Shandy Xaxa Dack
for Transhuman Space
by Phil Masters
Shandy Xaxa Dack is the only child of a moderately wealthy Fifth Wave couple -- a company administrator and a civil servant. They could easily afford the Alpha Upgrade genetic package which they gave their offspring, but limited themselves to one child for a number of personal reasons.
While they were reasonably affectionate parents, they were a little distant and uncertain how to bring up their daughter, trying one slightly faddish "system" of childcare after another, and she grew up mildly alienated and reflexively rebellious. She had long had a taste for exploring the Web insofar as her supervising AIs would permit her, and at the age of 16, she discovered a simple way to evade most filter software; she left the house to find interesting stuff in person. Her parents, under the sway of a strong "freedom for adolescents" meme, did little to prevent this apart from insisting that she should always wear an AI which was programmed to ensure her safety.
Loomzoomismus is widely regarded as a quasi-religious cult, although it has no formal hierarchy, doctrine, or organization, and bears as much resemblance to a fashion-driven pop culture meme. In essence, it is an anarchistic form of Mathirism (p. TM23); devotees claim to gain unique insights into the universe, up to and including direct communion with God, by bombarding and overloading their own senses with chaotic virtual reality inputs. (A few use slinks, but most cannot afford this; Loomzoomismus is mostly a street-level movement.) However, unlike Mathirites, who employ carefully constructed, generally highly abstract VR structures as their meditation aids, "Loomzoomers" use amateurishly-edited sequences of random or arbitrary material, usually derived from whatever InVids catch the creators' fancy or happen to come to hand.
It's unclear how Loomzoomismus developed; it's probably a "street level" offshoot of Mathirism, but it's possible that it evolved independently, perhaps among InVid users with mild mental problems. Even the origin of the name is uncertain, although it is probably derived from Berlin street slang of the early 2090s. It is primarily a European phenomenon, but it has followers in most Fifth Wave communities, and is spreading to Fourth Wave regions.
Loomzoom InVids are complex constructions, in an anarchic sort of way. They have sometimes been compared to experimental "cut-up" literature or "sampled" music from the 20th Century, and analyzed as an art form. Unfortunately, devotees of the movement rarely pay much attention to questions of safety, and there have been cases where Loomzoom creations have induced epileptic seizures and possibly other brain dysfunctions when run on hardware with insufficient protective features. Given that the whole objective of these works is to induce radically altered states of consciousness, this is hardly surprising.
Insofar as it has a theology, Loomzoomismus borrows heavily from Mathirism, and hence indirectly from Sufi thought and Zen Buddhism. (Mathirites regard it with exasperation and sometimes barely contained rage.) Its exponents claim to be pursuing experiences which cannot be described verbally, and its associated style is based on the creation of confusion in its own followers, never mind outsiders.
Practice of Loomzoomismus is actually mildly stressful as well as potentially dangerous, and devotees specifically refuse to describe its benefits. It is thus probably doomed to remain a marginal street- level movement, although radical, dangerous behavior always has its appeal to some disaffected or alienated individuals. Although it is mostly a youth movement, Loomzoomismus has a few much older followers, who may be seeking to escape the stresses of a rapidly changing world by reverting to the solipsistic radicalism of their youth.
Thus, their daughter fell in with a distinctly eccentric crowd -- devotees of a small-scale fashion-cult known as Loomzoomismus (see the box). While the LAI she was wearing eventually recognized the dangers of this "hobby," tried to warn her, and then notified her parents, it was too late to prevent her becoming obstinately fascinated, and she now utterly refuses to abandon the peculiar practices promoted by the meme. In one flamboyant gesture, she declared that she was abandoning her birth name, adopting instead the whimsical and random-sounding "Shandy Xaxa Dack." She now sleeps at home only one night in two, although being shrewd enough to avoid pushing her parents into some kind of radical response, and wise enough to care about her own safety, she keeps the "chaperone" LAI provided by her parents somewhere around at all times, albeit with its sound output disabled.
Meanwhile, she is progressing remarkably quickly in the informal hierarchy of practitioners of Loomzoomismus. Although she is a relatively recent convert, "Shandy" is gaining a name within the movement for what appear to them to be deep and impressive mystical insights gained while under the influence of even the simplest VR feeds. The sheer intensity of this experience, combined with the sense of personal worth she derives from the admiration of her new friends, is leading her into ever deeper involvement in the movement. Fortunately, the unusual ease with which she achieves the necessary trance states has so far saved her from use of more intense, dangerous Loomzoom VR recordings.
As part of this activity, she has also taken to publishing her poetry on the group's publicly-accessible Web space. (Perhaps as a result of its third-hand derivation from Sufiism, Loomzoomismus has considerable respect for poetry as a limited but valid way of expressing some of the non-rational "insights" granted by its form of "meditation.") Her work is actually reasonably good, after its fashion, and has further enhanced her reputation.
