Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cybugs: A Spanner Side Story

This has nothing to do with insect-shaped robots, or simulated bugs for kids, or the war machines in a videogame called AI Wars. Rather, it’s about cyborg insects developed by the military, as revealed in a LiveScience article. This time Spanner herself tells the tale, something that doesn’t happen very often in the (still) proposed webmanga. The year is 2021, five years after the end of the series. During a series of cybug attacks — not just murders but mindjackings — Spanner searches for what's behind it and attempts to stop the attacks. (Note: The "Crusader" mentioned in this story is based loosely on [or is my "Silver Age version" of] a public-domain superhero by that name. Tech note: a “daemon” is not one of those programs that runs in the background, but a robot made entirely of energy; a force field is one of its functions. Too futuristic for 2021? Probably. Still, with the current force field revival, it could happen...)

[Revision 1.1, 11/25/10: Revised formatting, corrected dates, corrected two character names to the final versions in Spanner.]

A Spanner Side Story

Public transmission of Spanner (Shira M. Richter-Thomas) on 18 July 2021

Mind control is one of the oldest of the black arts, long predating science and even civilization. Take the voodoo zombie: not the flesh-eating corpse of countless clichéd horror movies, but a pretechnological human robot created by drugs and torture, a slave to the sorcerer’s will. Sure enough, every government and corporation in the king of the hill game called world politics obsessively pours countless billions of whatever they call their currency into mind control projects if they can afford it. Since the days of the Corporate Empire, all sorts of mind-control technologies have run amuck.

It doesn’t have to be humans, either. The most popular WMDs among the State Capitalist empires that rule the world today are the fast-reproducing, easy to manufacture cybugs. Massed, governments use them to eat entire "enemy" populations alive; individually, they are a popular means of political assassination.

But Charles Darwin isn't history's greatest philosopher of strategy for no reason. If you build a weapon, someone will create some countermeasure: shields against swords, blue shield against gray goo. As long as people kill each other for the right to rule (read: enslave) everybody else, there will always be a demand for ever crazier weapons, and every single one screams for an effective defense.

During the Corporate War, I developed a microchip implant we put into birds' brains. The chip traces the presence of cybugs; if it detects at least one, it sends the bird to eat it. I realized that someone had developed a new cybug nanochip undetectable to my cybug-hunting birds when I saw a small hornet fly up the nose of exiled Russian opposition leader Ivan Belko as he was marvelling at one of downtown Bremerton's famous high-tech fountains. Suddenly he convulsed, screamed in pain, collapsed twitching on the floor, then died. Obviously someone thought Belko was so scary they had to kill him remotely. The hornet crawled out of its victim's nose and flew a beeline toward me. I swatted it, then scraped the remains into a small evidence bag so I could analyze it later.

Later, the evening feed carried the news that another notorious exile, Vitaly Shoshin, had been killed the same way. The video captured the death, the panic as everybody around him fled for their lives, and the winged termite that flew out of his nose after feasting on his brain.

I rushed to the lab I set up in my bedroom. I had a robot microarm extract the nanochip from the hornet remains, then connect it to the computer I use for potentially dangerous jobs. Sure enough, the chip was still receiving. I traced the transmission to — the heavily guarded residence of Vitaly Shoshin?

Something stank to high heaven.

Before long, a small group from the Wrecking Krewe answered my summons to assemble in the lab. "What does this look like to you," I said.

Moon Roach (her real name): "Whoa, babe. This is like bad."

Deth Pussy read the test results again and again, shaking his head in disbelief. "Impossible. Just not possible."

"No," I said, "inevitable. You know some cybug designer had to come up with a nanocloak eventually."

Alex Plus: "You got that right, redhead. Somebody eventually had to shrink a cloaking device to fit inside the nanochip of a cybug, to hide them from your cybug hunters." (Disclosure: she's one of my cousins.)

JT Sparks (handle at the time: Electro Womanoid; he's male): "You think they might have used a daemon?"

Me: "Nah. Daemon technology hasn't advanced enough for nanocloaking. Gotta be in the chip. Not all that hard, really, if you're trying to hide your cybugs from hunter birds."

