Living in the Singularity
by Tom Borthwick
“Integration” is the buzz word these days. It’s on the news stations. In the papers. On the ads in the subway. Even the guys at work are dropping one by one, it seems, because, hey, Integration. I haven’t been in for about a week, not that there’s much to do there what with the decrease in demand, but when I get back, I’m sure some more of them will be gone.
My maintenance partner, Dave, went two weeks ago. Told me I should think about going, too. “Go with the rest of the flies,” I told him. Felt bad about it after. Didn’t want to leave my friend on such a sour note. But there it was. Nothing to be done now. He’s gone on to the other side.
This whole thing started a few years back. Solacium Corp. came out of nowhere saying it had invented the Singularity, the next step in human evolution. Some kind of supercomputer where everybody uploads their consciousness and lives forever in happiness. Kind of like a Heaven on earth. Or cyberspace, maybe. A lot of religious types called it a Tower of Babel and said everything we’d built would come crashing down.
Things haven’t so much crashed down as disappeared. The streets get emptier every day in my neck of the woods. Across the proverbial tracks in The City, as it’s called, things seem to be doing fine. That’s where Dave and I work. Well. That’s where I work.
I do lawn care for Solacium employees. The City isn’t technically a city, it’s their headquarters. All the employees live there with everything they could ever want and more. Art imported from all the world’s museums, the best wines, the finest homes. Hell, everybody lives in his own personal mansion.
I’m one of the privileged few that knows it, since I work over there. Had to sign confidentiality agreements. A few guys broke them and got disappeared. That was enough for the rest of us to keep quiet.
But it was also enough for everybody outside The City to get the word that the Solacium people that jack you into the Singularity have it pretty damn good. They get their glamorous lives while the rest of us barely get by in the real world or jack into the fake, blissful one.
So on my side of the tracks, there’s nothing. No point in going to bars any more. Nobody to drink with. Nobody nowhere. Everybody got sucked in. It’s an easy sell. All you need is Integration and anything that could possibly trouble you... poof! Gone.
Don’t like your job? Won’t matter. Unhappy? Pills not doing it anymore? Integration wipes away the sorrow like Jesus on a Sunday morning. Didn’t make any sense to me. Poverty and hunger and war all those things you read about in the history books didn’t bother anybody these days. They were around when I was a kid, but I didn’t remember any of it. My parents always used to say I should appreciate these new times. Everybody got housing, food, and a job. It’s alright, I guess.
Thinking about it all is a bit of a drag for me. Besides, thinking makes me hungry. I’m going to stay hungry, though. The wife hasn’t been making dinner lately. Last week, she bought the hype like the rest of the flies. I hate to think of her that way, my Mary. I miss her.
Hunger doesn’t matter after Integration.
I don’t want to do it. Anything these teeth-so-white-they-glow-in-the-dark salesmen are putting down isn’t worth picking up one bit, that’s what I always say. But if I don’t want to do it, why am I staring at the phone, my finger on the dial? Why has it been like this every day for the past three or four days? Last night, I even let somebody pick up before I tossed the phone away from me.
Maybe it’s the commercials doing something subliminal. The government outlawed that kind of thing years back, but who knows what these companies will do to make a dime. God knows they don’t care a whit about laws.
Who am I kidding? Mary’s been gone a week now and it’s been hell. She fought me like a banshee before she disappeared. She made some good points, too, I’ll give her that. Kept saying things like, “We’ll be happy and together for all time.” Still sounds good to me, looking back. Just doesn’t feel right. Another thing she kept saying was we’d get out of this hellhole we lived in. I never thought of this place like that, but I know she wanted more for us. Maybe this would be more?
She sure had me stumped here and there. I didn’t really know what to say other than that it didn’t feel right, mingling with all those others. I told her she might as well be cheating on me. That was the end of the argument. Stormed out and didn’t come back. Twenty years of marriage out the window. And for what?
Sure, I have the letter. She was kind enough to send me a little something, trying to make things right, maybe. Maybe she understood where I was coming from, a little. But that’s not an answer, not to me. I know where to get my answers, but I am not going there, no matter how often I pick up that phone.
“Tim, honey,” the letter starts. I have the damn thing memorized by now, but I like reading it. That loopy scrawl of Mary’s is the last thing I have of hers. I know there are other things, pictures and the like, but it’s the last thing I got from her so it means a lot.
The scent of her on the bed sheets faded after three or four days. Boy, was that rough. That’s when I started dialing. “I know you didn’t want this for me or for us. But think of it!” That was what she’d always say when we argued: “Think of it!”
And I’d say, “Honey, it’s hard to think of something we know nothing about.” And then she’d talk about the things she saw in the ads: no more suffering, no more pain, no more worries. See, we had some money trouble. Sure, we wouldn’t have starved or been kicked out on the street, but we weren’t getting ahead. In the Singularity, there isn’t any money trouble.
