2054, Part VI: Standoff at Arlington

This post was originally published on this site
From the authors of the New York Times bestseller 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, also excerpted exclusively in WIRED.

18:46 April 15, 2054 (GMT‑5)

Arlington National Cemetery

That night in her apartment Julia Hunt ordered in sushi and watched the coverage of Slake’s botched press conference on her living room sofa. Days later, Slake’s panicked responses to the questions about Castro’s death continued to air, and they appeared even worse on the news.

Hunt raised a piece of salmon sashimi between two chopsticks as she read the chyron for the next story: Castro Autopsy Leaked on Common Sense Confirms Foul Play and White House Lies. She dropped the fish onto her lap.

News of the withheld autopsy exploded. On every channel the prime-time anchors flashed printed copies of the report to the camera. They read whole sections aloud, describing the dimensions of the marble-sized mass of cells inexplicably lodged in Castro’s aorta and the excerpted transcript of the autopsy itself, in which the chief internist concluded, “This can’t be the same heart.”

Within the hour, Truthers flooded the streets in cities around the country. As Hunt scrolled the channels, a news crew in Lafayette Park was conducting interviews with the growing mass of protesters, one of whom she recognized; it was the man in the wheelchair she’d met on the Metro. She had thought of him often. Now she learned his identity: retired gunnery sergeant Joseph William Sherman III. Beneath his name on the screen were the words Truther Volunteer Organizer. She placed his name in a search engine and learned that he’d lost his legs in the Spratly Islands and that the Chinese nuclear attack on San Diego had killed his wife and three daughters, who’d lived at nearby Camp Pendleton. Hunt could hear in Sherman’s voice how deeply he resented a president who while alive flaunted constitutional norms by clinging to power for an attempted fourth term and whose successor, Smith, now flaunted norms again by withholding an autopsy and refusing to be transparent about his predecessor’s death.

“Point your camera here,” said Sherman, thumbing toward his missing legs. “I sacrificed these for my country, and you’re going to lie to me … you’re going to lie to all of us.” He gestured expansively to a cluster of Truthers who’d placed him at their center, the core of them veterans, wearing old military fatigues adorned with medals that dangled from their chest pockets. “It’s a lie that Smith is the legitimate president when he so clearly had a hand in killing Castro. Is this what America has become? Dreamers drunk on power led by a dictator-president. Lies to the many so long as it gives power to the few.” Sherman held the camera’s focus with his insistent blue eyes.

His tone was so resolved, the correspondent felt compelled to answer him. In a meek voice, she said, “I don’t know.”

“Of course you don’t.” Sherman leaned into the camera. “President Smith,” he began, “you are illegitimate. You will find that everyday Americans—we patriots who demand the truth about your crimes and the excesses of the Dreamers—will not be led by a thief, by someone who stole the presidency. We served our country before, and we’ll serve it again. And don’t even think of trying to place your predecessor in Arlington’s hallowed ground.” Sherman swiveled around, turning his back to the camera, and wheeled himself away.

The news cut to commercial.

Julia Hunt rested her head against the arm of her sofa, her eyes still glued to the screen. Weeks of exhaustion swept over her. While she waited for the program to return, she fell into a black wilderness of sleep. Deep into this sleep, in the early hours of the morning, she began to dream: Here, in the dream, she is asleep in her girlhood bedroom and is woken before dawn by a noise, the sound of something hitting the floor. Her surroundings are familiar, the adobe ranch house in New Mexico where Sarah Hunt had raised her. Wearing her nightgown, she carefully shuts the door behind her and steps into the dark corridor. At its far end a single band of light escapes from the base of another door. She begins to walk down the corridor. The tiles are cool beneath her bare feet. As she draws closer, she can hear what sounds like a struggle.

