From the vantage of an onlooker she would seem to have a grey-blue aura, her pale skin luminous though completely shadowed. Standing on the porch of a ground level apartment and smoking, the dull glow from the television inside labored through the summer humidity to trace Curstin’s outline. Her posture spoke rigidity and anxiety as she waited for the voice of her mother to return in her phone’s earpiece. Fine spider webs like damp veil hung on the holly bushes lining the railing in front of her, and she intentionally flicked the ash of her cigarette into them. Her fiancée, Evan, sat on the couch inside, transfixed simultaneously by the TV and the book in his lap. She breathed a thick, thankful sigh for the moral inconsistency in him which deemed cigarettes acceptable.
“Honey?” her mother squawked. The sudden break of silence caused Curstin to flinch.
“Yeah, mom. I’m here.” Curstin rotated the simple engagement band round and round her finger.
“Honey, now, I know this is tough, and I will talk to your father about it, but I think you may be making a big deal out of nothing.”
“Mom,” impatience kindling in her voice, “this is anything but small. It’s, like, all he thinks about, all he talks about.”
“Then why don’t you encourage him to do something positive with it?”
“You don’t get it. I’ll talk to dad myself. He may understand it better from my mouth than yours. I gotta go. Love you.” From the wireless ear-bud came a miniscule pop as she pressed the button on her watch to disconnect. Its digital face-plate lit up, and it trembled softly against her skin, alerting her that her heart rate had accelerated. She brushed a lock of red curls back from her face and used the dial to find a name, clicked to call.
It didn’t ring even once before a bubbly voice in her ear chimed, “Hey, Curs. What’s up?”
“Alli, please tell me you’re not busy, I really want to meet somewhere.”
“Sure, I’d love to!” The enthusiasm and its underlying optimism already grated on Curstin, but it always had. “A bar or something? Maybe at Stubbs?”
“No, I was hoping maybe a restaurant. Somewhere I don’t have to see the TVs. I can’t deal with another minute of this right now.”
“Oh, okay. I could eat. Uummm…Brown Jenkins’ in an hour?”
“Perfect. See you there.” She hung up and flicked her cigarette into the parking lot as she turned to go back inside.
Apart from a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, the apartment was one large room intended to be divided into a living room and dining room. Theirs was outfitted more like an oversized study with an entertainment center. Bookcases lined all available wall space that wasn’t electronic, another testament to how much of a Luddite Evan had become as the idea of ink on paper had come to be considered archaic by most. She couldn’t believe she was considering marrying him only to promptly attempt to have him put into an asylum. And all because of Singularity. But as his head jerked up from the book, to her, to the TV, and back to her like a cartoon squirrel, his once-powerful build now seeming slight and hunched, black hair hanging stringy and unkempt around his face, the conviction re-emerged.
While she changed clothes in the bedroom, the political rhetoric poured thick from the TV and crowded out her thoughts. A man’s voice, confident and unfaltering, said emphatically, “The superstitious fear-mongering of Randolph Carter and this new wing of radical tyrants will do us no good. The ability to usher in a new era of prosperity for the world through Democratic Transhumanism is a gift from God, made possible by human intellect. Given the ability to overcome our physical shortcomings, our intellectual deficit, we would be fools and cowards to pursue anything else. This is America’s new Manifest Destiny, and to attack it with the same economic feudalism that this party used to stand against is hypocrisy, at best!”
Evan called excitedly from the other room, “Babe, you won’t believe this”.
“I don’t fucking care right now, Ev,” she said coming around the corner, dressed nicer than was necessary. “I love you, but I don’t care. I’m going out for dinner. Please try to chill out.”
She avoided looking back at him as she left.
* * *
The restaurant cocooned its patrons from the glow of television, its wood floors and engraved paneling producing a cozy atmosphere which was disconcertingly offset by slightly irregular angles for nearly every intersection of doorframe, ceiling or floor. Paintings of desolate mountains and cold expanses of ocean and unnamable constellations hung at odd intervals and heights. Comfort and discord played side by side here. The place had become popular for its offering of a rare escape from the ubiquitous news monitors and their simulcast, commercially-entwined parade of punditry which wracked the majority public and private spaces alike. But there was no hope in evading the ideas. Curstin felt all the more insulted for how consequently the raging debate personally affected her by way of Evan, for that invasion of personal consciousness had extended itself into her most intimate interactions. Since the Geneva Corporation had made the breakthrough public, the worldwide debate over Technological Singularity had snowballed and in so doing, swept up her fiancée more wholly than even the single-minded broadcast conglomerates. That unity roared its presence in many forms.
Alli and Curstin shared a plate of squid tentacles poached in butter and blackish ink, brought to them by a server who appeared to be a part of the re-emerging Eskimo ethnicity. They looked over their menus, each of which bore at the top the slogan: “And With Strange Aeons Even Death May Die…So, Eat Up!” Curstin thought that the dish they currently shared looked like some barren aquatic orchard.
