From A Work in Progress Called “Diabolus Ex Machina: A Fable.”

I am hoping this short novel/long novella shows up on Amazon fairly soon. It is set 8-10 years in the future.

While Ferguson slept for the next 18 hours, life churned on in Portland. In the morning, students all across town stood waiting for buses, and nearly all of the children were staring off at different angles into the same electro-space, through the glasses that displayed virtual reality programs, vidstreams and other commnet effluvia in their field of vision. Most neither focused on nor heard the traffic as it went by.  An application on their glasses (a few were stuck with handheld smart devices) tracked the progress of their various school buses and alerted them to when their particular bus was within 60 seconds of their respective bus stops. At that point the waiting children turned their heads as one in the direction of the soon-to-arrive bus, as if guided by a choreographic magical hand.

Some of their parents drove/rode in autonomous electronic cars connected via an uplink to a server farm that plotted an optimal course and processed information gleaned from the sensors on the autonomous cars and downloaded back to the cars’ central processing units nearly instantaneously, but not quite, hence the occasional collision of autonomous cars and bridge abutments.  The cars’ occupants watched high-resolution displays on the dashboards that fed them information about: the latest movements of the Americana Movement in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas … the investigation of an assassination attempt on President Dalton-Smith, who had handily defeated President (former Speaker of the House) McConnley earlier in the year … ratings for the droning head-bashing of the Krieger Network founded by Ronald Krieger after he resigned as President in his second term and took Vice President Quince with him and Speaker McConnley ascended to the presidency    the bitter battle between France and Germany over who owns Alsace … the rise of the the Soviet Islamic State in the Middle East … the privatization of six West African countries … what to do about the 100 percent increase in car-pedestrian accidents in Greater Portland involving teenagers… the latest price hike on self-administered Narcan Plus to reverse the opioid overdoses that continued to grow despite tremendous national hand-wringing and profit-taking… the latest interest rate on CRIAs (consolidated retirement income accounts), a fairly recent product offered by banks in which people pooled their money into one account and, theoretically, shared proceeds from the invested funds equally … news about Caitlyn Jenner, who even at her advanced age was lobbying to enter the upcoming Summer Olympics heptathalon and try to become the first person to win a gold medal as a male and a female … the latest trends in smart shoes and nano-fiber shirts … formation of the newest Interpersonal Communication Platform (IPC) company, which had come to replace what was formerly known as “social media” … the pending move of the Portland Trailblazers to Reno, Nevada … the renewed suggestion by many neurologists that players on the 12 teams remaining in the National Football League should wear minimal padding and bicycle-type helmets without face masks so as to prevent head injuries … and audio versions of the comments sections of Oregon Totally Live in which anonymous people with meta-ironic avatars issued increasingly virulent comments about the comments of other commenters commenting on the opinions of other commenters about the content of a news posting whose subject had long since been lost to the memory of the commenters.

The autonomous electric cars whirred along in the designated left lanes of I-5, I-84 and connecting highways (205, 405, 217, 26, etc.) while those with vehicles powered by engines that required the drivers to manipulate pedals to make the cars/trucks accelerate and stop sat and fumed in stop-and-go traffic in the other lanes. Most of them relied on old Bluetooth technology to send GPS route suggestions and traffic alerts from their smart devices to the after-market vidstream screens mounted on their dashboards just to the right of the steering wheels. Efforts to create a second designated lane for cars with two or more occupants had failed miserably due to difficult enforcement conditions (increasingly realistic mannequins) and the fact that a large percentage of this lane’s users were UGo drivers, which was deemed to be government sponsorship of a profit-making enterprise and thus abandoned one year after it went into effect. UGo (formed from the leftover pieces of Uber and Lyft) was increasingly under the regulation of the Oregon Traffic Safety Organization (one of 50 splinters from the now-broken National Traffic Safety Commission), which was dominated by representatives from sparsely populated central and eastern Oregon, where people resented the fact that elites in the Willamette Valley could get a ride by activating an application on a smart device and simply wait for a ride to arrive. Things like the Oregon Traffic Safety Organization were on President Dalton-Smith’s radar, but the devastation she inherited and doing something to fix it was an onerous task, particularly when people were trying to kill her.

Most houses in upscale sections of Portland had sixth-generation wifi that connected HVAC systems, refrigerators, stoves, lights, security systems, water heaters, air purifiers, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, baby cams, device-recharging systems, timers, smoke detectors, televisions, music players and the computing base stations that replaced the old desktop and laptop computers. One could look in on the baby, tell the refrigerator to make ice, make sure no one was lurking outside the house and plot the predicted course of one’s portfolio over the next 48 hours all while waiting in line for brunch on Sunday, a Portland tradition that evolved when reserving a place in line to get into a restaurant for brunch emerged and “line sitting” became the new side-job money-maker. AppleSoft Inc., creator of the operating system that made “the commnet of things” possible, had recently issued a patch after thousands of such systems installed, on their own, “self-coding security enhancements” and locked out customers not only from their smart devices but from their houses as well.

One trend, interactive chips implanted just above one’s right thumb for those too lazy to swipe a card or punch in a code, had died completely out when it became clear that it was a lot easier for a thief to just knock you down and extract the chip with one quick cut from a sharp knife than it was to steal your smart device or hack into the software running your computing base station.

[Ferguson] had no Transglobal credit card, no bank card or in fact any card that scanned by a certain machine automatically connected to all the other machines tracking his likes/dislikes, bank accounts, spending habits, perversions, inversions, history of melancholia, family of origin, dietary needs, medical misadventures, level of education, certifications, licenses, dispensations from units of government, marital status or lack thereof and location anywhere at any possible intersection of latitude and longitude anywhere in the world.

© Joseph Galligan 2019

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