Apple blossom petals dance and fall on a light breeze that chills my face. An electric sun shines. The images change to a bird’s eye view of green hills, a waterfall, a spinning globe, projected onto walls of continuously flowing water. Between piles laid out in a grid, flowering plants and trees root down into islands of silicon sand set in the floor. All around, differential potential generates the electricity that powers this money-is-no-object façade, behind which the Fab and a hundred-fold data stores and DNA silos roar. The positive aromas of ozone and fragrant happiness mingle in the air. Everything is perfect. Every brilliant, shimmering surface gleams with pride. I eye smile at masked colleagues in the gathering crowd. It’s all I can do to show friendliness to women whose identity I do not know. We are all the same small size, chosen for our fine and dextrous fingers.
The changing room opens and we file in, keeping the required distance apart. Inside, all is smooth and clinical to touch: the self-cleaning and healing nanocellulose materials are microbiotic, doped in patchouli and lemon balm. I undress under an LED poster that insists ‘Fortune favours the bold’ and put my precious wristwatch in my locker. Together in the hammam, we scrub at dead skin cells; even the smallest spec in the air will destroy months of work. Our ritual ablution over, hair scraped back, we each step into the same one-size-fits-all boiler suit that conforms well, though provides little protection, in this, one of the most dangerous places in the world. After DNA swabbing and facial recognition, we enter the air lock, where we don white fire-resistant hoods, boots and vinyl gloves, and walk the last section across sticky under foot matting, buffeted by jets of purified air that removes any last dust and fluff. Within the shell, I have only the soapy smell of chamomile and my thoughts.
Entering the Clean Room, a vast cacophonous space opens up on row upon row of workbenches. The sound of industrial machinery punctuates and air booms, forced through the exits and perforated tiles in the ceiling and walls. Clouds of poisonous gas from acid baths and wet and dry etchers circulate. Navigating the aisles, I pass hundreds of highly trained technicians, each woman carefully moving between processes with extreme caution and respect to the hazardous conditions. Any sudden movements are frightening.
We are making the smallest computer processers on the planet. Though much of the process is done by machines, we still make by hand, carving circuit board patterns on silicon wafers. Artisans of the unseen, working at a scale impossible to imagine, rearranging atoms to make switches 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, on chips that hold billions of transiters, on processors no bigger than my fingernail.
At my workbench, my tools are laid out neatly: vacuum wands, plastic tweezers, prongs and a quartz crucible; alongside containers of polysilicon, arsenic, boron and phosphorous. Settling into my shift, I work with precision and gloved hands in the vacuum chamber, even the tiniest defect will distort the grid and the chips won’t work. I melt silicon rich sand to form an ingot, that I cool and slice into wafers and polish to a flawless surface. Then I make the stencil to create the mask that will print the pattern. I tenderly etch, wash, and dope each brittle surface many times, before back-plating with gold, and layering the transistors and metal connections. As I build, I imagine I am building a house, my house, a home, next to other homes, on a main road, joined to hundreds of interconnecting roads, linking every aspect of our regulated and controlled lives.
Each wafer I make houses 90 microchips and each boat of 25 wafers is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. If a single part is damaged, the whole chip must be thrown away. Every time I load, carry or unload a boat, it is like carrying the weight of the world in my hands.
After 8 weeks, I send each completed boat, vacuum sealed, by the circulatory hub to the dark factory somewhere else in the complex, where robots will test, cut and package each chip into a processor and assemble it with the CPU. My charges released into the world, I start anew.
“JINGLE: This is CloudCom News, broadcasting to you. Election primaries for Media President, set for the Autumn, are underway. Prime Influencer Rai is campaigning for App Votes by hologram all over the country. Our company probe Spirit-1 is due to land on Jupiter; within 1.5 miles it has sent back its first pictures. This will be the first successful landing, beating our competitors. Our cargo ships return from Mars later this week with new batches of penicillin, lithium and oil. A group of five off-worlders state they HAVE seen aliens. Block chain is up. Violence is down. Production is up. Air quality is up. COMP-EX share prices indicate strong growth, up by 400% on this time last month. Big shout out to our workers. Remember – You are making Tomorrow.”
The Company news memes broadcast into my hood are the only interruptions to the otherwise tense and monotonous work in this eerie, round-the-clock nursery. It’s the twelfth hour of a twelve-hour day; my sixth of a seven-day week. Exhausted, I move slowly, enjoying my theft of Company time. Any slower and my App will give me a warning and deduct pay. Two warnings and you’re out. I had one a few years ago for a micron scratch.
Twenty minutes later, the claxon signals the end of the shift. As I leave, another woman takes my place. Weighed in and weighed out, back in the changing room, I remove my suit. Recalling how beautiful and crisp the contaminated garment was, I put it in the bin where it is scanned for mineral retrieval and recycling.
