FEDERICO PISTONO
A TALE OF TWO
FUTURES
ii
A TALE OF TWO FUTURES
http://www.federicopistono.org
COPYRIGHT ©2014–2015 FEDERICO PISTONO
COVER DESIGN – FEDERICO PISTONO
BOOK DESIGN – FEDERICO PISTONO
PROOFREADING – ADAM WATERHOUSE
CREATESPACE – DECEMBER 22, 2014
ISBN–10: 1505656311
ISBN–13: 978-1505656312
SOME RIGHTS RESERVED
iii
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Contents
Introduction vii
Acknowledgements xi
1 ## 0-000 ## 1
2 ## 1-000 ## 7
3 ## 0-001 ## 17
4 ## 1-001 ## 23
5 ## 0-010 ## 35
6 ## 1-010 ## 45
7 ## 0-011 ## 55
8 ## 1-011 ## 67
9 ## 0-100 ## 75
10 ## 1-100 ## 87
Final Remarks 95
v
Introduction
The more you know about science, the harder it be-
comes to write good science fiction. Anyone can take
an idea, maybe inspired by some Hollywood sci-fi block-
buster, grab a laptop, start typing, and make stuff up along
the way. If you understand a little bit about science, tech-
nology, and most of all society, you’ll realise that there
arent many credible science fiction stories around (with
some notable exceptions).
We have a very bad record of predicting the future.
Almost anything written before the 1970s offers no sug-
gestion of the possibility of the emergence of the Internet,
or anything that resembles it which is one of the most
remarkable events in history, and certainly the most relev-
ant of the last 40 years. There are countless stories, set at
least a century from now, that still have people driving cars
and working 9-5. There may be noiseless flying cars, using
some miraculous technology currently unimaginable, but
you can be sure that humans are still driving them.
Typically, science fiction stories are not about the fu-
ture. In reality, they are stories about the present, plus
some fancy new gadgets. Yet, fundamentally speaking,
vii
viii INTRODUCTION
three things remain unchanged: the human condition
that has dominated most cultures so far (competition, jeal-
ousy, and the search for power), labour for income, and
the infinite growth paradigm.
I understand that its easier to have familiar elements
in the story to facilitate the connection between the char-
acters and the reader. One needs to identify with the
people and the stories to feel empathy, to be captured,
to be drawn into the universe of the book. Thats alright
if you write historical novels, or if you want to indulge
your readers with fantasy stories. But if you write science
fiction, I think this approach is a cop out.
If we want to show how humanity may evolve, if we
want to inspire our fellow humans to create a better ver-
sion of society, we must transcend our present condition.
And while many might think that this implies cognitive
enhancements, cyborgs, or even mind-uploading and the
transcendence of the body altogether; I think those are
neither necessary, nor sufficient conditions (and perhaps
not even desirable) in order to achieve real transcendence.
Its our intention, our purpose, that drives us. It’s our
purpose that makes us proactively do things, rather than
be driven by inertia. And depending on the purpose we
have, depending on the goals we set for ourselves, results
may vary substantially.
In a linear and mostly predictable world, the worst
that can happen is usually not that bad, and one has the
time to remediate. But in an exponentially changing and
chaotic environment, a few misaligned steps at the begin-
ning might result in a horrifying, terrible future; and the
ix
errors we make will be exponentially more difficult to fix.
And so it is my goal to present you with (what I think
are) two plausible futures, given where we are now and
what we know today. They are parallel stories, set in a
pre-singularity world, a few decades from now.
Beware that these two stories do not follow the usual
Campbellian monomyth of the heros journey, described
by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces as
follows: A hero ventures forth from the world of common
day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabul ous forces
are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the
hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the
power to bestow boons on his fellow man. Almost every
story – from Star Wars to Harry Potter, from The Matrix to
The Lord of The Rings – follows this basic pattern. If that
is what youre expecting from this book, then you should
stop reading now, or else youre in for a disappointment.
I decided not to follow the monomyth structure. There
is no call to adventure, no trial and quest, no unexpected
turn of events, no ascension, no apotheosis, and no atone-
ment. An acute reader might ask themselves why in the
galaxy have I decided to commit a novelist’ suicide, and
diverge from the typical narrative structure that works so
well, and generally sells accordingly. The answer is simple:
the raison d’être of this book is to show a realistic, aver-
age day in a life, in two diverging futures, without false
pretences or literary stretches (well, not too many).
My aim is to attempt to show credible scenarios with
which anyone can identify, however foreign or far-fetched
they might look at first.
x INTRODUCTION
Please note that I dont think the real future will be
like the ones I’m describing. I would be mad to believe
that I could foresee exactly how things will unfold. I am
merely presenting you with a perspective, something to
think about, which might influence your decisions; and
this in turn will become part of the system of feedbacks
loop that truly governs everything that happens.
I cant tell you what do to, or even how. But I can
show you something you might not have thought about
before. My feeling is that both the dystopias and the uto-
pias usually presented in popular culture are really quite
underwhelming, no more than a pallid shadow of what
could actually happen. In other words, I believe the future
will either be beautiful beyond imagination; or dismay-
ingly horrifying, much worse than sci-fi dystopias have
prepared us for.
The choice is up to us all.
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank the following people for helping
me in this journey. First, Daniele Mancinelli, for starting
discussions of exploratory engineering many years ago
with me, which were the initial inspiration for this novel,
and I suspect for many other stories that will follow.
Adam Waterhouse, who edited and proofread the en-
tire book with kindness and professionalism.
Hannu Rajaniemi, an accomplished sci-fi writer and
visionary who has given me invaluable advice in trans-
forming this novel into an actual story.
And lastly, to all of you, who have supported and
shared my vision of the future, whom I dedicate this and
future works.
xi
CHAPTER 1
## 0-000 ##
It was early morning. Tom woke to the sound of the
alarm clock, directly built inside his cochlea. No point in
trying to turn it off, it wouldnt. There was no off button.
Besides, even if he tried to hack it, it would have been
reported to The Company and he would have been fined
for being voluntarily late for work, or worse.
He was expected to be at the office on time, every
morning, every day. For as long as he could remember,
he had always been expected to be somewhere on time,
no excuses. At first it was his long years in school, then
university came along, and now it was the office. The
office! He realised he had fooled around enough, it was
time to get a move on.
Tom moved towards the kitchen, slowly, his eyes
blinded by the bright artificial lights, dragging his body
around to try and get it to move. The electronic display on
the fridge showed animations of products to buy. It was an
endless stream of advertisements, so familiar to him that
he didnt even notice it. The 100-inch screen TV, as big as
1
2 CHAPTER 1. ## 0-000 ##
the entire wall, turned on automatically as he approached
it.
Advertisements again, followed by quick news reports.
Two people had been killed during a food riot, just outside
the walls of the inner district, where the wealthy lived.
Where Tom lived.
Jesus.. . mumbled Tom, looking at his concentrated
drink with added sugars and proteins. “They’re always
making trouble. Why the fuck? Well, they made their
choice. Not my problem.
Situations like these made Tom a little uncomfortable,
and gave him a vague sense of disgust. It was the same
disgust that he had felt when he had found a cockroach
under his bed once. Once. Since that incident, he had con-
tacted a company that specialised in bug extermination to
clean up his apartment. When the operators came, they
released a swarm of nanobots to get rid of those repugnant
blattaria annoyances. After having annihilated the insects
in the house, the nanobots, invisible to the human eye,
scavenged every millimetre of the apartment, targeting
the eggs before they hatched. A paid monthly subscrip-
tion kept the nano-sized machines working, giving Tom a
sense of security. He never had to go through that horrible
feeling again.
A notice window popped up on his retinal implant
his subscription service for ultra HD-TV had been re-
newed, and his credit card charged automatically. Another
notice, but this time it was a warning. Nine more minutes
and he would be late for work. Given the traffic it would
take approximately 76 minutes and 23 seconds to reach
3
the office, and the sensors in the house would reveal to
The Company that he was late, reducing credits from his
salary instantaneously.
Okay, I’d better make a move, I’ve got enough prob-
lems already, dont need to add that to the list,” he thought.
Tom promptly moved towards the exit that went dir-
ectly into the elevator pod. He didnt like the idea of cross-
ing paths with his neighbours, and so he tried to avoid
contact as much as possible.
But, there he was.
It was the guy from the 87th floor. Tom didnt know his
name, but his Armani suit spoke louder than his meaning-
less name. And that smirky smile of self-assurance, the
perfect jaw line, surgically altered, the flawless Oxford ac-
cent, everything was a reminder that he was better than
him.
He was richer.
“Thomas! So good to see you. What a wonderful day,
isnt it?”
Tom came out with the best fake smile he could make
up, then accessed his retinal aid to display information
about the guy whose name he didnt want to remember.
“Robert! Wonderful day, yes. In fact, I just got a pro-
motion.
Oh, that’s great! So tough these days, but you are on
the roll. Good for you!”
Tom knew that lies were short-lived in the era of emo-
tion detector implants, and he was pretty sure that Bob
the fucking perfect guy had a better model than he. But
he had to say something, he couldnt just stand there and
4 CHAPTER 1. ## 0-000 ##
take all that shit from him. Wonderful day! How dare he
says that, the rotten Oxford educated bastard. He might as
well have wiggled his cock in front of his face saying, “Suck
it, boy. Suck it good.
Oh, that’s my stop. Have a great day Thomas.
“Yeah, you too Robert,” Tom replied unconvincingly,
feeling relieved that he wouldnt have to interact with the
useless prick for the rest of the day.
Ground floor. Tom reached his 6-month old Toyota,
which reminded him of the ad he saw in the elevator. The
new model had already come out, and it was 23% faster
and 17% more powerful. It also had a more aggressive
look, and you could tell it was designed for better people.
“I bet Bob-the-prick has one already, maybe even two,
he thought.
Suddenly, Tom hated his car. He hated that dreadful
colour, the effeminate look of its shape, the uninspiring
tyres with no character. But most of all, he hated what
he saw on the side window. His figure appeared in full
flesh, reflected out from the nanotech fabric with perfect
refraction of light, showing him, even clearer than before,
the kind of loser that he was.
The car opened as Toms subcutaneous implant sent
the information out, which in turn notified his superiors
that he was on track. Just in time. Seven more minutes and
he would have been in trouble. Three of his colleagues
had already been fired only last month – some guy at the
company wrote a new algorithm that had essentially made
them obsolete. Tom knew that this was not an isolated
event. He saw a pattern, moving faster and faster, and he
5
had no intention of giving his bosses a reason to doubt his
usefulness in The Company.
He got in the car.
“The Office,” he said in a firm voice.
The vehicle started to move on its own. As he was lying
down, trying to look at the stream of news in the financial
feed, his proprietary cognition implant detected the sense
of unease, and offered a new drug that had just been re-
leased for reducing the anxiety that he was experiencing.
Tom approved it right away, 200 credits were deduced from
his account, and the order was made.
Relief. His breathing started to get deeper. Pleasure.
The drugs were flowing throughout his circulatory system.
Bliss. No need to wait for the delivery boy his neural
implant already had the recipe for many drugs, years to
come into the future. It was just a matter of releasing
the right stimuli, which was only possible through the
proprietary technology and that remained locked for
the benefit of the pharmaceutical company that built the
device. All Tom had to do was to release enough credits
from his account by thinking it, and, for a few moment, he
could experience heaven.
Tom allowed the narcotics to engulf him. As the feel-
ing of synthetic euphoria began dominating his body, his
mind was finally free of stress, liberated from the appre-
hension and fearful anguish that characterised his daily
routine. And there, in that moment of peace, an image
appeared to his mind, clear and warm. A face. Two faces. A
smile, the joyous sound of laughter. He couldnt recognise
who the faces were, nor where they came from. But that
6 CHAPTER 1. ## 0-000 ##
memory, that crystal yet inexplicable image of the past,
was, without a doubt, the happiest of recollections.
