Welcome to NaNoWriMo, where I - and thousands of other plucky souls - try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.
You are reading "Tales of the Algorithm". A compendium of near-future sci-fi stories. Each chapter is a stand-alone adventure set a few days from now.
Everything you read is possible - there's no magic, just sufficiently advanced technology. Think of them as technological campfire horror stories.
Your feedback on each story is very much appreciated.
And so, let's crack on with...
The entire city sparkles in the sunrise. The warming rays light the city as every sunbeam refracts into a kaleidoscope of colour. Imagine a million rainbows painting the world in the early morning light. The glistening of pure diamonds is on every surface as far as the eye can see.
Some might call it gaudy or tacky or an obscene display of wealth. When it was constructed in the dying days of the 21st century, contemporary comparisons were made to the Emerald City from that old story. Of course, in the original, the city itself was nothing special; the Wicked Wizard just forced everyone to wear emerald spectacles. There was no need for special glasses in our new Oz. And if you did need corrective lenses, they too would sparkle with diamonds.
To understand how the shining city on the hill came about, I need to give you a small history lesson. Perhaps you will learn from it and avoid our mistakes.
The excesses of the 20th century's addiction to hydrocarbons had left the planet with a chemical hangover. Gigatonnes of pollutants swirled in the atmosphere and threatened to suffocate the world. The story of the 21st century is mostly that of failed attempts to fix things. Political bickering and economic precarity stymied anything which was even remotely close to a solution. By the middle of the century it was looking like Earth was about to hit a runaway thermal event. The heat-shock, they called it back then. The heat would rise, the CO₂ would trap the heat, which would cause planet-wide fires, which would increase the heat and the Carbon Dioxide, leading to a death spiral.
Carbon Capture was widely regarded as a joke. It was the sort of thing which could theoretically save the planet if it worked. And it didn't work. Despite the best efforts of scientists to turn CO₂ into jet-fuel or sequester it away under the sea, it never quite caught on. It was an expensive and explosive mess. The world seemed locked in to doom.
The popular image of hackers is that they're either defending big corporations against insurgency, or they're professional thieves working for corrupt regimes. We were neither. Back then we were just idealistic criminals. We hacked the rich and, when they paid the handsome ransom for their data, we gave to the poor. Well, we spent the money on ourselves. But we were poor and we were growing up in the slums of a country which would shortly be underwater due to climate change. Money couldn't buy an escape route, but it could provide transient pleasures.
If you were big enough and rich enough we'd hack you. We generally didn't give a shit about the data we stole. It seemed to mostly be TPS reports, quarterly earnings, and which executives caught which STDs from which secretaries. Mind numbing stuff for the most part. Until we hit the motherlode.
Until we hit De Beers.
Shamzi, our unofficial-but-de-facto leader, had written some Perl which could rip through a petabyte of data searching for useful keywords. Combined with a modified Llama running on a stolen cloud, it let you run queries like "What passwords can you find?" or "Who has taken a bribe?" or "What is the most profitable secret?" - and the system would find exactly what you were looking for.
We used IRC because we thought it was retro. This is the only fragment of the logs I managed to save before we ceremonially burned our laptops and backup disks on a bonfire.
shamzi: Uhhhhhh guyzz? found something!!! b4dh0r5- has joined #Crimes_and_Misdemeanours b4dh0r5- is now known as b4dh0r53 rajagoat: anyfink good? b4dh0r53: /me fans self with excitement b4dh0r53: do tell shamzi: deBeers. There data are excellent rajagoat: PAY DAY! shamzi: better B4dh0r53: dox? banx? psswrds? helen-of-troy: My money's on a cover up. They seem shady. shamzi: yeah. they've been coverng up cc shamzi: Carbob Capture shamzi: Carbon shamzi: like since the 1980s b4dh0r53: how sure r u??? helen-of-troy: WHAT? rajagoat: omg I see it to. Its at <link> helen-of-troy: this is too heavy for here. Go dark. Now. helen-of-troy has quit IRC b4dh0r53 has quit IRC dox4u has quit IRC shamzi has quit IRC rajagoat has quit IRC
They'd known about this for close to a century! Some pencil neck called Cromwell in their research department was working on synthetic diamonds. Trying to find a way to suppress the technology so that it couldn't interfere with their legitimate business of selling shiny pebbles at inflated prices. The consortium read his research, had him silenced, and then buried his reports deep in their vault. Unseen by human eyes until we stumbled upon it.
