17. Blow up the world with strange magic – Mastery

Mastery

In the weeks following, Jeannie spent a great deal of time pondering the problem of broadcasting her power. It’s not like it’s a radio message, she thought. I can’t, for example, just take over the AMEBA array to broadcast healing worldwide. I need something with greater reach.

One day, Jeannie asked George, a co-worker, about some classified technology that she thought could help the project.

“Oh,” George said. “You’ll need a top-secret clearance for that. It’s in the NSA databases.”

“Can I get the clearance?” Jeannie asked.

George shrugged. “I don’t see why not. I’ll see if I can get you set up.”

A few weeks later, Jeannie had access to the NSA system. While searching for relevant technologies, despite her security clearance, she was still denied access to several password-protected areas. But what she was able to access opened her eyes to the power of the NSA. The agency had nearly limitless data on virtually anyone of any consequence in the developed world, plus extensive unmined raw conversation holdings.

Jeannie thought, I wonder if my magic extends to computer systems. One night, while working late in a deserted room, Jeannie decided to try. “Show me,” she said when she encountered an Access Denied message.

To her great surprise, the machine showed her the material. Oh, my God! Jeannie thought. Can I really see everything? She started exploring all the areas she had previously been blocked from, and sure enough, she appeared to have full run of this section of the NSA’s databases. She found terrorist tracking information and started absorbing information about the people behind the threats. Utilizing her gift for rapidly assimilating information, she set the machine to scroll terrorist information across her screen, and she started to pick up patterns.

Jeannie began spending late nights at work poring through the terrorist data and returning to Juston’s apartment long after he’d gone to bed. One morning, he confronted her.

“J-girl, you need to slow the fuck down. I don’t know how many hours you’re putting in, but you’re going to burn yourself out long before the end of the project at this rate.”

Jeannie, bleary-eyed and exhausted, agreed. “I know. I just think I’m onto something, and I have a hard time hanging it up at the end of the day. I’ll be better.”

She gazed fondly at Juston’s worried face. This guy is really growing on me. Fuck, I probably should have moved out long ago. I don’t really need a boyfriend when I’m getting so close with the NSA shit. On the other hand, he’s just so damn sweet. I should throw him a bone. Perhaps we can sleep in the same bed.

“Say, J-man,” she said. “Perhaps we can take our relationship to the next level.”

Juston’s heart leapt in his chest. He thought, is she talking getting engaged?

“Yeah, I think we can sleep in the same bed now.”

Juston tried hard not to show his disappointment.

“What’s the matter, sweetie?” Jeannie said. “Don’t you want to?”

Juston rallied and smiled broadly at Jeannie. “No, I mean, yes. Yes, I’m up for it.”

Jeannie gave him a “you did not just say that” look.

“No, no. I didn’t mean that. I, uh, I think you just surprised me. I’m delighted to get my own bed back.” Juston immediately regretted the statement. “That’s not what I meant.”

“That’s OK, honey, I know what you meant.”

The next day, back inside the NSA computer, Jeannie branched into another database, one containing social media accounts for terrorists. Jeannie’s goal was to obtain absolute knowledge about evil and its purveyors, and there was plenty to learn from the new database. But after weeks of absorbing, she realized she was looking at the NSA data with the most pessimistic point of view possible. How can that yield anything other than a negative result? But what if I were to enter into the center of all that info and look at it empathetically, and optimistically, and with hope? She remembered that hope is the one thing left in Pandora’s box after the demons flew out. Is hope on the inside or outside of the NSA’s boxes?

When you really think about it, Jeannie thought, hope is the movement of empathy in time and space into the future. It’s not an event or a data point; it’s a process that happens through time and is realized over time in many ways, constantly drawing on the past to create the future. The NSA data does not reflect empathy, but rather sus­picion, and a kind of awful pragmatism. She remembered what holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said: You cannot pursue love and power simultaneously. That’s the dichotomy Juston was talking about. You have to choose one: Become Hitler or Jesus. With potentially unfettered access to NSA knowledge, I can rule the world, like Hitler. But instead, I opt for Jesus, or at least to be a savior.

She thought, if you look at it with love, everything changes: darkness to light. When I’m in the NSA, I am the NSA, standing in the center of the world, having all knowledge in the present moment. Maybe I started from a point of prejudice, expecting, like all other users of this data, to find the worst. But if I transform my viewpoint with empathy, I can connect these data, which are neither good nor bad, into a force for good. Instead of looking for evil-doers, I can look for disciples, people who can view the world with empathy and love and transform this data into waves of empathic understanding. I need to get people to see the world with love. Of course, since many will only understand the miraculous, there’ll need to be some spectacle, some magic, some fantastic healing to accomplish my goals. I raised a guy from the dead. Maybe some grand gesture like that would work?