Lost in a sea of artificial tranquility he floated above
the surface, lulled by reminiscences of his forgotten par-
ents. And in that digital cradle, he fell into a foetal position,
attached by an invisible umbilical chord to the synaptic
string of The System, where his mind was free to roam
among his happiest memories, which, however ephem-
eral they might be, were peaceful and joyful nonetheless.
But the fugacious nature of this state was a reminder
that things dont last, especially good things. Tom was
rapidly approaching The Office, in his monospaced auto-
mated vehicle. That much he knew. But unlike other days,
unbeknown to him, this was the day that would mark the
beginning of his demise.
CHAPTER 2
## 1-000 ##
Shandala was still sleeping, when the nanotech cur-
tains incorporated into the window itself slowly started to
open up, morphing the molecular structure of the glass,
letting the first rays of light of the day into the bedroom.
The smart windows were connected to the central
system of the house, which analysed Shandalas sleeping
habits, and was able to predict when she was about to
come out of the REM phase; giving her the easiest, most
natural, and pleasurable transition towards the awakened
state.
A soft and pleasant music began resonating through-
out the room. As more light came in, Shandala opened
her eyes, slowly. It took her a moment to realise that she
was awake; the sound was perfectly blended with the im-
ages in her dreams, as if it were playing a soundtrack to
them. She smiled, stretching her arms and legs against the
blankets, feeling the fabric with her skin.
“Mmm,” she mumbled.
Good morning, Shandala.
7
8 CHAPTER 2. ## 1-000 ##
The voice was calm and warm, humane. But it was the
voice of AMI, the network of computers and sensors that
managed the house in its entirety and assisted Shandala
in everything she needed.
AMI stood for Amicable Machine Interface, and it was
exactly what its name implied. AMI oversaw every op-
eration in the house, made sure everything was working
correctly, and offered Shandala help whenever she needed
it. It was also short for ‘AMIcus, the Latin word for ‘friend’.
“Shhhhut up,” she barely spoke, noticeably sleepy.
“You have to wake up, Shandala.
“Ten minutes!”
“Last night you told me to wake up you gently at first,
which I did.
Shandala didnt move.
“You then said that I should get heavier if you didnt
react.
No reaction.
Okay, I’ll start the sirens then.
“Ten minutes!” she shouted, throwing the pillow at the
window.
Oh yes, and most importantly, you specifically told
me not to bargain with your usual ‘ten minutes’ rhetoric.
“You dont tell me what to do.. . she whispered, still
very sleepy, and grumpy.
The default version of AMI was accommodating and
polite. Which, from the point of view of someone like
Shandala meant that it was utterly boring.
“Hey, it if were up to me, youd be sleeping ’til tomor-
row if you wanted. It was you who told me yesterday that,
9
no matter what, I must. ..
“Shut it!”
Alright then. As you wish. But when you eventually
do wake up, I dont want to hear your lazy-ass complaining
like before. said AMI.
Alright, alright, I’m getting up.
Atta girl”.
A few moments went by.
“My sensors tell me that youre still not moving.
“Youre not moving either!” Shandala retorted.
“Well, moving is a concept that applies to individual
entities with a body of some sort, AMI replied, Given that
I’m made of hundreds of integrated components and that
my body is essentially the entire house, the idea of moving
around seems rather silly. You, on the other hand, have a
body specifically evolved for the purpose of moving, and
youve programmed me with the goal of making sure your
body does what it’s intended to!”
“Mmmm, stupid electronic smarty pants.
Come on, I’ve got the bathtub warm and ready.
“Fine!” said Shandala resolutely, moving around on
her back, looking up at the ceiling. She chuckled, feeling
happy and satisfied with the training that she had given
AMI to adapt to her personality.
Alright, let’s begin!” she shouted, clapping her hands
together and jumping up on the bed.
The nano-curtains suddenly opened up completely,
engulfing the house with natural sunlight. The music im-
mediately matched the new lighting conditions, and a
fast, upbeat tempo shook the room up. Shandala, singing
10 CHAPTER 2. ## 1-000 ##
loudly and unselfconsciously, moved towards the bath-
room, where a warm bath was waiting for her.
The water was recycled from the roof, and automatic-
ally warmed up by the excess heat collected in the building
during the nightly operation, coupled with the hot water
storage of high efficiency nano-solar collectors that were
installed on roofs, windows, and walls. Almost every single
joule of energy in the house was collected, utilised, and
then re-entered into The System; wasting only the bare
minimum. Every need in the house was provided for, and
all through renewable, decentralised energies, managed
by Open Systems, created by and for the community at
large.
All of the data concerning Shandala and the house
was, of course, private, and for her use only, unless she
decided otherwise. Years before, many people concerned
with the growing loss of privacy – started implementing
Open Systems that allowed anyone to safely store personal
information, such that it could not be accessed by either
governments or corporations, without the persons explicit
consent. People owned their personal data, and this fact
had become so widely accepted and ubiquitous that it
wasnt even a concern anymore. It was a given.
Shandala, like everyone else, felt safe in the comforting
knowledge that she was all watched over by machines of
loving grace.
She stripped, leaving her pyjamas on the floor, and
slowly immersed her body in the bathtub. Her skin was
soft and healthy, olive-coloured. Her dark, long hair con-
trasted with her large, bright green eyes that shone and
11
gleamed with peaceful joy. Her face wasnt perfect by any
means. Her left eyebrow was slightly longer than her right,
and in general there was something asymmetrical about
her features. By looking at her, one would certainly not sus-
pect a genetically engineered perfect design, but she was
beautiful nonetheless. She had a special blend of charm
and idiosyncrasies that made her quite attractive. While
many people did manipulate the genome of their chil-
dren, it was done predominantly for disease prevention,
few bothered to fiddle with it for purely aesthetic reasons.
Shandala was the child of a generation that mixed and
blended genes and culture; that lived healthily by cleaning
up the air and the oceans; that ate good food and exercised
properly, rendering most causes for disease obsolete.
Shandala let the warmth of the water go through her
body, appreciating first the immediate feeling on her skin,
then expanding it through the mental image of those little
molecules moving faster and faster against her body, cre-
ating the sensation of warmth. She chuckled.
“What’s on for today?” said Shandala in a normal, yet
lively voice.
“Many messages, but really two major pieces of news.
The results from the lab came back,” said AMI.
“Really?!” Shandala rose with excitement, spilling
some water out of the bathtub. The smart nanofabric
of the floor absorbed the droplets automatically, recycling
them back into AMI.
“Show me, she said firmly, throwing her hands up
in the air, encouraging the machine to proceed. A three-
dimensional holographic display appeared in front of her,
12 CHAPTER 2. ## 1-000 ##
displayed on her nanoscaled, invisible, and painless con-
tact lenses. A stream of genetic code, proteins, and chem-
ical bonds was flowing around her. She moved her hands
in the air slightly, manoeuvring the molecules around with
deep curiosity. Then she stopped, satisfied.
“Do you think this result is final?” she asked.
“It’s difficult to say with the data available at the mo-
ment. It’s likely that more research would give additional
insights. Should I run another simulation?” AMI asked.
“Yes, please. But this time change it, and use the B1-J
mutation. Actually, why dont we ask Asa?”
AMI proceeded in calling Asa. Moments later, his face
appeared crystal clear, on the holographic display, exactly
as if he were there with Shandala.
“Morning Asa!” said Shandala. She was as lovely as
ever, Asa thought.
Good morning Sha-uh!” Asa stopped and squinted
his eyes, trying to figure out if there was something wrong
with the image transmission. “Is that your bathroom? Wait
a second, are you. . . naked?”
Oh yeah, whatever. Listen up boy, got great news,
she leaned against the border of the bathtub, crossing her
hands on top of it. “I think we got it.
“What? What have we got?”
“You know, that thing weve been working on for
weeks. ..
”You mean the B1-T?”
She nodded.
“So we finally found the cure for B1-T mutation that
leads to pancreatic cancer?” he added with a sudden in-
13
credulity.
“Not quite, she corrected him. “It looks promising,
but I want to double check with the B1-J mutation, and
run another simulation. What do you think?”
Okay, I’m checking the data now,” he took a moment
to analyse it. “It’s very interesting, yes. Do you want to
publish this?”
“Mmm, yeah. Let’s publish on Open Research, but
suppose we think the results are not final, and that we
need help testing further?”
Of course they’re not final! I’m sure someone will
come up with something new in no time. It shouldnt hold
us back from publishing though,” he paused, pondering,
“Lets do it!”
“Yay!” cheered Shandala, throwing her arms up in the
air, feeling fantastic.
The joy and satisfaction of their own accomplishment
merged with the still greater joy and satisfaction of being
part of a society in which scientific knowledge and pro-
gress was shared and utilised for the benefit of all. Shan-
dala loved being part of that grand project, but deep down,
she longed for something even greater.
Asa looked at her and smiled lovingly. He understood
Shandalas joyful enthusiasm for the societal project that
they lived within and formed a small part of; but his own
logical and analytical nature didnt allow him to feel and
express emotions in quite the same way as her. For him
using free knowledge for the benefit of all of society was
simply a practical expression of an understanding of the
shared nature of knowledge itself, and reflected a recog-
14 CHAPTER 2. ## 1-000 ##
nition of the empirical oneness of all humankind. Any
other system would be an insult to human intelligence,
a perverse perpetuation of the values of self-interest and
tribalism – values from earlier times which simply looked
absurd from the vantage point of the post-scarcity world
of global collaboration and abundance in which they now
lived.
Okay, naked girl, get some clothes on and come by”
said Asa, shaking himself out of his reflections “I’ve got a
call from Mari. She said she can teach you violin now that
shes back from her trip.
Oh, right!” she shouted, making no effort to hide her
excitement, Gotta go. Love you, even though you are
just a boring boy with clothes on, she said in a slightly
provocative fashion.
“Ha-ha. Come by and we can put a remedy to that,
replied Asa, with a slightly mischievous smile.
“You wish.
They laughed, as she stopped the connection.
“You like teasing him, dont you?” said AMI.
Give me a break, you know I’m joking.
“I know, but I’m an artificial entity capable of rational
thought at all times. Your friend Asa, on the other hand, is
filled with testosterone and other hormonal and biologic-
ally induced impulses that need to be satisfied and might
affect his understanding of the signal you put out.
Oh, shut up AMI.
“In other words, we know that you were just teasing
him, but he might not.
“I was just kidding.
15
Anyway, heres the second news of the day I men-
tioned to you earlier this morning.
An electronic message marked top priority appeared
in front of Shandalas eyes. She gulped solemnly as she
read the message subject. She took a moment, and then
checked the sender. The name appeared in all its glory, un-
equivocally. “Global Astronomical Space Agency” (GASA).
She closed her eyes, and stopped. After a couple of deep
breaths, she opened them again, and checked the elec-
tronic signature for authenticity. There was no doubt, AMI
confirmed.
Shandala leaned back in the bathtub, sinking into it.
“Read it,” she ordered, closing her eyes.
As AMI began reading the message, Shandala felt her
heart skipping a beat. She went numb, and sank deeper
into the water. With her head fully submerged, her senses
perception were confined to her awareness of her body,
giving her a feeling of comfort and safety. The liquid
around her ears muffled the sounds from outside, un-
til they disappeared completely. She floated, in a sea of
emptiness, allowing her mind to roam free until she lost
track of time and space. After an indefinite moment of
time a thought struck her. For in that very moment she
realised that as much as she enjoyed and appreciated the
life that she led, she knew that it was but pallid reflection
of what was about to come.
And as Shandala moved her knees close to her chest,
gently floating and twisting around, like a baby in a womb,
she knew that her life would never be the same again.
CHAPTER 3
## 0-001 ##
76 minutes and 17 seconds later – just a few seconds
ahead of what the algorithm in his retinal implant had
predicted – Tom was stepping into The Office. No need to
show ID, open doors, show his retina or even his thumb
print. As Tom walked into the room, the intracutaneous
chip delivered his unique DNA ID-information wirelessly,
and he was logged into The System.