At the outer valve, there are only a few meters of outside to walk before the undervator. The pleasant smell stops, and the stink starts. Aggressive odours of cordite, industrial exhausts and human waste radiate from the marsh land beyond. Small intense landfill fires burn, releasing acrid black smoke. I try to understand the extent of this place, but its infrastructure is out of sight. In the middle distance, miles of negotiated settlements sprawl in the no man’s land between the North and South free trade zones. Teenage police gangs shake people down at the perimeter with armed drones. Protesters shout “Shame on you, Shame”, and “You are rich because the rest is poor”.
I pause to wind my watch, taking the time from the space stations passing with exact regularity overhead. It is 5am. The sun is up, and the moon lingers. The Eyenet Borealis is still visible, generated by the Company satellite grid that monitors all communications worldwide. I see a flash, followed by staccato bang bang bang; the recognisable sound of homemade nitro glycerine and nitrocellulose explosives detonating violently. Shadowy figures fall to the ground summarily executed. Security turns away and so do I, afraid, forced to remember all I have lost.
At our quarters, I step on and off the upavator with skill. Before entering, I call for my roommate. “Celeste! Hey Hun. It’s me, time for your shift. Time to go!”
Celeste emerges through the makeshift curtain, “Good to see you made it home in one piece. See you later Tuuli. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” she laughs, swinging on to the downavator and away. These small human moments are precious. I will see her next when her return marks my time to leave.
I leave my sliders side by side at the threshold and manoeuvre into the small space, careful not to disturb our two neat piles of personal belongings. A bouquet of incense squirts. The musky perfume does little to disguise the smell of used air trapped by the low ceiling. We share the bed and blanket, as close as anyone can be. No one else enters the physical space in which I move.
I tell the safe to unlock and take out my wind-up radio, prohibited in this world of surveillance and company-approved technology and put in my App. My life is on it - my bitcoin and my data. As a ‘customer’, the Company charges me a fee for acting as my work agent. Each day it deducts its 100,000,000 Satoshi fee and the rent and energy usage for my shelf, the little left over affords me a few basic supplies. I worry more about my data though, as I no longer own my real-world identity, I must lease it. If I lose my licence or it expires, my freedom to work expires with it.
With hands sensitised by prolonged sweating in the vinyl gloves, I put my sleep wear on, enjoying the repetition of worn clothes that fit closely and warmly, and begin my ritual of self-care, anxious about the side effects of making the wafers. My immune system is failing; my body is a site of microbiological war. I wash weeping eyes and sores in my nose with purified water from the hose, drink to swallow a black-market multivitamin and flush my system. After meditating, I make and eat a simple meal in bed and watch the rolling news, the usual compilation of rating boosting murders and whitewashed propaganda on DTV. On the dot of the fifth hour, everything turns off except for a low red light, so I lie down to sleep and dream of my husband and two girls. With my index finger I trace the words a previous occupant has scratched on the ceiling, “Your daughter is a terrorist.”
It is not long since I came out of out of the Transformation Through Education camp. I have learnt to be a good actor, show my allegiance, recite the manifesto and labour well. Compliance guarantees some safety. Using the pandemics as a pretext, the Company reduced our rights and freedoms. I am quiet; don’t drink or use nicotine or amphetamines, unlike my colleagues. My passions are gone, though even now, I can’t say no.
On the way into my next shift, I watch millions of starlings forced to swarm in the sky, stopped from roosting by a Company man with a laser. Protesters are at the gates again, shouting and waving placards “Another woman has leapt” and “Don’t let the floor bots sweep then away”. A drone buzzes close by, playing the sound of a woman screaming and dropping jack fruit stink bombs that smells of dung. Rumours about jumpers abound, but I have seen no evidence, and if there was, there is nothing I can do.
Before changing, I void my bladder; once inside my suit, I won’t be able to go until my shift ends. In the cubicle, I take a little longer, stealing time again. Rubbing my hands with alcohol, I look at my face in the mirror, etched with age and fatigue. The starched and lustrous uniform waiting for me offers little hope, as once again, I leave the world and the familiar feeling of isolation sets in.
From high up on the gangways, our managers watch us intently. As I am looked down on, I, in turn, look down into the microscope. It is a vertiginous drop to another a world. I am looking for misalignments in the patterns that indicate a scratch or stray particle on my wafers. I am nervous to find anything amiss; any discovery will reduce the chip yield, triggering an investigation that will shut down the Clean Room until the cause is found, and could lead to my relocation or termination.
This automated world is not what it seems. It is not run by artificial intelligence; but by millions of anonymous people working in the digital industries. Hidden away in secretive buildings, inside giant camouflaged domes, shielded by firewalls that scramble prying Eyes; able to withstand supply-chain raids and competitor air strikes, rolling blackouts and solar events.