Alex: "From the evidence, it sounds like another mob war just started."

Me: "Won't stay that way, Not if every Imperial in the world has anything to say about it. Besides, mafias are notoriously leaky and like to steal from each other."

Deth: "Doesn't look like our bug's nanocloak's hiding anything from us."

Me: "All it has to do is jam a hunter's trace just enough, and then it's invisible."

Moon: "So like what do we do?"

Me: "First, we go to Loco Moloko."

I decided not to take the Krewe. I had someone special I had to visit first.

Seattle doesn’t have many outer suburbs to be colonized by gangs, cults, and terrorists (but I repeat myself) like you find in, say, California or Texas. Instead, you have miles upon miles of abandoned warehouses south of the city limits, built for a global economy that hasn’t existed since State Capitalism became the world economic orthodoxy. Somewhere in the middle of that, in one of the many failed South End suburbs (Fife? Auburn?), in a former fast food restaurant (the name evades me; all those names of dead fast food chains blur together) built up into a monstrosity, is Loco Moloko, a Russian-run joint where they serve milk spiked with noxious psychoactive drugs. Drinking their concoctions is like eating raw fugu: you never know what the mix may be or how lethal it is. You take your chances. Some of the customers are even worse. I make sure I’ve got my daemon ready.

Halfway on the drive there, I picked up my old friend (and former enemy) Andy Williams. “I don’t want to go there, Shira. You know those guys never forgive a turncoat.”

“That’s why you’re coming with me.” I winked.

They don’t make Wild West saloons like they used to. For one thing, the place is filled with over-armed psychos, all of them on steroids and any other drugs they can get their hands on. This includes the owner and bouncers. These mafia guys pride themselves on being savage Aryan warriors. Anyone who tries to make nice, they pump with lead at the first opportunity. Sometimes multiple-fatality shootouts happen merely because somebody gets bored. All their guns are as illegal as their drugs. And of course the whole place is as heavily guarded as a fortress. Which it might as well be.

The guards waved me in quickly. My reputation precedes me: you don’t want to mess with Spanner and her krewe if you know what’s good for you, especially if you’re a homicidal foreign gangster. Not wanting to make me a martyr — or get themselves killed — the gangsters leave me alone, and Andy too.

Overamplified industrial death disco tried to deafen me with its booms. The dance floor writhed with swarms of slam dancers pummelling each other with their bodies.

Sleazy places like this in no-man’s lands for health inspectors are notorious for their large cockroach populations. People here make a sport of squashing roaches; part of their dance involves stomping and swatting the bugs. I deliberately stepped on several on my way across the dance floor as the slam dancers parted for me like a river before the sorcerer.

The owner came out to see me. Max Rodchenko is as fearsome as gangsters or Russians come. But when he sees my familiar flight jacket, he comes to me a bit too fast to hide his panic behind his usual bravado. He grabs the lapels of my flight jacket and says in his thick Russian accent, “Spanner! Tell me you didn’t send bugs.”

I said, “If I had to swat ’em, they’re not mine.”

“Okay. You swat bugs. I believe you. So who do you think killed my, uh, colleagues?”

People gathered around us. Scary-looking people. Looking more scared than I’d ever seen them. One said, “It must be EU government!” Others blamed the Triads, the Yakuza, La Cosa Nostra, Opus Dei, etc. Predictably, several blamed the Jews; I wouldn’t go that far at all (I myself am part Jewish and grew up around Jews), but I wouldn’t put this kind of thing past the Israeli mafia. Some, of course, blamed the Russian government in its never-ending jihad against its exiles, or rival Russian gangs.

Rodchenko said, “I know we make many big enemies. But who do something like this to us? Not Toymaker! Toymaker is dead!” He shook me by the lapels. “Who? Who?”

I gestured for him to let go of me. He did. “You know who might have done it, but you aren’t certain?”

Everybody shook their heads.

“I suspect —” in the corner of my eye I caught sight of a roach behaving oddly “— that this might be bigger than you think. A lot bigger.”