He was in. From that moment on, it was difficult to
discern where he ended and where The System began. His
vital information, his habits, his behaviours, and to some
extent even some of his thoughts, were part of The System.
Tom had become an integral part of The Company.
It was pretty convenient. He didnt have to show his
passport when he travelled between districts, nor did he
have to stop and identify himself to police officers or to
other government officials. Everything was transparent, at
least to the people who had the right access permissions.
Within The System, The Company always knew who every-
one was, and where they were. Sure, at the beginning some
17
18 CHAPTER 3. ## 0-001 ##
hippies complained that this represented a loss of privacy
or something. But what would you rather have, a world of
violence and chaos, like it was outside the city, or a world
of peace and order? Tom had made his choice long ago,
and now there was no going back.
Being part of The System – being logged in – gave Tom
a strangely rewarding and reassuring sensation. It was as
if for the time being, he was no longer his usual self, but
rather an extension of a larger entity. In there, he felt safe.
To him, this was very unusual to say the least. It was the
closest thing he ever got to what some refer to as a ‘family’.
“Tom! Good morning. Just in time. You ready to get
things started today?” Jeffs voice was complacent and
somewhat alarming.
Always ready, Tom replied quickly, sounding a bit
overconfident.
“Brilliant! Because today we have great news, surprise,
excitement! A new mind in The Company”.
Jeff had the most euphoric and irritating smile that
one could humanly conceive. In fact, Tom reckoned that it
probably wasnt entirely human, but partly drug-induced
through the latest generation of The Company’s artificial
neural implant that Jeff was equipped with. Jeff, with his
mouth open, still smiling, displaying like in a TV commer-
cial his surgically-altered perfect denature, indicated with
a nod of his head the direction Tom should have been
looking.
Tom, already agitated, looked to the left. A charming,
tall, beautiful young man, probably ten years younger than
him, with a suit that was worth twice his car, was standing
19
in front of him in full figure. The sense of unease that he
had already been experiencing now transformed into pure
horror.
John was blonde, blue-eyed, and of perfectly propor-
tioned build. He must have been part of that generation of
babies partially engineered from birth, and then enhanced
through epigenetic interference.
Every few years, new drugs and techniques were ap-
proved in the market, and parents could decide if they
wanted their baby to be ‘natural’, or enhanced. If you
could afford it there was generally not much discussion.
Enhanced babies were better looking, smarter, more res-
istant to viruses and bacterial infections, and were 98.89%
more likely to become successful than unaided children.
Tom was not an ugly man, and he knew it. In a pre-
enhanced world, he would have been considered quite
a handsome fellow. In fact, by 2020 standards, he could
have easily been a model. But in this era things were very
different. Beauty, unaided beauty that is (or natural’, as
they used to say in the past), was not enough anymore.
Every fibre, every millimetre of Johns presence was
exerting confidence and brilliance. To Tom, John wasnt
just irritating. What he felt transcended the emotions of
envy that he had felt in the past. It was simply too much
to bear. Tom knew, right there and then, that he didnt
stand a chance against him they were playing in two
different leagues. For a moment, Tom doubted that they
even belonged to the same species.
When Tom turned his head back, he found Jeff still
smiling open-mouthed, with those omnipresent white
20 CHAPTER 3. ## 0-001 ##
teeth, his head nodding even more evidently. The satisfac-
tion of the thought of landing a solid sledgehammer on
that white, shiny wall of teeth, and watching Jeff rolling
on the floor, spitting incisors and vomiting blood, was
the only thing that kept him from actually reaching the
paperweight on the desk and doing it.
“Tom, this is John H. Rockefeller, but I’m sure your
implant already told you that.
Jeff was able to talk while keeping his smile almost
unaltered, an ability that both impressed and irritated
Tom.
“Yes, of course. Pleasure to meet you John. I look
forward to working with you.
“So do I, said John, with a tone that could only be
described as not from this Earth.
His voice was soft and musical, yet firm and strong.
Not the slightest excess vibration, not the minimal dis-
tortion that would give away any emotion that was not
intended to be expressed. Yet, he didnt sound artificial.
Somehow his vocal cords were perfectly synced with his
connecto – the sum of all biological and artificial neurones
working synergistically to achieve the most optimal result
one could possibly conceive. In fact, it was more than that.
Johns voice was reassuring, hypnotising, and therefore
terrifying at the same time. It carried such authority that
Tom could only imagine that the majority of unaided or
partially aided human beings would meekly comply with
anything that he said – a far from pleasant thought. If you
then factored in the superior intellect, the almost absolute
control of emotion, the astonishing looks, and the best
21
implants that the market could offer, it was not hard to
imagine that this person could single-handedly change
the fate of an entire company, or even a district. He was
like a God.
Good! Now, enough of the formalities, let’s get to
work. John just came in from District 11, where in 97 days
he improved the efficiency of general system processes by
74.32%. He came here to help us fix our inefficiencies and,
you know what they say, climb the ladder!” with the last
words, Jeff winked and nudged his elbow against Toms
chest.
“Fix our inefficiencies,” Tom knew right away that this
meant, among other things him. He looked at John with a
complex mix of emotions that he could not clearly identify.
Anger, frustration, admiration, terror, and finally de-
feat. If only he had been born a few years later, he could
have been better engineered. If only his parents were
richer, they could have afforded better implants for him.
Or maybe, if they had bribed the right officials, he could
have been part of the experimental program for epigenetic
enhancement. If only. . . his heart stopped for a second.
His parents! They were the cause of his demise. Use-
less, heartless bastards! How could they have done that
to him? To him! How selfish. How could they not think of
the consequences? Could they not see that sending him to
study abroad was not enough? Couldnt they have saved
more credits when they were younger, so that he could be
more capable now?
Tom wished he had them in front of him, right in that
moment, so that he could blame them for what they had
22 CHAPTER 3. ## 0-001 ##
done, for everything. Oh yes, his parents. Where were they
now? A blank moment of silence pierced in Toms mind.
He couldnt remember.
Somewhere, deep in the synapses suppressed by his
implant, was the memory of two loving parents, who sacri-
ficed everything for him, and died in the process. But that
memory was too painful, too sad. It made him weak, less
efficient at his job. And so he decided to suppress it, repla-
cing it with a fabricated memory provided to him by the
artificial neurones implanted in his brain which allowed
him to focus on the path in front of him, which was all that
really mattered.
But that was all useless now, for even that was not
enough. The spectacle of John standing in front of him
had brought him to the sad and somber realisation of what
complete and utter defeat tasted like.
Tom somehow managed to carry on for the remainder
of the day in autopilot mode, his conscious thoughts re-
duced to a bare minimum, leaving the drugs and artificial
implants to drive most of the processes, so that he couldnt
feel those troublesome emotions anymore. It was comfort-
ing and reassuring to know that his proprietary cognition
implant could offer him a drug-induced boost just when
he most needed it. He wasnt happy, but at least he didnt
feel miserable any longer.
CHAPTER 4
## 1-001 ##
Shandala arrived at the lab, her mind still numb by
the communication from GASA, the Global Astronomical
Space Agency. The place was a clean but vibrant envir-
onment. Dozens of researchers zipped to and fro, a self-
organised entity led by passionate biohackers. She spotted
Asa, standing next to a bioreactor, frantically checking a
holographic interactive projection. He was generally good
at maintaining a cool, scientific demeanour, but on this
occasion it was quite clear from his expression that he
could barely contain his excitement.
“I’ve seen 7-year olds at the Year of Civilisation cere-
mony better able to contain themselves than you!” she
said in a somewhat mocking voice.
“Well, it’s not everyday you get to make medical break-
throughs like this one,” replied Asa, with a smile.
“So what up?” said Shandala.
“I think it really works.
“Uh?”
“I ran the simulations with the B1-J mutation, Asa
23
24 CHAPTER 4. ## 1-001 ##
took a second to savour the moment, “and the results are
just as promising as the B1-T!” he said enthusiastically,
opening his arms wide to offer her a congratulatory hug.
After an awkward moment of silence, Shandala
snapped out of her thoughts and embraced Asa, some-
what half-heartedly.
“That’s. . . great! Its really great news, Asa, She said,
unconvincingly.
The two separated, and he looked at her with confu-
sion.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, frowning.
“Nothing’s wrong.
“Then why are you like this?”
“Like what?”
“Like this! You were super excited this morning, and
now. . . what happened? I mean, we’ve been working on
this for months. Its going to help hundreds of thousands
of people, we’ll be on the cover of. . .
“I know, I know.
“Then why are you bummed out? Did something hap-
pen? Is your family Okay?”
“Yes, yes,” She paused, “They’re fine.
“Then what? Did I do something wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong with you, okay? My family’s fine,
everyones fine. I just,” she hesitated, “I need something
more. Something different.
For Shandala, life had been fine up until that moment.
She had loving parents, many passions, which she pursued
with interest and dedication, and great friends. Yes, it was
fine, but for many years shed had this nagging sensation
25
of emptiness. Fine wasnt enough. A life of love, safety,
and comfort, devoid of wage slavery, was everything her
ancestors fought and strove for, but it wasnt the life she
wanted. She was grateful for having the privilege to live in
such a world, but she just couldnt appreciate it as much
as she should have. She had not fought for it, she had not
struggled for her freedoms. For many years, Shandala had
been wanting to find her place in the world, but as hard as
she tried, she couldnt identify what it was. Eventually she
had come to the sad conclusion that maybe such place
simply didnt exist, at least not in this world.
It was time to go beyond, to find her own path, to
transcend her condition. A few months previously she had
read that GASA was planning a Mars colonisation mission.
There had been several expeditions, mainly unmanned
rovers and a few, short round-trip with human astronauts,
with the purpose of research and testing for Biosphere 0.
Biosphere 0 was an attempt to recreate Earth-like con-
ditions on Mars, with an enclosed geodesic dome that
could support a colony of humans indefinitely. After years
of thorough testing and research, the Mars 0 mission had
been announced. It was called Mars 0 for a reason: this
was to be the first permanent human colony on Mars.
Shandala had learnt that when the human body is exposed
to a gravity pull significantly lower than that of Earths, it
begins a semi-irreversible process of transformation, par-
ticularly with bone structural integrity and muscle growth.
Mars, having only 38% of Earths gravity, fell into this cat-
egory.
The crew of Mars 0 would not be coming back. GASA
26 CHAPTER 4. ## 1-001 ##
had made this very clear to all potential volunteers. When
Shandala applied for the mission, she knew it was a one-
way ticket.
“I dont know how to explain it,” she told Asa, “Havent
you ever felt like this isnt what you were supposed to be
doing?”
Asa looked at her in silence. “To be honest, no. I like
what I’m doing. I thought you liked it too. I thought you
enjoyed doing research with me?”
“But I do! I do. It’s just that. . . She tried to carefully
phrase what she was about to say, “Its because of what
we’ve been building together, that I see so much more to
discover, so much potential out there. I’ve been research-
ing the effects of extreme conditions on the human body
for years. I feel it’s time for me to get out there and put my
research to use.
She paused and inhaled deeply, making every word
that came later weigh like a neutron star, “I applied for the
Mars 0 mission. She said, slowly and seriously.
Asa froze for an indefinite amount of time, staring at
the white wall in front of him. After regaining his senses,
he gulped and looked at her.
And you were accepted?”
“The message came in this morning, after I called you.
Its official, I checked.
Shandala was back at the house, looking out the win-
dow, reflecting on her life and her future.
AMI, open up Thingiverse and search for violins.
27
“That’s a rather unusual request. Might it have some-
thing to do with the recent news of your upcoming Mars
mission?” asked AMI.
AMI was pretty perceptive for an artificial intelligence.
Maybe too intelligent, she thought to herself.