Her parents are still consciously seeking to avoid alienating her, being rationally aware of the nature of adolescent rebellion (which has proved stronger than any Alpha Upgrade mental stability) and the need to maintain lines of communication, as well as emotionally attached to their child. However, their growing concerns, and their daughter's increasingly monomaniacal pursuit of mystical insight, almost guarantee that some kind of crisis will arrive at some point.
Go and Sell That Thou Hast: After a blazing argument, Shandy walks out of the family home without her chaperone LAI and with every sign of intending to stay away for keeps. Her parents, naturally worried, seek out professionals or qualified friends to locate her and make sure that she's okay. They don't want her brought home by force -- she's old enough that this would be illegal under local law, and in any case, they know perfectly well that this would merely alienate her even further. However, they do want her kept safe.
In many ways, this would be a conventional missing person case. Ensuring the girl's safety without annoying her, and ideally without her knowledge, could be a little tricky, especially if the problem drags on into the long term, but some ingenuity with hidden microbot swarms, smart dust, and computer hacking, can achieve a great deal. What makes it slightly more complicated is that the subject is surrounded by people who are not only fairly smart and technologically aware -- they actually regard her with respect verging on veneration, and will be doubly unwilling to lose her. It may also be desirable for her hidden guardians to secretly check any InVid material that she and her friends acquire for safety problems -- quite a complicated trick.
Poetry in Motion: Maria Holtz, a freelance Edgehunter (p.TM131), has recently been analyzing the Loomzoomismus movement, and in the course of this routine research, ran across material created by Shandy Xaxa Dack. One of Holtz's AIs studied Dack's poetry and concluded that the girl has genuine talent and considerable potential. According to its analysis, in 10-15 years, given the right experiences and just enough teaching and guidance, Dack could become one of the leading poets of her generation in her native language.
Serious poetry is not a major economic activity, but like any niche cultural form, it has some potential as a source of income. Perhaps more to the point, Holtz is something of a devotee. She therefore wishes to ensure Dack's safety, while ensuring that Dack receives both the formal education and the life experiences that will bring out her full potential. Holtz goes looking for people who can see to all of this.
The first problem, of course, is that Dack is a surly, rebellious adolescent who will probably react badly to direct approaches. In any case, merely helping her to adjust better to life, and to look after her own health and sanity properly, would be missing the point; her talent as a poet arises partly out of her disaffection, confusion, and search for insights. She may well need to suffer for her art -- in controlled doses. PCs working for Holtz may eventually find themselves in conflict with her parents.
Land of Lost Content: The PCs, possibly in the employ of a media company, are working to discover how weirdly mangled but compulsively fascinating copies of various short but valuable InVids came onto the market with all digital rights protection deleted. (The cryptographic protection involved was supposed to be fairly bulletproof.) Tracking various bootleg operations across continents and through several levels, they trace the source to a bunch of weird cultists selling this stuff into the black market for petty cash. Eventually, they find that a single member of this group of "Loomzoomers" is responsible for assembling the unprotected recordings. However, she lacks the sort of resources that such an operation should involve.
In fact, Shandy Xaxa Dack has developed an extraordinary intuitive facility. In a self-induced trance state, she can edit together snippets of an InVid from partial copies, taster extracts, and memory, recreating the original with minimal resources. While the various middlemen can be sued and fined for their involvement in all this, she and her friends lack the resources to be worth pursuing -- and in any case, it'd be bad PR. The PCs may, however, be instructed to find some legal way to persuade her to stop.
Possible complications here include the involvement of organized crime; not only are they likely to have been profiting from the original bootlegging, but once they realize how clever Dack was being, they may look to make her a job offer she can't refuse. For that matter, while her talent may just be a matter of natural flair and concentration, it's bizarre enough to raise questions about whether her Alpha Upgrade gave her slightly more interesting neurological wiring than usual.
Shandy Xaxa Dack
Age 17; 5'9", 135 lbs.; A rather unprepossessing teenager, dressed in whatever red clothes she has available. Her carelessness about grooming and diet and her odd dress sense negate the benefits of her Alpha Upgrade appearance.
ST 8 [-15]; DX 12 ; IQ 12 ; HT 11 . Basic Speed 5.25; Move 5. Dodge 5.
Advantages: Alpha Upgrade ; Autotrance ; Ally (Father, 150 points, 12-) ; Charisma +1 ; Deep Sleeper ; Reputation (among devotees of Loomzoomismus, for wisdom, +3 on 10-) ; Status +1 .
Disadvantages: Delete Attractive from Alpha Upgrade package [-5]; Addiction (Loomzoom VR recordings: cheap, hallucinogenic, legal) [- 10]; Combat Paralysis [-15]; Unfit [-5]; Youth (17) [-2].
Quirks: Absolutely refuses to wear any color but red; Mildly shy, except around fellow Loomzoomismus devotees; Refuses to even mention her real name; Thinks of her poetic talent as mystical insight. [-4]
Skills: Acting-10 [½]; Bard-11 [½]; Computer Operation-13 ; Holdout-10 [½]; Literature-10 ; Poetry-13 ; Savoir-Faire-14 ; Stealth-10 [½].
Languages: Native Language at 12 ; Two others each at 10 [½ each].
Article publication date: November 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.