When she enters the room, a man is lying face down on the floor, motionless, with his arms spread in front of him as if caught in mid-swim-stroke. His hair is thick and black, and his back is powerfully built, but not as if he ever went to a gym or played a sport; it’s the type of sinewy strength that comes from a life of physical labor. This dead man is her father. Leaning over the bed, she sees her adoptive mother, Sarah, dressed in military fatigues. Sarah has a pillow and is smothering a woman whom she’s caught in the bed. The woman’s feet are jerking and kicking, and she’s wearing a white lace nightgown that matches Julia’s.

When Julia sees this matching nightgown, she knows the woman in the bed is her actual mother and she lunges at Sarah, clawing at her, even biting, like a cornered animal. Julia manages to pull Sarah from the bed, so that she backs toward the door, stepping over Julia’s dead father and muttering over and over, “You shouldn’t have done that … you shouldn’t have done that …” Now Julia is left in the room. She tears away the pillow, brushing aside the sweat-matted black hair that matches her own so she might reveal her mother’s face; except it is the face of Sarah Hunt. The lips are purple, the complexion is sallow and waxy, and she isn’t breathing. Julia runs out into the corridor. It is empty. She notices that the door to her bedroom is now open a crack. She slips down the corridor. In the bedroom she finds Sarah Hunt, dressed in her military fatigues, asleep beneath the covers with her back turned toward her. Cautiously, Julia approaches, taking each step heel-to-toe, until she is standing within an arm’s length. Julia reaches out. But before she makes contact, the woman in the military fatigues whips around in the bed, so that she is now facing Julia. It isn’t Sarah Hunt. Julia recognizes the face immediately: It is her own.

She woke up on the living room sofa to a familiar feeling of exhausted dread. Julia shut off the television. How many times had she suffered through this dream? Hundreds? Thousands? It came in waves. In the weeks after Sarah Hunt’s death, Julia endured the dream multiple times each night, waking from the grip of its familiar terror only to drift back to sleep and relive the nightmare all over again. Even though the dream never changed, with the passage of time the faces had aged. When she’d first had the dream, decades before, the face she saw in its final instant was her own as a rebellious teen, incongruously young to be wearing military fatigues. But Julia had since grown into that uniform, just as Sarah had aged out of it.

Julia lifted herself off the sofa, wiped the sleep from her eyes, and stepped into her kitchen. She began to brew a pot of tea. She wondered if Hendrickson and Smith would go through with the funeral, given the leaked autopsy. Outside, light was seeping onto the horizon. The day was breaking cloudless and bright. She imagined Hendrickson and Smith in the White House, the pair of them breathing a sigh of relief that they wouldn’t have to contend with the rain in addition to everything else.

Sarah Hunt hadn’t wanted a funeral. She’d left explicit instructions that her body be donated to science. When the paramedics came to take her, one of them observed that the cocktail of pills she’d imbibed seemed meticulously calibrated not to do too much physiological damage, thus ensuring that her entire body could be harvested for research. That’s how her mother was, always in control, up to and including her own death.

Julia didn’t really have any memories of her parents, even though her adoption had occurred when she was 9. Her mind only allowed her mother and father to appear in tortured dreams. Her parents, who’d immigrated up from El Salvador, struggled to find work upon entering the United States. They came for the dream and found a truth that didn’t match. Monday through Saturday, they took a bus nearly two hours each way into San Diego for day wages. This was how Julia had survived the nuclear blast and they had not.

Julia turned on the television. An overhead shot, taken from a drone, panned along the presidential funeral route, lined with law enforcement—a mix of uniformed Secret Service and D.C. Metro and Park Police. A separate camera remained fixed on the White House, where President Smith and his entourage would depart for Arlington in a couple of hours. She kept the news on mute as she watched the gathering spectacle.

She wondered what her parents might have thought of Castro. Their story began in much the same way Castro’s had, despite having ended quite differently. Or had it? In the end America had killed Castro, much as it had killed her parents. And what about Sarah Hunt? Had she been a dreamer? Had America killed her? Julia couldn’t say.

