Part One: Imagined Order
“How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.” Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Max closed his eyes and climaxed. In the brief moments that followed, the post-orgasm slip of consciousness—la petite mort—he felt connected to her again. She was with him once more and he had not yet made any of the mistakes that had led to her untimely departure. How much he wished he could go back in time and undo all of his mistakes. He opened his eyes and gazed up at her with unfulfilled longing, attempting to ignore the ‘S’ engraved on her cheek, which shone below her skin as it reflected the sunlight. The synthetic sitting on top of him was an impeccable replica of his late wife, Miriam—a more perfect version of her—but even her artificial green eyes seemed to shine with a deep-seated sadness. Could synthetics emulate sadness in their eyes? Was it possible that Miriam’s consciousness now resided inside Miri’s artificial neural network? Max was fairly certain that it wasn’t possible but, some days, he wished for her spirit to return and inhabit this new artificial body.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your moment of serenity, but you have a very urgent phone call from Cleo Portero,” Miri said.
“Seriously? Now? You couldn’t have waited until you’ve climbed off me at least?” Max asked.
“I have already kept her waiting for ten minutes,” Miri said.
“You kept her waiting while we were having sex? Never mind. Patch her through—but without video,” Max said, gently pushing Miri off himself.
Cleo’s voice boomed from tiny speakers encased in the bedroom walls.
“Good morning, Max. I’m sorry to interrupt your morning routine.”
“No worries, Cleo, and good morning to you, too. What can I do for you?”
“Have you watched the morning news, Max?”
“No, I just woke up.” Max was unsure why he felt the need to lie, although the lingering sense of shame from having sex with a synthetic loomed large.
“Okay, I’m sending your home-AI a news report,” said Cleo. “I’ll hold while you watch it.”
Max glanced at Miri, who sent a signal for a screen to unfold at the foot of the bed. The screen lit up with a news report from the morning of the 11th of March, 2061. It was an aerial view of London. Burning debris was wedged into the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Smoke rose from what appeared to be the remnants of a commuter drone. The voice of a British news anchor emerged from the loudspeakers.
“Scenes of chaos this morning in London, as an unverified number of commuter drones have crashed across the city, killing at least eighteen people and injuring countless more. All commuter drone operations have been suspended indefinitely. The councilor of London has urged people to remain calm as the investigation into the cause of the crashes continues.
“Some AI experts have sounded alarms, stressing that the swarming algorithms, which direct the drones to behave like a hive of bees are fail-safe, leading to suggestions that the crashes were caused intentionally. Military experts are blaming the Tech-Resistance Army, the TRA, for sabotaging drone operations in the British capital. The TRA has not yet issued a statement or claimed responsibility. In light of the incident, several other European cities have suspended commuter drone operations until further notice.”
The screen went black, rolled itself back up, and disappeared inside its box. Cleo’s voice returned.
“Max, the TRA has entered a stage in their fight against the Alliance of United Continents that we hoped would never arrive. But here we are. As of this morning, the AUC is facing a new kind of enemy and we could use your help.”
“My help? You do know I’m a history teacher, not a military advisor.”
“We believe that the TRA was able to recruit a quantum computer expert from our midst, who is now running a team of hackers. You might be able to help us catch him before he causes more chaos.”
“Do I know this man?”
“Not yet, but he will, in all probability, contact you shortly. I’ll explain further when I see you in my office. This line of communication may not be secure. Please come and see me before your lecture today.”
“I’m confused—but sure, I’ll be there.”
Cleo terminated the call.
Max exchanged a puzzled look with Miri. Why would a defector to the TRA contact him of all people? Truthfully, he was secretly thrilled that his expertise might be relevant. He smiled at Miri.
“Would you like me to play you some music?” Miri enquired.
“Yes. Make it play in the bathroom while I get ready. In the meantime, prepare coffee and warm up the Trailcopter for my flight to Calgary.”
“Sure thing, Max,” she said. She kissed him gently and told him she loved him. Max did not return the gesture of affection. His mind was focused on processing the information he had just received. He meandered toward the bathroom, distracted, though not so much he didn’t notice the longing look on his synthetic’s face. Nothing but her artificial algorithms, directing her to seek my attention.
As he stepped into the shower, birdsong greeted him. He recognized the song immediately; it had been one of Miriam’s favorites, although he was fairly certain that it wasn’t the only reason Miri kept choosing this song. There was a not-so-subtle message in those lyrics that was probably meant to work its way into his subconscious. A part of him knew what she was trying to do.