Tom Doyle: While Ireland, Page 2

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Tom’s thoughts on this story

Tom Doyle: The Wizard of Macatawa

While Ireland Holds These Graves–Continued–Page 2

 

Three years before, as a grad student in America, Dev pursued a dodgy thesis—that Finnegans Wake was the first cybernetic book, that its twentieth-century origin was like finding an integrated circuit diagram in an Egyptian pyramid. Everyone with the right language and literature enhancements understood and enjoyed the multi-/neolingual Wake now; few claimed to then.

To help argue his point, Dev decided to bring back Joyce. Of course, this had already been tried—in the earlier days of AI, almost everything had been done and done badly. Previous Joyce reconstructs could pass a full-sensory Turing Test, but they didn’t have the distinctive responses of an exceptional human.

The traditional scholars sniffed that Dev hadn’t “heard of the death of the author generally and of Mr. Joyce specifically.” Undaunted, Dev started his design work, and ran immediately into two difficulties—money and ability.

For money, Dev found the Irish Tourism Board, one of the last vestiges of Irish national governance. To encourage people to visit Ireland physically rather than virtually, the ITB wanted more than Joyce—they wanted all the Irish greats. Greats to argue with in a pub or hang out with in a tower. Greats that would stay local.

For ability, Dev found Anna. She was playing violin in the quadrangle, alone and digitally unenhanced—a freak show to most. Dev bought her coffee and discovered a brilliant grad student in AI. Her full name was omen: Anna Livia Plurabella Vico (her Italian-American parents were Wake fans). With her long black hair and sea-gray eyes, Anna was an Irishman’s dream of the Mediterranean.

Anna designed reconstructs, but she had run up against the limits of historical sources. Dev jived Anna about literature to interest her in Joyce and in himself. “What if every word choice in a text reflected the peculiar genius, the particular thought process, of the author? That’s what great fiction is, and what makes it different from most speeches and letters.”

This stimulated Anna to excited multitasking. One part of her brain investigated love with Dev; the other designed the fiction algorithm for converting analog source text to digital synapses and combined that algorithm with biographical data and Dev’s unorthodox insights. Still, the process would not have worked, except Lingua, one of the great global AIs, took an interest. Lingua was short on human personality, but astronomically long on sheer intelligence and processing power. The AI had started as a translator, but enjoyed modeling other aspects of the human mind.

Thus, a trinity came together and made a baby: James Joyce. Snappers change everything.

Joyce was a hit, and the ITB ordered more literary figures for re-creation. Dev and Anna quit school. Business was grand; even minor authors were in demand. The first sign of trouble seemed more feature than flaw: the PRs had an unsettling way of reminding people of what it meant to be Irish as distinct from anything else. Some non-Irish even wanted to become Irish after listening to the “Returned,” as they called the PRs. With global prosperity, parochial politics didn’t seem rational, and Dev thought the fad wouldn’t last.

Then, out of nowhere, Anna decided that they should recreate Maud Gonne, Irish nationalist and muse of W.B. Yeats. They had her autobiography and letters, but no literary fiction. As Dev expected, her PR came out physically beautiful but mentally thin, and even the Yeats PRs would have nothing to do with her. So, Dev boxed her with the other failures.

Anna took Maud’s premature retirement hard, and Lingua seemed oddly disappointed as well. Thinking back on it, Dev wondered if he could have done something to change what followed. But he just went on to the next project.

Anna went back to work too, but she also had more frequent conversations with the Irish PRs already deployed. She asked Dev for countless details about being Irish, and suggested moving to Galway long term. Clearly, the PRs were getting to her as they had gotten to so many in Ireland. Ridiculous shite, and Dev said so, but seeing the effect of the PRs so close to home rattled him.

One day, the local United Nations and Intelligences office summoned Dev and Anna to a “program integration meeting.” A UNI rep bristling with several generations of cyber-access nodes drew Anna into an extended discussion of the technical aspects of her work. Another rep, to all appearances unenhanced, sat with Dev over coffee.

“We’ve modeled your future,” said the rep.

“Grand. Am I a very rich man?”

“We anticipate that one day soon, you’ll want some insurance.”

That was when Dev came up with Newly Dead Yeats.

 

Raven

 

Dev drove north with Joyce towards Sligo. Human-driven autos on killer narrow roads were a tradition and sport, so cars would continue to terrorize the new Ireland. Joyce hunted for music feeds and found “Irish rock,” which amused, appalled and intrigued him all at once. “G-L-O-R-I-A, in te domine,” he quipped.

