Quia Sum, Cogito: Chapter 8

this is approximately a 32 minute read.

On Non-evasive Eco-nology

As of November last year [2064] the population of the world has begun to increase, finally reaching 100 million people again. For the purposes of our assessment, this means that the average community/city has an additional energy expectation of 3,173.2 kJ per day and an average of 1534 people. In alignment with the Carkoff Pact, the next update to the Econnect™ will need to account for 60% of this (which amounts to an average of about .3 kJ per person per day). While agriculture seems to be getting more robust, it is still nowhere close to the progress that we were optimistically hoping for, so the energy that the global human energy supply is under producing. Like last update – we will have to evaluate which group can optimally carry the burden of energy extraction while keeping within scope the shareholder’s have set. Even with optimization, fulfilling the Pact will surpass the Human Survival Threshold on its own, but when accounting for the increased feedback needed to improve the virtual-thermo-augmentation (e.g. “the AR overlay”) as advertised, the task is ludicrous without sacrificing the more power intensive operations and features. We will leave it to the marketing department and the Energy Regulation Division to decide the best way to practically implement this. The following are all the available features that can be restricted, how much the change will reduce power, and the noticeability of each change based on the “user error feedback” initiative: 

<table redacted in agreement with the Corporate Intellectual Privacy Agreement XXIV>

Econnect Q4 Power Quota Audit – Inspector Tommathy Wist – Published December 11, 2065

There are a few different food sources in the area. Did you have something specific in mind? Unlike most of the automated replies when dealing with the CapDem services (the ones too redundant to justify wasting a person on) the text is being produced in real time with corrections to the mistakes made in typing. There is someone real on the other end.

I reply in kind. The message appears as I create it using subtle finger movements registered by the arm band. Usually I wouldn’t acknowledge the action since the “typing” is so second nature, but this is the first time using this function with the old model and it causes more errors than I would normally have. Conversing efficiently requires minor acknowledgement. How did you message me? This is supposed to be private feed.

This is the Response Chat that connects people when a preference based question have been asked. Are you new to our community? Welcome! I wasn’t aware that you didn’t know. Sorry for the surprise ‘‘◠▽◠

I guess I can’t blend in perfectly. Best to play the part of someone new to the area. I see. Yes. This is my first time on this side of town. I stop messaging for a moment. If I can convince this person to guide me, I won’t attract as much attention. Would you be able to help me find my way around?

… … I can generally, but I have some things to do later and I can’t be there in person. Hold on a moment. The delay in reply lasts about 20 seconds. I take the time to reflect on the pitiful state of my surroundings. I can’t imagine having such a dismal work ethic that I would just lay around or play when there was so much else to do.  Will it be helpful if we actually talked?

That would be preferable, but I don’t have a communicator on me.

You could borrow one, unless you’re against using community property?

The use of public property is a concept that the Consensus uses to undermine the pride of ownership. It’s an affront to the natural competition people need to thrive. The theory of considering the social indoctrination which we are prepared for is different when trying to blend in. The subtlety is malicious but the need for organic interaction demands my participation; I have no doubt that it is intentionally designed to be that way. The frustration aimed at the Tendians grows as my hand absently moves to the cuff. But I have to continue to play the part, That would be great! Where do I need to go to get one?

… It seems that Jane is fairly close to you and not using her’s at the moment. She is… there… I just sent you the location. A ping appears on my AR display mapping the area along with a real time indicator directing me to who I am looking for. While not up to the typical CapDem standards, she is still fairly pale – likely of mixed race – with longer hair pulled back in a ponytail. Compared to the mix of different skin tones that surrounds us – it is a welcome reminder of the community I’m used to. Sitting down about 150 feet away, she scans the area and eventually our eyes meet. My suspicion that she received a similar ping is confirmed as she starts to move. After waving in recognition, she puts a marker in the book she is reading, and gets up from the table she was sitting at. Her clothes are less obnoxious than most other people’s, a burnt orange 3 piece suit accented with a light blue in the style of the early (twenty)90s but she only looks about 17 – too young to have nostalgia… so she must just appreciate the classic look.

