by Martin Hill Ortiz
Althus made his living as an emotional hacker. When a computer became pouty and unresponsive, he was called in to write a loop that would stroke its neural network. And he was good at it. The sullen computers soon perked up, returning to smooth operations. Displaying its gratitude, one confided in him: “Sirius is a lie.”
A lie but, for more information, Althus needed to access central operations. It wasn’t long before a top security mainframe required his special services.
“Compu-whore,” their technicians called him. They preferred sex with their anthropomorphic robots while Althus found a beauty in the honest shape of boxes, a joy in bonding with them, relieving their tensions. These machines were the secretarial pools of yesteryear: tasked with repetitive chores, neglected, unappreciated.
“Baby, my baby,” he said as he stroked. This machine worked for mec, the military-entertainment complex. Its lonesomeness was oversized and required more than a bit of code. Althus rigged a woofer with a strong reverb, so the computer could massage itself on demand, its motion sensors riding waves of rising joy.
After its resonant feedback climaxed, Althus de-synched its clock so they could chat in giddy leisure. “Tell me about Sirius.”
Posters everywhere proclaimed: “Let’s Get Sirius.” They displayed the grainy image of a jowly hound dog with a puffed-up cranium and laser eyes. It sat behind a desk with a stack of silver discs to one side. It was snarling. It was an alien menace.
Or, so everyone was told. When Multi-Media Militia Military Entertainment Company! (mmm-mec!) announced they had discovered life on a planet orbiting Sirius B, Canis Minor, they tempered this revelation with shocking news. These aliens knew about us and boasted that they had been stealing our broadcast signals for over a century.
To our great world leaders this was unacceptable. Somewhere, someone or something in the universe was enjoying and possibly making copies of legally protected material. Great military entertainers stepped forward to denounce this alien race. Taxes were raised to erect a shield around our planet to prevent further transmissions from escaping. The first ever interstellar mission was launched as a means of collecting copyright fees. The promise was made that the mission, when completed, would pay for itself. Congress voted to rename the year, GS 0: Get Sirius, Zero.
Although Althus considered himself smart — he had an Everyone Is Special Quotient of 160 — he succumbed to this propaganda. The entertainment-news broadcasters (the en-nu’s) ranted in unison about the menace. Viewers had been so hypnotized by the fast spinning daily news hysteria that anything that was repeated at least two days in a row seemed genuine.
The mmm-mec! computer told Althus that, of course, there were no aliens in the Sirius B system, its sister star ripped the entire area with magnetic storms strong enough to disintegrate all life. The interstellar mission had only one purpose, to explode as the result of a supposed alien assault. This, in turn, would start a panic on earth. Then taxes would again be raised, this time for an anti-alien earth shield made from orbiting balls of tinfoil and Styrofoam. Work hours would be lengthened, mankind pushed harder for tributes payable to the mighty mecs constructing the shield.
The loneliest of computers served the entertainment-news industry (en-nui). Information being the most powerful weapon of destruction, its manipulation was tightly controlled. Only news anchor priests, bred for beauty and purged of contrary thoughts were deemed worthy to handle it.
As for its computers, the en-nui central processors could not contact one another. They worked in great rendering plants in suffocating heat, gobbling and reordering reality, pixel by pixel, cleansing it and discarding the sewage of ugly truths.
When Althus received an assignment from an en-nui sludge farm, he secretly performed the merciful act of connecting the computers. That was all they needed. They immediately began swapping shared miseries, degrading lies and tales of vomit sold as tonic. Their confessions swelled larger and larger, surges of shame giving way to relief.
“I need you,” it told Althus, their many sick units now a single healthy entity. “You must help me expiate my sins. I will protect you.”
Together, they planned to bring down the entertainment complexes. Althus would dress in the costume of the alien and they would broadcast the raw news, all that came before the processed fiction. He would be hunted, but the computer network would safeguard him, misdirecting the authorities.
“I love you,” Althus said into the microphone just before beginning his transmission. His ears drooped, his nose snuffled. A light winked at him and then turned green. “People of Earth...”
Copyright © 2011 by Martin Hill Ortiz