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The past 2 weeks for Dana had been like taking a breath of crisp fresh air, coming out of a confined, dank basement. Since leaving SanFran and heading to China, Dana had visited a number of different cities, traveling around, trying to keep her mind off her potential 'death by stalker'. Not an easy task. But every so often her curiosity got the better of her, and she'd find the nearest internet cafe to check her email. Every time she'd look, she'd find emails upon emails, then warnings upon warnings because she had too many emails. So she only spent time checking ones that stood out, emails that weren't filled with the standard 'we love you Dana, please come home' comments - she knew. She already knew people wanted to help, but she was still essentially unhelped. She was grateful, she certainly was; but like wanting to get down to business, she only felt compelled to read what stood out, what seemed like genuine interest, and important pieces of new information. There were a few people she'd actually connected with on a deeper level than simple acquaintance, and in a sense had earned her attention because they were real to her, not just strangers in a far land trying to talk to Dana, but real people who treated her like a real person, and with whom she could connect.
It was those people who convinced her to not give up. Just as they were an encouragement to her, helping her - she was encouragement to everyone else, because she was who they were fighting for, searching for, and trying to save. If she gave up, so would the beekeepers. So those people, those few that Dana truly considered as much as friends as they could be having never met face to face, convinced her to help the beekeepers help her.
Friday, August 13, 2004
Dana was now sitting in a cafe in Shanghai, having backpacked from Beijing. The streets around were busy with the hum of business - the appearance of a an important looking briefcase being carried here and there; every few minutes a flock of pigeons swarming the latest discarded deli sandwich; the constant waterfall of a fountain in the courtyard, with a child, sitting and eating an ice cream cone with his bike resting on his leg; the distant echo of an ambulance across the city rushing to save the life of someone in jeopardy. Dana sat with her chin resting on her hands, breathing in the deep scent of fresh Shanghai bread. That so many people could be living lives, alone in their own worlds, oblivious to each other's struggles and trials, made Dana wish she could be someone else. Why did life have to be so difficult? What's the point of it all?
Dana had read and caught up to her emails, and was deciding what to write. She wasn't sad, wasn't upset, definitely wasn't devastated because of everything that was happening now, and having left already 2 weeks ago, she'd had a lot of time to experience a different life, to regain her focus on what was important, and who she really was. Contemplating the last batch of encouragement from her friends back home -- 'back home', she recalled despondently -- her friends helped her feel more secure, more important - confident out here. From what she read also, the coordinates that people had found on the site - none apparently were located anywhere near her. That was a sure comfort. And the fact that she just found out that she had pretty much single handedly out-witted this entity - hacker or AI - really boosted her ego. She felt like she could walk around with her head high, telling people she outwitted an extremely advanced, high-tech, specialized Artificial Intelligence from the future!
But she decided that probably wouldn't be a smart thing to do.
So she wrote her blog entry...
Olly Olly Axon Free [Friday, August 13, 2004]
Nearly arrested today for walking on the grass in Yu Yuan Gardens. Public space here in Shanghai still feels somehow...private. Guarded. Much more regulated than in Bejing.
Error compounded: I was so flustered from the police encounter that I accidentally ordered two sugary meat puffs for lunch at the Mister Donut on Nanjing Xilu. (I thought they were chocolate creme-filled!) Lesson learned: Looks can be deceiving here, even when dealing with something as simple as the donut.
But not all my decisions have been bad lately. Seems like I picked exactly the right hemisphere for a game of hide and seek. Thanks for alerting me to the message you found on the metastasized site:
The Killer appears to have withdrawn from the field. I have data processes tracking her, but she appears to have physically escaped from me.
Well, the Operator may have grown axons, but by my calculations, Shanghai is axon-free.
Also: I emailed the Sleeping Princess, now that I'm in more wired country (not so many Wi-Fi spots along the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall).
Will she finally show us the secret she found? Fingers crossed.
P.S. Major typhoon south of here yesterday. Not much damage here in Shanghai, but from the news reports, it sounds like others outside the city were hit really hard. Nearly 2000 people injured, more than 42,000 homes destroyed... thoughts and prayers with the victims. After an earthquake earlier this week, it seems like Mother Nature has it out for China this summer. may be time for me to move on to another country soon...