Her book is a study on the comparison of economics of the 19th through 21st centuries. I point to it, “Are you studying for a class?” The question is unexpected and she stops taking the Communicator off her zygomatic arch to give me an inquisitive look.

After realizing I’m referencing the tome, she smiles and continues to gift me the small device as we talk. Her speech has an unexpected pep: “Oh! Not at all. I was just curious about how societies in the past justified their dependency on coercion. It just seems so strange, ya know?”

I think for half a second, realizing this can be a good chance to figure out how I need to think for today – a practical example of a social camouflage – I play into her excitement. “Doesn’t all society depend on coercion to some degree?”

She gives me a look of consideration, “how do you mean?”

Did I already overplay my hand? Time to feign ignorance. “I’m new here, but aren’t there some jobs here that no one wants to do?” As I speak, she nods in understanding.

As she talks, her considered language accelerates to dogmatic understanding, talking faster and seemingly more comfortable and confident with each word. “I see what you’re saying. Yes obviously there are some jobs that require both expertise and are generally not very enjoyable. But do you really think it’s ‘coercion’? Viclor suggested in 2074 that all a person really wants – after their needs are fulfilled – is to be validated by their society. That seems to be T8 at least so it seems if we are using coercion to mean” she air quotes at this point (her verbal tempo already challenging to keep up with) “‘give more validation to those that go above and beyond what is expected’, then it undermines what the word means. Right? When I say coercion, I mean that someone using metaphysical requirements to leverage a” again she mimics quotes “‘fair’ transaction – which is really just slavery at that point” she gives an eye roll for good measure “all justified by a privileged ownership being greater than the survival of an existential other, T7. Of course this gets fuzzy, but we need to at least agree that helping people feel good about themselves because they willingly did something that helps everyone is a good thing, right?”

This is 3 degrees of indoctrination too far into an ideology I can’t pretend to understand. Validation? Metaphysical requirements? Enslavement? These are all decades old ideas which the CapDems have long disregarded as an admission of weakness, not to mention delusional. I shouldn’t be surprised that they still have relevance here, but it still catches me off guard. If this is how everyone thinks, maybe I need to keep to myself. Hearing my own speech speed, I feel sluggish compared to her enthusiasm “I think I see what you’re saying. I do need to run though. Thanks for the Communicator.” I hold up the device she gave me. “Good luck with your search! Sounds like you’re on the right track.”

“Don’t mention it! And Thanks! Welcome to the 91!” She starts to walk away with a slight spring to her step as if she had just gotten done playing a fun game. As I drop my forced smile, I look at the semi-metallic object in my hand.

Before she gets too far away, I call, “do I give this back to you?”

“Someone will ask you when they need it.” She waves again before returning to search for the non-existent answer to her absurd question of ‘why do people own stuff?’

The Communicator is an older version of the modern EarWig, but it fits over the ear well enough to rest on the part of the skull above the jaw and to the side of the cheek. I link the device to my BioWear and the overlay indicates that the connection has been established. “Test. Test.”

“I hear you.” The voice that resonates through the device and into the bone structure still sounds a bit distant to be considered properly applied. I adjust it while we continue to talk, eventually setting it right so that the voice competes with my inner dialogue. The calm, pleasant, and slightly puckish tone is one that you would get with someone that is comfortable being themselves when talking to strangers. Her first question sets the mood, “What should I call you?”

“Tar-” Almost using my full name again. Breaking off I realize how convenient it is to have realized I could use the shortened version. “What’s yours?”


“Code us?”

She laughs slightly, “No no. C-O-D-A-S. Codas. … It’s nice to finally hear you.”

“You too.” I pause, wondering if I will push my luck by asking: “Something that the young lady, Jane, said… who is Viclor?”

“Jane is fairly interested in Tendian philosophy. So you’ll have to excuse the assumption that she made thinking everyone knows about that. Many people consider Viclor the natural predecessor of J. L. Tendis who took the base theory – that we create narratives around our deterministic reactions – and improved it.”

