Halfway to Singularity

In a not-so distant future, a group of scattered souls grapple with their place in the world, and soon discover that their time may be running short…

Content warning: Please note that the following work of fiction contains references to sex and violence.


Part 1 | Part 2

2.1.0

Walking down a bustling city sidewalk, Max unintentionally caught herself humming the melody of a repetitious pop song that had recently hit the top of the charts. If she hadn’t been so focused, she might have wondered if the record companies had finally found a way to subliminally broadcast into people’s minds.

Regardless of the cause, her thoughts circled around a single thing, quietly but constantly pulling on a fiber inside her head.

She passed a long row of displays that would have normally been filled with personally tailored advertisements; instead, they all read “18:12:39”.

She rounded a corner and stopped in front of a large blue building with a mirror-like sheen to the exterior. It was tall, so much so that when she leaned back and looked up, she was hit by a spell of dizziness. Max then looked at the double doors in front of her and with a touch of hesitation, stepped through.

“Hello Maxine,” a formally dressed woman greeted her as she approached a reception desk.

“Hey,” responded Max.

“How can I help you today?”

She found it difficult to look the woman in the eyes and gazed slightly past her. “I’m umm… I’m looking for a friend of mine.”

“I understand. I’d be happy to assist you with this issue, Maxine. Are you familiar with Parallel’s updated user search? You can connect with your friends based on a wide range of-”

“No no,” interrupted Max, “none of us have seen him this week. His name is Pace – he’s an AI. Can’t you… locate him or something?”

The attendant smiled. “Well,” she began, “due to INIA privacy regulations, personal information of that nature is confidential, unless released by the user, or in the event of certain emergency situations.”

Max’s expression grew heavy, weighed down by frustration. “What if something has happened to him?”

“I understand your concern and will do what I can with the tools at my disposal.”

This wasn’t the first time she had heard a line like this.

“In some cases, users decide to take a break from their online lives, just as one might go on vacation. However, if you have reason to be concerned for the safety of your friend, I would recommend you contact your local law enforcement agency.”

“Yeah,” said Max. She let out a sigh and turned abruptly. “I will.”

2.0.3

“Jiang? Mr. Jiang Xun? Can you hear-”

“Yes Mei,” Xun replied, “I’m here. What is it?”

“Ms. Chen has requested an update on your review of the quarterly earnings report…”

“…I’m sorry Mei, Ms. Chen must have misspoke.”

“No sir, she explicitly said your name. I apologize for any inconvenience this brings you.”

“Maybe Táng can look it over for me, I have a very busy afternoon.”

“Sir?” Mei asked, confusion evident in her voice.

“Yes?”

“Umm…” she paused. “You fired Mr. Táng last week…”

Xun abruptly stopped his multitasking, turning from his virtual work space.

I fired Táng? What do you mean?”

“I – I’m sorry sir,” she stuttered, “I can send you the paperwork if you want to look it over…”

Xun quietly pondered the ludicrousy of the last 20 seconds.

“Sir?”

“N-no Mei,” he finally responded, “that won’t be necessary… perhaps… I should… take the rest of the day off…”

“If I may say sir, you have been pushing yourself. I will let Ms. Chen know that you are out of the office and with your permission, will assign the review of the report to Mr. Zhou…”

“Yes, thank you.”

Xun stared for a moment into the clean but empty walls of his virtual workspace, a void of slightly yellow-shifted white.

“Exit Parallel,” he said.

“Are you sure you’d like to end-”

“Yes.”

The space around Xun faded, and the physical world rematerialized around him. He sat up slowly, and removed the silver cord from the side of his head.

I fired Táng? He thought. The man is incompetent, no doubt, but I don’t have the authority to do such a thing…

He placed his hand on his forehead, which felt fine, and proceeded through a doorway into a small kitchen space. As usual, it existed in a blurred state somewhere between clean and dirty.

Xun retrieved a glass, filled it with water, and took a sip.

Perhaps during a sleep-deprived work night he sent a message to one of the higher-ups…

He let out a deep breath, and exited the kitchen, only to drop the glass from his hands at the sight of a tall, beautiful woman standing in his living space half-dressed. She had what seemed like miles of dark, wavy hear pouring down the valley of her bare back.

“How was work darling?” she asked him softly.

Xun looked down at the glistening shards on the floor in front of him, and then back up at the woman.

“What the hell… is going on?”

2.0.2

“What do you think is better,” Fey asked, stretched out comfortably across the large bed, “virtual sex or the real thing?”

Vince rotated his body slightly to the right. “This feels like a trick question.”

“No, seriously.”

“Well,” he said turning his body back, “a month ago I would have said you can’t beat the real thing, but you’ve since convinced me otherwise.”

She let out a soft laugh. “What can I say? I’m good at what I do.”

“Have you ever met one of your virtual partner’s in person?” asked Vince.

“Have you?”

“I asked first.”

She thought for a moment. “Yeah, once or twice,” she admitted. “It’s usually a quick way to end things.”

“It sure is…” Vince agreed.

They laid there for a moment in the quiet peace of each other’s company, something unusual for both of them, though for different reasons.

