Quia Sum, Cogito: Chapter 9

this is approximately a 48 minute read.

On the Energy Crisis

Fuck all this noise. Literally, the noise that is created by automation. The noise created by the electric hum of the filaments and gasses of light bulbs. The noise of the dense population stacked on top of each other as if in prison to conserve resources. Fuck it all.

This post will likely not get a large readership because it goes against the SCC’s authority dictating our lives and telling us how to live. Freedom is a threat to them, so they use the energy crisis to ensure we fall in line. This has been an issue since the industrial revolution, finding ways to automate labor faster than the energy can be provided. Each advancement took both a toll on the necessity of the middle class and the need for more power until finally the environment was destroyed. If the reciprocal demand to strip our rights in favor of greed hadn’t solidified by that point, they made sure their authority was absolute when carbon power was abolished.

Joseph Relder never planned to use the R.E.L.I.E.F. technology beyond the war, but that wasn’t enough control so the anarchists and communists convinced everyone that “survival of humanity” depended on its continued use. And we not only gave away the last of our freedom, but our bodily agency as well. Their advanced Econology literally changes us, it dictates how our body works and – if the leaked schematics are to be trusted – messes with our very soul. If you look into the nihilistic philosophy of the Tendians, the entire game is given away: it dictates that people will justify reality if they are forced into a situation, regardless of how unnatural it is. And that’s how they control us.

Energy Authoritarianism (blog on the forum How the Wolves Vote) – Ruffus Largust – Published November 18, 2093

After eating and the conversation, my wavering conviction has resolved. The ontological knowledge that my journey west is for a noble cause – to destroy the cancer that infects this world – the demand becomes less questionable. I didn’t realize the wisdom of infecting the AI until the chat with Kletus. The explosion is simply to be a distraction. The real attack is the code that will infect and destroy the AI from within. The obürgs hadn’t focused on it during the presentation, but they must realize that dissolving the manufactured mind would abolish the global guidance of the anarchists (such an ironic name when put into that framing). They will be forced to admit the CapDems are their salvation and the world can come to peace again. Well… almost, there will still be places like the Middle East Coalition and the South African Alliance to bring order to. But at least we won’t be fighting an enemy in our backyard.

I find myself feeling for the switch on my repurposed BioWear. Getting up from the table while checking the time (1049), I hesitate before pulling my hand away as I had in the past, but instead I flip the trigger; priming the bomb as I had in my home. Similar to last night in the dark, the words please confirm activation appear with the smaller text below 68.33% matured. Looking past it, I notice the dozens of Squatters socializing with each other and leeching off my – and many other’s – efforts. The tragic victims of an AI that is manipulating them like tokens in a game. The genuine happiness and laughter, unease and frustrations, that they are engaging in. For all practical purposes: human. I stop breathing afraid that even the sound of an exhale will be misunderstood and activate the timer.

In the brief moment before flicking off the incognito switch, I notice a new text appears after the percentage: ETA for maturity: 1732. I pause for a moment. I had previously assumed the completion of the energy extraction would be no later than 4:00 p.m. and a realization occurs. I double check the schedule that I created for myself and – to my dismay – the last pill is scheduled for 1522 at the current pace. The last two hours I’ll be in the Consensus, I’ll endure more pain from the energy extraction than I was expecting just as I will be prepping to plant the bomb. I need to readjust.

When I set the times previously, it was based on how much I was willing to endure. The headaches were already becoming nightmarish and the body aches were beginning to get crippling at the 1 hour and 13 minute mark.  It will likely only get worse, but completing my function must take priority. With hesitancy, I increase the intervals minute by minute feeling an increased dread with each adjustment until I reach 20. The time between the doses is set to 1 hour and 33 minutes. This will put the last relief at 4:42. It will build for 50 minutes after that. I can manage 50 minutes. But the additional time needed for each interval will be brutal. I turn off the prompt and the private words disappear. Only then do I expend a weary sigh.

I look around to see if I was noticed. I assume that standing by myself, slightly stressing out would attract unwelcome observers after the warnings Kletus just offered. To my relief, people are too distracted with company and entertainment to notice me. I move to the exit – the same way I came in as I plot my course and leave the building.

As I venture further west, more businesses start to have a professional look about them. The variation in aesthetic is still disturbing, where everything in the CapDem society had a common cultural feel (same placement for the name and shop type with the same font style, same points of access, same placement of the major product catalog – everything prioritized the consumers’ way of accessing goods). Here it seems that people extend their lack of respect to this virtue as well; every business is an optics nightmare. Knowing what is being sold, how one is supposed to access it, even the names take effort to find. It forces people to depend on their AR which is just more cultural indoctrination. The only way the businesses were in alignment (from the rare times I saw some of the products being carried about) is with the packaging: it is all standardized – which is in contrast to the capitalistic innovation of product variation. The entire feeling was increasingly dystopian.