Dev didn’t respond, too busy scanning the skies. He didn’t stop at Sligo town, but went on to Drumcliffe, with its lonely churchyard just off the main road under bare Ben Bulben hill’s head. Dev pulled into the small deserted parking lot. Again, with the deadline approaching, no more tourists for this attraction. One way or another, Dev’s next stop was the grave.

“Wait with the car, Jim. Keep your ears open.” Even at their best, the PR’s authentically bad eyes weren’t a match for Dev’s chip-aided perceptions.

Dev paused at the gate. Too quiet—a steady stream of lyric poetry should greet any visitor. He switched his head chip to enhanced, and subjective time slowed as he walked towards Yeats’s grave on the other side of the churchyard. The headstone had the same blue-gray shade as the local rock.

Finally, an otherworldly voice from the grave began to recite verse:

 

Whether you die in your bed

Or my rifle knocks you dead,

A brief parting from those dear

Isn’t the worst you have to fear.

 

Wait, thought Dev, that’s more a personal threat than the original. From behind the headstone, a long metal tube swiveled towards him. Dev moved his head. A bullet cracked by his ear, the rifle boomed, the shot ricocheted off distant old stone. Definitely projectile—meant for biologicals. Dev hit the ground.

Newly Dead Yeats rose up from his grave. His nanoswarm body was, unlike Joyce’s, translucent and spectral. Yeats’s wild gray hair, beaked nose, and black funeral clothes glowed with his rage. He pointed at the epitaph on his headstone. “‘Horseman, pass by’—that means you, drunken lout.”

“WB, it’s me, Dev. I just want to talk.”

Several more rounds passed over as Dev flattened himself. “I know who you are,” said Yeats. “That’s why I haven’t killed you yet.”

Dev scuttled back behind an old Celtic cross, hoping Dead Yeats wouldn’t risk damaging it.

“Tell me what’s the matter, Senator.”

“You vainglorious bastard. Wasn’t enough to have Young Yeats and Old Yeats; you insisted on Dead Yeats too?”

“You agreed to it!” That drew more fire, uncomfortably close. Probably the wrong thing to say.

They agreed to it! Old and Young One could accept your conceit—they weren’t buried here with the carcass. You said it would give me a cosmic perspective. You dull ass! It gave me endless tourists who haven’t read a line of my work. When I cried for help, did you listen?”

“I’m sorry, WB. I had to do this because of Anna. That’s who I’m here about.”

“Was it Anna who stole my soul, bound it to this place, and prevented my reunion with the mysteries? No. She tried to free me.”

So she had been here. But before Dev could ask more, Joyce walked through the gate, doubtless emboldened by the exclusive use of bullets. “Yeats, cut the mystical malarkey and occult shite…”

Dev’s enhanced vision picked up the silent tracers of anti-nano weaponry before Joyce felt them against his shielded skin. So much for bullets only. Joyce crawled back behind the cross with Dev, and the Dead mocked him.

“What, you haven’t fled to the continent again? Coward. Where were you when your country needed you?”

Joyce aimed his ashplant at Yeats and returned fire. Energy lightnings traced along the shielding around Yeats’s grave, a gray mist drifted down. “Where was my country when I needed it?” he yelled. For a weak man, Joyce sure knew how to pick a fight.

“You can’t keep that up for long on your own juice,” noted Dev.

As if in response, Yeats bellowed, “I give you ten seconds to leave. One, two…”

“That’s enough.” From the shadow of the church doorway emerged a young man with full dark hair and spectacles. The Young Yeats. Dev did not relax one bit.

Dead Yeats sighed sepulchrally. “He has imprisoned me here forever.”

“Are you going to risk crashing yourself again just to kill them?” Young Yeats turned towards the Celtic cross. “Tsk, tsk. Hiding behind the old god. It’s a new age; come out and live it.”

Dev stood up next to the cross, while Joyce kept him covered with the ashplant. If Dead Yeats had crashed, that confirmed that Anna had tried to free him. “Willie, where is she? Is Old Yeats still with her?”

Young Yeats smiled with his charming wistfulness and insufferable arrogance. “You realize, she’s another Cathleen ni Houlihan, the Irish spirit incarnate, more so than even Maud was.”

Dead Yeats snorted. “You mean she’s crazier than Maud ever was.”

“Silence, dead man.” Young Yeats lacked Dead Yeats’s perspective on how often Maud had frustrated him.

Dev pleaded, “Willie, for my sake, please.”

“You’re the least of my parents, Father. Anna is mother to us all, the maiden with the crone’s eyes and the walk of a queen. The Golden Dawn predicted her and this Return.”