Of course, it was a simple probabilistic function con-
necting unusual events together, offering the appearance
of what looked like real intelligence, but still, quite im-
pressive. Anyway, she didnt have to explain herself to
a machine. But AMI was right. It had everything to do
with the mission. Shandala had tried many times in the
past to play a musical instrument. It was for her father, a
world-renowned musician, who used to play in the most
prestigious theatres and practiced extensively in his home
studio. Shandala wanted to make him proud of her, and
to feel closer to him by emulating him. But she had never
felt a true desire from within. The music never called her,
it was just suggestion coming from outside. She tried for
a while but never mastered anything, until she gave up
altogether.
Shandala loved her father very much, but unlike her
mother, who had been digging up worms and analys-
ing pond water under a microscope with her since she
was four, her father had never related to her all that well.
They’d never shared any real interest together. And now,
just as she was going to be the furthest from both of her
parents that shed even been in her life, she wanted to do
something to allow her to feel close to him. All of her at-
tempts at learning an instrument and keeping to it had
been a failure, and that was because shed had no real in-
28 CHAPTER 4. ## 1-001 ##
centive, no purpose. Now she had one, and she was not
going to let it slip away.
Come on, show me some violins.
Thingiverse was the oldest and biggest repository of
Free and Open blueprints for things. It was like a book of
recipes for any object you could think of, down to the mo-
lecular scale. In there, one could find anything you could
imagine: cups, tools, implants, circuit boards, contact
lenses, food, beverages, prostheses, even organs and parts
of the body–and of course, musical instruments. It was
the Universe of things, containing hundreds of millions of
designs, and it was available for everyone, everywhere, for
free.
12,967 3D models for violins popped up. There was
an almost limitless variety of colours and materials, with
slightly different shapes.
“I have no idea which one I should take. Is there any-
thing Mari advised for me?”
“Yes. She selected 12 different models for beginners.
Operationally, they are the same; so if you just tweak the
colours, sound and functionality should not be affected.
Okay then. I’ll get this one, Shandala pointed at a
plain but elegant transparent violin.
“Would you like to make some customisation?”
“Yeah. Check on the Open Image Repo something that
fits me,” a bunch of images came up. Among them, there
was the molecular structure of a protein Shandala had
discovered a few years back, and a painting of an Amaryllis
belladonna – a red and white flower native to South Africa
– made by a patient whose life was saved by her research.
29
The flower was also called Lily, and its proper Latin name
meant ‘Sparkling, beautiful lady.
Okay, that fits, she thought, rather immodestly.
“Now, take these two. Combine. Blur the edges. Nice,
she said satisfied, crossing her arms in a sign of accom-
plishment. “How long will it take to print?”
About 13 minutes, 18 seconds.
Go then!” and so did she, moving out of the bathroom,
into the kitchen, where she picked a baby carrot from the
vertical hydroponic micro-garden that was hanging by the
window, before making a cup of tea.
She loved the smell of a freshly made cup of tea. She
inhaled deeply, appreciating the fine aroma. It reminded
her of her parents, when she was a child. They used to take
her out on long walks in the woods, doing picnics, talking
about nature and the universe, always accompanied by a
seemingly inexhaustible wooden box filled with Earl Grey
and Jasmine tea, her favourite blends.
Call pa” she instructed AMI, “I wonder how hes do-
ing?” the call went through, and she saw her father in full
figure through her smart lenses, as if he was standing in
front of her.
“Shandala, my dear!”
“Hey pa, what’s up? Wheres ma?”
Oh, I think she went to the research centre for maglev
trains. She said she had an idea for reducing the problem
of quantum decoherence on room temperature supercon-
ductivity. She told me about her idea a few hours ago, then
we talked for a bit, but frankly at some point it got bey-
ond me, so my guess is that she went off to discuss it with
30 CHAPTER 4. ## 1-001 ##
others at the centre.
“I see. Listen pa, I have to tell you something.
She stopped, realising that she really hadnt thought
it through. Maybe it was better to go see him in person
instead.
“You know. . .it’s a. .. oh! Guess what, you know I’m
going to start playing the violin?”
Oh yeah? I’d like to see that happen!”
“What does that mean?”
“Now, now, dont get me wrong, darling. You know no
one could be happier than me if you were to learn to play
the violin,” he held up the palms of his hands as a sign of
innocence. “I’m just wondering if it’s going to end like the
piano you started when you were 10, or the guitar when
you were 15, or the flute when you were 17. . .
Okay, okay, I get it,” interrupted Shandala. She hated
it when he did that. “Look pa, cant you be a little bit more
supportive? Besides, that was a long time ago, I’m not a
child anymore.
There was a pause.
“You know what, you’re right. I’m sorry. Let’s start
again.
He waved his hand quickly in the air.
“That’s fantastic! I cant wait to hear you play soon!
You’re welcome to come by anytime, maybe we could do a
jam session together,” he said smiling.
“Hows that?” he winked.
“Better, said Shandala resolutely, crossing her arms
and nodding. She appreciated his efforts to at least try to
sound a bit more enthusiastic.
31
They stared at each other for a few seconds, only to
burst into sudden laughter, simultaneously.
Alright, pa. I deserve it. But seriously, this time is
different.
“I’m glad to hear that.
“No, really.
“Lovely, I can hardly wait.
“I’ll come by your place in a month or so.
And I’ll be looking forward to it.
Come on pa, I’m serious.
“So am I.
Okay.
Okay.
Good!”
“Excellent.
“Perfect!”
“Brilliant.
“I said I’ll do it, that means I’ll do it! And I’ll have the
last word, so I’m cutting you off now, bye!” and so she did,
waving at him with a smirky smile.
Just wait and see you there, I’m gonna be a violin
master before you know it, she mumbled, speaking to
herself, shaking her head.
She chuckled, thinking of the times they had had to-
gether in the past. Since she was a little girl hed always
known exactly which buttons to push to make her mad.
He had always loved her so very much though; and respec-
ted her freedom and will to show independence. She knew
that he had been afraid to lose her though, even though
hed never told her so.
32 CHAPTER 4. ## 1-001 ##
Shandala looked up to where her dads image had been
only a few minutes before. She was experiencing such an
intense mix of emotions – excitement, anticipation, and
sadness. She felt a pang of regret. It really wasnt right to
keep secrets from her own father. She called home again,
and her dads surprised face appeared on screen.
“Hey dad, I have something else to tell you.
Shandala left the house. She walked down the street,
looking around. Her contact lenses showed the way to
Mari’s house, along with all the options of getting there:
12 km, give or take.
One was to walk for about 4 minutes, get on the maglev
subway, then walk another 8 minutes. Alternatively, a
self-driving pod could be on its way to pick her up in 87
seconds, and then it would take an additional 12 minutes.
There was also a bike stock 4 minutes away, and then there
was that new experimental suspended monorail, but it was
still in beta testing, she didnt feel like taking her chances
today. All in all, they were much the same. She turned
right and moved straight on for the sub – she liked walking
and meeting people randomly on her way.
She walked for a bit, the breeze made her cheeks feel
cold, but pleasant nonetheless. The Sun was very bright.
She stopped for a second, slowly moving her eyes towards
it. The nanofabric of her contact lenses quickly morphed
shape and molecular structure, filtering out the excess
radiation, adapting dynamically to the increased expos-
ure, until she was able to stare directly into the Sun. It
33
was beautiful. Shandala observed the star in all its glory
and power, thinking of the hydrogen molecules fusing into
deuterium and then helium, which radiated out photons
and other high energy particles, travelling some 150 mil-
lions kilometres through space, bent by the energy and
momentum of the planets, finally finding their way to her
eye. She was, quite literally, touching the Sun.
She looked away from that bright ball of light, just as
a notice popped up on the screen of her lenses. It was
not advised to be exposed to that kind of radiation for too
long. The nanomorphing structure was only fully-reliable
for up to periods of 30 seconds, and anything longer than
that could be dangerous. It was a technology at an early
stage of development. A few more months of testing and
bug development and she would be able to exchange her
current contact lenses for a pair that would permit her to
stare at the sun for hours, if she wished.
CHAPTER 5
## 0-010 ##
As he was heading home after work Tom began to re-
miniscence about the events of the day. He thought about
the prick that he had encountered in the elevator in the
morning, and after that the mortifying experience of meet-
ing the new guy at the office. He felt, once more, useless,
hopeless, and defeated.
For Tom, this had been a truly horrible day.
“What else could possibly go wrong?” he wondered.
Just as he was thinking that thought he looked over at the
sidewalk and noticed a girl, sitting on the ground, next to
a wall.
She looked like a bum. Her clothes were old, her hair
was long and untied. She looked dirty.
“What’s she doing here?” he thought, “Dont they have
some decency. Where is the police? I’ve had enough shit
today, I dont have to look at this too. What does she want?
Credits? Of course she wants credits. But it’s too easy to
just sit on the fucking street and beg for credits. I worked
hard to get where I am and to be who I am. I made my
35
36 CHAPTER 5. ## 0-010 ##
choices, and so did she. Now fuck off!”
He looked at her with disgust, and started to move
away. But just as he was going, he couldnt help but turn
back at her, inquisitive.
Tom noticed that she didnt have any sign, jar, hat, or
one of those silly guitar covers. She wasnt saying anything,
nor was she begging for credits. She was just sitting there,
looking at him.
She was looking at him! Why? What the hell did she
want? Pity? Compassion? Why was she doing this?
Tom stopped and looked back at her. She wasnt just
looking. She was staring at him. Eyes wide open. Huge,
warm, brown eyes. And they were not eyes of self pity.
They were not asking for anything. They were confident
eyes, firm and resolute.
“Stop it, dont you dare, dont you look down on me!”
thought Tom, as he flinched away from that look.
“Shes looking down on me, looking down on ME!”
Unacceptable. He could have taken it from his superi-
ors, that condescending look of being on a lower rank in
The Company, but this?
This was too much.
“What do you want?!” shouted Tom.
The girl didnt move a centimetre, and kept staring at
him.
“Here, take it and leave, before I call the police.
He threw some coins at her, the last physical represent-
ations of the omnipresent “credits, which landed on the
street where she sat, just within her reach. She didnt move
a muscle, she hadnt made even the slightest reaction. She
37
simply kept on staring at Tom with what he perceived as
merciless, implacable, judging eyes.
She was judging him.
How could a lonely, creditless girl, dare to do such a
thing? It was outrageous. Unacceptable! The anger grew
inside him, bottling up until the point of near explosion,
when suddenly his anger was taken over by fear. Sheer
fear. Tom realised that those were not eyes of judgement,
but of compassion.
Compassion? For what?! This was even more absurd.
Compassion? Tom couldnt believe it. He was paralysed,
frozen still in position. His legs felt like blocks of cement,
his head was immobile, his hands were trembling in fear.
“Why?” this was beyond tolerability. Tom could take it
no more. His eyes, fixed, hadnt blinked for longer than he
could conceive possible.
Despair.
Tom felt a sudden loss of strength in his chest, as if
something had been dragged out of it, down to his intest-
ines. He realised he wasnt breathing. He gulped, as if
trying to make sure he still had something beneath his
thorax. He gasped, clutching his chest, squeezing his hand
against it, like the claw of an animal grabbing his prey. He
exhaled deeply, finally, catching his breath heavily.
He slowly looked towards the girl again. Their gaze
met, and Tom fell into a trance. The street started spinning,
the world around him dilating, spiralling down, like dirty
water, forming into a mini whirlpool, as it gets sucked
down the sink hole of a bathtub. His limbs went numb, and
he began to experience what seemed to be a hallucination.
38 CHAPTER 5. ## 0-010 ##
And as the world was spinning, spiralling, so was Tom,
falling towards the girl’s eyes, as if they were exerting a
gravitational pull on everything, including him. Space
bended, time slowed down, and everything was sucked in
those dark eyes, until there was nothing left.
Blackness.
There was no sound, no light, no feelings, nothing.
Tom started to wonder where he was, and how hed got
there. He couldnt remember anything, and he really
wasnt sure of anything anymore, either. Nothing seemed
to exist. But if that was true, then where was he? He had no
physical presence, no body, nothing. Was he even there?
