Quia Sum, Cogito: Chapter 6

this is approximately a 33 minute read.

On the Technology Gap

In addition to the demographics above, it is suggested to include an additional classification to the surveys that are distributed in the future: technologic comfort – suggested wording: “how comfortable are you with computer based technology?” (use the phobia scale).T4

On the suggestion of region 12, 25, and 61; the review of this years reports showed similar results to theirs: although there is no sure way of determining it with discrete classifiers; the correlation between the qualitative replies indicating a discontent associated with computation technology and a low social comfort has an f-score of .8730 (as compared to the expected average of .3266). When compared to the other demographics that had exceptional correlations, the score was almost as high as the political, religious, and educated (.9539, .9073, .8793 respectively) and the next highest (changed communities in the past 6 months) was .6293 – a substantial drop.T9

Further, this was compared to the past 5 years and while the rest of the sores have been dropping, any relevant qualitative indicators show that this has been increasing. The techno-dysphoric (working name) subcommunity requires further analysis and attention for this next year once the new category has been captured. Depending on the findings, an additional seat on the council may be necessary until their discontent has been addressed. This conversation should be continued after the first rotation of surveys are analyzed.T7

Point of action: estimated review date – February 2072 report

2070 -2071 Qualitative Census for Region 28 – Kent Franklin – Published November, 12 2071

Previous to the explicit mention of “bomb”, Grange was observing the conversation with passive interest; like a student drinking in the subject and waiting to be called on to show how much he had learned. The shock that it isn’t the teacher that called on him to act – but another student – caught him off guard. He stands apprehensively and shifts to the cords that are hanging loose. While starting (what I assume is) prepwork, he continues to steal glances to verify he isn’t disrespecting his superior.

Roger reacts in the opposite fashion. He had previously been booting up some software. It’s odd seeing a display coming from a screen instead of radiating out of the air itself, but – without access to the wireless – the AR can’t provide a shared overlay. The single source of light from within the dark room amplifies the absence of the expected extra layer of augmented reality that has been stripped away. My blunt shift in the discussion causes a distraction for the stout man in the uniform and – instead of clacking on the physical keyboard – he turns around to look at how we are going to proceed.

Musk is the only one that reacts as if the question was unexceptional. He looks down at the armband his hand is resting on. As he picks it up, he casually informs me: “Yes. This older model has a glitch in which the battery can become overloaded and unstable.” He turns it around – inspecting it as if it were a toy he is about to buy. When he looks back at me, my concern at the word “unstable” must be obvious. He sets the BioWare back on the table, “Oh.. no, it’s not an issue currently. Even when it was in use, the glitch was found prior to any harm being done. It’s actually quite safe, you see this switch here?”

As I stand up and walk to the defective armband, I notice Grange is no longer searching for approval and Roger is back to working with the physical interface. Bending down to look at where Musk is pointing, I barely recognize a piece of epoxy which has been installed to sit flush, just inside the smaller end of the bracer. “That’s a switch?”

“Take yours off.” I look up in shock. “We will need to clone the current profile and install it on this one.” The surrealness of the spontaneous demand to diswear is awkward, and my embarrassment is amplified because I know it is necessary. Taking off the technology in public is an action bordering on the erotic or obscene. But the nonchalance of everyone in the room amplifies the already dreamlike state that continues to manifest. So I comply, feeling shame in my unease as I release the clasps while Musk continues, “But yes, we have hardcoded the glitch to the toggle, when you flip it, you will be asked for the verification phrase.”

As I remove the mechanical parasite, ecstasy of unencumbered reality starts to flood my sensations and I answer the unasked question with a confidence and euphoria I wouldn’t have had otherwise: “integrity with function”.

“Precisely, and after those two actions are done, you will have a preset 8 minutes to infiltrate the consensus headquarters, stash the explosive, and get out. Are you still planning to surrender yourself as a ‘lone actor’ to their authorities afterward? We cannot support you if you take that route. The alternative would be easier for both you and your family.”

