :) I really enjoy how you integrated the world building with the action so we are in the story, not just reading it.
    • Thank you - that's something I specifically worked on, so I'm glad to hear it was successful for you.
  • Oh, boy! You did a great job of setting up this world by integrating the exposition into action.
  • Damn you, I wanted to read this then go to bed, but now I have to go read part deux. *wink*
  • I found myself wondering, early on, whether this was the kind of lottery anyone would _want_ to win, or whether it was a Shirley Jackson-like lottery. :O

    As it turns out, not riches but perhaps something of an honor. And applying something like jury selection to policy-making is an interesting idea!
    • I was thinking of Shirley Jackson's lottery to some extent! Probably one of the pieces I remember best from highschool English. That and Cider with Rosie.
  • This is so awesome, love it. Love how you introduce the implants with the ball calculation and their uses through the piece and the sense of impending doom is built beautifully.
  • Intriguing! I particularly liked the world-building here. Looking forward to the next part.
  • How can I not like this tale? One of your side character's name is Alicia Rose... same as my daughter! ;D.

    Love all the added detail, from when I read first drafts. They made the piece more fluid and easier to understand.

    This is a very cool write. :)
    • Heh, "___Rose Willcocks" is my niece! Willcocks is my maiden name.
  • Speculative dystopian fiction, always a favorite! There's a certain subtle horror in direct mental interference, not being able to fight the totalitarianism. I also liked the description of how people look when they access their implants; I sort of imagine their faces going slack. I bet public transit looks like a lobotomy farm. :D
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