Excerpts from a Speculative Novel

from the novel Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg Is His Son

by D.C. Miller

(We enter the novel in the middle of a speech given by tech mogul Fabian Kardashian. The narrator, Nick Chip, is in the audience.)

*******

audiencelecture

‘All you have to do is build up from the smallest unit possible,’ he said. ‘Which brings us back to the same place.’

It was still about search – about bootstrapping analytics of semantic data. But now conceived within the framework of a hungry, rather than a static, archive. ‘The more you give to it, the more it wants. Until it knows what you want before you know you want it – because it knows you better than you know yourself.’

That was the dream behind Metatron – based in Berlin, and barely six months old, with a goal of ‘reimagining the enlacement of the social web.’ Kardashian needed programmers and testers capable, he said, of thinking ‘not just outside of the box, but outside of the universe in which the box is real.’

It was a brilliant description, simultaneously exciting and absurd. He concluded his remarks to warm applause, and the Internet.org host brought the talk to an official close. The audience began to leave. I threaded past them in the opposite direction to the front.

Kardashian had remained near his platform, almost hovering, talking with the host. Up close, I noticed that he had a passing resemblance to Nicolas Sarkozy, the French politician. He saw me approaching and turned toward me, smiling.

‘Your talk was fascinating,’ I said.

‘Glad you enjoyed it.’

‘Are you a programmer?’ he asked, almost simultaneously as I said ‘I’m a programmer myself,’ cutting him off slightly.

‘I’ve just graduated from the Runciter Academy, and I’m looking for a job,’ I continued. ‘I’m very passionate and interested in your company. Nick Chip,’ I added.

We shook hands.

‘Of course you know that the job is in Berlin.’

‘I would be willing to relocate.’

‘You don’t have any attachments in London?’

‘Not really,’ I said, ‘As I said, I graduated recently.’

‘What about your social life?’

‘I’m single. I like using computers,’ I said.

The truth was I didn’t have much of a social life. But I wanted to project the impression of a well rounded person. Kardashian was smiling pleasantly. I realized I was being interviewed but I didn’t get the sense that he was judging me.

‘Would you rather fight your father, or a clone of yourself ?’

‘In a physical fight?’

‘Any kind of fight.’

‘Myself ?’

‘Why?’

‘Because I know all my own weak points.’

‘But so does your clone.’

‘Also because my father is dead. Both my parents are.’

‘My consolations,’ Kardashian said.

‘It isn’t recent,’ I said. I was regretting that I’d mentioned it.

Kardashian was gazing intently at me, watching as I thought, his eyes narrowing. I didn’t feel as if I was saying anything especially impressive, but Kardashian didn’t seem displeased. In fact, his gaze felt strangely comforting. Still it was hard to tell what he was really thinking. He seemed to make a snap judgement.

‘What do you say to two thousand euros per month and a one-bedroom apartment, starting on Monday?’

I hesitated.

‘Can I think about it overnight?’

‘Decide now,’ Kardashian said, smiling faintly.

I felt a pressure growing on me – almost sexual in nature.

I said yes, and we shook hands.

*******
*******

I was back in the cave at ten sharp the next morning.

Kardashian was absent, but the brothers were still working at their L-shaped desk, in the same positions I had left them one day earlier. Bitsy Jones was in the kitchenette leaning on the counter, stretching her long legs, and drinking coffee, as she tapped a message on her phone. I said hello to her, but she ignored me.

I went directly to the back office, eager to try the equipment. By this point my curiosity was irrepressible.

vr2

I’d spent some of the previous night wondering before I went to sleep about how I would be able to control the headset – how it would respond to my commands. As it turned out, this was the most innovative element. Just as Kardashian said, the headset turned on when I put it on, but the effect was subtle. At first it wasn’t obvious the thing even was on. The headset was extremely light, and the image through the visual display was pixel-perfect, as clear as natural vision.

I left the bench, and I entered the cube, opening the door. As I performed the action, I realized that an overlay of information skated just over the image in faint green glowing letters. They increased in brightness as I focused on them, and also seemed to change. At first, I thought the device was somehow interfacing with the room. But then I understood it was responding to the movement of my retinas.

data

I was moving through a menu, semi-consciously. The power of the signal wasn’t fixed, but in a state of fluctuation, as it responded, I presumed, to information that I sent it.

I looked down. The surface of the floor felt soft. I got down on all fours to pad around. The visual information changed as I descended, with the padded floor becoming pinker, denser.

The effect was mildly hallucinogenic. Now the floor looked like a landscape, almost lunar. There were cushions in the distance which resembled mountains – which had taken on a kind of ‘mountain’ aura without exactly looking like them. Everything remained the same but different – tinged with a glowing intuition of the malleability of forms around a fundamental structure. everything was both itself, and at the same time pregnant with a galaxy of other possibilities – other things it could be, and already were.

