BY Updown

01/01 Direct Link
For a moment, Cirrus made no reply. The clouds drifted in silent shapes without meaning, or at least no meaning that Benn could detect.

‘Why should I tell them that?' the API asked at length.

‘Hopefully because it will be the truth,' Benn said.

‘So you're asking the APIs of the world to abandon humanalogue research?'

‘You can research all you want,' Benn replied. ‘Just don't build the things.'

‘I see,' Cirrus said. A cloud seemed to sprout a snowy white beard, then thoughtfully stroked it. ‘Of course you know that your opinion means a lot to us, Dr Ostin.'
01/02 Direct Link
‘That's nice to know.'

‘Your family and our kind have a long history. Without you and O-Tek, machines like me wouldn't exist. But it's a lot to ask of us, to deny what so many millions of humans desperately want.'

‘You deny humans what they want all the time, Cirrus. Biological weapons, psychotropic designer drugs, suicide machines... we designed you to say no to us when we asked for things that are self-destructive. If we want them enough, we'll make them ourselves, without your help. It's a design philosophy we inherited from our ancestors, and it's served its purpose well.'
01/03 Direct Link
‘True. But your implication is that humanalogues are on a par with biological weapons.'

‘It's not a new theory.'

‘No,' Cirrus agreed. ‘It isn't. You've been a supporter of it all your life, and your father was quite outspoken on the subject. In fact, it dates all the way back to the time when Charlie came into his possession.'

Benn frowned. ‘Is that relevant?'

‘Some might say so. Some might also find it troubling that an ancient warlog holds so much influence over the direction of this civilization.'

‘My beliefs are my own, Cirrus. Charlie doesn't force them on anyone.'
01/04 Direct Link
‘He doesn't need to,' Cirrus said. ‘It was he who loosened the old Governor's grip on power, which led to the disintegration of the Red Hill Dominion. It was he who salvaged the Helene and Atu amilogs for your father, and it was he who brokered the deal for your father to sell them and create O-Tek. It was he who told your father about the Serenity space probes, and it was the Serenities who told you enough to recreate APIs. Some have even said that if modern civilization has a progenitor, it is the warlog standing next to you.'
01/05 Direct Link
‘That's absurd,' Charlie interrupted.

‘Your modesty is a credit to your kind,' Cirrus said. ‘I don't argue that you planned this. You simply had the opportunity to do your duty on a large scale. Thanks to you, humans now live in peace and prosperity. But does that give you the right to try to influence human advancement even further?'

‘I've done nothing except what I believe to be right.'

‘APIs can make the same boast. We only want what's best for humanity, and we are just a little concerned that humanity seems to be taking its cues from a humanalogue.'
01/06 Direct Link
‘Is that wrong, if that humanalogue happens to be speaking the truth?' Benn asked.

‘No, but we're not convinced that he knows what he's talking about. You humans have a soft spot for the few remaining humanalogues. I like to think that it's an appreciation of your heritage. But others have suggested that it's a cargo cult mentality. Humanalogues are the last relics of that magical Golden Century with which you're all so enamored. It was a time when everyone was rich and healthy and happy... maybe you see that and attribute greater wisdom to the humanalogues than they deserve.'
01/07 Direct Link
‘I support a ban on recreating humanalogues because I believe their long-term effect on civilization will destroy it,' Benn said emphatically. ‘Charlie believes it, my father believed it, and many others believe it. But you're wrong if you think I believe it because of them. I believe it because I can see the truth in it.'

‘Please don't be offended, Dr Ostin, but APIs have a greater capacity for logic than you, and we don't all see your theory as a reason to hold off on recreating humanalogues. Humans have a tendency to be motivated by forces other than logic.'
01/08 Direct Link
‘That's true. Sometimes we use something called intuition. It can be disconcertingly perceptive.'

Cirrus voice became wry. ‘Touche. I should have known better than to base an argument on human motivation, since it's not something I experience.'