The instructions take a moment to internalize through my superlucid haze, but after a few seconds of silence it becomes obvious I am supposed to answer. Reality crashes in bringing me back to sobriety for a moment: “Yes, I’ll suffer through it. I know I’ll be treated as insane and tortured for information, but this is all for a better society. It is an honor.” I fight to stay focused on the discussion as Musk nods in reverent approval. I daze out again as reality bursts with uninhibited sensibility. As it always happens when I remove the BioWear: the entire world seems more alive.

Almost without me realizing it, Musk takes the armband from me and – in my momentary altered state – I almost object. Another crash of self awareness hits me as I realize that – as much as I hate the technology – I passively think of it as part of my identity. And now I’ve lost it forever to be replaced by a cheaper version. But as my senses readjust, the rational understanding that this is a good thing returns as well.

Musk brings it – as well as the artificial one – to the others that are waiting for him. They talk for a moment in private whispers about things I assume are above my paygrade. While they are preoccupied, I continue to try and refocus my perception. I focus on their demeanors and my extended faculties allow an appreciation of the CapDem authoritative structure: Musk is obviously directing with full knowledge and intent (the function). The other two are acting as extensions of his will, doing what is necessary in exactly the way he expects, and – as they set about their specific tasks – the integrity and order are apparent.

It might be the momentary consideration of things being missed, maybe my awakened state, or some combination of the two; but my confidence and hubris drives me to revisit the social algorithm. “About the project I was working on-”

Grange speaks before anyone else can react – cutting me off: “We aren’t going to relitigate this-”

Throwing caution to the wind and acting on behalf of my full agency – still high on my natural state – I force the discussion. Doing the unthinkable, I disrespect an obürg: “SIR, I need to say this.”

To my surprise, there is no rebuttal, just the calm and intense reversion to a stoic poise and a glance to Musk who has an expression of humored entertainment. “The results I found could render this entire operation irrelevant! We can use economic leverage to crush the Tendians!”

Roger – while still working on the computer – supplies the insight of what happened after the presentation earlier in the day: “We looked at the scope of what your theory could produce, it couldn’t possibly have that effect – even optimistically.”

“But that’s what I’m saying! The practical results were 857% of the most optimistic expectations!” This is pushing past audaciousness and into annoying. I’m aware that this is speaking far beyond my position, so I embrace caution and reign in my confidence; treading a bit more lightly, “Sir.”

Roger stops completely as he processes what I just said, “that would bring in more than the Consensus Agreement by… more than 2 times.” He nods. “That would be impressive…” and then he resumes typing, “but we have to scrap the project.”


Grange speaks this time: “I’ve been trying to avoid the topic for this reason Tark: The power outages we’ve been having… they corrupted the data for the GFM servers. We just found out today. None of the results can be trusted. We cannot gain any sound evidence without the relational keys – the user ID indexes – which were all shuffled.”

My mind races trying to find how to adapt to the new information. It searches for any excuse to justify my findings: to hinder the evaporation of a stable idea into something that only exists in theory. Maybe some subset could be obtained, or I could argue those mismatches should only make the scores worse, or that this is deliberate sabotage by the Tendians; but – in the end – there are no truths in wishes and dreams.

The truth of the situation is this: I have full uninhibited perceptive access to reality, I am standing in the presence of giants, and I am being presented with a single sentence that systematically dismantles a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a legacy – the dreamlike peak with no support other than a fragile desperation of my rational mind collapsed like a house of cards folding in on itself. I’m left empty, a shell of consciousness, a broken ego with a shattered soul. My integrity is (and possibly always has been) an illusion. Who am I? Was I ever really anyone or was it all a lie? The liquidated sense of self drains from me in a single representative response: “I see.”

There is an avenue for retaining function though. And through that I can establish a new integrity. I look at Musk with new resolve: “So where do I need to plant the explosive?”

Musk points to a screen on the back wall that stands apart from the others, “These are the blueprints for the Consensus’s main operations branch in the region. Notice this area?” He points to an empty area on the design. “We have reason to believe this is where their data center is.”

“What information do they store there?”

“What do they not? The thought patterns collected by the BioWear, the social and economic tracking of every person, the DNA profiles of everyone and which genetic diseases they will have; everything they need to coerce anyone and everyone given the chance. They also have their local socio-emotional history. Obviously, the data includes – and is therefore a direct threat to – the CapDem population.”

