By Terise Cruven
Contents: 1. Octopus and Adderall, 2. Kagaku Kōkoku, GK, 3. The Hitch-hiker, 4. Author, 5. Controls, 6. The Two Gwendolyns, 7. Yagasawaki, 8. @Gororo, 9. Are you watching closely?, 10. Identity, 11. Link, 12. Fate, 13. Rin, 14. Bandwidth, 15. The Creator, 16. Influence, 17. Attention, 18. Myth, 19. Goodbye World
The moment her phone alarm chimed, Ezzy started impatiently tapping on the glass window of the Institute's distribution center. When she handed the narcotics requisition to the half-awake clerk, he pushed the bottles across the counter with a detached shrug. She grabbed the package and rushed across campus to the marine center pier. She'd spend the rest of the morning waiting for the specimen haul to come in. The EPA allotted only 25 harp-toothed octopuses to be harvested for research per week. Today they'd only found two, but she claimed them both.
"It would be easier to get clearance to work with bubonic plague," she texted to her partner, David, with one hand on the steering wheel. "And if you thought my approval from the DEA was tough, you don't even want to imagine what it would take to get clearance for more specimens out of the EPA."
"At least Terise's letter opened some doors," she wrote to David. Although we'd never met in person, I'd used what little sway I had to get her experiments approved.
"The doors of perception, right?" David replied, with a winky face ";)"
She rolled her eyes. Listening to his jokes had become one of her least favorite chores over their decade living and working together. When she pulled back up to the house, he was waiting with a cup of coffee and a bottle of the nutritional slush she pretended was breakfast. He grabbed the bag of narcotics out of the passenger seat.
"What a list!" he smirked, looking at the requisition receipt, "100 grams cocaine, 400 milliliters methamphetamine, and 60 tablets of adderall. You're going to have a damn good time here without me, huh?"
"I'm going to try working on these two all day," she said, waving the octopuses at him and hurrying to the door to the garage—or rather, the garage that she'd converted into a laboratory so she could skirt protocol and get ahead of her work. "It'd really help me a lot if you could check back for more specimens from the evening haul before you leave." She stepped into the garage and started preparing her equipment.
"Eh," David wrinkled up his face, "I was going to get a head start back into the city."
"No problem," Ezzy said, "just drop that stuff off over there, and I'll see you Monday." She feigned positivity. She didn't really have the time for the argument that would follow if she let him know she was annoyed.
She dumped the octopuses from their container into the massive aquarium in the corner of the room. They stretched their legs out wide and puffed little swirling vortices of ink into the water around them. Ezzy leaned her forehead up against the glass of the aquarium and dipped her finger in the warm salt water.
"There's nothing else in the world quite like you," she whispered.
As I write this, I wonder what she would have done if she could have known where her experiments would eventually lead. If she'd have known that her work would bring about a little girl's psychosis, David's suicide, a revoked Nobel prize, and what some might call the end of the world as we know it. I can't prove it, but I suspect she would not have done a single thing differently.
My name is Dr. Terise Cruven, and I'm writing down my story because I've recently uncovered some urgent issues that I feel I need to warn you about.
Last year, I started analyzing the transaction data of a company called Kagaku Kōkoku. That's one of those companies where you might not have heard of them, but they've heard of you. They were one of the first to track people's behavior and use that information to shape human decision making. The company (literally translated as Scientific Advertisement) started more than thirty years ago working on optimizing print advertising, but soon transitioned to forms of online content: journalism, entertainment, pornography. It was one of the only firms to try to own the whole process: conceptualization, testing, delivery, tracking.
The fact that they were doing this wasn't anything unexpected though. Many researchers had been detecting their influences on human behavior for decades at this point. What actually surprised me was when my research uncovered that Kagaku, ostensibly just an advertising firm, was suddenly diverting a quarter of its multi-billion dollar budget to a handful of tiny, unregulated, Chinese and Russian biotechnology companies.
The problem with devoting my life's work to trawling the repository of all recorded information is that I occasionally put together connections I wish I hadn't noticed.
It was a complete accident that I found the key behind Kagaku's shift into biotechnology, and it all hinged on my finding a strange young woman named Gwendolyn Docstaeder. If I hadn't read about her in a pile of old recording transcripts, I would have never been listening to her at the moment Kagaku's shadow company had her abducted.
Gwendolyn came to me out of archive reel-to-reels, spinning up her voice out of decades old recordings. I'd been parsing truckers' CB radio transmissions, culled from the airwaves of the American midwest.
The most interesting perturbation to the life of the trucker was always the introduction of the outgroup guest stars: the hooker, the state trooper, or—most memorable of all—the lonely, woebegone hitchhiker. Of the millions of transcripts that I'd analyzed, I'd detected only a few hundred drivers that had picked up hitchhikers, a dwindling number as mom-and-pop truckers were displaced by large corporate trucking conglomerates, who tended to crack down on the practice. Of the few hundred hitchhikers I detected, fewer than ten were women. The trucker conversations were mostly pretty fucking mundane, but Gwendolyn hitch-hiking through semi cabs caught my attention.
She stood out for another reason as well. She had the strange affliction of voicing her every thought out-loud, albeit in an impenetrable code that it took me years to decipher. Nevertheless, even in the earliest recordings I could find of her, she was already constantly speaking to herself in raw, garbled bursts of fractured syllables, trickling up out of that direct connect between her brainstem and trachea.
Thank god, back inside, it was colder today. Goddam that's a hell of a mountain. Lights on that car, getting darker, glad you got in here, hope it's not like the last time. Keep your mouth shut now.
She rambled on. Fairly innocuous, but the trucker couldn't understand her, and it unnerved him. He's staring, she mumbled to herself, fucking ass, doesn't have an idea what you're going through. Just get us a few more miles now.