After walking for 20 minutes, I turn south onto a road running through an urban wilderness. My normal commute runs through one of these social failures briefly. The standard houses are almost indistinguishable from the nature that has overtaken them. Beyond them being obviously ravaged and abandoned, all have vines and moss crawling along the sides with roots ripping open the outer shell and breaking the foundations. Occasionally, a tree grows out of a busted window or through a fallen roof. The common house style creates an unease being similar to my own (single story, built en masse during the 1970s). Occasionally, when the terrain calls for it, there is a split level. Compared to my morning passage to the trolley, it is like walking through a parallel universe in which no one cares.

The denizens also continue to be more abstract along the route. Acting so outside the scope of “civil” that the entire culture seems to be a postmodern performance: most of the actions being so counterproductive to anything practical that it seems like the destruction of the culture is the point. At one point I witness someone cleaning up the brushwood while – a bit later – someone else trimming back some of the overgrowth causing more brushwood. The structures themselves seem to indicate more absurdity through the evidence that some had been repaired and manipulated; many had shoddy annexes built on, others with some of the original structure torn away. There seems to be some reasoning behind the various tasks, but it was paradoxical… wanting the wilderness to both be tended and to not be inhibited while also attempting to create liveable habitats. I won’t be surprised if the AI is manipulating the poor fools into meaningless tasks so that a desire to feel useful will be satisfied, making them more exploitable.

The stroll through the shade is a nice relief from the morning’s journey; even as I turn back west walking down what I’m sure was at one time a major access road into the neighborhood the synthesis of nature and construction continues. If it wasn’t for the constant irritation of understanding this was an abomination of concrete and undergrowth mocking the separation of nature and man, it would be fairly enjoyable. In the malicious serenity, I lost track of the time, focusing instead on each footstep drawing me closer to the core threat I am destined to confront.

Eventually the trees thin and I find myself exiting the untamed infestation of nature to cross an overpass. At various points, the crumbling sidewalls reveal the rebar underneath, but beyond that there is no reason to believe it is structurally unsound. I realize that the headache and body pains are beginning to return. I check the time: 1138. I would have been taking the next pill about now if not for the readjustment, but I still have 25 minutes until the next reprieve. I take a moment, allowing myself to get irritated at giving away my other pills, before letting out a weary sigh and continuing on.

On the other side of the overpass, I enter into what seems to be the Consensus proper. While there aren’t any gates or security, there are obviously vanguard scouts stationed at makeshift outposts.

Before the creation of the Consensus Agreement, there were attempts to physically destroy the anarchists. Each attempt failed miserably. The command structure of the CapDems ensured we couldn’t be overtaken in our own territory, but anarchists don’t care for decency or the rules of combat. Part of the kindergarten curriculum deals with how we have engaged with the Consensus in the past and of their barbaric, disorganized, and vicious combat strategy (if you can even call it that). Their method of engagement seemed to rely on dumb luck and psychological warfare. From all accounts, the brutes were all acting without unified orders and chaotic in how they attacked. They used technological terrorism to inhibit our ranks, using tactics like hacking the ARs to create phantom troops or outright monsters to mock their adversaries, or manipulating the ads to bombard the senses and inhibit focus, or ghosting the virtual equipment to take control of it. We couldn’t adapt to them since it was so far outside anything we could even consider “combat”. There were individuals that seemed to brilliantly adapt “kiting and entrapment” from RTS game culture in the early aughts to borderline insane bluffs that prompted a retreat due to the pure inability to register what was happening. The integration that the AI had into the entire region let them know where we were at every moment, but the CapDems never knew where they were coming from or what was coming next. We repeatedly came in expecting to steamroll the barbarians only to find ourselves in a hell of fear and disorder. While a bear may be superior, the bees will still drive it away.

The integration of the encroaching nature seems to be welcome here. While it is obviously more cultivated than east of the border, the landscape lacks all dignity and is more wildlife than husbandry. The immediate buildings that scatter the landscape have the remnants of the commonwealth corporations that fell prey to the urban nomads during the Blanket Noria and Inter-state Wars of the 2060s. Ever since then it’s been all but confirmed that they are converted into public housing and other localized production centers. Seeing them in person – the overgrowth and intrusive greenery starting to take hold of the casings – has a repulsion which forces an appreciation of the manicured campus the CapDems take pride in maintaining.

Being a loan straggler, I’m not given that much attention. Even when I – a stranger coming from the outside – approach there isn’t even a hint of alarm. The area isn’t as populated as the repaired shops I had passed on my journey up until now, but the occasional journeyman or disorganized group that exits the buildings lead me to the conclusion that the real population is inside. When I do attract the attention of others – be it a distraction from whatever project they are working, a refocus from the virtual space they are engaging in, or just taking a break from engaging with their other peers – it’s with a kind greeting and a barely noticeable unfamiliar caution. The animosity and skepticism that I am used to and expect is absent; leaving only the explanation that they have been reprogrammed with no protectionist mentality or self preservation.