But what else isn’t there? She didn’t have an answer. The glitzy ad men on TV didn’t either. “I hope I’ll see you on the other side, dear. Love, Mary.” And that’s it. Short and sweet, just like my Mary.
I was tuning out the TV, staring at the dull brown tenement walls Mary hated so much, but then one of the umpteen daily commercials for Integration caught my eye. That same old, tired commercial that somehow got everybody hooked blares in my ears and illuminates the room.
A slick-looking guy in his fifties — trying hard to look thirty — sits on a heavily carved and enameled wooden desk, like the ones in the lawyer commercials. One leg is a little higher than the other and his hands are folded on it. The navy-blue suit with pin stripes screams money. The shoes alone probably cost more than half the appliances in my place.
“Hi,” he says, flashing those bright, white teeth. I bet if the light switch got flipped, they’d glow in the dark. “My name is Roy Tatum and” — he pauses to laugh — “I know you know me by now.” His fake tan gets my blood boiling.
He stands and the camera pans back, revealing bookshelves stacked with books the guy probably never read, along with all the other amenities you’d expect in a soft and warm-looking office. Whatever their ad men told them, I bet. Or maybe they got data from the brains of people in the Singularity. Jesus, what can they do with all those people in there?
“I don’t need to tell you about Solacium Corp. and the wonders of the Singularity. You know already. The question is, why haven’t you dropped by for Integration? Now, I know what you’re thinking. Roy, you ask, ‘Why haven’t you been Integrated?’ I’m glad to tell you. The answer is simple: Ever hear that phrase, the cook eats last? I know how wonderful Integration is, because I invented it. And somebody needs to be the steward on the outside, making sure that the Singularity works perfectly for all.
“I know what you’re thinking now, too, and you’re right. It’s a big sacrifice. A sacrifice I’m willing to make for you. Don’t thank me, just call the number on your screen and set up your appointment today.”
And goddammit, the phone’s in my hand again. I toss the thing to the other end of the couch. This guy’s mansion is bigger than two or three of the other ones combined. He’s got automatons tending that, though. No lowlife like me is allowed to get close.
“The cook eats last,” I think to myself. Mary always used to say that. I’d get home from work, and she’s serve me first even though she was the one doing the slaving over the stove.
She knew I’d follow her. There won’t be cooking for sure, but I wonder if there’s scent in the Singularity. I’ll have to ask.
No. No, I won’t.
I can’t get down there anyway, even if I wanted to. Mary signed over the car to Solacium to pay for her Integration. Part of why I haven’t been at work in a week is because I’ve been missing my damn wife, but the practical part of the matter is that I have no way of getting there.
What would I do when I got back, anyway? Dave’s already gone. Now even more will be gone. Less work to do as more people Integrate. The only reason they haven’t laid people off yet is because people are leaving on their own. But how long will that last? It’s probably a matter of time until they can me. What’s there for me in this life? Just scraping by, alone, wondering how my wife is but never able to find out? That’s not a life.
I grab the phone and dial. It rings. And I let it.
“Solacium Corp, this is Sheldon. Hi, Tim, how can I help you find peace today?”
“Yeah. I’m interested. What do I need to do?”
“Well, sir, all you need is an appointment. When are you free?”
“Whenever. The thing is, I have no car. The wife turned it over when she went in.”
“Mary is her name, I see. That’s no problem, we can send a car around in ten minutes. That okay?”
“Wow, that quick?”
“Yes, sir. Do you need more time?”
“No, I guess I don’t.”
“Do you need anything else?”
“Yeah... I have a question.”
“Of course, what is it?”
“Are you there, sir?”
“Is my wife happy?”
“Of course she is, sir. But I’m sure she’ll be happier with you there.”
“But don’t we all meld into one, or something like that? How can she be happy if she’s just mushed into the millions of people you got in there?”
“It’s not quite like that, sir.”
“What’s it like, then, huh?” I’m starting to get pissed off. None of this makes sense. Not the commercials. Not the mailers, the fliers, the ads, none of it. “How the hell is Mary herself when she’s in a goddamn computer?”
“There’s no need to yell,” Sheldon says. “You’re asking a perfectly reasonable question.”
“Then give me an answer. Nobody seems to have one. What’s it like? How can you even know?”
“I haven’t experienced Integration myself, obviously, but the best way to describe it is that your consciousness is uploaded to a computer—”
“I know that already — give me the technical answer. You guys advertise like we’re all damn children!”
“I’m sorry, Tim, please calm down and I’ll—”
I hang up. What guarantee would there be that I could really be with my wife? I wouldn’t be able to hold her. See her. Wrap myself up in her scent. What the hell would I do? These people can’t even say.
I curl up on the couch and let thoughts of my Mary fill my head. I have to work tomorrow. Most of those lawns don’t mow themselves. Going to take a driverless taxi. Not enough cabbies to go around. Maybe I will dream of her again tonight. Hopefully I will.
Maybe the Singularity is like dreaming?
* * *
Copyright © 2013 by Tom Borthwick