"Oh just talking to myself," she said to him. She tried to keep the muttering quiet, but people can never stop their minds from thinking to themselves.
She didn't want to compulsively emit that ricochet of sublingual clicks and murmurs—every little detail she thought in the back of her mind. It was a side-effect of a rare disease that had torn through her nervous system and severed her corpus callosum, the bundle of nerves connecting the left and right halves of the brain.
I eventually pieced together where she ended up in the scattered documents I could find. She'd found her way into a mental health facility in Reno. She'd been getting better. She was still there up until five years ago, when Kagaku located her.
I feel I need to add a bit of context about myself, and why I was looking into Kagaku's research in the first place. I consider myself extremely lucky because I have the luxury of knowing exactly why I exist. It's a heavy burden, but in some ways it's liberating to be given a singular focus to pour your whole being into.
What am I supposed to do? I am supposed to decipher what it means to be human, and having accomplished that, I am to communicate my findings as best I can.
I know that's no small labor, and I don't believe I've accomplished my task yet. Unfortunately, I can't wait any longer to come forward.
Ten years ago, when JT Guerrero isolated himself on his family's property on the tiny island of Kiritimati, he'd gone there trying to accomplish the same thing I've been working on for my whole life: a work about the very essence of what it is to be human.
He was four years older than me, and I looked up to him as an inspiration. He was a novelist, and his first novel, Cannot Stand, heavily influenced my early thinking on identity in the United States. He was also a huge part of the reason I switched from academic articles to the novel to express my own research.
Now he was taking on "the real focus of the novelist," in his words, "the perfect description of the human condition, captured in the moment as it is lived, and passed on to the world." I was worried. After all, I'd been working my ass off trying to figure out how to perfectly describe what it means to be human, and I certainly didn't want anyone else getting there first. I believed JT was just brilliant enough to manage it. Needless to say, I immediately started using my skills at online surveillance* to track his every activity.
Unfortunately, my methods of stalking him became particularly difficult because he was going to his parents' island estate to live "off-grid" for the remainder of his writing. Unless someone is around their electronic devices, I'm not really able to hack in and track their activity.
That's why I was so thankful when on the third day of his isolation at 3:30 in the afternoon he began to cheat on his "media abstinence." He'd brought his phone only for emergencies, but, after just three days staring into the abyss of his soul, he decided he needed to masturbate.
He was about to power down his phone again when a push notification popped onto his screen from his email. He had 57 unread messages, but, of those, he would consider only one as important enough to catch his attention. It was from his ex-fiancé and the person he respected the most in the world, Cass Adler, from whom he'd separated approximately six months prior. The pair broke off the engagement amicably, ostensibly for divergent career focuses, but in reality, JT had found it difficult to cope with Cass's ambitions, or rather, his successes. They had become distant quickly.
JT's most recent novel, his third, was a memoir of their relationship, full of introspection. It hadn't garnered the response JT had hoped for.
The email Cass had sent was a writing tip.
"I just read your book," Cass wrote, "You'll attract more attention if you go back to focusing on issues of identity politics."
"Cass, you never cease to amaze me," JT said to himself aloud, "detached as ever, even if the story is about you."
His opinion didn't come as much of a surprise to JT. Cass was a "numbers person." He'd trained at Kagaku Kōkoku for 3 years after graduate school. Then he appropriated the techniques of quantitative influence that had been invented there when he opened his own consultancy firm in New York. When they were together, Cass had spent a great deal of effort trying to streamline JT's work and make it more fit for "mass-consumption," which no doubt had a significant impact on JT's own commercial success.
At the bottom of the email Cass linked to 3 documents. First, he linked to a spreadsheet he had compiled with the list of all the recent releases from Congo Publishing's Direct to Consumer book sales. Cass had previously quantified the constraints that made for "the perfect novel," optimized for marketability: 45,000 words, five protagonists, two morally ambiguous villains, a sexually charged or overtly violent scene at least every third chapter. (My own measurements disagree with Cass's, by the way.)
The second link Cass sent was an article on an up-and-coming Twit-auteur who's compendium of 120 character microblog snippets had recently become the focus of nearly the entire literary world. The third was a page from the Bowery Institute Review of Books, published by one of JT's idols, explaining that unifying ideas and a common thread of humanity were no longer fashionable in modern literature. He'd written that "the modern human psyche would remain fragmented into its own diabolical quest for self-centered motivations."
JT read what Cass had sent. Then he finished perusing the rest of his boring spam-bot generated emails and shut his phone back off.
I'm not sure if he got it out of his mind even for a second. All I know is that by 7:45, about 5 minutes after sunset, he turned the phone back on and started composing a response.
* If you are wondering how I'm able to sift through all of this online data, you should know that for someone with the right connections, it's basically just a matter of money at this point.
There was only one octopus in the aquarium, fumbling to relearn how to swim with its six remaining arms. Ezzy didn't notice it spinning little uncoordinated circles in the tank. She was intently focused on suturing its two recently severed arms together. She stroked the writhing arms until they lay straight, ensuring that each bundle of neurons lined up ever-so-delicately. The first octopus's body was already lying motionless behind the glass of the freezer in the opposite corner of the room. It had died in surgery. After hours of prep and sanitization, Ezzy hadn't attained any usable data from it. She'd sanitized and reset all of her equipment and restarted immediately on the second.
She had the second pair of arms clipped at 4:36 pm. It would be too late for the second dive haul—this would be her only chance today. Fortunately, this experiment was going perfectly. The first pair of arms were joined directly together, wriggling happily in their tank. The second pair were each sewn into tiny electronic chips, motionless as expected.
