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…