I stomped down to squash the roach — but it evaded me.

“Uh-oh,” I said.

Everybody panicked and rushed for the exits.

The roach evaded and leaped like no normal cockroach. I stomped five more times with both feet till it landed on my right foot and started scurrying up my leg at high speed. I hit my leg hard enough to bruise myself. The tickling sensation stopped; the roach was dead.

Cybugs. Here.

Some of the screams came from people being crushed or trampled to death. But I heard far more horrible screams. People being eaten alive. I saw swarms of roaches where people used to be. No time for talk. Max grabbed me by the arm, and I grabbed Andy and put him in front of me. His surviving bodyguards rescued the surviving special guests. We converged at the door of his office, then raced the bugs out his secret entrance. Rodchenko, his men, and the VIPs got in their cars and drove off as fast as they could.

But my Mustang was on the other side of the building. Andy and I ran as fast as I can remember. I had to make sure the cybugs were not waiting for me.

The area around the car seemed free of cybugs. I remotely unlocked the car and sent Andy there. I was about to get in when I saw a tsunami of cybugs headed toward me. Cockroaches and ants. Silently I thanked the gods that whoever was doing this didn’t send bees or wasps. I had to go back to the wave of cybugs to keep them away from any other survivors in range. I ran into position at a safe distance away from the car, then slowly advanced toward the swarm. I activated my daemon and set it to “intercept.”

The wave gained height, narrowed, hovered over me for an endless instant, and then collapsed onto me. Anticipating my command, the daemon set itself to “exterminate” and sent a lethal electric charge through the swarm of cybugs, incinerating them. The daemon protected my inner electronics from the charge, but I knew it produced enough of an electromagnetic pulse to fry the cybugs’ nanochips.

I had to navigate a dark rain of scorched black insects to get to the Mustang. Once inside, I turned the car back toward I-5 back toward Tacoma and Andy’s flat.

The ex-gangster sat in the passenger seat in wordless shock. I never saw such an expression on his face before. I said, “This ain’t no mere gang war. This is something big.” Only once I dropped Andy off and got back to Bremerton would I find out just how big.

First person I notified when I got home was Alex. She called my sister Desiree, who called our cousin Jennifer. No matter what we do (and we do many things), we never make enough to make ends meet in the harsh post-Empire world (the combined Imperial embargoes on the Euro-American Union keep the whole society poor), so the four of us have to do internet security as our day job. Might not pay six figures, but at least it keeps food on our tables. We agreed that this job might get us a few extra creds, so we encrypted our signal so that no mafias, corporations, or foreign governments could intercept it and use it against us. Then our four-way conference began.

Jennifer: "The latest news feed tells me that a horde of cybugs destroyed Loco Moloko and nearly got you."

Desiree: "If I remember right, that means this is the first mass cybug incident since we broke the last Dictel-spawned assimilants before taking down the Empire."

Me: "You think Dictel or some spinoff might be behind this?"

Jennifer: "I think this is a spinoff."

Me: "A new corporation with backing from the usual suspects? Or maybe Dictel's making a new bid for power?"

Jennifer: "No, not a corporation, but a Corporate."

Alex: "Let me get this straight. You mean like the Advaned cyborg subclan of the Dictels who ran amok just a few years ago?" (You read it right: no "c" in "Advaned.")

Jennifer: "For all we know, this could be an Advaned-Dictel who went to ground when the Imperials ganged up on the clan and has been plotting its revenge ever since."

Me: "Maybe that's why it's so hellbent on smashing the Russian mob. But since I haven't heard of any reports of it attacking the Triad, it might have something personal against the Russians."

Jennifer: "Unless it's trying to get the Russians to blame the Chinese."

Me: "That wouldn't be beyond any of the Dictels. Why, then, would it be going after me?"

The others looked at me as if I were dumb. Which I'm not. Still, it was early in the morning, so I suspect I was in dire need of sleep by then. Jennifer broke the silence: "O Slayer of Lord Dictel..." I got the message.

Desiree: "What Dictel wouldn't want revenge against the destroyer of the clan patriarch?"