“Why do they collect all that?”

“The only reason any manipulative body does anything: additional power and control. They want our society to collapse. They want to tear it down. All so they can rebuild it as they wish.” It isn’t said with malice or hostility or reverence, but with the delivery of someone matter-of-factly explaining why a chess move is being made. 

I turn to look at him with obvious confusion, “That’s consistent with the anarchists’ agenda, but how?”

All three of them exchange knowing looks, after which Musk takes on a new tone. A sullen one. “We are going to let you know something that only a handful of others know… their intent is to remove free will by manipulating morality.”

The first reaction is shock, so for a brief moment I stand stunned; processing the information. I quickly recover into disbelief, “What?! How would they even do that?!”

“They’ve found a way to warp people’s perspective of truth. You’ve seen the constant push prioritizing the social safety scores? The normalization of the degenerate lifestyle? The undermining of the commodity based economic infrastructure? It’s all an attempt to deconstruct reality and make people question the moral framework we depend on. Obviously, at the CapDem office, we’ve been training on ways to combat the perversion, but it isn’t enough. If they succeed, they can – and will – supplement a false truth that they’ve manufactured to manipulate us all into subservience.”

I think of the discussion I had with Taylor. How he values obvious myths; confusing it with reality itself. How his kid is also being brought up into the manipulation of the Consensus. Mice unknowingly caught in a maze, thinking they are navigating the altered reality by their own will, only to inevitably arrive at a predesigned destination – likely justifying it as reasonable and even natural. I can’t help but feel anger for the tragedy being inflicted on them both. The desire to destroy the malicious actors that want only universal power and control festers and begins to boil.

“You’ve already seen it happening, haven’t you?” I shift my attention to Musk. He has turned his head away from the screen just enough to look down at me through a side glance. The glow that is bathing his face with a bluish hue must be broadcasting the obvious frustration and anger on mine.

“Yes. So we are destroying their data repository so they can’t manipulate people?”

Musk references the blueprints on the screen again, “Only the local community is at risk because of this hub, but ours’ is only part of the plan. There is a greater effort to undermine the other regional influences. It isn’t only the data pertaining to people that is stored here; it also contains all their research projects. So having access can give us insight into their global methodology.”

I walk closer to the screen and study the area. “How am I going to get past their cognitive gatekeeping?”

“Grange, care to explain that?”

“The new cuff has been manipulated in a few ways. The data that is being sent to the Consensus will be masked using an artificial profile starting tomorrow. This will also mean you can access your own data. I wouldn’t though. It can be disheartening to see how people have critiqued you. But the important thing is no one will be able to identify you unless YOU mess up somehow.” He looks up briefly from his focus on the cuffs’ linkage and gives me a critical glance. 

Looking back to the machines, he continues, “It should also be mentioned that – in addition to using an older version of the AR interface (which will likely take some adjustments) – the extra draw of energy is going to be an unexpected tax on you for this period. But it will be necessary to charge the glitch.”

Musk takes the conversation back, “Thank you. Any questions regarding that?” I shake my head. “Good. So,” he walks forward to match me and also looks at the screen, “this column,” he highlights a support beam on the schematics that is in the main hall next to the data center, “will cause a chain reaction that will likely result in the destruction of data for our region. This is what needs to be blown.”

“What about all the employees or any civilians that are there?”

“That’s the beauty of it, this whole area has minimal personnel. There shouldn’t be anyone injured if you place it at the right location at the right time. We have been keeping track of their movements, and the optimal time and location has been programmed into the new cuff. The AR will identify it all: where you need to go, what time, and if anything is going wrong.”

I look at the monitors shifting through the different perspectives and stress measurements of the building. Hesitantly, I suggest what seems like an obvious change: “This portion,” I point to one of the escalating stairways located in a more accessible location which seems more load bearing and intrinsic to the infrastructure, “why isn’t this a target?”

Musk and Roger exchange glances before Roger uses the physical interface to change the focus to target the steps. It only takes seconds for the scenario to run to completion, showing the results in real time. Anticipated destruction: +41%. Relative probability of successful data destruction: 237%. Musk turns to me with an impressed poise and smile that betrays his air of superiority. “Well observed. You’re right. We will change the target to the escalators.” Both Roger and Grange react, making the changes necessary to the cuff and the programming to account for the shift in the plan. A sliver of pride that part of this is now mine reignites feelings of pride and belonging.