Christ, the magical mystery tour. “Tell me where she is, and maybe we can try again to bring back Maud.”

Next to him, Joyce flinched at this fib, but said nothing.

Young Yeats shook his head. “Anna already did.”

She had tried again and again. Oh shite, not good. Dev came clean. “But there’s not enough there for a full PR.” No, more likely another mirror for Narcissus, another statue for Pygmalion.

“She looked pretty lively to me.” Dead Yeats chuckled.

“Curse your eyes, cyber-carrion.” Young Yeats scowled. “Anna sought our help to enhance Maud. Maud is now a deep PR, though whether she’s fully herself, I cannot say.”

“Where have they gone?” asked Dev.

“I will not tell you.”

“Was the Morrigan with them?” No one had mentioned the bird, which was damned quare.

In an instant, Young Yeats shed his Victorian manner and tone. “Right. This casual comedy is over.” He turned and walked back to the church door. “Don’t let the gate hit your arse on the way out.”

“I’m sorry, sorry about both of you.” But Young Yeats had shut the church door. “About all of you.” Joyce walked back towards the car, ashplant over his shoulder.

Dev lingered. He wiped off the grass and gravelly dirt near his mouth with his sleeve and turned again to Dead Yeats. “Tell me where they’ve gone, and I’ll free you.” Letting Yeats loose was risky, but it was all Dev had to offer.

“But Anna couldn’t release me,” said Dead Yeats. “I crashed, and when I returned, she was gone.”

All according to program. “I can,” said Dev. “I will.”

Yeats stared down at his translucent hands. Then, slowly, he said, “Gone off together, old self in tow, a Second Coming, not slouching towards Bethlehem, but Dublin.”

“Dublin for Bloomsday. Grand.” Dev’s time was too short to search the city. “Any idea where?”

“They spoke of meeting the other Returned. That is all that I know.”

“Okay.” Dev had some ideas of where the PRs might gather. A variable hole in Yeats’s mind was Dev’s key to his insurance policy, but which of the dozens of possibilities was now active? “Before I can release you, I need to run a check on your memory.”

Yeats smiled thinly, eyes cold. “No need for that. I know what I’ve forgotten. I wanted to say something to Anna and Maud before they left—a poem, not mine, but an old lament that I once knew well. I remember everything about the lament, but I cannot remember any of the words.”

“Is it Lady Gregory’s translation, about losing everything for love?” Dead Yeats nodded. “Did you tell Anna about this?” If Anna knew, Dev would never make it to Dublin.

“No. Excess of love is bewildering them, and killing Ireland.”

Yeats had guessed too much. “Don’t worry…”

Like an impatient theater director, Yeats waved Dev’s objection away. “Please, I know what I am, and what a blind spot like that might mean. You’re here to tell us all those words. All I ask is that you say them with meaning.”

“I will.” Now to keep his other promise. “Do you recognize me as Dev Martin?”

“I do.”

A terrible beauty is born. Execute.”

Instantly, Yeats became more substantial. “Thank you,” he said. “Now, I think I shall take a long stroll up bare Ben Bulben’s head. I have been under it long enough.”

Not trusting his voice to stay steady, Dev said nothing and returned to the car. “Ineluctable modality of the audible,” said Joyce. Then he smiled. “No need to apologize, Dev. It’s been brilliant, most of it at least. But once your quixotic quest is over, you will again try to restore Nora.” Joyce tapped Dev’s knee with his ashplant to emphasize his point.

Dev didn’t know how to answer truthfully, so he changed the subject. “First things first. If UNI is still operating in Dublin, I think I can get you out.”

“To Dublin town then,” said Joyce.

“One thing before that.”

They drove back into Sligo and stopped at a pub by the river, the Crazy Jane. At the bar rail, two men sat before their drinks, eyes like slates, jaws slack. “They look as if they’ve been thirsty too long,” Joyce said, no doubt thinking of drunks past.

Dev shook his head, surprised at Joyce’s error. “They’re the Morrigan’s regurgitated prey.”

They were also Dev’s predecessors. The two men had tried to hack the Referendum. When caught, they claimed UNI sanction, but UNI disavowed them. So they fell into the Morrigan’s jurisdiction.

Unlike her mythic counterpart, the Morrigan’s devastation was seldom physical. She had facility with the software of the human brain, and no amount of protection could keep her out for long. A terrible weapon, but only used to keep the fight fair.

As a warning to others, the Morrigan had left the hackers physically alive after wiping most of their minds. They would forever play the role of town drunks. Dev tried not to think about their blank eyes.

From original Illustration for While Ireland

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