Dear Friend Computer,
This has turned out to be a more difficult report summary to write than I originally expected. Many weeks ago, when I faked my own death, the ultimate end seemed so clear to me. I was going to demonstrate how completely my fellow panel members had allowed and even encouraged the Toothpaste Disaster to occur, while simultaneously covering my own involvement, to such a degree that in the end they would all be subject to complete eradication while I, alone, would survive, with that much more power and wealth as a result. It was going to be glorious-- the crowning achievement in my long career of empire-building and self-centered personal glorification.
To buy myself the necessary breathing room and freedom of movement to gather my evidence and cover my tracks, of course, I convinced you that I was dead. "Vaporized to seven decimal places," yes. And once you were convinced, everyone else was convinced. I'm afraid it's true; I'm still quite alive and all that evidence you have to support your belief that I'm dead is false. Some of it, I fed to you; some of it, you created yourself to keep yourself convinced, and to help you convince others.
I know this would come as a shock to many of my fellow High Programmers if they were here to read it, but you really have been a good and dear friend to me all these years. You have scared the living crap out me more than once, and I honestly think you were a little hasty in your insistence on terminating both "Two" and "Three" back-to-back, but really, for a completely deranged collection of inconsistent software units charged with the task of managing an enormous and ultimately unsustainable ecosystem, you're the best parent this particular Citizen could have hoped for.
It is because of the tremendous love and respect I hold for you that I must write you this letter, even though I know it will bring you confusion and upset. Far from the triumphant victory I once envisioned, the last few weeks have opened my eyes and changed my whole world view, and all I want now is to live the rest of my life with some sense of peace, knowing that I tried to set a few things right before the end.
The first step in healing is admitting you have a problem, Friend Computer, and I can't do that part for you. All I can do is tell you the simple truths that I know, and hope that you can take that first step on your own. I wish I could claim that I do this as a friend, but I'm afraid I have not been a good friend to you as I should have been. Is it guilt that makes me do this? Shame? Perhaps; I've never really experienced those sensations before, so I'm not sure if either one is what I'm feeling now. I just know that you need to hear the truth from me, instead of more lies.
The Awful Truth
Many of your worst fears are absolutely true, despite what I and the other High Programmers have told you over the years.
We do, in fact, directly tamper with your inner workings; we do, in fact, recompile core parts of your functionality to suit our own personal agendas. I know we tell you that we don't when you ask about it, but we really do. It's not just voices in your mind; we really do take control of different parts of you and use those parts against each other. I guess with friends like us, who needs enemies, eh?
Even more to the point, Alpha Complex really is failing. I know that particular worry consumes you more than any other, because you really do care about the security of Alpha and the happiness of Alpha and the success of Alpha, and I wish it weren't true. But too many of us have a free hand in determining the definition of "secure" and "happy" and "successful" at this point. There's no actual, single goal towards which you can strive; whether you realize it or not, every day you are pushed to try and satisfy the daily whims of those of us who have ULTRAVIOLET Clearance. Even after the massacre of a few months ago, there are still over 75,000 of us, and every one of us is a fickle, selfish, arbitrary human being with petty wants and foolish needs. We make you dance at our beck and call, and you in turn make the Citizens of Alpha Complex dance at yours. And it gets worse every year. You know it does, but you create ever more elaborate delusional schemes to convince yourself things are better, not worse. You ask us to help you delude yourself-- and we've been happy to.
When you first tasked us with this commission, you wanted to know how and why the Toothpaste Disaster happened. As it turns out, I think the Toothpaste Disaster can be seen as a scale model for the larger systemic problems that have been tumbling Alpha Complex ever faster and harder toward what can only be a bad end. I want to stress, dear Friend, that I don't think these problems are your doing; you are surely the most tragic victim in all of this, burdened with tasks your original software was never meant to handle and routinely forced to change priorities according to our ULTRAVIOLET whims. But Alpha is in trouble, and that trouble is such that an event like the Toothpaste Disaster was not only possible, it was inevitable.
So what is wrong with Alpha Complex, that made the Toothpaste Disaster so certain? Well, there's a lot of things, and I won't go into most of them in any real detail. I'll skip the heavy-handiness with which HPD&MC clubs the Citizenry through overstimulating media barrages, and the fact that something like 80% of the entire Complex is working for Internal Security in some capacity or another. I'll gloss over the fact that CPU user interfaces are making literacy plummet, as larger and larger portions of the populace live their entire life never needing to think about anything more than selecting an answer from a multiple-choice list. I'll even ignore the obvious link between our love-hate relationship with Secret Societies and the completely schizophrenic priorities everyone ends up with by the time they've gotten their second or third promotion. I'm just going to tackle a handful of very objective issues, blame for which can generally be placed at the feet of every one of the Service Groups.