The drone feed came on the screen again. A protesting crowd had begun to swell from up the banks of the Potomac, flooding onto the six lanes of Memorial Bridge, which led into Arlington National Cemetery. They progressed slowly, marching with a near-military discipline. At the front, among those setting the pace, Julia could make out a man in a wheelchair.

11:18 April 16, 2054 (GMT‑5)

Rosslyn, Virginia

Lily Bao couldn’t believe what she was watching. Three times the presidential motorcade had left the gates of the White House, only to return due to obstructions along their route. At the gates of Arlington National Cemetery a small army of Truthers had assembled to prevent Castro’s burial. What stunned Lily most wasn’t the confrontation between the administration and its opposition, it was that as she watched the scene play out from her office she saw Sherman in the front ranks of the protesters.

Early that morning, before the authorities could block the route, the protesters had managed to assemble in their thousands and creep up the banks of the Potomac and onto Memorial Bridge. Drawing themselves into formation, they had blocked the six lanes of the bridge, using it as a natural choke point to restrict access to the cemetery. By late morning, the police had made a half dozen attempts to disperse them using a mix of tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray, but to no avail. Sherman, dressed in his old combat fatigues, refused to be dislodged. He remained in the center of the fray swinging an American flag staked to a segment of PVC pipe.

Lily canceled her morning meetings and ignored her phone. She couldn’t look away from the news. She was watching when, on their last attempt to break up the Truthers, the police employed a mounted unit. The camera was on Sherman when one of the horses spooked and reared backward, knocking him from his wheelchair. A photographer captured the sequence of events—a legless veteran splayed on the ground clutching the American flag as a horse tramples him, and then him trying to use the flag as a crutch to climb back into his chair as the mounted officer makes another run and tramples him under the horse again.

Lily Bao stared on in horror.

Sherman wasn’t moving. A few protesters rushed to his aid. She could see a pool of dark, syrupy blood beginning to gather on the asphalt.

The camera cut away, as if directed to do so. In a panic Lily switched stations.

“We’re getting reports now that the White House motorcade is again departing for Arlington,” said the anchor mechanically, as though his concentration weren’t on his words but rather on the transmitter in his ear and whatever message it was delivering simultaneously. The station then cut back to the bedlam at the bridge. Bodies pressed one against another. Whirling clouds of smoke and gas. Protesters had pulled two of the officers off their mounts, and their riderless horses were galloping back across the bridge, toward the Lincoln Memorial. “We’ll try to get an update for you on the individual injured by that horse,” said the anchor. The network rebroadcast the images of Sherman being trampled, looping the scene like a sports replay.

Lily Bao turned away. She called Sherman’s phone. No answer. She flung on her jacket. Goddammit, she was going down there. As she stepped from her office, she glimpsed the news a final time. At the south end of the cemetery, a crowd had gathered around a three-vehicle motorcade of black SUVs, bringing it to a stop outside a back gate on McNair Road. This crowd wasn’t nearly as large as the thousands who had blocked Memorial Bridge, but they were enough to outnumber the Secret Service agents by at least ten to one. Unable to nose any farther forward, the agents piled out of the first and third SUV and tried to subdue the crowd. Unlike the neatly ordered ranks out front of Arlington National Cemetery, this crowd had devolved into a jeering mob. The dozen-odd agents brandished their pistols and credentials.

The Truthers began to shake the second SUV, rocking it on its tires.

The Secret Service agents formed a perimeter around this vehicle, sacrificing the first and third vehicles in their column to the mob, which began to vandalize these other two SUVs, tearing out the seats, slamming bricks into the ballistic windshields. Clearly the Secret Service was protecting something in the second vehicle, and the more stridently they defended it—pistol-whipping one protester and pepper-spraying two others—the more frenzied the mob became.

