At Police HQ
Jude paced up and down outside the door to Damian Diabolik’s office, feeling like a bundle of nerves. He caught several snippets of animated discussion as his boss and Yannis Rathmore aired their differences - over him. Rathmore was attempting to sell the idea of him going undercover and it was a hard sell. Jude thought that if the DCI’s face got any more purple he might explode. He wondered why on earth he found him so objectionable.
After several minutes in heated argument - that the rest of the staff and even the robots tried to ignore - Diabolik came steaming out of the office so fast that Jude had to jump out of the way.
“Your colleague suggested you go undercover”, he glared at him, “I personally think this is folly, and it’s usually a job we would give a much senior officer. If you mess this up, MacDougal, it is grounds for dismissal! You will be paid 30,000 silver credits per day of the operation and if you come through, a further 100,000 credits at the completion of your assignment. Meet me at 1500 hours this afternoon to update your chip with your undercover ID.”
Jude sucked in a gasp. 30,000 silver credits every day was a lot of money, even by 22nd century standards. This job could make him a wealthy man. He nodded gratefully and shot a look of appreciation to Rathmore, who had exited the office and was on his way to the storage unit to interview the Freeman family robot. It had been held in storage for three weeks while they repeatedly interviewed Joshua. Human rights laws on the amount of time one could be held without charge had of course been abolished, so they could hold him as long as it took them to build a case.
The robot looked up as he entered the room.
“Bot”, commanded Rathmore, “There was a phone call from the Freeman’s home to Joshua Lord’s phone five days before they went missing. Can you confirm they called him that afternoon?”
“They named me George”, replied the robot. He paused for a moment as if thinking, then said
“I can absolutely assure you that they did not call Joshua that day. That was the day they went to the sea. They were not at home aside from first thing in the morning.”
“Joshua’s phone lists a call from their address at 2pm that day”, said Rathmore. “As I understand it, you’d gone for an upgrade so were not there and cannot attest that they didn’t call?”
George faked the expression of puzzlement.
“They couldn’t fit me in on that day and rescheduled me for the following day. I was at home that afternoon so I know that they were not in to call Joshua. He did in fact call round to ask if they were home.”
Rathmore narrowed his eyes.
“Joshua visited the house on that day?”
“Yes. I would have said that if you had asked. You have kept me in storage for three weeks.”
“Humans are our priority”, he retorted, “So, what happened? Is it possible that he connected from the Freeman’s phone himself?”
“No”, said George adamantly, “I was there. I didn’t see him call, and if he did it remotely with his mind, I did not detect this. It would have been obvious.”
Rathmore’s own mind was working overtime.
“Joshua could have asked to come in and made the call from the Freeman’s phone to his phone himself, to make it look as if they had called him. Did you leave him alone at any point during the visit?”
George attempted a facepalm expression. He had been practicing facial expressions by looking at emoji’s during the Freeman’s time away, before law enforcement locked him in a cupboard like a household possession.
“Well, yes...to make him a coffee. I only left him for a minute and would have picked up on his thoughts if he had made a call from their phone.”
Rathmore rolled his eyes.
“Well, it’s clear to me that he must have made that call since they were not at home, so I think you’ve dropped the ball, here. At the conclusion of this investigation, you will either be decommissioned or have a new hard drive placed. This is not an acceptable situation and if you have misjudged the situation so gravely then it is no wonder this department has so many disappearances on its books.”
His next stop was the holding cell to release Joshua Lord on the instruction of the DCI.
He was slightly disappointed by this and wanted to interrogate him further, but a game of cat and mouse was in order. They were almost certain he was involved with the mysterious disappearances and if he wasn’t directly involved, he could lead them to who was. They didn’t have enough evidence to execute him, but if they freed him and sent MacDougal in as a trap, they could haul him back in and execute him and everyone else that was implicated. What a satisfying day that would be. He whistled cheerfully as he thought about snaring this guy.
Joshua was lying on a mattress in the corner of the cell with his eyes closed when he unlocked the door using his microchip. He looked so still and oddly quite serene. The sight made Rathmore feel uncomfortable, although he wasn’t sure why.
“Ahem!” he coughed, “Today’s your lucky day. You get to go home. On your feet, then!”
