An Oral History of the Margate MESH

2032.06.05/FrankGattis/BanksMediaProductions/LosAngelesCA

01712_disruption_1920x1080

The more things change, the faster they change. At no time in our history was that more true than in the years between 2018 and 2026 when America and most of the civilized world was almost brought to a technological standstill by a group of hackers who valued privacy over regulation and freedom over democratically elected control. This is the story of how the Margate MESH brought us to the brink and how the men and women of this great country brought us back.

Those Prying Eyes

LANGDON HUBER (Engineer, Perion Synthetics): I never saw the value in it, if we’re being honest here. Dealing with the telecoms meant encryption, and after the changeover in 2015, we started developing our own secure messaging in-house. Eventually, we were running our own fiber lines from the PC to the west and east coasts. So no, sending our data down AT&T Street or Comcast Avenue was never an issue for us, nor was it something we ever wanted to do.

WADE VUNAK (CEO, Nixle Chronos): It was definitely a concern for us heading into the tenth anniversary of OcularAR. Not only was BT inspecting every packet that crossed their network, they were taking their sweet time doing it. We were developing a multiplayer game built around augmented reality that required bandwidth beyond what BT was providing to the average user. With OcularAR already costing hundreds of dollars, we couldn’t very well ask the user to shell out hundreds more each month for the so-called Internet Fast Lanes. We needed another solution.

RAUL GARZA (SciTech Contributor, HowItDo): Oh yes, the Margate MESH. Uppercase M, E, S, H, like it’s some kind of acronym for something bigger. It’s not. It’s just a word held over from the early days of networking, a wild idea that maybe communications didn’t have to be centralized. I’ll tell you where it started: P2P. Kids looking to trade software they couldn’t afford who stopped leeching from servers on the Net after they started getting sued. And yeah, that was a big nuisance on its own, but it made everyone realize something: they were being watched. Not by the SysOps, but by Time Warner and Verizon. Every bit they sent down the line was being intercepted and cataloged, even those that weren’t expressly illegal.

TANZY (I.C.E-1): No, anyone with a basic education could find the tools to secure their data, whatever that data was. We knew the telecoms were listening in, we knew they were telling on us to the NSA, FBI, and local law, but we didn’t worry about that shit. If you were dumb enough to let someone listen in on your private conversation, you deserved to get busted. No, what really turned it around were the fucking moles. Media companies had been leaning on the telecoms for years, sending takedown notices and subpoenas to every file sharer they encountered. After we got smart, and the telecoms told them their hands were tied, they started flooding the scene with bogus files. Sometimes they were harmless, other times they had viral payloads. You couldn’t call them on it without admitting guilt, so the whole thing just stalemated.

This is an A-B conversation

GARZA: The collective attitude towards security and privacy hit a tipping point in 2016. Do-gooder companies like Miranda Enterprises and BreezeNet spent their advertising revenue on end-to-end encryption programs with ciphers strong enough to keep all but the best hackers out. Plexadigm launched their own satellite late in the year to provide an alternative network; it was slow, but it was supposedly free from inspection. You still had to worry about what happened when the data left Plexadigm’s network though. Whatever people tried, they kept running into the same walls. That’s when distributed computing really began to gain traction.

TANZY: We’d been using distributed comms for a while before we came up with the MESH. Our phones had apps that spoke directly to each other through NFC. Our slivers had limited broadcast capability that allowed us to trade small bursts of data with nearby users. It was a good start, but a truly robust wireless mesh required hardware far beyond a simple phone. Besides, developing for those platforms meant planting seeds in someone else’s garden. One of our earliest requirements for MESH was that it couldn’t be dependent on Motorola or Samsung hardware. We had always planned to release MESH as open source, so we knew we needed an open source platform.

HUBER: It’s no secret anymore that our initial synthetic prototypes were reliant on a centralized system for communication and updates. After what happened, we really didn’t have a choice but to look into distributed systems. A wireless mesh offered a way for our synthetics to talk to each other without having to rely on a third party to translate. Funny enough, the first few iterations we went through worked so well that our synthetics stopped talking to each other verbally for almost a year. It was pretty unsettling not knowing what our products were discussing, and I imagine that’s how the telecoms felt when MESH started taking off.

VUNAK: What we got wrong was relying on the rig architecture to deliver peer to peer communications. We were still dealing with lowest-bidder fabrication companies, and God only knows where the original parts came from, or what government agency had gotten their hands on them before arriving in our warehouse. The rig itself had the horsepower and broadcasting abilities, but we couldn’t trust the security of a system that we didn’t build ourselves. We were in the design phase when MESH popped up. Three months later, we started porting.

Reach out and touch someone

TANZY: We released MESH 0.1 for the Margate biochip on the first of April 2016. It was a full dump: executables, source code, and even some shitty documentation I was volunteered to write. A year later, we were up to version 2.05 and quickly approaching telecom speeds. More and more people made the switch; in one week, we received over two thousand photos of neck scars. Margate biochips were going in as fast as Guardian Angel and Ayudante chips could come out. We had a user base that rivaled FriendSpace and BreezeNet put together, but we wanted more. I can’t tell you who came up with the “killer feature” for version 3.0, but we all signed off on it. We all left the barn door open.