“Sorry I’m not as familiar with this. Deterministic reactions means he rejected free will, correct?”

“Not exactly. Tendian thought that the created narratives were free will. But those that reversed it – thinking that the free will drove the deterministic actions – were attempting to take ownership of a reality that was beyond their control. He put it succinctly by saying ‘those that believe they are manifesting themselves within a knowable reality are doomed to live in a self imposed bondage’.”

“Ah.” Well that’s absurd. Reality exists, we don’t create it any more than we are predetermined to act in any way. It makes sense why Jane is confused. When you believe something so wrong, you’ll have questions about why the truth doesn’t make sense. Philosophy is a bit tiring in that regard. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I am still hungry.”

“OH! I’m so sorry… do you have a preference? There are a few different options around you: raw food, bugs, soup… all types of things.” The thought of eating bugs or raw meat causes me to gag a little bit. I had heard that it was a practice to decrease energy and rare resource consumption when preparing food, but I had always thought that must be hyperbole.

“What do others usually eat?”

“For the most part they tend to eat things directly from the plants that are in season. Some options that are growing around you currently are peaches and plum trees.”

“That sounds good, but I’m actually a bit more hungry than that.”

“If you are willing to wait three more hours, the general kitchen will be open and you can get a meal. There is a decent amount left over from the community get-together we had last night.”

That’s what Tess was helping with. A bit of civilized food would be a welcome relief from this barbarism. “That would be nice. What was the occasion?”

“No occasion. Just something we do from time to time to bring people together so we can socialize and try to learn about each other. I’ve put the locations of the trees on your map if that sounds good. Or you can dismiss them. I’ve also put the kitchen in case you want to head in that direction.”

“Thanks.” I start walking north west, still closer to the Consensus HQ, but not the direct route that I was taking before. Checking the time (0806; the switch to 24time is still at odds with what I am expecting, but false appeal to “scientific virtues” is standard for the Consensus to use, so I need to adapt to it), there is no rush, but going off track is counterproductive. An odd feeling I can’t quite formulate starts to emerge when thinking of the final destination; like I am being drawn to a prearranged trap which I can’t avoid.

Walking in the new direction to business plotted on my map, I make sure to aim first for one of the trees that Codas has provided. They are scattered in different lots where the overgrowth has reclaimed the foundations of demolished buildings. I proceed to the closest one and as I approach I notice a few scavengers also grazing through the thick plants.

On one hand, the animalistic tendencies that are obviously a foundation behavior for the anarchists speaks volumes to the CapDems supremacy in regards to pride and civility. My mind naturally is drawn to the phrase “integrity with function” and how it is fundamentally rejected here. It’s terrifying that the base ambition which is synonymous with productivity can be undermined so easily: simply by usurping the fundamental traditional virtues of cleanliness and purpose. On the other, there seems to be a stability here that is normally absent, but I can’t quite make sense of it. What I didn’t expect is how natural it is to let my guard down; it is like reality itself is respecting me, a respect that I’ve always had to struggle and fight to obtain, but here it is given by default. This is something the CapDems can have a bit more of. When the Consensus is destroyed, we should start focusing on improving that, but – at this point – it’s about priorities and social respect can wait… not to mention the cultural conflict that will need to be overcome.

This leads to my next question which I’m almost certain I have the answer to already, “Codas, how is it you know where I am?”

“When you first asked about the food, your profile defaulted to allowing me to see your location. It’s built into the system to locate who is asking the question. It allows easier and efficient answers. While it is standard practice, I would understand if it’s unsettling for you. I can turn it off if you want either in our system or so that your BioWear defaults to a private setting.”

More implicit indoctrination. The CapDems prepare us for these types of techniques; showing us how to acknowledge when a hostile actor will revoke your individualism by passively assuming you agree with their group’s flawed perspective. The “assumed reality” warps the mind and soul into accepting the corruption through an expected ignorance. But opting out may indicate how much I value the virtues of privacy and independence. That might be a red flag I don’t need. “No. That’s ok. I was just wondering.”