Lily watched the overhead camera shot. This can only end badly, she thought. Either one of the Secret Service agents would be killed by a Truther or vice versa. How had it come to this? Yes, Truther protests had been roiling the country for weeks; and yes, the leak of Castro’s autopsy on Common Sense exposed a lack of transparency within the Smith administration. But this attack on a presidential motorcade was something different, a far darker escalation. This eruption of violence had been brewing for years, through successive economic collapses, pandemics, and the utter dysfunction that had become American life; really, as Lily thought about it, since all the way back to the war that had claimed her father. If this connection to the war wasn’t evident to anyone watching, one only needed to see the myriad veterans in their old military uniforms woven through the ranks of Truthers. Lily wasn’t unsympathetic to them. They would no longer tolerate being lied to.

The standoff around the convoy stretched on. Neither side would de-escalate, but neither side seemed willing to take everyone over the brink. Lily was about to leave in search of Sherman when the sunroof of the second SUV cracked opened. “We’re looking inside,” the anchor said excitedly as the shot zoomed in. “It’s difficult to see exactly what’s going on in that SUV.” Lily craned her neck forward. She could discern the vague outline of a few people through the open sunroof. Then one person stepped over another to stand. “OK,” said the anchor. “Someone is coming out, can we get a better angle on that?”

The camera shot shifted from directly overhead to side-on. A figure appeared and began to gesture wildly, addressing the protesters as if from a podium. They jeered and taunted him in return. But whoever this was, he continued to speak, refusing to allow this mob to silence him. The anchor, who was split-screen with the live feed, touched his ear. “Wait … we’re getting confirmation from the White House. This SUV is the vehicle carrying the president. It’s confirmed, President Smith is inside this vehicle. Hold on, we’re tightening the shot … but that appears to be someone else … that appears to be ...” In the instant before the anchor said it, Lily Bao could see that it was Nat Shriver addressing the crowd. She hadn’t seen him since her return from Macau. On the two occasions when she’d texted, he hadn’t replied. At the time, Lily had shrugged it off. Her relationship with Shriver was, after all, a fling. But her reserve evaporated as she watched Shriver on television, negotiating with this mob. Lily imagined that Shriver was giving the speech of his life.

Gradually, she could see the crowd’s posture begin to ease. One of the Truthers shouted something at Shriver. He shouted something back, throwing out his hand as if he were tossing candy to a group of children. Whatever Shriver said elicited a laugh. This spread to the rest of the crowd, which, rippling with laughter, took a step back from the convoy. This provided enough room for the Secret Service agents to carefully climb inside the other damaged SUVs. Shriver kept talking from the sunroof, gesturing toward specific people in the crowd—a middle-aged woman wearing yellow pants held up by a snakeskin belt and a yellow T-shirt with a DON’T TREAD ON ME silkscreen, effectively transforming herself into a walking Gadsden flag; a twentysomething Native American wearing a beaded belt over a Truther T-shirt from Veritas Vengeance; as well as the leather-vested members of the Buffalo Soldiers, the African American motorcycle club with heavy US military representation, some of whose members lent their services to the Truther brigades. Whatever Shriver was saying seemed to resonate. A path opened through the crowd. The convoy was allowed to turn around. They returned to the White House.

The camera followed above the three SUVs, as the anchor commented, “A remarkably courageous display from Senator Nat Shriver. Easy to imagine how that might have ended differently. As I mentioned, we do have confirmation that the president himself was in that car with Senator Shriver.”

One of the network pundits now joined the anchor onscreen. “Yes, a remarkable display of poise from Senator Shriver. I’m grateful to see a peaceful resolution here, but I gotta ask: Where has the president been in all this? Why haven’t we heard from him?” The anchor allowed his eyebrows to knit together on-air, and remained silent. They then cut to commercial, an advertisement for a company selling gold. The graph of gold’s price that flashed on the screen was upward and basically vertical.

Lily Bao had seen enough. She switched off her television and rushed out of her office, headed to the nearest hospital. She was going to find Sherman.