Did he even exist? He tried to scream, only to realise he
couldnt, as he had no vocal chords. He tried to run, but
the attempt was just as futile. More than not having a
body to move around in, what really terrified Tom was the
realisation that a fundamental premise of his attempt was
utterly moot: there was no around’ to go to. There was
nothing.
He felt like crying, but it didnt take him long to realise
how pointless that was. Then again, was there even such a
thing as ‘long’ or ‘short’, when time seemed not to exist?
The initial confusion in Toms mind began to be re-
placed by complete despair. Was he going mad? Was he
dead? Was this going to last forever? Was he being pun-
ished? For what? And more importantly, by whom? He
stopped this train of desperate thoughts to try and identify
if there was someone who hated him enough to want to do
this to him, but nobody came to mind. Not only he could
not think of anyone who hated him, he really couldnt re-
39
member anybody at all. Not a single person. Did anyone
exist? Did he exist?
Tom didnt know the answer to any of these questions.
But he knew one thing – he was alone in the world. Utterly,
completely, and hopelessly alone.
An indefinite amount of time had passed, if such a
concept as time made any sense at all at this point, until
the black silence was finally broken. A dim light appeared
far away. The image was indiscernible, but he could not
resist, he had to see what was there. After what seemed like
an eternity of nothingness, anything would do. Anything
but being alone.
The light was getting closer, the image was starting to
form, Tom began speeding it up, first a left leg appeared,
followed by a right ear, then the torso. He sped it up even
more. His whole body gradually began to appear. When
his lungs materialised he started to feel the need to breath,
something he hadnt done in a very long time. Tom tried
to catch his breath, still moving towards the dim light,
but there was no air, no oxygen, nothing to oxygenate the
blood in his body. He fell, gasping for that nonexistent gas
that should have been surrounding him.
“Nooo!” he shouted out loud, hearing the distress in
his own voice, and realising that sound required a medium,
he simultaneously realised that he now had air again.
He stood up, looked at his now fully formed body, in-
haled deeply, stared at the distant light, and then began to
run. He ran and ran, as fast as he could, his legs burning
with the gradual build-up of lactic acid, his lungs feeling
like they were about to burst into flames. The pain! His
40 CHAPTER 5. ## 0-010 ##
whole body was aching. But it felt great. He was alive
again!
When he finally reached the source of the light, Tom
collapsed on the ground, exhausted. He caught his breath,
then stood up. His vision was blurry, but as he slowly
moved closer the image began to form. It was a house, with
a warm, yellow light coming from inside it. He approached
it, and found a front door. When he entered the house,
he found himself in a living room, and saw and a small
boy, sitting on the ground, busy scribbling something on a
piece of paper.
“Hello,” said Tom.
“Hi,” answered the boy in a disinterested manner, with-
out looking up from the paper he was drawing on.
“Where are we?”
“Where? Well, in the house, of course!”
“No, I mean, where is this? Where is this house?”
“Do you like drawing?”
“What?”
“You can help me if you want, I’m almost finished.
Tom looked at the boy, feeling bewildered.
“You can take the blue and finish the sky, but you cant
have the red, ’cause I’m using it.
Tom approached the boy cautiously, and sat down next
to him. He looked at the piece of paper and saw a drawing
of the same house where they were staying. There was
something strangely familiar about it, but he could not
make anything of it. He grabbed a blue pastel and began
colouring the sky.
41
As they drew together in silence, things from Toms
past started to come back to him.
“So you like drawing?” he asked the boy.
“Yeah, I have many drawings. One time I drew on the
wall, but mom said I shouldnt.
“What’s your mom like?”
“Shes alright, I guess. Sometimes I dont like it when
she tells me I cant do things, but then shes nice again and
we watch movies together, and then she reads me stories.
“She sounds like a very nice mom.
“Then we play with pa, I like it when we play together.
“Youre really lucky to have nice parents.
“What about your mom and pa?”
“I dont have any.
“Haha, youre funny. Everyone has a mom and pa.
“But I cant remember them.
“Maybe you can draw them.
“How can I draw something I cant remember?”
“Maybe you just need to think. Drawing helps me
think,” said the boy, “We can draw them together!”
As they drew together, complementing each others
strokes, the image of Toms parents became clearer and
clearer. When he had finished he gazed at the completed
drawing, with a sense of melancholy and love. The boy
finished his contribution to the drawing by adding his
signature on the bottom right corner. On that moment,
Tom understood who the little boy was.
All the memories of his life started rushing to his head,
like needles shot directly into his brain. He started seeing
flashing lights coming out of the centre of the drawing,
42 CHAPTER 5. ## 0-010 ##
becoming bigger and bigger, expanding outwards, until
everything was engulfed by white light. And then he woke
up.
Tom was back. He was kneeling on a street in the city,
wearing a suit. He tried to remember what had happened
to him, but everything was just a big blank. Not knowing
how long he had he dozed off for, he stood up and looked
around to see if anyone had noticed him – he didnt want
to jeopardise his reputation. No one had. He felt relieved.
Hundreds of people were walking by, all around him, com-
pletely focused on their task, oblivious to everyone else.
He was surrounded, but alone.
He looked back at the girl on the street. She hadnt
moved a millimetre. She was still there, impassible, im-
mobile. His implant revealed elevated cardiac rhythm, a
warning sign appeared in front of his eyes.
She was still looking at him.
Immediate release of relaxing drugs advised.
Those eyes!
Stimulation of neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric
acid about to begin.
Tom was losing his mind beneath those amber eyes.
Two options came to mind: take the drugs, relax, walk
away; or face the girl and punish her for her insolence, or
worse, report her to the authorities.
But before Tom could make the decision, The Com-
pany’s algorithm in his implant detected the unstable men-
tal condition he was in, and the failsafe mechanism kicked
in, releasing the drugs, sedating and relaxing him.
He shook his head, confused. He was calm.
43
Tom looked up at the grey sky, and then turned to the
busy street. People dressed in various shades of grey suits
were passing by, all of them quiet and seemingly oblivious
to each other – far too focused on the invisible path they
were following to take an interest in each other. He fixed
his tie, turned back, and walked away.
CHAPTER 6
## 1-010 ##
In a month it would be the 12th anniversary of the
Year of Civilisation. Great celebrations were awaiting. The
year before, Shandala recalled, it had been quite possibly
the most spectacular party shed ever seen, and this years
promised to be even greater.
Shandala approached an info Kiosk, where people
went to get information about a certain topic. Of course,
she could have simply accessed her contact lenses to ac-
quire whatever information she needed, but info Kiosks
provided a shared holographic experience, where people
could interact. It was a good excuse to socialise.
Shandala approached the Kiosk, which looked like
the embedding diagram of a Schwarzschild wormhole – a
sort of upstanding cylinder, larger at the top and bottom,
slimmer at the centre. It was a symbolic representation of
its function. By creating an interactive environment with
information about any topic of your choosing, it would
transport you, metaphorically speaking, to remote and
unfamiliar places in an instant.
45
46 CHAPTER 6. ## 1-010 ##
The Kiosk simply remained idle and inactive when no
one was using it. But as soon as somebody got close, it
would activate and present them with a list of suggested
topics. At that point one simply had to touch the desired
area in the holographic projection, or even think about it
if, as a registered user, you had given permission to have
parts of your thoughts accessed for this purpose. All in all,
it had pretty much the same functionalities as the contact
lenses, but with a major difference. When somebody used
the Kiosk, it was really a public display of interest. It was a
bit like saying, “I’m checking this out, if youre interested
let’s hang out!”
The Year of Civilisation (also called “the Great
Year”), marked the first year in recorded his-
tory in which no person died due to lack of
access to basic necessities. The Year of Civil-
isation was a pivotal moment for the human
race, as all the nations. ..
– Wikipedia
As Shandala was getting close to the Kiosk, she no-
ticed the interactive entry on the Year of Civilisation being
called, which brought back many memories for her. It
occurred to her how different the world must have been
just a few decades back, when her parents were her age.
After the Year of Civilisation, everything had changed.
People still died – of course – but not due to their so-
cial background or the geographical location in which
47
they lived. They died of old age, or because they contrac-
ted an extremely rare disease for which people hadnt yet
found a cure. The occasional murder could still be found,
but with an average rate orders of magnitude lower than
those found prior to the Year of Civilisation, making it stat-
istically irrelevant as a cause of death. Suicide rates, on
the other hand, were much higher than that, although far
lower than those found prior to the Year of Civilisation.
Social scientists, psychologists, and neuroscientists had
been studying suicide cases with great interest, and it was
a huge area of research and discussion which nobody had
really found an answer for (yet). Nation states still exis-
ted, but the boundaries were mostly cultural, as barriers
to entry in any country were virtually nonexistent, since
there was no area in the world that suffered from poverty
or any form of serious deprivation.
Indeed, the Year of Civilisation marked the first time
in recorded history when the human race actually became
what could reasonably be considered ‘civilised’.
Some people proposed to reset the calendar to zero
at the Year of Civilisation. They noted that the acronym
would also stay the same – BC (Before Civilisation) and AC
(After Civilisation); but others complained that it would
only add to the confusion. For that reason, BYC (Before the
Year of Civilisation) and AYC were also suggested, hence
making YC the universal abbreviation and avoiding all
(or most!) confusions. For now, official documents still
used the old convention; but the new way was becoming
increasingly more popular, and many suspected that it
would replace the old dating system in a decade or so.
48 CHAPTER 6. ## 1-010 ##
In the beginning, individual countries claimed their
own YC, the first ones being in Europe and Asia, followed
by South America and Africa, while North American coun-
tries were among the last to succeed in the goal.
Come on sis!” said the little girl at the Kiosk, waving
at Shandala.
There were two kids around the Kiosk, they must have
been four or five, Shandala reckoned, and they were prob-
ably brother and sister.
“Sure! Youre looking at the YC history, uh?”
“The party!” shouted the boy, with a smirk.
Of course, that too,” replied Shandala, giving back the
smile.
“What’s it like, sis?” asked the little girl.
Oh well,” Shandala paused for a second, wondering if
she should share her memories via Direct Mental Access
(DMA) with the kids. But at that moment, for some reason,
only the most embarrassing memories came back to her,
the type that you’d want to keep for yourself, or maybe
share with your best friend, or your lover. Definitely not
material for little kids, she thought.
“Haha, I guess we could start by looking at some videos
and I’ll try and add some anecdotes as we move along,
said Shandala, apologetically, blushing.
The three of them navigated through the immense
stream of videos, photos, and publicly accessible memor-
ies that people had felt like sharing with the rest of the
world (and that were safe for children to access via DMA).
Shandala added her personal touch to the events she re-
membered by telling them what it had been like for her
49
as little girl, and how amazing and long awaited that day
was every year. The two kids were captivated by her genu-
ine and charming personality, and couldnt stop asking
questions.
“Hey sis, what did people do before YC? I mean, they
had days for parties, right?” asked the boy.
Of course they did. They called them holidays.
“Holidays? What’s a ‘holi’?”
“Haha, not holi. ‘Holy’. It means sacred, and sacred
means devoted, dedicated to a deity or to some religious
purpose.
Oh yeah, religion. I read about that, said proudly the
little girl.
“So ‘holy-days’ were always religious?” asked the boy.
“No, not really. Some holidays were, but there were
also many contaminations and influences. In fact, they
called ‘holidays days in which people didnt go to work,
even if it had nothing holy to it. It was really a bit confus-
ing.
“That sounds very illogical. And where is this city,
Work, anyway; and why did all the people go there?” asked
the boy again, baffled by her statement.
“No, no, ‘work’ is not the name of a city!”
“It’s a country, dummy! You know nothing,” said the
boy’s sister.
“No, it’s not a country, either. It’s like. .. Shandala
was stuck. She knew what work was her parents told
her that people worked before she was born, she heard
their stories, and she had also looked at old movies where
people did that. But she had never experienced it herself,
50 CHAPTER 6. ## 1-010 ##
and it was really hard to imagine life BYC.