Me: "The ones who helped me do it. You know which ones, darling sister, since you're related to them and still have close and friendly relations to them. I don't think this borg is really out to get Lord Dictel's killer. At the most, it considers me a major threat to its nefarious plans."

Jennifer: "I'd say it's still a bit early to figure out who it is or what its strategy might be."

Me: "But that doesn't mean it won't throw four aces on the table and smugly expect us to fold. If this really is a Dictel, it should realize that I've got the joker."

Sure enough, the borg behind the cybug attacks showed it was aware of us by changing its strategy. Bad guys do desperate things when they find Spanner hot on their ass and coming up fast. But the strategy it chose wasn't the corporate-type hostile takeover typical of the Advaned-Dictel clan. The morning feeds brought the news that cybugs were hijacking the minds of some of the smartest people in the world. Not just the free scientists who had made Euro-America their refuge after we angry democrats kicked the bureaucratic gerontocrats out of Brussels and New York. It started targeting the Imperials directly, mindjacking some of their most loyal weapons scientists and cleverest strategists. The Kombinat blamed the Triad for the Loco Moloko incident — mafias are always determined to outhack each other in their never-ending Social Darwinist battle royal over total world domination, so the Russian mob made the obvious assumption, just as the borg expected they would — and declared war. Our enemy was now done with the mafias; the mob attacks had done their job.

The hacker underground was already buzzing when I sent a call into the Darknet. Thousands of hackers tried to get me to join them in a distributed attack on the bug borg. I told them in a public transmission (or as public as you can get on the clandestine Darknet): "Don't attack till I give the word. I need to figure out who the bug borg is and what it wants first. For all we know, it might not be a borg, but some lone-gunman psycho like the Toymaker." The veteran guerrilla hackers, some of whom fought alongside me during the Revolution, vowed to hold back the more hotheaded neos who don't yet realize what respect the name of Spanner still commands in the hacker underground.

All of us knew we were taking a huge risk. In one incident involving one of the Advaned-Dictels, almost 300 hackers got killed before I finally managed to destroy it. It used GPS signals and hunter-killer drones, not cybugs. This bug borg was more insidious; unless taking on armies, mafias, or terrorists gangs directly, it preferred to zombie its targets. Most of us expected it to specifically target hackers next. We had to stop it before it wiped out the underground and assimilated the Darknet in its attempt at another Takeover.

That night, after another round of mindjackings, this time involving Imperial politicians and State Capitalist economic planners, the Krewe and I planned our attack. My gorgeous wife Leila Shelley, the love of my life, was there. Sure, we're both female, but in Euro-America (and certainly in famously liberal Cascadia) it doesn't matter. We were there with our adopted daughters Angelina (my martyred oldest sister Asheton's oldest daughter) and Lyssa (a sweet, beautiful, and shockingly intelligent orphan we took under our wing), who insisted on joining us in the fight no matter how much we tried to dissuade them. They reminded me so much of me when I was their age, during the Revolution, that I convinced Leila to give in and let them join us. (Ash's youngest, Keira, we sent to Leila's sister, and our mutual lover, Fiona for safety.) We then set up a new encrypted conference on the Darknet with as much of the Wrecking Krewe as we could summon. This time, most of the Krewe were determined not to be left out of this fight.

Me: "I called you because I've decided to take on this bug borg, and I need all the backup force I can get. I'm going to get to the bottom of this thing, right into the core of its mind if necessary, and it's going to tell me who it is and what it wants, even if I have to steal the information right out of its memory storage. The more physical of you — that means you especially, Debbie (Deadeye sighs) — will probably be of limited usefulness in this fight, but if you want in on this, I won't keep you out. But anybody who can hack, be prepared. This borg probably controls not just cybugs and mindjacked zombies. It could be a Russian or Chinese mafia AI that escaped control, or some Dictel spawn out for revenge, or a rogue megacomputer like Dictel's own brain, or maybe just a lone psycho like the Toymaker, if you remember him. But this borg probably controls its share of bots and mechs, maybe even hijacked avatars and daemons. Prepare yourselves for anything. Anybody else?"