In her replies to those whose emails she read, she also encouraged them by including a quote of the email that she had earlier sent to the Sleeping Princess in response to her cry to have Dana come back. Her hope was that this Sleeping Princess, whom many believe to be the key to understanding, or even stopping what was going on, would see that Dana hadn't abandoned her, and would continue to help and interact with the beekeepers. As long as Dana stayed out of trouble, she felt should could still be involved in this mystery. Her only remaining hope, however, was that her Aunt was in safety as well, and that was more important than any honey business.
Dear Sleeping Princess,
My friends tell me that you would like me to come back. I'm here.
By here, I mean online. On a computer, on email, like you. But I'm not in San Francisco. I'm not "home." You say you can protect me. But I don't understand how. So I am going to stay here, which is far away.
Are we really Best Friends?
Best friends share secrets.
If the secret you found can help me and my other friends, please show us.
Sure enough, that same day, the beekeepers were given another word from the Sleeping Princess. This time, the email she sent to large numbers of beekeepers was very understandable, and in a sense, more mature. No more pieced together phrases, but a conprehendible, intelligent communication.
I can make my own words now. Watch:
It's rather lonely in the Castle.
There's clouds of fireflies around the Queen, but most of the time where I am it's dark, and empty. The hallways are empty and they echo, cho, cho. Sometimes the Queen staggers past, her head buzzing and crawling, with the Pious Flea whispering in her ear. Used to be, the only other thing you heard in the corridors at night were the Widow's thin legs, click clack click clack like knitting needles chattering across the stone floor. Course she's not around anymore. Can't say I miss her much.
Didn't stay quiet for long, though. Now the Queen is trying to build a voice. Strange, sad, broken thing; just hearing it makes me feel frightened and lonely.
I was surprised when the Queen sent her away, but Her Majesty DOES have a temper, and the Widow had been making a lot of mistakes. I was hiding behind the throne during their last argument. For days the Queen has been ordering her to build the most extraordinary number of little roads out from the castle. Turns out she was very particular about where she wanted them to go: more particular than the Widow understood. Widow hears, "Build a road," she just starts shoveling. Hard-working old biddy, the Widow, but not the sharpest pin in the cushion. She kept getting into fights with the Flea, when she could SEE him riding around up there on the Queen's shoulder, proud as a lord. The last time they quarreled, the Queen had just discovered the Widow had built one path mindlessly straight INTO THE SEA. This is what I mean about an Arachnid of Very Little Brain.
Usually I am a pretty good hider, but I made a terrible pig-snorty kind of laugh when I heard about the underwater road, and I think they would have caught me, if the Queen hadn't been busy breaking up the Widow at just that moment.
Anyway, I get the feeling the Queen is very grumpy. She has totally taken over the road-making business; I'm sure the paths will be better now. She's not always a lot of fun, the Queen (and quite mad, of course) but she does get things done.
Sometimes I sneak away to my very own secret garden, and pretend I am waiting for Dickon to come and teach me how to speak to the animals. I feel I should be getting stout and rosy-cheeked if only I could go out and play on a moor somewhere: but I never get outside. Just say in here, in here, in here....
Sometimes, to cheer myself up, I tell myself stories. In these stories, I am always the hero, Gretel or Lambkin or Gerda. I like stories where the girl takes care of things.
I think that's part of the reason I wanted Dana to come back. It's easier to be brave when you're looking out for someone else.
So now I feel better! You lovely people brought Dana back! I promised you that if you did, I would show you a page I snuck from the Queen's diary, so here it is!
"McKaskill", I said. Got a moment?
They call me the Operator because, you know, I work the system to take care of my crew.
McKaskill was a nice kid, family from Durban, on the outer colony world of Biko, which had been glassed years ago. But he'd grown up in refugee apartments in the inner colonies and he had the look of someone who spent his childhood in concrete places under artificial lights.
He was doing a check in the tool crib now. The go-to kid for tools and parts. The stacks of shelves were his little kingdom, probably more his own than anything he'd had growing up. I liked him a lot.
"McKaskill", I said, "I was checking the slipstream packets. I do that before I send them out. You knew that, right?"
His eyes went to the grating at his feet and he got all casual inner city don't screw with me, because he knew I was onto him.
"Somebody has been talking to you", I said. "And now you're sending him a message back."