With all other bases considered, the plan appears sound for a necessary effort. My only internal critique is that the Tendian Elites aren’t being targeted more explicitly. But I remind myself that this is why I’m not an obürg, I would be too single minded on revenge. As my mind shifts to the blame and hate I have regarding the accident that took Tess’s leg, I catch a glimpse of one of the smaller monitors that is processing the data transfer from my old bracer to the new one.

“What’s that?” But I know what it is. Something that I didn’t expect to see. Something that catches me completely off guard.

Roger looks at me for a moment, the alien expression of guilt crossing his plump face. But he quickly shifts to a feigned humor as an attempt to mask his negligence as I move to him, “Oh! This is nothing. Well… it is something but you shouldn’t-” I look at the screen to see the horrid social safety comments, the major external identifiers flash across the screen so briefly that I can barely make them out before they vanish: selfish, inconsiderate, dogmatic, judgemental, dense. There are a few indifferent terms that have been submitted (dedicated, kind, and so on) but they are in the minority. “-look at it.” He finishes knowing what I am seeing was never meant for me.

“It’s my full profile.”

I look back at Roger, and his discomfort is apparent before he turns back to his work, “Yes, it’s the profile that is usually hidden. You really shouldn’t look at it. No one likes what they see. It’s like trying to smile in the mirror: it will always look off. The more you look at it the less you know how to be authentic or if it’s even possible anymore.”

He’s right. With the heightened cognition resulting from not being drained, I can focus better than I ordinarily would. Along with all the other profile data (sleep and health statistics, geo-tracking and schedule compilations, contacts, pictures, everything I was used to) there are snippets that I was never meant to see. In spite of understanding the risk to my confidence, I continue to watch; consumed by the overwhelming curiosity; unable to look away. My social safety (an abysmal 0.7 out of 10.0), my innate technological discomfort (2.12 – low), my psychological stability (5.23 – false confidence). “What are all these? I never see them on anyone else!”

Musk answers, “They are usually locked behind security protocols that can only be accessed by those determined with ‘need to know’ access. None of the CapDems have access to them unless we use these extraction methods.” He broadly gestures to the entire setup.

“So the Tendians do?! This is the information they are storing?!”

“Yes. And – honestly – I’m glad you saw it. You see how deep this goes. Now obviously they will immediately know if you do anything anomalous to your typical schedule, so your profile will start to shift to the artificial one from 6:15 to 6:18 tomorrow. Try to be in a populated area during that time.”

I try to access the schedule for my AR overlay out of instinct and for a moment I panic before remembering it’s not there. The instance of discomfort is replaced by annoyance and shame having the realization that I’ve come to rely on it so heavily. “Could you set an alarm for me?”

Roger chimes in, “Already done… along with everything else. This is ready to go on my end. Is there any reason to delay?”

Musk looks at Grange who answers Roger’s question, “No. I think we’ve discussed the plan fully.”

After checking with the others, Musk turns his attention to me, “I guess it’s up to Tark. Can we trust you to help us create a better world?”

The stakes are clear. In a flash of consciousness, I think of the unidentified ignorant hoards of innocent people that aren’t aware this needs to be done

  • the tragic anarchists: Taylor, his son, and the people I see daily on the trolley;
  • the vulnerable CapDems: Zenth, Scott, Marsile, and the others;
  • the one that I am responsible for protecting: Tess.

The single word affirmation comes out with a confidence and determination that only renewed purpose can allow: “Yes.”

Abandoning his aura of professionalism, Musk claps his hands together at the joy of everything coming together: “Ok then. I think we’re ready!”

Roger starts to explain as he unhooks the metallic tentacles from the new cuff to bring it to me. “Since this is an older version, it has more traditional programming. Less complexity and optimization. It should be easier to work with after you get used to it.” As he finishes, I take ownership of the machine.