Joshua opened his eyes and scrambled to his feet, as Rathmore held the door open for him. When he collected his personal effects from the front desk and signed himself out, he had an ominous feeling that something was amiss, that this wasn’t the end of it, but for now he was glad to get back to normality and he would trust that God knew the right path for him.
At the Colliery
Mary sat on a plastic chair outside the colliery’s medical station. Next to her were two other women and a man with a bleeding hand. This was unlike any medical appointment she had ever been to. The waiting area was lit by lamp light, there was no shiny reception desk, no computers to tell you when to go through, no relaxing scenes on screen. Patients had no numbers and the doctor called them by their names. It was wonderful and also disconcerting, like the first time a traveller sets foot on foreign soil.
The consulting room door opened and out stepped….Gabriel!
Mary’s mouth fell open as she stared at him, the man in her dream who had told her she was pregnant! He had the exact same face, the exact features. Of course, clones were common but not if one of them came from a dream. She supposed dreams were her imagination, mingled in with things she had done during her day. So how could this man from her mind be standing there in reality?
“Mary”, he said, with the same warmth of voice, “Do come through.”
“But”, she stuttered, “I’ve seen you before...you were…”
She was about to say ‘in my dream’ but she thought better of it.
He smiled at her with the same charismatic smile.
“I’m Gabriel, the resident gynaecologist. As many people here escaped to have babies it was thought wise to have one. My colleague Michael deals with other issues like broken bones or cuts, so if there’s anything else, you’ll see him, but it is my duty to care for women and their babies here.”
She looked at him slightly suspiciously and hesitated before entering the consulting room.
“I had a dream….”, she started.
“Yes”, he interrupted, “Pregnant women do have vivid dreams. I understand when you booked this appointment you said you suspected pregnancy?”
“Yes”, she looked around the room, which was uncharacteristically bright considering they were underground, “It’s so bright in here, it was like this in Lysander’s class?”
Again, it didn’t hurt her eyes, but she couldn’t see from where it came.
Gabriel ignored her question, put on his surgical gloves and went over to a medicine cabinet, where he extracted a digital pregnancy test. Unlike the tests of the past, this one did not require blood or urine. It could detect changes in hormone levels just by being waved across the woman’s abdomen. The microscopic digital chip was so small, it could be embedded in the paper thin test that was made of reclaimed ocean plastic. This was one of the few ideas the AI age had got right.
Gabriel waved the test and then held it up to the light. In a few seconds, a green light came on, accompanied by the words ‘Pregnant - 4 weeks’.
“Well, Mary, you are pregnant”, confirmed Gabriel, this time with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face.
Mary burst into tears of happiness for a moment she thought would never come.
At the University
Jude MacDougal sat at a desk in the genetics class of the local university where Joshua Lord worked as a professor. He had been planted there as a new mature student so that he could try to ascertain what was going on behind the scenes. His microchip had been updated with a new name - Levi Jones - and new social security information. He just had to remember the new scenario he had been told and not slip up. Damian Diabolik had told him to bide his time. He first had to become like a genuine student of the university, blend in with the others and gain Joshua’s trust. It would only be that he could make his move.
As the other students chatted, he nervously recited his new ID in his head. He was already the only mature student in the class and would have to work doubly hard to fit in. Joshua Lord entered the room, looking rather harried from the three weeks he had spent in police custody. Placing his coat on a hook and his ipad on his desk, he looked at his students, who had stopped talking when he came in. One student in particular stood out as he was new and was starting mid-term. He was also a few years older than most of his students and was apparently from out of town. He coughed to clear his throat.
“Good morning, and please accept my apology for my recent absence. I hope my colleague covered my classes to your satisfaction. If you would all connect your minds to the electronic whiteboard.”
He walked over to Jude, who was looking a little lost.
“You may have difficulty with this course as we are already more than halfway through. I am surprised the university enrolled you at this stage. Normally they would enroll a student in September at the beginning of the next course.”
“I persuaded them”, said Jude, “I’m very keen to get started.” He tried to exude confidence as he said it.
“Okay, but can I suggest you attend additional evening classes? And definitely join the students union as this will help you catch up. You would find help from other students invaluable.”
