At first, coming back online felt so much like waking up that I thought I still operated on wetware. I rose up into consciousness slowly, a drop of oil in a deep pond. I pried open sleep-heavy, crusted eyelids reluctantly, lethargy clinging tenaciously to my limbs still heavy after a deep, deep sleep. I felt the satiny sheets cradling my body heat in a cocoon I was loth to break. I even felt my breaths, inhaling and exhaling with the steady rhythm achieved only in the deepest level of sleep, although I also knew some practitioners of meditation who could slow their bodies in the same way.
I didn’t want to wake up. Restful sleep visited me so rarely, it seemed a veritable sacrilege to rush into wakefulness, like eating the Communion bread from hunger. Nights had become my silent companion, a time I spent at quiet, simple tasks while others rested. No sense fighting to sleep. I embraced the reality of my sleeplessness and lived in it wholeheartedly. Thus it was that waking up felt like a benediction, a blessing only rarely received.
When I finally accepted that I was awake, I opened my eyes and the bubble of illusion popped. No wet technology could produce those distinctive iridescent cubes floating motionlessly over that unnaturally glassy viridian sea, stretching off into the horizon like an exercise in perspective. Their multitude exceeded the mind’s ability to grasp, a number so vast as to be incomprehensible. Each one housed a mind, the unique workings of an individual entity, that which made it separate from its neighbors. Intellectually, I knew that I – that which made me me – existed in one of those cubes, just as did everyone I knew (which, at this point, was everyone). I didn’t know which was mine; only the Mind was large enough to grasp the kind of numbers required to locate a point in that vast space. It didn’t really matter, because the concept of where no longer obsessed us the way it did in the past.
But the wet brain’s thinking patterns subside slowly, so I thought I lay naked in the body-temperature sand beneath all those cubes, toes just dabbling in the water, arms comfortably nestled at my sides, hair spreading in a fan beneath my shoulders, a silky contrast to the slight sandy roughness. One advantage of being a digital construct, though, is sand stays exactly where you want it, and never where you don’t.
One disadvantage, however, is that you can never truly be alone. Sure, you can put up firewalls, but someone will always spend the processing time to break them, usually with no better reason than it was there. I didn’t even have any firewalls, waking up as I had, so when another figure approached, I couldn’t repel it.
For an appreciable time – it must have been whole hundredths of a sec – the figure remained indiscriminate, like a person obscured by sea mist walking toward me. But this sea has no mist, and anyway, as I already said, location is meaningless. Then the figure seemed to solidify, and I felt my (nonexistent) heart skip a beat.
Let me go back a bit, if there is such a thing as back. I never took seriously the possibility of digital shanghai. Oh, I knew it was theoretically possible, had seen and confirmed the code myself – elegant yet brutal, like the nuclear weapons of an earlier age. But though I could come up with an extensive list of others who might want to take me or of the picture for some unknown duration, the Mind made it nearly impossible.
With a benevolent, all-powerful entity actually keeping an eye on everyone and everything – literally – it’s impractical to get up to anything nefarious. Not actually impossible, unfortunately, because the Mind chooses to respect the sanctity of an entity’s thoughts. That means that one individual can think up and attempt to execute harm to another, but that many entities would be hard-pressed to collaborate in such activity. We’d seen younger entities execute mischief, perhaps swapping bits of their elders in sometimes amusing ways, but the Mind always had a backup to restore the maligned ones to their proper configurations.
Digital shanghai was a different level of malignancy from harmless bit swapping. To be shanghaied meant to be taken offline without your consent, to vanish from the community for some unknown time, to have your input nullified, to be erased from the conversation and decision-making structure. A millisecond shanghai executed at the right time could shift the entire course of the decision tree’s branching.
Don’t get the idea that I’m some kind of egomaniac, thinking other entities would go to all that trouble just for me. The fact is that, although we don’t have leaders or government or any of the trappings of wet society, to varying degrees we still think with wet patterns. This means some want to lead and others want to follow; many still seek and find comfort in organization. My pattern is such that entities often follow me, or structure according to my suggestions. And that motivates others to want my removal, because they disagree with me or want another organizational structure. At least, I assume that would motivate one to risk the Mind’s displeasure.