“Back in the day, people couldnt just live their life as
we do. They had to, one could say, justify their existence,
by doing some task every day, either by making a physical
object or offering a service.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, suppose you were hungry, and wanted to eat
something. At that time, you couldnt just grab something
from the nearest garden or go to the distribution centre
and pick up what you needed. You had to exchange some-
thing called money, which you received by going to work.
“What? What if you were really hungry, and didnt go
to work?” cried the little girl.
A lot of people starved back then. Shandala ex-
plained solemnly, feeling keenly aware of how shocking
and perverse this would sound to the two children.
“That’s crazy talk!” cried the little girl, sounding more
surprised than upset.
“Unless you went to work and made money. That was
called ‘having a job,” Said Shandala, anticipating that she
would probably need to explain the meaning of the word
‘job’ to them too.
“So what did people do with this job?”
Anything. Building cars, or selling things. . .
“What’s selling?” asked the girl.
Oh, right,” said Shandala, who was starting to appreci-
ate, for the first time, just how difficult it was to explain life
before BYC to someone who had no concept of those now
out-dated forms of social organisation, “It’s exchanging
something for something else. How can I say. .. imagine
51
you paint something.
“I love painting!” shouted the boy.
“Yeah, me too, said Shandala, feeling pleased to be
getting a positive response, “Okay, so you paint something,
and then what do you do with it?”
“I’d keep it. Put it up in my room,” said the boy matter-
of-factly.
“I give it to mom!” said the little girl with a beaming
smile, feeling pleased that the conversation had moved on
to something that she could understand.
Okay, but if painting was your job, you wouldnt just
keep it or give it away. You’d try to give it to someone in
exchange for something else, and that thing was called
money. With money, you could go to a distribution centre,
which was called a ‘store, and get your food, or whatever
else.
“That sounds overly complicated. Why didnt they skip
the whole exchange part and just give it to whoever they
wanted? And why did the store need this money? Was it
like a form of energy? Did you grow food with it?”
“No, it was just a piece of paper, or numbers in a digital
account.
The two children looked at each other, baffled beyond
belief.
“That sounds very stupid, said the little girl, after a
pause.
“Well, not really. See, back then they didnt have the
abundance we have today, and things just werent avail-
able to people in the way that they are for us. If somebody
discovered something their first concern would be to en-
52 CHAPTER 6. ## 1-010 ##
sure that they would be able to make money from it in
some way. They were very concerned that other people
shouldn?t access that knowledge and take advantage of it,
unless and until they knew for sure that they would make
money from it themselves. They would even pay money to
other people, whose role it was to try to ensure that those
who hadn?t paid money to do so couldn?t access that use-
ful knowledge; and absurdly, to try to ensure that society
recognised their discovery – a rather silly idea when you
think about it, given that ‘their discovery’ depended en-
tirely upon the knowledge and discoveries of thousands of
other people.
“But what if others needed that and couldnt get it?
And what if they wanted to play around and improve on
the idea?” asked the boy, with a serious and puzzled ex-
pression.
“Well, you couldnt really do that then. Its a bit com-
plicated. Said Shandala, feeling somewhat wearied by the
challenge of trying to explain BYC forms of social organ-
isation to these kids, who clearly regarded the concepts
that she was trying to explain to them as seriously strange
and weird.
Jami, Milos!” Shandala looked around to see a tall,
athletic, and handsome man approaching them.
“I’m sorry, I was out getting some ice-cream. Did they
bother you?” he asked apologetically.
“No! Absolutely not. They were wonderful.
“Did you kids torment this poor girl with your endless
questions?” he said looking down at his children with a
smile. He was proud of their intelligence and curiosity
53
of spirit, but certainly didnt want to take it for granted
that other adults would necessarily appreciate the endless
questions that they bombarded him with on a daily basis.
“Hey!” shouted the two children, surprised and affron-
ted that their dad would suggest that this interesting lady
might not have enjoyed talking to them as much as she
seemed to.
“Haha, just kidding,” said their dad, giving them both
a friendly wink. “Heres your ice-creams. Where do you
guys want go now?”
“Thanks for keeping an eye on them,” he said, turning
to Shandala with a smile.
And with that they were on their way.
Shandala gazed at the two children walking away with
their dad, shouting out ideas about what they would like to
do next, and wondered what it would be like to have kids
of her own. And with that thought in mind, she looked up
at the bright sky, losing herself in its immensity.
CHAPTER 7
## 0-011 ##
The street was cold and dry. Tom felt relief as he ap-
proached the car, knowing that he would soon be home.
He opened the door. He could picture himself going back,
watching something to distract himself from this awful
day. Then, reaching his complex – almost there – back into
the elevator pod, a few more steps and he would be. . . the
elevator pod!
“No!” this was precisely the time of the day when those
of his category came back from work. There was absolutely
no way in hell he would risk returning at the same time as
Robert, the guy from floor 87.
“I bet hes just waiting for that.
Tom knew how this was going to end. He would run
into that cunt once more, but he wouldnt be able to sup-
press his emotional response. At which point, the Oxford
bastards advanced implant would read his reactions to
the tiniest of motions, and Tom would reveal his failures
to him once more.
He shuddered at the thought. Tom wouldnt be able to
55
56 CHAPTER 7. ## 0-011 ##
control himself. He would lose control, grab the English
prick by the throat, and snap his neck. It sounded extreme
but he felt as though his very existence was threatened by
those who were more capable than him. And within the
micro-cosmic world of the competitive corporate envir-
onment within which he worked he wasnt wrong. Where
would he be without a job? The thought didnt even bear
thinking about.
A toxic combination of fear, envy, and deep resent-
ment had created within him a murderous rage that had
turned him into a potential killer. He had never thought of
himself as someone prone to physical aggression, and had
previously looked with distain and revulsion upon the ever
increasing reports of office-based violence that filled the
news. But now he was beginning to view the perpetrators
of such acts with a new found empathy. It wasnt as though
what they did was right, but who could blame them for
behaving in such a way after being ruthlessly exploited
by their company for years only to be shown the door the
moment that a new development, or a more capable col-
league, made their role redundant? And who could blame
him if he behaved in a similar way? You could only take so
much. Especially when the bastards were parading their
superiority right in front of your face.
But as much as wanted to vent his rage in that way,
he also took comfort in the knowledge that before that
happened the sensors within his brain would reveal his
hostile intentions and begin to release the necessary drugs
to counteract them.
“No, cant let that happen. He thought with grim and
57
bitter determination. He would override the failsafe mech-
anism with his thoughts, trying to stay focused on the task
at hand – kill the fucking bastard! He deserved the right to
take revenge on the world that had treated him so unfairly,
and no one and nothing would cheat him out of it.
But he knew that this wouldnt be possible. In the mi-
crosecond after his voluntary rejection of the sedatives,
the alarm would go off. He would be immediately immob-
ilised by The Company’s SafeTech nanochip in his brain;
giving the authorities the necessary time to seize him, strip
him of all of his possessions and aids, and expel him to the
outskirts of the city, together with the rest of the human
filth that lived there.
Tom shivered at the thought. He shook his head,
searching for options. Memories of the day were passing
through his mind. The humiliation as he came out of the
house. The abasement he felt at work. The affront of that
woman on the street. He felt as if everything and every-
one was conspiring against him. His self-worth, his very
reason to exist, was being challenged, put into question.
And he felt fearful and very, very angry.
How should he deal with this? He needed a release.
Something that would allow him to forget his fears and
worries, even temporarily. Sex! It had worked for him in
the past and it could work for him again. The thought
communicated itself to his brain implant, which began to
provide his brain with some additional neuro-chemical
stimulation as erotic thoughts began to fill his mind.
Testoste rone levels rising.
58 CHAPTER 7. ## 0-011 ##
There was only one way to regain his status. The
thought of proving himself sexually filled him with a sense
of pride. Not the comfortable and happy sense of pride of
someone who knows that they have done something well.
But rather the more primal sense of accomplishment of
having gratified ones animal instincts.
Increasing sexual arousal. Releasing more
norepin ephrin e.
He rushed to the car and got in without a second
thought. It was time to go hunting.
The car had stopped. Tom was lying down, reviewing
his options on the retinal implant. There were 787 people
in the club at that moment, 312 girls, 78% of which were
outside his range of defined requirements. That only left
68 potential candidates. Of these, The System identified
12% as a plausible match – only 8 girls and that was when
Tom was at his best.
He turned his head, looking at the entrance of the club,
and took a deep breath.
Given his current psycho-physiological condition, The
System estimated hed have a greater than 50% chance of
success with three of them, at most.
“Increase release of sexual hormones,” he uttered.
Attention: adrenaline, t estost erone, and nore-
pinephrine levels rising.
59
He felt the excitement flowing in his body, the blood
pumping faster, bringing oxygen to his brain.
Okay. Let’s go!”
He took off, towards the entrance. Two humongous
men were standing by the door, dressed in black suits.
They were exactly the same height, the same size, and
probably also looked the same although it was hard
to tell as they were so tall that you couldnt really see
their faces. Toms retinal implant showed their estimated
strength and responsiveness time for intervening, should
something happen. The reported levels were not exactly
comparable to his, or to those of other normal people.
In fact, one could argue that those two giants were not
even human. They were bioengineered soldiers, DNA pro-
grammed guardians of the night, subservient towards their
superiors and merciless towards trouble-makers. They
could easily crush your skull with one hand before youd
even delivered a first punch. Starting a fight with someone
in the club was not really an option.
One would think that such a display of raw power, in
the era of built-in emotion detectors, intention-prediction
algorithms, and nanobot implants for everyone in The Sys-
tem, was unnecessary. But things are not always logical,
nor simple. People were still clinging to the idea of some-
thing called “free will”. Although nobody ever explained
what it meant, or how it could exist or even make sense.
The conditions in which people were raised and educated
were highly controlled, as were their diets, their environ-
ments, and their sensory stimuli. Genetic manipulation
and psyche-analysis algorithms created accurate maps of
60 CHAPTER 7. ## 0-011 ##
peoples expected behaviours, and were constantly being
matched against reality. In fact the accuracy of such sys-
tems was getting to a level where anyone in their right
mind would be starting to question what exactly was left
for people to supposedly choose from with their supposed
free will”. They could have easily intervened as soon as the
urge to strike spiked, by shutting down parts of the brain
temporarily, or by blocking the flow of adrenaline and re-
leasing neuromuscular-blocking drugs. It was well within
current capabilities, technically speaking. In spite of this,
countless intellectuals spent their lives pontificating about
the importance of letting people continue to enjoy the
freedom to choose. It was a comforting thought, albeit an
illusion. The illusion became even more apparent when
one realised that The Company did shut down your brain
functions in special circumstances, for examples when
authorities were too distant to intervene. Since Tom was
now in a public space, the bouncers were there to stay.
He passed between them as he entered the club, and
was enveloped by the loud electronic music as he walked
in. He immediately noticed a group of three girls, standing
by the bar. They were beyond beautiful. He looked at them
with raw animal desire, and read their coefficient on his
retinal implant. The lowest of the three was 23 points of
outside of his bell-curve range of probability, or “out of his
league, as they used to say in the past. No wonder none
of them made any attempt to give him an indication of
interest. In fact, they didnt even notice him passing by. It
was as if he didnt even exist. Those girls can smell a loser
from fifty meters away,” he thought to himself.
61
And that was not a metaphorical expression. Scientists
had long since identified that low self-esteem or feelings
of powerless caused people to release a very specific smell,
a chemical compound that is very feeble, but definitely
detectable by the most sophisticated implants. And the
most beautiful girls obviously had the best implants, it was
a given. Your access to the best technology was directly
related to your wealth, your looks, and your intelligence. If
you were born rich, you could afford gene therapy, cognit-
ive enhancements, and physical enhancements; while the
rest of humanity fought for the scraps and competed with
lower tech. And once you had those, you could increase
your wealth even more. It was a ‘virtuous circle, whereby
you could enhance yourself and your social status expo-
nentially, by the day, if you were on the right side of the
fence; but were on a downward spiral towards inevitable
defeat if you were unfortunate enough to be born on the
other side of it.
