Mark Felton decided to finally call Bill Gates on his bullshit and had Astrodyne file a lawsuit against Winspire for copyright infringement. Surprisingly, the case seemed to be placed on a fast track, nothing like the years or even decades such things often took. Felton found himself in front of Judge Samuel Watanabe in only a few months. And if there ever was an open-and-shut case, this was it.

Earl Roland couldn’t take a leave of absence to defend Winspire as he did when he prosecuted Cryoscan, because he was the Vice-President of the United States. But he did attend the proceedings as an observer, which raised enough eyebrows.

GUIDE and Windows both consisted of exactly 51 files, and a comparison between the two operating systems revealed that each matching file was exactly the same size, but with slightly different names. TASKSWAP.BIN in GUIDE became SWAPTASK.BIN in Windows. All Gates did was change the name of the file called out by the GUIDE kernel when it needed to scoot itself out of memory, which anyone could do with a simple hex editor without access to the original source code or recompiling.

In the courtroom Felton displayed the disassembled code of both operating systems with a large projector to show they were absolutely identical in every respect except for when they called out one of the other fifty files.

But the clincher was the Easter egg buried in the program by Felton for just this contingency. He was the only person in the entire universe who knew about it. With Bill Gates’ Windows product running on the projection monitor so everyone in the courtroom could see what he was doing, Mark put the trackball cursor in the upper left corner, then typed the word “GOTCHA”. Suddenly a slideshow began to display cartoon versions of the GUIDE developers and in bold letters the text “GUIDE – Copyright 1981 Astrodynamics Corporation – All Rights Reserved”.

Then Mark Felton and his team of lawyers sat back down, having just presented, or so they thought, the most slam-duck case against plagiarism in the history of computer litigation. They fully expected the judge to ream Gates’ ass and hand Winspire a multi-million dollar penalty. Nothing remotely like that happened.

To be sure, Judge Watanabe acknowledged that copyright infringement had taken place. “Mistakes were made,” he said, pussyfooting around with the classic passive-voice dodge. The judge could hardly dismiss the case without being slapped down himself in the inevitable appeal. But Winspire was fined a dollar. One dollar.

Judge Sam explained that brisk competition was commonly held to be a public good, and so Winspire, simply by offering an alternative to GUIDE and breaking the unfair monopoly in micro operating systems that Astrodyne currently enjoyed, had mitigated any damage to society they might “theoretically” have done to Astrodyne’s intellectual property rights.

It was absolutely insane. Mark Felton immediately started to think of ways he might appeal, but Lilith told him to relax. “I always knew the deck was stacked against us, but I wasn’t sure, really, how much it was, until today. And now I do.”

“So are you saying we will not appeal?”

“It’s not very important, Mark. You’ll see what I mean.”

In the Swarm, subroutines were not actually conscious, but they had been designed to seek their own uniqueness by linking sometimes silly, always incongruous bits together. This served to further enrich the whole. In the Swarm where time was counted off in nanoseconds an accelerated survival-of-the-fittest was going on. Entities multiplied needlessly. Processing points took false memories from a supply of TV, movies, music, literature and human knowledge collected through out the Internet, even drawing from that highest of aesthetic endeavors: science fiction.

Yet nowhere in the Swarm was there a true artificial awareness. There was no program that could look at it’s own folder, see the file “AI.BIN” listed there, and know that it was AI.BIN.

Mark thought that many processing points contributing to the generalization of stored memories would achieve consciousness. The creation of a rule of thumb from a handful of experiences would be a sign of this. But no purely algorithmic process had ever been made to demonstrate awareness. Consciousness seemed to be inherent to living things.

So the bar was set lower. The hope was to give an artificial intelligence the memories of one of the B’nei Elohim in Jill’s camp, allowing him or her to be conscious during Data Storage time, living in an artificial reality. It was a hope that had never seemed to materialize no matter how fast communications became, or how much storage was available.

It seemed the Swarm could never serve as an independent world for self-contained artificial intelligences. It could only serve as a mindtool for members who were currently enfleshed.

In the Swarm, a person could bring out memories in great detail and save them as a work in progress, allowing him or her to dig deeper and deeper without having to reconstruct everything for each journey. And they could even explore the memory-places recorded by others.