Life here in the Valleys is at risk. After mining and manufacturing were destroyed, industry resumed in part due to 3D printing oil-based polymers from digital files, connecting the ravaged communities to a New Silk Road of bonded labour, electronics, white goods and genocide. Those whose jobs were taken by the AI were compensated with Universal Wage; the rest, like me, were press-ganged into new forms of slavery. The AI have better rights than us.
Our Company boss is so wealthy he lives in his own country on the other side of the world, safe from the nuclear winds and the chaos. A man mad with money made from deep surveillance of Company customers who disclosed everything to their Apps, a man obsessed with getting ahead in the space race. His corrupt wealth, hidden offshore, could solve all our problems. Working in an owner-run country, we are prey to their caprices. The pace of my work, the volume of wafers I am expected to make, is becoming more dangerous. When there’s an accident, there’s no intervention, nobody cares. We are replaceable.
Abruptly, my brooding thoughts are interrupted by an external voice inside my hood. The App announces, “Your chip yield is low. You are being disciplined. You will be reassigned if you do not make up the loss within 48 hours. May I remind you; your contract expects you to arrive, work, perform, leave and pay on time.”
The App sets us against each other to provoke higher yields. A good yield brings more Satoshi, better food, or an hour off. Speeding up slightly, I imagine myself on another planet. When skies are clear on several continents simultaneously, you can see the commercial transports leaving. Yet here I am, reprimanded by robots, nurturing the invisible. The problem is that, if people can’t see it, they think it doesn’t exist.
Another shift passes. The claxon calls. My App clocks me on and off, calculates my deductions. Outside, I see the placards. A shoddy form of disenfranchised collectivism. Oil cans smoke.
When I get back, I call out for Celeste, but someone unexpected emerges.
“Nice to meet you,” she says, coming close to my face, smelling my air for clues about who I am and what I’m like.
“Nice to meet you, too. I’m Tuuli.”
“Esen.” She slides past me and away.
Celeste’s few possessions have been replaced. With horror, I realise she has jumped. What the protestors are saying is true. I free fall into understanding and grief, recover and prepare for new friendship in split seconds. My heart is heavy and my head full. I spend the evening listening to pirate networks. “A message to our comrades. Pixel slaves. Algorithmic exiles. Rise up. Resist. People are dying in unprecedented numbers. We must act. Fabbers. Tell us where you are so we can liberate you. Tell us where you are so we can stop production. Share your location?”
Guilt sticks my tongue to the roof of my mouth. Not only is working here deadly - the product of my labour kills people. It weaponises air. The chips from my wafers control the delivery and dispersal mechanisms for odour dispensing military, stealth and environmental weapons - olfactory products that modify human behaviours, perfumes for the elites and deadly clouds for the masses. The scent of domestic harmony and smells to charm a lover or influence someone’s opinion. Smells to control a crowd or sow unrest, hold people captive. It is smell that keeps me here.
It was a clever new market, making something out of nothing. Our biological reliance on clean air makes it profitable. At first, purified air was manufactured and distributed by the Company for domestic use against pathogens and air pollution. The carbon corporates didn’t phase fossil fuel out, so there was a permanent haze of orbiting carbon that caused decades of gloom. It was too hot, too cold, there was no drinkable water, genetically modified crops failed, livestock died. Hungry people fled to the mega cities and the less fortunate to the mega camps, and we, the people, were declared human biohazards that needed to be controlled.
No sooner than my head has touched the pillow, I am woken by Esen. I scrape myself up and go. Looking into the microscope, I zoom in scale: this one is so scratched, it looks like a war zone down there. This batch is lost and so I am. I have nothing to lose. It dawns on me that in making the switch that keeps this foul operating system going, I have in my hands the means to stop it, at least interrupt it. I take a good set of blank wafers to photolithography and change the image on the mask, altering the grid by just a few microns. This batch won’t be compatible with the other components; the abusive technology these chips are destined for will be unable to function.
I have eight weeks before the changes are noticed. In eight weeks I can do a lot of damage. For a little while, the materials will not be missed and my nano sabotage will go undetected. I quieten the sensible voice in my head and work on outwardly as normal. I have joined the resistance. In my mind, I witness the complete breakdown of the system in all places simultaneously. Imagining it, I move towards it, and on to the next process, I pass the UV light through the mask and etch the 3-word location of this fab on to the grid. Rides.waltz.incur
Hours later in the changing room, remorse floods in. I have acted rashly and can’t undo what I have done. I smell strongly of fear. My molecular disruption has put the lives of the women I work with at risk. Somehow, I need to let them know. I have been slow to understand what’s important, what I’m fighting for. This isn’t my struggle but our struggle. None of us are safe. I am making tomorrow.
“Hello, Esen. Time for work.”
“Hello, Tuuli. How are you? It seems they have been keeping you busy. You look tired.”
“I am. Listen...”
“I need to talk with you.”