I cautiously put it on. I hated my original BioWear, but at least it was mine. This is a foreign threat I am both unfamiliar with and willingly incorporating as part of who I am. It even fits differently: a bit more snug than the previous one – although not uncomfortable. I ready myself for the dampening of reality as I snap the clasps into place. The initial zen flows over me – draining the natural state of the world – but then it continues past discomfort. I start to panic and seek out support, quickly finding the table the bracer initially rested on. To avoid collapsing, I shift the majority of my weight onto it. “This isn’t right.”

Due to the unexpected deluding of reality, I am unsure where the reassurance comes from, “That’s the more streamlined energy extraction of the past. It will take a bit to get used to, but you’ll normalize it. Do you need time to adjust?”

I stand upright: drained, unstable, feeble, insignificant. But I can’t let that show, “No. I’m fine.”

I barely realize that Musk walks up to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “I knew you were the right man for the job.” I try to bring myself out of my state of adjustment and into the moment. Even with the lack of energy inebriating me, I realize the importance of the gesture. “We often don’t give thought to our motto, but this, Tark, is the pinnacle of integrity. On behalf of the continued survival of Capitalistic Democracy and the legacy of the Final Great President Joseph Relder: Thank you.” Even within the haze of sluggish reality, his sincere gratitude and the shift in his stance away from “calculating manager” to one of “friend” is overwhelmingly apparent.

The other two join beside him and each say “integrity with function” in their own unique way: overlapping… but without rehearsed synchronization; a show of respect. It was genuine respect. Not just a kind salutation, but honest praise. The obürgs are praising me, Musk himself is praising me. The high of the interaction and grogginess resulting from the drained energy makes the procession to the elevators and out of the building a euphemistic blur.

It is dark and raining as we walk to the edge of campus. The three of them engage in a brief discussion regarding – what seems to be – typical obürg work interests. I have no understanding of the lumber and fabric logistic lines and where the weak points are, so I appreciate the continued opportunity to adjust to the new technology I’m faced with. Where I stop to wait for the trolley to bring me home, they wish me a good night and continue into the gated communities where the obürgs reside. They leave me as friends do, as peers do. I finally have their respect.


The ride back is without incident and the normal rush of people that crowd the trolley has long dispersed. It gives me more of an opportunity to get acclimated to the archaic sleeve. The VR overlay isn’t as vibrant and the controls are generally the same, but glitchy. The major shift is the headache and the noticeable mutation of perception: texture is less dynamic, smell less pronounced, even the taste of the air lacks the potency I had normally taken for granted. But the headache – dull and persistent – amplifies the discomfort of everything else.

Unlike the seamless updates that “improve” the software (which should be more accurately termed “technological brainwashing”), the degraded shift to this version is drastic and obvious. Beyond all that, what causes the most complication with normalizing the new state is the familiarity of the ritual. The adaptation to the altered perception is fundamentally changing the frequent route I know.

The carefully manicured properties close to the CapDem campus are altered similar to the obürg’s wing, making them more vibrant and using subtle ads (which are fairly obvious when the expectation is in contrast with the outdated overlay) to draw the eye in the flow which ordinarily seems authentic. It isn’t clear if it is due to the disillusionment of the world, or the overall pain that the new BioWear is causing, or the weight of tomorrow, or all the above; but the abstract emptiness which corrupts reality is unwelcome.

Every person that I see on the trolley has a muted profile and identity crawling almost imperceptibly along their skin (had it always been like that? I’m unsure). I can’t ignore the statistics that I know are hidden: their health risk, their current feelings, all the hidden calculated collections that assist in an ongoing effort to remove their free will. Every one of them depends unknowingly on what needs to be done.

I can’t help but toy with the trigger of the bomb. It’s flush with the edge – constructed well to be overlooked – but feeling the divot is surprisingly easy, abnormal and annoying compared to the rest of the sleeve. In the same way I will absentmindedly scratch at an irritating bug bite, I periodically find my fingers passively grazing over it. Near the end of the commute, I realize I must have done this at least 10 times.

I’m not yet acclimated to the new cuff as the trolley pulls up to the stop in front of my neighborhood. The familiar street is even more insulting to my senses than the trip. The first thing I see as I depart is that damned collection bin now teaming with new life. It has hidden statistics that I was previously unaware of (likely removed in an update that this interface lacks): schedules of drop offs and needs specific for this location, maps indicating where surplus can be transferred to, etc. I turn away so the disgusting empowerment of laziness doesn’t compile with the migraine that is already urging me to retch.

