The Assembly

Monday, September 22, 2130, New York

Manhattan is not what it was, of course. The city spent stunning sums of money between 2030 and 2060 to raise highways, tunnels and build flood defences, and all turning out to be quite pointless when the move to cyber-space in the following 20 years coincided with a rise in sea-levels close to the worst predicted by climate-change scientists. So it was easy to abandon large parts of the lower Manhattan shoreline to the waves, using the redundant buildings to land-fill, and accommodation in the city saw an 80% drop in cost. But by 2100 the city had reinvented itself as the world's number one tourist destination, with public buildings converted to museums, almost all high-rises into hotels, and the streets into pedestrian zones. Wall Street itself became an 19th century theme park.

The Assembly of the People and its attendant bureaucracies are one of the few major public institutions remaining in New York, occupying the old United Nations Building in downtown Manhattan, rebuilt twice during the 21st century to accommodate the vastly increased number of countries that gained membership during the century and the burgeoning apparatus of committees that micro-manages education, sport and science across the globe and in cyberspace.

Economic, financial and trade matters are dealt with by the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong, a compromise worked out by a weary US and China in 2060 after they finally buried the economic hatchets in the face of the Assembly's 10% fizz-time ruling. In a gesture to Europe, the Assembly's Educational Advisory Committee is in Brussels, while the Sporting Advisory Committee is in Johannesburg and the Scientific Advisory Committee is in Brazilia.

The Assembly meets as such in plenary session in fizz just four times a year, and this is one of those occasions, with the session due to begin on Wednesday and last three days. It will be wholly physical. The Executive Management Groups are all in New York, of course, to the extent that they're not in the cloud. They are elected bodies, but with three nominated Assembly staffers, and an Assembly member as permanent Chairperson. Most of their work is done in the cloud, but in New York plenary weeks they meet in fizz.

The Educational Executive Management Group is one of three such Groups, matching the three main advisory Committees, Educational, Sporting and Scientific. The meaning of 'Sporting' has to be taken widely to include all aspects of 'contribution', culture, the media and entertainment as well as sport as such, while 'Scientific' rolls up the design and maintenance of cyber-space, RCCs and RCRs as well as the complex storage and maintenance of bodies in fizz.

It's Monday morning, but preparatory meetings for the plenary session are in full swing. The Committee Room of the Educational Executive Management Group is RCC-enabled, of course, but they are not using it. There are twelve members, chaired of course by the Commendatore. It's 9 am, they have all seen the Fox News mediacasts, and they have all received the Advisory Committee's briefing from the meeting in Brussels earlier in the morning.

"The Plenary voted it through, you can see," said Leonardo, "just about untouched from the Panel report, suggesting that we 'consider urgent action to deal with the expressed concerns of the 15-18 phalanx'. There were just a couple of speeches, neither here nor there. Frans isn't coming to this meeting. Nor is Ferdinand. I wonder about that, I just think that maybe both of them are actually in favour of some changes, but they don't want to put their heads above the parapet. Robert, what's actually going on; who's behind it. Do we know?"

"Of course we know," said Robert stiffly. It's a very small group of people actually, just five or so members of BSGs and until last week literally only two groups. They've been setting up hidden RCC clones for months, and playing around with group identities. We've known that, but until last week it just looked normal; there are always half a dozen breakaway 15-18 groups every year. They calm down once they're in 19-25 and have to focus on qualifications. We've only had real trouble three times in the last 20 years, and . . ." he hesitated, not liking to be explicit, "it was dealt with. You know how."

They did know how. It was done by wiping. A group at a time so that there wouldn't be any witnesses or memories. They were accidents in RCCs - very unfortunate but it's still new technology, you know, not everything is understood, and it seems the group was creating unauthorized clones, it must have gone wrong and sprung back on them. Individual families were placated by hand-wringing officials, enquiries, memorial services in fizz. Many of them were deeply suspicious, but in reality there was nothing they could do, and they had their other children to worry about.

"But this is different," said Leonardo. "The cat is out of the bag. The new RCC is up there for anyone to download. If anything, well, terminal were to happen Sven will be on it in a trice."

"Don't worry about Sven," said Jasmine Takafucha, an inscrutable 75-year-old Japanese, who was the Committee's Head of Policy, a nominated, not elected member. Any executive action had to be approved by her and by Leonardo, and they had a quorum without recourse to the full Group. "He's just like his great-grandfather, 100% for the business and 0% for anything else. He's not going to rock the boat. As long as we are seen to take action to deal with the main thrust of this, a few accidents here and there aren't going to be noticed."

"And how will we 'take action', pray tell me?" asked Leonardo.

"The way governments always deal with Young Turks," smiled Jasmine. "A major research programme to explore the exciting prospects for personal development in group settings. Hundreds of millions of Euros to be spent in setting up research foundations around the world, in the cloud. Then the results will be modifications to the RCC environment, but carefully controlled so that it doesn't get out of hand. My people are working on a media pack for it right now, we can have it out before the Plenary, easily. Sven will lap it up. And we can switch off their RCC and its new apps once the media pack is out. Given how complicated it is to get it to work in the RCC, if you're not already a specialist, given that they can only do it behind a tutorial, because that's how it's configured, it may not be much of a risk. There's nothing we can do about it, anyway. They got the jump on us, admit it. But the downloaders will only have have two days to play with the RCC before we switch off the apps; it's unlikely that many of them will have got it to work in that time."

"Our media pack is urgent, then," suggested Leonardo. "We need to create the smoke-screen right now. Jasmine, can you stay behind? You and I can sign it off as soon as possible. The rest of you have got work to do, I think? Start explaining to everyone you can find what we're doing about it, well, the research programs I mean, get them set up, allocate the money, get some announcements out, hire some researchers. All by lunchtime." He laughed. "The plenary will be very happy. And Sven will be even happier."

"And the ringleaders?" asked Jasmine.

"Well now here's a thing," said Robert. "I've had a trace on them since early this morning and they're all coming to New York this week in fizz. Separately, for holidays, but not with their families. That's very unusual for them, the records say that they mostly have family holidays. They must be planning something. I'm looking to see if their group colleagues are coming as well. The report should be here any minute. Perhaps they're going to see what happens in a fizz group which has already bonded in an RCC. Is it transferable? I don't know; I don't know if I want to know. It's one thing to have a super-bright 15-18 group playing games in the cloud, it could be very dangerous if they manage to transfer some of that capability to fizz. That's what your research program will have to find out, Jasmine, we don't want it happening right here under our noses with Sven hanging over it." He paused. "Yes, it's three groups and all twenty-four members are coming to New York on Thursday, all staying at the St Regis Hotel. Quite a coincidence, right?"

"Hmmm," said Leonardo. "Perhaps there's nothing much more we can do right now about that. We need to stay closely on top of what they discuss, though, before we decide what to do next."

The meeting moved on to some other less pressing matters, preparing for the Plenary session beginning on Wednesday.

"Robert, could you also stay behind, please," said Leonardo as the meeting came to an end.

With the three of them on their own, Robert said:

"Surely you're not going to wait until Thursday or even Friday to do something about it?

"Of course not," said Leonardo, "that was just to fob off the others. We have to act urgently. Anyway, we have to wait now until they get here and then do it, right? Do we have to do all twenty-four, or will it be enough to do just the five."

"When the 24 are together in fizz in one place they're vulnerable," said Robert. "There can be a bomb, a fire, anything. If we do the . . the wipe at the same time it's all over and done with."

"So, Robert," Jasmine added almost as an afterthought. "You know what to do?"

"I know," said Robert, grimly. "It'll be a pleasure. Consider it done."


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