Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 32 of 64

14.

“I just don’t get it,” Fede said.

Art tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “It’s simple,” he said. “It’s like a car radio with a fast-forward button. You drive around on the MassPike, and your car automatically peers with nearby vehicles. It grabs the current song on someone else’s stereo and streamloads it. You listen to it. If you don’t hit the fast-forward button, the car starts grabbing everything it can from the peer, all the music on the stereo, and cues it up for continued play. Once that pool is exhausted, it queries your peer for a list of its peers—the cars that it’s getting its music from—and sees if any of them are in range, and downloads from them. So, it’s like you’re exploring a taste-network, doing an automated, guided search through traffic for the car whose owner has collected the music you most want to listen to.”

“But I hate your music—I don’t want to listen to the stuff on your radio.”

“Fine. That’s what the fast-forward button is for. It skips to another car and starts streamloading off of its drive.” Fede started to say something, and Art held up his hand. “And if you exhaust all the available cars, the system recycles, but asks its peers for files collected from other sources. You might hate the songs I downloaded from Al, but the songs I got from Bennie are right up your alley.

“The war-drivers backstop the whole system. They’ve got the biggest collections on the freeway, and they’re the ones most likely to build carefully thought-out playlists. They’ve got entire genres—the whole history of the blues, say, from steel cylinders on—on their drives. So we encourage them. When you go through a paypoint—a toll booth—we debit you for the stuff that you didn’t fast-forward, the stuff you listened to and kept. Unless, that is, you’ve got more than, say, 10,000 songs onboard. Then you go free. It’s counterintuitive, I know, but just look at the numbers.”

“OK, OK. A radio with a fast-forward button. I think I get it.”

“But?”

“But who’s going to want to use this? It’s unpredictable. You’ve got no guarantee you’ll get the songs you want to hear.”

Art smiled. “Exactly!”

Fede gave him a go-on wave.

“Don’t you see? That’s the crack-cocaine part! It’s the thrill of the chase! Nobody gets excited about beating traffic on a back road that’s always empty. But get on the M-5 after a hard day at work and drive it at 100 km/h for two hours without once touching your brakes and it’s like God’s reached down and parted the Red Seas for you. You get a sense of accomplishment! Most of the time, your car stereo’s gonna play the same junk you’ve always heard, just background sound, but sometimes, ah! Sometimes you’ll hit a sweet spot and get the best tunes you’ve ever heard. If you put a rat in a cage with a lever that doesn’t give food pellets, he’ll push it once or twice and give up. Set the lever to always deliver food pellets and he’ll push it when he gets hungry. Set it to sometimes deliver food pellets and he’ll bang on it until he passes out!”

“Heh,” Fede said. “Good rant.”

“And?”

“And it’s cool.” Fede looked off into the middle distance a while. “Radio with a fast-forward button. That’s great, actually. Amazing. Stupendous!” He snatched the axe-head from its box on Art’s desk and did a little war dance around the room, whooping. Art followed the dance from his ergonomic chair, swiveling around as the interface tchotchkes that branched from its undersides chittered to keep his various bones and muscles firmly supported.

His office was more like a three-fifths-scale model of a proper office, in Lilliputian London style, so the war dance was less impressive than it might have been with more room to express itself. “You like it, then,” Art said, once Fede had run out of steam.

“I do, I do, I do!”

“Great.”

“Great.”

“So.”

“Yes?”

“So what do we do with it? Should I write up a formal proposal and send it to Jersey? How much detail? Sketches? Code fragments? Want me to mock up the interface and the network model?”

Fede cocked an eyebrow at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, we give this to Jersey, they submit the proposal, they walk away with the contract, right? That’s our job, right?”

“No, Art, that’s not our job. Our job is to see to it that V/DT submits a bad proposal, not that Jersey submits a good one. This is big. We roll this together and it’s bigger than MassPike. We can run this across every goddamned toll road in the world! Jersey’s not paying for this—not yet, anyway—and someone should.”

“You want to sell this to them?”

“Well, I want to sell this. Who to sell it to is another matter.”

Art waved his hands confusedly. “You’re joking, right?”

Fede crouched down beside Art and looked into his eyes. “No, Art, I am serious as a funeral here. This is big, and it’s not in the scope of work that we signed up for. You and me, we can score big on this, but not by handing it over to those shitheads in Jersey and begging for a bonus.”

“What are you talking about? Who else would pay for this?”

“You have to ask? V/DT for starters. Anyone working on a bid for MassPike, or TollPass, or FastPass, or EuroPass.”

“But we can’t sell this to just anyone, Fede!”

“Why not?”

“Jesus. Why not? Because of the Tribes.”

Fede quirked him half a smile. “Sure, the Tribes.”

“What does that mean?”

“Art, you know that stuff is four-fifths’ horseshit, right? It’s just a game. When it comes down to your personal welfare, you can’t depend on time zones. This is more job than calling, you know.”

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