VUNAK: Leave it to a bunch of hackers to promise one thing and deliver another. Tighter integration with other platforms sounded like a great idea, and I admit we were really excited about it. MESH had been a godsend up to that point, but we still had latency between our biochips and the rigs. And yeah, 3.0 changed all that. Life was good. The future was as bright as ever. Then one night I’m closing up shop and I pull a rig off the shelf, one we hadn’t used in weeks. I booted it, and can you guess what greeted me? The Margate MESH. Version 3.0. It infected everything, and our only option was the nuclear one.

HUBER: If you believe I.C.E-1’s story, the MESH was never designed to run on anything besides the Margate Mark 4 and higher. Certainly no one actively ported MESH to the Guardian Angel chip. Something like that would have had to come from inside Vinestead, and they have no interest in people talking amongst themselves. They’d rather we not talk at all than to be cut out of the conversation. Break room gossip says MESH ported itself to the GA chip. I understand how that might be hard for people to believe, but I’ve worked around synthetics long enough to know that sometimes evolution just can’t be stopped.

GARZA: Oh yeah, it’s a total emergent A.I. scene — very sexy, very provocative. No one besides Perion crackpots actually thought MESH was sentient — though who knows, maybe it was — but even I.C.E-1 freely admits that the program’s only goal in life was to spread, to seek out other nodes and expand the MESH. To reach more people, to spread more data, and to do it all at light speed, the MESH needed to be in every biochip and compatible hardware platform throughout the world. In its infancy, it had been stymied by the closed architecture of the Guardian Angel and Ayudante biochips. And then one day… through some security lapse or stroke of luck or grace of God, it found a way.

The Sum of Rewritten Memory

xronixlebiz

Ah, the Alpha Reader period, that month-long, self-enforced sabbatical from what is sure to be the next great American Science Fiction novel. Is there anything worse than trying to fill the days when all you want to do is continue working? I submit there is not. Sure, my son said his first word and learned how to climb the side of his crib, and sure there are unopened PS4 games on my shelf, and sure my yard needs attention, and sure I could keep this list going forever, but I want to write, dammit. And write I will, even if it’s something I’ve already written.

The more time that passes since the release of my first book, Xronixle, the more I feel the need (nay, the duty) to go back and rewrite it. I usually don’t get very far because it’s a huge undertaking. We’re talking about a ground-up, word-by-word rewrite in Scrivener, another word-by-word rewrite into Word, alpha reading with people who’ve never read my work before, and then endless months of revisions and editing. All this for a book that has already been written and been on sale for more than a decade. Is it worth it?

I think so.

For one, it’s a matter of pride. All five of my books take place in the same universe, and though there are no sequels, I tend to think of the timeline as starting with Xronixle, but in 2018, I’m hesitant to suggest people start there. “Start with the latest,” I always say, and then under my breath, “because I need you to be a huge fan before slogging through my first book.”

I have so many issues with Xronixle, including its style, language, mechanics, character depth, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story, but it needs better packaging.

This week, I decided to try, once again, to rewrite the story. I picked a chapter at random and retyped it into Scivener, editing along the way. When that went okay, I jumped back to the beginning of the book and attacked it in earnest.

I thought it was going to be difficult and that I would hate every minute of it. Instead, I found myself enjoying the process and at the end, feeling incredibly happy. It is a joy to reformat paragraphs into units that make actual sense. It’s a joy to rewrite dialogue to not sound like a creepy 15 year old who just discovered sex and now can’t stop describing it in vernacular better found in an episode of Beavis and Butthead.

It’s a relief to put question marks at the end of sentences.

Seriously, that happened.

If I had to choose a single word to sum up my opinion of Xronixle, it would be immature. That would apply to the writing, the characters, the dialogue, the plot… everything. Rewriting it after all this time is like fixing up a dilapidated junker that has been sitting in the backyard on cinder blocks.

I am now excited about this project. Not only will it produce a Second Edition of a book I love, but the reading of that book will be a better experience for everyone. And, it will keep me busy while I anxiously wait for people to send me their feedback about Hybrid Mechanics.

And that is what I’m currently working on, since you asked.

Xronixle Reloaded.png

Love, Angst, and Marriage

2018-03-02 07.03.14

Last week, at the ripe old age of 37, I got married. It was a small affair with family and friends, just west of Dripping Springs, Texas in the Hill Country. The weather had been rainy leading up to the day, but on Friday, the sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing. Dominique was beautiful, the flowers were beautiful, and everyone we hired to play music and serve food did a great job. We danced the night away with friends and later, listened to stories from drunken family members as we sat around a fire. All of that was expected… what I didn’t expect was that in the course of writing my toast for the reception, I would finally nail down where my writing style came from.

