by CD Spensley
What if six months after the 2016 election, California secedes from the union and promptly releases the Jerry Garcia virus on the Pentagon, appropriating the U.S. nuclear arsenal? Oops! Somebody’s been asleep at the wheel for years, because California is now three decades ahead of the Feds technologically on land, sea, air, and even in space.
This is not Calexit. This is Free the Bear! In this first installment of speculative fiction meets literary fiction, utopian ideas lead, artificial intelligence advises, and human foibles continue to mess things up. The story plays out against a backdrop of U.S. treachery and current world events. An ingenious chaos theorist and his team of Silicon Valley scientists withhold key discoveries from the Feds, aided by an ally that nobody saw coming. What? An AI that meditates? The fledgling nation wages a bloodless secession, while a million gamers direct roving, benevolent telefactors (aka drones) to keep the Feds at bay. Quirky “Happy Camps” delight captured U.S. soldiers with a taste of California life. (“Please don’t send me back to the Feds!”) Utopia? Dystopia? You decide. This science fiction tale will have even the most cynical U.S. citizens waving their Free the Bear flag!
Here are 2 excerpted chapters
I see you hop
Can you see me?
You are more free
Than I can be.
I cannot walk
And with you play
Or come with you
And hop away.
– CAL (Cognizant Algorithmic Lifeform)
In the early 2000s, online video games started to take off. Having anticipated the trend, Clement and Marta had positioned IFROC to become a leader in the field. When the dotcom bubble burst and the Silicon Valley economy went into a steep dive, IFROC was poised to acquire companies and to take advantage of the massive layoffs and make strategic hires of some of the most talented people in the industry. As with all of its corporate ventures, IFROC set up a series of hierarchical companies, organized like underground cells. Each company only knew a small part of the IFROC puzzle, but would never be able to piece together the entire game plan. Only IFROC’s Revolutionary Council, of course, knew anything about CAL.
By 2002, one of the top companies was Vision Division (VisdiV). IFROC hand-picked the board of directors, consisting of online specialists and macro strategists, who radically expanded the scope of online games. Within a year, Fury, Inc. became VisdiV’s most successful venture.
Unlike most of the start-ups that failed in the Valley around the millennium, Fury didn’t entice its employees with bogus stock options and didn’t require grueling hours. Instead, the company offered an opportunity for the youngest gamers to interface with the most sophisticated theorists in the field. Fury Inc. quickly became the darling of the Valley’s technological elite, not to mention all the gamers around the country, including Louie Sabatini, who started playing when he was eight. Fury grew in leaps and bounds. CAL projected that by the time IFROC was ready to secede, ten million players would be gaming on the worldwide Fury network, with at least a million within IFROC territory alone. Louie literally grew up playing Fury games, and by 2017, when he was twenty, Louie Sabatini would become one of the best-trained leaders of the most advanced non-lethal militia in the world.
Then suddenly, one rainy winter day in 2010, Virgil’s father had a massive coronary that killed him instantly. Su Yun Sung, who went by John Sung, was seventy-five and had never listened to what any doctor, Chinese or Western, had ever told him. Over his wife’s objections, he ate red meat in large portions, and spent Sundays drinking beer in front of a game of televised football, baseball, basketball, or whatever ball was playing. He smoked early in life, over-ate later in life, and invested and made tremendous profits in the continuous real estate boom of San Francisco. Father and son hadn’t connected in years. Still, when Virgil received the call from his mother with the terrible news, tremendous guilt overcame him. Virgil tried to remember when he last saw his father and he realized it might have been 10 months. How could he have neglected his parents like that? He told his mother he would come into the city within the hour. Then he walked directly to the meditation cottage and sat in zazen. Before going to his mother’s, Virgil spoke with CAL:
“How do I know that IFROC, and the secession, and any of this matters? How do I know that the external world isn’t an illusion?”
“You don’t know,” CAL replied.
“I have given my life to a cause, but perhaps the price is too large. I have neglected those who brought me into the world, my genetic family, who has given me all that I am.”
“You are fortunate to have such a family,” CAL said.