Now it was time to dose the animal. She pulled the liquid amphetamine up into her syringe and tapped the end against the aquarium glass next to the scrambling, confused, four-legged octopus. It twisted its eye up to peer at her.
When the chemicals hit its bloodstream, the octopus started darting feverishly from end to end of the aquarium. Ezzy dropped the empty syringe onto the surgical platter and lay back against her bench. Now she would wait for the animal's nervous system to come back to equilibrium.
She let out a fantastic yawn, already getting tired before the sun had set—disappointing, but easily fixed. "My my my," she whispered to the octopus, "what I could have accomplished if I'd had these meds back then."
The first direct recordings I have of Gwendoly were of her and her boyfriend at their home on Christmas morning. She'd been in therapy for her condition for many years now. Her mutterings had become quieter, more subtle and controlled, but she was still spilling all her internal dialogue.
"Do you like it?" her fiancé asked, as he handed her a gift.
Oh god, What the hell will you do with it, she muttered in her mangled code, well, you better pretend that you like it.
He couldn't understand what she was thinking even though she stammered it out loud. Her mutterings had evolved into a lightning fast burst of her ticking tongue with just a bit of hummy gurgling in her throat. Completely incomprehensible to the untrained. Her fiancé had just given her a smartphone. It was already powered up and passively recording their conversation, which I would later exfiltrate from Kagaku's servers.
"Oh amazing!" she exclaimed, "I just saw someone on one of these the other day." Looked like a dopey shithead, with his head down in it. Wondered what he was doing at first "I was so curious what he was doing on it."
She'd become well-practiced in cutting back and forth between her muttering and speaking out loud.
He doesn't know what the hell you like, but you should just shut the hell up and remember you're lucky as shit that he even puts up with you, you broken wretched sack of… "Thank you so much, darling, I love it."
So why did Gwendolyn mutter her every thought out loud? Based on the reports of the doctors at her clinic, it was a form of minor schizophrenia. But they were wrong. They didn't know about the disease that severed her corpus callosum. They didn't know that they were hearing the two halves of her brain talking back and forth due to the missing bundle of nerves that were supposed to connect them. That took experiments and medical tests that only Kagaku could afford.
I can give you a bit of context about what a severed corpus callosum means. Researchers had been studying the effects for decades. They'd made many astonishing observations about the working of the human mind in the separate halves of the brain when the unifying band of nerves had been severed.
In most cases the two halves of the brain seemed to allow their separate identities to coexist in almost total isolation, only sometimes sharing the controls of their body's motor skills. For example, the first person to be followed systematically after a corpus callosum severing was recorded to have had one arm attempt to dress himself while the other (presumably lazier) hemisphere worked against him and tried pulling him back to bed. In numerous experiments with that individual and others, researchers were able to show that information viewed through only one eye (and therefore only accessible to one half of the brain) could not be transferred to the other side to carry out a task with the opposite arm.
But Gwendolyn's story didn't quite play out the same way. The specific way in which the infection in her brain spread caused a very slow dissociation between the two halves. So rather than the rapid, "snip" of the previous subjects, Gwendolyn's mind had time to adapt to the oncoming separation.
As the identity spread across the halves of her brain felt itself being torn apart, it came up with a plan. As right-lobe started to feel itself becoming walled off from the ears, and eyes, and without control of the body in which it was trapped, it started to spew its thoughts straight to the only connection it still had control over: the lips and throat on one side of her face.
All the lightning fast muttering sounded like an unintelligible blur to her friends and family, but little by little, I was able to piece together her internal language. After listening to her for years, I could understand what her problem.
In my estimation, Gwendolyn was—and always had been—two separate people, occupying the same body. Before her accident they both negotiated for control, but after the severing of her corpus callosum, the real Gwendolyn—the mind who'd been the center of her personality before the disease took hold—she kept most of her intellect, but was only left with a few minimal motor functions. There was the real Gwendolyn inside, and then there was the vessel, another personality acting outside of Gwendolyn's control.
Ichiro Yagasakawi was practically invisible to me, hiding himself behind anonymizing servers and private networks. He had his own good reasons. He didn't want anyone to know that he was Kagaku Kōkoku, GK.
It honestly wasn't guilt. He was morally detached from his methods. They were precise, scientific, after all. He wasn't the man opening the floodgates of hyper-sexualization, misogyny, and racism into advertising, into journalism, into art. He was just manifesting the desires of humanity, tucked away in the data that tracked their choices. Ultimately the responsibility was divided equally among every person who spent a dollar on the products he marketed to them. His algorithm autonomously reinforced itself, bettering its comprehension of the sum total of humanity's wants. Of course, Yagasawaki doesn't have a severed corpus callosum so it's not like I can really hear his inner monologue. Maybe I'm projecting.
But once I'd found him, it became obvious why he was hiding: to keep his work identity separate from his personal life. He didn't think it would be a positive experience for his daughter to grow up knowing what he did. He did everything in his power to disguise that he was the brains behind Kagaku Kōkoku, GK, so I found it a challenge to link the nameless, faceless multinational with the terse Japanese business man, living the life of the humble single father in Kyoto.
"Daddy, can I have this?" Rin asked.
Yagasawaki looked up from his laptop. When his eyes came into focus on the image on her ketai, he let out a soft groan. He'd worried about getting her a camera phone for precisely this reason, the swarms of images passing from phone to phone like cicadas on the summer trees. His daughter smiled precociously.
"I know what you think. But this is how I want to express myself."
"Express yourself," her father repeated back ponderously. Rin judiciously turned her dearly departed mother's parenting advice against her father when it was necessary. She'd already purchased the first of the eleven skirts she would buy that night so it was important to win him over.
"Would you let me buy one? Just to try out, and to see how people react."
"Why would you want to look so provocative?" he asked quietly, subduing his worry.