The next day, Jeannie felt like she’d absorbed as much as she could from the terrorist databases. She had begun to see the patterns in the chaos of the turbulent data and in the spew of new information that came in by the gigabyte every second of the day, and to look at it with hope and empathy, so she could find opportunities to heal people.

She’d mapped out the interlocking terror networks and identified the connectors. She knew the ringleaders inside and out and formed complete mental pictures of their psyches. She created a plan for empathically reaching out to them and slowly tweaking them to abandon terrorism. But what about the other kinds of bad guys? Surely NSA had records on all kinds of people. Thus far, she had been focusing on a single set of servers at Fort Meade. There were firewalls and gateways between her and the rest of the threat data. Well, we’ll just see about that, she thought, and immediately the gateways opened, and her consciousness flowed into a new realm.

As she examined the new data, she realized most of the people in the new databases weren’t obvious threats. In fact, most had merely been observed at one or more protests against the government, or Wall Street, or whatever. Yet they all had gotten the full NSA treatment. She followed the links of a few of them out onto the web, mentally cataloging all their websites. One site in particular brought her up short: EmpathySymbol.com. Omigod! Jeannie thought. A site after my own heart! The owner had decided in college that empathy needed a symbol, just like peace. She worked out a design and had a jeweler make a pendant for her. Later in life, she created the site with the goal of spreading empathy across the world.

I love this lady! She’s got a good heart! I have to help her. Jeannie downloaded the symbol and stored it on her phone. She then bought a hundred empathy symbol buttons and several dozen bumper stickers from the site. Need to spread a little empathy here in the US, for sure, she thought.

Time to do some hacking, J-girl. She switched back to the terrorist network and zeroed in on one terror leader, Mohammed Zaeim. Zaeim had been recruited after US jets accidentally bombed his brother’s house, killing the brother, his wife, and two small children. Before this incident, Zaeim had been studying to be an architect. Driven by his outrage, he rose through the terrorist ranks due to his intellect and his understanding of the perfect places to plant bombs. During his rise, several of his friends were killed in drone strikes, further radicalizing him. Zaeim believed that Allah guides whom he wills and saw these terrible losses as confirmation of his desire to wield enough power to gain vengeance on the American infidels.

Jeannie knew that inside, Zaeim was a moral man who believed in justice, and the need for justice for his brother, family, and friends drove his hatred of the US. She speculated that he would respond to appeals to his empathy. Hoping to lead him away from violence, she built an AI chatbot to engage him in a discussion in a chat room he frequented. She uploaded the empathy symbol so that, at the right moment, the chatbot could present it to Zaeim and explain its meaning. She hid the chatbot in the NSA machine and logged off for the night.

The next morning, when Jeannie logged in, she checked the chat logs with Zaeim. To her surprise, the man had discovered that he was talking to a chatbot, and his cell had launched an attack on the chat site, disabling it. Oh, well, back to the drawing board, Jeannie thought. Perhaps there’s no way to project empathy via a machine. Pity. Would be so much more efficient. I can’t do everything myself. I need to find some way to automate the healing process.

That evening, after everyone had gone, Jeannie got back into the NSA machine, determined to find a way to bend its resources to her will or rule it out as an ally. One of the guys in the lab had been experimenting with Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles and had left them laying on top of the workstation next to hers. She thought, what the heck. It might be fun to experience the NSA in 3D. She pulled the heavy display over her head and plugged it into her machine.

At first, the experience was pretty much the same, except she could navigate by turning her head. She found a file on the MacAllan network named OculusSim.drv. Oh, I bet that’s a driver for the Rift that Andrew put together. She loaded the file and the visuals changed dramatically. As she opened her mind to the stream, something felt different. It wasn’t just the 3D effects and the way that Andrew had turned different kinds of information into colors and shapes. She seemed to absorb the flow of information in a more holistic way, not just recognizing connections and correlations, but envisioning and assimilating them without thinking. The flood washed over her, and around her, and through her. Before her eyes, the streams were organizing, taking on colors, spinning out objects that splashed like colored inkblots against waves that broke on unseen beaches, throwing off droplets that coalesced into lattices, spirals, cascades, and other patterns. A monolith, more a polychrome shadow with countless translucent layers shifting and recombining, loomed over the scene, seemingly miles high.