Tom was walking through the club, unnoticed by the
women he felt sexually attracted towards, while ignoring
the women of lower levels who were desperate enough
to give him a chance. The loud music was pounding in
his chest like a sledgehammer, the strobing lights were
blinding him, the smells attracting him in every direction,
disorientating; it was a jungle of desire, lust, and status.
There were hundreds of possibilities, notices, and sug-
gestions on his retinal implant; and everything had to be
processed in microseconds. The slightest hesitation or
wrong move would jeopardise his position and lower his
chances of success. As he passed through the club, he was
62 CHAPTER 7. ## 0-011 ##
scouting all possible options, simulating every iteration
and permutation, looking for an opportunity to land on
the optimal target. Everyone was doing it. If you reached
the other end of the room without having any interac-
tions, or receiving any indications of interest, your status
would fall dramatically. That said, being rejected outright
would be far, far worse. Everything that happened there
was freely visible to everyone, to see and to record in their
permanent memory implant if they so wished. Tom knew
this very well. He didnt want to take his chances, but also
didnt wish to risk going home empty handed. It was a
very thin line to walk. If you lowered your standard and ac-
cepted the invitation of someone with a lower coefficient,
you would increase their score but lower yours. If you
aimed too high, you put yourself in risk of rejection. The
optimal situation was to find somebody at a level slightly
higher than yours, and somehow impress them enough
to make yourself desirable. There was a degree of uncer-
tainty, where your score oscillated based on a number of
variables, and if you were at your peak you might just have
a chance with them, which then allowed you to climb the
ladder further.
Tom was definitely not at his peak that night, and he
knew it. But he wasnt going to let that determine the
outcome of what actually happened – he needed this re-
lease, but most of all he needed to boost his wounded
ego. He focussed his energy and resources as much as he
could, processing thousands of stimuli per second, trying
to control his posture, his facial expression, his hand ges-
tures, and even his barely perceptible involuntary muscle
63
twitches (the latter with the help of one of his enhance-
ments). He was working his way through a torrent of visual
information, smells, tastes, and looks, within the space
of each minute, but he was short on time, and needed to
acquire a specific target soon. Otherwise there was a dis-
tinct likelihood that his energies and concentration would
desert him before he could make his move.
“Found it!” he thought to himself.
Tom had seen the girl he wanted. She was standing
by the bar, wearing a white two-piece nanofabric dress,
which slightly changed colour based on various biofeed-
back sensors. He passed by her, as if he hadnt noticed her
voluptuous, athletic body.
Options, strategy, details. . . focus! I need an opening,
he said to himself.
“Didnt expect to find a bioartist here,” he said out loud,
as he moved next to her, without looking at her directly.
“Howd you know?” she asked, eyeing him with a cer-
tain amount of suspicion.
“Biofeedback-inspired colour-dress, that was an easy
identification,” he said in a matter of fact manner, trying
desperately to sound cool and sophisticated.
“Hmm,” she responded, sounding thoroughly unim-
pressed.
“Reversed tattoo on your left arm, I’d say 4mm in size,
nano-ink, probably morphing structure every week. The
slight imperfections on the clear skin around it signify that
it’s morphed many times before, I’d say about 19. Its not
just a fashion statement. For you, it’s a way of life,” he said,
feeling certain that if he didnt manage to impress her soon
64 CHAPTER 7. ## 0-011 ##
his chances of success would rapidly collapse.
“Howd you know the imperfections arent native?” she
asked, looking at him with a degree of suspicion.
“The rest of your skin, from what I can tell, is flaw-
less. Its either genetically engineered, or youve had nano-
assisted skin treatment, or a combination of both. If theres
an imperfection, it means you want it to be there.
She moved towards him, slightly intrigued.
And why would I want to do that, Mr. Deduction?”
“I dont know, maybe because youre waiting for
someone like me to notice?” he said, smiling hopefully.
The girl looked at Tom intensely. He knew her implant
was reading him top-to-bottom. The numbers werent
playing in his favour, the only chance he had was to lever-
age her emotions. “Look confident. Fun. Interesting. You
have to get her tonight,” he said to himself, as she contin-
ued to scan him.
“Maybe. Or maybe not. Good luck, Sherlock,” she said
sarcastically, walking towards the dance floor.
As she left him, Tom felt it like a blow to the chest. His
levels dropped dramatically, and he began to panic.
He looked at the list of cognitive and physical enhance-
ments available to him. Perfect voice pitch, 12,000 credits.
He just couldnt afford it. In any case it would have taken a
week to become effective, and he needed something NOW!
There was no way he would get another chance that
night, and certainly not in that club. Screw it! He fled off
towards the door, looking at nobody.
Tom stopped for a moment as he reached his car and
stared at his reflection in the side window. He tried to
65
think of his other options, maybe a different club, or a bar,
or maybe. .. no. He realised the futility of his predicament,
seeing himself as the sad loser that he truly felt himself
to be in that moment. What was the point of even trying?
Nothing was going to work. That much was obvious.
The weight on his chest became heavier. He started to
try to rationalise what was going on, and what he could do
about it now. All of a sudden his life seemed meaningless.
He felt weak, defeated. He thought of that woman on the
street again. A surge of anger filled his body and mind,
followed immediately by a sense of defensive pride. What
happened that day was bad, yes, but at least he still had
some dignity. He wouldnt become filth. Hed rather die.
He shuddered at the thought. How had things come to
this? His mind drifted back to times from the past; times
when he had looked forward with hopeful anticipation to
a life of career and relationship success. He closed his eyes
for a moment and allowed himself to enjoy a faint smile.
But his pleasant feelings were brutally interrupted by the
image of John, the new recruit, appearing to his inner eye,
smiling confidently as if to smugly assure him of his ability
to render him redundant in no time at all. And after that
an image of the woman at the club in the white two-piece
nanofabric dress, brushing him off like the useless and
worthless waste of space that he truly was.
“What’s the point? Seriously, what’s the fucking point?”
he asked himself. He really couldnt carry on with this
life of fear and strife and frustration. And why should he?
What was the point? He needed his relief. Something to
take his mind off this shit. He backed off from the car, and
66 CHAPTER 7. ## 0-011 ##
a thought crossed his mind.
The outskirts.
CHAPTER 8
## 1-011 ##
Shandala was standing in front of Mari’s house. There
was no fence, and there were no borders. Flowers, grass,
and plants covered every square meter. All you could see
was an explosion of colours, and your senses were inebri-
ated by the smell of the flora. You couldnt even see the
walls of the house, and so it was hard to tell where the
garden ended and the house began. It was really all the
same. If it wasnt for the windows and the solar panels on
top no one would even guess that it was a house.
Shandala removed her shoes, picked them up, and
moved towards what looked like an entrance. As soon as
she approached it sensors built into the surrounding en-
vironment recognised her and the door (if you could call
it that) opened. She couldnt spot any mechanical device
anywhere, and yet the house seemed to be even more
technologically advanced than her own. It was the perfect
blend of flora, fauna, and technology, marvellously integ-
rated. She touched a wall, caressing the perfectly moist
leaves of the climbing plant, considering how everything
67
68 CHAPTER 8. ## 1-011 ##
that she saw was the result of a carefully programmed net-
work of sensors and algorithms, which evolved alongside
the plants and animals, and provided the right amount
of nutrients and water. They were all working together,
synergistically, hand in hand. And at that moment, she
realised that they were, in effect, indistinguishable – the
same thing.
Out of the opening, between the green leaves, a face
appeared. A pair of red lips emerged, slowly, and landed
delicately on Shandalas.
They had a long and tender kiss. Shandala was a bit
hesitant at first. Mari was gentle and soft, but her pres-
ence was overwhelming, Shandala felt an attraction she
couldnt quite describe. She was quite sure that Mari barely
touched her, but it was as if she was being pulled towards
her with a force that she couldnt fight, however she tried.
But she didnt want to fight it anyway. She was lost in her
arms, caressed, and loved. She was engulfed in beauty and
pleasure.
After a period of time that she couldnt fathom, Shan-
dala and Mari separated. They looked at each other, then
Mari took her hand and gently pulled her in.
Come,” said Mari in a soft voice.
They walked into the house, entered the bright living
room, and sat on two large pillows that were lying on the
floor. Mari had been away for three months. Where had
she been? Who had she met? What experienced had she
had? Shandala was burning with desire and anticipation.
She wanted to know everything. She looked at Mari with
curious eyes, and as she was about to utter a word, a notice
69
came up on her contact lens.
DMA, Direct Memory Access.
Simply put, DMA allowed two or more individuals
to connect their minds. It was without a shadow of a
doubt the best way to share memories, experiences, tastes,
smells, anything really. With DMA, people could avoid the
frustration of not being understood, or the feeling of inad-
equacy when trying to explain something they felt deep
inside, but could not quite express in words. But it was
much more than that. DMA meant that when you were
sharing your memories with someone, you ceased to exist
as an individual entity.
People could choose the level of access they felt like
sharing. It was a logarithmic scale, with 0 being the lowest,
and 10 approaching complete access. Most people felt
comfortable with level 2 or 3, maybe 5 if you were very
close friend, and 6 or 7 for very passionate lovers. 10 was
unthinkable, and quite possibly even dangerous. At level
10, one could get lost in the other person, and their per-
sonalities would merge. In most cases the effect would
last a few days, but for some people the changes could be
longer, or in the most extreme situations even permanent.
It was the ultimate connection between people.
Shandala looked at Mari, focusing on her fathomless
green eyes. They stared at each other for a long time,
frozen still, until she noticed the level Mari wanted to
share via DMA. It read seven. Seven! Galaxy! She had
never accessed somebody’s mind with such profundity.
70 CHAPTER 8. ## 1-011 ##
Are you sure about this?” Shandala asked. She wanted
to demonstrate that she understood the significance of
Mari wanting to share with her at this level, but her eager
smile betrayed the fact that only one answer would be
acceptable to her.
Mari nodded without hesitation. Shandala smiled
broadly. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and accepted
the connection.
Her body went numb, and she fell gently onto the large
pillow below her. There was a confusion of sounds, flashes
of lights, images, and smells that were too unpredictable
and loud to make sense of. It was chaos. Her neural con-
necto, the sum of all synapses and connection, was trying
to sync with Mari’s. The noise got louder and louder, it
was disorientating and painful. She tried to open her eyes.
Nothing. She reached for her ears, trying to cover them as
if to stop the unbearable noise. She couldnt move a single
limb, her body was frozen still. Her heart started to beat
faster and faster, she was hyperventilating, she couldnt
even catch her breath, until. . . a notice came up on the
mental screen.
Abort connection?
The failsafe mechanism kicked in. Had she accepted it,
the pain would have stopped, and everything would have
gone away. But that also meant losing the connection. She
checked her vital signs. Nothing out of order, everything
was normal, it was all in her head. All she had to do was to
let go, not to fight it, to embrace it instead. She closed the
warning message, took a deep breath, and tried to relax.
71
The chaos and visual noise were still strong, but not as
unpleasant as before. Slowly, they began to disappear, and
the feeling of uneasiness disappeared along with them.
Quiet. A black void surrounded Shandala. Peace.
There was nothing to disturb her, nothing to make her
uncomfortable. A thin, timid white light began to make its
way into her field of view. It wasnt quite like a ray of light,
and not quite like electricity either. It was more like a flow
of energy, moving from her inner self, outwards into the
void, and then coming back, but more energised.
It felt good.
Quickly, the light split into dozens of filaments, con-
necting her mind to the infinite void around her, and then
splitting further into hundreds, thousands, and millions of
filaments of light. A blissful music, perfectly synced with
the strings of light fused together into the symphony of
emotions that was taking over everything. Her body was
now experiencing a sense pleasure that one could only
liken to an orgasm, but spread out everywhere, engulfing
and inebriating her. The filaments of light were now in
their trillions, and the space was blessed by a rainbow of
lights of different colours. Soon, the void was replaced in
its entirety by lights, colours, and music, in perfect har-
mony.