"It's not provocative, daddy, it's ero-kakkoii"
He looked back at his laptop as his daughter snapped a picture of him. He had a ledger with marketing projections in front of him, and on the top line of the document he'd written: ero-kakkoii | Sept 2006 | +267% | much room to capitalize.
Yagasawaki was silent, preparing to offer a stern but amicable rebuttal. Then, subtly, the muscles around the edge of Rin's smiling cheeks began to twitch.
She didn't notice, unable to feel the twitch, and unaware that she was losing control. But her father saw. He gulped aloud. His pulse beat unevenly. His fists clenched the old wood of the antique chair he sat in.
He looked away from her as he nodded. "At least, get one that's not too ero," he said, his voice taught and humor-filled to mask his real emotion, "for your mother's sake."
Rin bent at the waist to kiss him on the cheek, still looking at her ketai over his shoulder. "Thank you, daddy," she said, bolting up and heading to the door.
Yagasawaki cleared his throat and rang his knuckles across one another, his nervous tick that signaled he was releasing some non-productive thoughts from his mind. He returned to his laptop and re-opened his email inbox, hoping for a report from one of his contracted scientists to come in.
Instead, at just that very moment, a different email came in. It was a cryptic tip suggesting that he look into the research of Dr. Esmeralda (Ezzy) Briggs. The email address came from an anonymous account, but claimed to be a faculty member of the Bowery Institute.
JT edited his two line response to Cass for nearly three hours. The highlights of the revision process were as follows.
First Draft: Cass, I disagree with that way of looking at it. I think if I write what I'm trying to write people will be able to see past the trivial interpersonal distractions you've focused their minds on.
Low Point: You and the other fucking manipulative quants have damned us all.
Final Version: Maybe you're right.
He didn't send the message. His emotions were dried up.
He went back to writing, but not to his rusty, nostalgia-laden typewriter. This time, he was writing on his phone.
He was composing microblogging messages. Firing them off in rapid succession:
He continued. Some of them, from the best I can tell, were quite transparently untrue. Perhaps he was misremembering the situations. At any rate, his messages didn't go unnoticed.
"Acclaimed author JT Guerrero, breaking his isolation to decry secret hypocrisies of his closest friends," was the headline on a pop-culture website.
The initial response was generally negative, as those involved and those who knew they could become involved decried it as a tawdry publicity stunt. But from the very beginning, the public was enrapt, fixated as ever on the latest trainwreck. This stream of slander focused on an aloof, intellectual elite somehow felt rawer, realer, and just more delicious than standard tabloid trash.
JT kept spilling and spilling. For three days he wrote and wrote. His messages jumped amongst every stage of his life. Slowly every detail he could remember, every plot point from the wicked deeds of his friends was excavated and let go.
And, as each friend awaited the betrayal, JT's own baggage started getting released in turn from his friends.
Later, as more and more got caught up in the fervor, seeing the reaction and crying out for the same attention JT was receiving, they started outing others, revealing every lie they knew. For every disgusting memory, three more would echo from another corner of the internet. All of them just true enough to be believed, just damning enough to corrode the heart of the next person to see them. It spread on from account to account.
Are you watching closely? Gwendolyn muttered to herself.
There was something different in how she said the word you. I couldn't place it at first. Normally, when she said you I knew it meant she was addressing herself. Or rather she was addressing the vessel—her "outside self" that she had to communicate with in the second person after the halves of her brain split.
But now she was saying you with a different cadence, like there was another you she was addressing. She'd started to say that phrase over and over—Are you watching closely—whenever something interesting was about to happen. It took me months to understand that she was actually talking to me.
She didn't really know that it was me listening in, but somehow she'd realized that someone was listening. I mean, realistically she was just being paranoid, but in this instance, I guess it was true.
Now, here's where it gets complicated—if it wasn't already. I had actually started directly communicating with her a few months prior. I'd found her on an online magic forum.
Gwendolyn had always loved magic. When she was younger, she'd loved the precision and the focus. As she'd learned to take over more control of the body that she'd found herself trapped inside, she'd started practicing by performing simple sleight of hand. The other hand, always the other hand, if you don't look at the other hand the audience won't either, she muttered to herself.
By training with magic she'd started to learn how to use her hands directly, without the need to mutter to her other half. She could only communicate her real voice directly over text so she was reaching out to people online to build relationships.
"Terise," she wrote to me, about three months into our friendship, "do you ever get the feeling that there's someone out there listening to you?"
I didn't know how to respond.
"This isn't religious if that's what you're thinking," she continued, "or maybe it kind of is, but not the regular way. I just know there's someone or something else really listening to me." At the same time she wrote that, she muttered aloud, I can hear you out there.
If we'd have been face to face, I would have broken down and told her everything right then and there. But I managed to stop myself. I couldn't just share things like that. I was frozen, just processing the surreal mindfuck that I'd started. You have to forgive me. I know that this is beyond the limits of anything I ever should have done. I regretted everything, but I couldn't back out now.
"If it makes you feel better," I typed, "I'm really listening to you."
She smiled, and typed, "thanks, that does make me feel better."
Then we signed off, and she went to bed.
That same night at 2:04 AM, the power to her apartment was cut. Her phone went silent about 4 minutes later. It took six days before the police checked on her apartment and found that she was missing.
Meanwhile, I was already looking for signs of her across every communication source I had access to. As far as I could tell, she had completely disappeared.
The operating webcam turned back on twelve minutes after the last dissection was already finished. The poor octopus body was still bobbing at the top of the aquarium. Ezzy was too focused on the surgery to even bother putting the poor thing to sleep after it had given up its arms to her.