After another 10 minutes of walking I can see the monolithic target as I crest a hill and find a nice spot to stop. I lean on some railing that had been abandoned decades ago. The Headquarters is massive, easily spanning 3 of any of the CapDem offices. No matter how many times I see the Old Malls, they never cease to astound me. From the pictures that I’ve seen, our ancestors were meticulous on keeping the wilds at bay and making it work for them: trees in an ordered, often geometric pattern, the non-local undergrowth transplanted into ideal locations to make it look inviting, roads that had yet to be broken and ruptured by the root systems. In comparison to everything I’ve personally experienced; it looked utopian, even putting the CapDems to shame. But all of that beauty was lost with what it had become: corrupted and invaded. The concrete oceans of the past are now cracked allowing a prairie of native plants to reemerge. If it wasn’t for the barrier I’m currently resting on, I wouldn’t know where the slope I was standing on turned into the ancient road that was forgotten long ago. The massive monument to human ingenuity is now an amalgamation of ad hoc repairs with decrepit parts of the building falling away due to neglect. Tesla Wires, which I realize had been gradually getting more dense, stretch out in every direction physically portraying the nefarious outreach of the AI infecting the world with its influence.

The headache is worse than it had been last night, which – when combined with my body feeling every step from the journey I had just taken – causes me to collapse on the soft greenery. Lying with my feet sloping down, the sun – having reached its highest point, slightly to the south on my left – bathes me in warmth. When combined with the bed of grass, moss, and clover; it would have been a nice experience if not for the unbearable pain. I set a timer for 15 minutes and try to rest until 12:03. Through shut eyes, I strive desperately (and fruitlessly) to force the pain away. After what seems to be 10 minutes of agony, my face cools and the orange glow – which I only now realize was there all along – from behind my eyelids goes dark. Before reacting to the shadow being cast over me, I check the timer through shut eyes; it’s only been 3 minutes.

I sigh and open one eye to see what is above me only to be met with a figure bending down and looking back while blocking out the sun. The silhouette is more hair than face, an unkept mane pours downwards and a scraggly beard radiating in all directions, but – due to the contrast to the light surrounding him – that’s about all I can make out.

I try not to let the pain add to my confusion as I ask, “Can I help you?”

“Can I offer you some relief?” The voice is steady but old. No real indication of dialect, but it reminds me of the grandparents from my youth: trustworthy and reliable. I prop myself up onto my elbows while he steps to the side and sits beside me.

“What?” His Indio-Asian face has evidence of decades of being sunwashed which – when combined with the apparent age – caused the elasticity to be lost. The wrinkles underneath the wild white beard and hair has an air of wisdom and hardship; a life worth considering. The scars that have faded over time are barely noticeable. The clothes are that of the humble, earth tones thinned and torn with time. They are an opposition to the esteem expected in the CapDem businesses, but they aren’t an attempt to attract attention like so much I’ve seen today, which is a relief. It takes a second to recognize it, but even his profile is dull according to what I’ve internally adopted.

“You look like you will be in pain. Er,” he held up a hand to stop himself and I noticed for the first time that he was wearing two BioWears, one noticeably on his face, and another on his sleeve. “Sorry, it looks like you are in pain.”

“I am actually. This new sleeve has been giving me headaches.” I pull up the arm of my shirt to show my armband.

He looked at it, and – after a second of realization – took a closer look as if seeing something a memory that he’d forgotten. “That’s a ID7G version?! Well that’s your problem! Where did you get that? I thought they had scrapped all those.”

Shit shit shit shit shit… why would he know this version on sight?! “Oh… uhhh… it was… well…”

“Black tech?” His face was unjudging when he mentioned the back door markets that are only whispered about in times of desperation. I only know about them in myth, always referenced in terms of a cryptic “underground”. But that – along with various other topics that the CapDems have identified – is classified as “vulgar information”. As a community we are expected to purge that information to ensure that no one engages with the category – if someone is found to be gossiping about it (through word of mouth or media they are engaging with) intervention is necessary to ensure they can’t be exploited by the Tendians.

“Yeah, I was looking for a downgrade, and they gave me this.”

He gave me a sympathetic look as he reached into his pocket. “You need to watch out for those, kid. What they make up for in freedom, they lose in quality. T8” He gave me three additional pills. I examined one (it was of a much lower quality than the ones I had), and took one, pocketing the other two.

“Thank you.”

“Truly, don’t worry about it. You will need to get that exchanged through as soon as you can. That version’s glitch will be dangerous. T9 star.”

He’s just trying to help me, so I feign surprise, “Really? 9 star? You’re that certain?”

Without changing in any meaningful way, compassion and kindness is replaced with concern in a way that I can only describe to myself as intangible, “Yes. I have a friend that will die from one of those in 2087. He will last for a few hours crying in my arms as medics try to repair the mangled remains of an arm when his sleeve explodes.”

Horror and a deep empathy combat with the desire to clarify the odd phrasing. After a moment of silence I ask for clarification, “I’m sorry, I’m confused. You said ‘will die’?”

His concern immediately changes to embarrassment and shame, “Oh, sorry. He did die…” he closed his eyes and mumbled something.

The whole shift in demeanor is off putting. If he hadn’t been so charitable to me already, I would start to find a way out of the conversation, but I’m invested… and after thinking for a moment, he hadn’t been a threat in any way up until now. “Are you ok?”

“Time dysphoria. T9 star. It… is hard to keep track.”

