POERA'S GHOST

 

 

Long ago, before the motor car came under human control, the citizens of the province of Laverdicz dominated the mountain kingdom of Stupi because they were by far the most intelligent people in the federation. It was natural that when the computer came along, they should be the first to adopt, manufacture and use it. While everyone else was struggling to get theirs out of the box, and listening for hours on end to the advertising jingles on the cruelly so-called "Helplines", the inhabitants of Laverdicz were busy computerising every aspect of their existence that was susceptible to computerisation, as well as some that were not. Within ten years the entire economy, from the corner shop (still found in some preservation areas) to the mighty Central Bank, was part of a networked supercomputer named LUCRE - the Laverdiczian Unified Computerised Economy. Economic policy advisers were no more, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer became a non-post for which politicians applied when they wished to leave Parliament and spend more time with their bank accounts. The whole economy was run by LUCRE, and all those whose opinion mattered agreed that it was immensely successful at its job.

A tiny minority of top citizens became immensely wealthy and went into tax exile, leaving behind them only an electronic address into which digits symbolising their ever increasing wealth were squirted on a daily basis. The majority of people became slightly more wealthy than their parents had been, and so had no quarrel with the way things were. A mere twenty five percent of the population became worse off. The term Losers was applied to this group by socio-economists. Naturally the Losers became sick in body and spirit, but the public entertainment channels were easily able to prevent any serious consideration of their state from reaching the public domain.

Realistically therefore the electronic economy produced the best of all possible worlds, for LUCRE's was programme was based on the axiom that it is not possible to please all of the people all of the time.

The natural world found herself on the side of the Losers. The process of covering green spaces such as woodland, meadows and heath with tarmac and concrete was given a new name: to Laverdise. There were no important critics of Laverdisation, for who would be so foolish as to speak out against the creation of wealth and jobs? True, there were some idealists who murmured against the extinction of species such as the Laverdiczian songbird, whose serenade was renowned throughout Stupi for its heart-wrenching beauty: but hard headed realists pointed out that species such as rats, cockroaches, and flies showed no sign of dying out, and therefore that their anxieties were without foundation. This argument wore well with the news and entertainment industry, and nothing more was heard of this kind of fretting.

On the surface of Laverdicz nothing altered except the constant growth of concrete structures. Underground, things began to change. A few of those who had a neurotic aversion to concrete and an irrational attachment to living things began to live a secret life together. Deep in mountain caves, and in holes left by the extraction of building materials, networks of disaffected humans began to form an amorphous resistance, although, at a rational level, it was clear to everyone that resistance was useless. From vantage points at the mouth of their caves they watched with sinking hearts as the narrow, tree-screened view showed less and less of Nature and more and more of Art, in this case, the art of the concrete mixer. In their angry sorrow, and for want of anything better to do, they rescued old computers that had been tipped down mine shafts, and brought them back into use.

Among those who passed their time in computer play was a girl by the name of Poera. She was an orphan, attractive in a large featured kind of way, but completely incapable of forming a loving, reciprocal relationship with a human. Her gaze was seemingly fixed on the horizon in a different dimension. Her demands on her environment were simple: a bowls of raw fruit served at precisely the same time each day, water in her own cup in precisely the right place by her side, and a computer that worked. When these needs were met Poera was not unhappy. Nobody could tell whether she was actually happy, for she never showed any emotion, but it certainly was possible to tell when she was not happy, since she if her routine varied in the slightest way - food late, water misplaced, computer down - she would smash everything in the room into small pieces. Since she was using computers held together with sticky tape and powered often as not by anarchic teams of cyclists driving an array of reused alternators, computer failure was the commonest cause of Poera's rages.

In the councils of the resistance movement, much time was spent in trying to decide whether to keep her supplied with new computers. The pragmatic wing of the movement questioned the point of supplying this strange individual with precious equipment in the near certainty that it would only last two or three months. The fundamentalist and libertarian wing took the view that each individual has an absolute right to a happy life, and if Poera called for a regular sacrifice of hardware, then so be it. At least she did not call for human sacrifice. At this stage, both groups thought that Poera's activity was just a form of occupational therapy. Several years, marked by near continuous wrangling and ill-feeling over the "Poera Question", passed before it gradually dawned on the resistance that Poera was a genius, and was silently and slowly unlocking LUCRE's multi-layered defences.

She was more of a masseuse than a hacker, and the code she used was more akin to a ghost than a virus. The kernel of her programme was unfeasibly small, a compression of ten thousand years of talk into three lines of code. Around this nucleus was an amorphous coat, a field that adapted itself like a chameleon, becoming co-extensive with its immediate environment. It seemed to work in the interstices of the activity of the software, using the infinitesimal period immediately after a legitimate transaction had passed through. If LUCRE thought in electrons, Poera's ghost thought in the space that electrons had just vacated. Her programme did no harm whatsoever to the functions of the Laverdiczian economy. It even ignored programmes enabling the sale of arms, child pornography and torture batons, an eventuality that stimulated three years of debate in the policy community of the resistance. Turning neither to right nor left, it headed always for the epicentre of LUCRE's software, as gate after defensive gate yielded to the charm of Poera's ectoplasmoid programme. Her presence was never detected, and in fact, some of Lucre's functions performed better after Poera's ghost had passed through.

After twenty years of patient work, during which the view from their vantage point became so industrialised that scarcely any of the cave dwellers bothered to inspect it, Poera's ghost reached her objective, the sanctum sanctorum of LUCRE's programme, the first few lines of code that spelled out the mission statement. There Poera laid down her three lines of over riding code., forever after known by schoolchildren everywhere as Poera's Axioms. From now on, LUCRE acted on three overarching truths:

1. It is impossible to expand forever in a limited space.
2. It is impossible to take forever from a finite resource
3. Everything is interconnected.

Legend has it that the day after Poera laid down her lines in LUCRE's heart, it was as if the sun had come out after a century of rain, and people began to smile at each other in the street. Whatever the truth of this legend, the fact is that Poera's work was the turning point in the history of Laverdicz, and in time, of Stupi itself. In the subsequent months and years, people found constructive work to do, so that enforced idleness and poverty became a thing for history students to puzzle over. They broke up concrete and used it to absorb the acid gases from their chimneys. They planted trees. They worked at helping humans and animals to live happily. They led the rest of Stupi in avoiding their mistakes, and after a thousand years the damage inflicted by LUCRE on the Laverdiczian countryside and psyche was scarcely discernible.

(c) Richard Lawson


 
© 2001 R. Lawson This page was last updated on 13.11.04