“The Comet” is a sketch of a story
that has been called “hard sci-fi”, and was written primarily to help me
organize my thinking around future computer interfaces, how they would be
used, why they would be used, and how those components can be told while
focusing on the situation. It was written quickly around the 30th of Dec
An envisioning story
I see my home as an open spirular structure on a colossal water droplet, dangling in space, weightlessly supporting another 20,000 lives, as do the other bubbles in our spherical block, along this arm of cold space stretching almost endlessly behind the rotating comet.
In the morning I watch the droplets land as the blue constellations of vapor fall onto the glass barrier window. A white timeline and calendar extend from the droplets reflection of me. 2067; three months until our product goes comet-wide; currently in the first week of stage 2 stabilizer tuning; about half a comet season until the warmer radial shift; two and a half years before the timeline of my next personal goal completes; and 12 seconds until my suit and shoes fit themselves correctly.
Pulling out of hover dock, my trusty Space Rover is joined by thousands of others, streaming into the cloud of city-sized rotating buildings.
“Here’s your coffee, and if its news to you, those new comet’s-edge farming crops are coming in mighty fine, your team has a plan to support that sort of thing yes? Well good, and move on, I can’t help you all day.”
Two parallel windows held in front of me a hand-cut mechanical clock, and Keller Williams, with arms stretched out toward the further plane. He grabbed a small holographic link from a long chain, and threw his arms open, expanding the chain a thousand times into the great machinations of what appeared to be a bronze valley of clockwork cogs filling the glass for over twice our height.
“It’s just a mechanical metaphor for the engine’s cooling software; we’re trying to figure out what can be cut to reach the 100K cycles per second necessary for the dynamic covers to balance in equilibrium over the intakes.” I nodded in agreement, as the heavy bronze components did indeed physicalize the multitude of vital tasks and readings each balancer must undertake every magnetic cycle; and each appeared as necessary as the next. My hand reached out, and tilted down, rotating the wall of clockwork cogs into discs and then lines of light overlapping and sparking between each other; my hand then pushed forward, driving each to be further and smaller while visually zooming the sparks into rhythmic patterns and out further through multiple spirular algorithms until the complete holographic model of the intake-cover hovered almost silently before us.
“Have you tried rescaling your timeline to the fundamental ‘Dance’ frequency from the motion sensors themselves?” I said, relaxing my hand to let the clockwork forest reappear, and watching the cogs fly across the room by my recommendation, reforming into clusters of similar computations, and now reducing themselves by shared assumptions on similar sensor readings. The result was promising, but even after reduction it implied a response time only slightly shorter than the previous model. “Ah, so that’s why they have you working on this; it’s a tricky one indeed.”
Keller nodded slowly “the fundamental clock tick of the machine, regardless of your use for it as a hovering step ladder, is still the clearest way to find the essential work to be done” he said as the original cog configuration clicked back into place. However he did begrudgingly flick some of them into a new configuration, ticked the threshold as a little closer to met, and then extended a hand in my direction, “And as always Lawrence, a good morning to you too.”
I sat contentedly staring out of my window at the determined walk of a well-dressed business woman, while the day’s communications appeared by the side of my reflection. My eyes imitating that certain “façon de voir” (pattern of eye movement) particular to the feminine confidence exhibited by my muse, I quickly glanced through the general and team news, eyes flick-tagging and then finally settling into the more complex issues surrounding my particular role.
Our team’s meeting notification slid into place. While still within easy reach, I threw some of our latest results and progresses into a crude communication, and mapped it into my jacket pocket in case this meeting required some punch.
“For the last 20 years, Structured Matter Corporation has supplied the connectivity crystals that built these walls and 80% of the walls along the comet’s tail”, the comet stood holographically spiraling upwards in the center of the 30 person round-table meeting room. “Our clientele are no longer the practically minded construction engineers building towards basic survival on the first colonizable water comet, they are now connoisseurs of space.”
Gregory Sharp’s arm swept over the room expanding the comet’s path into a timeline striped diagonally with symbols of SMC’s major products. From release, to growing adoption, and most often to replacement, their overlapping growth had held the company in its famous upward slope. His eyes held the thinning section at the near end of the timeline, and then followed his toe to inspect the floor beneath us. “Our pioneering relative location matrices, and self-healing barrier walls, are now common practice; quickly overlooked in favor of deeper immersion sensory stimulation carpeting. They have literally pulled the rug from under us, and it is proving to be some fine engineering to compete with.”
My hand touched the notes in my jacket pocket, as the small time-strip representing our Fire Walker technology glowed along the timeline, and then expanded into the full circumference of the room. Gregory continued, “But this team is not competing to keep customers padded together in megapartments, nor to hasten the monotonic sprawl of SMC’s previous products across fields of identical suburban satellites.” The strip transformed into a giant metallic shard-like-wing as clouds of holographic fire slipped around and enclosed it’s surface, a tense quiver of rapid shudders followed, when the shard suddenly caught weightlessly its own drag and rolled quietly over the searing waves of cosmic particles.
