Ancient History's Annotated "Things to Come"

This is an annotated version of a key transcript in the Virtual Realities 2.0 sourcebook.

The correspondants:
Ambrose has never appeared in any Shadowrun book before or since; as such all thoughts on this poster's identity are based on the text and noted below.
Laughing Man is the pseudonym of longtime Shadowrun character Harlequin, an immortal elf.

From the outset, I'd like to clarify a few things for the readers. The (Timestamp/Date) boxes that follow each poster were created in the 2050s as a measure to mark both when and where a poster was, generally. The ability to obfuscate the timestamp, as both of the correspondants have done, was not available to the rank-and-file deckers of 2056, and only came into more widespread use later. Furthermore, the date is relevant because many important events in Shadowrun tend to occur around the 24th of December. This, along with the presence of the Laughing Man, informs the reader before the conversation is ever really underway that it is of some import.

>>>>>[It's all changing again.]<<<<<
ľAmbrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Hey, pops, that's it's job.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Pops from you counts as irony, I think. After '29, we knew the Matrix genie was out of the bottle. The tech curve was a roller coaster even then. But once ASIST, deck code, and IC came into play, it's become an FTL roller coaster. How can anyone know where it will go? Two years ago, for example, sculpted systems were so rare people jacked in just to look at them. Now, every penny-dreadful host on the planet has some sculpture.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[That's every ten-nuyen host now-inflation, you know.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

The general indication is that Laughing Man is older than Ambrose, and that both of them are part of a general group (denoted by the 'we'), though what group goes unspoken. Readers will remember that 2029 was the year of the Crash virus, which in turn is directly responsible for the development of cyberdecks (by Echo Mirage) using ASIST (Artificial Sensory Induction System) and Intrusion Countermeasures or IC (specifically, Black IC).

Newer readers may be unfamiliar with the term "sculpted system." When the Matrix was first created, the Universal Matrix Standards (UMA) were agreed upon to provide a common frame of reference; this generally involved simple colors and geometric solids. Sculpted systems, then, have custom imagery for their Matrix host rather than plain UMS.

>>>>>[It doesn't stand still a moment.]<<<<<
ľAmbrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[No reason it should. You just have to keep a sense of perspective. "To see the world in a grain of sand," as your buddy Blake said once.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Not my buddy. Will had a nasty disposition. Made it hell to be around him.]<<<<<
ľAmbrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

Another clue regarding Ambrose. william Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, printmaker, and writer. This text suggests that Ambrose actually knew and/or worked with Blake - or at the least is a great admirer of his works. If the former, then Ambrose is likely an Immortal Elf (possibly Ehran the Scribe) or very old Spike Baby. It is worth noting that William Blake did work with poet Ambrose Phillips at one point, and the Laughing Man's correspondent may have taken on his persona.

>>>>>[Whatever. He meant keeping a sense of wonder about everything. But today, we do have worlds in grains of sand-or bits of quartz and silicon, anyway. Close enough.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[But at what cost? These kids don't know who Blake was. They think a glacier is a node loaded with IC. They've never traversed one on a mountainside. if they even knew what glaciers really were, they'd figure someone was crazy for climbing one. The metaphor has turned into a real thing in their world, the virtual world. They could care less what the word means in the meatworld they sneer at.]<<<<<
ľAmbrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Maybe they're right?]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[You know better than that. What is the value of the Matrix if it doesn't make life better when you're not jacked in?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Tell that to Cind, or Wendell, or Jerusalem. And while you're at it, ask Jerusalem about Billy Blake. He'll download a megapulse of close-reading analysis before you finish entering the query.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Jerusalem is the quadripalegic with rejection syndrome?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[No, that's Cind. Jerusalem has myasthenia gravis. In your real world, they're objects of pity, and an easy meal for the predators walking around out there. In the Matrix, they're almost unstoppable.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

Cind, Wendell, and Jerusalem cannot be accurately identified, but all seem rather "trapped" within their physical bodies, and presumably express themselves and live more fully through the Matrix. Whether "Rejection Syndrome" refers to an inability to accept implants (cyberware or limb grafts) is unknown. Myasthenia gravis is a real-world neuromuscular disease which can be quite severe.

>>>>>[But dammit, it isn't real.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Real? If we left this cozy pocket system and slid over to that stormy looking data-fortress upgrid of the Fuchi Pagoda and slipped the right code into the right slave modules, we'd cut electrical power to most of Seattle. Do you know how many people that could kill? What's more real than that?]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Actually, given the givens, neither of us would get very far trying to cut that kind of IC. But are you saying we measure reality by our ability to destroy?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[When haven't we? Today, the people with the most information call the tune and define reality. It used to be the guys with the best-armed knights to defend his land. But from that strength comes beauty, sometimes even peace. Cind can rip out a computer core like a tigress, but most of her spare cred goes to upgrading the synths she plays via Matrix at her concerts. Without that strength, would she have learned to make music like a goddess?]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

This is the first hint at the location of this conversation: somewhere in the Seattle grid, as well as the general technical abilities of the conversants. Given that Cind is a quadripalegic, she is undoubtably controlling her synthesizers with neural impulses alone, and suggests her Rejection Syndrome applies to tissue rather than cyberware.