“You don’t strike me as someone who fools around very much,” said Fey.

“Ha!” laughed Vince. “I guess I did back in my college days. Then life got busy.”

“So why this?” she asked. “Why now? Why me? Surely someone as successful as-”

“Success is overrated. I made a mistake years ago. Been thinking… maybe it’s time to… change course or something.”

He turned back to her and smiled. “And besides, there’s something intriguing about you…”

“You think so?” she said, kissing his cheek. She pulled herself in close to him, and soon the two of them drifted off to sleep.

2.0.1

“There she is – have a seat champ!” Ji-hye motioned to an open chair next to her at the cafe table. Jean took a sip of a posh-looking beverage, his attention fixed elsewhere.

“Heh,” muttered Max as she sat with her friends. “Thanks.”

“So did you get your test scores back?”

“Yeah,” said Max, letting her head fall dramatically to the table’s surface. “Bombed this one too. My mom’s gonna kill me.” She took a deep, exaggerated breath. “This is all such bullshit.”

“Eh, we had a good run,” spoke Jean, his gaze still averted. “Though it wouldn’t hurt for our second gunner to run a few more practice laps.”

“Shut up Jean,” said Ji, giving him a forceful shove.

Max picked up her head. “Where is Pace?”

“M.I.A. since that last race,” answered Ji. “He’s probably just as pissed as we are and needs his space.”

“Yeah… probably.” She sighed. She briefly glanced out the window to a screen displaying a now-familiar countdown clock.

“What do you think that’s about?”

2.0.0

“Over the last twenty-four hours, industry experts have been quick to label this as some kind of publicity stunt. What are your thoughts Shay?”

“All signs seem to point to that Ayize. In the past Parallel has established a reputation for some unconventional, even controversial reveals of their software and hardware updates. Though this is technically a month ahead of their typical annual release schedule, they are perhaps trying to drum up some enthusiasm, especially with the early-adopter fan base. But as far as what this global countdown means for certain, only time will tell…”

Part 2 Teaser

“What is it you want Xun?”

He paused. Then, for a moment, tightened his grip on the old phone receiver.

“I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin. I want to know what passion is.”

His typically colorless voice took on a hint of carmine.

“I want to feel something strongly.”

“I wouldn’t have pegged you for a fan of Huxley,” responded the voice on the phone.

“His writing is adequate to convey my thoughts.”

“And if I could grant you all of these things, would you have the fortitude to accept them…?”


Halfway to Singularity returns December, 2018…

1.2.3

In a place that much resembled Times Square, though nearly ten times as busy, thousands of heads looked upward at the spectrum of screens lining the buildings overhead. The news reports, advertisements, and televised entertainment all unexpectedly flickered in and out in unison, and were replaced with a countdown clock that began ticking down from 21:00:00.

Somewhere, a middle aged businessman drown his past regrets in whiskey and sweet vermouth.

Somewhere, a girl with big dreams threw a helmet forcefully to the ground of a white, empty space.

Somewhere, an empty programmer hung up the receiver to an old rotary phone.

And somewhere, a strange avatar with a CRT screen face looked over to a woman in a wig, who had the binary numbers 10110 tattooed onto her cheek. She looked back at him and smiled. “Here we go.”

1.2.2

“Hey Stefano, it’s Vince. I hate to send a message like this rather than talk with you directly, but your secretary said you’re in meetings all day. I’ve had some time to think over your offer and, well – I appreciate you keeping me in the loop, but… I don’t think its a good fit for me. Would love to sit down again sometime for another round of drinks. I hope this analytics venture is a wild success – thanks again friend.”

Vince placed the mobile device in his hand onto the granite countertop of his sleek, modern kitchen space. He paused for a moment, and then proceeded into a neighboring room where a treadmill was built into the floor. Already sporting a high-end track suit, he stepped on and began jogging.

“Speed five,” he called out, and the track beneath him accelerated.

Success isn’t something we find at the crossroads of our lives, he mentally recited. It was an overly familiar line from one of his frequent motivational speeches. We find success when we invest our hearts and souls into our decisions, with a resolve that only looks forward and never looks back.

Recognizing the direction his thoughts were going, he focused on his breathing and increased the speed of the track. After fifteen minutes or so, he stepped off and wiped his face with a small towel.

Success… It’s what everyone wants so badly, he thought. No matter the cost.

Vince entered his spacious bathroom, showered, and returned to his living space in casual clothing. Sitting, he placed two small devices into each of his ears, and a thin metal visor over his eyes. He touched a small button on the side of the band that rested on top of his right ear.

The dark space in his view was quickly illuminated by the green glow of the word “Parallel,” which dissolved onto a cascade of particles as if they were swept away by the wind. His periphery was then filled with the view of a space much like his home, though a door in front of him didn’t quite match the surroundings. He moved forward, and passed through the doorway into a bustling city center. Far above him hovered a rotating marquee that spelled out “Global Server”.

“Parallel,” he stated, “take me to West 83rd Street… the fountain right on the edge of the park.”