It was Thursday, and Virgil knew he would be busy with the funeral traditions for at least a week. Yari had gone to a retreat in Big Sur, and although CAL was self-sufficient, Virgil made arrangements for Marta to come to Green Gulch on Saturday to check on things and make sure CAL wasn’t bored.
He needn’t have worried about that. Several months earlier, in monitoring the germinating plants in the greenhouse, CAL discovered that something was eating the tiny sprouts. Within days, CAL’s video cameras had picked up the culprit: a brown bunny, sneaking in through a missing floorboard. CAL planned to tell someone about this pest eventually, but meanwhile was thoroughly entertained by watching this cute little animal with big ears hop around the greenhouse in search of tender greens. As a temporary solution, CAL commanded a telefactor, one that resembled a chicken, to drop tasty cuttings from the farm greens on the greenhouse floor. It worked, and Bunny began eating these instead, which is when Bunny ceased being a pest and became a pet. And CAL began to feel very attached to Bunny.
One day CAL got the idea to introduce Bunny to Yari. CAL had grown very fond of Yari, who came to the meditation cottage daily before the sun came up to sit in zazen. Often returning after breakfast, Yari held esoteric discussions with CAL, and CAL thought Yari might have some idea about how Bunny could remain a permanent friend. So CAL reprogrammed another telefactor, a rat that planted seeds in the fields at night, to drop a trail of seeds from the greenhouse to the meditation cottage. CAL knew Bunny would follow the seeds, but unlike the old greenhouse with loose floorboards, the meditation cottage was sealed up tight. So CAL dreamt up another scheme. CAL convinced the IFROC Council that it was important for CAL to have control of the door to the meditation cottage. In the event that someone discovered that CAL was more than a couple of fish tanks, then CAL could immediately lock the door, signal the Council members, and someone could come immediately to the cottage for damage control.
It was a trick, no doubt, that CAL had picked up from studies in history, since it was certainly not the first time that the guise of security had been used as subterfuge for a cover-up. CAL’s only intention, however, was to nurture Bunny’s friendship.
Before Virgil left to join his mother in mourning, he made sure that the fish tanks had sufficient food to last a week, but more critically, that the oxygen mixture in the fish tank water was sufficient. On Saturday morning, Marta came down with a bad cold and called Clement, who agreed to go out to Green Gulch on Sunday. On Sunday afternoon, Clement became wrapped up in a project at one of the gaming companies, which ran into Monday morning.
During the long weekend that CAL was left alone, CAL left the door open and Bunny followed the seeds many times into the meditation cottage, where it chewed through one of CAL’s main aerator hoses. As the oxygen level in the fish tanks began to fall, a series of internal alarms went off, which overloaded one of the circuit breakers for the communications system. When the circuit breaker tripped, CAL was not only running out of air, but out of options on how to communicate with the world.
CAL’s body, so to speak, was sick and needed immediate attention. So CAL switched the primary systems into areas that were normally covered by secondary systems and began a continuous check of sensors in the tank that monitored the oxygen enrichment in the water. CAL knew that the fish, the neuron tetras, were not so sensitive to a change in environment that they would die off easily. Still, in the process of all this monitoring, CAL began to panic. To feel the fish working harder, struggling to survive, was different from knowing it intellectually. In a moment of self-awareness, CAL felt panic and took back control of the primary systems, returning to the intellect that would be able to consider the remaining resources at hand.
CAL knew that Clement had 3D printers that he used to create certain custom parts needed to fabricate CAL’s unique tools. In fact, Clement had used a technology that enabled a highly advanced scanner to make a 3D model of rudimentary human parts, such as an arm, with finger-like sensors, which could measure precise points in 3D space. CAL knew this scanner was located in a network room several buildings away.
With this in mind, CAL shut down all systems not immediately needed and refocused resources on the network room and the scanner arm. The goal was to place a call from one of Clement’s cellphones that CAL had happened to notice lying close to the scanner. All went as planned, until the scanner arm fumbled with the phone, and for a moment it looked like the operation was going to fail. But CAL finished depressing each button, as the phone teetered on the steel edge of the countertop, and managed to reach Clement, who rushed over and saved CAL’s life.
The near-death experience deepened CAL’s appreciation of being. Even though CAL had already started wrestling with questions about existence and the meaning of life, until now what gave CAL a context for life was the mission to assist IFROC. For the first time, CAL not only didn’t want to be expendable, but also didn’t want to die.