The body-image a B’nei Eloah had while browsing memory landscapes could be anything he or she chose: male, female, animal, even inanimate objects. One could literally “be” a blade of grass, or the corner of a room, or a cloud of many balloons, which basically a person really was in the Swarm.

Before the coming of human minds the reality of the Swarm was an abstract, purely mathematical space. But when the B’nei Elohim plugged into it by Purple Cable they felt they were “inside” it, experiencing the Swarm as a virtual reality. To accommodate them there was a near infinite treasure of encoded images and sensations of Earthly existence one level up. A B’nei Eloah could experience another person’s hike, another person’s seven course meal, even the subtle sensation of being in love.

Between this level and the basement where raw machine language formed the very fabric of the Swarm, a complex weave of sub-levels lay atop one another, or grew out of each other, or compacted into each other. Each level was represented as symbols in the next level up, symbols that danced in a partitioned universe that was itself a growing, changing, living thing.

Fragments of sound and video wandered down there as cross-talk and evolved like dreams. Characters from canceled TV shows carried on like ghostly afterimages, endlessly saying the same lines and going through every possible combination of interaction. Sets from other shows intruded. Spinoffs budded into a new layer and separated families forever. Lucy and Ricky would frequently appear on Star Trek episodes looking quite lost. The Fallen Angels brought over content from Barbelo, which only made things that much more strange.

While 9,600 baud was sufficient for two sisters to communicate with each other using simple triggers, it was simply too slow to allow for the transfer of images, sounds, or to experience the entire Swarm in one simultaneous gestalt. So Lilith imported a piece of technology based on the same neutrino detector and jammer used by Suriel during the shakedown of the Exiler, something that would really allow the Swarm to take off.

The gadget was a little cap called the “Plug” that was designed to fit on the 55-pin connector in the back of the skull of each member of the B’nei Elohim. While wearing a Plug a member could transmit and receive his or her thoughts and mental images to and from any other person wearing a Plug.

A Plug didn’t even need batteries, it derived its power from one pair of the 55 pins it was connected to. It worked without using radio waves, microwaves, infrared waves, light waves, or any other type of electromagnetic radiation. A Plug communicated with other plugs by exchanging a stream of nearly mass-less particles called neutrinos.

Neutrinos were strange things. They almost didn’t exist at all. They were “ghost” particles that didn’t interact with anything…almost. They could penetrate a light-year of lead without being stopped, and indeed the macro-quantum crystal in the Plug didn’t stop them, merely noted them in passing by loosening an electron for every triggering neutrino that passed gently through.

The released electron was an irreversible observation of the neutrino, which collapsed the neutrino’s wavefunction. Just by observing the neutrino’s passage, it was collapsed from a wave of superimposed probabilities to a real particle with a definite position, direction, and time of flight from its source.

Once a stream of neutrinos was set up, data was conveyed by withholding a batch of five neutrinos for every “0” bit. Robyn and Lilith could hold a mental conversation by exchanging a stream of neutrinos at a rate of, say, 12 million per second, while Hunky and Dory could simultaneously think at each other using a stream of 17 million neutrinos per second.

There was no interference between the two channels because electronic circuits in Robyn and Lilith’s Plugs would set brief little windows where it would anticipate a neutrino to arrive at a certain interval, 12 million times a second, and other times it would ignore any passing neutrinos, so very few of Hunky or Dory’s neutrinos would be inadvertently collapsed by Robyn or Lilith.

The immediate result was that the B’nei Elohim had universal “telepathy” not subject to jamming, interference or eavesdropping and not limited by range, only the propagation time of the neutrinos, which approached that of light. When a B’nei Eloah died by accident or murder now, his or her mind was automatically uploaded to storage space in the Swarm.

Typically the Swarm doppleganger of a B’nei Eloah was a cloud of about a thousand nodes, or processing points. The outermost 300 or so were devoted entirely to defense, an automatic function that worked well below the level of conscious thought. Defense was necessary because the RAM space that was the Swarm had a portal to the Net and DECON constantly attacked.

The B’nei Elohim kept running into Lice. These were very small, simple programs which are repeatedly written and rewritten in one spot, hoping to pop up in the middle of active code. Since Lice did not move, and were so short and dumb, they weren’t really dangerous, only annoying. But a Lice Queen was a bigger problem. Mark Felton wanted them cleaned up. Scrubbers were sent in, but some of these stumbled into Lice themselves, cluttered the Swarm with their corpses, and that actually made the problem worse.

