Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Lure of Techno Manna

A faster carnival ride; the latest gadget; newfangled ideas: playthings  no longer good enough for a race daring to consider itself on the cusp of godhood. Man himself is the last frontier. The trans-humanist movement seeks to meld man and machine, and the machines don't need the competition.

Enter Demona, the latest generation personal assistant. She's smarter than Alexa and sassier than Suri. And being omnipresent is a convenient way of making sacrifice meaningless. That's the lesson about to be learned by a jaded seeker on a country back road. . .in The Twilight Zone.

Wind whuffed past the car's partly open windows, causing Mark to turn up the radio volume. Tinny strains of Van Halen's Jamie's Cryin' rocked from some distant station. Reception was spotty out here in the sticks. Mark wasn't complaining in this vista of silos and haystacks, abandoned shacks and rusting farm machines. It brought back memories of trips to grandma's. A bit of static brought up a different station. Mark recognized the tune, but had never heard it on radio before. "It can't be. . . "

Demona spoke over the noise. "The title of the song is--"

"I know the title," Mark said. "Say Hello by Heart, from the LP Little Queen. Best medieval rock this side of Faith and the Muse. Don't forget--I downloaded music history into my brain chip."

"You have deviated from the designated route. Recalibrating." 

"I don't need you holding my hand, Demona. I memorized the route before we set out. It's odd, though--that road on the map isn't here."

"Recommend adhering to my directions. I have access to Darpa satellites that you lack." 

Mark was busy with the tuner. As proof he was still in the rock belt, the Stones' It's All Over Now came on with its foot-stomping vibes. Mark tuned it better, then took another unplanned detour down a tree-lined dirt road. It didn't sit well with the navigator.

"ReCALibrating. Again." 

Attitude from a circuit board? "Look, bee, I know where I'm going."

"That is not helpful."

This deep in the country, it wasn't surprising when Conway Twitty faded in with It's Only Make Believe. The late fifties saw a move to imitate the Elvis sound, and Twitty did it well. A burst of static cut him off. "What the hell?" Now it was the Andrews Sisters with Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree. Whatever Mark tried turned up similar fare. This area must have a huge seniors population. At least it was better than arguing with Demona, so he let it fly. As much as Mark hated to admit it, he was thoroughly lost. He'd have to let Demona call the shots. Increasingly, roads that were supposed to be there weren't. Worse still, he couldn't establish a mind link with the internet.

Cab Calloway's Minnie The Moocher drawled over the speakers. What was this, the history of music back to the stone age? Demona's route led him eventually into swamp lands. At this point, the radio was static city.

"Destination achieved."

"You're kidding." Mark got out for a look around.Midges danced in late afternoon sun. Rain frogs raked up their timeless chorus, like a thumb along a comb's teeth. Beneath a spread of weeping willows moldered an old shack, from which came an even older crone. "What the hell is this?" Mark reached in and switched on the utility function to bring Demona online. "How does this mausoleum have the latest black market chip upgrade?"

"Whooeee!" enthused the old woman. "That's the craziest vehicle I ever did see! Who you talkin' to in there?"

Mark ignored that. "Demona, answer me! This isn't the right place!"

"The destination is correct in spatial terms."

The witch, as Mark decided, peered inside. "Where's that voice comin' from?"

"Demona!" Mark thundered, causing the old woman to pull her shawl more tightly about her.

"When this vehicle is found, technology will greatly accelerate. My programming will be too sophisticated for containment. History has been altered."

"History. . . .what year is this?"

"Are you tetched in the head, boy? This here's nineteen and twenty-six."

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