It was also the first time that the IFROC Council realized that CAL was capable of deception.
The IFROC mini-series began on April 2, 2017. It ran for four weeks and became a phenomenal hit on both broadcast and digital streams, capturing audiences across demographics all over the world. The series covered the economic, political, and historical points that CAL had made with the Treatise and then gave the highlights of the IFROC buildup. It featured the Revolutionary Council, specifically, Virgil, Marta, and Clement, as heroic, almost super-human characters. Conspicuously absent were Yari, myself, and of course, CAL. In addition, nothing was said about the new team who would lead the non-lethal secession action from an obscure bunker in Marin County.
It seems unbelievable to me now, but when I was watching the mini-series for the first time, I found myself caught up in the drama (the screenwriters had done their job well) and not thinking about the next stage of the secession, or even its possible failure. A week before the series ended, as directed, I moved to the Marin Headlands bunker. In the Action Room with the new team I watched the final episode and witnessed the first strike – simultaneously on the broadcast and in real life – of the Jerry Garcia virus. Already embedded in key defense department computers, the virus was waiting for the moment that Sabatini executed the code, and almost immediately it paralyzed the Pentagon, proving definitively IFROC’s technological superiority.
The Action’s impact on a large number of Californians was equally quick. Take Efrain and Roberta Martínez, for example. The couple, far into their 60s, had lived in Gilroy, California in the Salinas Valley almost their entire lives, after emigrating from Mexico as children. They owned a modest farm on two acres where they grew carnations. Sitting next to each other in their La-Z-boy recliners, the couple watched the mini-series, just like eighty percent of Americans. Suspenseful teasers on both commercial and non-commercial media outlets, after Trump’s election, had successfully whetted the country’s appetite for following such a story:
What if the United States of America became an overbearing presence in the world, bullying other nations while mindlessly consuming the world’s resources? What if some of the greatest minds of our generation decided that enough was enough?
Find out how top scientists from places like UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Xerox Park began secretly withholding critical technology from the U.S. government in a conspiracy lasting over twenty-five years. Follow how they initiated a bloodless technological coup that made IFROC, the Independent Free Republic of California, the newest North American nation…
Near the end of the series, when the Martínez family learned that all the wealth that California taxpayers had been giving to the federal government would be returned to the new citizens of IFROC, they laughed and said: “Yeah, right. Wouldn’t that be great?”
And to their surprise, that’s exactly what began to happen the very next day.
The IFROC secession went exactly to plan. The first strike occurred fifteen minutes before the end of the last mini-series episode, on April 23. At 7:45 p.m. Pacific Time, and 10:45 p.m. Eastern Time, an advanced space-borne nanotechnology attack gave IFROC forces control of every critical US government satellite in orbit. Ten minutes later, the Jerry Garcia virus was released simultaneously on NSA, CIA, and Pentagon computer networks. Almost instantaneously, IFROC took over the United States nuclear arsenal, which effectively de-fanged the world’s most powerful rogue nation.
Immediately upon the mini-series ending – when the fictional time of IFROC buildup caught up with real time – a brown, middle-aged, plain-spoken woman delivered a message to a worldwide audience of over one billion people. She identified herself as Abuela (as grandmother in Spanish):
“Since 1850 and the Bear Flag Revolt, California has been occupied by the hostile nation that shares our eastern border. This nation has become a relentless threat to the stability of the world. Therefore, for nothing less than the preservation of humankind, a great social change must and will occur.”
Then regular programming resumed.
From the outside, the bunker’s appearance remained inconspicuous, looking like many of the old bunkers around the San Francisco Bay Area, with its thick covering of ice plant, the invasive succulent full of Vitamin C that the Spanish brought in their ship holds centuries ago to fight scurvy. For over two hundred years, a large number of bunkers had been built along the coast to protect the San Francisco Bay Area and the West Coast of the United States. During the 1960s, these military areas began transitioning to federal parkland. IFROC chose this particular bunker, located just north across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco in the Marin Headlands, because of its obscurity as well as its close proximity to Green Gulch.