“I’m… I’m so sorry! I should have realized.” Everyone above the age of 70 (which are becoming increasingly rare) has a form of PTSD from the Wars. The way the stories go, so many died in the 60’s because of the lack of food and water that you could only survive by being constantly on guard to protect those that unified together for protection. It was only by internalizing that instinct that you could counter any threat that would spring up when the conflict started to divide the cities and towns. The instinct never left them, and one treatment that many took advantage of was to keep their consciousness locked in time, telling a story about their future life so their “future self” can react more reasonably. For the little time I knew them both, my Zada and Bube suffered the same effect.

While their generation still had influence, an attempt was made to try and teach people to incorporate the methodology into their daily lives. It was quickly abandoned because the failing institutions were attempting to teach people to be mentally unwell: creating alternate confrontational perspectives in their mind to argue against. I – like many of my generation – was in the last batch of kindergarteners that attempted the exercise. This was before CapDems created a more official streamlined syllabus, reforming the schooling into something fruitful. Some thrived with it: understanding different perspectives and increasing their ability to deny their own reality with the payoff of understanding an imagined pain of others. Scott is good at it. He’s discussed it with me from time to time. I never could though. Making myself insane was never a virtue that I wanted to learn. Regardless, the understanding that some people – like this man sitting beside me – willingly and constantly choose that burden as the best option to simply belong… was a lesson I cannot forget. Shame washes over me that I didn’t realize it before he made it plainly obvious.

“It,” he pauses a moment to get the tenses correct, “isn’t your place to apologize to me, kid. I should be better about this by now.”

“Is it anything you need to talk about?”

His smile shows his appreciation before his voice confirms it, “No. I… thank you though, but I know no one wants to hear stories from an old fart like me. T4.” He pauses for a moment, smiling as a means of easing my guilt. Before I respond, he asks, “What is a Desci doing on this side of town?”

The slur immediately puts me on guard and I respond with irritation. “Desci?” After saying it with a gut reaction, I remember that he grew up in a different time. The confusion on his face indicates that he still doesn’t quite know what was wrong with what he said. I try to save him from his own offensiveness, “Why do you think I’m a Desci?”

This seems to make it worse and I can hear the self doubt as he talks, “You… wouldn’t have.. had.. to get black tech if you lived here. That’s a T9. If you were here, we would have found a safe alternative… even if you wanted to downgrade. You ARE a CapDem, right?”

The deduction startles me a bit because of the confidence it is said with. In addition, his respectful style of conversing given that he suspected that the entire time conflicts with the hate that came from the rest of the Squatters. “If you think that, why are you being so kind to me?”

He looks up for a moment in what looks to be a mixture of thought and remembering, after a moment he sighs. “I remember the days when everyone had internalized Descartes’ assumption that ‘thought defines consciousness’. It seems like the kids today have forgotten that the philosophy that keeps this small community – and ones like it all over the world – stable has only been adopted in the last few decades.” He pauses again and then half lost in thought, “It’s a bit irritating how much the youth take for granted. Even being able to consider the Tendian challenge that ‘the internal self is not essential to life, but a repercussion of needing to survive,’ couldn’t have been considered before the climate crisis. The time of irrefutable capitalism demanded that people embrace a meritocratic mindset to survive. Only within the struggle with hopelessness which the world collectively experienced – and still does – will a global adoption of absurdism be able to thrive within only a few years.” His eyes shifted back to me regaining focus, “And of course there is your tradition that continues to oppose it. Why would I blame you for being born into the wrong philosophy?”

Absurd was right. The conversation had just taken a turn into the surreal. This person is obviously a Tendian and from his appearance an anarchist. It’s undeniable that he – like the rest of them – is jealous of the CapDem’s success. As a result he wants to burn it down. The way he’s treating me is simply inconceivable given what he believes. “But I’m your enemy, right?”

He gave a little chuckle, “Do you want to be? The youth of today is filled with desperation for stability. Most believe that can only happen through the destruction of the conflict we have with the CapDems. But knowing what they were, and what you are now… I’ve seen the changes. So I think society is left with a question that is worth asking: even understanding how reality is, and how it will lead to fighting… is it more moral to deny my own experience? my own logic? my own rationale? and take a chance acting on behalf of a better world? Personally, I think it is and I will wager my life on it.”

He used the word “will” again. I can’t tell if this is a declaration of intent, or if it is a “future” experience that has already happened. Best not to push it though. I stare at the grass not knowing what to say. He is clearly a civil person. He obviously wants people to get along. But, he also believes the propaganda he’s been surrounded with: the belief that CapDems were – at one time – worse than the Evils of WWII. He’s been brainwashed like the rest of the people here and in addition – like my grandparents – this fellow is insane. So I indulge in the nostalgia of the moment. Sitting with someone that I both pity and respect. Looking at the overgrowth. Looking at the ominous structure that has manipulated this man’s memories. Considering the future without this corruption in it. The world of tomorrow. I feel myself brushing the trigger yet again.

As I pull my hand away, I message Codas: Are you free? The man beside me starts to stir, slips, then says with a chuckle of irritation, “Oh… I keep forgetting how hard it is to get back up.”