20:23 April 23, 2054 (GMT‑3)

São Paulo

Chowdhury had two passports, one Indian, the other American. He’d entered Brazil on the latter, and his citizenship was listed in the Neutronics system as such. Every physician he met as he underwent his batteries of tests and treatments asked his opinion of the ongoing crisis. Chowdhury endured these conversations graciously, but after the weeks of scans and samples, of genetic testing and mapping, he was exhausted. He began to wonder if he would ever begin the actual treatment that might repair his ailing heart.

He was pleased to find on his schedule an appointment described as Final Preoperative Consult, Dr. Ayesha Bakari, Chief of Cardiological Editing. Unlike his other appointments arranged by Neutronics, this one would occur in his hotel suite. Ashni had afternoon tea sent up, and room service had just left when the doorbell rang. Ashni escorted Dr. Bakari toward the sofa as Chowdhury emerged from his bedroom.

On seeing Dr. Bakari, Chowdhury did a double take—the dark hair, though worn a bit longer, and the black glasses, though in slightly narrower frames—it was the young technician who’d visited him at the Carlyle. Chowdhury mentioned that they’d met before. “In New York,” he said. “Don’t you remember?” A look of recognition flashed into Dr. Bakari’s eyes.

“My twin sister,” she said. “She’s the one you met in New York.”

Chowdhury apologized.

“No need,” said Dr. Bakari. “It happens all the time.”

“How long have you both worked for Neutronics?”

“This is my fourth year and it’s her second, though we’ve had a relationship with Neutronics for far longer.” Dr. Bakari explained that she and her sister had come to the attention of Ray Kurzweil decades ago, when they were only children. They suffered from a rare congenital heart defect, a genetic disease that caused the rapid deterioration of cardiac tissue. “Imagine being a person but born with a heart that aged in dog years,” Dr. Bakari said. “Ray Kurzweil, who I believe you know, was at the time conducting research on gene-editing therapies that could rejuvenate deteriorating heart tissue. He discovered my medical file as well as that of my sister. Neutronics was just beginning trials on human subjects. My sister and I were attractive prospects for those trials. Genetically, our hearts are virtually identical. A twin study sped the results.”

“So, I assume the trials proved a success?” Chowdhury asked.

“I wouldn’t be talking with you today otherwise,” said Dr. Bakari. “Neutronics saved my life ” Then, pausing a beat, Dr. Bakari amended the statement. “Really, it’s Dr. Kurzweil who saved my life.”

Ashni shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Chowdhury knew she harbored certain reservations about Kurzweil. It was one thing to embed a headsUp in your wrist. But Kurzweil wasn’t making gadgets. He was toying with human existence. She’d traveled here because she wanted her father to receive this specific treatment for his heart and then to leave, so he might finish out a normal life. The life Kurzweil offered—at the intersection of technology and biology—was anything but normal. Ashni worried that this technology might seduce her father. She imagined he could disappear up some murky river, vanishing into the interior.

Dr. Bakari reached into a medical bag and removed several pill bottles. She arrayed them on the table alongside the tea service. “The editing process occurs over many days,” Dr. Bakari explained. “It takes time for your body to respond to the treatment, and during that time it’s important that you remain under sedation. Gene editing requires a degree of precision that is difficult to achieve in a body whose systems are running at capacity. Think of it like trying to write calligraphy in a car that’s driving down the road; it’s impossible. All we’re doing is pulling your body off to the side of the road. This series of prescriptions will handle that. Take them tonight after dinner and simply go to sleep as you normally would.” Dr. Bakari turned toward Ashni. “By morning your father’s vitals will have become undetectable. He will for all intents and purposes have flatlined. Don’t worry, though, he’ll be fine. A team of our technicians will then transport him into the clinic for the rest of his treatment.”

That night, Ashni and Chowdhury ordered dinner to their room. They ate facing the window, the river spread before them. Chowdhury tried to engage his daughter in conversation, but she sat next to him in silence, her attention fixed on the view. Eventually she said, “I never said goodbye to Mom.”

