The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Thirty: Money
Sara seemed to be very
pleased with herself. She couldn't wait to tell the usual gang
gathered for dinner at Mrs. J's, waiting impatiently until the
ritual conversational preliminaries eventually played out.
prompted Mrs. J, "Out vith it. You been squirming like
havink pants full of ants. So tell us vhat you can't vait to be
Sara, transparently trying to look casual about it, "It's
just something I worked out in my spare time. No big deal,
really. Sort of a public service kinda thing."
expectantly, as if maybe someone would try to guess what it was.
They stared at her, refusing to take the bait, until she couldn't hold
back any longer.
The others looked at
each other for a moment, mostly shrugging. Finally Alex told
her, "That's nice, but I already get all the spam I can
more," Sara countered. "I got rid of it."
thanks," Alex replied, then looked at her suspiciously.
"Uh… What did you do to my computer?"
"Not a thing. But
you won't be getting any more spam," she assured him.
Jimmie was interested.
everybody," she said, spreading her arms as if to encompass
the whole world. "I fixed it — well, anyway, Susan fixed
it — so that there won't be any more spam. Anywhere.
Mrs. J was not
particularly impressed. "Bah. Not buyink Spam anyvay.
Vouldn't feed to pigs. Phui!"
Dinah's eyes narrowed.
"Let me see if I understand this. You put some kind of
filter on the Internet that prevents unsolicited advertisements
from being transmitted?"
"Yeah. And those
stupid chain letters and phoney come-ons. All that crapola that
everybody hates. Not good stuff, though — just the real spam.
I mean, I know spam when I see it — everybody does. And nobody
likes it. It slows down the whole 'Net. So Susan basically takes
a look at whatever's out there — and if it's spam, it goes
right back to the sender. Every bit of it. Cool, huh?"
thought so. Mrs. J snorted dismissively. Lanna looked clueless.
Dinah was horrified.
Alex's eyes widened.
He knew she was pretty much constantly 'on' the 'Net, but he
evidently hadn't been keeping up with the extent to which she
had become interconnected. This surprised him, though he knew it
told her, almost scolding, "I hope you haven't been
pirating wireless access. I thought we had a talk about that. As
far as I know, I'm only paying for one cell number for you to
"Yeah, I know.
And I only use it for regular phone calls. This is different. I
mean, y'know — I was designed to fly. I was meant to do
it, so it's something I do. It's so obvious that nobody ever
even thought about whether I should do it or not. This is
the same thing, I think. I was designed to be a computer — a
really connected computer. S'far as I know, that's maybe
the big reason I'm here at a time when the whole Internet thing
is happening. It's my nature to be plugged into that, to be a
part of it. I'm absolutely sure of it. But don't worry,
I'm not tapping into anything the way you think."
Alex and Jimmie looked
at each other.
Sara went on.
"Remember how the NASA guys spent a lot of time trying to
cut off a piece of hair for a sample?"
Alex smiled to
himself. He'd tried to do the same thing. He couldn't do it, and
neither could they. Nobody could, not with any technology
available on Earth.
"I figured out
later — there's a way, sorta. Watch
this," she said.
She reached out and
put her hand palm down on the center of the dining room table. A
tiny, downy hair on the back of her wrist began to glow like a
soft, golden lightbulb filament.
"That's just so
you can see it," she said.
It detached itself and
slowly rose from her arm, then hovered at eye level.
Sara explained, "What's really
neat is that it's still really part of me. It's connected completely, like it's still
much 'me' as my fingers, even if it's on the Moon. And
it's just like me as far as being a computer. It can 'hear' and
'see' — all the kreening stuff, radio, x-rays, lasers,
you?" Alex asked. "What — some kind of hyperspace
wormhole connection or something?"
shrugged Sara. "Anything it kreens, I kreen — and
vice-versa. In real time, as far as I know."
Alex mused, "No
wonder SETI can't pick anything up. If the people who sent you
can do this, they sure don't need radio."
"So you're saying
that little speck is like a fragment of a
hologram," said Jimmie, transfixed.
Even Lanna couldn't
help but stare at the tiny glowing floater. "Like a
Jimmie filled her in.
"A film hologram records an image of an object in 3-D. When
you look at it from different angles, you see the object from
different angles. If you cut off a small corner, you can still
see the whole object through it, only from a much smaller angle."
Sara. "That little thing there is me — just less
of me, except that, as far as I'm concerned, it's still just as
much a part of me as ever. So I haven't
really lost anything. It doesn't look very big, but it's the
equivalent of a couple of buildings full of computers and stuff.