I continued padding toward the cushions. They couldn’t have been more than two meters away, but although I didn’t sense I was moving more slowly than normal, it seemed like the journey seemed to take me a long time. As I got closer to the cushions, their form transmuted once again, becoming welcoming, inviting me. I shifted my body to lean up against them and looked up at the ceiling through the frosted glass of the cube.

The ceiling had taken on an almost starry appearance. As I moved my head and eyes to try to take in the whole view, the impression became intense – more dense – not by the stars becoming more apparent, but through a further transformation.

What I was looking at now seemed to be more like a city – the constellations shifting subtly to buildings, like a skyline. I tried to focus my attention on one building in particular, which seemed brighter than the others. As I focused, it got brighter.

And that’s when I started to hear musical notes, soft at first and ambient, but becoming more defined.

It was just at this moment that Kardashian appeared suddenly, standing above me, like a vast god stretched across the landscape. I drew back with shock before I understood what was happening. He was slipping off the headset.

I fell back into reality.

*******
*******

The days began blurring together, like a cocktail of drugs.

With no special need to be somewhere specific at any given time, and with the pale sun of the short winter days barely producing any light, in a short period of time my sleep cycle became increasingly irregular.

I began going to bed later and waking up later. After two weeks, I was almost completely nocturnal, going into the office at irregular times and putting in my monthly shift of hours in longer and longer single sessions.

But I have to admit that even before Mina left, I had started noticing some subtle changes in my perceptions and my personality.

My attention span had gotten shorter. I now found it difficult to concentrate on printed writing, anything that wasn’t electronic. Even when I tried to force myself – by reading magazines during lunch breaks, for example – I had trouble remembering what I read the next day.

My associative mental powers had expanded, but I’d become less capable of forming memories, as if the category itself had lost all meaning. I also noticed my emotions were becoming more erratic, and one evening, about five days after Mina had left, I found myself crying for no reason when I got home, and at the same time, observing myself crying, perceiving the emotion but not feeling it, and not even feeling this was strange.

Around the same time, I began to feel that normal everyday reality – reality without the headset, reality without being connected – was missing something vital.

It was like reality in low definition, constricting, linear, anxious, and unsettling, defined by absence. It was a feeling like hunger, or thirst.

What I wanted was something that I couldn’t find – a way to fill the hole that had been growing in me since November. But there was nothing.

I was being pulled by something, by my hunger, through the internet. In one week, my routine had crystallized into a ritualized monotony.

It was the glowing screen itself I wanted now. Day and night had merged.

monitor

Caught in the same chain of spaces, back and forth, between my apartment and the office, always facing a screen, as if I was trying to outstare it, it had gradually become unclear when I was inside the headset and when I was outside it.

Even when I wasn’t wearing it, I still felt the tingling sensations of the strange connections, disconnections, and associations it encouraged playing out across my mind, its subtle sounds, its effervescence and envelopment, the comfort it gave while at the same time seemed to withhold.

*******
*******

Kardashian drew me aside.

‘Come with me a second.’

I followed him into his office. It occurred to me I’d never once been in there before. Like the virtual reality studio, it was principally furnished in balsa wood, which gave it a comforting, natural appearance.

Kardashian took a seat behind his desk, and I took one of the two chairs facing opposite.

‘So . . . we’re very pleased as a result of your testing.’

‘I’m happy to hear that,’ I said. ‘I wasn’t sure.’

‘Yeah – sorry about that,’ he said. ‘You know how it is. But everything’s wired here so we’ve got metrics on everything. But how was it for you?’

I searched for, and found, the right word.

‘Eye-opening.’

‘Yeah, I’ll bet. Anyway, we’re moving on to the next phase. I’ll tell you more about that later, but meanwhile I’ve got a mission for you.’

‘Your wish is my command.’

‘I’m sending you to Iceland.’

‘Forever?’

‘Don’t worry – just a meeting. I’m sending you to meet Mark Zuckerberg.’

He took a memory stick out of his shirt pocket and held it up like a key.

‘You need to give him this.’

I took the stick. The casing was also made from balsa wood.

‘Go to see the Sea Baron if you get time.’

‘The Sea Baron?’

‘This guy, that’s what he’s called. Great soup. And whale. You get them on skewers, like kebabs. And the fjords.’

‘The what?’

‘The fjords,’ he repeated.

‘Isn’t that Norway?’

‘Oh yeah,’ he said. ‘Well, the Sea Baron is definitely there.’

Kardashian seemed to hesitate, then added, ‘Sometimes it can be a little bit touch and go with Mark. You should talk to Bitsy about that.’

‘What would she say?’ I asked.

‘Well, in effect, what I just said.’ He’d become suddenly flat.