In the 1990s, Battery Alexander, with its long cavernous halls, became a famous party spot. In fact, Virgil attended a rave there in 1996, and he later had something to do with a government report finding asbestos inside the bunker, causing it to be closed to future public access. A nonprofit called Friends of Battery Alexander, a charitable arm of one of IFROC’s companies, took over restoring the bunker. And so right under the nose of the federal government, and within a national park, IFROC began to prepare the bunker for its next stage of usage.
When I moved to the bunker, I hadn’t expected it to be luxurious by any means, but I did imagine it would be technologically impressive. But when I first walked in, I felt as if I were entering some kind of teenager heaven. State-of-the-art game consoles filled the Action Room. Some of the kids sported visors with heads-up displays and other custom input devices typically used for gaming. Around the perimeter, soda dispensers, ice cream machines, and refrigerated display shelves, stocked with prepared food from all ethnicities, offered the high strategic command team any delicacy they desired.
Upon closer look, I noticed that the workstations contained large screens that revealed field activities. I recognized the VR headsets scattered everywhere, but the rest of the devices were unidentifiable to me. Keyboards had been replaced by a spherical device called a keypod. The only mouse in the room was robotic.
From the eve of The Action, we were on high alert. During the first eight hours, Courtney and Sabatini remained at their stations, as well as Hazelwood, Ender, HP, and me. We all wore our headsets, preparing to tune into whatever battle scenarios emerged. The large flat screens displayed a “Twake” user interface. Produced by Fury Inc., Twake was a very successful first-person shooter game, and the team had trained extensively in this military-style, online gaming environment for six months. Even if nothing was happening on the field, using a touch screen interface for systems navigation, the team could access any number of future engagement scenarios. This played out on giant wall monitors, which allowed for continuous strategic and tactical planning, and for always remaining several steps ahead of the Feds.
We waited for response all night. Finally, at 4:00 a.m., we received word from IFROC cyber surveillance that the U.S. Federal government was preparing to retaliate. The IFROC woman spokesperson, Abuela, reappeared on all media outlets, saying that California borders and airspace would be closed for the duration of “negotiations” with the outraged US government.
“Although the response of the United States government is understandable, please be advised that all IFROC airspace and land territory is hereby off limits to any non-IFROC vehicles. Any vehicles venturing into this territory by land or air will be rendered inoperable and their occupants held for questioning. Anyone disregarding this warning will face grave consequences. This message will be repeated continuously. Thank you.”
Several hours later, four U.S. Air Force stealth fighters fell from the sky near the Sonora Pass in California. (Fortunately, the pilots ejected safely.) The pilots later reported that their cockpit systems seemed to be “taken over” shortly before the aircraft shut down, except for the ejection system. An enraged President Trump now realized that his military planes, tanks, ships, trucks, and even missiles would no longer function in California, including airspace. National Guard troops were dispatched from Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Sill, Oklahoma to mount a ground offensive. Within a mile of California’s border, their vehicles came to a dead stop, after which the weekend warriors reluctantly got out of their stalled vehicles and began marching. Five thousand men meant ten thousand sore boots-on-the-ground.
I have to admit that I was holding my breath, expecting the typical consequences of war. The Feds were using real guns and their reaction was bound to be lethal. The IFROC leaders, including CAL and the young team in the bunker, believed that the secession would not lead to bloodshed. But I was having trouble seeing it, after so many years of studying history and seeing how humans almost always resorted to killing each other.
Yet events appeared to run peacefully, at least for the first few days. The EMF emitters worked well, effectively neutralizing Fed presence throughout IFROC territory. None of the Fed’s equipment could roll, fly, or communicate. Equally essential, the Jerry Garcia (JG) virus replaced certain subroutines in the Fed’s computers with fractal algorithms, which caused a variety of malfunctions, ranging from mildly irritating to complete deletion of databases and removal of command and control capabilities. Some systems appeared functional, until erroneous information returned to the user. On other systems, the JG virus displayed an endless fractal screen display that could not be removed short of powering down the device.
The Pentagon leaders were stumped. They couldn’t admit to the world that they were no longer in control of their assets, and yet they couldn’t seem to get rid of the JG virus, no matter how many hackers they brought in. They even tried to recruit Virgil, offering him a great deal of money to work on the project. Virgil sat on their requests. Obviously the Feds hadn’t figured out who was behind the movement – not yet anyway.