The world around him fell away, and then rematerialized as a patch of greenery in a dense urban area. To Vince’s side bubbled a fountain with three angelic figures as its centerpiece.

He crossed the street and entered an unassuming bar with a sign that read, “Cipresso.”

The familiar space was once again occupied by only a handful of patrons. But this, thought Vince, was part of its charm. He proceeded toward the bar, where an unfamiliar face was mixing drinks.

“Is Fey around?”

“Who?” responded the woman behind the counter.

“Felicia?”

“Sorry hun, don’t know any Felicia.”

“Oh, well, umm-” Vince stumbled over his words, a rarity for a man who gave so many presentations. “You’re sure?”

The bartender presented him with an irritated look.

“Of course you’re sure… You haven’t started recently, have you?”

She shook her head.

“Strange… sorry, I must have the wrong place.”

Embarrassed and confused, Vince headed toward the door.

I’d swear we sat over at that table.

Stepping back out to the street, he was almost immediately greeted by a familiar voice. “Hey handsome, looking for someone?”

Only meters outside of the bar, Fey was casually leaned up against a streetlight, a mischievous smile on her face. She was wearing a dark, stylish trench coat and a fiery red wig.

“Shania, thinks my name is Roxi.”

“And why is that?” Vince responded with a smile.

“Because I told her that.”

“Because…”

“What’s the harm in a little fun, Mr. Gevan?”

1.2.1

The bright flash of a distant explosion briefly illuminated the massive pipe-like course that Max and Pace sped forward on. It was impossible for them to distinguish up from down, as a strong gravitational force held their bike to the track at any given position. The space quickly fell dark again, with the pulse of an occasional light ring that was built into the track rushing by.

“You’re being awfully quiet Ji-Hye,” said Max. “That wasn’t you, was it?”

Pace laughed to himself.

“Haha, very funny,” responded Ji over the radio. “Jean took them out in one or two shots. I think he likes this new wave cannon Pace, he almost considered saying something with that last hit.”

“Hey, hey,” interjected Jean, “no need to tarnish such a beautiful moment with words.”

Max quickly glanced at her rear-view screen, seeing nothing behind them.

“We have about… 2k to go until we exit the tunnel.”

“Very good,” responded Ji, “any signs of our other friends?”

“No,” said Max, “Zigg and Dee aren’t at the top of their games today. I think we’ve got a good ten second lead on ‘em.”

“No complaints here, just don’t get careless. Let’s take this one home.”

The next few moments were uncharacteristically serene. Pace released his grip on the controls, and sat, watching a dozen or so rings of light pass them by.

“Hey Pace,” said Max softly. “Do you think we can do this?” There was a flicker of doubt in her voice.

“Absolutely.”

“Good. Because I want this more than anything…”

Their bike exited the tunnel and was bathed in the brilliant sunlight of an open, coastal environment. The track curved gently to the right and then back to the left, and finally straightened into a long stretch along the water.

As Max and Pace glided across the finish line, they began to decelerate, passing by their teammates’ vehicle, which was already off the track.

“1022,” said Max with a smile.

1.2.0

“Dear Lord,” the minister’s voice rang out against a backdrop of imperfect organ music, “please accept Diane’s spirit into your loving arms, comforting us with the reminder that someday we will meet her again in our true home, a kingdom where you reign for all eternity. Amen.”

“Amen,” responded the congregation in unison.

The sun was shining brightly outside the front of the church, an inappropriately pleasant day for a funeral. Vincent stepped out the doorway following a small crowd as they funneled out. He squinted his eyes sharply as they adjusted to the light.

An older woman with a glimmer of youthfulness in her eyes rested a hand on his shoulder. “Vince,” she said, wiping a tear from her cheek, “it means so much to us that you came.”

He smiled, and placed his right hand on top of hers. “Family is important to me, Aunt Margaret.”

“Well,” she said with a brief pause, “I know you’re very busy. Goodness, you had to cut your trip short. Diane would have- I’m sure she’s pleased to know you are here.”

He nodded and Margaret gave him a hug before proceeding toward a group of younger relatives.

Vince looked over toward a large tree that was providing shade to several people gathered on the sidewalk, one of its large branches held up by a metal support pole. He recalled a time during his childhood when he tried to climb this tree, and his mother scolded him to get down, worried for his safety.

“It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?” a male voice said as his cousin Ivan walked up and stood next to him.

“…what is?”

“That people still take part in this ritual.”

“Perhaps. You want a funeral someday, don’t you?”

“Eh, maybe. Feels unnecessary. Religion’s been on its way out for years, but some people don’t want to let things go.”

“People find comfort here. Nonsense or not.” Vince chuckled. “I’m no saint, but I do like the idea of heaven.”

“Amen,” replied Ivan.

They stood quietly for a minute or so, trying to reconcile the somber mood of the memorial with the soft chirping of birds around them.

“Next time you in town, let’s hit up Montecello’s.”

“Definitely,” said Vince, as he put on a sleek pair of sunglasses.

“Pomalo.”

“Take care Ivan,” he responded, proceeded toward the parking lot where an orange sports car stood out among an assemblage of humble looking sedans.