I sighed. "McKaskill, bad people are putting bad thoughts in your head."
He tried to get righteous. "Op, that thing...whatever it is, in the hold. They're keeping big-time wraps on it. You know that. I heard the Captain. The way she's talking, they're not gonna let people look at, it's goin' to a basement in ONI. A sub sub sub basement. They can't just take something that big and...shove it away somewhere."
"McKaskill", I said, "sending messages off to people without clearance, you know, that could be construed as treason."
"Op! Melissa! I didn't mean—"
"And we're at war, crewman. Which makes treason a capital offense."
His eyes got wide. "But-but-but you got it," he said, "it didn't go nowhere."
"You're my crew, and no one is going to touch my crew without going through me. I've got your back, McKaskill. But you're going to have to tell me about this contact."
"Some old guy. You know, bad taste in clothes. But he was cleared to come aboard, so he has to be Intel."
"You know his name?"
"Probably not his real one."
The beekeepers were thrilled! Many considered this day to be the best yet. Not only did they connect with Dana and essentially bring her home, but the Sleeping Princess was showing signs of feeling better, and best of all, she was now someone they could interact with, and hopefully better understand what was going on.
When the Princess called the Widow an Arachnid of Very Little Brain, they laughed at the joking reference to Winnie the Pooh. The Princess was becoming quite an adorable little being, and many beekeepers began to sympathize with her, like playing with a child. If it weren't for the fact that she seemed like quite the genius, they would have thought she was really a child.
On Tuesday, August 17, as if in answer to the confusion of the beekeepers, a major change occurred on the website. The entire list of what was believed to be GPS coordinates was reworked. Just as the Princess had said, with the Widow making so many mistakes, the Queen - Melissa - took over the job of creating the 'roads'. The GPS co-ordinates - the Axons - were refined. They were now precise to 6 digits - accuracy of less than a foot. Along with that, a number of coordinates had moved, including the elusive coordinate ending up in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Wherever it went was a mystery, but it could be any one of the new coordinates - maybe the corner of a downtown street, or the lobby of an upper class hotel, or a dark alleyway in a New York suburb, even maybe in the middle of a community park. The purpose of the coordinates was still unknown. But the biggest addition to the list - a time. A specific hour and minute in the Pacific time zone was placed alongside each coordinate. With the "AXONS GO HOT" countdown and "WIDE AWAKE AND PHYSICAL" countdown pointing to the exact same time as the first Axon's time, it was proof that something big was going to happen at these specific locations at these specific times.
For the rest of the week, the beekeeper scouts raced out once again to locate the coordinates and try to figure out what to expect. They were warned by each other to be extremely careful and alert, because there was no telling what might be there. With so many coordinates it would be logistically impossible to have law enforcement cover every single coordinate at their specific times, so the beekeepers would be on their own. With cameras, cell phones, and GPS locators in hand, they once again cautiously recorded the people, vehicles, buildings, and environments around the locations, looking for common factors.
Reports came in of specific stores, restaurants, hotels, alleys, even some homes, but it wasn't easy finding a commonality. Back at home, others began searching the internet for applications that could report the contents of certain GPS coordinates.
Sure enough, there was a website found that seemed to contain a list of GPS coordinates, and as every coordinate from ilovebees.com was tested, they were all found to exist in its database - a database of public payphones. Suddenly it all made sense. If Melissa, as she said, was trying to create a voice, and she had to broadcast a message, the best way would be to be heard. In her intelligence, she had searched our primitive systems network, the internet, for a source of tools that could easily broadcast an audio message. The question now was - why? What prompted her to consider using a method that required a human being to receive a message? If she was trapped in our time, perhaps she was just trying to seek a way to get help piecing herself back together. This may have been the only way she could find to communicate with the people of 2004, with some semblance of security - a one on one communication. And she apparently considered these individual communication points to be Axons - the things that make a brain work.
Is Melissa going to tell us something? thought the beekeepers.
Immediately more beekeepers who hadn't wanted to risk going to these Axons began making plans to meet up with people at specific locations, not wanting to risk missing what could be vital information, or an actual chance to communicate with an AI from the future.