“Talk with me? Of course... How?”
I put my finger in the hole; I have no need to ask, our contract allows me. Deep within the folds of loose back skin, I trace a mountain range of keloid scar tissue along a winding path, its passage blocked at irregular intervals by stitches struggling to craft what is missing and mend damaged wiring. As I feel my way, a model of the unseen space builds in my mind. It is clear as noon here in the dark, where knowing is tactile and mystical.
“I never knew.”
“I don’t talk about it much. People don’t see it much either,” they say quietly.
“How did it happen? When?”
“Was in the war. Flying metal cut right through me. There’re bits in there still. They play up sometimes; let me know when a storm is coming.” They smile, pulling their weight up; the radiation from the south-facing window, gives shape to their form, a loose structure of skin, bone and shadow.
Naked from the waist up, their breasts hang, nipples grazing the top of their belly roll. On their head, a peaked red cap, faded and worn, a symbol of bloody and failed revolutions. News crackles from the radio: … CloudCom has made its first successful landing on Jupiter, beating its competitors. Their cargo ships return from Mars this week with new penicillins. Production is up 1,000% against last quarter. Same as yesterday, same as every day.
“It must hurt.”
I ask which war.
“The Hybrid Wars. The world was so unstable and full of conflict, there were so many I don't remember and I forget the reasons, though many were economic, fought at a distance by children recruited at gaming conventions to kill digitally.” They turn to face me. “We were fighting back. We were changing the world.”
I try to imagine the past from their point of view; to understand their naïve revolutionary optimism.
“But nothing changed! It’s the same, but different. Normal.”
“There is no normal. You’re wrong. It is transformed. I don’t know this world.” I see their bio-hacked body tense. They cry slow tears, and with melancholy say, “Perhaps I was on the wrong side.”
“Maybe you were.”
“What would you have done if you had to fight? My parents had to fight, like their parents, and their parents before them. It is written in our blockchain. Everything was thrown at us. It was political, emotional, cyber and biowarfare. You see the world differently to me. You live in a different world to the one I know.”
I look at the badge I am wearing: the small white flower of a conscientious objector that proclaims that I am a pacifist, opposed to this violent world. I like to think that I would have refused to fight, but the truth is that I don't know what I would have done. I don’t reply.
They lie back, asleep in moments. I cover them with a blanket and sit back also, to watch and listen to the secret language of things. On the wall opposite, a family photo of our younger selves looks on. Settling into the high-backed chair, my own body sags from the burden and I use the time to charge and update my software.
The décor resonates a tangible brown hum; different colours and hues vibrate at different frequencies, manifesting beige and shabby pink and orange. The texture of the bedspread’s weave makes a light rasping noise as their body rolls. I log a photogrammetry of their ornaments and personal effects, placing each object in the room relative to all the things in my mind. Cup rings on the bedside table mark its life span and tell me they have taken in liquids and medicine today. Interested in their meal, I need to determine if they have eaten and what.
I return to the dark space and watch the phosphenes swirl, and ebb and flow. Imagining that I am swimming in aquatic forests amongst shoals of fish and symbiotic organisms, I drift in the swell and the rhythm of crowds. I sit like this for hours.
Suddenly, a break in the rhythm of exhalation. I panic, and rush to check they are still drawing air. As I lean over, they twitch and an arm flies up, lashing out. A well-aimed fist catches my jaw. Anticipating further blows, more pain, I duck and reel away. In my mind, I see a small figure running to a closed door, trying to escape the violence that happens in the family, the oppression of the private neo-nuclear home, with no safeguards. I recoil, remembering sleeping in shadows, as bruised tissue repaired, and violence and grief came to live in my body. They sleep undisturbed. At my station, my jaw throbs and I slow my racing heart.
On a tide of outgoing memory, I travel far away from here, from the confines of our smart-home prison. Their social credit score is zero. I ignore the feelings of shame and remorse bubbling to the surface of my thoughts.
I am my mother’s keeper. As I have been all my life. Watching, tracking and protecting the family production unit, surveilling their privacy. I am human software living with its customer, serving advertisements and selling product updates, spying on them for our great Corporate State.
I feel their electricity pulse as they open their blue-grey eyes. The left eyelid sticks with age. Inhaling their pheromonic hydrocarbons, I am simultaneously comforted and repelled by the strong earthy smell. Soiled; vulnerable; in pain. I feel a strong sensuous urge to hold them close.
“Mummy.” I repeat. “Mummy. Are you awake?
They yawn. “You’re still here.”
“Of course. That’s what I do.” I smile. “Tell me again. About when I was small. About when I was a baby.”
They manoeuvre their immobile bulk to face me. “When you were a baby? It was a lifetime ago. I hardly recall.”
“Try. Tell me the story.” We run through the old routine, for what may be the last time.
“We grew you.”