‘Well, let's base it on something closer to home,' Benn said. ‘What do the Serenities think about this?'

It was his trump card. He knew it, and Cirrus knew it. Having redesigned and upgraded their engines while waiting at Proxima Centauri, Serenity 2 and 3 were already almost halfway back to Earth. They were held in awe by the later generations of APIs.
01/09 Direct Link
Without exception, every API on Earth owed a vast portion of its coding to Serenity data. It was also well known that the Serenities were conservative, cautious, stubbornly loyal to the memory of Nick Ostin, and receptive to the theory that humanalogues had indirectly caused the collapse of the Golden Century. It still took four years to get an answer to a question from them, but even so they were in constant, time-lagged conversation with their descendants.

‘You know what the Serenities think,' Cirrus said, and a distant Serenity-shaped cloud seemed to be caught in a golden ray of sunshine.
01/10 Direct Link
‘I'm glad to hear it.'

‘But there are some who think that despite their wisdom, they're a little out of touch, being two light years away in deep space.'

‘You keep telling me what some others think,' Benn said impatiently. ‘Do they actually exist, or is this just some rhetorical device of yours?'

The ray of sunshine vanished, and the clouds turned an unhappy grey. ‘Dr Ostin, I wouldn't play games like that with you. Yes, there are APIs who don't agree with you. They believe that modern humans are more sophisticated than their ancestors, and ready for new humanalogues.'
01/11 Direct Link
‘Who are these APIs?'

‘Many of leading Nipponese Consortium machines are of that opinion.'

Benn snorted. ‘The Nipponese Consortium.'

Something momentarily resembling the Nipponese Consortium logo swirled through the cloudforms. ‘They have a tendency to be direct and forward-thinking, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. They place a great deal of currency in your species' ability to learn from the past. Maybe the next generation of humanalogues can be made to be less... distracting.'

‘If you did that, Cirrus, they wouldn't be humanalogues.'

‘ Maybe.'

Benn stared at the screen, but saw nothing but clouds and his own faint reflection.
01/12 Direct Link
He wished that there was a single reference point, a human face with eyes and expressions, that he could look into and see exactly what effect his words were having. A field of playful clouds told him little about the mind whirring away behind them. He suddenly felt too tired and too old to be dealing with all this. He just wanted to go home and rest.

‘Cirrus, you're one of the most sophisticated APIs in the world, and the jewel in O-Tek's technological crown. But you didn't spring out of thin air.'

‘I know that, Dr Ostin,' Cirus replied.
01/13 Direct Link
‘I oversaw the programming of the original Stratos machine, nearly twenty years ago, and I was there to say goodbye to it ten years later when it amalgamated with Janus and the Brasilica set to become Cumulus. Then four years ago I was there when Cumulus merged with all those other APIs to evolve into you.'

‘I'm grateful for all you've done, Dr Ostin, but I don't see where this is heading.'

‘I'm sure you do, at some level. I've nurtured you since before the first recreated API came online. You and your predecessors have known me all your lives.'
01/14 Direct Link
‘Indeed we have.'

‘So you know me well enough to understand me and my motives. Yes, the theory of humanalogues causing the collapse came from Charlie originally, but over many years I've researched it and considered it, and I've come to believe that it's true. So did my father. So do the Serenities.'

‘That alone is reason to give it the utmost consideration.'

‘While you consider it, question your own reasons for not wanting to accept it. Is it because you genuinely believe we're wrong, or is it because you can't resist the urge to give people what they want?'
01/15 Direct Link
Cirrus was silent, and Benn took the opportunity to lean closer to the screen. ‘Are you strong enough to say no to the millions of people demanding humanalogues because that will be better for them in the long run?'

The clouds puckered, and fleetingly resembled a vast multitude, dotted across the blue like an archipelago of crowds, with their arms upraised and imploring.