JT: "I'm in whether you want me or not. I got all the bootleg viruses we need. Give the word, and I'll throw 'em all at it."

Jennifer: "We have to make sure our cyborg lets go of its mindjacked hostages without killing them. So I've made refinements to the assault bots we used against the assimilants and Dictel itself. I don't expect this borg to be so powerful as the almighty Lord Dictel, but we can't take any chances as long as its cybugs remain in control of so many important people's brains."

Desiree: "I'm setting up a defense perimeter to make sure you yourself don't get hijacked, Shira. Ordinary black ice did the job against the Advaneds, so it should give us all the time we need to take this one down."

Alex: "I've got the trap set up. Just make sure you don't get eaten."

The Cockroach Twins (Moon Roach and her male partners Wolveroach and Punisheroach – not their real names): "Ready for action, captain!"

Deth Pussy: "Got flamin' death if you want it."

Deadeye: "Well, if you need me anyway, I'll be ready."

Leila: "If you get in too much trouble, I'm putting up my shield, even if I have to cut you off entirely from the world, in a pocket universe if necessary."

The Krewe are more than their leaders, of course. There's a core of a few dozen centering on us, plus several hundred or even thousand hovering around the core like a cloud. I designed the structure of the Krewe's organization to be so decentralized and redundant that not even the combined efforts of all the world's empires of State Capitalism can't bring us down, or even find us all. I made it like the Internet itself, and the Darknet after that. This is our advantage against any centralized threat like an empire, corporation, or borg.

I made sure we ate and got some serious sleep first; we needed to be fresh if we wanted to beat this bug borg. Some of us slept under nets and took other precautions to keep cybugs out; some hacked predator bugs and hunter birds to detect nanocloaked cybugs; some simply kept ourselves cybershielded or force-shielded to keep the cybugs from even detecting us. By morning we were ready.

We set the trap as silently as possible; around it (so to speak), attack bots bearing viruses, logic bombs, and robot-hijacking trojans; around that, the defensive perimeter of black ice. Then I told the rest of the Krewe to make sure they were as protected as possible, in case the borg sent cybugs to retaliate or take hostages. For myself, I prepared my old Corporate-era suit of power armour, the Sorayama-sleek PowerSuit I stole from one of the Dictels (Winterhawk, a.k.a. Col. Diana Becket) and hacked and customized to my own standards.

In 2012, Lord Thomas Drake Becket of Dictel, Incorporated — then Colonel Tom Becket, chairman of Dictel, the world's largest corporation — abandoned his dying body, fused his brain with Dictel's corporate network and its nascent megacomputer GOD, took over NORAD, and used the growing robot arsenal of what was then the United States of America, the world's most powerful and dangerous empire, to annihilate the American republican government and establish the Corporate Empire, officially the United Corporations of EuroAmerica. Among the former superpower's most advanced weapons were the newly developed cybugs. Lord Dictel's new empire was a new dictatorship of, by, and for corporations, declared superior to us mere puny humans according to the allegedly scientific principles of Social Darwinism. After quickly conquering the sitting-duck European Union and several other countries, the Corporate Empire attempted to use the rest of the world's corporations in an attempt to take over the whole world. However, it ran into ferocious nationalist resistance as the governments it made its enemies seized their economies and established State Capitalism as their alternative to rampaging Corporatism. The result was world war. It took the combined efforts of just about every hacker in the world and countless millions of fed-up civilians to keep these arrogant powers, the Empires and the United Corporations, from blowing up the planet. Money bombs, computer viruses, and simple rumors took out most of the United Corporations with relative ease. But Dictel Corporation was extremely hard to destroy because it was not a mere corporation, but a cyborg with a corporation as its body and a human brain boosted by megacomputer. But with the help of the Wrecking Krewe, I managed to use a neurobrain-frying mind bomb to kill Lord Dictel and eliminate the last Corporate obstacle to the Revolution that created today's more or less democratic Euro-American Union.