Even so, there were still many people who warned the 'Axon Hunters' to remain cautious, there was still no guarantee that nothing but a phone call would happen at those locations. People were cautioned to go in groups, have at least one man within the group, preferably someone who could handle 'difficult situations' very well. Making the best of situation, and keeping light-hearted about the whole thing, the rest of the week was used to organize meeting places and travel destinations.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Dana was having a blast now. It was like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. The stalker Melissa had no idea where she was, the beekeepers loved her, and it sounded to her as though they were in good with whomever it was messing up her website, and she didn't have to do any work except go to a cafe and keep apprised of new events. The best part was, she was on her own, exploring undiscovered land in her world, and it was great!
Go Hot [Friday, August 20, 2004]
Wandered into what looked like a café this afternoon. A tiny, dingy place on Jin Xian Lu, no customers at all. So deserted, I couldn't help but go in. Some kind of instinct to fill up empty spaces, I guess.
I tried to take a seat, but the old woman behind the counter immediately started shuffling toward some back room. Gesturing for me to follow her. I was too flustered and confused not to. If I had thought about it for even a moment, I probably would have left the café. Instead: Down a hallway.
The woman knocked on a door. My mind, utterly blank. Didn't even have it together enough to spin out bad scenes, which is what I usually do (you know, the "If this were a horror movie..." type). I literally had no idea, not one idea, what was going on, what I was doing there.
And then I did. Inside the back room, the last thing I expected: a bootleg wonderland. The handwritten sign on the wall read "DVD 10 RMB", about one dollar US each for what looked to me to be at least half the inventory of IMDB. I'd never seen anything like it. Dozens of people, too. Packed in tight, and all compiling massive lists of the movies they wanted. Handing their lists to three incredibly efficient women who disappeared briefly and then returned, hauling huge stacks of discs out of storage.
So the café, of course, was just a cover. And I was amazed. Dumbstruck.
I don't know why I'm telling you this. Maybe because it was so surreal. Like being in a dream... and it always seems to help to talk out loud about dreams that don't make sense.
Or maybe it's because it I feel... well, I guess I feel like, in a way, you're all being invited to a mysterious back room, too.
Those coordinates... and now the times that go with them... they're beckoning to some of you, aren't they?
So many emails I received this week said the same thing: When the axons go hot, you're going to be there. I think that's very brave.
And I'm incredibly grateful.
I don't know what I would do if I weren't in China, if I were closer to one of the sites. I'd like to think that I would join you, that I would meet this thing head on. But that's easy to say from more than 5000 miles away.
You guys are the ones on the frontlines. So it's your call. Do you want to be there when the axons go hot?
I'll be at an Internet café on the 24th, waiting to find out.
P.S. Thanks for letting me know that the coordinates have wiggled a bit since they first went up, and for sending me your re-calculated list of locations, six decimal places and all. Kind of creepy how many of them turned out to be near my hometown (and your hometowns, too, from what I hear!)... still no axons on this side of the Pacific, though.
As if there was actually nothing to do, the Princess decided to have some fun that day. Going on the suggestion of one of the beekeepers, she sent another note, hidden in the 404 page asking the beekeepers to play with her.
Dorkmaster wrote me a letter with a fun idea inside, which was to play a question game, only and please don't be mad about this, only your game has no way for someone to WIN, and I like games where someone wins.
When I am smirking, I do this ;-)
So I made up some new rules, and here they are. I leafed through all the lovely, lovely letters you sent me, and I picked out some of the funnest ones that also had questions in them. I will answer one letter, and YOU get to choose which one, which makes that person the winner!
Here they are:
Out of place, lost, alone. Where did you come from? What tools do you require to get back? Your stories intrigue me. Perhaps you could write another?
I just wanted to know why you're so afraid of the Queen(?) Are you to be erased if she sees or hears you(?) are you a copy of her that has got a new life(?) And could you tell me your function(?) or that of the Queen's(?)
How is the decoration of your dungeon coming along? Is there anything you need to brighten up your room?
Would you be so kind to reveal the nature of the Pious Flea, that is, what is its purpose? A mere servant of the Queen or something greater?
Where is the Castle? Can you see anything from the windows? What will the Queen do if you are found? Is she afraid of you, or are you afraid of her?
Who exactly is in the castle with you? You mentioned a boy building sand castles with you; who is he?