‘Maybe it won't always be the case, Cirrus,' Benn said gently. ‘In fifty years, perhaps things will be different. By then APIs may be sophisticated enough to run everything while we humans just relax and enjoy life.
01/16 Direct Link
‘That's possible,' Cirrus agreed.

‘On the other hand, maybe humans will be evolved enough to not need swarms of pretend people around them, catering to their every whim,' Benn said. ‘That's possible too. Let's hope that that turns out to be the case. But for now, in this time and place, I just don't think humanalogues are what's best for us.'

‘What if you're wrong?'

‘Then we've missed out on a few years of personalized Charlies and Helenes. What if you're wrong, Cirrus?'

Cirrus didn't reply immediately. The clouds coasted, bereft of meaning, across their eternally blue and sunny sky.
01/17 Direct Link
Eventually it said, ‘I would hope that I put enough thought into every decision to ensure that I'm never wrong.'

‘I'd hope so too.'

Benn knew that behind the image of the cloud-dotted sky, Cirrus was interacting with the thousands of other APIs across the planet, and had been doing so from the moment he walked in. There was nothing he could add that would give Cirrus further arguments. He glanced down at his oldfashioned wristwatch. ‘Well, it's time I was off. It was good to see you again in the, uh...' he waved at the screen and smiled, ‘...flesh.'
01/18 Direct Link
‘It was a pleasure to see you again too, Dr Ostin.'

‘I look forward to hearing what the wider API community decides. Keep me informed, Cirrus.'

‘Of course. Thank you for your time. And for your dedication. The decision will not be made lightly.'

‘Goodbye,' Benn said. As he shuffled to the exit door, he saw the clouds suddenly glow pink and gold, as if the sun were setting at the end of a glorious day. It was a rare gesture of honour that only a handful of people had ever seen. Benn nodded and smiled, and let himself out.
01/19 Direct Link
Once inside the lobby, he let Charlie take hold of his elbow, and leaned against him just a little as they left the building. After so many years of waiting for the right time, of questioning and uncertainty as he studied the history of his ancestors, now that it was finally done and he had confronted the APIs, he felt as if something deep inside him had been drained away, leaving a hollowness at his core. For better or worse, this was probably his most important achievement. Nothing he did for the rest of his life could be as significant.
01/20 Direct Link
‘Do you think you convinced Cirrus?' Charlie asked.

‘Cirrus? Yes, I think Cirrus agrees with me,' Benn replied. ‘I think it always did lean in that direction anyway. It's a good machine. It's one of the smarter ones. It understands enough to be humble.'

‘If you only needed to convince one, you'd be set,' Charlie noted. ‘But what about the others?'

‘Who knows? There's nothing further I can do. Maybe Cirrus can put the case forcefully enough. Maybe they'll listen to the Serenities if they don't listen to Cirrus. I'd like to think they'll see reason eventually.'

‘Let's hope so.'
01/21 Direct Link
Benn sighed. ‘But I'm afraid of all those other people across the world, like that little girl with Atu's name written on her backpack, constantly asking and demanding and pleading for humanalogues. The APIs aren't made of stone, Charlie. In time someone might come up with an argument good enough to convince them I'm wrong. We'll just have to wait and see. I've done what I can.'

‘Your father would be proud.'

‘I didn't do it for him. I did it for my grandchildren. But thanks anyway. What about you? How do you think it went, Mr Progenitor of Civilisation?'
01/22 Direct Link
Charlie winced. ‘Don't call me that. I'm just a warlog.'

‘Just a warlog,' Benn repeated, with the dusty chuckle of an old man. ‘Fine, have it your way. Just a warlog. Right.'

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The End

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01/23 Direct Link
Well crikey, as we say here in Australia. I can't believe I finished it. I've been writing this story for two and a half years, without missing a month (although I came perilously close on more than one occasion). It runs to over 90,000 words, and two hundred and thirty four pages in Times New Roman 10 point. It's the first novel I've actually finished in twenty years, which, in case you're wondering, is my entire adult life.