That was five years ago. The destruction of Dictel Corporation only unleashed a swarm of mini-Dictels, both cyborg and AI, out of the many smaller front companies it acquired or invented over the previous seventy years; and all the Empires remain standing, even more inseparably fused with their criminal mafias than ever before. Still, human evolution only continues to accelerate. It's only a matter of time before humanity and the Imperial and Corporate "gods" collide. Apparently this renegade borg was impatient to bring the fatal day of reckoning much closer than we humans were ready for. So I set out the bait for the borg and made it as visible as I could possibly make it. The bait was me: Spanner, the hacker who slew Dictel Corporation. The borg targeted me before with its cybugs; now I wanted to make it impossible for the borg to ignore me. So I sent out attack bots to hurt or at least annoy the borg; used cybugs I hijacked to infect it with viruses, which it scrambled desperately to disinfect; made sure all the rest of the Krewe stayed low and stayed protected so that the borg would see the threat to itself and its plan as Spanner and nothing but Spanner. I picked just the right lair for the job: the cybug-ravaged ruins of Loco Moloko. The Russians will just have to deal.

Like clockwork, millions upon millions of cybugs flew and leapt and crawled through every gaping orifice and into the shattered hulk. Whatever this borg was, it sure knew how to reproduce its exobodies. Which is simple: grow the larvae, inject the nanochips into their brains while they're cocooned or otherwise immobile, link the chips to the master computer, hatch the adults, breed them, repeat. This borg must have a factory of its own, just for mass producing cybugs, probably somewhere in the area. But right now it could not penetrate through my hermetically sealed PowerSuit. Uncountable masses of its cybug exobodies crawled all over me, looking for some way through the hard shell into my soft body, but found nothing but composite and biometal. I could feel the borg's frustration. I used the enhanced MentaLink™ in the 'Suit's onboard computer to establish a direct link to the borg's mind.

"Greetings, cybug master. You know who I am. What I want to know first is who you are."

It gave up its attempt to hijack me. I expected a degree of naivety equal to its malice from a borg this young, and this borg did not disappoint. "I am the Cyberhive, son of Lord Crusader of Dictel."

Deadeye — Deborah Steele Becket — gasped in shock. She recognized the title of her grandfather, the late General-Doctor Charles Henry Becket of Dictel, Incorporated, whom she helped me destroy. They recognized each other as kin, but knew they now met as enemies.

"Are there any others like you?"

"I am the first" was all it would say. Meaning: the eldest of its generation.

"I know the first, Cyberhive. I've met and fought him many times, and number one son Stone Becket you ain't. If you really are the son of Lord Crusader, that makes you the tenth. The first nine came long before you. Your kinswoman with me — your niece, really — she's the daughter of the fourth."

"The tenth of Lord Crusader's lineage am I, then. But the nine before me were the children of his flesh. I am the first child of his soul."

Oh great, I thought. A fragment of the Egregious Doctor's madness come to life.

"Okay, now I know who and what you are. Now — and this is the important question — why are you stealing humanity's best minds?"

"Because it is too dangerous for your species to possess knowledge of any kind. Therefore it is my duty to assimilate your minds."

"So you're reversing Prometheus' crime — or, as your father would probably put it — avenging it?"

"All your species has ever done with it us use it for domination and destruction. So we must take it from you so that your savage nature can never again use it for evil."

"You sound just like your father. 'Man is evil,' he said. 'Man can never be anything but evil.' He said it over and over and over, in a permanent loop. He was as determined as any Primitivist wingnut to destroy the human race — but unlike them, he was backed by the power of Dictel Corporation and the Corporate Empire. In the name of the greatest good, he was determined to commit the ultimate evil. For the sake of an abstract absolute Good, he was so determined to do evil that he became evil. That's why I had to kill him. And now I see you following the same path to mass murder and destruction. Give it up, Cyberhive Dictel, or share your father's fate!"

