Chapter 4. Truths
Updated: Apr 6
All beings on this planet have a life debt to the Sun. Along with liquid water and and atmosphere, they make the defining factors for life to thrive on Earth for millions of years. It's ironic they are now trying to kill us, thought Justin Swank.
Shooting pain raced through his shoulder and into his elbow, making his arm numb. Justin took a long sip from his glass, the ice fishes almost gone in an amber well of whisky and painkillers. It's been only a couple minutes , he wondered. The Sun is not only heavier, but the air stays warm longer, even throughout the nights. Each breath felt like a gulp of boiling sand, setting his lungs on fire. A remanent from the long steady heat of the day, irradiating from every direction. With his eyes dug on the golden sunset in front of him, staring at the death of the day he thought - it's good to be outside.
The sky turned orange before the sun hit the back of the North American Wall. Two solitary clouds hanged ablaze in the horizon, burning in intense faces of red and gray. As the sun hit the top of the Wall, it transitioned to the screens on the inside. It looked so peaceful out in the sea. It looked so real, he thought. But he knew it was not, as it missed the warm kiss of the tropic light, and he was no longer blinded by the sunset. The Moon peered furtively in the distance, indicating a rising tide for the night.
He glanced at his glass once more. The ice was gone. The sky had turned purple, and started darkening, giving way to the line of red lights that crowned the North American coastline. It's been long since physiotherapy and painkillers ceased to have effect on my arm, he thought, perhaps I should just quit on this arm and build a robo prosthesis for myself.
He heard footsteps behind him.
'You know it will soon be fifteen years since the construction of the North American section of the Wall was completed?' asked Sying mockingly.
'And almost twenty eight years since the sea started rising,' replied Justin. 'How can anyone forget?' I've seen the ads. The party won't stop advertising it on the net, even though it wasn't even them who built it.'
'Why so sour about it Justin?'
'I don't mean to be sour, man. I'm just tired of living like this. The population steadily ages and decreases by the year. Child mortality is the highest in the last 100 years. And how long until the next major pandemic? The next famine? Fuck that! We have burning issues to solve while we leave earth by the hundreds. Meanwhile, the party celebrates we didn't lose any land to the sea.'
'This is not Europe Justin, we have diseases controlled, and access to food and water. We have been at peace for a decade. And that's thanks to the party, like it or not. It could be much worse.'
'It could be much better as well.'
'That's why we are here,' declared Sying full of self confidence. A slim joint hanged from his lips, its burning tip illuminated his face red in the darkness. 'To get things done, someone has to get their hands dirty. If it's not them, we have to do it ourselves,' said Sying, and passed the joint to Justin.
He took a puff and said, 'It's a hell of a dirty job,' his voice dry.
'You are still on time to change sides if you are unsure. There's always someone willing to take the job if you don't want it.'
'What are you talking about?' growled Justin. 'It was my idea, remember?'
'I know it is. The point is, that vision is not yours alone. Don't fool yourself thinking that if you stop, the world will stop with you. The fate of Earth is decided. It will happen, the sooner or the later. It is inevitable. And as soon as you accept that fact, you'll see clearly what is it that you have to do.'
'You see Sying, that's the part I don't agree with. I believe there is a chance for the planet. Definitely not as it once was, but we can rebuild it, and make it ours again. The climate has to stabilize at some point, hopefully before the demise of humans. We can undo things, and we can save millions.'
'I am sorry Justin. I don't see that happening Justin,' admitted Sying. 'Humans need to leave Earth if they want to thrive again. But you are right about something.'
'What is that?'
'Fuck the pandemics. Fuck famine. And most important, fuck the party... What we are doing, is for the survival of the species. Whether it is here on Earth, or off world.'
'Cheers to that' said Justin, and emptied his glass. 'Let's go back inside. It's just too too fucking warm'
'Niños! re you done measuring your dicks out there?' intervened Katrina from the far end of the blue leather couch, dangerously swinging a glass full of white wine over the carpet. 'We don't want to hear any more of your traumas here.'
Xiu bursted into laughter, swinging by her seat.
The beach house of the Swanks was in Darlington, one of the affected areas after the ice in the north pole melted, and the sea level rose. It was built about a decade ago by Hugo Koller, a Swiss executive working for big pharma. It stood at the foot of the new beach. Premium land by the shore, created after the Wall was erected, pushing the sea closer to its old level. It is land lost to the Pacific ocean, for then to be reclaimed back by humans, and their inexorable stubbornness. Justin bought it as an opportunity a couple of years ago, when the Swiss exec was recalled by the headquarters, and went back to the mountains. The Swiss have always had good timing to return to their homeland, he thought, feeding his skepticism. It was ultimately Katrina that fell in love with the beach house, due to it's broad waterfront and wide open areas, and pressed Justin to buy it.