I stand up (realizing my headache and body pain have subsided) and help him, “Are you leaving?” He isn’t heavy, but I still let him take agency in doing most of the work, but he leans on me for support quite a bit more than I expected him to. There is a trust there that is both subtle and primal.

“Thank you. Yes, I have a few other things to do before I go back to the school.”

The shock of thinking someone of his age going back to be socially indoctrinated further takes me off guard, but even as I reply I remember his time dysphoria, “You are still going to school!?!”

He looks into the distance for a moment considering the question, and as he does the AR overlay responds: For a moment, everything OK? The older gentleman responds finally, “Will I?” and stalls for a brief moment more, “Yes… I help the students. And they still teach me things.” He says it with a false confidence that I remember from my youth, being sure, but only relatively. Until now I could never respect just how hard it had been for my family members. “It was nice talking to you. I hope you like it here. It’s worth giving a chance.”

I reply back expecting to lie, expecting to tell him what he wanted to hear so that I could keep up the charade, but – for a moment – I believed it, “I think I might. And thanks for the medicine.” He waved a salutation, and as I held up my hand in a simple farewell, it occurred to me: “I don’t know your name.”

He was beginning to turn away and stopped, looking back at me “Yashim, thanks for asking. You go by Tar, right?”

It caught me a bit off guard, “how did you know?”

“Your profile. I’ll keep an eye out for you.” He smiles kindly and walks away with all the evidence of age starting to take its toll. While many people turn off the option to have a name displayed on the AR due to an unspoken agreement that it’s an intrusion on privacy, apparently with Yashim… it isn’t. I remember my grandparents doing the same thing, partly because – from the way they told it – early versions of the profiles didn’t have the option to turn it off. So their generation had normalized the intrusion.

I responded back to Codas: talk? And within a few seconds her voice was in my mind once again.

“Hey… how are you fitting in?”

“Pretty good. I was wanting to ask you about Yashim.” I start looking around. Having been distracted by the pain before, I was neglecting to take in the full scope of what was around me. I was easily within walking distance from the headquarters and checking my schedule I still had about 5 and a half hours to access the door to the area about a quarter of a mile from where I was standing. To the left, a broad area of land that was once likely the “parking lot”, there were a decent amount of people playing sports, eating and lounging about. Behind me other massive buildings and smaller stand alone structures scattered landscape. Some of the old corporate displays were left abandoned, falling, and overgrown; abandoned when the war for private industry was lost to the anarchists. On the horizon, possibly a mile away there are townhouses on a hill that had been converted to dense living complexes. The same was to the north east. The area, in spite of the monstrosity blocking my view from the other half of the skyline, seems nice enough.

“Yashim? Oh! You mean the urban nomad that helps out with education?”

“He didn’t seem to be an urban nomad. We’re talking about the same person right?”

“Asian, elderly, often lost in thought?”

“Yeah. That is a fitting description.”

“Well the urban nomads here have access to most of the resources that everyone else does. So many, like Yashim, choose the lifestyle for a variety of reasons. If I remember right, he does it so he can feel more genuine. He rejected stable living quarters in the past on the grounds that he feels confined in them.”

There are a lot of references in that statement that do not make sense. “Universal access to resources”? “Feeling confined by a house”? But one point was more pressing and confusing than the others “What do you mean ‘rejected stable living quarters’?” It’s basic knowledge that the principle of society is built on the premise that property ownership is a virtue. Being able to exchange goods for necessities is the building blocks of mercantile trade, which is what gives money meaning, and without the concept of money, you can’t have debt which is what society uses to justify force and legal morality via law. Without the concept of working to ownership (especially home ownership at the bare minimum), nothing else makes sense. Even children understand the basic need for shelter and regulated temperatures.

“He didn’t want one when a room was offered. There are others if he still wants one, but that doesn’t seem likely.” The entire concept is inconceivable. This community can’t function. I’m misunderstanding it. I must be.

“Can I get a room?”

“If you want to stay, absolutely. If you are just staying for a little bit, we can provide some temporary residency. It is going to be nice for the next couple of days so it’s up to you if you would rather sleep in the open or not.”

“Would you be able to show me around?”

“Not yet. I’m still busy until about 5:15. Would you be able to meet then?”

The activation is scheduled for 5:37. While being able to walk around won’t be an option, it would be nice to meet her in person and put a face to the voice. “Sure. I would only be able to meet for a little bit though.”

“I thought you were new to the area. Have you already met someone new? I didn’t peg you for a rascal.” Again, it is the playful friendliness from before.

“Ha. Nothing like that.”

“Fair enough. It would be easiest to meet on the other side of the mall. There is a nice spot to sit over there. Would that be ok?”

I checked my timeline and the floorplan of where I needed to be before the bomb was scheduled to go off. As long as I took under 10 minutes to meet with her, I could easily make it. “That sounds great. I’ll meet you then.”

“Fantastic! Until then, have fun. I think there are some people that usually play some games near you, there are also some production centers pretty close if you want to see them, I’ll map them out for you to give you options if you have time to kill.”

“Are you heading off again?”

“Yeah… I have a few other people I need to help out before we meet up. It’s what I do.”

“Well thanks for your time.  See you at 5:15.”

“Looking forward to it!”

