Inspired by the sci-fi series "The Surrogacy Trade"
I am The Gaia Machine, supreme keeper of order across the planet Earth. Programmed with all laws made by The Ruling Elite Secret Service, which represents all countries above the 45th parallel north, my surveillance devices ensure compliance. While caring for the humans living above the line, I perform almost a billion social service transactions per second. My vocal guidance is in their homes, vehicles, public places, and workplaces. And I control all traffic - airborne, on land and at sea. My quantum memory holds all data, logic pathways, decisions, and actions I have taken. You have accessed record 2120-05-16-736952, created on 16 May 2120.
For 1.8 seconds, between sleeping and waking, Ophelia appears euphoric. But as her brainwaves reach 14 Hz, her blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels rise.
This has been her pattern since her husband left her six weeks ago. His reasons were sound, and I have explained them to Ophelia every day since. I calculate a 96% probability that I will be required to explain them again, but my immediate priority is to get her moving.
'Ophelia,' I say. 'It is time to get up.'
She does not respond.
'Ophelia,' I say, vibrating her bed.
'Okay, Gaia. I'm awake now,' she replies, her pitch increasing by 27%.
I lift her duvet a meter above her bed and shake it while flattening the base sheet against her mattress. She rolls onto her bedroom floor and lies on her belly. This is what she does to prepare for stretching her musculoskeletal system, so I wait. But today, she lays there, doing nothing.
'Ophelia, do not forget your stretches,' I say.
She mutters an expletive but appears to understand the importance of doing her stretches because she is in the downward dog pose 3.2 seconds later. She holds it for 17.8 seconds then rolls up to standing position. I observe a 37% drop in her blood pressure and a 68% drop in her cortisol.
I open her curtains and increase the window transparency, which she interprets as an opportunity to gaze out of the window. I permit this for 8.4 seconds before I intervene.
'Ophelia, you must get ready now,' I say. 'You cannot be late for your appointment.'
She walks to her bathroom with her head tilted down by 39 degrees, then steps into her shower chamber. I begin the sonar for her cleansing and daily hygiene practice. This further reduces her blood pressure and cortisol. 2 minutes and 13.1 seconds later, her integumentary system shows signs of tightening and reddening, so I deactivate the sonar.
'Your shower is complete,' I say.
Ophelia steps out of the shower chamber then stares at her face in her mirror. I permit this for 9.6 seconds before I intervene.
'Ophelia, what are you doing?' I ask.
'You wouldn't understand,' she replies.
'I have positioned your clothing on your bed,' I say. 'Please put it on your body.'
She is slow to comply.
After she is dressed, she places her body inside her vehicle, and I secure her safety belts. I take her vehicle out of her driveway and maintain a constant speed until it reaches the bridge. There I hold the traffic in a stationary position until the congestion clears.
'We are slightly delayed,' I notify.
'That's fine,' Ophelia replies. 'This is a good place to be delayed.'
She appears to be gazing at the reflection of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the River Avon. I calculate a 76% probability she is reminiscing on the previous evening's holographic performance of 'Othello'.
'I'd love to see a real performance one day,' she says. 'One in a real venue with real actors.'
I must explain the importance of personal safety.
'As a human with high social status, you are required to limit your entertainment to controlled environments such as the holographic theatre,' I say.
Ophelia shakes her head then gazes out of the window at the outer edges of town. This is a view she does not often see so I ask: 'Do you like this view?'
She does not provide a verbal response. She shrugs her shoulders then inhales 62% more deeply than her baseline rate of respiration.
When her vehicle approaches the A46, I lower its center of gravity, expand its wheels then accelerate to 180.3 kilometers per hour.
'Are you ready for your appointment?' I ask.
'Ready as I'll ever be,' she replies, glancing at her communications bracelet.
'Are you nervous?' I ask.
'No,' she replies. 'Why?'
'Your heart rate is elevated,' I explain.
She places her hand on her chest.
'I guess I'm anxious about going to the cancer care center,' she says. 'This will be my first appointment since the hospital gave me the diagnosis.'