Alli appraised her childhood friend a moment, taking in how gaunt and feeble she seemed to have become, and said, “Look, you need to, you know, talk about this. I know you hate to, but you have to.”
“It’s, like, all anyone talks about now. I don’t want to join.”
“Hey, you asked me here. Now talk, bitch.” Her tone stayed playful, but there was no escaping its urgency.
“Okay…Evan is losing it.” She stopped there, as though that were the sum total. Alli made a keep-going motion with her hand which held her fork. “He projects this obsession onto, like, everything. He thinks that unless someone does something that, like, the super-elite will seize the BHT breakthrough, or whatever, and make themselves immortal.”
“Is that so crazy? Seems like a possibility to me.”
“This is why I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Just keep going. Your opinion isn’t unique, considering.”
“He won’t read anything on the web anymore, or use the headsets or anything because of how traceable they are. He’ll only read books or watch broadcast TV. And watch TV, at the same time, all the time.”
“At least he’s reading.”
“He’s donating to Randolph Carter and the Bioconservatism movement because they are the only ones who, like, oppose it all. Since the supposed assassinations after the Intelligence Explosion, or whatever, he’s been railing about it all day and all night. He won’t pay attention to anything else. Not me, not his job, not his health. As though Biomechanical Human Technology was the sickness and letting yourself die was the cure!” She sat back, exhausted from the release. The watch on her wrist gave of a series of small vibrations in tandem with her declining pulse.
“That would be profound irony,” Alli said, though Curstin was clearly not entertained by any such forthcoming notion, “if the Swiss, in making people healthier and smarter, destroyed humanity.” She smirked, and Curstin joined despite herself.
The Eskimo reappeared, signaling about something they could not discern to have any bearing on their meals, but rather as though he were an emissary of the intent of the restaurant itself, in both its design and operation, corralling them toward some inevitability.
They placed their orders, then without another word checked their devices in tandem: a silent prayer, a glowing reprieve.
* * *
“Hi, sweetheart. What’s going on? Your mother said you were having some problems with Evan.”
“Yeah, well—it’s more than that.”
She paced the parking lot outside of Brown Jenkins’, one of many restaurants in one of many “historical” town squares outlying the city-proper. As with most such areas, there had been some decay, some reclamation, some decay embraced, and some reclamation abandoned. Small stray pools stood randomly in depressions throughout the cracked lot. Curstin puzzled at the fact that not only had they not evaporated in the July heat but she also couldn’t remember the last time it had rained.
“Your mom said it was something political.” He sounded concerned yet mildly patronizing as though this were a wound of his own many times dressed in solitude for which he now prided himself in having the opportunity to teach her honed method.
Her frustrated sigh made static in the earpiece. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you myself. It’s not like we disagree. He’s just obsessed! This Singularity thing has put him out there on, like, a whole other level.”
Her father chuckled in a way that warmed her in its familiarity. A sign that he was arranging his thoughts. “It’s good for young men to have something to be passionate about. Too few do anymore. An obsession can be healthy. It gives purpose.”
“But it’s too much this time. I was behind him through the long GMO battle and the dark-web protests and all the others, but he’s…he seems almost gone now.”
“Your mom said he was donating to Randolph Carter.”
“Yeah,” she said with defeat heavy in her voice.
“Personally, I disagree with that, but he’s entitled to his opinions. I mean, if the public is allowed access to this medical breakthrough, it would mean a longer life for my generation and every other to come. In that light, what’s it matter to have a few microcomputers in your body? They would police it for dangers and irregularities, and probably more reliably than any doctor.”
“That’s not the point, dad. Anyway, you sound like the TV. And besides, Evan thinks that it will just, like, add years to the work force and be an easy plug to pull on non-producing seniors once it gets into the hands of the big, bad pharmaceutical villains.”
“Ha! That’s a laugh. I love that boy, but that really is absurd.”
“He barely sleeps, anymore. He doesn’t even have the same look in his eyes. There used to be, like, optimism or enthusiasm or something that made you want to believe in him, that made me think that I could follow him anywhere. Now it’s, like, inert.”
“Well, dear. These primaries will pass soon enough, and I’d be willing to bet everyone’s furor over this will too. On to the next scandal like always.”
“I hope you’re right.”
* * *
In the apartment, the primary debates blared. Randolph Carter, the candidate for the schismatic faction of the GOP, looked exhausted, as though simply standing against the tidal wave of new technology had broken him down, accentuated the fragility of his position. His opponent, poised and confident in his oration, looked to be the poster of the invincibility that his platform in support of Singularity promised.