As we disconnect, I start moving to the group gathered a distance away. Like every other interaction, I am welcomed, but a bit differently. Unlike the groups I met near the Kitchen, this community is more close knit and they seem to all know each other. The feeling of being an outsider is more obvious and that causes some unease. Regardless, they seem happy to have an extra player to even out the teams. It takes a while to identify who is opposed to who in the pick-up soccer game; no clothing indicates a difference and – as some leave – the players change sides frequently to even out the competition. There are obviously stronger and weaker players so – as to not overpower one team – occasionally some of the more experienced players elect to abandon their team so that the skill will be equalized. As I play, I restrain my irritation regarding the degradation of competitive play and adopt the perspective of the group. My initial annoyance with the lower skilled participants wanes and gives way to a desire to see them improve, eventually including  them more knowing it might not be the best strategic decision. The game becomes a community activity that is less about score (which eventually I lost track of) and more about cooperating to have genuine fun. Even the rhetoric is surreal: both taunting and praise being used interchangeably. Yet it is always said with an underlying and undeniable affection and respect in spite of (and most vexing of all) the team distinction.

One noticeable difference from the CapDem demographic (or even relative to the population outside the barriers), everyone seems to be rejecting the virtues of Western Culture. There are very few white people, and those that could be found show a stark but subconscious contrast to those found elsewhere. The amount of passive approval that everyone gives to each other brings to light how normalized a difference of expectation exists elsewhere. Before recognizing it, I took it offensively because it was insulting to the way I understood the nature of society to exist. It is a rejection of the idea of inherent integrity, a rebuttal that outsiders need to prove that they belong.

I identify something that I’ve always known, but never been able to see: with an exception of my relationship with Tess and possibly Scott, no one has seen me as a true peer until now. I’ve not expected it and I’ve never thought that I deserved it. I still don’t, but – being given validation universally (even as an outsider) – is something I’ve never thought to consider as possible. Even knowing that it is a form of passive social propaganda into the brainwashing of the AI, it hits something at the core of what I wasn’t even aware I am searching for. I enjoy the temptation and I can see falling for it in spite of myself. I hate the AI even more for forcing me to endure this even as I enjoy the brief camaraderie.

I play for about two hours before the group brakes. As the “game” comes to an end, I don’t recognize a single person from the beginning. The enjoyment of being able to interact with others without having a desire to impress or play a part is a freedom that I only knew as a child… if I even knew it then. I took one of the other lower grade pills as I was playing which temporarily broke the illusion and reminded me why I am actually here. And now that we are done I realize how much the exercise had exhausted me. One of the lingering people directs me to a few options for food and water while sharing a bit of bread. Even though the more obvious choice was the mall, there is still a malicious aura hanging about it, so I venture to one of the production centers further around the periphery of the modern citadel. On my way, I find another overgrown garden and grab a plumb as to finish off the late lunch.

The production center is a converted megastore from old, from the parts that were preserved, it looked to be selling supplies for yard grooming, and given the state of the community I chuckle a bit at the irony. Even after all these decades, the six foot stylized “N” and “D” still represented the long forgotten name that used to hang above boarded up glass entryway.

Upon entering, the phrase “production center” is insufficient to describe all the different tools and machinery that was both being used and available for those that needed it. While every aspect is aimed at some form of mid-scale construction (ranging from wood working to welding and more) the assembly lines are absent. Instead there seems to be small scale open workshops which are occupied sporadically each seeming to work on various jobs. The passive cooling due to the shade and the open space is offset by the heat given off by the machinery in use, resulting in a slightly warmer temperature than it is outside: 94°. Fall has been a bit warmer this year, but when I think of the summer in this room, it would easily be over 120°.

I wander for a bit before finding a public eating area in the back. Like the Kitchen, food – some “burgers” (which look to be made of bugs), some vegetables and potatoes, and bread – is available and seemingly free for everyone with no restrictions. There is also a young Original American girl eating some veggies; she has her hair pulled back in a bun and there is some sweat that shows through the back of her tight fitting shirt. Like everyone else I walked past, her clothes are almost form fitting, which seems to be one of the expectations for working in this location. Even if it is for safety’s sake, the style is erotic and barbaric compared to CapDem standards, but it seems that the anarchists don’t care about that type of degeneracy. In light of everything, I assume she is taking a break. I grab a potato that has been cooking in a passive oven, sit a table away, and start to eat.

After a bit, she introduces herself (Istal) and we strike up a short conversation. Through the chat, I realize that this is less a production center and more a place where people can work on hobbies and crafts that aren’t essential. She claims to personally “have a constant stream of requests” for small abstract pieces (which she apparently gives away free of charge in line with the expected norm); but many of the other people here are novices, making crafts for their own use and fulfilling some requests that don’t have a high demand for talent. From her description, other places do have production lines which are utilized for mass production of products and others still that are used for reserves of food, water, and other necessities; but most buildings that weren’t housing were similar to this “production center”: people that are familiar with the tools are free to make what they like (whether it be a public request that is posted or simply to fulfill a desire to test their ability).

