d-mat

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Places meant as little to me as emotions, then. Clair's home was in Maine, but it could have been in Manhattan or on the Moon for all I cared. Names were nothing but labels, I thought. D-mat, the technological marvel that made human civilization on Earth and elsewhere sustainable, was just a means of moving data from cache to cache. That some of those caches were built out of atoms was irrelevant to me.

People had been teleporting particles in labs since the late twentieth century, but it wasn't until the late twenty-first century that science caught up with the dream of removing the between from all kinds of travel. Expensive at first, d-mat had applications in many other critical areas than just moving people around. Getting rid of the carbon dioxide choking the atmosphere, for one. Getting rid of the rising oceans, for another. Feeding the starving masses, duplicating drugs, saving precious resources, allowing effortless movement of populations around the globe . . . d-mat literally pulled humanity from the brink of utter disaster.

That's what all the history books say. A quarter of a century later, Clair's generation has grown up perfectly accustomed to the immediate satiation of every physical need. One has only to make something once, put it through d-mat, and it can be recreated by anyone, anywhere, anytime, by a fabber pulling patterns from the Air. Discarded items are recycled simply by putting them back into the fabber and pushing a red button. Clair has never had to cook, except for pleasure, or take out the trash; she has never had to mend her clothes or buy new ones. There is no money anymore, and no need to work unless one wants to. Clair lives in a Golden Age, some say, one that will finally enable humanity to achieve its glorious potential.

Others describe the age as a nightmare. Members of the World Holistic Leadership (WHOLE) believe that everyone who goes through d-mat is killed, and once they are killed they can no longer be considered alive. Zombies, they call people who use d-mat regularly—the soulless, animated dead. WHOLE wages information campaigns alongside occasional acts of disinformation and sabotage. The leader of WHOLE, Turner Goldsmith, is a wanted man. (He was, anyway, but not for being a criminal.)

Clair never wondered whether d-mat worked, because she felt like herself when she emerged from the booth, and she had never once arrived with missing limbs, or two heads, or any of the horror scenarios lingered overlong in trashy fiction. Generations of motorcar users before her had similarly ignored accident statistics and the inconvenient matter of the immense amount of flammable material required to keep the vehicles moving. Why shouldn't she and everyone like her? Besides, there were numerous philosophical justifications for doing so. One can take a favourite clock and replace all the parts, so it looks the same and functions the same as it did before. Is it not the same? And if not, why not?

The entire system, from Earth to Mars, was overseen down to the atomic level by the most advanced artificial intelligences ever grown. More reliable than humans, never sleeping, never once complaining, Qualia and Quiddity made d-mat as close to safe as it ever could be, given that any system involving humans in any capacity is by definition imperfect. Duplication, mutation and erasure of any kind were supposedly impossible under their watchful gaze (Improvement too, supposedly). VIA, the Virtual-transport Infrastructure and Authority, oversaw the AIs in turn, reassuring a public nervous of placing such an important technology in non-human hands. The public had a right to be mollified, OneEarth believed, even though the hierarchy should undoubtedly have gone the other way.

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