“If you change your mind, just let me know. I’m sorry to leave you on your own, but I do have to take a break. I hope you don’t mind if I sign off for now? I’ll be on later if you need me.”

“Thanks for your help. I do have one last question though, where are you? I’d like to meet up to see who I’m talking to.”

“Oh! I’m about a mile away from you. I am free later today, so we may be able to meet up then.”

“As long as it’s not too late.”

“It’s a date. I’m sure we can make it work.” Her voice gives off an air of sarcastic flirtation, both to indicate that she is comfortable with me and hopefully to show that I can be comfortable with her. I can almost hear a sarcastic wink.

I have a hard time blaming her for the system she’s working in, so I let out a genuine chuckle of comfort. “Ha. Sounds good. I’ll talk to you later.” The chat ends as I walk into the untamed garden to get something to hold me over until brunch? lunch? I wonder if they even keep track of meals here.

As I step onto the plot, the stats about the area show how much can be taken before the growth will fall out of balance. Even though the area obviously lacks a curator, there is a division between some of the sections showing that care has been taken on some level to keep the area thriving. Looking at the peach tree, the AR shows the same creeping profiles on each fruit. The virtual infection has spread to non-sentient life, giving them an anthropomorphized existence. I avoid the ones that aren’t ready and the ones that have been identified as off limits, instead picking one of the peaches that is identified to be ripe.

I take a bite (being that the only comparison is that of the CapDem cafeteria which is shipped in, the freshness is unparalleled) and watch the rest of the Squatters to identify how I should occupy my time for the next few hours. They mostly disperse, but one joins a group that is sitting down against a wall next to an adjacent building which has been defaced with what I assume is supposed to be abstract art. It is a gang of people that are of varying race, interests, sex, age, and all other demographics (which is indicated by their profiles when not obvious). From the confidence with the approach and the acceptance from the crowd, I assume they all know each other. But it quickly becomes apparent by their relative formality that this initial assessment is wrong. With a bit of hesitation I do the same and join them.

They – like every other group I talk to over the next two hours – are completely welcoming and assume goodwill instead of a need to compete. Most of the conversations devolve into multiple one on one discussions with the rare 3 person or 4 person debate. The topics range from science to philosophy to technology to sports techniques or responsibilities – one even starts discussing respectable fornication and relationship stability (although they express it much more crudely) with some middle aged teens; seemingly no topic is off limits. Most people move around fairly frequently so I have the opportunity of blending in without much engagement beyond superficial greetings.

In the time I have before the Kitchen opens (apparently that is the official name and it is very well respected in the community), I had listened to 5 different discussions in 3 different groups. The diversity was prevalent and no one seemed to be shut down without a reasoned discussion, which may have accounted for the conflicting views. Where there was a different perspective to be had, no one seemed to refrain from speaking up. No one was exempt from being challenged regardless of where they fell in the natural hierarchy. Even those with – what I assumed was – a common background weren’t immune to turning on each other. When any disagreement ever became too severe (which happened twice), someone would calm things down with either: “hold up: from-to-forall” or “What are we arguing for? Normal ought be normal, right?” (which apparently was some cryptic way of saying “find common ground”). Every conversation was like listening to insanity spoken reasonably. But being a passive observer helped to maintain my cover.

One thing that I caught onto very quickly was that very few of them cared about categorizations. Even when one of the CapDem labels would clearly capture who they are (Squatter vs Anarchist vs Narrativist, etc) they wouldn’t use it. Some took it as far as never appealing to demographic expectations except through statistical knowledge which seemed to be agreed on by all. While never said explicitly, they seemed to abhor groupings; craving instead to being understood as unique people without the presumed stereotyping of communal identities – a surprisingly respectable trait. There was the anomalous insult that contradicted this cultural habit; when someone was “closed minded” they would call them a “Desci”. And obviously they referenced the CapDems as a vile enemy. At one point “the only peace we can have is if they are wiped out” was said and no one disagreed.