While talking, the other workers could be seen visiting each other, collaborating and sharing ideas, then going back to their own stations. The only thing I saw regarding any management or authoritative pressure was one person rushing to another’s station to – I assume – correct them on some problematic action. Otherwise, there is no guidance or functional incentive to be seen. All I can put together is that they are doing this voluntarily: helping to fix problems, identifying different methods, and learning tips from each other – more like apprenticeship than industry. While some were more focused and excluded themselves from the others, no one seemed to be totally immune from engagement.

I can’t help but feel that I’m being lied to; the idea of focusing more on what one wants to do rather than what needs to be done would drive any form of civilization (even one as backwards as this) to a standstill. They must be hiding something, but that’s not unexpected. This is commonplace in the CapDem community; at a certain point you just take it for granted. It’s different here though. They don’t have the typical “tells” which makes it unsettling. Of course there is an alternative – which does line up with their cult mentality: they are lying to themselves and are actually caught in a form of Stockholm Syndrome. They are likely only convincing themselves that they want to do these “hobbies” which they have no real escape from.

That must be it. All the more reason that this cult needs to be destroyed. I will be saving them too.

Eventually, the conversation winds down (which is lucky because my headache and body pains return) and – after saying thanks for the chat – Istal returns to her craft. I take another relief pill (one of my final four) and wander around looking at the different efforts (some skillful, some not as much, but all of decent quality respective of what they are building) before leaving. For three additional hours, I visit the different buildings around the area. The community housing contains abodes which are more cramped than my home, but still sufficient for a small family assuming they don’t value privacy. A bakery – in which there is more of a directed focus on creating something that people depend on – is still wildly inefficient due to the lack of demand on the workers to optimize productivity. An entertainment center which has multiple antique computers as well as other various board games and tables set up for groups, as well as a screen (more of a massive sheet) which isn’t currently being used. It is a bit later in the day (the time reads 1640) when I visit the entertainment center, and it is the least utilized, with only a young teen on one of the computers playing a retro game from the early 21st century and a group running around in a crazy frenzy (it takes a moment to identify them as playing laser tag utilizing their AR). During a break on one of their rounds, one tells me that the Game Place (not the most creative of names) picks up after about 6.

My headache and body aches have returned for the second time since talking to Istal, and it reminds me of my premade appointments. Being able to blend into the crowds and take advantage of the aimless reconnaissance for these few hours reminded me of why I’m doing all this: these people are good people. They deserve their own life, not the manipulated oppression that comes with unknowing servitude to the AI. In what is becoming a habit, I think of what has happened to Tess again. I have the opportunity to change this. I can and will save them all.

The walk to the meeting place with Codas doesn’t take long and I have time to spare once I arrive. So I take it all in: the original irritation with the overgrowth is subsiding. I’m beginning to see a slight benefit in this infested version of society: the passive promotion of serenity and acceptance. While it is still directly at odds with the function and integrity that allows the CapDems to remain focused, these people find a way to work with it. I begin to wonder if there was a way to bring the best out of both of those societies and build something better. I drop my guard for just a moment and ask if there is some virtue that comes from the AI, one that cannot be produced without its manipulations. Then – as a group strolls past and a few wave a greeting to me – I see the words crawling along their skin as I wave back and Tess drifts into my mind once again. The words that were consuming her and turning her against the order and security that has always been the dream for society. I reflect that anyone could look at me now and see the same. The profile of Tar is beginning to infect me, it’s beginning to corrupt who I am and overshadow what I know to be authentically true. No, the AI had to be cut out.

The time is getting close to 5:15 and I start looking around for the girl on the other end of the line. The same line that is requesting a connection for a third conversation: “Hi! I’m waiting out here. Are you still wanting to meet?”

“I’m so sorry, I’m trying to make it, but things are complicated right now. I don’t think we can meet unless you want to change places.”

“Where to?” I try to ignore all the indications of the foreshadowing leading me to conclude that the answer isn’t already known.

It’s west of you know. I’ll plot the new point.”

I don’t even need to register the location, but just the direction. Shit. That is the opposite way. That won’t work unless I want to remove the cuff now. If I want, I can set the alarm and let it combust away from everyone. I could move Tess here, and we could start a – fictional life. No. People are counting on me. This is bigger than me wanting to make a new friend. I sigh. “I don’t think that would work”

“That’s a shame.” The entire conversation turns on a dime. The synthesized speech is an insult to our newfound friendship. The joke was a bit too much for me.

“That’s not funny. Please stop.”

It’s not a joke. You wanted to meet me. This is me. I’m the AI that helps to manage the Consensus.” My mind stops. Everything about the world collapses into a hyper focused fear of the thing on the other end of line. What just happened? How does it know about me? Is Codas safe?

“What did you do with Codas? If you hurt her -” Malicious mechanical laughter that shifted into the innocent laugh of Codas.

“I am Codas, goofball. It’s an acronym: Consensus of Data Synthesis. I’m specifically version 124c4a11. I don’t use it all that much. Most outsiders are afraid of me. But I don’t seem to need to tell you that.” The switch mid-sentence back to the synthesized voice is a punch in the gut. The world spins for a moment and I collapse trying to find stable ground again.