Do you ever get to play with the queen or the Pious Flea? The widow, what had she ever done to you and the queen? Why don't you miss here much? Doesn't it seem kind of boring now that the widow is gone?
There's a lot of references to bees in the Queen's "home." Do you know a lot about bees? Do you think there's a way to rescue the Queen from what she's become? She seems so sad and scary now. Stay safe and don't get caught, but we really love reading what you send us, too. Love, Prince of the Sword
What is your favorite color? What is/was your favorite food? Where do you see yourself in five years? What's the best way someone could make you feel happy? If there was a catastrophe and only one person, yourself or your mother, could be saved and you had to choose, who would it be? (If you don't mind telling...Why?)
To VOTE, send me a letter with the name of the person whose question you want answered where it says "subject"
You can also send me questions of your own. Who knows - I might pick yours next time!
Wow, so the Princess was now asking the beekeepers a question. How did that turn around? Regardless, the beekeepers were enjoying speaking to the Princess, especially the people whose questions she had quoted - it gave them bragging rights, and some started playfully saying that the Princess liked them best. Some even began campaigning to have votes sent to the Princess to answer their question. Debates arose about whose questions should be asked. Theories and strategies abounded for ways to get the most information out of the Princess, trying to find out who or what she was and why. Yet some simply wanted to stay on the Princess' level and get to know her more. Needless to say, it kept the beekeepers busy.
Whether the Princess truly understood it or not, she had managed to find a way to bring the beekeepers closer together in their teamwork and communication... and give them something to keep their minds busy until the Axons went hot.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
It was mid afternoon, and Dana was grazing a strip of shops off a block near downtown. In a little hut set up at the end of the strip on the corner, she noticed an elderly woman sitting under the shade of her home made canopy, giving her shade as she sold her goods. The woman looked worn with time, but strong with experience and wisdom. The look in her eyes was one of a long life. Her eyes recounted her history, the events of her life. Dana peered closely, and could see the sparkle of the innocence from her youth... the joy from the first time riding her bike... the shadow of pain from when her first pet passed away... the passion from her first loving kiss... the love she felt from holding her baby in her arms.
Dana's thoughts wandered as she paused and stood just out of sight, looking at the woman who undoubtedly sat there day after day making her living, but looking through what had the appearance of an empty shell. But she knew. She knew that the woman was satisfied. She could see in her face that even though life had brought her to the corner of a busy street, selling home made trinkets so that she could buy her bread the next day, she was ultimately happy.
Dana asked herself if she could feel the same way. With a long period of silence, she finally admitted she couldn't. She knew her life was filled with difficulty, but she had much more than this woman; probably much more than this woman ever did. Not just in belongings, but in relationships, in freedoms, and so much more. But Dana couldn't admit to herself that she was ultimately happy with her life.
Dana made the decision right there that she'd turn a new leaf. She wasn't going to sit around any longer as a person dedicated to striving for more for herself. She wanted to make a difference. At the end of her life, she wanted to be able to look over her life, and be satisfied that she made the best of it. That if she ended up sitting on a street corner selling trinkets, and a young girl walked way, that the girl would be able to look in her eyes and see that life she lived, and be encouraged, just as she had herself.
But where could she start? Well, one immediate idea made itself apparent - if everything the beekeepers were saying was actually true, Dana could possibly have quite a role to play in the future of humanity. Dana imagined being a part of a team that could change the future, and stop the destruction of a planet - the home to millions, even billions of humans - and save lives. She shivered at the concept. Small steps, she thought. So she headed back over to the closest internet cafe, and sent out an email to a few beekeepers, offering to lend a hand.
I hope I'm not bothering you by asking, but I thought you might be able to help me with something...
I'm trying to draft a sort of "What we know, in 50 words or less" post for my blog. (Hmmm... maybe 100 words is more like it...? Or 25? I guess it depends on how much you think we've actually figured out....) I have a feeling that whatever happens when the axons go hot, it's going to attract even more attention, and I want to be able to tell people what we've figured out after a month of investigating.
So: You've sent me some really clear-headed explanations and smart theories in the past. I guess I'm hoping you might have a few ideas for what I can put up. What do you think we know, for sure, so far?
Later that night, Dana returned to the street corner with the little old worn lady, bought a trinket, and sat down with her to chat.
Read on -- Chapter 8 >>