>>>>>[Your general argument is naive. Consider the liberation of the East European nations from the Soviet empire in the 1980s. Not a shot was fired, not a weapon needed. Across the expanse of the continent, the pen was indeed mightier than the sword. All the guns and tanks could not save the Praesidiums against a playwright who would have named Frank Zappa culturral minister. But most deckers are just gutterpunks with loads of tech-they wouldn't know real liberation or freedom if it hit them over the head.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

This refers to Vaclav Havel, a writer, the last President of Czechoslovakia, first President of the Czech republic, and a lifelong fan of Frank Zappa. Havel made Zappa a Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture, and Tourism in 1990.

>>>>>[And most of the cataphractoi were stone killers. Does that make the ones who reached higher any less valuable?]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

Cataphract is the Greek word to describe heavy calvary; Laughing Man is basically returning to his example of knights from above.

>>>>>[No, of course not. It didn't then and it doesn't now. But the new wave in the grids-so many could die. So many will learn better ways to kill. And over what? Paydata.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Plus ša change...]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Oh, come on, not that again.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

Plus ša change, plus c'est la meme chose. "More things change, more they stay the same." This phrase gained popularity during Shadowrun, Second Edition for its inclusion in the opening fiction of the main book, appropriately entitled "Plus ša change".

>>>>>[Sorry. Try this then: the nature of the technology curve dictates its acceleration until the infrastructure collapses or it approaches what Vinge called a singularity.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Of course. And the infrastructure is nearing collapse in many areas.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[But the predictability of the results of technological change are nearing uncertainty in equally many areas. So will we have a cultural clash first, or a cultural transformation?]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Some of us are worried about the crash.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Ah, but think of the possibilities in the transformation.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

The gentleman Laughing Man refers to is Vernor Vinge, a scientist, mathematician, and science fiction author. One of his works, "The Technological Singularity," suggests that technological growth will reach a point beyond which humans cannot speculate the consequences.

Given the Crash 2.0 that occurred in 2065, it appears that "their" fears regarding a crash were not unfounded. The question remains whether the infrastructure upgrade of WiFi and Augmented Reality will lead to the cultural transformation that Laughing Man hopes for.

>>>>>[And the children?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Most of them would have died by now without the change. Street orphans, living like devil rats, or prey for hells more brutal than any we ever walked through.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[But what is IT up to? And why does IT want children?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[What's IT up to? I could tell you more about what the dragons want than I could about ITs plans. But of course IT wants children. Only the very young, even the ones who haven't formed speech yet, can learn to see the Matrix that way. If kids grow up speaking two languages, we say they are bilingual. Two native tongues, more profound imprinting than mere fluency. What shall we call these then? Bicosmic?]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Seems cold.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

Here, Ambrose and Laughing Man are talking about the otaku, pre-pubescent children who do not need a cyberdeck to manipulate the Matrix (similiar to technomancers). IT, in this context, probably refers to the Deep Resonance, which supposedly creates the otaku, though they may also be referencing one of the artificial intelligences destroyed during the Crash 2.0.

>>>>>[Some would call sending an infant to grow up far from home, ignorant of its parentage, equally cold.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[But I was there, almost the whole time, caring for him.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[And IT is there every nanosecond, caring for them, in ITs way.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[I paid for what I did. What kind of being uses infants that way?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

This hints at some bit of Ambrose' personal history. Of all the Immortal elves, it might possibly refer to Aina who gave birth to a changeling son named Thais...but there is insufficient data to confirm this. Another theory put forth is that Ambrose is Merlin Ambrosius, and the child was King Arthur. This is especially interesting as Laughing Man inherited the sword Excalibur in 2057.

>>>>>[You ask that tonight, of all nights in the year? "For unto us a Child is born..."]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Don't blaspheme.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[I was not trying to offend. You follow your passions, I follow mine. You see all the hope of the world in the birth of a child unlike any other, which you remember on this night. You once saw the hope of your land and its people in the birth of another. Perhaps IT puts ITs hope in children who are still to be born.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

More enigmatic references to Ambrose' past, as well as a suggestion that Ambrose may be Christian. One particular immortal elf with a Christian bent is Leonardo.

>>>>>[Do you think IT knows what's coming?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Do any of us? IT wasn't around the last time. But I don't think anyone on this planet can say what resources IT has available. What knowledge.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[I mean...]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[I know what you mean. I know, better than most, what is coming this time. But there has never been anything like the Matrix before. How this new cosmos will combine with the powers of the old, I don't know. Maybe the wall between them will stay up, maybe it won't. Right now it seems solid but next year? Or next decade? Even we can't begin to guess.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

Here, the Laughing Man is reflecting on his experiences with the Enemy (detailed in the module Harlequin's Back and the novel House of the Sun). Harlequin has posited that in several thousand years, when the Enemy comes again, magic and technology will be strong allies, able to fight the invading Horrors...because they will have no choice but to fight.

>>>>>[I suppose not. Is that your singularity? When nothing in past experience gives you sufficient data points from which to extrapolate?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Close enough. I can tell you one thing, though.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[What's that?]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[It'll be interesting.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Oh, you're a great help.]<<<<<
-Ambrose (**:**:**/12-24-56)

>>>>>[Ah well, you wouldn't want it to be easy, now would you? Merry Christmas Ambrose.]<<<<<
-Laughing Man (??:??:??/12-24-56)

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