Candle (Meme Wars Series)by John Barnes
Currie Culver is about fifty-five years old, in good health, living in a comfortable retirement in the Rockies with his wife. In the wake of the Meme Wars that swept the planet two generations before, Currie, his wife, and almost everyone on Earth have in their minds a copy of One True, software that grants its hosts limited telepathy and instills a kind of general… See more details below
Currie Culver is about fifty-five years old, in good health, living in a comfortable retirement in the Rockies with his wife. In the wake of the Meme Wars that swept the planet two generations before, Currie, his wife, and almost everyone on Earth have in their minds a copy of One True, software that grants its hosts limited telepathy and instills a kind of general cooperation.
In his younger days, Currie hunted "comboys"people who had unplugged from the global net in order to evade One True, and who hid in wilderness areas, surviving by raiding the outposts of civilization. Now Currie is called back into service to capture the last comboy still at large, a man who calls himself Lobo. With his high tech equipment, thoroughly plugged into the global net, Currie sets out to bring Lobo in.
Instead, Lobo captures Currie, and manages to deprogram him. Thrown back on the resources of his own intelligence, courage, and wisdom for the first time in twenty-five years, Currie finds himself in a battle of minds with his captor . . . with results that will change the lives of everyone on Earth.
In the best tradition of John W. Campbell and Robert A. Heinlein, Candle is a novel about individualism and society that will leave readers breathless, arguing, and demanding more.
"Welcome this writer to the front ranks of contemporary science fiction."The New York Times
"John Barnes knows how to make readers care....Barnes combines philosophical speculation, high-speed action, and character development in a way that is the hall mark of a master."Los Angeles Reader
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One thing you have to say for the Colorado Rockies, you sleep good, these days, now that there's nothing to worry about. I was dead solid asleep when I woke up to a voice saying, "Hey, Currie."
I didn't recognize the voice right away, but that wasn't so unusual; One True speaks in different voices. I sat up in bed, facing into the bright moonlight. Mary and me, we love to sleep with the curtains open so we can see the sky and wake up with the sunlight, and we can do it nowadays because nobody ever looks through a window anymore unless they're supposed to. Probably we could've done it in the old days anyway because Sursumcorda, Colorado, never had more than a thousand people anyway, and we live a ways outside and above it.
Our house up there is a nice old twentiethcentury A-frame with lots of glass. With that southern exposure, on a full moon night, you wouldn't need electricity to read in there.
Nobody's called me that in a long time so I was wondering for just a second if I was having a waking dream, like I used to just after I retired. But Mary didn't even twitch, and since we always leave our link on while we're at home, when I have a bad dream, or she does, we both wake up. And my copy of Resuna seemed pretty calm tonightnothing out there but the usual traffic of assurances and friendliness.
"You're wide awake, Currie, and we need to talk," the voice said. Now I knew it was One True. It had chosen to come to me through my auditory nerves, instead of as a voice entirely in my head. I reached to my copy of Resuna and it reached to Mary's; sure enough, One True had already put a block on her so that she'd sleep pleasantly through any noise and light we needed to make.
"Yes, it's One True," the voice agreed, responding to my thought. "Do whatever you need to get comfortable and I'll talk to you in eight minutes and thirty seconds."
"Eight and thirty," I said. In the back of my mind, my copy of Resuna started the countdown. I got out of bed.
I sleep ten hours or more every night in winter, especially late winter. Not that I don't enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, hunting, ice fishing, and all, but at fortynine years old, a few hours of anything outside tires me pleasantly out, and then a decent dinner, with a small glass of wine, and a good book after, usually put me out by eight or nine at night, and I get up with the sun, not before it. So from the way the full moon hung in the southwest, I guessed it was about five in the morning.
Five eighteen a.m., Resuna said in my mind. Seven minutes forty-four seconds remaining.
I shook off the last drowsiness, climbed out of bed, and threw on a dressing robe and slippers, wincing at the way the cold hurts my bad toes these daysI had led a little too vigorous a life when I was younger, breaking most of my toes and getting a touch of frostbite a few times, so that between one thing and another, my toes are lim sensitive, and that cold floor just sets them off.
I went into the bathroom and peed into the recycler, stretched a couple more times, and finally said aloud, "Bob, coffee now, please, and warm rolls for one in twenty minutes?"