Chowdhury set his fork on the rim of his plate. He reached across the table and placed his hand on his daughter’s arm. In a flash, he could see his ex-wife Samantha 20 years before, sitting in the corner booth of a Chinese restaurant in Dupont Circle, the night they’d met for the last time, the night she had agreed to allow Chowdhury to evacuate their daughter to New Delhi. A few weeks later, Samantha was dead, vanished in a white nuclear flash in Galveston. “I’m sorry,” Chowdhury said to his daughter. “I wish you’d had that chance.”

Ashni turned away from the view of the river, and her gaze bored into her father. Chowdhury wondered if she would now say that goodbye to him. Instead, she leaned over, kissed him on the head, and said, “Get some rest, Bapu. I’ll see you when you wake up.” Then she left him at the table and shut the door to her room.

Chowdhury finished the remainder of his meal alone. He was in no rush. Soon he changed into his pajamas. He arranged the dozen or so pill bottles that Dr. Bakari had left on the edge of his sink. He poured himself a large glass of water and, pill after pill, imbibed this cocktail in the exact manner she had prescribed.

He headed toward bed. But as he walked he began to feel as though his steps were being taken through sand. The margins of his vision crowded in, so that the bed itself appeared as if viewed through a pair of binoculars held in reverse. He was very conscious of not wanting to collapse on the floor. He didn’t want Ashni or someone else to find him in so undignified a position. Willing himself forward, he toppled onto the pillows and pedaled his feet beneath the sheets.

Rolling onto his side, he realized that he’d neglected to draw the shade. It wouldn’t matter. He would be oblivious to the day breaking. He continued to stare out into the night, at the darkness of the Rio Pinheiros. What overtook him wasn’t the darkness his consciousness associated with sleep; rather, it was its opposite: a flood of violent and obliterating light.

09:35 April 24, 2054 (GMT+9)


B.T. agreed to return with Michi and meet her “colleague.” Michi never referred to this person as anything else, not on the flight over from Okinawa, not on the taxi ride from the airport to her modest apartment in the Meguro District, and not that night as they shared her bed. B.T. had decided that he trusted Michi. If she wanted him to meet this elusive colleague, he would.

The next morning, she cooked him an “American breakfast” of bacon, eggs, and coffee before they set out on a bus. Two transfers and a half-mile walk later, they approached a nondescript office building. B.T. stopped just short of the entrance and stared up at the glass façade. “Michi,” he said, “where are we going?”

“To see my colleague.”

B.T. wouldn’t budge.

Michi glanced toward the mirrored glass doors at the entrance, which didn’t boast a sign or any outward indication of the building’s purpose. She sighed. “This is a general research facility, one of several dozen scattered around the country and funded by the government’s Research Promotion Bureau. My mentor, Dr. Kobe Agawa, has his office here. He’s the one who wants to meet you.”

Few people knew the name Dr. Kobe Agawa outside of Japan, she explained. However, inside this country he was a trusted and universally recognized public health official. Over a nearly 50-year career, he’d become an indispensable figure. When the government needed its citizens to adopt some collective measure—such as taking an experimental vaccine or enduring costly economic shutdowns—Dr. Agawa would appear on television to make the case. He was the son of Hiroshima survivors and carried that nuclear legacy in his own body. Born with a host of genetic defects that twisted his limbs from the waist down, he’d spent his life confined to a wheelchair. Which was why, when B.T. and Michi entered his office, he didn’t stand to greet them but instead sat barricaded behind his desk.

“Dr. Yamamoto, won’t you sit?” He gestured to a pair of club chairs.

“I owe you an apology, both for asking Michi to remain discreet about our meeting today and for the role I’ve played in orchestrating your relationship with her.” Dr. Agawa recounted with startling omniscience the events of the past six weeks, beginning with Michi’s arrival at the dive shop at Cape Maeda, the escaped butterflies, and even their recent excursion down the undersea trench. Sincere as Dr. Agawa’s apology seemed, it only reinforced B.T.’s sense that he’d been a mark. Once or twice, Michi shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Whether this was because she felt guilty about the ways she’d manipulated B.T., or because Dr. Agawa remained unaware of the intimacy that had developed between them, B.T. couldn’t say.