I’ll explain.

As religion fades from popularity, traditional church weddings will surely follow. We were no exception, and through a series of compromises, we settled on a non-denominational ceremony. I was surprised to learn, upon meeting with our officiant, that we could write any ceremony we wanted. What an opportunity! A writer who has written about love all his life with the chance to write his own ceremony? Surely, he would not pass that up, right?

Ha! Wrong.

With El Matador going on 10 months, a book to finish, a wedding to finalize, and so on and so on, there just wasn’t any time. So we compromised again and Frankensteined a new ceremony based off the officiant’s past work. That did not, however, keep us from having to write our own vows, and in my case, a toast.

I went through several iterations before settling on a final version. I kept the political jokes at bay and removed anything vaguely sexual (I’m so glad we decided to wait until marriage, sweetie, as El Matador looks on). Early on in the process, I found myself sitting and thinking about a single question: what is love?

Baby, don’t hurt me.

It dawned on me that I have been trying to understand love since a very young age. I continue to explore the concept in my books, rifling through the variants as if choosing a flavor of ice cream: I’ll have one scoop of unrequited love, a scoop of romantic love, and two scoops of pragmatic love with a cherry of infidelity on top.

One draft of my toast started like this:

I started keeping a diary when I was fifteen. It was in a Word doc that I named dec6.doc and it’s still on my computer. The first line? Fuck the world. I was fifteen. Also, I had started using fiction to help deal with my problems. So I would sit down and write as if my life were a story, and I’d make things out to be bigger than they were, and I’d get my rage and frustration and sadness out that way.

My diary wasn’t about my day-to-day life, and I didn’t write it in more than a couple times per month. What I wrote wasn’t an accurate depiction of my life either, and over time, I realized I’d created a second, fictional Daniel.

What I wrote most about was love, or at least, what I thought love to be. And over the years, I noticed I was constantly redefining what love actually is. This continued to present day in my books. I’m still trying to figure out what makes relationships tick. Relationships… not love. I’m no longer trying to understand love. At 37 years old, I’ve taken a stand on what I think love is.

Love is a choice.

At that point, as I started to meander towards describing love versus attraction, I abandoned this thread. I didn’t need to tell a room full of people what love was. They either knew or they didn’t. And regardless, my opinion on the matter shouldn’t really hold any water for them.

Also, worse, love is a choice just sounds kinda shitty. Too pragmatic. It implies that we choose to love someone but that we aren’t compelled to love them. That sounds a little more like codependency to me, not love. You may be compelled to love someone, to feel a connection you can’t explain nor would ever want to, but you choose to be with them, you choose to work on that love and make it into a relationship.

My early novels are blatantly focused on the idea of love, but there’s no discussion of how that love came to be. In Xronixle, X loves his high school sweetheart C, so he makes a copy of her in virtual reality after she breaks up with him. But why does he love her? Even if it is simple puberty-fueled, high school love, it should be addressed and investigated. Having lived and written the book, and having come out the other side, I know, as the author, that what X felt wasn’t love… but how do I express that in a story?

I didn’t. 24 year old Daniel didn’t even try to explore it. Shame on you, young Daniel.

I feel like I did a better job of questioning love in my latest book, Por Vida. There is love between Sepideh and Natasha, but it’s because they fill holes in each other’s lives. There’s love between Doyle and Vida, but it’s revealed to be more obsession than anything else.

And spoiler alert for my newest book, but there are two characters, a male and female, who by all rules of storytelling, should fall in love. But they don’t. The story, the situation, and the characters themselves don’t allow it.

There always has to be a reason people love each other. There has to be a reason people choose love.

Last night, Dominique wanted to watch the first episode of Altered Carbon, which I certainly didn’t mind seeing again. After it was over, I asked her thoughts and she said it was interesting. We talked briefly about Science Fiction in general; she’s not a big fan of the violence and futuristic technology.

To which I replied:

That’s the thing about Science Fiction. You have to look past the technology and the guns and the gratuitous nudity, because at its core, it’s just a story about people, and relationships, and love. The story is always about humanity.

And that’s how I write my books. Technology, both real and fictional, allows us to look at our humanity in ways never thought possible. Eternal re-sleeving. Memory modification. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Instant communication. I mean, look what social media has done to us in just the last few years…

Lastly…

I think love, relationships, and humanity are at the core of every good Science Fiction novel (and other genres as well). Books like Replay by Ken Grimwood and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger come to mind.

Hell, even 1984, with its bleak dystopian setting and eerily prescient system of government, comes down to one single, simple, devastating act of betrayal between two humans. That’s it. Do it to her. The reader feels something in that moment, and I’ve always wondered if that was the one true emotion George Orwell wanted to communicate to people, so much so that he built an entire world just to support it. Who did he betray in his lifetime? Or who betrayed him?

Anyway, choose love, my fellow writers. Choose relationships and humanity. You can still have your mechs and your spaceships and your vorpal swords, but if there aren’t any people in your story… what’s the point?