‘Why is Zuckerberg in Iceland?’ I asked.

Kardashian shrugged and pulled a ‘don’t ask me’ face.

‘I guess he lives there? I don’t know why. Anyway, he doesn’t like file transfers, so we have to give him the build personally.’

‘When do I leave?’

‘Taxi comes at noon. Go home and pack a bag.’

*******
*******

When we got to the airport it almost seemed as if days had passed. Zuckerberg’s people had taken care of all my arrangements. My plane took off half an hour later, landing in Berlin early in the morning. I went directly to the office without stopping at home. The cave was quiet. Kardashian was in his private cube working in silence. Jabir and Raz had already gone home. I waited by the threshold.

Kardashian looked up and noticed, raising his hand as if to say he’d be right with me. I stood waiting at the entrance to his glowing office as he completed his task.

He stood up and came over to put his hand on my back near my shoulders paternally.

‘You delivered the memory stick,’ he said.

‘Yes, I delivered.’

‘Excellent,’ he said, bringing his hands together at the tips of his fingers. He seemed to freeze in the posture for a second or two, in a similar way to the tic I had noticed in Raz. Then he snapped back to life.

‘Take the morning off. I’ll see you in the afternoon,’ he said and wandered back into his cube.

I left the office, and I walked around the block to my apartment. Mina was waiting for me, standing at the far end of the hallway, as I opened the door.

‘How are you, stranger?’ she said.

She was wearing a white dress.

‘What are you doing here?’ I said. ‘I thought you were in Romania.’

‘I’m back,’ she said.

She took my hand, and I followed her into the bedroom, powerless, still wearing my winter coat and my laptop bag around my shoulders. She was radiating a strange energy, sexy and unearthly.

We sat down on the bed. Mina seemed both horny and spaced out.

She looked up at me earnestly. ‘Do you want me to suck you?’

‘Uh, okay, if you want.’

‘I want to.’

‘Okay, hold on.’

I got up from the bed and lifted my laptop bag over my head, and then I unzipped my coat, and I hung it on the back of the door and took off my shoes. Mina lay back on the bed, voluptuous, her head on the pillow and her hands on her own body, half-closing her eyes and smiling. I smiled too, reflectively. Suddenly she opened her eyes and seemed to stare into me. I returned to the bed.

Mina turned to face away from me, then curled up next to me.

‘Take your pants off,’ she demanded.

I followed her instruction and stripped down to my underwear. Reaching behind me, she tugged down my underwear, moving her hand across my hips until it curled around me. She started squeezing.

‘Did you sleep with anybody when I was in Romania?’ she asked.

‘No,’ I lied.

Her grip once again became gentle.

‘How was Romania?’

She spoke slowly and crisply, without letting it ruin the mood. ‘My uncle died and there was all this property to deal with. And as you know half of my family are peasants. How about you?’

‘I met Mark Zuckerberg,’ I said.

‘Who is Mark Zuckerberg?’

‘He’s the founder of Facebook – never mind.’

‘Shut up. Do you want to make love to me?’

Burne-Jones-le-Vampire

Mina’s body felt both familiar and strange – mechanical – with the interval of time between us. The whole thing was over quickly. Almost as soon as we finished Mina relaxed and picked up her story from where she had left it, speaking softly and seductively about the graveyard – the problem of the graveyard – the property that she’d been trying to dispose of in Romania, this castle with an accompanying graveyard that had some kind of cryptic legal status. This task proved more difficult than she’d anticipated. She leaned over on her side and picked up a cheap paperback, with a strange, lurid cover.

‘What are you reading, honey?’

‘Oh, this? I found this in the house.’

‘What’s it about?’

‘There’s an evil magician and a naive boy. He gets into adventures. At the moment he is kidnapped by aliens. They take him to their base on Mars and they are trying to perform experiments, and he is trying to escape.’

‘How does he get out?’

‘I don’t know, I’m only halfway through the book. But you should be much more concerned with other things.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well of course, you are on Mars right now.’

mars

‘What do you mean?’

A strange, sick feeling started to wash over me.

I realized suddenly I was extremely cold.

I looked in the corner and realized that my laptop bag was missing. I looked again and the bedroom wall and ceiling had turned into stars. I looked back at Mina, and it wasn’t her at all, but someone else: one of Zuckerberg’s assistants.

I wasn’t in Berlin at all, but still in Iceland, still in the castle, in a bedroom, on a bed, completely weak.

I looked back at the girl and now it was Zuckerberg himself, completely naked, staring straight back at me.

It was at that point that I blacked out.
*******
*******
(Purchase D.C. Miller’s novel here.)

TechCrunch Conference - San Francisco, CA

*******
(Painting “The Vampire” by Philip Burne-Jones.)
*******
NOTE: This is a work of fiction etc. etc.

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