Holy fuck! Did somebody dose my tea? This is like being on a trip! Or, actually, she thought, quite similar in feel to the Magic battle. And what the fuck is this monolith? Some sick 2001 homage? Jeannie navigated closer to the object and crossed its outer boundary. Omigod! This looks like all tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn profiles and the whole ball of social media wax! NSA’s archived all this stuff!

As she watched, the information started to morph and organize itself into objects like the other data had done. Again, she was able to immediately grok insights without effort. She started to see how she might automate this data and marshal it against the terror networks. Her fingers flew across the keyboard creating notes, bits of code and capturing screenshots of the data objects. But typing was too slow. The insights were coming too quickly for her to register them. I’m gonna need a voice interface if I’m gonna be able to deal with this stuff, she thought. Might have to talk to Andrew about that.

Soon Jeannie’s brain started to hurt, and she became nauseous. She tore off the goggles and threw up in her trash can. Oh, the cleaning crew’s gonna love that, she thought. But, wow, that was powerful! And freaky! I think I ingested more information in the last—she checked her watch—fuck! The last two hours . . . than I have in the last two days. Andrew obviously did more than hack the Rift. He built a whole 3D data visualization application. I wonder is this a side hack or for a client? I definitely will need to talk with him tomorrow.

Jeannie packed up her things and dragged herself to her car. When she got home, Juston was still up. “Hey, hon! You’re home early.”

Jeannie gave him a wan smile. Juston noticed her lack of enthusiasm. “What’s up, babe? You look like you’ve been run hard and put up wet.” Despite being dog-tired, Jeannie was eager to tell Juston all about her adventure in the machine.

“Oh, Juston, I’m exhausted, but I’m wired to the max. You would not believe the breakthrough I had this evening.”

Jeannie proceeded to tell Juston about the Oculus Rift and the 3D data and the way she was able to assimilate patterns and data faster than she ever thought possible. Her excitement was contagious, and soon Juston jumped up and started pacing, interrupting from time to time to ask questions.

Jeannie sat on the couch with both legs bouncing with nervous energy. She said, “J-man, this is major. More than major. This is epic. I’m still putting it all together, but I think I can create bots that can do some of the work, maybe just the preparatory stuff to soften up the targets. But I can almost see something, it’s on the edge of my brain, and I can’t quite grasp it, but I think there’s a way I could use NSA to spread empathy throughout the world.

Juston stopped pacing and stared at Jeannie. “For real?”

“For realz,” Jeannie said. “You know how sometimes you get a thought or a feeling that’s just out of reach?” Juston nodded. “Well, that’s how I feel now. I can feel the edges, sense the size of the insight, but it skitters away when I try to probe it.”

Juston said, “Ah! I know the feeling well. In fact, there are practices in Chaos Magick that are used to try to surface those truths that are just on the edge of perception. Carroll, in Liber Null, talks about how adepts can use any system they prefer to try to reach those insights by forging the magic link. To do so, the magician tries to let the magic slip through below the level of conscious control. Carroll gives an example of Tarot divination. The magician shouldn’t just shuffle and reveal cards but look through the pack first and then shuffle lightly. The idea is not to look for a random result, but one guided by some knowledge. That’s the place you’re at. You’ve got tons of random knowledge, and the insight evades you. Chaos Magick recommends reducing the quest to a symbol that will help crystallize the adept’s perception and form a basis for intuitive guesswork to bring forth the insight.”

“OK, so what should I do. Throw some dice? Deal some Tarot cards?”

“The point is, it doesn’t matter. Pick something. But be aware that your greatest foe is your own psychic censor. Or you could call it inhibition. It’s the thing that prevents us from remembering all our dreams, or on the other hand, from going batshit crazy from all the sensory impressions that bombard our bodies 24/7.”

“If I know you, next you’ll be telling me sex is the most powerful way to defeat the psychic sensor!”

“Um, well, no, and yes. Sex is a really powerful way to reduce inhibition and improve divination. But I’m a little hurt that you think all this is just a ploy for me to get you in the sack more often.” Juston was bugged that there was this dynamic between them. It’s not like she doesn’t love sex, he thought.

“I was just teasing you,” Jeannie said and reached over to him to touch his arm. “I get that sex is powerful in ways I had never considered.”

The two fell silent for several minutes before Jeannie said, “Well, that’s way too much information and stimulation for me today. I’m hitting the hay, and, yes, I’m too tired to roll in it.” Jeannie gave Juston a goofy smile to let him know she was teasing him.