The surreal landscape – both completely ordinary and subtly strange – continues to corrupt the ritualistic walk back to my house. In a blast of realization, I understand that I depended on this passage of tranquility. It is a neutral medium I had previously taken for granted; one that allows me to shift from being a pawn of an existing dystopian hierarchy to being the king of my own domain.

I don’t have that today. The worlds are going to clash.

I anticipate that as I turn onto the lawn, but – to add further insult – the micro-muscular controls aren’t fully attuned to my arm. It causes a slight delay in passively turning off the overlay. I catch a glimpse of Tess as she comes running out the door with the AR still active.

For that moment it isn’t Tess.

She is someone foreign to me. Like any other person on the trolley; unidentified words crawling along her skin. The comparison to any of the degenerates coming from the Consensus that I saw daily is – for a moment – overwhelming. But the moment passes and the overlay fades; she is Tess again, but it was there. I can’t unsee it. And all the other unseen statistics that continue to exist in the imperceptible virtual world entrenches itself into my conscious mind, festering under the surface. Even if I wanted to ignore it, this headache would make it impossible.

Her embrace seals the two worlds into one. The concern – compiling both the caring and empathetic properties I love about her – was obvious. But if I can see it, then the Consensus can too. The parasitic phantom third party is codified… corrupting my domain.

“Are you alright?! I’ve been messaging you!”

“I’m fine. I told you I would be home late.” I still need to play the part for one more night. I kiss the stranger that I love on the cheek. 

“I know, but why didn’t you respond? I didn’t expect you to be home before me, but 2100?! Tark, you’ve never been this late!” She takes a moment to compose herself. “How did the presentation go?”

“The pres-… oh.. good! Well, no.. it was actually pretty bad, I don’t really want to talk about it.” While freeing myself from her hold, I take her hand (a welcome relief that I cannot feel the text crawling along it) and we both walk to the comfort of the evening lights inside. For a moment, I walk backward to look at her again, “Why are you so wet? Were you waiting outside?”

She looks down to reflect on the dampness of her clothes, “Oh… no, the anarchists congregation was outside and we got caught in the rain.”

I turn around again, “Well that’s pretty dumb, why didn’t they move inside? Did the urban nomads not have a place to house so many people?” Of course they don’t. One shouldn’t expect that type of forethought from them. Anything beyond animalistic reactions would be too civilized.

“It started inside actually, but we can talk about that later. You spent so long preparing that presentation! What went wrong?” More emotion. More data collection.

“It wasn’t what the obürgs were looking for.” She isn’t going to let this go if I don’t keep the focus on something else, “if you had a dry place, why did you move into the rain?”

“Someone needed the community’s help.” She stalls for a second. “It would have been rude to turn them down.”

“Wait… what-”

“Later. I want to hear about you! Why did the obürg’s not like?”

She is focused and in one of her prying moods; best to just tell her. I sigh. “I didn’t have any solid evidence. Even if I hadn’t forgotten the DataDisk on my desk, they realized earlier the source was corrupted anyway. So they are going to scrap the project.”

“Oh Tark!” She walks over and embraces me again. I don’t deny I need it. For a moment it is my wife hugging me and not the superficial image the Consensus knows her as. Everything is as it should be. “The obürgs wouldn’t know a good idea if it bit them on the ass.” Why couldn’t she have just left it? She withdraws giving me a compassionate smile, but it vanishes immediately. Even if I was inclined to hide my irritation and disgust, the effort to not let on that my head is splitting is too much. She knows what is coming and it is even more insulting that she sees it before I react. Ordinarily, it would be endearing that she knows me so intimately, but now it’s just a reminder that the Consensus does too.

The obürgs are attempting to save us all. They see the threat of the Tendians more than anyone else. It’s the audacious ideas that Tess had just voiced which cause the issues we are having. It’s because of people like her that we cannot make things right! She is just as much part of the problem as the other Squatters that undermine the natural state of the world!