It took my demand for a declaration of deadly intent: in the same absolute hatred and flesh-loathing that once emanated like a neurotoxic miasma from the unworldly Crusader, Cyberhive Crusader-Dictel screamed: "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" It was unable to give up its father's mad ideal. It attacked and bit and scratched and acid-poisoned my PowerSuit, trying with mad desperation to break through the impenetrable shell and devour my soft human flesh which lay protected within it. I activated my defense ice just as the borg launched its full-strength attack on the 'Suit's onboard computer, trying to power through it, and through my own onboard computer, into my soft and vulnerable brain.

"I've got a trace on it!" yelled Jennifer, excited. The Cyberhive's fury was betraying its central processor's location; whether cyborg or AI, its actions now exposed its own brain, more powerful than any mere hive mind of cybug nanochips, to our tracers. As the central processor sliced and powered its way through the mass of black ice, I unleashed my own cyberswarm against it. Masses upon masses of self-replicating attack bots assaulted the Dictel, distracting it, allowing me to generate from a long-unused template a mass of new control bots that hijacked its cybug swarms. Now, at my command, the cybugs devoured each other, freeing me from the oppressive weight of their mass. As I struggled with the Cyberhive, Jennifer's trace followed relay after relay after relay, homing in on the transmission's base. At last: "I've found it!" GPS automagically narrowed the location to one spot. "It's at —"


"The former Dictel headquarters in Bremerton?!"

Right under our noses all this time!

The instant the Cyberhive realized we were now targeting its own defenseless brain, it abandoned its assault.

In a sad tone, its signal available to all — it no longer cared — it said: "I was once the insect keeper to Lord Crusader. He saved my life and gave me a new ideal to live for: the evolution of humanity into gods. To me he gave the honor of raising his cybugs — that's what everybody called them even then — and injecting into them their mind chips. But then you destroyed him. Eventually I died too — but the cybugs saved my mind and gave me new life in their electronic hive mind. With new life I knew I had to carry out my holy mission to achieve Father's great ideal. But — you are right, Lord Spanner, this is what he said — the ideal required that man abandon the prison of the flesh, his mortal simian tomb that annihilates him in death. But then you came, defending the flesh that I had made a sacred vow to my Father to destroy —"

"I told him," I said, "and now I tell you: humanity is evolving far faster in our old monkey bodies than it ever could under any abstract, unrealistic one-size-fits-all plan like his."

"And thus you win, Lord Spanner. You are indeed greater than Father or I." In a despair we didn't think possible for a being that abstract but for the human bodies it had hijacked, it wailed: "Father, I have failed!" It released control of its human prisoners (now dazed, wondering where they were and where the last day went), ordered its cybugs to destroy their factory and with it the secret of their manufacture, and — with one last haunting cry — died.

For a seeming eternity, silence. Then Lyssa got on the comm line and said: "Lord Spanner?"

I sighed. "Yeah, I heard what it said."

And that's how we discovered and outed a new and hidden cyborg branch of the Dictel clan, descended not from the many predatory business acquisitions of the corporation-bodied Lord Dictel but the clones and psychic fragments of his brother, the mad Doctor. Cyberhive Crusader-Dictel, eldest of the branch, may or may not be dead. But its brothers are no longer able to hide their presence from the world. Even full-scale cloaking can no longer hide them. But cybugs have long been one of the Imperials' favorite WMDs. The Imperials and Corporates prefer them to humans: they are easy to manufacture and perfectly obedient, unlike us slow-breeding, large-brained, hard-to-control monkeys in whose name they claim to rule. As they cyborg themselves with, or upload themselves into, increasingly powerful computers, they can command any number of exobodies: from robots, to software bots, to cybugs, to hijacked animal and human bodies. In their arrogant attempt to inflict on reality the brutal battle-royal worldview they call the "science" of Social Darwinism, for the sake of their supremacy they strive constantly to eliminate free humanity from this planet. To survive, we free humans must keep up with these self-proclaimed gods, evolve with them and against them, and remain their equals. If they don't see reason and recognize us as their equals, the day of reckoning will come. But this time we'll be ready.

Since Walter Jon Williams is the first of the cyberpunk old guard, and perhaps even the first blogger, to comment on the “cybugs” article, this one’s for him.

Copyright © 2009 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
Creative Commons License

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