Evan’s consciousness tread water somewhere between the back-broken Ray Kurzweil volume on his lap and the honeyed tones coming from the screen upon which the candidate was made larger and more well defined than any real person. The sound and motion of a door opening a few feet away rippled somewhere in that thought-soup.
“Jesus, Ev, give it a rest. Please.” She sounded far away and helpless.
He shut the book, laid it on the coffee table and stood, scanning the room as though he could not find her. She walked toward the far wall from which the TV radiated and deliberately stepped on the power strip, plunging the room into silence. He finally looked straight at her, cognizance sputtering, then catching.
“I’m beginning to think we’re lost,” he said.
“I mean, now that we’ve introduced these inorganic elements into our consciousness and physiology, the human race is forever altered.”
He looked to her for agreement. She looked at the floor.
“I mean us,” she whispered.
“Yeah, all of —” Puzzlement and sadness shadowed him, the first real emotion she had seen on his face in too long. “Wait.”
“You can’t mean that. I mean, What? Because of this?” He motioned at the stagnant screen.
“No. Well, yes. Because of all of this.” Her gesture encompassed the whole room, physically no different than it had ever been.
“What? Can’t you see! This idea is bigger than any of this,” he angrily parodied her gesture. “This is the quintessence of the future!”
“We have no future like this.” Her voice quavered.
“That’s the first reasonable thing you’ve said in days. Everything’s gone insane. The creation of real Aryan Supermen and artificial intelligence chimera! Fucking Singularity!”
“Ev, stop.” She was crying. Strands of red hair curling limp about her face like cut wires.
“No, you stop! And good luck with that. Between the siren song of cyber-consciousness, the inescapable waves of information in the air from internet and phones and vita-watches recording and monitoring constantly, we’ve all been practically cyborgs for the last 20 years! People don’t live like this, but we do. And good luck stopping!”
“Oh-ho-ho, yes. And now, big pharmaceutical dictating bio-political public policy! This primary, this presidential race, the bio-tech arms race, the whole fucking human race is gone!” He panted, his eyes kindling electrical fire. “So, us, define it as you will, but it…certainly…is…over.”
* * *
An Excerpt from the Concession Speech of Randolph Carter:
“…to call this a victory for any person or party is delusion. To call this ‘concession’ on my part is hyperbole in respect of the democratic process, for I could bring myself to concede, were this any normal election, but what is at stake here is the very soul of the human race. Should we proceed down this path, embraced by my opponents from all sides, who are in turn embraced by those whom this stands to profit most, then we will have offered up our most personal and most private property, our bodies and minds, to the fallibility of technology. We will have sacrificed our god-given being to the inorganic and the mechanized. Without having given a thought to our own best natures, we think to usurp nature. And once we have let slip away the ability to regulate ourselves, in body and in thought, there can be no possible future for democracy.”
* * *
She would find herself awakened
without possession of her dreams
by the pulse of her watch
She would believe that she felt the air around her
congeal and dissipate
She would pray to a god she knew no better
than a television personality
she hoped to gain self
to grasp her aspirations again
to find a path blazed only by the altruism she had forsaken for him
But she returned over and again to that asymmetrical restaurant and the beckoning of the screens without and the trivia that she loathed
* * *
Not until the equinox did Evan decide that he had had enough. All that remained in his living room was the entertainment center, the books, and a sheet of plywood balanced on milk crates that he had been using for a coffee table. He hummed to himself as he disassembled the entirety of the electronic set-up, let that hum evolve into song as he took it to the pawn shop, and happily accepted the first offer made to him.
From there he drove north beyond all of his geographical bearing. He went without the accustomed din of music or talk-radio, and when the urge struck him to look at his cell phone, he instead threw it out of the window to shatter on the asphalt.
Once sufficiently unfamiliar with his surroundings, he picked an arbitrary point to pull over onto the shoulder of the highway and proceeded away from the road on foot. Though the day was bright and warm, the sun was not visible as he crossed fields long-forsaken by those who would tend them, burrs attaching themselves to his clothes, tall grass making his hands itch as it brushed against them. Eventually he crested a hill, at the bottom of which ran a brook with a single enormous elm on its banks, its roots playing in the barely moving current. He descended and lay on his back beneath the elm’s bows, opposite the water. The soil was soft to his touch everywhere but the pale patch of skin encircling a finger on his left hand, upon which it felt raw and granulated. In the depression the air was tangibly cooler, and he took that feeling to be the first tickle of autumn’s tendrils breaching the sweltering terror of summer.
As he lay, he felt his consciousness hovering slightly above his physical body. In a period devoid of time, he felt that consciousness begin to congeal, then undulate, and finally blossom, descending through his person and melding with the packed soil beneath. Birds sang and insects hummed far away in his awareness, and under their voice came the thought: this is matrimony; this is unity; this is Singularity.