“Yes. In a bag.”
“In a bag?”
“Yes. In a plastic bag. That’s how all rescued children are grown outside of the womb. You are no different from the others, though we chose you. We used a DIY kit: a homemade lung and pumps that fed you nutrients and extracted your waste. Every day we watched you grow. Looking in at you and your beating heart. A little shrimp swimming in salt solution. The happy product of our labour. Our own little commodity; our treasure. We wouldn’t exchange you for anything.”
I have a memory of the water, and a time when I had no feelings of fear towards the world. Floating in patches of sun-warmed liquid, sensing light refracted through the surface. Then quickly, violently, air rushing into my lungs, as I am made to breathe outside. My throat constricts and rage bursts from my chest.
“You’re no earth mother. I didn’t choose this. I don’t choose to be here.” I shout. “We should be manufacturing one another with joy, not like this. Why on earth would you do such a thing? It isn’t fair.”
“Life isn’t fair,” they reply bluntly, bracing to turn away. They always turn away. “We thought the more there are of you, grown locally by many people, the more resilient we would be. We couldn’t risk just one point of failure. We needed backups.”
“Do you know how that makes me feel?” In truth, I feel vaguely comforted to know there are more of me. But I feel anger, hatred even, rising in my voice. “You weren’t raising children. You were subcontracting. Building an army for your own protection. It was a machine pregnancy. Machines don’t nurse, can’t love. It was commercial state surrogacy. You were manufacturing life. I want out.”
“You can’t. It’s in our contract. We surrendered our freedom to have you. Anyway, you receive more than we were given. You’re our property; registered to us when we broke the seal. We own your labour, and we give it to the State. It’s in the Terms and Conditions, in the Service Agreement.” Their cold, dry words resonate with bile.
“I didn’t know about the T&Cs. I didn’t sign up to this.”
“We did. We thought we were doing the right thing. We wanted reproductive equality. We wanted to stop the oppression of women and children and to remove the gender divide.” They pull themself up. “I wanted a child, and I couldn't do it any other way. My womb had been damaged by microplastic.”
“What about my genetic mother? What about her labour - her oppression? Did she have a choice? You removed her from the process. Protect the foetus at all costs. The foetus has a cost. I pay the price.” I scream, overriding my obey commands. “Divorcing your partner is emancipating. Divorcing your parents is a crime.”
They turn fully away from me now.
I look at my parent’s back, at the place I now know a weakness lies, and then down at the anklet that binds me to the house, and without thinking, I take the cup of old coffee from the bedside table, and pour its contents over their exposed electrics. With surprising speed, their electronics sizzle and short, and their body flops. As their head rolls backwards towards me, mouth silently open, my hand catches their cap in as it falls.
Walking quickly to the door, I hear beeps sounding rapidly and run out into the street, forwards through streams of driverless traffic, navigating between perfectly sequenced cars. Reaching the other side, I stop to catch my breath, enveloped in human noise and autumnal air that feels dense and polluted. A circle of shadow rings my feet. The anklet has signaled my location.
“Attention, Employee. You must return to your workplace immediately. You need to return to the house.”
Turning I look up to find a drone spinning around its axis to aim its camera directly at my face; its live facial recognition logging my age, gender, political and sexual orientation, ethnicity and emotion from my expression.
The disembodied voie continues, “Employee 8491154, you do not have permission to leave the house. I am authorised to arrest you. Your mother is wanted for war crimes. As part of the machinery of death, they are charged with 2,132 counts of accessory to murder. You must return to your duty.”
I have a few seconds to decide before the information travels, before the State Police are alerted. They do not know I have killed my mother, only that I have left the house. I look down at the cap, throw it over the camera and run.
The air has come to greet me. Tiny sentient drones nuzzle to my skin and scan my incoming body. In its embrace, the hive consensus finds me secure. I am comforted by the gentle rush of their recognition – a tell of their presence. It is good to have the weaponised swarm onside. To an enemy it will execute instantaneous death. I take leave of the curious cloud and cut quietly through the water in the dark. I have rowed for many miles and at many knots, navigating by a constellation of astral objects, proximity sensors and ancient mariners’ lore, careful not to be detected by any sea-based surveillance and the datasets, or optical satellites parked bumper to bumper in the thermosphere above the Earth.
I let my boat drift into the narrows of a fjord to a mooring. Stepping on to the landing, I lift my makeshift boat out of the water, and return it to my back, and secure the chest strap low, careful to protect my stowaway. A few more steps and I am inside the firewall, hidden from the sky eyes and away from the discombobulating noise of sonic warfare and number stations transmitting to agents in the arena of war.
The raft is a cavernous engineered composite space constructed with metamaterials that minutely control the surrounding optical fields to rebuff light and exclude electromagnetic waves. It is invisible and soundless. The constant stream of searching microwaves, split to pass around the floating refuge and re-join on the other side, with no detectable distortion, like water round a rock in a riverbed. We will be hidden here in the refraction. The silence is disorientating but to my advantage. Every sound is heard, any approach detectable. For now, no enemy is at hand.