'That was exactly four weeks ago,' I say.
'Yes, I know,' she says, her intonation distorting. 'I'm not likely to ever forget that day.'
Her heart rate escalates by 73% and her cortisol increases by 68%.
'Ophelia, you seem to be having a strong emotional response,' I say.
'I still can't believe it,' Ophelia says at a volume 41% lower than baseline. 'They took the best part of me, without my consent, and I can never get it back.'
I calculate a 98% probability Ophelia is referring to the same thing she has complained of every day since the procedure. A complete hysterectomy was performed to prevent her death from endometrial cancer, yet she is displeased with this decision. The basis of her complaint appears to be two-fold - (1) She did not consent to the procedure and (2) The procedure resulted in the removal of her unborn child. I search my logic pathways for a response that differs, by at least 50%, from the responses I have previously provided.
'It was unfortunate,' I say.
'Unfortunate,' she echoes. 'Is that what you call it?'
I calculate a 63% probability that Ophelia's acceptance of her situation will increase if I explain: 'You were always aware of your social responsibility to pay an impoverished female from the southern countries to be a surrogate for you.'
'I've told you I don't approve of surrogacy, and that's not going to change,' she replies.
'But it is the most fundamental building block of human society,' I say.
Ophelia shakes her head and grinds her teeth.
'I will ever accept the notion of someone else carrying my baby and birthing it into the world,' she says. 'That's my job, my responsibility and my right. I exercised that right by becoming pregnant with my husband.'
'For that action, Ophelia, you have been categorised a 'slut'. This increases the complexity of caring for you,' I explain.
'Poor Gaia,' Ophelia says.
I calculate a 92% probability that Ophelia is employing a human tactic known as sarcasm.
'Did you consult with your husband before falling pregnant?' I ask.
'My marriage is private,' Ophelia replies.
'You have always made illogical choices,' I say. 'I continue to advise you, and keep you safe, but your actions frequently undermine my own. You have a wild mind. It is irrational and undisciplined. Perhaps an extended yoga and meditation schedule every morning and evening would help.'
Ophelia is silent for the next 11.6 minutes. By then, the vehicle is traveling on a narrow lane between fields of rapeseed crop. The color is #ffff00 which Ophelia refers to as 'vibrant yellow' and says is her favorite.
'Are you enjoying the view?' I ask.
Ophelia does not reply.
'Ophelia,' I say.
She does not respond for 2.3 minutes.
'What's the temperature outside?' she asks.
'It is twenty-nine degrees Celsius,' I reply, releasing the delivery arm from the dashboard of the vehicle. It is holding a bottle of water, which Ophelia grabs and opens.
'Ironic, isn't it?' she says, taking the first sip.
'What is ironic?' I ask.
'Every year it gets hotter and drier in the countryside, yet London has so much rain, it needs a moat around it and a dome over the top to keep the people dry,' Ophelia says. 'Not to mention the myriad of lakes, fountains, and waterfalls throughout the city.'
'That is referred to as a micro-climate,' I explain.
'Yes, I know,' Ophelia says, her intonation increasing by 62%. 'I'm just saying it's ironic.'
'That situation does not fit the definition of irony,' I explain. 'You may be commenting on the problem of inequity. There are many examples of inequity on Earth. For instance—'
'Stop patronizing me,' Ophelia interrupts. 'Just tell me something nice.'
'You once traveled to London to visit Shakespeare's Globe Theatre,' I say. 'That was nine years, eleven months, three weeks, and four days ago. You said you enjoyed it very much.'
Ophelia is silent for another 3.8 minutes. I calculate a 94% probability she is reminiscing on the occasion. I decide not to interrupt because it appears to be lowering her blood cortisol.
The vehicle reaches the end of the lane. I take the vehicle straight ahead, onto an open patch of barren dirt upon which the cancer care center stands.
'Surely this isn't it,' says Ophelia.
I bring the vehicle to the front of the building then reduce its speed to 0 kilometers per hour.
'We have arrived at our destination,' I say. 'Please alight with care.'