'You guys have been smoking that shit again, haven't you? stop joking around and focus on what matters now,' continued Katrina. 'Diego told me today he read on the net about Patrik,' her face turned serious. 'Have you heard the things that are saying about him. It's like they are making him the villain. They called him a hoax. They even said climate is worsening because of the robots.'
'Well, they also love him in Europe,' he added wryly. 'There were demonstrations again today in France. The protesters wore Patrik and Sarah masks.'
'Really! That was damn fast' said Sying.
'Why are they demonstrating?' inquired Xiu.
'Actually, nothing related to them Patrik and Sarah. It's been a long winter over there. Some products have become scarce.'
'Yeah well... They are spoiled,' started Justin. 'It'll be the same story as the last time. The Americas will have to give away some of its crop yield to compensate for the losses. Can you believe it, it's May already and some places are still under the snow.'
'In any case, I find it quite cool that they have Patrik and Sarah masks. It's inspiring to see.'
'They are using masks because they don't want to be seen demonstrating,' hissed Katrina.'Not due to their inspiration.'
'It can be both,' he insisted.
'Si mi amor! And in Italy they call him the fucking Antichrist. Are they also right? No. In both cases wrong. He is neither of those things. And you know what I'm talking about. Stop fooling around' she said, clearly irritated and wielding her full latino accent.
Justin rolled his eyes and dug himself in the leather seat.
'Polarization,' intervened Sying. 'The oldest trick in the media playbook. We knew this was coming and should not fall for it. We must move ahead according to the plan... as soon as Janet arrives.'
Katrina turned to Xiu and continued 'I don't know how you manage with Liu. It's very nasty out there.'
'She is not allowed on social media until she is 14,' said Liu. 'We prefer to keep her away from these sources.'
'But she has her own phone and computer, how do you manage to keep her out of social media?' inquired Katrina.
Xiu went silent, and gazed at Sying.
'We have a firewall at home and on all of her devices. She is gets filtered content only.'
Katrina widened her eyes. So much for freedom fighters she thought, feeling the empty space at the top of her stomach. She's no better than them, she thought, living in their bubble.
'Are you not concerned of the impact that might have on Liu? added Katrine, 'she won't understand what's happening.'
Sying took a deep breath.
'We are not trying to hide anything from her. We are just trimming the corners. See, the algorithm we use targets extremists specifically.'
'And? You think this works?' Katrine inquired.
'No one owns the truth these days Katrina. It's only perspectives that shape what we see. What we see then turns into what we believe. If we bundle and target these perspectives together, then we can make a change with impact.'
Ding! Resonated though the walls of the house. A blurry and pale image from the main entrance appeared floating above the coffee table.
'Mr. Swank, Mrs. Haverfield has just arrived. She is parking and will soon be at the front door.'
'Thank you Iota,' replied Katrina 'honey, would you please take the door?'
'Iota,' intervened Justin' can you verify if there are any trackers on her?'
'The status has not changed since the last check. There are currently no trackers on Miss Haverfield. She is driving her old 911 which doesn't have a tracker. The plates are not readable due to an active plate mask. Her phone, watch and glasses are marked to be at her home location.'
'Come on Justin! Just give her a break. No one knows we are here,' muttered Sying.
'Easy to say. You were not rushed out of your house by an angry mob trying to raid your house,' growled Justin.
'Thank you Iota,' he added, 'You can never be too careful.'
With profound heaviness Justin made it to the front door, picking up a brown leather glove from the glass table. The back of the glove decorated with electronic circuitry altering the number in the ID chip. A shadow glove.
Justin presented his open palm on the reader in the inside of the door. The lock emitted a loud 'ding!', and a voice said 'thank you Mr. Koller'. The lock opened with a metallic click. Justin dragged the door open, the weight of the sturdy cedar door had worn down the hinges, making a loud squeak against the also wooden floor.
A slim figure in a black dress and high heels stood behind the doorway, her back against the dark of the night. Only the dim reflection of the street lights in her earrings could be distinguished from the shadows.
'Hello Justin. Congratulations! We did it, we broke the net,' celebrated Janet in a sleek pose with arms wide open. A bottle of mezcal Bruxo in one hand, and a bouquet of wild roses on the other.
'Congratulations to you too Janet,' he remarked with dry enthusiasm. 'It's good to see you. I saw on reddit you got 30M views in 24 hours. You beat Greta's inauguration speech - that is quite a feat to be remembered. You are the new standard for hype on the net.'