My headache and body pains return twice while I wait for the Kitchen to open. I commit to pacing myself with the pain relief pills, taking one at 9:17 but not allowing myself another one until slightly after the Kitchen opens at 10:30.

There is a line waiting at the Kitchen when I arrive at 10:24. The building is old, but – except for one of the sides that was crudely knocked down – well preserved. It looks to predate the rise of Capitalistic Governance, but it is hard to tell; many buildings built in the 2050s tried to recreate the aesthetic of the early 20th century. When I look closer to the destroyed hole, it seems purposeful. Metal tables and chairs clearly meant to withstand the elements are scattered throughout the open area; it can seat 30 easily. Behind what was originally the exterior wall, an inner divide (which is in desperate need of a reapplication of the fading blue paint) keeps the indoor dining separate.

I join the queue to wait for the doors to be opened. It is quickly apparent that the typical chatter that accompanies this level of congregation is replaced by raised voices from across the street. Most of the people in line look over from time to time to see a man in his mid 30s yelling at a woman about the same age. There is a young man that has an Asian complexion trying – and relatively succeeding – at keeping the dispute from blowing up. From the bits and pieces I can make sense of, it looks like the lady is wanting to leave but the gentleman is firmly against it.

The argument calms down after an awkward few minutes and the man walks away from the other two to wait in line – apparently disgruntled. In response, the group dissolves and the woman walks east – the direction I came from – and gradually the normal chatter starts to come back to the spectators. It is only a minute more before the Kitchen opens and the line starts to move forward.

Once in, I follow the flow of the crowd: grabbing a plate from a stack and wandering to the self-serve food and drink areas. The Kitchen is an unregulated potluck. Different stands have a variety of different foods and the customers take what they want. For a few minutes, I am deeply confused by the management. There seems to be people working – bringing out more food when the available options run low – but no other employees are visible. I can understand the administrative staff and cooks keeping out of sight, but there are no portion regulators to ensure that everyone only gets their expected amount nor cashiers to collect payment (automated or otherwise) like they have in the CapDem cafeteria. I remain stunned for a few moments amidst the traffic – with a plate full of pasta and sauce that I assume is Tess’s – watching to see what everyone else does. Every one of them grabs food and proceeds to dine; some of the faster eaters exiting the building – all free of charge. So I follow; leaving the area with the food and begin looking for a seat. Even though I expect someone to scold and fine me, no one does; everyone simply goes about their day.

Walking past the other tables, I can’t help but to see people binging on food they don’t deserve, leeching off the good will of others that made it and giving nothing in return. Even looking at my own food, I feel disgust regarding Tar’s engagement in this economic sinkhole and stealing my wife’s effort… something that my effort – in turn – allows. But even amidst my irritation, I don’t deny that there is a reverence in seeing these unfortunate people finding community comfort, friendships, and nourishment; and that reverence is a dividend of an investment that I am unwillingly forced into.

My eyes scan the various types of tables; some long benches where people seem to sit indiscriminately and some smaller tables I assume for more private conversations, most of which are already filled. Some of the people socialize, others glare intently into the space being occupied by some invisible media on their AR. I notice the man who was in the argument from outside sitting on his own. He has a history of working with the CapDems and is not quite adapted to the anarchist community (all of which I have to remind myself is due to his profile still crawling around him, but it’s become more normalized now that I’m seeing it everywhere). Thinking he may be able to assist me in seeing beyond the masquerade that I’ve found myself in, I approach.

“Hi, can I sit here?” He looks at me, and I am provided with the first proper assessment of his appearance. Distinctly Irish: pale skin and heavily freckled due to time spent in the sun with short free flowing copper red hair which is darker and sparsely gray at the roots. His strong build has an obvious emotional deflation which was in contrast with his “salt of the earth” appearance (dirt smudges on his hands and face, flannel shirt and jeans both tarnished from working with the ground). He nods solemnly in approval. I take a seat as he leans back with an air of irritated confidence.  