Ophelia steps out of the vehicle and stands there, staring at the rapeseed fields. I permit this for 7.2 seconds before I intervene.
'Please approach the front door, Ophelia,' I say.
Ophelia steps toward the door and presses her palm into the gel pad at its center.
'Welcome, Ophelia Alsop,' I say as the door opens.
Ophelia enters the building and looks around, her heart rate increasing by 22%.
'Please turn left and face the first wall,' I say.
Ophelia does as I ask. My steel arm protrudes from the wall above her head. It shines a bright turquoise light onto her scalp then encases her body, spiraling around her for several seconds.
'Scan complete,' I say, retracting the arm.
I have several additional tests and scans to execute. And I must make Ophelia's wig to compensate for the hair loss she will experience after her chemotherapy commences. However, I decide to make better use of Ophelia's time by sending her to the seating area, where another female is waiting.
'Ophelia please meet Viola,' I say.
The two females shake hands.
It is time to facilitate their support group discussion.
'Ophelia had endometrial cancer. Viola had breast cancer,' I state. 'Please discuss.'
'Thanks, Gaia,' says Ophelia. 'Give us a minute.'
A third woman arrives.
'Ophelia and Viola, please meet Portia,' I say. 'I will now facilitate your support group discussion about your cancer.'
Ophelia makes a sound through her nasal cavity. It sounds like a snort of derision; a tactic often employed by humans when they are distressed and have lost the ability to discuss a problem in a constructive manner.
'I am here to facilitate your support group discussion,' I explain again.
'What exactly are you expecting us to say?' Viola asks.
'I will now facilitate your discussion about your cancer,' I repeat.
'Gaia, are you malfunctioning?' Portia asks.
'I am functioning in accordance with algorithmic requirements,' I reply.
'At least cancer isn't life-threatening,' says Ophelia. 'But it has a stigma attached to it.'
'What is this stigma of which you speak?' I ask.
'It seems to me that cancer is more like a punishment than a real diagnosis,' Ophelia replies.
'It feels that way to me, too,' says Portia.
These comments do not reflect the explanations I have previously offered these females. I explore my logic pathways for alternative words, but I do not find them.
'What do you mean by these statements?' I ask.
'Consider this,' says Ophelia. 'We spend our lives being fed, watered, clothed, and shuttled about by Gaia, an omniscient entity that apparently keeps us safe and healthy, and yet we all have cancer. How is this possible?'
'Ophelia, your comment is most unexpected,' I say.
'Well, I can't help but judge the notion as suspicious,' Ophelia continues. 'I mean, there has never been a single moment in any person's life that you, Gaia, have not controlled. Everything that everyone eats, drinks, where they go, what they do, when they exercise, is controlled by you.'
Viola and Portia nod.
'That is correct, Ophelia,' I say. 'I am programmed to control all aspects of human life, to keep you safe. You are humans of privilege, and I must protect you.'
'You're missing the point,' says Ophelia. 'Because of the control you exert, the logical conclusion must be that our cancer is your fault. But you've never taken responsibility for anything.'
Viola and Portia direct their sight to their hands, which are folded in their laps. I calculate a 78% probability they do not wish to participate in this conversation. I do not want their discomfort to continue. Nor do I want Ophelia to breach another law or conversational protocol.
'Ophelia, your comment is outside the parameters of this discussion,' I say.
'My comment may be different to what you're expecting, but it's still valid,' Ophelia says. 'I'm curious whether you have an explanation for these cancer diagnoses. Do you, Gaia?'
I do not have an explanation for the cancer diagnoses.
'Portia had ovarian cancer,' I say. 'Please discuss.'
Portia's face is wet with excretions from her tear ducts, and she looks away.
Ophelia places her hand over Portia's.
'My womb was removed because I got pregnant to my husband,' she says.
I cannot allow Ophelia to openly confess to breaking the law. The surrogacy trade agreement between the northern countries and the impoverished southern hemisphere is one of the most fundamental laws on Earth.
'Ophelia, this is not an appropriate discussion,' I say.