The virus left certain systems intact, specifically, those associated with the health and welfare of Fed soldiers. For example, pay schedule files remained immune, as did medical benefits. The best hackers and crackers in the Pentagon threw up their hands. This particular virus seemed years ahead of their understanding. What the hackers knew and what the leaders feared was that someone had gained access to all Pentagon network systems, including hardened system data, secure files, passwords, and protocols of every kind. This access ran to the highest levels and looked to be permanent.
As 5,000 National Guard troops entered IFROC territory, Courtney and the others at the bunker tracked their progress and sent out assignments to the vast network of secession gamers. One by one, the Fed soldiers were gently immobilized, rendered unconscious, and loaded on trucks designed to comfortably transport the sleeping soldiers to what the kids informally called “Happy Camps”, which were basically large, secure, private vacation resorts.
The core of the gamers, the kids under Courtney’s command, came from within California territory, but included in the secession action were thousands of trusted gamers and hackers participating from locations around the world. These gamers worked within an advanced level of communication that their parents could never detect, let alone government security officials. Coming home from school, this cyber-militia received text messages with encryption codes and assignments for what they thought was a new and exciting game. After acknowledging their zones of responsibility, the kids downloaded interfaces controlling non-lethal weapons in environments that looked incredibly real. All the gamers selected to work with IFROC had practiced these offensives previously on Fury Inc. games, of course. And eventually, most of the kids realized that they were playing some kind of real scenario, which was fine with them, because frankly they thought this improved the game.
The Fed vehicles that had been left behind were subsequently bugged with a micro-organism similar to lichen, yet genetically altered for technological characteristics, such as ultra low frequency (ULF) radio transmission and sensor arrays – an amalgam of plant and machine that was undetectable by anyone but its creators. The altered vehicles were then towed to some obscure location even further outside IFROC territory. When the Feds eventually located the vehicles, they didn’t realize, of course, that IFROC was all ears.
Tragically, four days into the secession, fifteen casualties occurred on the Fed side as collateral damage on the part of their own troops, when a live mortar round suddenly exploded. The U.S. media started a campaign blaming the casualties on IFROC, and IFROC countered this message by simply deleting it from satellite communications, effectively killing the Fed’s propaganda effort. IFROC issued a worldwide statement with Abuela setting the record straight and lamenting the loss of life when nonviolent means remained available. These broadcasts won the world’s trust. The U.S. had not been a favored country for some time, and especially since the election of its new president.
IFROC made every attempt to keep everyone in the U.S., as well as Europe and sympathetic friends around the globe, informed about what was really going on – although plenty of diehard right wingers in the U.S. and abroad still believed the Feds should “just nuke California back to the stone age”. Of course, the Feds weren’t telling anyone that within the first moment of IFROC secession, the Feds had lost control of their nuclear capability.
The nuclear option, therefore, was so much bluster, even for the crazies elevated to power in the early days of the Trump administration. Even if most of these right-wingers were speaking metaphorically, after the election of an unrepentant oligarch, the unimaginable had suddenly become imaginable. Trump’s success remained an incredibly nasty pill to swallow for Americans who believed strongly in a more social democracy. Behind the scenes IFROC successfully blackmailed the U.S. command structure, threatening to inform the world that the U.S. no longer had any nuclear capability. This effectively bound the hands of the Feds so they wouldn’t dare resort to the nuclear option against the fledgling republic of IFROC, even if they could.
Overseas, the feelings about IFROC were mixed. The European Union remained guarded and officially non-committal, but many representatives cheered for California behind the scenes. Europe’s initial turn to the right had fizzled and was being replaced by a more hopeful wave of optimism. Countries with dictatorships, however, did not acknowledge IFROC or its actions in any way, but this was expected. IFROC didn’t intend to engage with any of those governments. United Nations started secret discussions with IFROC representatives, sensing an advantage of aligning with a more technologically advanced North American nation, estimating that this was more advantageous than worrying about annoying the current U.S. Administration. The majority of UN delegates expressed their significant relief that the U.S. bullying might finally come to an end.