Once the world was aware of the barrage of asteroids that were pulling Mars away from us, toward a terrifying neighbor just two hundred light years away, we began to plot and scheme.
The asteroids were flying through the Field of Attack, nick-named the Arena, and this is where we concentrated our efforts. There was a long train of ships that set off from Florida launch-pads and crossed the void of space toward Mars. These rockets were packed with computer hardware, sensors, propellant, solar cells at first, power cells later on, powerful radios. A few of the early ones failed until we patched them enough to just be able to power on. Early adoption and all.
The research team behind the asteroid fly-by in 2015 is publishing their latest asteroid findings in Nature, and the news is not good. The team is a well-known group of individuals who specialize in asteroid study, who often use simulations as part of their work to determine the paths their subjects will trace through our solar system. They have been tracking the hundreds of thousands of asteroids (332,908, as of this writing) per year, and after three years of research they are able to provide us with evidence that Mars is leaving our Solar System.
Last night I lied to the cop and stared at Helena as I did so. He shrugged in Tokyo and I changed my posture as a response in Seattle.
“What happened to the gunman?” I asked the room at large.
“Got nailed himself by Miss Mons’ security detail.”
“Not much of a detail.”
“No comment.” Detective Wong nodded and lead me toward a body by the back door.
That night we got really drunk. Someone was after Helena, had just tried to kill her, so we decided we needed to blow off some steam.
We started at the beginning. Helena told me how she met this group of neuroscientists. I poured us a couple of beers. Helena poured the vodka.
We stare at each-other awkwardly for a few seconds. Helene is the first to talk.
“Hey, Miku. Sorry about that scare.”
“You disconnected from our session so fast, so abrupt. I thought something happened to you. And then that shot. I thought you were dead.”
The police popped up on the scene in seconds, remoting into ubiquitous shells that peppered Tokyo. You could see one on most corners, a police statue that woke up every now and again and went off on some task for the cops, usually getting statements from people in-person, so to speak.
The closest shell I could get was four blocks away. Early morning.
Helene was in a cyber cafe in Tokyo. It was early morning there and she was probably still up from the night before. From the familiar motions and sounds, the expressions her face sometimes took on that was at odds with our conversation, she was obviously downing energy shots and chain-smoking. The cafe was the one she took me after that awkward rave, it was her regular watering hole, the spot where she fought hangovers and worked.
Shells are a convenient way to sample some aspects of a world that’s too damn far from you. Some place that you’d like to see, but can’t be bothered to actually fly there. Like Mexico City over lunch. It’s a lovely place, and I enjoy perceiving it in small snippets through my glasses while munching on a pork bahn-mi in Seattle, TPS reports forgotten for forty-five minutes.
Over lunch I shelled into Mexico City and went walking around the capitol building, the roads that converged on it and the series of food- and souvenir-carts that lined them. The shell was a basic Sherry model, a smiling mid-westerner, complete with blonde curls and a flannel top.
When I connected to the model, she was walking, so went with it and sauntered past a museum, still mostly on autopilot. The bot detected my presence and allowed control slowly, waiting for me to get familiar with my new body before handing it over entirely.
The shore of the island was a slow slope that acted as a social avenue for centuries. The villagers spent many hours a day in the waters, playing, working, socializing, hunting in the clear-blue ocean, their footsteps quickly disappearing as the bright white sand moved around them.
Sail-boats were the lifeline of the village, the waters that carried them out to sea had earlier flowed through the veins of the island, from the snow-covered peaks. The villagers understood the complex water cycle, saw that the water flowing down the mountains and through their delta and out to sea was a force that had kept their village alive through the ages.
The elder of the village taught the young men, he showed and instructed as was done in his own teenage years. The men chopped bits of wood out of a long tree trunk. The trunk had been shaped into a slender angled shape, and now more chunks of it would be ripped away, as it was done for the longest time. The canoe was taking shape at the water’s edge.
The elder walked around and inspected the work, directed his unmotivated crew. He was the last of the builders, these were boys and young men who built the canoe out of tradition, not out of desire. The elder had prayed for students, he received those who had no thirst for learning.
Two months after our launch we made the headlines when one of our bots saved the life of a twenty-nine year old woman in Chicago.
You talk with a friendly AI for a few hours a day, week in and week out, and the software on the other side is bound to learn a thing or two about you. As you walk around your studio apartment, heating up a bowl of water to make dinner, the laptop sits in a corner and streams audio through your random assortment of free speakers, an artificial voice – noticeable only to a small cadre of audiophiles – asks about your day, and you talk as you unwind and settle into the everyday routine. The call is going to last three hours and you’re going to feel it, personally. The software also might end up inferring some interesting tidbits, like that you have a misdiagnosed medical condition and the drugs your psychiatrist has you on are actually conflicting with the rare ingredient in the authentic Thai dishes you are so fond of having every few days. The AI alerted the woman of this, who then asked the psychiatrist, and a few minutes of Googling revealed a dangerous drug interaction.