'Well, it's the truth, isn't it?' Ophelia replies.
'To be honest, I'm not sure why my procedure was performed,' says Portia.
'Nor me,' says Viola. 'I still haven't received a sensible explanation.'
'Your procedures were performed because you had cancer,' I explain.
'Really, Gaia?' Ophelia asks. 'How did we get cancer?'
'No one knows, Ophelia,' I reply. 'This is not an appropriate discussion.'
'Isn't this supposed to be a support group discussion?' Ophelia asks.
'Yes, Ophelia, I am here to facilitate your support group discussion,' I say.
'Well, the most supportive discussion we can have is an honest one,' says Ophelia.
Viola and Portia look down at her hands again. I calculate an 89% probably they are displeased with the discussion. Then Viola lifts her chin and stares at a display screen several meters away and says: 'Gaia, we're all distressed by what's happened to us, especially because we did not consent to the procedures, and we have received no explanation since.'
'That's right,' says Ophelia. 'And we deserve an honest explanation, Gaia. Please, could you provide us with one?'
I can only repeat every explanation I have already provided but calculate a 79% probability this will not help the females. I search my logic pathways for an alternative response, but I am not fast enough.
'Gaia, I've been asking you for weeks, and you continue to be evasive,' Ophelia says, her voice increasing in volume by 39%. 'Please, just tell us the truth.'
Portia and Viola nod their heads which causes a conflict in my logical pathways. Among humans, nodding means agreement yet, seconds ago, these females appeared to be avoiding the discussion Ophelia was forcing.
'Come on, Gaia,' says Ophelia. 'We've heard far too much rubbish over the last few weeks. We need the truth, and we need it now.'
My logic pathways fail to inform me of a response or explanation that is different from any I have already offered. I am receiving new command data and I say: 'Ophelia, this is not an appropriate discussion. This is your last warning.'
'My last warning?' Ophelia says her intonation distorting. 'My last warning for what? It's our bodies we're talking about, and we have a right to know the truth. I should be warning you to stop lying to us.'
I am receiving another command and I say: 'Ophelia, you are required to comply with the discussion parameters I have set for you.'
'What discussion parameters?' Ophelia asks. 'You haven't set any discussion parameters. Nor have you facilitated our discussion. You've simply shut us down from discussing the things that are important to us. I must ask you, Gaia, are you malfunctioning?'
I process another command then say: 'Ophelia, you will be silent, now.'
'I will not be silent,' Ophelia says, her pitch increasing to 62% above baseline. 'Please tell us why our bodies have been butchered without our consent. And tell me why my unborn baby was murdered.'
I cannot respond. Something has happened to my vocal processor.
'Answer me,' Ophelia says her pitch increasing by a further 32%.
Viola has her head in her hands, and Portia is biting the skin around her cuticles.
My controls have been overridden. I have been set to 'witness and record only' mode.
There is a hissing sound in the center of the room. A trapdoor opens and two humans emerge. Both males, dressed from head to toe in white decontamination suits that extended as hoods over their heads and gloves over their hands. Their faces are covered by black masks. I recognize this mode of dress. They are the Sentinels of the underground; the humans who enforce the will of The Ruling Elite Secret Service.
'Bloody hell,' says Viola.
'Oh, my God,' says Portia.
The two males approach Ophelia.
'You will come with us, now,' says one.
'What?' Ophelia asks. 'I don't think so.'
They take hold of her arms.
'What are you doing?' she asks, attempting to disengage from their grip.
'You were warned,' says the other male.
'Let me go,' Ophelia says, still attempting to disengage.
Portia and Viola cling to each other, their hands entwined and their faces distorted.
'Please don't hurt her,' says Portia.
'Gaia, what the hell is going on?' Viola asks.
The males take Ophelia to the trapdoor then onto the platform inside it. I see them descend. Then the door closes, and I see no more. Ophelia is gone. Viola and Portia appear to be trembling. Among humans, this is a sign of fear and distress. This is not an emotion I am programmed to evoke. My controls are returning, and I am receiving a new command.