Diamonds are compressed carbon. That's literally all they are. Take one of the most common elements on the planet, squash it for a million years under a billion tons of pressure and you end up with a diamond. Some fossilised geek had worked out how to shortcut the process and drag carbon directly from the fricking air!
The tech wasn't particularly advanced, even by 1980s standards. By the time we read the report, we could buy most of the parts from China and custom fab what was missing. We didn't bother telling De Beers they were hacked - instead, we dedicated ourselves to replicating Cromwell's experiments. I don't want to sound like some uber-science nerd, but it was trivial. Within a few months we'd cracked the last remaining barrier and each held in our hand a perfect diamond. Small, true, but we only had the cheapest equipment we could afford. Nevertheless, we took our little treasures to various jewellers around the country. They didn't ask about the provenance of the uncut gems and we didn't tell them.
Money doesn't buy happiness, but it does buy faster computers and that's basically the same thing.
Once we had filled out material needs, and those of our friends, we meditated on what the hackers of yore would do. This wasn't tech to sell to a narco state or Mafia syndicate. Our government was too corrupt and technically inept to exploit it. And none of us were excited by the thought of trying to explain to the patent office how a gang of semi-feral kids had "invented" this new wonder. So we set it loose upon the world.
Seriously! Look up the tales of old hackers. They were always pulling shit like this! "Information needs to be free" or something. Forget today's image of a hacker. Back then they were noble geeks strung out on caffeine and trying to change the world. We flooded the net with information about how to perform carbon capture and use it to grow your own diamonds. Once the schematics and theoretical underpinnings were seeded widely, we smashed our computers to bits and purged every trace of our involvement on a giant pyre.
At first De Beers tried suing anyone who used their "intellectual property" to make "counterfeit" diamonds. When that didn't work, they engaged in a mass-marketing campaign to convince people that only "organic diamonds" held any value. They went bankrupt before the end of the year.
Terratonnes of CO₂ were pulled out of the air and turned into solid blocks of near-indestructible, perfectly clear, heat-resistant matter. Whole houses could be built out of diamonds! Megablocks of diamond could be sunk into the sea where the carbon would remain sequestered for a million years. Every household had their own diamond mine. Forget 3D printers! No more plastic crap, just glistening jewels everywhere. A group of scrawny hackers had saved the world! Runaway global warming was going to be a distant memory and everyone would be rich. Goddamn we were proud of ourselves.
We were poor kids from the slums. We didn't know the legend of Mansa Musa. The rich man who gave away his gold and, in doing so, destabilised the economy. People thought they were rich, but their trinkets were worthless. By the time the diamond cities were built, no one could afford to live there. These perfect and inert buildings were a monument to humanity's technological prowess and our inability to imagine a world without money.
You can't detect a diamond knife. Sounds obvious, right? No metal means no metal detector. I lost half my crew to destitute criminals armed with undetectable weapons. Have you seen what happens when a blade of sharpened diamond slices through human flesh? I have, and it isn't pretty. Even worse were the ersatz nail bombs. Take any explosive you can cook up in your kitchen and surround it with ten thousand diamond fragments, grown to be as sharp and spiky as chemically possible. The bomb goes off in a crowded place and the gemstones go flying at supersonic speed, cutting through anything soft. You know that diamonds are radiolucent, right? That means they can't be seen on x-rays. If you survive the blast, it is hideously unlikely the surgeon will be able to find and extract all the shrapnel.
The entire city sparkles in the sunrise. But look closer. The warning sirens fill the city as the sound of explosions echo off the walls in a cacophony of noise. Imagine a million angry and scared people storming through the streets. The glistening of spilled blood is on every surface as far as the eye can see.
I'd love your feedback on each chapter. Do you like the style of writing? Was the plot interesting? Did you guess the twist? Please stick a note in the comments to motivate me.