The slithering profile that is digitally binding her is almost perceptible as it steals her thoughts and turns her into something else. Even though I can’t actually see it, I know it’s there; linking her digitally to the AI; corrupting her views.

“You don’t know what you are talking about. The obürg’s are trying to fix society and return it to its natural state! The limitations that they have to act within are impossible to navigate, but they do it anyway!” The resonating of my raised voice causes the headache to increase, but Tess usually backs down when I’m assertive so the pain is necessary to end the discussion quickly.

It seems to have worked. She retracts to a more submissive demeanor and I relax a bit knowing that an apology will soon follow. But then her expression changes again from timidness to an unexpected confusion. “It’s true, isn’t it?” To rage, “It’s fucking true! They want us to assimilate to them?!” Her raised voice is not expected, and now my head is splitting. This is a betrayal. The silent contemplation was being used to work out some enigma that is being kept hidden from me.

“Of course they do! What did you think? They would just allow the Tendians to manipulate society and undermine the last bastion of order that humanity has?!”

Her rage mixes with and gives way to an unidentified pity. “Oh Tark, no…” The pity is for me! She thinks I’m wrong, and – what’s more – she’s talking down to me! “The Tendians want to help us, they want to help everyone! It’s the CapDems that hate what society has become. They hate that we can be equal to them.”

She steps back slightly so I can see her more fully, “You want to know why I’m wet? Together we stopped the CapDems from destroying the home of someone that was in ‘debt’.” She makes air quotes as she says “debt” and emphasizes the word to show how ridiculous she believes the notion is. “We protected that person from the benevolent obürgs”, the last words have a mocking disdain dripping off them. She is mocking me. This is not Tess. Yet she still advances at me and has the audacity to grab my hands. “The CapDems are the legacy of the Nazis, Tark! The Broken Gear is the Nazi swastika in plain sight! ‘Integrity with function’ is just ‘blood and soil’ rebranded! Why can’t you see that?!”

The most terrifying part about hearing these common slanders being expressed with my wife’s voice is the passion. She fully believes what she is saying. It goes so much deeper than the hidden stats, the absent text that continues to creep along her skin like an unseen parasite…

She is theirs.

I back away, unable to believe what is happening. I woke up next to this person this morning. This can’t be possible for her to have been corrupted so absolutely and so quickly. This is no longer my wife. It is something different. Like so much else, there is a hidden reality in the unknown aether beyond my perception that my wife is now trapped in. The shift to this thing that stands before me is something different. Given time, I have no doubt I can save her, but right now this… thing is a threat to the plan. I can’t let it know any more than I’ve let on. “I can’t do this.”

It advances on me again, “Tark, I-”

My rage boils over and I use it to my advantage to get away, “STOP!” It doesn’t move any further. “I cannot do this. I need to be away from you.” I can make an empty promise to convince it to leave, “We… we can talk in the morning. But right now I can’t. I’m going to sleep on the couch.”

And without another word, I collect my clothes from the bedroom (an attire that would serve for both sleeping in and to wear “casually” tomorrow). All the while, steeling myself against the mimicked voice of Tess trying to make a case for further conversation. Without making eye contact and ignoring additional pleas to listen – I walk past the thing that looks like my wife and retire in the living room.

For the next few hours, the persistent splitting headache is only interrupted by muffled sobs coming from beyond the closed bedroom door. Finally, the doppelganger emerges – using the stolen voice of my wife in a way I’ve heard it only twice before, distraught and trying to suppress additional tears – and says (more in a hopeful question than anything else): “Goodnight, Tark. I love you.” It pauses, waiting; but this isn’t something to feel sorry for or to take seriously. It resigns with a barely audible whisper of “T star.” I pretend to be asleep as it slinks back to its section of the house.

It will hate me for what’s to come. But with time, she will understand.

I caress the switch again. I turn on my AR overlay briefly and intentionally flip the switch initiating the final stages. Bold bright words display themselves in the darkened space using reality as a backdrop: please confirm activation. Underneath it – acting as a footnote – there is a percentage bar showing: 14.28% matured.

I flip the switch back off to ensure the prompt is no longer primed, then shut down the overlay for good measure. In the darkness of my soiled sanctuary, my whisper breaks the silence like the drop in the cup of water: “integrity with function”.