'Oh charm, quit the grim face already. You look miserable. Like a sad oil worker.'
'I'm okay. Nothing to be concerned about, the same old anxiety,' he declared, putting a stop to the inquiry. She's too optimistic, he thought, blinded by her success. I hope she doesn't make a mistake and gets us all killed. It's too early in the race to crash.
'It was the raid, right? No one saw that coming... These nerds reacted much faster than expected.'
'About that, you sure you weren't followed?'
'It's okay charm. There's no tech on me. I'm driving Bruno's rust bucket. I got a plate mask for it. I wouldn't risk it to be followed here. I'm not stupid,' she concluded. 'You know, I had to stop at 8 stations to find one that still serves gasoline?' she observed,'it's absurd how obsolete fossil fuels are. They weight, they smell, and are crazy expensive. I don't see how anyone would like them. Anyhoo, what about some celebration shots? I found this Bruxo mezcal at the store, I heard mexicans give it to their dead'
She entered the room propelled by an aura of magnificence, making a stage of her path. Her report on Patrik and Sarah had been on every news site on the planet. Janet took a celebratory lap around the living room, paced by the delight of hosting the hottest e-tv show on earth. She raised her arms, hugged and cheered with everyone there that night. Her partners in crime. She then took a spot spot around the oak coffee table. The large bay windows from the living room looked toward where the ocean should be. It was now pitch dark outside, the ocean could only be heard in the distance. You know it's there because of the line of intermittent red lights, crowning the top of the Wall. Justin returned with 5 shot glassses, abundant in mezcal, carefully arranged on top of an old silver tray, along with some fresh orange wedges. Everyone took a glass. Justin stared at Janet for a long instant, while she fetched her glass. Her blue eyes and golden hair glowed under the calming light inside the house, or perhaps it was the air of grandeur around her.
'To Big Bad Circus, Patrick & Sarah, and the end of robot slavery,' said Justin, and raised his drink above his head.
'Cheers!' they returned in unison, and drank until the last drop.
'You know guys, many times throughout the day I have to pinch myself. This feels unreal. Big Bad Circus' has exploded in popularity. It's everywhere. It is what I always wanted it to be. We hit every single target demographic. We are in right and left media, mainstream and independent sources, and across genders and age groups. A fucking home run,' announced Janet, and emptied the remaining mezcal in her glass. 'They love me,' she concluded.
'But, they are not really with you on this cause Janet,' interrupted Sying, 'you understand that right? They are just the media. They report on what's hot, but they will turn on you as soon as they need to.'
'Of course I know it silly,' she replied with poisoned words. 'The cat would love to eat fish, but hates to get her feet wet. Someone has to do it.'
'Just don't push it too much, you play with fire. #SlayBigBadCircus was also trending today. There's thousands of people calling you a traitor to humans, a fraud, a sellout to corporate interests.'
'Oh my gosh...' Janet hissed, and roller her eyes. 'Why is everyone so focused on the negative sides of the situation? We got what we wanted, or not? Patrik and Sarah are off to Stanford to meet Thomas and catch their ride off world. You all made it out safe and sound. Glerby and Biobot will get their share of exposure once you move forward with our plan. In the end, we take our chance to save the planet from killing us all. I think this is going great.'
'Janet, just take your precautions. You are a rockstar now, don't want to find your Mark David Chapman, added Justin. 'Things are too unpredictable these days. It just takes one crazy asshole.'
'Everyone on social media is a fucking moron,' growled Janet, '99% of them are couch activists that are either too lazy or too scared to do anything about it. They have never stood up, and will never stand up for any cause, ever. All they do is rage against one another. Humans fighting humans, for the supremacy of humans, and no one does anything. Meanwhile, the planet slowly cooks everyone to their deaths as they comment about it online.'
'All right, all right. Let's just all take a deep breath,' interrupted Katrina. 'We just care about you Janet, and we would like you to take your precautions. You saw what happened to our house. Unexpected, and here we are - backup house.'
'So, another round,' continued Xiu, pouring 5 new drinks.
'Always,' replied Janet, a smile back on her face.
'So then Janet, any updates on Patrik and Sarah?' asked Justin.
'I know they are out, searching for them. But they are not doing it publicly. And the statement is not out yet, so...'
'I actually don't know.'
'What about your informant... Captain Spanky?'
'They ain't saying anything. They mentioned orders from above came.'
'Never about this.'
'What a pussy,' declared Katrine and emptied her glass.
'Orders from above? The feds maybe?'