Dr. Agawa unlocked a side cabinet and removed a manila folder overstuffed with paper. “If in the last century nuclear power threatened to end humanity, in this century that threat comes from the Singularity. Whichever society merges biological and technological evolution first will—with the power of quantum computing and artificial intelligence—out-evolve, and thus erase, all other societies. But, of course, you know this.” He waved his hand dismissively. “In the nuclear age, the Japanese people became the first to suffer the results of a scientific breakthrough with similar destructive potential. It’s a legacy we live with to this day, one that has never left us. We, more than anyone else, understand that this game is zero-sum … but for one exception … if one player can subvert the rules of the game.”

Dr. Agawa removed a notepad and two sharpened pencils from his desk. He drew a tic-tac-toe board in the corner of the page. “Come, Dr. Yamamoto, allow me to show you what I mean. Let’s play.”

Both B.T. and Michi crowded around Dr. Agawa. As they began, B.T. placed an X in one corner. Dr. Agawa placed an O in the center. Then, once the board was filled, Dr. Agawa drew a large C across it and said, “Cat’s game. Shall we play again?” and they did, with the same result, the two of them quickly filling the board. “Ah, you’re very good at this,” said Dr. Agawa.

“Are you making fun of me?” answered B.T. as they finished yet another cat’s game.

“Is it possible to be good at tic-tac-toe?” Dr. Agawa asked in the same rhetorical tone as before.

“No,” said B.T. definitively.

“And why is that?” Dr. Agawa drew another game. With mild annoyance, B.T. began to play with him yet again.

“So long as you follow a basic strategy by sticking to the center of the board and the corners,” said B.T., “you can produce a cat’s game every time. The only winning move is not to play.”

“He is a quick study, isn’t he?” Dr. Agawa said to Michi. He gestured for them to return to their seats and took up the overstuffed folder he’d removed from his desk a few moments before. “These pages contain the moves of another sort of game. While the Chinese, the Nigerians, and even some of the Americans jockey for scientific supremacy, our nation has adopted an entirely different strategy. Japan has no interest in achieving the Singularity. Our aim is to subvert it, to ensure no one is ever able to unlock and thus abuse this technology. Look at what’s happening right now in the United States. The assassination of their president and the political turmoil that’s followed is the direct result of biological and technological integration. Dr. Yamamoto, you above all people understand this.”

B.T. felt himself complicit in a crime. “It was a sequence of code that I developed which killed President Castro.”

“Yes and no.” Dr. Agawa began to sort through the manila folder until he came to a few stapled pages. He flipped to the second page, and then slid the document across the desk to B.T. “Do you recognize this?”

⍺ Ω

If a beam of light / energy / open + / close—/reopen == / repeat /stop ⍺

Then / She / he / it / them / they / human! @ / machine # ** / blink /be ⌫

?? Singular / one / unique / here > / now < / then

/ soon / all at once /

Open vistas across limitless paths / = infinity x pi / @ # ⌘ …

Line after line of code followed, all of it familiar to B.T. It matched his work on remote gene editing and far exceeded the leak on Common Sense. “Where did you get this?”

“We monitor the research advances of a number of private companies,” said Dr. Agawa. “One of which, Neutronics, has made startling advances in recent years, including in the field of remote gene editing, as you can see. This particular sequence of code was written by their former chief of research. He’s since left the company. But before he left, he made this breakthrough. We haven’t been alone in identifying the threat that this technology poses. As I mentioned, some in America wish to pursue the Singularity. But a small group inside the White House do not. They have proven quite willing to cooperate with us.”

“To what end?”

Dr. Agawa leaned back in his chair. “To create a cat’s game.”

At this, B.T. flipped to the first page. This was the email that had contained the sequence of code as an attachment. It was printed from an anonymous account linked to a private server. The date was from three years before, the subject line: common sense. It contained no message, simply a signature: SH.

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