"Sweet or plain?" Bob asked. This was out of the household software's experienceBob had been installed after I retiredand it wouldn't necessarily trust the data files it had copied from its predecessor.
I took a moment to clarify"Sweet. If I get a call that gets me up before sunrise, pritnear always, I'll want sweet rolls."
I splashed some water on my face. Since I was up, Bob would already be warming my clothes for today, so I didn't bother with instructions about that.
As I was buttoning my shirt, I could hear the gurgle and gush of coffee into the carafe, and by the time I got my shoes onone minute forty-four seconds to'go, Resuna assured meI felt pretty decent. Resuna was grumbling, where I could just feel it, about having to adjust my serotonin levels when I was going to throw caffeine at my brain as well, but I knew perfectly well it could do that without any trouble. Your copy of Resuna picks up your traits to some extent, and I'm afraid I've always been a griper.
I went to the kitchen to get my coffee. I didn't know why I was so sure this would have something to do with my old job. It could be something else. One True calls everyone a few times a yearalways on your birthday, and on your region's Resuna Day, and then there's all the routine business stuff that everyone has to dobut something about this call had made me think at once that it would turn out to be about the old job.
Three-Cur. He addressed me as Three-Cur. That was a nickname I hadn't heard since my days as a cowboy hunter. I got coffee from the kitchen, enjoyed the pleasant door of sweet rolls under way in the foodmaker, and went downstairs to the big room. In the moonlight, there was no need to turn on a light. I sat down and took that first long slow sip of coffee that helps a lifetime caffeine addict see that the universe, on the average, is a pretty good place.
Aside from the moon and Orion, and a few scattered other stars, I could see no lights through the window. The dark rectangles and trapezoids of Sursumcorda lay far down the mountain from me, with no streetlightsno one was out, so they weren't turned on. Pritnear everyone in that little town sleeps like Mary and me in winterwe're a community of old-timers.
I leaned way over sideways on the couch for an angle through the window. Just as always, I saw the bright tiny oval of Supra New York hanging in the sky. In all my eleven years on the job, I had seen SNY in the sky from camps in the wilderness just before I went to bed, and from canyons and mountaintops while I waited on stakeout, hundreds of times, and always taken comfort in the sight. Seven million people lived up there, nowadays, almost directly above Quito, Ecuador, all running Resuna, all part of One True like me.
The wilderness just didn't seem as lonely, as long as I could see good old SNY I saluted seven million fellow citizens with my coffee cup. They didn't wave back, but I still knew they were there. I took another sip, sat and waited.
Three-Cur. Nice that One True still remembered. I didn't really know what had possessed the woman who abandoned me at the Municipal Orphanage in Spokane Dome to name me Currie Curtis Curran, but at least it, had furnished an endless source of amusement, first to my squad mates back during the War of the Memes, and later to my team of cowboy hunters.
"Bob, I'd like it a little warmer," I said, quietly, and felt the faint hum of the baseboard heaters an instant later. Was I more sensitive to temperature, or was it just unusually cold on the other side of the window? A moment later, Resuna told me that it was minus seventeen out there, quickly translating that to half a degree above zero, Fahrenheit, before I could ask. So it was cold for February, even up here. Year 26 was shaping up to be the coldest on record; supposedly that trend wouldn't begin to reverse till around Year 35.
The meters-deep snow in the moonlight was crisp, with hints of pale blue, and wind-sculpted into knife-edges, untouched by anything more solid than a shadow. It was nice to sit and look and wait for things to begin.
Just as Resuna counted off "zero," One True came back to me.
"Look at your wall," One True said.
I turned to look at the white wall. To download information to a copy of Resuna, and thus into the person running Resuna, One True must move so much information that polysensory ways are the only way of doing it in a reasonable time. It was like a vivid dream from which I would awaken knowing everything I needed to know, or like I would imagine a religious revelation would be, or like falling into some other life, or like being One True myself, for a few minutes. Once I woke up, I would have to talk, to One True and to my own copy of Resuna, to activate the knowledge. For the moment, though, it wasn't too different from being asleep, and for a cranky old guy like me, up too early on a February morning, that was pritnear perfect.
Copyright © 2000 by John Barnes
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