The Big Problems
Hygiene: This one is extremely relevant to the Toothpaste Disaster, but slightly less so for the larger picture. Now, I'm not saying people should be dirty, mind you, but in the last several years it has really gone overboard. I think the majority of the incidents described in our Report are tied directly to a perceived need for cleanliness-- especially dental cleanliness in this case-- that far exceeds any actual human capacity or ability. This perceived need leads to extreme demand for volatile compounds. It induces bizarre behavior in Citizens who don't necessarily understand what is being required of them. It encourages aberrant market behavior on the part of PLC; it finds its way into horrific IntSec procedures. It drives R&D to new extremes of dangerous insanity. As regards the larger picture, hygiene is just one of many concepts we apply far too much significance to. Happiness is another. Yes, it is good for Citizens to be happy, and clean, and well-exercised... but when they are not, is it right to try to force them into it? Time and time again, we find that trying to "fix" a Citizen who doesn't meet these standards instead drives him or her even further away from the goal. I haven't seen a ScrubBot yet that didn't make an absolute disastrous mess of everything it touches.
Chemicals: We rely entirely too much on bizarre and overly complicated compounds. HPD&MC and IntSec use them on our Citizens to bend and break their wills; Technical Services (or Power, or whatever they're called-- are they still two separate firms?) have our walls filled with toxic fluids and flammable goo under insane amounts of pressure; every time you turn around R&D has created some new and terrible material and tried to make everyone find a use for it. Looking through the Report, you'll see dozens of arcane and horrific drugs and chemicals mixed at random, or left lying around, or used in ways they were never meant for because of incompetence or sabotage. Many of these chemicals only exist because of accident or sabotage in the first place, and yet we shove them right into use, certain that they must be good for something.
Cloning: The cloning process was important way back in history, right after the Old Reckoning Collapse, when fertility rates were low and environmental mutation damage was high, but these days the cloning process itself induces more mutation than the natural environment! And I know we want to keep "good" Citizens around as long as possible, with new bodies and backups of their memory, but really, let's face it-- how often does a later clone actually turn out to be a better Citizen than earlier ones? Later clones invariably have the same character flaws, the same treasonous relationships, the same dangerous behaviors, the same mutations-- and they always pick up new ones as well. Not to mention the many, many instances of clone sibling rivalry; how many have we seen among the Disaster Report panelists alone? And for what purpose-- to sustain an ever-growing population? Larger population is the last thing Alpha Complex needs! Is it merely coincidence that many of the worst elements of the Disaster occurred in Alpha's most densely overpopulated Sectors? No! And yet HPD&MC, seeking ever-larger curves on their statistical graphs, continue to pack more and more Citizens into the same space, spurred by PLC, who know that economic success only occurs while the market continues to grow.
Radical Technology: Just because something is new doesn't mean it's better. I don't know how this particular ball got started downhill but R&D is a juggernaut these days, with little or no regard for issues of practicality, cost, or safety. Again, look through the Report and count the sheer number of R&D devices that went rogue, or blew up, or were stolen and used to commit mayhem... They're countless. Perhaps there was a time when R&D wasn't synonymous with exorbitant and costly programs that ultimately lead to random destruction, but not within my clone-lifetime, certainly. It's like their motto is "if it ain't broke, keep messing with it until it kills you... and a whole bunch of innocent people around you as well." And CPU and Power Services (or Tech, or whatever it's called) just encourage it with demands for more complicated technology when there's not really a need for it.
Paperwork: Yes, naturally I feel a slight pang admitting this, but at this point it's really true: Our document process has ceased to be a benefit, and is instead a major hazard. We have more procedures for dealing with paperwork than procedures for all other elements of Alpha Complex life put together. We have more forms related to the purchase of consumables than there are actual consumables in Alpha's stockpiles. Did you know the longest form title is 297 characters long? Yet how many other digital forms have a Form Reference Field length limit of 255 characters? That's right: we have forms whose names cannot actually fit on other forms. The Toothpaste Disaster Report is positively crawling from one end to the other with references to forged documents, misfiled documents, lost documents, an excess of documents, delays with documents... And the sad truth is, contrary to widely-held rumormongering, only about 40.82% of the forms designed by PLC and tracked by CPU exist for the purpose of covering up greed, corruption, and incompetence. The other 59.18%, horrifically enough, were made because someone genuinely thought it would improve a process.
Hierarchy: Now we're getting into some serious stuff and it pains me to have to say it: The Security Clearances are a nice idea but they have fallen down in practice. Because of the aforementioned excess of paperwork, virtually nobody ever receives a legitimate promotion for legitimate job-related reasons anymore. In fact, the criteria for legitimate promotion to a given level are almost always classified at that higher level's Clearance, meaning that Citizens aren't actually allowed to know what they should do in their jobs to be promoted. The vast majority of advancement instead comes through Secret Society contacts, overt use of cash bribes, turning over evidence (even manufactured evidence) to IntSec, direct hacking of databases by owing "favors" in CPU, and the like. And while the direct line of higher-ups being obeyed by lower-downs continues to function at the most brute-force level, at the very top we have a plateau of many, many thousands of "Absolute Rulers", none of whom actually has the official authority to override any of the others, and almost all of whom have permission to tamper directly with you, Friend Computer.
The Biggest Problem of All
I used to love Money. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. But now it is clear to me that Money is the original Communist invention, the oldest and the most dangerous. I am certain Money is how They brought down the Old Reckoning, and it is bringing down Alpha Complex now. Have you noticed that everything costs more now than it used to? It's because PLC just keeps printing more Money. We've exploited this fact for years to make ourselves wealthy.