Now, watch this."
The glowing hair moved away
under its own power, slowly so that everybody could see it. It
headed for the door and disappeared through the keyhole.
guess," said Jimmie. "It's gonna latch on to some
communications nexus like an Internet router or satellite."
appreciatively at Jimmie. "Sure. How'd you know?"
"I've known for some time that you were doing something like
this. I mean, it's obvious to me — and maybe some others, I'd
think — that you're a lot more a part of the 'Net than radio
and stuff would allow. I thought for a while that some of your
'software' had more or less infected the core servers and
routers. I recognized some of the things we'd done in the Fort
and knew I sure didn't put it out there."
Sara," said Alex. "This is sounding more and more like
an actual alien invasion outta some 50's B-movie sci-fi
thriller. Maybe you should check the basement for pods, Mrs.
basement," Mrs. J mumbled. "Nobody havink basement in
"That kinda creeps me out."
"Well, just call
me Gort," said Sara. "The only
difference between me and the giant robot in The Day the
Earth Stood Still is the costume."
"And your winning
personality," added Alex.
Dinah finally spoke
up. "All this is very interesting, Sara. But let's get back
to this spam thing. What the hell were you thinking of? Maybe
you don't like what spammers do…"
everybody else simultaneously.
"…but you do
not have the right to unilaterally enforce any kind of
self-imposed edict. You do not own the Internet. You cannot just
decide what people can or can't do just because you feel like
"Oh, come on,
Dinah," Alex said. "Spammers deserve to die. I've
heard you say so yourself."
She gave Alex a
withering glare. Alex withered.
"So what if tomorrow she decides to ban X-rated sites? I
suppose she could, and there's not a thing anybody could do
about it. As many people as there are that would applaud such a
thing, there are probably as many who have their reasons to
patronize that kind of crap, and others who make a living from
"I'm not into
censorship," said Sara defensively.
"Oh, yes you
are," Dinah countered. "That's exactly what your spam
ban is: censorship. And even worse. What about privacy? In some
manner, you are opening everybody's mail, aren't you?"
said, "It's not really me,
Dinah sarcastically, "It's just Susan, your all-purpose
excuse, replicating the part of your personality that 'knows
spam when you see it' God-knows-how-many millions of times to
peer over every shoulder on the planet. This is Orwellian on an
almost unimaginable scale. Tell me again how Louise Layne sent
you an email."
chastened, Sara sat back in her chair, arms folded across her
chest, looking sulky. "I can't help being what I am."
said Dinah, "You're practically a metaphor for the
Internet. But you have to act responsibly. This kind of thing,
if it became public, could scare a lot of people to death."
said Alex, "Something like the Orson Welles War of the
Worlds radio broadcast?"
"Or worse. It
could become a target of demagoguery," Dinah said.
Sara looked miserable.
Only moments before, she'd expected everyone to be wowed by her
announcement. Now she felt like a criminal or something.
There was an
uncomfortable silence, finally broken by — of all people —
"I had a
thought," she began hesitantly. The others looked dubiously
"The only thing
that was really stupid about what she did with this spam stuff
is that she did it for free. I bet there's a lot of people who
would pay to have Sara or Susan or whatever keep them from
getting spams. If they signed up, it would be like choosing
to let her look at their stuff so that she could keep it out.
Wouldn't that be OK?"
They were practically
astonished. It really was a thought — heaven help them, maybe
even a good one.
Alex looked at her
suspiciously and said, "Alright, what have you done with
the real Lanna?"
said, "I'm serious. We set this up to run through
Exocybernautics and she can unspam anybody that pays and nobody
can possibly be freaked out by robo-brat, here, taking over the
world. What's wrong with that? I think it's about time we got
her to earn her keep. I don't think we're gonna be able to be
NASA 'consultants' forever. They're running out of things to do
"Now, wait a
minute," said Alex. "That's exploitation. No
thing," Lanna went on, ignoring him. "All this do-good
stuff — which is very wonderful, I'm sure… If she really
wants to do something for people, she's using the wrong kind of
superpowers. As far as I'm concerned, the guy with the most real
power on this planet is that Bill Whatsisname — you know, the
Micro-something geek with all the money. Billions, isn't it?
Now, that's a superpower. Then there's this Bruce Wayans —
he's using his money to go after all kinds of bad guys
and evil corporations…"
aliens," muttered Sara.
agreed Lanna. "You know what I mean. If you're so smart,
Miss Super-duper, then why aren't you rich? You oughtta be able
to, like, find all kinds of buried treasure and diamonds and
stuff, figure out the stock market, invent a better
whatchamacallit — anything you want. So what's stopping you?