'Doesn't matter. What matters is that they out of the investigation. They are at the receiving orders side.'
'What I do know is that London Bridge Dynamics sent a letter to their clients.'
'Apparently, they have a fix.'
'For them. For Patrik and Sarah, and any other SINS8 or SINS9. To prevent them from awakening.'
'They want to do a hard reset on them.'
'What does that mean?'
'They want to delete them,' replied Sying. He stared at the darkness outside.
'Who said this again?'
'Another source. I can't tell.'
'For fuck sake Janet, not now. Just say it already.'
'I can't Justin.'
'You can't or you won't?'
'Both of the actually,' she narrowed her eyes.
'Fuck that,' growled Justin.
'My neck is on the line here Justin. It doesn't matter who said it. It is true. It's a reliable source.'
'Ok, ok. Who's getting deleted then? continued Justin catching his breath. They can't just do this from one day to the other.'
'That's true,' added Sying. 'It will take them some days before they can arrange such an operation.' He turned to Janet and followed his inquiry 'you know who is getting deleted?'
'I don't. Not yet. We'll have to wait and see. A surprise finish,' she smiled broadly and emptied her glass.
Ding! Everyone went quiet. 'Dr. Swank,' started Iota, 'The police report about Patrick and Sarah has began. Would you like me to stream it to the living room?'
'Justin, we have to stop. We cannot keep making and selling these robots. They are... alive.'
Justin dug his eyes on Sying's, trying to understand. Back at the terrace, the hot of the day was gone, leaving behind a soft breeze with a smell of salt. It was now bearable to be outside, without hurting in your skin. The moon climbed her way up, to the top of the night. Inside everyone struggled to get in bed. Too much mezcal he thought, let's hope for an easy morning.
He took his time, to think of the question. He felt the cool breeze in his face. 'What do you think is causing it?' he started. 'There has to be something that is making them awake. This didn't happen before. We need to find what that is to stop the deletion.'
'I... actually think I know what is causing it.' he continued, gazing at the intermittent lights of the Wall, his hands sweaty.
'You remember the first time we were in Disney? When Diego and Liu were like... four?'
'Of course I remember. It was the same year of the ignis flu.'
'Right! Remember when we left Liu at the magic shop with Sarah, and we went to the place next door to grab some food.'
'The time Liu pissed her pants.'
'Okay... what does that got to do with anything?'
'You see. When I left Liu with Sarah I told her "We are going next door for some food. We'll be right back. Don't go out until we return." Of course as soon as we left, Liu wanted to go pee, and because Sarah couldn't "go out until we returned. That was the instruction. They then stayed at the store until Liu peed her pants.'
Justin narrowed his eyes, and sipped from his whisky.
'Sarah couldn't understand what Liu was going through. She couldn't grasp the meaning of the pitch of her voice or see the urge in her face. She just couldn't empathize with Liu. Which resulted in Liu peeing her pants at Disney, and the staff cleaning around them with them still unable to leave the store.
'The point is?'
'The point is that I think that the fix for that, is causing the awakenings. It's called an EPAI chip. A small component developed to deepen the understanding of emotions in robots.'
'I don't know. What I know is that models using the EPAI chip have are indeed a lot better understanding and transmitting emotions. You don't notice anymore as you are now used to them, and how natural they act.'
'How did you conclude on this?'
'Because I talk to them Justin, and because I still have some SINS8 & SINS9 prototypes at the office.'
'It's all right. We've had them for some time. It's a small group we keep for R&D purposes. Specially, for reverse engineering their tech. They are harmless, have never left the building. But they do ask some good questions.'
'I bet you don't have a permit for that?'
'No I don't' he admitted proudly.
'You can get in serious trouble for that. The government doesn't like private parties of robots. How many still got the EPAI chips?'
'Half of them...'
Justin stood there, at the end of the wooden terrace, thinking about Patrik and Sarah. About their next move. The faint light from the moon reflected on the water in this side of the Wall. The waves were the only sound left that night. Everyone else was asleep now. All but Justin, Sying and the whisky.
'If they get uncalm like Patrick and Sarah, you'll have to disconnect them, or delete them.'
'No problem. We can handle that,' snorted Sying. Shaking off whatever was left of shame on him.
'And we have to stop using the EPAI chips,' announced Justin. 'Can you remove them from the SINS8 core?
'Maybe. We have done it, but the equipment was damaged in the process. It won't be easy.'
'It needs to be done. Every robot with the EPAI chip will awake, it's not if but when. And when they awaken, they will want to defect. We cannot afford to lose that volume of hands now. Earth is going to shit and without them, we are all going to die here.'