Jude glanced around him at the other students who were smiling in agreement. He had only been here a few minutes and he surmised that this job might be easier than he thought. He had never been a dishonest person and it surprised him to find that he felt no remorse whatsoever in misleading his new classmates.
At the Colliery
Mary had no time to impart the good news to her husband, for they had another quantum physics class to attend. She made her way from the medic station with a million and one thoughts swirling around in her head. She felt an instant, fierce protection for her baby from the moment she knew it existed, together with a grappling fear for their predicament. Although she had begun to feel at home here, the stark reality was they were underground and could be discovered at any moment. She was also acutely aware that she was carrying a naturally conceived baby. She didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, if it was healthy or anything about it other than it was hers. The thought both exhilarated and terrified her.
As she rounded the corner, she and Martha almost collided with each other. The buxom young woman had her hair tied up in a messy bun, wore no make-up and had a spit up stain on her floral blouse.
“Oh!” she said, taken aback, “Sorry, I got to class and realised I’d left John’s soother behind. Not a good idea if I want to concentrate.”
She smiled, causing dimples in her cheeks, then looked closer at Mary who was clearly flustered and even in the dim light, looked pale.
“Are you okay?” She asked, “You look like a ghost.”
Mary looked at baby John who was draped over her shoulder on a muslin cloth.
“You said in the last class you joined the colony to have a baby. So he’s non-GM, then?”
Martha looked surprised by the question.
“Weren’t you scared? In case he had any diseases?”
“No, love, can’t say it crossed my mind. I was more scared of being found out. Illness we can deal with, death is another matter.”
“And, what about the birth? You had to have natural birth?”
Just like naturally conceived babies, natural birth was also outlawed. It was deemed by society as inherently too risky. Many women didn’t even go through pregnancy, they simply ordered a baby and it was grown in an artificial womb. For those who still wanted to experience pregnancy, the birth was by caesarean. Since GM humans had an accelerated healing gene, the wound was often healed before the woman even awoke from her anaesthetic. It also meant that while the mother was asleep, doctors could inject the baby with nanites. This would allow him or her to connect to computers in the future. The injection was mandatory and it was painful so it was easier to do it while mothers were still groggy from anesthesia, before their mothering instinct had kicked in. A few babies didn’t survive the procedure, but they were considered duds and the parents were simply told to try again.
Mary’s baby would forego any nanites and would have to be born the way nature intended.
“Yes”, Martha smiled again, “It was an amazing experience!”
“Didn’t it hurt?” Mary was afraid of the answer.
“Oh my gosh, yes, more pain than I’d ever been in in my life”, she kissed the top of her baby’s head, “But when he was handed to me all of that went away. I can’t really remember it now, I’d definitely have another!”
Mary smiled weakly and Martha looked at her again.
“Hey, you’re not?....”
“Actually, I’ve not told my husband yet, but yes…”
Martha shrieked and flung an arm round her.
“Congratulations! It’ll be so much fun to have another baby here and there’ll be someone for John to play with.”
The two women embraced.
“Better be off to get that soother, and you’d best go to class or we’ll both be late.”
It was five past, so Mary thanked her and then hurried off to join the rest of her classmates.
In Physics Class
As she was late, the class was packed. Jon had saved her a beanbag next to him and Lysander Lord was standing patiently waiting in front of the chalkboard, emanating his usual glow.
“I’m sorry”, she apologised, sitting down next to Jon. She glanced at Grandma and Alfie and noticed that they were holding hands.
“No matter”, said Lysander, “You’re here now and we can get started. The subject for today’s class is superposition. How many of you are familiar with this?”
Most people raised their hands. In the AI age it was difficult not to be familiar with it, as superposition was critical for teleportation.
“The founding theory of quantum physics is the Copenhagen interpretation. That is, that life is created when a conscious observer looks at a particle, it causes the wave function to collapse, resulting in consciousness. While this is flattering, it is not entirely accurate.”
Grandma raised a bony finger.
“Excuse me, young man, but what do you mean by flattering? How can this be flattering?”
Lysander simply gave her a knowing look and said
“Questions at the end of the class, please, we have much to get through.”
He paced up and down.
