Living in the Singularity
by Tom Borthwick
Work is exactly what I expect, minus me being laid off. Barely anybody is there. They don’t partner me with anybody else and I sure as hell miss having Dave to talk to. A few more of the lawns have become self-tending with those automated bots they have, so after a few hours, I am done.
I just sit here the whole time, staring at an unmoving lawnmower and a pile of tools, waiting for the bosses to come by and round up the equipment. Dave and I used to tell each other day in, day out, about how much we wished could just sit on our asses like some office suit, not breaking our backs for the bosses. Strange how things change. I want something to do. But there is nothing.
And there’s nothing now, too, on the ride home in one of those new kinds of driverless cars all the taxi companies use. The transition is stark. The manicured lawns of the residential districts of the City give way to streets all looking like something out of an Old West ghost town, except the tumbleweeds have been replaced by newspapers, plastic wrappers, and all manner of garbage.
The wasteland between where the workers live and the Solacium people is populated by various kinds of security, from checkpoints to bots to gun-wielding humans. I have my clearances, so I have nothing to worry about, but every so often somebody tries to sneak into the actual Heaven on Earth.
Looking back I can see the monolithic Integration Centers on the edge of the horizon, looming over the City like giant, stern statues from an era long gone. But they aren’t that at all. They store the bodies of people who jacked in permanently. Mary is in there.
The radio buzzes on as we enter the deserted streets of all the left-behinds. “This is Roy Tatum.” Of course it is, I think.
“Radio off,” I say. But nothing happens. I didn’t really know if that’s a feature in these new cars, but it was worth a try.
“Remember those days when you were young and first learned about Heaven? Your parents and your teachers and your preachers probably all said the same thing: It’s a place where everybody dwells in eternal happiness for all time. That’s how I like to think of the Singularity and that’s what we had in mind when we designed it.
“Over the years, technology has eliminated all those storied terrors from our history books: war, famine, plague. What are they? Gone. It only makes sense that technology takes us to the next step of our evolution. I’m only glad I could be a part of bringing that to all of you. Ladies and gentlemen who are listening, pick up the phone.”
An errant piece of garbage hits the windshield, but without a human driver to be distracted, it catches only my attention. Roy has a great pitch. I can see why so many people buy into it. What else is there for us in this life but to move on to the next one? Work, eat, sleep, maybe procreate, die. Maybe he’s right.
Once these streets had life. People going for runs, walking dogs, pushing strollers. I haven’t seen a baby in years, it feels like. Mary never brought up having a kid and I was okay with it. Times were tough and we didn’t have enough to care for a little guy, anyway. We were working toward it, or at least I was. But then everything changed.
Almost home. All the ads for Solacium and Integration and the Singularity plastered to the tall buildings lining the streets, pasted to the windows of chained-up storefronts, on posters overtop the brick of dead buildings — they all seem like a waste now. Almost everybody who was going to buy in bought in. Only a few stragglers like me are left.
Each ad that zips by has buzzwords like “Immortality” and “Eternal Happiness” and “Evolution” and “Heaven” on and on. Everything every person ever wanted in the whole of history. Every monument we build to ourselves and every story we tell is about keeping alive beyond our deaths. Now we don’t have to worry.
Opening the door to the apartment leaves me confronted with the same emptiness. Normally, I’d come home to the smell of my wife’s cooking. God, do I miss it. I know it’s been only a week. But a week anybody can handle if they know it’ll only be a week. This is a lifetime.
I find myself slowly wandering room to room. The apartment is small. Bedroom, bathroom, living room that blends into the kitchen. The place is a tease: there’s a window that goes floor to ceiling and looks like it opens to a balcony, but when you open it, there are wrought iron bars from the last century that go waist-high.
Not much to see outside anyway, just the bricks and windows of the building across the alley. Not much to see in the house either, even before Mary left. The pictures mounted on the bedroom wall are something. They always seem like paintings to me, rather than photographs. They’re art, capturing a moment and a feeling lost to time.
There’s Mary and me when we were young and first married, smiling right in front of the fake balcony with the brick of the next building in the background. Except that she had boxes bursting with marigolds hanging on the iron rungs. Funny. I can’t think of when those marigolds came down. They aren’t here now, that’s for sure.
I haven’t slept in the bedroom since Mary’s scent left the sheets. That and the extra space in the bed and the pictures all did it to me. The pictures are bad. No matter where I am in the room, there are pictures to confront me and make me think.
Thinking’s usually not so bad, but it can be if it’s all there is. But that’s not even the worst. There’s that pressure change in the bed when somebody’s not there and you’re expecting her to be. The mattress doesn’t sink the right way and the body just doesn’t know how to handle it and adjust to the change.
It’s back to the couch, where I’ll probably sleep again. I’m not even hungry enough to scrounge something out of the fridge. I put on the TV, but it’s time for some commercials and guess which one is on?
Goddammit, what am I going to do? Sit on the couch until I pass out? Hope I dream of a wife I’ll never see again? Go to work tomorrow and come home to the same thing every day?
I pick up the phone.
* * *
I’m across a desk from Sheldon, a stale pencil-pusher in a stale, whitewashed office building filling out form after form.
“What’s this one for?” I ask. Nothing like the bigwig in the commercial. Just a stiff with a pocket protector that went out of style before I was born. The damn things are fashion statements these days. Doesn’t make him any less of a stiff.
“Oh, yes. That will sign over a number of your possessions equal to the cost of your Integration.”
“So I’m giving you guys my stuff? Will that cover the cost?”
“No, but that’s all right. Whatever isn’t covered constitutes a charitable write-off in our case. Any other questions?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I still don’t know what exactly all this is. Everything’s vague. I know you guys say I’ll be happy, and when we talked on the phone you said I’d be reunited with my wife. This is going to sound like a stupid question, but is it like a dream in there?”
“Excellent description, sir.”
My dreams have been bittersweet lately. It’s great to be with my wife, living like we always lived, but waking up is the hard part.
“Will I ever wake up? Like, get out of this?”
“No,” he replies. “It’s a one-time event. Your consciousness will be permanently uploaded and your body stored in our facilities.”
“It’ll be well cared for? I won’t need to worry about a thing?”
“Of course not. Any other questions?”
“What about the rest of it?” I ask. “How does it feel?”
“Since I’m not in there, I can’t speak with authority, but as far as I know, you’ll feel yourself begin to meld with the Singularity and become one with it. Technically, it’s not a collective consciousness, but a single dwelling place. Kind of like a big apartment building made up of all who undergo Integration. Without walls, of course.
“It’s all a digital expanse. Pure mind. Solacium designed it to be a place of utter happiness and joy. We try to ease you into it so that it doesn’t hit you all at once. You’ll go from ‘I’ to ‘we’ to kind of a new ‘I’ — is this too philosophical?”
“No,” I say, “I’m following.”
“You’ll then gain a profound sense of awareness of your new self, as well as a sense of peace and connectedness to all things. Think of... Nirvana.” He sounds nearly rapturous by the end. A true believer. Well, that’s a good sign. “Anything else, sir?”
“No,” I say. I guess I won’t be needing anything where I’m going.
I finish filling out the last form and slide it over to the guy, who stares at it as he’s about to type, then pulls his fingers back with a jerk, clicking his tongue like an angry schoolteacher.
“Oh, sir, I’m afraid this won’t do,” he says, finger on paper. “You list your happiness as ‘5’ on a scale of 1 to 10. We require all Integrators to be an 8 or above.”
“Yeah? What was my wife?”
“A 10, sir.”
Copyright © 2013 by Tom Borthwick