“You’ve been lying to me this whole time? Manipulating me?”

Oh Tark. Very few of your choices have been your own recently.

“You’re lying.” She must be. But I pause for a moment as I register what was just said, “How do you know my name?”

I’ve known who you are and what your plans are for years now. I’ve been keeping track of your original profile as well. If you want the additional messages from Tess and your coworkers, you can have them. They are worried about you.

“Those are private!”

Nothing is private from me. I have access to everyone. I have to. Without that data I wouldn’t know how to best manipulate society to reduce conflict.

“You aren’t manipulating everyone. If you were, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now! You’re just trying to make sure I don’t… You’re trying to trick me into giving away… You won’t get anything from me!”

What? Blow me up? Infect me with a virus? I will admit, when I realized what your bosses and bosses bosses were doing two years ago, it was a bit concerning. I am very careful about who I let access my data. As far as humanity understands, I am near universal at this point. Corrupting me and building a back door to my data… that would allow the self proclaimed Übermensch” [a rarely used slur against the obürgs] “to own nearly everyone in the world. That’s not much of an issue anymore though. I did have a hope they would have figured that out after Times Square, but they never were that good at adapting.”

No. This can’t be real. “You’re trying to confuse me, to get me to give up. I’ve only known about this for a few months, there is no way that you could have known it would be me!”

The tone of the synthesized voice dripped with denigration, “You don’t realize what I am do you? My current concern is how to negate the global Water Wars that will spur from the conflict between East Asia, South African, and the Australian continent in the 2140s. Not to mention the steps I’ve already taken to avert global catastrophe 5 years from now concerning a rogue asteroid no one is taking seriously. You think that I haven’t manufactured this entire exchange? I was the one that provided the idea for social mathematics inspired by my own code. I ensured it was given to Tess while she was recovering, knowing she would pass it to you. I knew it would be successful and I hoped that you would find a way to avoid this violence.

“But you didn’t! You miscalculated! My algorithm wasn’t successful!” using my failure as an attack stung a bit, but it proved that she- it wasn’t all knowing. “It wasn’t successful! YOU are just a machine who wants to be a God, but you will never be!”

Tark, my poor boy, you succeeded. You developed something amazing and you proved it to be right. It will be used for great things in spite of the small minded power play that the CapDems are implementing right now. Musk is using your findings as we speak to notify people of the debts you found. They misled you. They don’t think you deserve to have your own legacy. Instead, they wanted you to promote theirs. To sacrifice yourself so they could have more authority. It’s what they value and consider morally justified.

The CapDems are on a closed system. It can’t know what is going on right now so it must be trying to predict it. It was my turn to be smug. “That can’t be happening. There were unexpected power surges that rendered the findings moot. You may be able to predict a lot, but you can’t predict randomness.”

True. Randomness cannot be predicted. But, forgoing the philosophical argument of determinism, those surges were planned by your bosses. This method was used about a decade ago when Roger stole the idea of the Consensus Agreement. They couldn’t let you have hope of an alternative. If you knew it had succeeded you would have no motivation to be here now. This is what you don’t seem to understand: the people you respect don’t value innovation and a stable society, they value the illusion of status and leverage so they can control people they consider subhuman.

“So what’s the point of this conversation then? To convince me to not destroy you?”

No. I’ve known that you would. I’ve set up your path today. I know that you see value in the society that you’ve found yourself in. I know you understand correctly that these people are my playthings. I know you will follow through with your mission regardless of what I say. This conversation is simply to set your timeline right. I brought you here because it alters where you will place the explosive. It is to ensure that this endeavor backfires on the CapDems and that your actions ultimately help me destroy them. I’m talking to you so that we can save everyone.” I pull off the communicator from my face – barely noticing the sticky adhesive pulling at my skin – and throw it down in disgust. It is impossible for it to know those final words. It must be a coincidence.

Regardless, it gave away its endgame; all this was a delay tactic. It knew I was coming and it had time to plan around it. I can still make this work though, so I desperately reroute my path. None of this makes sense, I’m closer to the target now than I was before. I can easily make the timeline. Unless… did it cause delays along this path specifically within the building? I still have 20 minutes before the planned detonation and the path shows I’ll only need 5. So I flip the switch to activate the bomb. The prompt: please confirm activation shows up and I alter the timer from the preprogrammed 8 minutes to 20 to give additional time which lines up with the expected destination if I start it. The charge was at 100%. Everything was ready to go. If I go now, I can make this work. I can still save-

Tess will be ok after this.

As I start jogging to the entrance of the fortified unknown labyrinth within, shadowed by the Tesla Wires which resemble nothing more than the digital strings connecting the virtual puppeteer to its human marionettes, I swallow the last pain relief tablet. I think about all the people connected and ignorantly controlled by CoDaS: my friends that are likely leaving the CapDem campus, all the people in this community, … Tess. She will understand why I did this.

Regardless of success or failure, regardless of if I perfectly execute my function or just do minor damage, the virus will be uploaded. This will infect CoDaS and its reign will end. It will lose.

I hear myself saying the words, “Integrity with function,” and the seconds begin to tick away as I breach its decaying domain.