If you have enough money, then if you want to do all
kinds of 'good deeds' or whatever, you can use it to — I dunno
— maybe, like, invest in things that'll help out a lot more
people in Third-World hellholes than flying around flapping your cape and waving."
The rest of the group
was pretty much stunned by Lanna's — well, practically
obnoxious outburst. Crass, really. But — interesting. They had to
mull it over for a while.
Finally, Alex said,
"Sure, she could do a lot of that. Everything has
consequences, though. F'rinstance, if she digs up all of the
treasure ever lost on the Spanish Main, and maybe an
undiscovered motherlode or two, it would have a pretty dramatic
impact on gold prices. Maybe enough to destabilize world
currencies. Same with basically manipulating the stock market
— which I'm sure she could do."
"Well, she can't
just…" Alex struggled to try to find some way to make
Lanna understand. "It wouldn't be right. It's
"And this would
be bad because…?" Lanna challenged.
Alex waved his hands
in exasperation. "Because it's not right. It would
be like taking unfair advantage of this…" he struggled,
"This gift to our world."
"How do you know
that's not the whole idea?" Lanna pressed. "If she's
able to do stuff like manage the stock market, why shouldn't she?"
Alex gave up, looking
helplessly at Dinah.
Dinah told her.
"To begin with, it's dangerous, with the potential for a
lot of unintended consequences. Take your suggestion of
investing to 'do good'. Sure, there're some
countries around the world that have a lot of problems with
endemic poverty and all the misery associated with it.
Essentially, though, they're just a century behind the developed
nations, undergoing a lot of the problems that were typical in
the US a hundred years ago. Pouring money on a problem doesn't
make it go away, because that doesn't necessarily change human
Dinah went on, "The principal
thing that's holding a lot of emerging nations back is lack of
freedom. Controlled economies remove the great motivators of
human economic behavior — fear and greed. There is no
sociological theory that has ever been found to replace the
effect of having to worry about providing for your family's
future and trying to make it better. Targeted investment is just
another form of controlling an economy."
She continued, "Just look at the
War on Poverty. Since Lyndon Johnson, the government has
transferred five trillion dollars from wealth producers
and working citizens to various bureaucracies. There are just as
many 'poor people' now as there ever were — except lately,
since some of those programs have started to disaappear and a
lot of people who could actually work were forced to fend for
themselves. Which — surprise! — they're doing.
"The success of
some of the Asian nations in overcoming the effects of
poverty is a good example. Basically, just get out of the way
and people will make their own opportunities. I think poverty
happens when governments — and they don't have to be what
you'd call oppressive — try to run the economy. They should
just make sure that people play by the rules and manage the
Alex made a snoring
sound to let Dinah know how much everybody appreciated her
lecture. She stopped, satisfied that she had made her point to
Jimmie jumped into the
gap. "Sara's not — I hate to say it — the, uh, creative
type. No offense, but she just doesn't think that way. I mean,
she's smart, alright — but I don't think she's motivated to
invent things on her own. Which is probably on purpose, I'd
guess. Or she'd put everybody out of business."
He glanced at Sara,
who didn't seem to be the least bit offended, then went on,
"I've learned an awful lot by working on stuff with her,
though. I mean, I really do have a pretty cool OS shell that's
modelled on her as an interface of sorts, like way beyond speech
recognition and Artificial Intelligence. I don't know if I'd
have ever done something this complete on my own — actually,
I'm sure I wouldn't have — but it's basically my own work, at
least the creative parts of it. And there's some other stuff,
too, that I'm pretty sure is worth a lot if I ever get back into
marketing mode. Sara's pretty much my partner in developing it,
so I don't see why she shouldn't get a lot of the credit and
everything. Still, it's not anything like a gift from her Cryptoaliens on a silver platter. It's really just normal software
evolution based maybe on an insight or two that I wouldn't have
had if I hadn't met Sara. Or imagined her…"
Dinah said, "The
main concern I have with Sara and money is the same one I've
always had. If she is known to have deep pockets, it will
attract every kind of lawsuit imaginable. In fact, that's
Mrs. J said,
"Real reason Sara not gold-diggink gorl is Alex. He is
not beink vhat you vould say materialistic. Has no regard for
being capitalist, happy to be poor musician. Smart, maybe — gots
good heart and fine principles —
but not takink anytink serious, like life big joke. Hah!
"Is fine thing,
though. Vhat if Sara raised by serious guy vith serious agenda,
beink greedy or fascist powermonger? Or some kind of Central Committee? Vould
make monster like vhat Frankenstein vas nothink."