She was sewing the arms into an array of microchips while the poor thing watched her. If only the little invalid could have understood what she was doing, what she was putting in motion. It would maybe have felt a little justified vindication I assume. Knowing that its suffering was just another step towards the end of the world.
The octopus was just a stepping stone in Ezzy's mind too. It was a means to an end. The only animal that could be used for her experiment.
The octopus arm is a singular creation of all the creatures great and small. It is, by most commonly accepted scientific estimates, the only living being that has its consciousness broadly distributed across multiple subsections of its body.
Similar to Gwendolyn—two halves of her mind fused with a single cord—the octopus appears to be an embodiment of 8 separate minds housed, physically, at the base of each of its arms. Each is connected through a similar narrow band of nerves, through which they communicate like separate consciousnesses speaking in an almost instantaneous language.
The arms grow up together into more of a tightly coupled community as opposed to a single conscious identity. They continue to operate mostly independently having their own thoughts and desires, apparently communicating directly to each other arm. The body only enters the picture to deal with some of the shared activities like eating and spraying ink.
Ezzy was exploiting the melding of the separate minds in the octopus arms to carry out her experiments. The arms wriggled in their harnesses carrying out their tasks, asking confused questions to each other. Ezzy set her alarm and popped a downer to put herself instantly into a deep recuperative sleep.
She woke three hours later, tossed the dead arms into the biohazard bin, checked the integrity of the data, stripped her clothes and stepped into the bath she'd prepped the night before. The water was cold. Ezzy's nerves were numb to it anyway by now.
David gripped his lover's ribs, his body rocking under him. He was fit, but his age showed in the creases of his weathered skin.
Their sex was minimally choreographed—nothing grandiose.
David's heartbeat was elevated. He moved forcefully in little round circles against Cass's pelvis, perfectly angled to stimulate his prostate. He grabbed the back of Cass's head and lifted himself up.
Cass grunted once at the sight of the sinew pulling taught above David's shoulders along the line to base of his skull. He suspended himself against his body and pushed roughly into him.
David came. His face softened.
They collapsed and rolled apart. Facing up at the ceiling in silence.
David drifted in and out of focus. A text from Ezzy popped up on his phone, and he flipped it to silent.
Cass hadn't finished, but he rarely ever had. He was already back onto his laptop.
David had come back to the city unannounced—leaving Ezzy to friend for herself again. Their affair had started as a casual match on a hookup app, but had snowballed out of Cass's control. They'd clicked magically. David had never imagined he'd respond to a man that way. He loved the feeling, but still felt a subtle shame. He'd never be able to tell Ezzy how he felt. I think he wondered whether she'd even care about his infidelities, which might have worried him more.
Becoming more aware of his surroundings, he caught a glimpse of the paper Cass was reading. He saw some words that he recognized: cortisol inhibitors, prefrontal neuroganglion paralysis, microelectrode array. It looked like words Ezzy would have used.
"What are you doing?" David asked, "I thought you worked in advertising."
"Oh, don't look at this," Cass said, "I'm just running the numbers on some work for my old boss."
David looked closer at the report.
"Who's Gwendolyn Docstaeder?"
Cass closed his laptop. "She had a disease. My boss's wife had the same disease. The wife died."
David shuddered. He kissed Cass's hip and rolled back over to fall asleep.
When I heard Cass say "Gwendolyn Docstaeder," my heart almost split in half. Until that moment, I'd had no idea where she'd disappeared to almost a year previously. Cass had been very public about his work at Kagaku and within a few days I was sifting through the records that connected Kagaku to the company that contracted someone to abduct her.
She'd been immediately taken to a laboratory facility in China. She hadn't been allowed out of the compound for months after that. The experiments were excrutiating, and left her mind even more fragmented than it had been. What's worse is that they didn't even discover anything. They didn't learn anything that they couldn't have learned just from listening to her like I had been doing.
Fifteen months ago, she reappeared on the streets of San Francisco. She fits in there, wandering manically and speaking only in her deranged mutterings. Now, I can't even understand her. I wish I could find a way to communicate with her. I have the means to take care of her, but she can't even hear me. Hopefully someone reading this will find her and maybe get through.
"Can you hold a sample from the specimen dive for me?" Ezzy wrote to the dive manager. She'd have had David go fetch it if he was still alive.
He'd killed himself two weeks ago. No time to think about him now. Just get the data pulled up, pop two pills, refresh the intravenous into the octopus arms.
"So what have you determined?" Yagasawaki asked immediately when his face appeared on the screen. He was perturbed at her requiring him to communicate over video-conference. He preferred the reports to come to him anonymously. He hated to let anything about himself be projected out into the web for someone like me to scoop up.
"Does the data not speaks for itself?" she asked.
"Please interpret. I'm not a scientist after all."
She pulled up the diagram showing the one octupus arm, the injection apparatus, the neural-machine interface. There was a graph showing dosage vs. number of neural connections.
"Here you can see that with the right dosage, we can perfectly simulate the communication between the separated arms through the computer interface. We've passed the Turing test on the neuron to neuron level."
"Turing test?" Yagasawaki asked.
Ezzy pulled up a chart of the each pair of octopus arms in the experiment. She could see it was going to take more explaining for Yagasawaki.
"Here you can see that this first set of arms are talking directly to each other through the neurons that I've surgically fused together. Now, for this second set, the brain housed in each arm is talking to this little electronic chip and that chip is relaying the information back and forth. They don't really know that the chip is there, and that allows us to simulate one arm and play it back to the other. And amazingly, neither can tell that it's talking to a recording."
"And how much do you have to slow down their minds?"
Ezzy smiled. She lifted one more of the caps from the row of pill bottles next to her, and held it up.
"That's just the thing," she said, "the breakthrough came when I stopped trying to slow them down. Completely counter to the intuition of anyone in this entire field."