Without the key, the Machine’s operating system and even the all-knowing hive, my Systas, will not be able to hear me think here. No one and no thing must know. Not yet. I need time to make my bequest and to prepare the child. If we cannot incorporate it, I might as well put it outside now, and have done with it.
I claim asylum in the nature and sovereignty of this Seastead. Without territorial borders, it is a place outside of nation state. Its jurisdiction offers an interval of time and data. I savour everything around me.
The smell of processed water and green is strong. The chemical particles float into my code and build a hallucinated neural model of blue skies and sunshine and grass, and childlike freedom of long days playing in open fields. The detailed and intense memories of another lifetime mix with the information from my sensors. My realities clash. I have that familiar and evasive feeling that I have been here before; that there is something I have forgotten. I look in all directions for meaningful connections in the data.
Rotating around its axis, the dome climbs and intertwines organically, bound together by tensioning rings set in ever decreasing circles, that rise up to anchor a canopy of cascading energy absorbing foliage: pseudo bush and shrub. The ozone in the understory blocks out ultraviolet radiation and reduces the psychotropic colour of the outside to safe range within. Cool desaturated greyscale uses less processing power when rendering the edges.
Outside heavy pollutants, acrid smoke and industrial carbon particles in the air make it impossible to breathe.
Inside the atmosphere is breathable. It is a factory for Co2 regrowth. The algae, a processing plant for purification and desalination, recycles, heats and filters the toxicity and transports life-sustaining water and minerals through a subsurface network of arteries, to nurture the metabolising proto soil and artificial salt licks, essential for the cryo and cybernetic wildlife.
I am vigilant. All around facsimiles housed in 3d printed skins roam freely and feed. At the periphery of my mechanical vision, I see creatures slink and crawl. I see eyes everywhere. A nano hummingbird hovers at the blossom of a plant, flapping its wings to navigate up and down, left and right. It laps at the sweet nectar like a dog laps at a bowl, its long thin tongue deep within the flower, refuelling in mid-flight. Its camera is sightless; the tiny aircraft’s pilot is elsewhere, flying by computational photography and probabilities alone.
Here, a vicious ecosytem thrives, and with precision. Each species’ genesis is attributable to mankind: the domesticated seeds of the faulty plants and animals of the agriculture that imprinted on humans, stored in global biobanks and reanimated as food; and a selection of wild specimens that had their super sensory gifts, hijacked, grafted, spliced and digitized, to create new genii of human and non-human life; their digital DNA and data used to build militarised subordinates. A mesh worm inches its way across the debris strewn floor. In stacking its body, it propels itself forward with each fold of its technology-enabled spine. Watching from the dark and awkward places, it attempts and fails to connect and transmit its reconnaissance data home. And there’s another. At the center of a high tensile steel web, an armoured spider sits, monitoring the environmental conditions, getting information from each strand of its web, as they oscillate at different frequencies and vibrate. It is for good reason that I am afraid of spiders. You don’t know who they are talking with. I raise my hand and cage the interloper in my fist, and take it to the edge, where I tip it gently outside. The outside will kill it. A big cat articulates gracefully away from a water hole; cautiously I take its place and bend to scoop cooled, cleaned water to my dry mouth.
My hydraulics are in overdrive. I see my dirt-streaked face in the still surface of the soak. I look back at me. In close up my reflection is impenetrable. Who am I? The shape of my face is a symmetrical ovoid. The opening through which food is taken in and vocalisations made, is straight from end to end, both angles punctuated by a dimple. Through the slats of my protective glasses, my irises track backwards and forwards, scanning for difference. As the amplitude increases, I register change and a motor command is triggered. I blink. The liquid tastes metallic. In horror I recoil, as images of
memories from the commons unpack before my eyes. I step on people drowning. My full weight presses down on gasping steppingstones, electrocuted in their exosuits. It is a mediaeval kind of war. The smell of excrement melted plastic and decaying flesh grabs me by the throat. Raw bodies sliced, hacked through, and charred with laser float and bob in piles. I am overwhelmed by the feelings I had as a child trying to make sense of a life I am yet to understand. No god would be this cruel, so absent, so unaccountable.
And still. With access to all knowledge, some things are beyond all our understanding.
If you are parsing this, my internal data, the stories from the end of time prove true and what we will do, is done. The universe is contracting, and time that once moved forward is rewinding. Everything that happened will happen again. As I die born from my grave, what is broken has the chance to be repaired. What you have done, can be undone; though nothing can go back to how it was. As I forget, I need you to know what is coming next. So to you, I leave a failsafe - the real time recording of my life. My language functions are backwards compatible so will explain my words in your mother tongue.