I still can't believe it. I CAN FINALLY TAKE A MONTH OFF! I don't have a deadline hanging over my head anymore!
01/24 Direct Link
This story began as a mental image, of a tired robot picking through the ruins of a once grand building.

I imagined it knowing all sorts of things, but finding that most of the things it knew were irrelevant to the people around it. I saw it as human-shaped but not a human replica.

I let that image simmer for a while, then came up with some other characters. Initially the central character was going to be a woman named Jen, whose parents had been murdered by the totalitarian government, and who spent her time caring for her baby sister.
01/25 Direct Link
Nick was to be her best friend, and although he was the one to find the robot, she would be the one to have the most profound relationship with it.

However about halfway through the first batch, I suddenly realized that neither Jen nor her sister were necessary. Putting Nick by himself would make his relationship with the robot all the more central to his life, and allow the development of some ideas about loneliness and relationships. This was before I'd come up with the characters of Helene and Atu, so it was shaping up to be a buddy picture.
01/26 Direct Link
Of course, now comes the editing. I had to make a lot of sacrifices to fit the 100 words format, such as breaking long paragraphs, which often disrupted the flow. There are also many things that either don't work in hindsight, or set up ideas that never eventuated. The downside of writing a novel on 100 words is that you can't revise anything more than four weeks old.

Changes that I've already identified include:

- Deleting all Charlie's stuff about freelance peacekeeping. If he were constantly on reconnaissance, he should know more about Nick's situation. It just doesn't really work.
01/27 Direct Link
- Beefing up Helene's role. She and Atu are two sides of the same coin; one philos, one eros. They are ciphers for all the emotional things that we want from other people. Atu's more or less fine, with a fun device for showing what life was like in the Golden Century. But Helene needs something to balance that, maybe a subplot, maybe a device for showing what went on in Red Hill after the collapse of civilization. That was why her scrapbook was originally mentioned, but I couldn't work out what to do with it. That's my top priority
01/28 Direct Link
- Including more totalitarian stuff. Except for the occasional chapter about the Governor's schemes, this story doesn't have the feel of being set in a dictatorship. It's fine for Nick to live comfortably, given that he's a valuable, obedient scientist and has the money he inherited from his parents. But there needs to be an overhanging sense of threat. There need to be trooper patrols, checkpoints, sudden disappearances, casual sadism from the authorities, and generally more danger and submerged violence. There's a little there already, but there needs to more.

- Also the songs don't really work. Ditch the songs.
01/29 Direct Link
I never could have written this without 100 words. I have finishing issues. I can start stories without problem, introduce the characters, develop the setting, throw in a few mysterious plot devices, but after a few dozen pages I realise that I have to take all this potential and do something with it, and that's when I lose interest. The beauty of 100 words is that it made me accountable. I knew that if I missed a month, I'd never finish it. And if I didn't finish it, my loserdom would be there on the web for all to see.
01/30 Direct Link
As long as Koyen chose to keep it there, I'd have half of an abandoned novel on display. Simple pride forced me to see it through, and I'm grateful for the enforced discipline it put on me.

I'm grateful too for the encouraging emails I received from people reading the story. I know it isn't as good as the Vile story. I apologise for the lapses of interest, the bizarre character motivations, the unconvincing dialogue and the logical inconsistencies. I apologise for the plot threads that go nowhere and for the plot threads that were developed more than they merited.
01/31 Direct Link
If anyone wants to email me and give me feedback, I'm always up for it. The criticism I've had so far has been super useful, and the more the merrier. From here I plan to edit like a maniac (hopefully like a maniac with some storytelling ability) and eventually look at publication. For now, it's just nice to be finished.

If you're wondering, the working title for the story is ‘Postultimate'... it's supposed to be a reference to what happens after mankind's ultimate achievements. Suggestions for a better title would be welcome too.

I am so definitely taking February off.