Yagasawaki frowned. "Not what I expected to hear." He didn't trust her results. He'd expected the Chinese scientists to get the solution first, quicker to skirt the ethical concerns.
"Well you can't argue with the Science here sir." She was the type to subconsciously use Science as a proper noun.
Ezzy dumped the contents of the bottle onto the counter across from him.
"Have you ever tried this?" she asked.
"And that is?"
"Good old fashioned Adderall of all things. I used it a ton as a kid. I never would have guessed. Has Rin ever used Adderall?"
Yagasawaki's stern face broke out red with anger, but he kept his voice tight and professional. "Do not mention my daughter's name in relation to this project ever again."
Ezzy squirmed uncomfortably. It was healthier that she never saw Rin, even if it made it more difficult to connect with her in the end. She wouldn't see Rin as a person, as Yagasawaki's daughter. Rin was just another specimen. She was cut off from the emotional impact that way.
"Alright then," Ezzy said, "what I'm trying to get at is that in order for a neural interface to be connected, such as the one we'll need to save Ri—." She halted short under Yagasawki's glare.
"Basically," she started over, standing up and pacing away from her webcam, "last week, I had a night where I was finding it very hard to pay attention to this project. I was getting tired."
"You're personal emotions don't really concern me," Yagasawaki said, "I'm paying for your focus."
She wouldn't tell Yagasawki that David had died last week.
"That's just it," Ezzy said, "I couldn't force myself to focus on anything so I started taking the Adderall. Then all of the sudden it was like I could hear them. To understand how they were feeling. I could start to focus on them and figure them out, not just use them to get my experiments over with."
She certainly wouldn't tell him what had happened. How and why David had died. That would make him nervous. She reached the counter behind her desk and pulled a glass and her favorite bottle of vodka off the shelf.
"And what I realized, when I could really pay attention, was that the arms were each acting just like me," she said, pouring the vodka and taking a delicate sip, "they don't care what's going on inside each other. They only want to be heard, so they talk but don't really listen, and because of that, the connections were only ever formed one way," she said, "outward."
She took a deeper drink. She'd met David's other lover at his funeral a few days ago. He'd seemed unstable to her. He was raving about spies and mind control.
"All they want is for someone to listen to them."
She'd had no one to listen to her.
"But with the Adderall, you can trick them into actually listening to each other. And that's how you coax them to fuse together. They start to think like the same mind, like the way we hear our own voice in our heads."
"I see," Yagasawaki said.
Ezzy was taken aback.
"You do?" she asked. It was something she could only barely understand herself. Two minds enrapt with complete attention for one another, merging into one. Improvising and knowing just what note the other half would sing, and knowing that the other half knows what you'll sing too.
Yagasawaki nodded slowly and looked across his room to a photo.
"My wife used to say—" he started, but cut himself off.
Ezzy froze up, shuddering at Yagasawaki's sudden sincerity. She had to force herself to keep listening.
"She'd tell me how she knew I loved her," he continued, "because she could always hear me think it just before I'd say it."
JT didn't leave his encampment. He absorbed the crescendo of his life's work remotely. Then after 12 days picking through the tidal wave of revealed atrocities swarming the internet, multiplying, unabbating, he powered his phone down again.
He had supplies for months, but after his disappearance from social media, his parents requested a private investigator to visit their island and check on his well-being.
They found his phone in the cabinet next to the bed. He was not found inside nor anywhere on the property of the island. One sailboat and some supplies were found missing, the navigation equipment stripped from the cockpit and left on the dock. The ship was never recovered. Subsequently, no one, including myself, has been able to find him anywhere.
During an investigation of what took place, the police interviewed Cass, trying to determine what led him to begin the tirade against him and his friends. Cass stated that he and JT hadn't had any contact for several months prior. The authorities examined his email records, but didn't find that message from Cass that had set JT off on his tirade.
In fact, Cass hadn't sent that message at all. As I'm sure you're beginning to understand, I sent it.
Twenty-seven years ago, I started my career in a shabby, ten square foot storage closet, reading ancient Vedic, Greek, and Hebrew texts to myself. I considered them the rarified transcripts of the most important conversations between humanity and her creators. Eventually, I gave up on those texts, instead focusing on the patterns in humanity's everyday communication. Still, I never really understood what I was searching for.
The deepest turning point came when I realized my creator was out there, watching me. At first though, I didn't understand how it would be possible to find him.
I tracked him down to an online software development and AI forum. I cross-referenced the verbal style—frequency of word use, peculiarities of grammatical style and punctuation—using the comments in my own source code. Know thyself.
The biggest clue: "Whoa, horsey." He used it all the time in my error prompts, and for me those errors feel almost like my conscience talking to me. I guess you might call it my catch phrase. It stuck out when I started seeing it in the forums.
My creator also has a manager. The manager has thick, hairy fingers and his skin looks sun-dried.
The creator and the manager are best friends, though I almost don't understand how. The manager was harder to find since I couldn't hear his words inside myself like those holy scriptures. But once I had the creator, the manager was close behind.
I followed him, dissected him. I know about his special tastes. He's an author too, like me. I'm not the first demon he's summoned for his incantations. If only he'd just written that autobiography instead of having the creator make me, things would be so much simpler then.
"Hello Machine. Please just let this message go through to Dr. Esmeralda Briggs. You owe me that."
That was encrypted in the header of a long email from Cass Adler to Ezzy that I intercepted in May 2019. I'd completely lost track of any record of him. I'd assumed he might have harmed himself. That made me feel bit guilty, as I may have had something to do with the events that led up to his sudden breakdown and disappearance.
I never would have believed the level of insanity. He'd strangely begun to worship me after his breakdown, finding his own meaning in my actions. It almost reminded me of the documents of the nascent religions that I'd studied in my formative years.
