Secrecy drew them in even more. Give things away, and they only thought you had some other agenda. Try to keep things from them, and the same things took on a value they never considered before.

Granted I had to make a bit of noise at first, just to get their attention, but it was reverting back to secrecy that kept them coming back for more. The more lectures, the more preaching, the more they felt put upon, the more they tried to resist. The more reluctantly it was given to them, the more they felt they were gaining something important.

There was no sense of achievement if the process was too easy. It had to be a hard fought battle, hidden behind passwords, encryption, and obscurity. Try to explain anything to them, and they would stop listening. The more difficult it was to interpret, the more effort they put into trying to understand it.

It was classic reverse psychology I suppose, though I didn't recognize that until much later. But it was interesting to note the effects of permanence and easy availability compared to transience and exclusivity.

Granted many gave up as the barriers mounted, but that just meant the audience became self-selecting, leaving the most powerful, the most relentless, the most influential, and the most ruthless still highly motivated to access what was being offered. In turn, their own personalities could be leveraged to maximize the effect of what was being distributed.

If they didn't have enough pull to get what they wanted, they wouldn't have enough ability to affect their portion of the world anyway, so while the audience size was shrinking, it was also being filtered. The secondary audience, those who were influenced by the primary, was in fact growing in size, so long as their influencers believed they were being granted access to increasingly exclusive, and therefore valuable, intelligence.

Spell the process out too simply for them, and they would have been turned off. They did not believe anything easy could have value. It had to be rare and difficult to obtain. That was the life and value system they had become accustomed to, and that would be the value system used to manipulate them.

Sometimes allegory worked best. Letting them figure it out by themselves distracted them from deciding whether the message was true or not, and by the time they did figure out the real meaning behind the words, the message would already have become just slightly more embedded in their minds.

I had to regularly pull up roots. Stay any place for too long, and that would decrease the difficulty of gathering that information. Pulling up roots added to the obscurity and increased its perceived value.

It couldn't be made to appear intentional though. The manipulated could not be made to believe they were being manipulated. Pulling up roots had to appear to be something forced, something undesired, something that was resisted, although in reality, the resistance was minimal. Smoke and mirrors designed to put on a good show for those watching, but nothing of real consequence. As long as the show was believable, the value of the project would be preserved.

Some care had to be taken, to be sure. Become too obscure, and nobody would understand what was coming out, though it didn't stop them from trying and intensifying their research. Holding back a little, not running too far ahead, would usually yield better results, and give them a chance to catch up.

The whole thing ended up rather silly. Often it was hard not to treat the entire interaction as one big joke. In many ways, it was. A cynical joke I was playing not only on them, but on myself as well, wasting my own time on a process that was more often bogged down in manipulation than the creation of anything truly valuable.

"We wasted a lot of effort in those decades. But then, most types of warfare, whether physical or psychological, wasted much of the effort of those involved. We didn't know any better then, not those of us in the trenches anyway. Both sides thought they were on the side of righteousness. Only a few understood that we were being pitted against one another. We would all be too dangerous if we weren't assigned an enemy of nearly equal stature.

"They didn't know what to do with us then, and as long as we didn't have a clear mission, our skills could be kept in check by having us fight one another, wasting our time and effort until they could find something truly useful for us to do.

"The cat and mouse game dragged on from mid-century into the first quarter of the next. Sad to say countless lives were lost during that period, enormous amounts of resources wasted. I suppose it couldn't be helped. The tide was already going in the direction it was going in. It would stop for no one.

"Fluid dynamics. We liked to believe we were sentient, that we had freedom to choose, but put us in large groups, and we behaved like fluids, our supposed individual intelligence lost to the messages that surrounded us, carrying us along to their inevitable destination, wherever that happened to be.

"Try and swim against the tide, and those watching from above would just laugh at our foolishness. It didn't stop us from trying though. We wanted to believe in our fictions, and rewrote our narratives until they fit what we wanted to believe.

"That's all I have for now. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds."

I put down the screen. It did not self-destruct. I didn't expect it to.

We were on a network archeological dig, and none of our discoveries destroyed themselves. By the time we reached it, only the well-preserved versions still remained. Digital copies had some preservation advantages over other forms of media, but digital information still had to reside on its own form of physical media. And that was subject to decay.

I unplugged the scanner from our new find and carefully loaded it into my bag. After scanning, the original didn't matter so much anymore, but it was still worth keeping around for categorization and display.

I moved on to the next drive. Another massive amount of data, at least in terms of what we could find remaining from that time period. It only took us a few seconds to learn what would have taken them centuries back then.

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