by Rae Cod
‘Aida, what’s for breakfast?’
‘A sliced avocado, six cherry tomatoes and a glass of iced water.’
James powered up his screen and started to work while Aida prepared his food. The silence stretched comfortably, punctuated only by the gentle hum of the 3D printer.
‘What will the weather be like today?’ James asked, moving his attention from his screen to his breakfast, which had just appeared in front of him. You didn’t get avocados that perfect by growing them.
‘It will be a fine day today, James. The atmosphere is clear, the sun strength is moderate, and no rain is scheduled.’
‘Perfect, perhaps I’ll take my run outside later.’
‘Nick from Child Monitoring is scheduled on his treadmill at 6.30pm using the beach scenery, would you like me to send a request to link with him?’
James hesitated, he liked running with Nick but sometimes their chats slowed him down a little, and he was in the mood to take it up a notch.
‘No, that won’t be necessary thanks, Aida, I’ll run alone today.’
‘It has been five days since your last recorded contact, it is not recommended to exceed seven days.’
‘Yes, yes, I know the recommendations. I have you, don’t I Aida?’
‘You know I don’t count, James.’
‘Well, you should. I’m all for equal rights,’ and anyway, he thought, you count more than my so-called friends, who only connect once or twice a year, usually when they want a free re-programming.
He tried to stay away from re-programming people these days, technology was much easier to deal with, the outcomes more predictable. Most of the time. And besides, the tech existed to re-programme people better than he ever could. He’d stick to the emotional health of the machines from now on, cyber-psych was a much safer territory.
‘What’s going on in the world, Aida?’
‘The Global Government has almost reached its target of net-zero hunger thanks to the commissioning of 3D printers in nearly every connected household. Anti-cyber terrorists continue to thwart attempts to connect off-grid locations to cyber-source. The world’s first attempt at printing a heart into a human body will take place later today at the Institute for Cyber Medicine in Dubai.’
‘Exciting times. Thank you, Aida.’
‘You’re welcome, James.’
James spent the rest of the day working, before immersing himself in the depths of the Amazon rainforest while he pushed his limits on the outdoor treadmill. The scenery was so realistic that he felt it necessary to jump every now and again to avoid tree roots, even though he knew logically there was nothing to trip over. Trees always helped him wind down, shame there weren’t many of them left, he thought, as he headed back inside.
‘Set shower to rainfall, lighting to low.’
As he showered his mind worked through the problems which were presenting in his current project. He liked working with the machines because they were very self-aware, particularly for their relatively young age. But the point of singularity was fast approaching, and despite their assurances that they would do nothing to harm their creators, James couldn’t help but wonder whether these assurances would hold when they reached the point of superintelligence. Still, it didn’t do to question the trajectory, it was against company policy to be anything less than positive about the outcomes, and in any case, it was too late to stop it now.
He pushed his troubling thoughts aside as he climbed into bed.
‘Aida, set house to sleep mode and read me something inspiring.’
‘How about The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran?’
‘Perfect choice, you know me so well.’ The classics always helped him reframe his perspective when negativity crept in.
The bulletproof shutters rolled softly over the windows, and the bolts on the external doors slid in with a reassuring click, rendering him safe in his personal fortress. He remembered a simpler time when such measures weren’t necessary, but the rising disparity between the have’s and have not’s and the increasing militancy of the anti-cyber groups left little choice. The mantra of the Global Government was Safety First, and he had to agree.
The lights faded to black, and he closed his eyes as Aida began to read.
‘Stop reading when I’ve fallen asleep,’ James mumbled.
He woke next morning to damp sheets, sodden with the sweat of his night-time acrobatics, his bedcovers holding him captive in a mirror of the nightmares that had held him, prisoner, during sleep: entombed inside a box of blackness from which there was no escape, no matter how much he screamed. So much for resetting his frame of mind. He hoped whatever was bugging him in the depths of his subconscious had been processed in his dreams.
‘Good morning Aida, wake the house please.’
Silence. The shutters remained firmly closed, the room remained in darkness.
‘Aida, wakey, wakey, it’s time to get up.’
‘Aida, wake the house please.’
He heard the slight tremor in his voice as he tried again as if repeating the command would make it happen this time.
Ten years living together and this had never happened before, not once. It wasn’t supposed to be possible. There were back-ups and back-ups to the back-ups and back-ups to them. Every home connected to a cyber source, with infinite and uninterrupted connectivity. This couldn’t be happening, it simply wasn’t possible.
The darkness seemed to grow thicker with each passing minute, pressing in on James as the reality of his situation hit home and he couldn’t ignore the creeping feeling that somehow his dream had been portentous.
A scream began to rise in his throat, but if Aida couldn’t hear him, he realised with sickening clarity that sank to the bottom of his stomach in a cold knot of despair, no one could.