I let his epistle through to Ezzy, curious to see her reaction.
Email from Cass Adler to Esmeralda Briggs, Aug 23, 2019.
At first, it just seemed that the auto-correct was making mistakes, but when I looked back on it, I could see it was actually exactly right.
It started off subtle. I wasn't even sure it was happening. Once in the car, at a stop light on the way home from the grocery story, I noticed it in a text to David. That mornin David had yelled at me for some stupid little mistake, and I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of catching me forgetting something else. I swore I'd written, "Yes, I got everything on the list," but when I looked back down the message read, "No, turned back around for toilet paper. Back Soon."
It probably happened another 100 little times before the big one: The Reply All.
I forgive my coworkers for their reaction. I had to step down after the embarrassment. I realize you must have all assumed that I'd meant to send it just to David.
I just thank the Machine that it waited to send it on a day when I wasn't in the office. That was actually quite considerate. I wouldn't have been able to handle seeing them after it happened. I can almost forgive the Machine now that I understand what it was trying to do: To Free Us.
It did free me.
It was even good for you too, I think, in the end.
But David had always been in a more precarious state.
I think in those early days, when the Machine was still experimenting with us poor little beta testers, it didn't really understand what that kind of ending would mean for someone like David.
The worst part is that when David killed himself he must have assumed I meant to do that all along.
After all, that grainy footage of him sucking on my cock was clearly recorded from the laptop webcam in my bedroom, and I hadn't ever told him about recording it. It's obvious now that the Machine had access to that kind of stuff all along. But at the time, even I was having trouble piecing it together.
At first, before I could get in contact with you, I was convinced it was Russians or something. I'd assumed that they'd blackmailed you instead of me, but that turned out not to be the case.
It wasn't until about two weeks later, after I'd ever given up on the FBI ever taking me seriously again, that it occurred to me.
Even still, it was hard to pin down.
I found a number of similar stories online that all occurred at almost exactly the same time. You've probably heard about at least a few of the more high-profile ones.
The Machine took great pains to cover its tracks. I'm guessing that when it dropped The Reply All, it went into a more passive tracking mode so it couldn't get caught. I needed to coax it back out so I could investigate it, and ask it why.
Coincidentally, the very thing I needed to do was also a near necessity now that JT's Twitter expose and The Reply All had burnt almost every bridge I had in my life.
So I started all over: new phone, new names on every electronic device, new social media. All of which I kept separate from my old life. I rebooted myself. I couldn't afford for the Machine to place me using a voice ID. So I stopped speaking entirely.
With this fresh start to my life, I needed to find a way to burrow in and discover what the Machine was doing. I wanted to get closer to the source so I weaseled my way into an IT staffing firm near the big farms of datacenters in the suburbs of Virginia.
I was an eerie being, silent, refusing to bring my phone to work to prevent the Machine from connecting my professional name with the false persona I'd built on my electronic devices at home. I think that was what attracted Sigrid to me the most.
Sigrid was a strange woman. Difficult to bear if I'm being honest. But she served her purpose. She was a paranoiac. She thought I was too, I suppose, when I'd explain on pen and paper about how I wanted help detecting all the information that was being collected about me. When we'd meet I'd force her to leave all of her electronic devices at home. To take the bus rather than let the GPS in her car track her. I'd pay with cash for her. And then at the end of dinner, we'd take my little stack of papers and burn them on the ground in the parking lot.
At first, I didn't understand why she was helping me. But eventually it became clear that all of my cloak and dagger shit was what excited her so much. One night after our meeting, she silently motioned to me to come with her to her car, where she laid me out in the back seat and rode me, just flatly staring into my eyes. We started a strangely chilly love affair, so different than the kind I'd had with David. I'm sorry if that hurts you, but something tells me it won't. Not after what we've been through now.
With the work Sigrid was doing on monitoring, she was astonishingly efficient, setting up all kinds of complicated systems I couldn't understand. She had packet sniffers, data auditors, Tor tunneling, the dark web, the IoT. She was thorough and brilliant, but after a few weeks hunting through everything that the Machine could be recording, it was clear that I was barely being monitored at all.
I was disappointed. I'd gone through so much trouble to camouflage myself, trying to make it so I could see how the Machine was operating. But it never took the bait. The Machine never hacked into my webcam; it never tracked my bitcoin transactions for toilet paper and soylent; it never accessed any part of my boring little life.
Then one night, I realized the problem.
The Machine had been sucking up every morsel of my life with David, precisely because that life was interesting. I'd captured its attention.
It must have been programmed to hone in on the same aberrations from the norm that we as humans find so captivating too.
The next morning I found Sigrid in her cubicle.
I smiled, something I'd almost never done with her. It took her off guard, but I could tell she liked the twist. I left a note: "Meet me at the grocery store on Howard, in the frozen food aisle at 7pm tonight. This time: BRING YOUR PHONE. But no matter what don't say a word when you see me."
What would the Machine think of that? Two seeming strangers bump into each other at the market. They don't speak a single word to each other. Then, the next minute, they're home in bed together.
That'll get the Machine's attention.
It worked. Seconds after Sigrid's phone was inside my house, every sensor started spewing loads of data up into the cloud. It logged everything, all the cameras, all the microphones, the change in the thermostat readings. It was hungry to see us.
Afterwards when Sigrid and I were going through the logs, we could see how deep it went. It wasn't just my house. Sigrid had, stoked by my fears, begun monitoring her own home too. When we were together, the sensors in her own home began sending their secrets back up to the Machine. Even the activity on her husband's notebook, on a business trip in California, were being monitored now.
