Chapter 25

The Doom Server atop the Throne of Infinite Logic


Thomas Scoville
June 9, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

As the darkness deepened, the abandoned overpass loomed like a concrete basilica over the setting for Psychrist's cybernetic passion play.

It was a forebodingly apocalyptic scene. A bizarre arrangement of monoliths suggested a venue for some abstractly grave final judgment.

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A roughly circular perimeter of waist-high concrete barriers -- appropriated by some Caltrans highway construction crew confederates -- enclosed a circular arena of cryptically placed, vertical concrete cylinder segments.

In the center of the ring was an ominous-looking pit. From this rude breach in the earth rose a more massive pillar with a capstone -- a 20th century industrial facsimile of a Roman column.

Atop the column sat a computer: beige minitower sans monitor or keyboard, its stark enclosure sculpturally complementary.

Ten feet directly above that, a shockingly large rock hovered in the air, suspended by a cable from the steel substructure of the derelict overpass.

In each quadrant of this grim theater, cheerfully surreal in juxtaposition to the oppressive surroundings, stood a small, fuzzy stuffed animal.

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A German video crew documented the event. Nearby, the director -- shaved head and tiny tortoise-shell glasses -- interviewed Psychrist while a cameraman swooped and tilted the camera for an arty, video viriti effect.

"It's a kinetic meta-parable about technology and life on earth," Psychrist explicated. "The four silicon bots represent the hazards of the information age: passivity, detachment, alienation and hubris. All electrically powered, computer-controlled, wirelessly networked. They're just kid's toys, really -- those remote-controlled monster trucks -- that we've upgraded with motherboards, wireless networking and a spring-loaded claw in the front."

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"They receive their instructions from the Doom Server sitting atop the Throne of Infinite Logic." He pointed to the minitower mounted dramatically in the center of the arena. "The transmissions are all radio frequency, but we're also doubling the 'bot transponders through hopped-up red diodes on their backs. Makes it more visually interesting. Especially with the flames."

"There will be fire?" the director asked in his best postmodern Alsatian deadpan.

"Oh, yeah. We call the moat around the throne 'the Abyss.' It'll be full of flaming fuel oil during the performance."

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"The vehicle here will be carbon-guided." Psychrist pointed to a menacing device that looked like an off-road lawnmower bristling with armaments. "In front, you got your high-speed, rotating tungsten saw. Flame-throwers out either side." He tugged on a long, springy metal antenna arching from the top of the vehicle. "There's also the Chip Whip -- constantly rotates, 360 degrees. Ultra high voltage contact on the end. Just right for frying semiconductors." Psychrist slapped the mechanical beast's flank. "But it's all consistent with its nature: carbon-guided, fossil-fuel-powered, all analog. No digital machinery of any kind."

Faux Herzog gave Psychrist a quizzical look. "Carbon-guided?"

"A rat."

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"Rat. Is this some sort of new technology?" the German queried earnestly.

"It's a very old technology, if you want to think of it that way. It's a resilient, massively parallel, fault-tolerant, hairy little critter with four legs and a tail. A marvel of engineering. More than that. Art. They're all around this neighborhood. You should check 'em out sometime."

The videographer gaped. Psychrist decided a clarification was in order.

"The control mechanism is an actual rat, inside one of those transparent plastic hamster-balls. The little guy has spent a couple of weeks in a Skinner box. We've been auto-shaping the rat to roll the ball toward flashing lights -- which ought to come in handy, since all the bots will be strobing their LEDs as they transmit packets to the Doom Server. As long as they're strobing, rat'll be tracking 'em, the Carbon Buggy will hunt 'em down and hopefully one of the weapons'll sort 'em out."

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The German scribbled in a notebook, then accepted an offering of Evian from a production assistant. "Where did you get this rat?" he asked in a low voice.

"Local boy," Psychrist cheerfully volunteered. "We trapped him in a dumpster only a couple of blocks away from here. He's got the home-field advantage."

The director was clearly starting to lose his grip on the translation. "Home field?" he asked meekly.

Psychrist kicked himself into semiotic high gear. "The area surrounding the Throne is conceptualized as the Field of Cultural Production. It's divided into four quadrants: Self-determination. Aesthetics. Affect. Perversity. Each one has a virtue proxy -- a little stuffed animal. Bear, pig, frog, unicorn. The bots receive directives from the Doom Server to search them out and deliver them to the flames of the Abyss. We put in a bunch of randomly placed concrete pylons just to make things more challenging for the transit logic."

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"The bots are blind, but the Master can locate them within the field with a grid of sensors. The bots troll until they grab something, then the Server guides them into the Abyss."

"I see," asserted the director, though he didn't.

Psychrist pointed to the massive boulder hanging over the mini-tower. "This guy we call 'Heisenberg's pebble' -- it represents the uncertainty of the outcome. The suspending hardware is rigged with special explosives. They blow as soon as all of the bots fail to check in within a 500-millisecond interval." He smirked a little sadistically. "Snaps the cabling hardware. About three tons, straight down."

The director gripped the Evian bottle, flexing it in his hands. "And what will be this outcome?"

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"Carbon Rat's got five minutes of fuel to stop the silicon bots from robbing the Field of every human virtue." Psychrist shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine."

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The traffic on 101 crawled at an excruciating pace. To add insult to injury, a lone bicyclist pedaled along a parallel frontage road, easily outpacing the autos on the jammed freeway. Agitated commuters leaned on their horns. Some expressed their frustration by frantically changing lanes in the irrational belief that one lane might move more freely than another. These benighted drivers were unable to grasp that 100,000 other motorists pursuing identical strategies would ensure a perfectly distributed congestion.

Steve and Paul crept along in the No. 3 lane, morosely resigned to inhaling the hydrocarbons and watching the brake lights in the darkness.

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Paul downshifted for the 500th time. "Thirty-five miles in 85 minutes. Ow. Can you remind me why automobiles are a significant improvement over oxen?"

Steve tried to put a happy face on the situation. "You're suffering for art, baby. Just you wait. It'll all be worth it. You'll be thanking me by the end of the night."

"I'll be happy if I escape with second-degree burns. I hear this Psychrist guy is a real maniac."

Oh, you don't know the half of it," Steve grinned at his friend. "I'm really glad you decided to come along. Thanks, man."


Thomas Scoville

Thomas Scoville is either an Information Age savant or an ex-Silicon Valley programmer with a bad attitude. He is the author of the Silicon Valley Tarot.

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