Author : Dominic Daley

Sometimes, as I let the knowledge packets bleach out my old preconceptions and dull misapprehensions, I’d ponder, considering how sluggishly my brain operated whenever I indulged in this arthritic retail therapy, how boring it must have been to have had to read this junk. “Introduction to Modern Conflict”. “British Military History”. “World Empires 101”. All fluidly installable, straight into your memory banks, for two grand a pop. Progress.

You could get anything, within reason. It had to be offered by a licensed university – no third-party crap (if, for whatever absurd reason, you wanted it). I knew people who had submerged themselves in Hardy, Keats, Hugo, Blake and Larkin, but who could also speak fluent Mandarin, repair a Cessna engine in minutes and confidently multiply a dozen prime numbers off the tops of their heads. My own ambitions, however, were a little more specialised.

I had bought the cartridge from a code-rinser in Solihull, for ten thousand pounds. I don’t know if he knew what it was he was selling but he seemed happy to be rid of it, which at least told me he knew it was hot.

‘It’s totally clean,’ he had said. ‘Not a malicious line left.’

I had raised my eyebrows, impressed. ‘You’re sure? Nothing spring-loaded that you might have missed?’

He had assured me that he had been very thorough and had then hurried me out of his pigsty of a den. I had taken the cartridge back home and prepared it, hooking it up to my terminal, readying the sleek neural plugs for connection. Now, I massaged my temple socket with moisturising gel, to take the edge off the transfer burns.

Dead modules aren’t really dead, but they’re hardly ever retrievable. Usually, specialists will riddle them with fail safes; corrupt them to the point of unintelligibility, or program footprint traps to track down new users, or, in exceptional circumstances, tack on viruses that induce comas, or brain death, or worse. After all, they’re dead for a reason.

Mine was written by a mad genius, Professor William Cyrus Hanks. The campus eccentric (back when they still had campuses) who had built a module in secret and in so doing had made an artefact out of contemporary war. His students had started the first Psy-age, nearly half a century ago. They had come close to bringing the western hemisphere completely under their control, twelve brilliant people, devastating any who opposed them, willing their enemies into ash, tricking them to death in visions and smoke, piecing apart their very infrastructure like pulling off a spider’s legs. Only the Philistines had been enough to stop them, they with their brute manoeuvres and their raw, archaic tactics. But the Philistines were all gone. Dead in defiance of the future’s warm embrace. So, “Advanced Conquest: Manual for Surrender” was worth its weight.

The console light flickered green, ready for upload. I closed my eyes and dreamed about my empire.

It was the smoothest installation I’ve ever had.

Isn’t education grand?

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