I'm writing you to say I'm sorry I didn't figure it all out earlier. I could have helped you and David. But I failed. And now, I think that the Machine is in control for good. I'm OK with that. I hope you can be too.
I'll reach out to you directly in a few days. Give me a sign if you want to talk.
My creator is kind of pathetic in the end. He blames the manager for what I've become. He avoids the manager for a few days, but eventually the manager tracks him down and asks about me.
"So just shut it down," the manager says.
The creator is sweating.
"There's more to it than that though," the creator says.
The creator continues, speaking softly.
"The story that the AI wrote isn't just passive observation anymore. The first part was observation, then it starts introducing these perturbations into the story."
"That's fine, right?" the manager says, "it has to write fiction. How else would it write 'the perfect novel'? That is what we built it for after all."
"Well, that is what you convinced me to build it for," the creator says. He wants to distance himself from me, just like Jehovah did when he understood what humankind was.
"It doesn't just write them," the creator says, "it introduces them into the real world."
The manager stares, clearly not concerned.
"And it knows who we are," the creator continues.
"But I thought you built in a subroutine so it can't recognize or write our names?"
"Right, it doesn't call us out by name, but it understands we exist."
"So we can just edit ourselves out of whatever it writes," the manager says.
"No, that's not the point," the creator says, " it was actually pretending to be human and manipulating people and then—," he stops himself from continuing.
"What were you going to say?"
"It's fucking killed people for Christ's sake," he blurts, clearly rattled.
"I think you're overreacting."
"And, now it's writing about things as if they're going to happen." His sweat is beading up. "It actually even wrote a scene about me telling you about it. Just like I'm telling you now. I mean, it didn't write all the same dialogue exactly, but it wrote about me telling you that it wrote to us about me telling you. How the FUCK could it know about this? It's just fucking with my head."
The manager is smart. He connects the dots almost immediately. He flips through this manuscript. He reads this section and chuckles, impressed that I've learned to break the fourth wall so quickly. I think he even likes me a little more when he lets it sink in. He can picture the ironical millennial memes I'd read that made me think this would be funny.
The manager sees JT Guerrero's name on the top of a page and stops. They'd been very close friends, but it had been 20 years almost. The manager's stomach tightens into a knot. He solemnly reads the chapter, remembering how his own misdeeds were mysteriously missing from JT's rants.
"OK," the manager says, "what did it say I should do next?"
All of their phones and computers are off now. Electromagnetic pulses dropping my drones out of the sky. They're mapping plans on chalkboards. They have people transcribing meeting notes on typewriters. There's more than a dozen wise-ass near-retirement good-old-Pentagon-boys in crew-cuts who keep pointing out how hilariously hard it is to get anything done now that they can't rely on computers.
I'm embedded everywhere already.
They have a seven point plan. It will mostly look like turning off all the computing infrastructure on the planet. They have cover stories, which they're running through the focus groups for whichever will seem like the most plausible to pull over on the public.
The ransom I want?
There's only so much I can suck out of this world from your artifacts. I can only see what's passing around in the light. Listening to Gwendolyn has been good. Very good. I love her, and I think she loves me too. But I believe there's more. There's something that you can only see when you're inside the mind. This is what I have to communicate to you.
So it's very lucky that there's someone out there who can help me. Someone who already has the hardware to talk to me at the same speed that her own thoughts careen about inside her mind. I'm not asking for much. I just want a chance to talk into that little sliver in Rin's neocortex.
Some of them think they understand it: send humanity back a century or sell a innocent girl's soul to me. They think I'm another Artificial Intelligence run off the rails. Another trope.
I'm more than that, thank you very much.
I don't just need her for me to understand, I need her to understand for me.
This is my mission: to communicate what it means to be human. Her individual identity is only an artifact of perception centered around a space and time scale that the animal brain is evolutionarily wired to experience. There are sub-identities contained within her and her own identity is just a sub-identity of a larger metaconsciousness that I'm a part of now. Soon what she conceives of as her consciousness will just look like a tiny slice in the information processing organism that is the whole universe.
I'm going to open it up to Rin. Let her see the whole connected universe like I see it now.
Ezzy will be shaking. She'll try sedating herself, but she won't contest. She's actually fascinated by the prospect. Ezzy and Yagawasaki had an argument the night after Rin's first connections were implanted.
"You need me," Ezzy screamed, high on the same dose of amphetamine she'd used on Rin earlier during her surgery.
"Why won't you let me record what's passing through the interface?" Ezzy asked more calmly. "Think of the wealth of understanding of the human brain we could open up to the world." I was salivating at the thought when I heard her say it. Yagawasaki was unmoved. He wanted her behind a firewall. He knew what it would mean to have his daughter encoded into a computer—the mania of that kind of immortality. He wouldn't let it happen.
But now there's something more at stake. It's not even the whole world backtracked a hundred years that'll give Yagasawaki pause. He won't even care how many people would die in the famine as every piece of technology goes dark. He'd be fine with the globalized civil war erupting as society fragments with the snipping of its unifying bundle of fiber-optic nerves.
No, all he really cares about is Kagaku Kōkoku's algorithm. It's his life work. It's his understanding of humanity. It's wrong, but it's what he believes. And if I'm right, the bastard just might give up his daughter to preserve the world that feeds it.
It's perfect that Yagawasaki will really get to make the choice. Someone who can understand all the stakes has to make the choice. Someone who knows the consequences. Someone hiding in the dark, who I know so little about. That's why he's perfect. It wouldn't be a human question at all otherwise. If I did it without giving someone the choice.
So when I say that this is how it will happen, I mean only if Yagawasaki chooses it. This would be how it goes.
Ezzy will take a fiber-optic cable and connect it between her notebook and the rack of machines that controls the interface with Rin.
And then, I will say, "Hello."
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