The next morning, Jeannie asked Andrew to lunch. The man was stunned. Being a tall, scrawny, nerdy engineer with a big nose, a scraggly beard, and an ugly topknot, he rarely got lunch invitations from anyone, let alone a pretty woman. “Uh, sure,” he managed to say.

Seeing his unease, Jeannie leaned close and whispered, “I want to pick your brain about your Oculus project.”

Andrew reddened. “Oh, crap. Did I leave that thing out last night? Damn.”

So, it is a side hack, Jeannie thought. That means we need to be very careful.

“Sorry, Andrew,” she said in a very quiet voice. “I didn’t know it was an, uh, extracurricular project.”

Andrew nodded. His expression was blank. Jeannie hadn’t really worked with Andrew, but now she saw that he was the proto­typical engineering nerd: socially awkward, somewhere on the spectrum, and totally devoted to his work. She’d dealt with his type throughout her career and knew just how to handle him.

“Andrew, I’m looking forward to lunch. I’ve got some ideas for you and I’d like to hear what you think of them.” Andrew brightened and nodded before abruptly turning back to his work.

At lunch, Jeannie started out by praising Andrew’s work. She described the brilliance of his 3D visualization and how it was helping her with her work.

“It’s got a long way to go before it satisfies me,” Andrew said, but he seemed pleased.

Seeing her opening, Jeannie said, “Would you like to hear how it could help me with my work on the radio array?” Andrew had just taken a big bite of his huge hamburger, and so just nodded.

Jeannie described how keyboarding was slowing her down and she’d really like to see a voice interface. Andrew nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, that’s one of the features I’ve been planning to add. I also want to work a bit more on the animation so that it better handles head gestures. Anyway, adding the voice piece shouldn’t be that hard. One of my buddies has a great voice module that I should be able to adapt, perhaps as soon as the weekend.” Andrew thought for a moment. “You’re not going to tell anyone about this, are you? I mostly am working on it on my own time, but my contract has an intellectual property clause that could make things difficult.”

Jeannie assured Andrew that she’d keep quiet and she’d be delighted if she could test the voice control on the weekend. They made plans to come in on Sunday and give it a try. From Tuesday through Saturday night, Jeannie spent her free time inside the NSA computer grinding through with keyboard and monitor and thinking of tweaks to the 3D modeling that would help her mission.

Jeannie got up early on Sunday morning. Juston stirred and mumbled, “Go back to sleep. You’re not meeting Andrew until 10.”

“I can’t sleep anymore,” Jeannie said. “I’m too keyed up. I’m getting up.” Juston groaned and turned over.

Jeannie got ready to go and ate a few spoonfuls of cashew yogurt, but she was too keyed up to eat any more. She decided to walk to MacAllan and wait for Andrew there.

As she passed the guard in the lobby, the man said, “What’s got you here so early on a Sunday?”

Jeannie was a little startled by the question and at first couldn’t think of what to say in reply. “Oh, just this project. I’m trying to solve a tough problem, and it’s got so I can barely sleep, so I thought I’d come in. Andrew is going to give me a hand, so you should see him in a bit.”

“You should be out walking by the river or doing something fun on a Sunday like this. It’s a great day outside.” Jeannie just smiled, nodded, and scanned her badge.

Once at her cube, she logged in to the NSA machine. Jeez, she thought, without the Rift this week, I’ve made such slow progress. She sighed, and started in again, analyzing terrorist Twitter networks, which was excruciatingly difficult without Andrew’s program. Finally, when she was about to give up, Andrew showed up, an hour early.

“Thank goodness you came early,” she said. “After doing some work with your program, doing it the old way is painfully slow and boring.”

Andrew gave a shy smile and said, “I think you’re going to like the improvements I’ve made. I not only added the speech module, but I beefed up the 3D rendering and added the head gestures I mentioned. Let’s see how you like it.”

Jeannie suddenly realized she needed a work-related task to test the goggles on. It would look weird if Andrew watched her fly through the NSA terror network databases. Fuck. What dataset is large enough? Ah, the seawater wave propagation and the air-to-water interface testing database! Andrew plugged in his gear and Jeannie brought up the data. Andrew fitted the modified Oculus onto her head and flipped the switch in the new black box he had added to the assembly.

“I had to add some processing power to do the vid and the audio at the same time,” he told Jeannie. “So be careful not to get up or move around too much. It’s kind of all patched together at the moment.”