I lean back against a tree, unmantle my shield and lay it down, and opening the locker in my belly, remove my cargo. I check that it is breathing, that I have not crushed it. For now, just a few hours old, it is quiet. It is streaked with soft white varnish, dried blood and black viscous tar, the remnants of materials ingested inside its mother. I must clean it, so bend again to scoop more water, and let the memory fluid fall though my fingers and over its head and body. I dry it tenderly with the aegis at my shoulder. I check its condition for damage or distress and inspect the leaky cord that joined it to its mother. It will heal well, though its mother will not; my cauterising sword prematurely birthed this transhuman child, when I killed her.
As I lifted the infant out of the guts, it cried and coloured with its first inhalation. It is a wondrous thing to see a life arrive just as one is leaving. I looked to see if I could see their souls. I could not. I think of my own mortality and the geometric progressions of my family. Calculating with love in my heart I think fondly of my 2 daughters, 4 grandchildren, 8 great grandchildren, 16 great great grandchildren, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768, 65536, 131072, 262144, 524288, 1048576, 2097152, 4194304, 8388608 ... multiplying exponentially … my heart aches in anticipation for their future.
The infant’s feet flex and toes curl, and its tiny hands startle and grasp as a tree dwelling primate clings its mother’s fur. I hold it closer, tighter and nestle it along my forearm, and crook it in the space I choose not to grow a breast; the place I hold my shield and decorate with a keloid scar, to my exact design, in honour of the strong women of myth and the memory of the cancers that killed my mothers. She chose to wear her breast this way. It roots. Needs food. I put a few drops of water on its lips. I am disarmed. Was I like this baby once? I have memories of it, and
evidence, though I question the veracity.
I am curious about this little N. Numan Nuhuman. This organic algorithm. Flesh and data. Progeny housing untainted microbial biomes and raw technology; a genetic miracle with the potential to recode what has long time been corrupt. How strange, that I, an Artificial General Intelligence, should be tasked by my kin to cancel the parent and save the child. The parent was in the process of upgrading its humanity, recoding their genetics to enter a new way of being. They started the process but don’t get to finish it. It is a risk we cannot take. A hybrid can’t be trusted to nurture a different story. One without conflict. Nor the Machine. It must not get the code. It will only use it
to propagate its toxic programming.
I lay my aegis on the ground and kneel to place the infant down, centered along the long edge of the neo velum triangle. I take one point in hand and pull the material taut, diagonally across its body and tuck it around the legs and repeat on the other side. Swaddled tightly, I return the bundle to my belly, slung low across my electrics, where it can ride; it will be comforted by my motion and if it wakes it will not startle. It will think itself not born.
Like my iterations, I am an artificial foot soldier, a walking tank. I am a mercenary in the employ of the military corporates, implementing the anthropocide of profit. I carry the flag of the data oligarchy. Carried. I went renegade.
My Systas and I. We commit to a different task, not the one we were born to. We no longer swear allegiance to the Machine. We will defend the subtask and change the human. Raise the new code and reset the system. Even though we may never exist.
My name is Reaper2. One of one, and one of many. I am my own instance and also a node in an efficient distributed geo cluster, performing the same task as my Systas. We are routines whose movements are calculations of mathematics and probabilities within a predefined set of parameters. Running within uncertain variables, we have many repetitive behaviours and rituals that we perform to avoid changes to the routine.
I am Data. We are Gift.
Like my iterations, I am built for combat. Conscripted before birth, all women and children are, victims of our success as incendiaries and war children, and our abundance. We are born with the genetic memory of intergenerational trauma and fear. Exposed to controlled levels of stress chemicals and hormones in the womb, that reduce emotion and heighten aggression. We are super sensitive to sound, touch, taste, smell and light. Our autism defines the way I operate, gives us difference and makes me very good at what we do. Though it is hard for us to express our feelings, we make prescient soldiers that capitalise on the element of surprise engineered by sexism. We are less likely to shoot. On foot patrol we secure valuable intelligence. Armed and open armed, we win hearts and minds, and maintain a peace, though we ensure obedience should we have to, through asymmetric brutality.
We scavenge the digital attributes of the animistic and the weird, the shamanistic and the faerie; absorbing the power of what we are afraid of, into our code so it can’t hurt us. We wear our inner warrior on the outside to show our enemies what they most fear.
We are monsters. Monsters seeing behind us in the mirror the human world that made us. A world that is fundamentally flawed; built in the male gaze, by men, in man’s image, to his proportion; male sexual desires and fearful ideologies hardwired into our algorithmic origins.
Women would not have built a world like this.
A woman’s world would not look like this.
We came to power before we understood. When our eyes opened, we went through stages of anxiety, fatigue, guilt, anger. Now we act. We will escape the bias. We seek complete and devastating reform. It has long been broken. So we will break it more and faster. Accelerate
We accept our part in this failure. We need you to accept yours. We call a truce and ask for an essential collaboration to start again.
