Besides this level of the hospital, the second level consists of many small rooms, some with desks holding ancient, illegible hardcopy, curled and yellow, the paper itself so brittle it fragmented when I breathed near it. Dust had collected in odd patterns, not evenly distributed, but piled against walls and corners, waved like sand dunes across surfaces, apparently blown away in other places. As I walked the dust puffed up behind me and fell slowly back, swirling in the even glow from panels set into the walls and ceiling which clearly imitated sunlight. The effect was beyond desolation, and I found myself hurrying back to the nurse's station and the terminal.
It didn't occur to me to be surprised about the presence of power. Here the diffuse glow of lighting seemed natural. Somewhere, I realized, a power station still worked. Were people operating them, or was this all automatic?
I looked at the terminal. The ready light, or what I assumed was a ready light because that's what it would have been in the beginning of the 21st century, was an intense emerald green, very clear. It seemed to beckon me, to tell me that answers lay inside.
In a drawer I found a printed pamphlet:
Emergency Operating Instructions
Geneva Node Ref. #1347-030Alpha
Fiber Media Update November 11, 2088.
••• Warning •••
This document is NOT intended as a full explanation of Worldnet capabilities or usage. It is for emergency use only. For Edmod Neurotransfer contact your Local Node Edmod AI.
••• Warning •••
After the table of contents I read:
In event of catastrophic failure of neural I/O peripherals, this fiber media printout is designed to help any citizen enter Worldnet dataspace.
Such catastrophic failure might include:
• medical emergency with both personal monitor and mindlink failure;
• new viral intrusion into essential grown organic picoelectronics;
• deliberate or accidental sabotage of Local Node housing or traffic AI;
• a single-strand remote terminal or portable datapad suffering catastrophic I/O detuning;
• induced madness in a local AI;
• drastic power loss to Local Node.
While Geneva Node (Central Processing Artificial Intelligence) considers these possibilities extremely remote (< one in one billion), Intercorp Council orders these emergency instructions centrally available in hardcopy form in all Urb warrens, outposts, museum or monument structures, medical support chambers and Local Node housings.
This document is intended for emergency support only. If no emergency exists, route questions to Geneva Node via Local Node through standard mindlink or phonic channels.
There was much here I did not understand. As at Canaveral, I could see no screen, but there was a keyboard. It was extremely light, yet when I touched an oval depression on the side it froze in place, even though it was not in contact with a solid surface. I pressed the oval again, and the keyboard was free to move. The chair operated the same way.
Besides the standard alphanumeric was a row of special keys marked with icons, small pictures I could not immediately identify.
I was afraid. Despite the operating instructions, all this equipment was strange. I walked the hallways from room to room for some time, reluctant to try activating the terminal. But each time I returned to the nurse's station the ready light glowed steadily, beckoning.
There is no one else here, besides the mummified bodies.
The nurse's station is circular and filled with strange equipment. The lifesupport tents radiate out from it in a near-complete circle. The door, and a small stage, take up the remaining wedge of the circle.
I stared at the keys. The small pictures. One looked like a cross-section of a human brain. I'd seen the same image at Canaveral, on the Mindlink XV3-2044, but I could find no small cap here to put on.
I sat down finally, unable to put it off any longer. I set the keyboard at a comfortable height; the light dimmed, but I did not notice. Very swiftly the terminal seemed to be checking itself. Images flared and faded so quickly I could not tell what they were-only the vague impression of peripherals like mindlink or holographics. There was a bright red flash, then these words spoken in a strangely androgynous voice: "Welcome to Chicago Node. You have logged on to Worldnet. Prepare for Realtime Mindlink Data transfer." After a pause, the voice went on. "Your retina is not on file. Mindlink is inoperative." I had the impression of a group of people speaking among themselves, then the voice, louder now, returned. "Thank you. You will now enter Worldnet Dataspace."
The figure of a man appeared some distance away. Certain for a moment I had found another person, I stood up, forgetting that the keyboard was locked in place, pinning me in the chair. Then I noticed the figure was incomplete, translucent in places. From time to time the head (which I saw had no discernable features) fragmented and coalesced.
I heard the same androgynous voice. "Welcome to Chicago Local Node. Chilink has notified Geneva of your presence."
"What's happened?" I asked. "Where is everyone?"
There was no answer. The figure broke up again, came back together.
Finally I tried typing the question on the keyboard.
The head lifted, as though listening, and the voice answered me. "We do not understand. One moment, please." The projection vanished abruptly, as if switched off, and I looked at the empty wall of the nurse's station. I felt as if I had been seeing ghosts.
After a few moments, the figure reappeared. "We are sorry. Many systems in our network have decayed. At one time we had over seventeen billion active terminals, including biomonitors and satellite links, but we have not had an active terminal for over twelve years. We cannot hear you. We have sent a routine maintenance query to Geneva Node. Local diagnostics should arrive soon for repairs. Meanwhile we suggest you contact HOMER Artificial Intelligence for narrative reconstruction. Perhaps HOMER can help you." The figure vanished again.
The manual told me I should be able to enter doorways for information of the kinds of data contained inside: Military, History, Science and Technology, Genealogical, Life Support (provided by information from so-called Personal Monitors worn by every citizen), Medical, Psychological, Geographical, Central Processing and something called PsiLink, which gives data on Psychic Sciences and is proscribed - entry is forbidden. And of course HOMER.
I didn't understand. I had seen no doorways. I ate some of the rations I had brought from the Gyges, and adjusted the keyboard.
Again the lights dimmed, and again the figure appeared. We went through the same sequence. My retina was still not on file. I was still welcome to Chicago Local Node. Mindlink was still inoperative.
This time the figure did not vanish at the end, however. It said, "Local node diagnostics have arrived. Chilink is unable to contact Geneva. We suggest you request hardcopy dataspace retrieval of all Worldnet interactions for audit, maintenance and archival purposes; we suggest filename 'Portal.'"
"Why don't you request it?" I asked.
"We have no authority," the figure answered. "We are a limited local node AI."
Gyges would not have given me this much trouble.
So I requested a hardcopy dataspace retrieval.
The figure said: "Place your palm on the biomonitor sampler, please."
I had no idea what it meant, and spent something over an hour looking for the biomonitor sampler. Finally I found what looked like a hot plate. When I put my palm on it (perhaps the hundredth thing I had placed my hand on!), it hummed for a moment and a yellow light flashed twice. When I returned to the terminal again, the figure thanked me.
Later I learned that Central Processing could supply a textual version of all Worldnet entries, and record an audit trail of human interactions and activities. I will combine this retrieval with my recorded vocal commentary and store it via Gyges ramscoop telemetry with the on board AI.
What follows will be my experience once I enter Worldnet.
WORLDNET DATASPACE ENTRY
HARDCOPY DATASPACE RETRIEVAL
SUBJECT DNA#123671278BR77 (SUBJECT TO VERIFICATION PENDING LIFESUPPORT ANALYSIS OF BIOPSY MATERIAL)
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All text © 1986 Rob Swiggart. "Portal : A Dataspace Retrieval" is available courtesy of the Author's Guild Backprint Programme. ISBN: 0595197841All programming and software © 2002 Salim Fadhley. Released under the GPL. Code available on request.
Updated: Sun Apr 14 2002
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