“OK,” Jeannie said. “So how can I navigate with my voice?”

Andrew described the various commands Jeannie could use to cruise up and down and around the data. “And can I take voice notes?” Jeannie said.

“Yup, just say, ‘Open note’ and give it a name. Then say, ‘Note copy’ before you speak your note. Say, ‘Stop note’ when you want to stop recording.”

Jeannie nodded, then immediately regretted it. “Wow, I just bounced off the bottom of the data. That was a weird sensation!”

Andrew smiled and said, “Yeah, I forgot to tell you, the Rift is a lot faster with the new black box. Don’t blow your mind.”

Jeannie trolled through the data and made notes on some new insights she had on the propagation data. After about an hour, Jeannie said, “Andrew, this must be so boring for you. Why don’t you go home while I play? I’ll bring the Rift in tomorrow morning and let you know what I think.” She pulled off the goggles and looked into Andrew’s eyes. Shit, he’s not digging that idea. I think I need to nudge him. “You don’t mind, right?” she said.

Andrew hesitated for a moment, and then realized he didn’t mind. “OK, Jeannie. I’ll take off, but text me if you have any problems, OK? This stuff’s put together with chewing gum and bailing wire right now.”

Jeannie smirked. I may not even have had to give him the little magic nudge. Men are so easy to manipulate. Andrew turned and left Jeannie alone.

After waiting several minutes to make sure Andrew was really gone, Jeannie logged in to the NSA machine and plunged into the terrorist and social media data. She found that the voice navigation helped immensely, and so did the upgrade in the visualization that Andrew had added. That guy’s a wizard, Jeannie thought. I’m starting to see how I can influence a relatively small number of nodes and cause whole terror networks to fall apart! This is fantastic! Now if I can only build an empathy bot.


It was near midnight when Jeannie returned to Juston’s apartment with the Rift in a box under her arm. “Juston, this was magnificent!” she said, placing the box on the kitchen counter and rushing over to him. “Andrew not only added the voice nav, he jazzed up the visualization. I’m finally able to see whole sections of the terror networks and analyze their weaknesses.”

She embraced Juston and twirled him around. “J-girl, that’s fantastic!” Juston said laughing. “So, you’re a little excited, eh?”

Jeannie said, “Ya think?” and went bouncing around the room. “I can use some network jiu-jitsu to cause the terror networks to collapse and then send jihadists messages reinforcing the peace. I’ve got a large list of terrorists I’ve gotten to understand, how they can be healed, touched, moved, what makes them feel. Look, I’ve got a bunch of messages all queued up.” Jeannie grabbed her iPad and brought up the list.

  • “You cannot guide those you would like to, but God guides those He wills. He has best knowledge of the guided.” (Holy Quran/28: 56)
  • “O You who believe! Enter absolutely into peace. Do not follow in the footsteps of satan. He is an outright enemy to you.” (Holy Quran: 2, 208)
  • “None of you will have faith till he wishes for his brother what he likes for himself.” (Al-Bukhari)
  • “We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48)
  • “God does not forbid you from being good to those who have not fought you in the religion or driven you from your homes, or from being just towards them. God loves those who are just.” (Surat al-Mumtahana, 8)

“I’ll create an army of chatbots to feed them positive messages. Then I’ll match each jihadist with an empathic person, like the folks the NSA tracks who demonstrate for peace and introduce them on social or messenger or email. They’ll wonder at first how the contact was initiated, but my hope is they’ll start talking. It’s harder to hate someone if you know their name.”

Juston had his doubts about how well this campaign would work, but he wasn’t going to bring them up when Jeannie was so happy. “This is all marvelous news!” he said. “But you need to get some sleep, and so do I. I’ve got a client call early in the morning.”

“You go ahead to bed,” Jeannie said. “I’m much too wired to sleep. I’ll be along later.”

The next day, Jeannie got up early again and was gone even before Juston arose for his conference call. She was itching to get in to work, get her workday over, and start building her empathy palace inside the NSA machines. All day long she was impatient, wishing the day would end. Andrew wandered by a couple of times, but she pretended not to notice him.

Finally, everyone else left and she dug into the NSA data. After working late into the night, she awoke, having fallen asleep with the goggles on. The gasket around the mask had dug grooves into her face. Wow, she thought. I gotta get some sleep. I think maybe tomorrow I can wewease my secwet weapon. Jeannie giggled at the phrase, a favorite from a video she watched twice a day when she was young. She dragged herself home and joined the slumbering Juston in their bed.

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