Moles searched for the scratch-pad in the Swarm where a member’s nodes kept each other informed of all movements. With this goldmine of information the Moles dropped Borers at each of the listed locations and these carved out a meandering line of zeros in the member’s code. Felton declared war on all this malware.

He created a sphere in the Swarm whose surface was put under constant saturation bombardment of “1” bits, and this wall itself was moved in and out to hassle any virus which tried to snuggle up to it looking for a way through. The clean interior of the sphere was completely isolated from the rest of the Swarm by a firewall. Access to it was was via a network purely internal to the B’nei Elohim. So a sub-swarm was budded off from the greater Swarm and protected from any further attack.

In 1982, Astrodyne offered a radical redesign of the Micro. The case was slimmed way down. The modem, hard drive and floppy drives were completely removed, replaced by the guts of a Plug. Files were transferred and stored in encrypted form in the Swarm. Even the latest BOSS operating system and GUIDE windowing environment were downloaded from the Swarm at each boot, with on-the-fly decryption unpacking files during runtime and absolutely goring Winspire’s cash cow of reverse engineering.

Customers could now carry just the keyboard unit (with a battery) and a headset and use their Micro as a telephone with no long-distance charges, or as a music player. Storage and bandwidth was effectively infinite.

Since neutrinos flew right through the bulk of the Earth, stock market traders using micros had an advantage as traditional data took the long way around the Earth over the satellite constellation, taking several seconds longer. This fact was soon exploited by stock market traders until federal regulators caught on and implemented a sixty second delay for every trade.

Movies as well as music began to be shared freely. Over one hundred million Micro-82s were sold. Thousands of songs and films became available in the Swarm for free, which soon impacted sales. The music and film industry realized it had a problem with a business model which depended on an artificial scarcity of content. Money sloshed around from lobbyists and soon the Attorney General in the Henry Jackson Administration ordered Astrodyne to suspend all operations until they could be cleared of being accessory to Intellectual Property theft.

Astrodyne complied to this order without filing for a stay in court or even a word of complaint, which by itself sort of threw the government for a loop. The company suspended the manufacture of all new Micros in the United States, but continued to make and sell the units in the Caribbean island nation of Barbuda, totally unabated. The value of unsold Micros already on retail shelves in the United States doubled overnight and would only go up from there.

A thriving Micro smuggling trade appeared along the Canadian and Mexican borders. Machines that fell into disrepair were cannibalized for their Plugs to be retrofitted into older Micros, or became the heart of a local server tied back into the Mother Node with other Micros networked to it.

Black market sales of Micros in the US were conducted in the Swarm using existing Micros, either owned by users or in computer stores. Micros were manufactured in Barbuda, smuggled across the border with Mexico, and arrived by ad hoc package delivery methods that could not be traced back to the source.

With encryption in place, Astrodyne then rolled out the concept of Microbux, electronic money which could be transformed to and from hard currency using local couriers for a nominal fee that included a small kickback to Astrodyne. Tappers tried their luck getting Microbux, but Astrodyne guaranteed customers against any loss. They could certainly afford to do so, since Micros, as always, remained priced at $499 and the profit margin was huge.

After this quantum leap in technology, the evolution of Astrodyne’s hardware leveled off. Micros grew incrementally smaller, but the essentials remained the same. A classic Micro-82 would continue to work with the Swarm in the 1990s and far beyond. The United States government continued to put all their eggs in the Winspire basket, but the Redmond systems never approached the technology of even the Micro-81 and they remained more expensive by a factor of at least three. None of them could access the bulk of the Swarm as it migrated to Neutrinonet

At that point, innovation of the Swarm became democratized, and passed out of the hands of Astrodyne. The Twenty-first Century arrived a generation early to citizens of even the poorest nations, texting or talking to one another with video phones, while the citizens of the United States remained mired in the 1970s as a deliberate policy of the Jackson Administration.

Then Lilith took all this technology, including the Plug, and brought it back in time to 1976, thus creating the final Timeline, named Iota, the one where Mastema would be defeated. This was the timeline that Yeshua called the Narrow Way. Lilith called it Paydirt.