“Fire Walker, or Dynamic Response Architecture, is a million buildings in one, dynamically switching between them, to surf the cosmic tides with ease.” Looking from the model to the eyes around the room “This team’s role is to create for specific clients the first and showcase buildings of this new technology. I repeat our mission statement now to stress the balance between a successful building, and the long term success of Fire Walker technology in general, which this team was formed to support.” Heads nodded as the projects time-strip reappeared and extended into the future. Our projected increase in production rose over time, with the products constituting that progress visually streaming from the representative people around the room into the shared rising pool, and beyond those shorter timelines into an eventual estimated one third of the companies investments.
I watched my piece of the jigsaw click into one of the larger streams ending within the next year, and noticed its small “acknowledged ripple” flowing into neighboring and future products. I saw the fellow across from me stare into the endless corridors of detail within his single piece.
“It’s more than a million static buildings in one.” I said as the eyes centered on me. “And it’s not only about our particular clients spoken wants either. This requires a new kind of relationship between the person and the forms around them, one which embraces the dynamic nature of both, beyond that of a static wall.” The projected timeline centering the room spiraled rapidly outwards but quickly lost its resolution as the specific nature of the new relationship was ill defined, and led to grey loose possibilities. I reached for the notes in my jacket, but realized they would only extend the projection a few notches further, nothing particularly more compelling, yet.
Gregory’s hand closed, pulling the timeline into a linear perspective showing its actual location within this building, within this cloud of commercial buildings, and between swarms of transport vehicles swimming through current-time. “Lawrence is right; it is not just the prediction plots, but rather the relationship of a man’s existence to his surroundings here and now that provides the ultimate purpose of this organization.” The holo space automatically zoomed into a building and then chiseled face of Harold Zeem, the famous actor we had hired to model for our better products. White architectural lines following his Vitruvian features extended out and accented his form as they curled into the space around him, rotating out to form our latest in modern custom-fit planar disc homes. The Structured Matter Corporations’ SMC banner followed.
“Perhaps when Lawrence is finished, those walls will dynamically adapt rather than statically reinforce the signature poses and physical productivity tasks we’ve provided.” The lines of the building attempted to follow Zeem’s body as he confidently strode towards the window, stretching and contracting every wall through fascinating undulations, but ultimately sticking on rigid coils and corridors as the sharp planar windows extended no more.
“Well, there is certainly plenty room to grow there. On to the business updates…”
I find lunch to be a very personal experience, while often shared with friends, today I sit with a rich soup, on a sofa window near my office. The next three weeks schedule lightly stretches across the windows length, while along its height are marked my personal team member’s timelines with a waterfall of connecting “trade flow” lines showing the complex dependency chains between their work and the products target.
My soup spoon acts as a pointing device while I flick newly received bug reports and partner requests onto the appropriate team members’ calendars. Stopping, I unfold my hand up into an open palm, and slowly rotate about the wrist; the sequential days rotating with my hand until each column represents a task, here and there intersecting the rows of people to whom they are assigned. From this perspective it is clear that many similar items assigned to others should go to me, and that Nimja and Karl should be doing two different kinds of bolt motion calibration rather than both pulling from the same list and alternating types. Each of these process changes finds expression between snappy spoon flicks and mouthfuls of soup.
“Gentlemen, and lady, thank you for meeting me in my office, along with our friend Heath joining holographically from the hardware plant. The results of our last week’s sprint were duly impressive in the stakeholders meeting, and we are encouraged to finish the efforts. Now, keeping in mind that this is a recorded contractual meeting, let us begin.
“We have before us four weeks of vital development, three of which will decide the last.” The empty calendar tile stretched four weeks long in the center of the crowded room. “During these weeks there are six major parallel tasks we must accomplish, represented by the columns now cutting that time thin.” I then pushed down the nearest corner, separating the tasks into a stack of sheets, creating a separate plane for each member of the team. Nimja unfolded one hand from his arms, opened it to select only his slate, and twisted it into closer inspection. “While you consider the plan, I will begin ‘lowering’ the room to the outer lab rungs of the SMC center.”
“…so the bolts between shards cannot withstand the Walker’s stresses for long, unless they are specifically built or ‘trained’ to do so; and you want us to train them from your flight data?” Karl concluded as we arrived into the gigantic bare megaplate walls of SMC test chamber 72.
“Exactly; simply correlate the structure templates to known thresholds, and then of course… live test it.”
We now stood beside the “Long Arm” inflatable construction suit, which looked like a backpack mounted to a hang-glider’s wing, trailed by a deflated hot air balloon.
“Not everybody likes the ‘Arm suit, but it’s necessary to build at the inter shard scale.” I flicked the backpack’s handles tight on either side of me, buckled in, and flexed my right arm out to the side. Kinesthetic tracking engaged as the 20-foot long arm inflated and whipped into place, twisting and contorting via the area optimized contracting bands squeezing the inflated canvas muscles.