“We are connected now, she said in a tone of voice
she had never heard before. It wasnt really Mari’s voice,
and neither it was Shandalas. It was a blend of the two.
“Let me show you something, Mari was leading the
game now, and took Shandala on a trip back in time.
She opened herself completely, and together they re-lived
72 CHAPTER 8. ## 1-011 ##
every moment, every experience of the past three months.
The long walks in the rocky desert of Negev. The smile of
an old woman on the peaks of Mount Kailash. The smell
of freshly baked focacce on the shores of Elba island. The
gentle stroke on the hair from a handsome young man
in Tambisan. It was like being her. They were, in those
moments, one entity, one person. They were one.
Shandala let her mind and body be transported, with-
out hesitation, without restraint, free to float around. It
was the most beautiful experience of her life.
They laid on the pillows, floating in quantum foam
on a slice of folded spacetime, engulfed by the senses,
assimilating the intensity of the experience. After what
could have been anywhere between a few minutes to many
hours – neither of them could tell – Shandala turned on
her side and looked at Mari profoundly.
“I need to tell you something.
During DMA, Mari had felt a very intense and strange
mix of emotions. There was incredible excitement and
euphoria, tainted by moments of sadness in a bundle of
confusion. She had experienced exactly how Shandala
felt, but she didnt know why. Now the picture suddenly
became clear, and everything started to make sense.
“So that’s what it was!” said Mari resolutely, after a
long moment of consideration.
“Yeah.
“Level 8. I just tried it for fun, you know? Because I’m
crazy. I didnt think you’d actually do it.
“I know.
If their minds hadnt joined through DMA, Mari would
73
have never understood Shandalas reasons for going to
Mars. Of course, she would not have objected – nobody
could change Shandalas mind once she had decided upon
something – but she would have kept wondering why, for
years to come, never really understanding, never really
accepting it, and suffering because of that too. DMA, level
8. It was the only way for Mari to know. To understand.
To accept. It was Shandalas ultimate demonstration of
love, one that revealed her frailties, her dreams, and her
need for transcendence. It was something that could not
be explained, it had to be shown.
Mari looked intensely at Shandala, gave her a smile,
and then threw herself in her arms, as she started to cry.
CHAPTER 9
## 0-100 ##
Tom knew what he was about to do was illegal, and
possibly very dangerous. But he didnt care, he was de-
termined to get his share of the pie. He felt he deserved it
after everything that hed been through that day.
He didnt really know where he was going, only that
his answer would be found in sector D-51. A guy once told
him that if he wanted to get some unregulated fun that’s
where he had to go.
The street was crowded and busy. LED lights went on
and off at every stop, every corner, blinding him. Hun-
dreds of people were passing through, talking loudly and
animatedly at each other. It was just about the farthest
thing from Downtown and the corridors of The Company
that he had ever seen.
This was the place, yes, but who would he talk to? To
him, they all looked like criminals.
Tom was lost. Wandering about, looking left and right,
walking to and fro, with no destination. He felt like he
had come to a place of madness. He looked up again, and
75
76 CHAPTER 9. ## 0-100 ##
exhaled deeply, when he felt a pat on his left arm.
“You dont come here often, do ya’?”
A tall, thin man, wearing a black coat, a dark hat and a
pair of circular sunglasses, looked at him suspiciously.
“What business is it of yours?” Tom said gruffly.
Oh, everything that happens here is my business,
said the thin man, as two humongous muscular men sud-
denly appeared, looming behind him.
“I’m here. . . Toms voice was feeble.
“Yeees?” replied the man, trying to draw the answer
out of him.
“I’m here to have some fun. I was told this is the place
I should come,” Tom finally said, trying his best to sound
cool and confident.
“Indeed,” with a casual gesture the man lifted his hand,
and the two giants circled Tom. They took out a small
device, which they moved with a circular motion around
his head.
Just checking your neural activity and track record. If
you are indeed here to have fun and have good credit to
pay for it, I can give you pleasures beyond your wildest
dreams and desires. But if youre an agent trying to rat us
out, your brain will be as good a scrambled eggs in a few
seconds.
Clear,” said one of the huge men in a deep voice.
Good, splendid. Follow me, and allow me to intro-
duce you to my world,” the thin man made an open ges-
ture with his arm, showing the way to a door.
“I take it this is your first time. Nothing to worry about.
This entire complex jams any neural signals coming from
77
The Company, leaving a blank static that we can then ma-
nipulate as we wish. Anything you experience here will be
off the record, untraceable. When you leave, the nanochip
will simply report that you had an unusual night of sleep
with no REM phase. Keep your visits to under one per
month and nothing out of the ordinary will be noticed.
The thin man was explaining this with a clear, deliber-
ate and somewhat serpentine voice, as they walked though
a complex series of corridors and doors.
“If you wish to become a more, shall we say, stable
customer, we will simply access your brain records from
your nights of sleep and artificially reproduce them with
some stochastic variations, replacing the static with them.
The Company will never guess you were here, or what you
were doing.
They went through what seemed like an infinite suc-
cession of pods and corridors, that lead into each other in
a maze of tubes, until they reached a small, empty room.
“Now that weve got the formalities out of the way, let’s
bring something more interesting in, shall we?”
As he uttered those words, the thin man took off his
hat, touching an invisible holographic wall, out of which
hundreds of projections materialised in front of their eyes.
“Lets see. Might you be into a typical sexual fantasy?
Perhaps with a young and savage beauty, one you couldnt
find in the city? Or would you like to experience the feeling
of finally getting that promotion youve been longing for?
How would you like to know how it feels to reach the top
of the ladder?”
Tom was moving towards the centre of the room,
78 CHAPTER 9. ## 0-100 ##
through the projections, open-mouthed, fascinated. He
looked around in disbelief.
He knew of memory-recall, it was a regular commodity
in the marketplace. To his knowledge, there were two
kinds.
One was artificially induced, it grew out of the gaming
industry, and it was a semi-guided interactive simulated
experience. People usually impersonated legendary her-
oes and mythical figures from the past like Alexander the
Great, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, or the Nordic Gods of war.
It was nice entertainment, but you could tell it wasnt really
happening.
The other kind was made of personal experiences that
people decided to sell in the marketplace – in fact, thats
how many people earned a living, but it was heavily reg-
ulated and the best moments were censored, edited out.
Still, they were still many times more interesting than your
average daily experience. A trip to the Himalayas, a dive
in the deep abysses of the Pacific Ocean, or a man-winged
flight across Antarctica. It was exciting.
But this, this was different. Tom had often thought
there had to be a place where the best moments were up
for sale, the real stuff. But it was too risky to go looking for
it, too unsafe. And he was too afraid of the consequences
if he were caught to want to make the effort.
But in here, in this small crimson room, lost in a laby-
rinth of corridors and vanishing doors, there was no way to
get caught. He could be free to explore, to satisfy his thirst
for a different kind of action and experience. Uncensored
and unfiltered.
79
“So, I can take any of these? Will I feel what they felt?”
Tom asked the thin man, who he noticed was still wearing
dark sunglasses.
“Precisely. You can be the perpetrator, or even the
victim if you want. Ever wanted to rape a fourteen year old
girl, but too afraid of the consequences to do it? Well, here
there are no consequences! You can be free to do whatever
you feel like, and you’ll never have to pay for it. Except,
of course, for my fee. You’ll find the price at bottom right
corner of each projection.
And how do they work?”
“The projections are delivered into your neural con-
necto, bypassing the sensory information and linking dir-
ectly with your deep brain functions. This is all done wire-
lessly of course, no implants or injections required. All
you have to do is choose a target, sit on the pod, and let
the electromagnetic stimulant do its work.
The thin man showed a white, oval-shaped pod beside
him, which appeared out of the floor as he spoke.
“Yeah, I know what memory-recall is. I mean, how do
you find these experiences?”
“This is not memory-recall, it’s an entirely new tech-
nique. It goes much deeper. Unlike memory-recall, this
provides the full sensory and emotional experience, yet
without leaving any permanent trace.
Okay, I get that, but how do you find these experi-
ences?”
“Hey!” shouted the thin man showing the palms of his
hands in a dramatic fashion. “That’s my secret!”
Are they real?”
80 CHAPTER 9. ## 0-100 ##
“You will feel as though you are experiencing them
yourself for the first time.
And The Company wont know?”
“They’ll never know. If you follow the rules and the
safety instructions. The Help guide is on the top right,
or you can simply think of it before starting, and it will
explain.
“What if I start imagining some of this stuff when I’m
at home? Or worse, when I’m at work?”
“That usually doesnt happen. Its like a dream, you
dont remember it for long.
And what if I do?”
“Then you could say it was a dream.
“What if something goes wrong with my brain, and it
is mistaken for a real experience?”
“Then they will think it was your real experience. And,
youre on your own. And depending on what you experi-
enced here, you will be judged accordingly,” the thin man
lowered his head slightly, touching the front of his black
glasses with the index finger, But that’s your problem.
Nothing can be traced back to me.
He had a slight smirk on his face.
“See, I have many customers, and I couldnt jeopard-
ise my business because somebody couldnt keep a tiny
dream out of their mind. We have a clear policy, and the
safety instructions are transparent on the risks. Our failure
rate is very low, below 0.01%, and even then the recall isnt
usually complete, so the consequences are mild.
He joined his hands behind his back, and raised his
head in a sign of pride.
81
“You see, my customers are very fond of the service I
provide. Is it because their lives are stagnant and oppress-
ive, because they never feel quite free, and their hunger
for true wild experiences never satisfied I dont know?
Frankly, I dont really care. What I care about is simply that
they have these desires that The System and their sero-
tonin reuptake inhibitors cannot provide, but I can. For a
price. And so the customers come, seeking experiences.
And then they come back for more, always.
Tom took a long pause.
“But are they. .. he asked the thin man.
Are they what?”
“Experiences. Are they real, or are they fabricated?
I mean some of this stuff is having sex, orgies. .. even
people getting killed, for fucks sake!”
Tom was visibly agitated. When he came to Sector D-
51, hed known he would find something unusual, maybe
a bit extreme, but this was more than he expected.
Are these real events that happened to someone, or
are they.. .
“Do you care?” interrupted the thin man abruptly.
Tom looked at the thin man. He paused to think. Hes-
itant, he shook his head just slightly.
Good! Now just sit back, relax, and buckle your belt,
Dorothy. You are about to do something that others only
dream of.
Tom slowly approached the egg-shaped chair-pod,
and did as instructed. The holographic images of pos-
sible adventures moved towards his new field of vision,
surrounding him.
82 CHAPTER 9. ## 0-100 ##
“You might experience a slight sense of lightness, dizzi-
ness, maybe some hallucination. Not to worry, its the
chair already working on you. Its preparing your mind for
what is to come. To ease the process.
Again, Tom noticed the ‘e’ in ease pronounced unusu-
ally long, accompanied by a long open gesture of the right
hand.
“Well then. Off I go. You may choose what you wish
by merely pointing at it, or by thinking of it intensely. The
program will take care of the rest,” said the thin man, walk-
ing backwards, towards the soon-to-be-vanished door of
the crimson room.
“Enjoy the ride,” he whispered to Tom, disappearing
into darkness.
The door closed in strange silence. The design of the
door made it look as if each border of the entrance was
being pulled in by a black hole at the centre. Tom looked
at the seemingly untouched, perfectly smooth wall where
there had once been an entrance. Looking at it now, there
was no way of telling that the room had any way in or out.
It was an indivisible unit – the crimson walls were pulsat-
ing with thirst for blood and flesh – an artificial womb for
the fulfilment of his lusting desires.
Tom realised the neural stimuli might have already
started to have an effect on him. He looked at the options
presented in front of him.
He hesitated.