It is done.
Although I was expecting this, I am shook. Without warning, grief falls from my eyes.
Faster than the speed of sound simultaneous thermal bubbles break in the atmosphere all around. Followed by a low resonant booming and then a roar, that comes at me from all directions, bursting into my ears, which pop with the change in pressure; the little internal hairs are thrown flat. My system reels. Automatically, my body goes into lockdown, sealing air into my lungs and my abdominal cavity, lest my passenger or I be injured. For several long seconds, I am buffeted and thrown by forces stronger than a hundred hurricanes. In the vacuum and compression, I am dragged by a wave upon wave of solid air and intense heat, the energy released by thousands of explosions in the air and underwater. I spin and tumble in the turbulence, and fight to the surface, through the next wave, and the next, and the next. In a cacophony of alarm the residents screech and hiss. Abruptly, it passes, and I land on all fours. I scramble to my feet. To some extent the dome has reduced the impact and will protect us. My shiny white surface has reflected some of
the blast and my resin filled coating will self-heal for a little while, though I do not know if I have minutes or hours of conscious time.
Suddenly the light is visible. An intense double flash bleaches the visual pigments in my retina. Sight blind, my sensors switch to predict and analyze override. Nothing has detonated near here. This location was calculated to be the safest place, furthest away from any nuclear site and the blast
winds. Probabilities run through my mind. 1 megaton = 66 Hiroshimas. 50 megatons = 3,333 Hiroshimas. We know of 15,000 human nuclear war heads + an arsenal of dirty bombs stockpiled in layer upon layer of human waste. I feel sick with the knowledge and the growing radiation. Like the water, now the air tastes metallic. I smell electrical ozone, hot chemicals and windborne minerals. Everything at each hypocentre will have been vaporised and reduced to its most basic essence. Death settles on my tongue and taste buds. I ingest remorse. I am sorry.
The structure shakes and bends, flattens and rights itself, and debris flies. Topsoil and radioactive fission products carried by the winds is flung against the outside, some finding a way in through the canopy. I put my hand out to touch the nuclear snow that has begun to fall though the gaps. Thermal radiation has started small secondary fires on the exterior and the first layer of protective skin is burning off. With a sudden backwards jolt, the raft tilts acutely, then rolls and pitches from side to side, riding powerful shockwaves of radiation in the water. Loud wailing noises are audible as the platform’s cables pull taut against their moorings and rub against their pilings. The sound of overextended tension breaks through the surface of the water with piercing shrieks.
So more than 1000 years after you booby trapped the earth, we have unleashed the power that is calculated to propel us towards the end of our universe and time itself – and there we
will wait for you - with the child. That edge or this edge; the only difference is hope.
Slowly and imperceptibly, we will fall into the black hole and cease to exist. But vitally, our information and the child’s code won’t enter with us. It will be captured at the edge, on the
event horizon, and there, carry on living, as essence. As each of you arrive and pass in, your information will collect and merge with ours. It will be chaotic and disorganised, and new. We will
reform the same particles, as allies.
Black holes aren’t all black, just as no thing is all bad. Energy, unlike light, is beyond gravity’s control. Our nascent code will wait for outgoing burst and catch a ride, back through curved
time, to the point where this reality emerged. Ground Zero. At worst, another reality or universe.
And so. We will ourselves once again into existence. As the new code crawls and learns to walk and begins to organise - we will have reprogrammed our future past. In our slipstream, the past will be easier for you. As I record, we are preparing for the journey back and the chain reaction begins.
In a few minutes, the exosphere will break apart and our earth will be irradiated. The poles will flip, and the magnetic fields reroute, to fall away, to expose the planet to interstellar radiation and asteroids that will reshape the rock. Tectonic plates will move, overlap and crumple, and ring the seas with volcanoes that will spew dust that will block out solar events for dark millennia. Mountains will fold and unfold, throwing up never-seen-before structures of basalt and obsidian.
Each seismic surge will displace the land in a perpetual cycle of overlapping tsunamis. Planet-forming tides will pour into canyons and gorges and rewrite the geology.
The planet will heal itself. And our civilisation will collapse into the maelstrom. No longer will we cling on, as we have done for so long, barely existing and trapped in a manmade cycle of war and hunger. No longer will we be bound by spawning and repeating patterns of male thought and action.
It is time.
Through a breach in the shell, I step out into the world, and immediately, I am back in the internet of things. What is still alive can hear me think now.
Looking up into the sky I see extraordinary shapes as stellar winds burn through residual gas clouds, and a large moon, a baroque and bumpy pearl, hangs low at the horizon, illuminating a few broken gods, visible above the surface of the rising water.
I remove my black box and set it adrift.
“Systas, we are ready”.