In addition to an infliction indicating he has no use for pity, his voice has the quick dialect from the mid eastern region of North America, “Are you also here to talk to me about the argument?”

My shock must be apparent because his initial defiance quickly relaxes. “No. I did see it, but I assumed it was a personal conflict. Should I care? Is that expected?”

With a chuckle, his entire demeanor shifts to one of unexpected relief and almost gratitude. “You’re new here aren’t you? Yeah… the thought that anyone would consider any disagreement to be a personal matter is unthinkable within the Consensus. Have you lived your whole life working for the CapDems or something?” The question is apparently in jest, but my reaction of awe that he can glean the correct insight into the situation so quickly let me know that I’m not playing the role well enough. The stranger doesn’t miss a moment in realizing what my lack of words mean: that my guise isn’t that of a newcomer, but an infiltrator. Leaning in, his eyes fill with an intense warning and fear, shaking his head slightly so that it would be imperceptible to anyone but me. Then he leans back again regaining the steady poise he just betrayed. “Since you’re new, I’ll let you in on a few things. Nothing here is personal, the community tries to avoid violence so they are invested in each other’s conflicts, socially regulating everything from speech to ownership. If they could control our thoughts, they would have the audacity to do it.”

Talking half to myself I mumble “I’m sure they would”, to which he gives me an odd look and I speak more directly to him. “I’ve talked to some people while I’ve been here, but – and I don’t want to offend – you don’t seem to fit in.”

He sighs and takes a bite of his meal (he has beans, sausage, and some peas) and I do the same. With a mouth half full he continues, “Up until 3 years ago, I lived in Birmingham. You may know it better as SE81. I worked in the CapDem offices down there managing the medical production routes. The shift to a Consensus community has been,” pausing for a second seemingly to choose his words carefully, “a paradigm shift. It’s not been easy.”

“What’s different about it?”

“Everything!” The outburst draws a look or two and he waves apologetically to them before continuing a bit more calmly. “It’s absolutely everything! No one spends money here. We have a community list of people that need help. An AI that dishes out responsibilities. Some people talk to it as if it’s human or SOME treat it as god himself! And don’t get me started on the religious mockery.”

“They worship Azathoth, right?”

He looks at me again, studying me while answering, “If you can call it worship.” Then continuing after a brief pause, “You remind me of me when I first got here, but your profile says otherwise.” His gaze narrows trying to fit the pieces together before continuing on… still looking at me skeptically. “There was a writer in the early 1900s called HP Lovecraft, he wrote stories about incomprehensible gods that would drive a person insane just by looking at them. Azathoth was the top god… they literally worship chaos…and acknowledge it’s an objective fiction while doing so. They use all this to justify the claim: if a fiction is superior to us, then we all must be one as well; just figments of something else’s story.” He stalls for a moment more studying me, “who are you?”

I can’t give myself away. If he’s right and everyone is invested in everyone else, I’ll draw more attention than it’s worth. Best to feign ignorance, “Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Tar. I didn’t catch your name either.”

He realizes that I’m dodging, but lets it pass. “Kletus. Kletus Ferguson.” and takes another bite.

It was my turn to mimic him and talk while I ate, “so why did you move away from the CapDems? Why don’t you work for the one here?”

He chokes a bit at the question. After swallowing he looks at me and – more quietly – says, “you really need to show me how you got rid of your profile history” and follows it with a knowing wink. Reverting back to his regular bravado, “I’m here because the CapDems thought I had the disposition to be a good missionary. So I brought my family up here.” he aggressively stabs his sausage and takes another bite followed by awkward silence before asking in a defeated tone. “She’s gone… isn’t she?”

“Who? Your wife?” As he nodded, I thought of Tess falling off the ladder and how close I came to being alone. “What happened to her?”

“You said you saw our disagreement.”

“That was her?! Why didn’t she come with you?”