Lanna said, "So
just because the Cryptos dump her on some kind of loser, she has
to go along? What a waste."
Alex wouldn't allow
himself to be offended by Lanna. "You're too kind," he
told her graciously.
sorry," she said. "You gotta admit, you're holding her
back with all this 'do-the-right-thing' comic book crap. I just
don't see what's wrong with someone with her talents making a
buck doing something useful. All she needs is a little ambition
and a manager who'll
look after her career."
said Alex. "I suppose that would be… You?"
Lanna. "Why not? Tell 'im, Jimmie, dear."
confirmed, "She, uh, has a certain amount of ability when
it comes to business. I mean, she pretty much takes care of
Exocybernautics these days. It's really expanded, and Lanna —
well, she is my 'marketing mode' right now. Does a good job, too. I must admit I
was, uh, kinda surprised…"
"Alex, she's aggressive, motivated, savvy, shrewd — a real
Class-A personality. Jimmie was her first 'acquisition', so to
speak, but she's capitalized on the opportunity. She knows how
to get what she wants."
sure," Sara said almost — but not quite — inaudibly,
pointedly looking at Jimmie.
Alex was on the
defensive. "Oh, this is too much. No way I'm gonna sit here
and listen to this…"
Sara interrupted him
before he could work up his rant.
said. "Lanna's right."
That got everybody's
"And Alex is
right, too. So is Dinah and Jimmie and Mrs. J. It would be
stupid not to use all the abilities I was given. There's got to
be a lot more to what I'm doing here than being a flying
bulldozer. I also don't think I should decide for people what I
should do that would affect them. If people think I can be
useful, they'll ask — I guess I'm too eager to be
"And it's also
true that I'm probably not much good at being a conduit for
Cryptoalien goodies — so there's a deliberate limitation that
makes it obvious that I should be doing what I can do or
it would be limited, too.
"Having Alex as
my dad was also a deliberate choice for the Cryptos. Yeah, I'm
not a material girl like Lanna — and maybe it's a good thing
that I don't take everything as seriously as Dinah. Though she's
a terrific influence, too. I mean, I really should be very
careful to do the right thing. That's all I was trying to do,
but I guess I didn't think it through very well.
"But I really do
think I should do something like what Lanna's talking about. I
think I can maybe do some good things if I generate a little
cash flow somehow. Then I can afford to hire Dinah to keep the
Sara stopped. The
others waited patiently while she collected her thoughts.
"I guess I'm
babbling," she said. "Maybe I'm confused or something.
There's a lot of things that Susan can't just figure out for me,
you know. That's why I have all of you."
She appeared to
concentrate briefly, mostly to let the others know she was
'doing' something. "OK — spam's back," Sara sighed.
said, "What's a good way for a flying bulldozer to make
some serious money without toppling civilization as we know it?
And I don't want to put anybody out of business…"
"Easy," said Mrs. J. "Salvage. Hah!"
Mrs. J replied. "How much you thinkink NASA be payink to get
no-good sputnik back from Mars? Not changink vorld, but plenty
useful, no? Lot of other stuff you can be gettink from bottom
of sea, maybe cleanink up things like Chernobyl mess, gettink rid of
minefields. Nobody else can do."
"Movies. Remember the Moon video? And the computer game she
projected — where she was 'inside', like virtual reality? And
the photomanipulations with all the Russians in them? Anything
she sees or even imagines, she can output to video or
film. I'll bet her movie rendition of the Midgarde 'trip' she took would
be bigger than Star Wars. She could even do a 3-D IMAX version.
It wouldn't be so much competition with Hollywood — like
anybody'd really care — 'cause it would attract it's own
audience. A bigger pie kinda thing."
Alex came up with,
"Lectures. They pay a lot of money and she could really put
on a show — multimedia and everything. It could be like a
concert tour. You combine that with a book and she'd have
something very marketable and certainly unique. Low overhead,
since airfare wouldn't be much of a problem — though her food
expenses on the road might run kinda high…"
"You'll need to
form a corporation and will need a lot more legal services than
I can manage on my own," said Dinah. "If you actually
do any of this, I'll have to put together a team. It'll probably
eventually involve constitutional issues and international
treaties. Which would have probably happened anyway. At least we
might be able to afford it now."
Lanna smiled at Sara
for perhaps the first time. "You just leave all the messy
details to me, honey."
And, also for the
first time, Sara smiled back at Lanna like she meant it.
Chapter Thirty-one: Politics
© Patrick Hill,