My left hand inflated into place as I steadied myself for the “weird” part of manual pneumatic robotics: standing. Carefully lifting my right knee under me, and inflating my left leg back, I lunge forward some 100-feet, landing and catching myself on semi-solid bending legs, while somewhat logically waving my arms around like gigantic sail oars, to twist into a caught position somewhere between kneeling and push-ups from which I can eventually stand.
Stretching the 30-foot legs over each side of the next metal wing, I counter swing the weight up into the air above my head, carrying the almost 40x60x10-foot edged shard of Fire Walker Shapeware Steel, to be installed as the left breast plate of the Fire Walker suit itself.
More cosmic knife than space suit, I explicitly designed the Fire Walker craft akin to the human form to allow the maximum control possible when balancing a 360-foot tall collection of shapeware wings loosely bolted together and hovering upon the ebbs and flows of a comet’s fiery tail. With six torso shards, three shards per limb, and two for the head, it stands as a floating scar of humanized metal plates; that could construct a building a hundred times its own size, in the middle of a cosmic hailstorm.
Later that day in my office, the holographic Fire Walker simulation is replicating my coffee sipping arm while balancing over a virtual cosmic well of falling fiery particles. The hind leg stabilizers in their bicycling uplift pattern are missing every 12th or so downward kick, very peculiar.
Swanly stepped to the door between the office corridor and the eternal well of space below us. “You heard that our friends at Beveled Carpeting are producing adaptable wall planes yes?” said he, rolling his toe over the doors edge.
“Their dichotomy of interior and exterior is so often the cause of innumerable arguments.” I replied as the Walker’s exposed hovering shards caught a broken ripple of light.
“Hey! Sensory stimulation carpeting gives the customers the feel they want; what’s the point in asking why they want it...” He continued staring distantly at the complex mechanical balancing act.
“…must you always design OF the human form but never FOR them? Cannot their whimsical pleasures be more deeply rooted in your physical product?” pleaded Swanly pulling in his shoulders.
“I should ask you that” tilting my head back and to the side.
“[Sigh]. Every day I wonder over and talk to you, and it’s always the biggest riddle of my hours. My personal thrills are apparently a mysterious driving force I may never understand.” He scoffed.
“Some questions come before others” said I drawing with my finger the symbol for the subconscious auto-mapping of experience to emotion, and the conscious but optional control thereof, and then staring out into the cosmos. “Oh I saw Bevels new foot driven roller flooring, very impressive” but the words only caught his sloppily turning shoulders.
My eyes rested on the open door, leading back to current-time.
“What are you looking for?” bubbled Julia rounding the corner and glancing from the far corridor through to me, while my legs back pedaled from holo space and up against the side wall.
“Nothing that isn’t already there, just perhaps never united.”
Every fingertip twisting and weaving the knot of interleaved holo-strings representing both the Walker’s stability equations, the people doing the work to implement them, and their ultimate consequences across the company and comet’s infrastructure was simply too much for me to take as I threw the incomplete and knotted holo ball at a passing highway spoke, and watched it shoot into the receding distance while pulling my shoulders back and breath up and out.
My raised eyes watched blankly the passing megafields of non-linear sun-berry trees stretching endlessly into a naturally intricate and ever individually structured gravityless growth. Their harvesting had always been a huge challenge, but that was part of their appeal, if indeed they could be addressed as a single group at all.
Staring across the narrow trolley to the warmly jacketed woman across from me, my worries of work correctly faded into the whirling power of the mag engines presumably taking her home, and myself to the art institute.
The exterior corridor of the institute ran along its side a history of intraformal sculpture.
Preceded sequentially by the invention of augmented visual overlays, and the proliferation of sub-surface tensile stress visualizers, the sculptor and his audience had found pleasing the intricate analysis of torques, pressures and physical composition systems now viscerally apparent to the senses.
Indeed upon retroactive analysis of the great masters, particularly their uncast clay originals, but also infamously their marble carvings, each internal structure did little but to solidify the works place in history.
Eventual acceptance of conceptual holigraphy, by which one interactively knots and then untangles across their physical, communicated and philosophical lives, added the crowning touch to sculptural appreciation, making visible each viewers troubles and thoughts as manifest on the physicalized forms’ near trembling internal structure.
The actual matter of my intra-sculpture, as an expressively isolating and painfully selective physical recreation process; is a shocking implosion of honest effort into an honestly obvious existent that is hardly expressible in words.
Foo Long graciously places my succulent meal and beer on the table, before bowing with a smile, as he and the hours of sculpture now rest far behind me.
I languishly finish the sauce from my fork as the trolley glides to a stop by my bubble.
Deep inside, she is standing with her right foot a little to her side, and her head thrown high, staring past the stone awning and glass sheets she herself had cut. Her hands at her sides, palms forward, gradually extending back and sensuously enclosing each finger over the intra-rock force lines she had molded for herself to be held within. Catching her whole body on the magnetic fields, she slowly arches up and into the thin air with full rising confidence.
My left hand traces along her back and shoulders, as my spine
straightens into a floating ease, filling her eyes and senses as my only
purpose, while finding myself gradually falling into her magnetic cloud,
electrified lips, and arched back; burning a clean pocket of living calm, as
a small glowing light, in a