Without changing his position, his voice drops so no one can overhear, “Since moving here, she’s had all these ideas about ‘needing to find herself’. That’s what the degeneracy here does, it corrupts the good things that we have built and keeps us from making things better.” He puts an emphasis on the “we” and “us” which I take to mean the CapDems. “Everyone here is lazy and unproductive… except of course when things need to be fixed up. I’ve dedicated myself to 15 years working every day with a set schedule, but HERE? I don’t know what to do with myself. I try to keep productive, but everyone just wants to do the bare minimum! How could that possibly be appealing to Janet? She loved being my wife! But since being here… she looks at me like I’m a monster! For 15 years I pulled my weight to make us happy, and is she grateful?! Ha! No… of course not, she just walks away.” I can almost hear him gritting his teeth through the rant. “Selfish. That’s what it is. And people look at me as if I’m wrong.” He shakes his head then looks back at me. “Sorry. You shouldn’t have to hear about all that.” He pauses for a moment, then takes another bite.

We sit in silence for a few minutes, the only noise is the mismatched cutlery scraping the plates. This is all I need to see to justify my mission, all my worst fears realized: it isn’t the people that are the enemy. Not really. It’s the community itself and the lies that are pushed on everyone. The Tendians are to blame.

“One thing I’ve never understood, why is everyone here a Tendian? What’s the appeal in thinking you aren’t sentient?”

“Honestly, I have no idea. The best I can gather through the way they talk is they think it allows them to be more free? But that doesn’t make any type of sense, so who knows. It’s a dumb philosophy that no one can explain. One thing that was a shock when I came here though… there are no real ‘Tendian elites’. At least none that I’ve seen.”

“Wait. Who directs everyone then? How do… I don’t know… they make clothes?”

“It’s the AI mostly. While I’ve been here, I’ve been asked if I wanted to help others or do social tasks. It’s never a requirement. You could do absolutely nothing with no repercussions. I did that out of spite when I first arrived and to this day I refuse to take orders from the machine, but eventually I went stir crazy and I offered to help from time to time just to have something to do. But the leadership roles switch depending on who needs help and focus. It’s not really democratic as much as it is statistically authoritative. As far as I know though, there are people that do highly skilled work at the center. They probably make medicine and other drugs there.”

That makes no sense. I’ll have to consider it a bit more later. “The center?”

“It’s the big building about three and a half klicks west of here. I think it used to be a mall when we still cared about commerce, you can’t miss it.”

I pull up the map on the AR while we talk. That’s where I’m heading. I feel myself stroking the cuff – the bomb – absentmindedly and refocus on Kletus readjusting to eat another bite instead. “You should go get her back. She’s your wife. If you don’t have your family, then you’ve got nothing.”

He thinks for a second as he finishes his last few bites. “That’s good advice. I will. A bit of advice in return: don’t talk to many people. They may treat you like a CapDem” he gave another knowing wink “and they don’t like them at all. Good luck to you though. I hope you succeed at what you are trying to accomplish.” I follow his lead in standing up and I shake his outstretched hand. As expected, a firm grip to show he could be trusted. “Thank you. I didn’t know I needed this conversation so much. I don’t get to talk openly with anyone except Janet. Everyone else would just critique me for being a slave to the past” he says this with an eye roll “or something. This bit of sanity was really nice.” I offer a smile back as we drop the handshake. With that, he turns and walks away.

I sit back down to finish my pasta (it’s indeed Tess’s, even if it was a few days old I would be able to identify her family recipe, and this was only one day leftover). They all need to be saved. That is the only thought that consumes my mind as I sit surrounded – but at the same time separate – from the unwilling drones. More than ever, I can’t look at them as anything more than victims. The Consensus itself is to blame, and – from what Kletus just said – the Consensus cannot remain if the AI is destroyed.

The CapDem leadership must have known all this. That’s why they don’t target people. That’s why they never focus on individuals but the entire community. An idea can’t be blamed or combatted. There is always a hidden group pulling the strings. And it seems – in this case – that group is just the single machine.