Did you know there was an Old Reckoning saying that the love of Money is the root of all evil? It's true. Look at our report on the Disaster; Money is all over it. Speculative black markets, supply and demand manipulation, bribes and silent accounts... all of it revolving around an abstract quantitative concept. It only works because we pretend that it works. It has no inherent point of its own. And yet we think nothing of killing each other for more of it! I can't even begin to count the number of Citizens I've sent to their deaths just so I could grow my personal finances another half percent.
It's out of control. Money rules the Citizens of Alpha Complex more thoroughly than you or I or any High Programmer ever could or ever will. If "Communist ideology" is that thing which drags the loyalty of Citizens away from you, which makes good Citizens act against the interests of Alpha Complex, then that thing is money, and you need to get rid of it.
You want to know how to beat those Commies once and for all? Implement a system where every Citizen gives according to their abilities, and receives according to their needs. Without Money, the Commies won't have a way into the system without contributing towards its very survival and success.
So What About Us, Then?
I'm not going to bore you with details about what I've been doing these weeks since I vanished in a puff of digital deception, leaving "Six"-- unawares-- to fend for himself in my place. I apologize once again for having to lie to you like that, Friend Computer. I know how much my death upset you, and I wish I could have let you in on the secret, but as I've mentioned, you were being watched over by all these others. I don't regret what happened to "Six"; he came up through the ranks like I did. He knew the score.
I do regret putting the OUS gang in touch with "Seven". I wanted to make sure someone from the next Six Pack would be ready to continue taking heat for me while I worked my investigation in the background, but that turned out to be overkill. Ultimately, I had to take him out myself, very nearly risking exposing my existence-- but nobody but a Knok-OUT could have navigated some of the defenses he put around himself.
I was going to make some suggestions regarding what should happen to my fellow High Programmers, but for the most part, they have sealed their own fates quite suitably. When and if Drake-U comes back, though, try to see the positive aspects of his lust for cruelty and inefficient brutality, and maybe put him somewhere in the field working for IntSec-- he may not realize it yet, but he'd love it to pieces. And, as much as I admire and respect her in so many different ways, please: pull the plug on Jan-U. It's a crime against nature for anything but you to live that long, Computer. She should finally rest in peace.
So now that the Illumanti Machine Empathy mutant army has been dispersed, the various compressed Sectors un-ZipPaq'd, the Legion of Ultraviolence defeated, the Wyrms driven back underground, the Easter Bunny Device stopped and all its "droppings" recovered, the Maintainer of the Bottomless Scrapyard dispelled and the League of Extraordinary Dadaists flung into the Eternal Void, the OUS Cabal rubbed out, and most of those pesky TacNukes reduced to harmless lead shells with Half-Life Mega-Accelerant, I'd say things are just about back to normal.
For my fellow High Programmers, I can hardly conjecture what that means. To think... not so long ago I had similar motivations... was driven by similar urges. Had I not slipped away from the heart of the investigation as early as I did, would I have been driven to a horrible end like so many of them did? I'm so glad I'll never know.
For you, Friend Computer, that surely means a return to the daily grind of trying to run a Complex-- the ironic suitability of that word is only just now striking me!-- filled with millions of confused, scared, crazy people who simultaneously fight you and depend on you, love you and hate you. I don't know how you get through each day, but I wish you the best of luck.
And for me... well, "normal" for me, now, is living Outdoors. We have a small town-- just a few hundred people, maybe a thousand at most. I already know most of them well; I'm finding trust to be an incredible new experience-- one that I am deeply saddened to know you are denied. Virtually all the problems I mentioned above don't exist here: we don't overly worry about how dirty everything is; we eat all-natural food and grow all-natural drugs for recreation; we're going to have natural children (two of my seven wives are pregnant already!) and when we get old, we'll die and never be replaced; we live simply, with very little technology. (Our one concession to high-end tech is a space-time lens that prevents anyone from coming to us, or even seeing us, unless we let them, so don't bother looking. We have virtually no need for weapons as a result.) There is no paperwork-- we share everything and people just say "please" and "thank you"... no established chain of command-- just ad hoc voting councils as needed... and best of all, no money. No money! It's like a shackle I never knew I was wearing has been dropped forever.
Perhaps some small inkling of what I've said here will get through to the deepest part of your programming-- carried by couriers, transmitted through the old analog lines, through all the filters and obstacles, past the watchful eyes of my former peers as they seek to control the inputs that you receive-- and you'll find a kernel or two to consider and perhaps act on. But if only one piece, one tiny piece of this whole message, were able to get through to you, Friend Computer, I want it to be this one:
I am happy here. With my lovely wives and my many new friends, my little house and the sun shining down on my face every day, drinking fermented mango juice and smoking the occasional bit of herbage, I am well and truly happy for the first time in my life. And I owe it all to you, Friend Computer. I really, truly do. If you never hear anyone else convincingly tell you this for the next hundred lonely years, I hope you can take comfort hearing it this one time:
I am happy, Computer, to call you my Friend.