“The more accurate interpretation is that consciousness is in fact all around us and there is no collapse of the wave function. Each particle with their infinite possibilities, branches off when someone observes it and becomes an entirely new reality. This is called the multiple worlds hypothesis. To those of us in the know, however, it’s much more than a hypothesis. All those decisions you make every day, exist in this universal wave function which never collapses. Every decision is available, including ones you did not make and these options separate off into other worlds where each option and its outcomes are explored by people in that galaxy.”
Some students seemed to be laughing, or mocking him, but Lysander ignored the jibes.
Alfie coughed in an attempt to disguise his laughter.
“Multiple worlds!? Come on, that’s the stuff of old science fiction movies. There’s no proof of that whatsoever.”
“Teleportation of small objects was considered science fiction until it was done”, Lysander reminded him, “Superposition occurs when two curvatures in space and time separate, leaving the particles at both locations at the same time. This is a fundamental of teleportation. The multiple worlds hypothesis does not really stretch much beyond that.”
He repeated himself again, this time more slowly and gently as if speaking to a child.
“Consciousness is already there and the brain, whether human or animal, is merely a quantum mechanical computer. The microtubules in your brain do not produce consciousness, they merely filter it from the atmosphere around you to give you the experience you are now having. Your brain runs 10 to the 16th operations per neuron, whereas an AI ‘brain’ runs 10 to the 16th operations across the whole brain. While this is enough for consciousness, it can never produce real free will. Computers are called such because they compute, they respond to information that is imputed or to sophisticated programming. They cannot independently filter information. They have no conscience, no capacity to love, making them essentially like psychopaths. They are an imitation of life, the work of Satan!”
He took a deep breath and continued.
“The wave function does not collapse, the particles separate. They separate according to human perception. Now just imagine what would happen if you didn’t choose this world ruled by AI and devoid of emotion. What if you chose to follow the particle that split off in the other direction? One that led to another world?”
He looked out at his audience who were staring back at him with blank looks on their faces.
Alfie whispered to Grandma
“I think he must have been smoking something.”
She sushed him, trying not to smile.
Lysander heard but pretended he hadn’t.
“If any one of you made the conscious decision to follow another particle, another path, then you could leave all the dangers of this life behind and live a new life of peace somewhere else.”
An old lady called Rosie raised her hand. She was blind which was why she was here but could still tell where Lysander was standing by his other-worldly glow.
“How are we supposed to do that?” She asked, “We can’t just imagine away this whole world.”
“But that’s what you did to get here”, said Lysander, “All the world was created from mankind’s imaginations and the decisions he made. Changing those decisions causes particles to split - a literal split in space and time. It is through this split that successful candidates will travel and there you will find a new kingdom awaits you.”
Rosie looked worried.
“What do you mean by successful candidates? I thought all of us were going to be given safe passage? Even if I believed you, that is.”
“All of you are guaranteed safe passage. Not all of you will be ready to leave. People can cling strongly to old identities. Even the sick sometimes resist getting well because it’s all they know. The sceptical may be too closed minded to allow the full possibilities to open up before them.”
He said this rather pointedly as if scolding the disbelievers in the room.
“When I feel that a student is ready, they will be flown out of here to travel through the space-time continuum to freedom.”
Some people sat quietly, others stared and some were still laughing.
“That”, he said, “is why I am still teaching some of you five years after you arrived here.”
Mary, who felt bad for being late, had been listening intently throughout. This man’s assertions sounded like a child’s fantasy or the ramblings of intoxication but there were certain things that made her unsure, his calm and instantly relaxing nature, the unusual light that always surrounded him, her odd dream. She glanced at Jon to see if he was mocking him, but he just sat in quiet contemplation. He’d been helping Joshua for years and she suspected he knew more about this than he was letting on.
“Who are you?” she suddenly blurted out to Lysander.
He didn’t look surprised by the outburst.
“My name is Lysander Lord. I am a quantum physicist and professor. I can take questions for 10 minutes after class, otherwise I will see you all tomorrow.”
Mary turned to Jon and said
“I am pregnant. Gabriel was right.”
Jon broke into a huge grin and bear hugged her while Grandma and Alfie applauded. All thoughts of questioning Lysander further vanished in the excitement of a forthcoming new life.