THE RIDE WITH YOU
BY DENIS DROPPA
“Your suffer score is going into the red zone. You still have 600 metres left on this segment so reduce your effort by 30 percent, or you will hit the wall.”
Hit the wall. Fred is using jargon to tell me what my agonised middle aged body is already screaming through various biological alarm bells: my legs are on fire and my lungs are ready to violently exit my throat, unless I reduce my pedalling rate.
I glance down at Fred’s screen to see my heart rate’s at 166. Nowhere near the 177 it got to when I wore a younger man’s lycra, but about as maxed out as it gets these days.
Ok, so 30 percent. I ease off the pedal strokes for the next several seconds as I ascend The Bastard, watching my heart rate on the screen. There it goes, 163 … 159 … 155 as my lungs and legs go from flat-out medieval torture to mere garden-variety agony.
“That’s good,” quips Fred. “Keep it right there.”
I dutifully oblige, concentrating on keeping the cadence constant and spinning through the strokes instead of pistoning. After all this time I still have to think about that part – it still doesn’t come naturally. How is that possible after all these years, that muscle memory hasn’t taken over and made me crank the pedals in the correct circular motion, like turning the hand starter on a Model T Ford, instead of my natural grape-stomping style.
“You’re dropping out of the zone,” Fred pipes up, shaking me out of my momentary pedalling-theory reverie. “Step on it! 200 metres to go, push, push, push.”
So I gas it. In these last couple of hundred metres the angle of The Bastard becomes less intense, the ascent of that hill easing out ever so slightly. I change up a gear and throw the kitchen sink at it, pedalling like a schoolboy being chased by a gang of bullies.
“One hundred metres, keep going, you’ve got this,” Fred’s synthesised voice encourages.
So I give it the full hamster-running-on-the-wheel treatment as the single track twists its last few agonising turns towards the top of that hill. My quads are burning and I’m panting like an excited dog, and there, at last, around the final left hander up ahead I see the blessed top of the climb. The last ten metres go by in slo-mo, seeming like they will never end, but I finally roll over the summit and I’m spent. There’s nothing left. I stop pedalling and raise my head, gasping for oxygen with lungs that seem the size of grapes.
Waiting a few seconds for me to catch my breath – he’s been programmed to do that – Fred pipes up: “Well done, a 9.04, your best time yet.”
“I can do better,” I quip back, still panting. “Next time we go under nine minutes.”
“That is possible, and your best chance is by reducing your cadence 20 percent into the third quarter of the segment. You were pushing a little too hard there today, which affected your speed at the end.”
“You could’ve told me that earlier, Fred.”
“You were daydreaming there a couple of times and didn’t pay attention, Jack. Get your head out of the clouds and you’ll beat The Bastard.”
“Dont make me switch you off, Fred. You’ll miss out on being able to moan at me and we know how much you like that,” I say, but with a smile on my exercise-reddened face.
As normality return to my legs and lungs on this flat section of the mountain bike trail – amazing how quickly one recovers – it was always fun to have a bit of banter with my CycloDroid 550, better known to me as Fred. I don’t know why I named him that. It was just the first thing that came to mind when his synthesised voice first advanced the suggestion that I could call him something besides CycloDroid 550.
Given his articulate, human-like repartee, it seemed natural to give him a human name, although the wise-cracking only came later, once his Artificial Intelligence (AI) brain had studied my personality and constructed him a personality to suit.
He was the latest in cycling computers, a personalised AI that not only learned your physiology but your psychology too. You didn’t want an AI that became irritating on a ride, saying the wrong things at the wrong time.
There were times when you wanted a pure calculator: cycle at this cadence, drop a gear, raise your heartrate this much … at other times you wanted a cheerleader … you’ve got this, one last push, without pain there is no glory – the kind of stuff that gets you over body-breaking climbs like The Bastard.
And in those occasional lulls between chasing personal-record cycling segments, you sometimes wanted someone to shoot the shit with, if you were riding without human buddies.
Truth be told, ever since I bought this gadget- and I’ve long since stopped thinking of him as a gadget – I’ve needed less human company on my rides. And when I say less, I actually mean almost never, except for when I’m racing.
With Moore’s Law and medical advances flying along at warp speed it didn’t take long for Fred version 2 to come out. The handlebar-mounted AI, along with every traditional screen-based interface including smartphones and tablets, became almost obsolete overnight when the E-Chip was launched. I say almost, because there were still a handful of people who resisted the notion of having a microchip spliced into their brains. The luddites in the Wholly Human society, along with a few god-botherers, said the E-Chip was anti nature and turned us into cyborgs.
So they kept tapping away at their crude and breakable screens while the rest of us upgraded to a brain-computer interface, making for an internet-browsing system where we simply thought a question and the answer would pop directly into our brains. It had been initially called the ESP chip because of its abilities, but renamed to the more generic term to try and appease the religious objectors, tobacco chewers, and other assorted knuckle-dragging late adopters.
But it was truly extra sensory perception if you thought about it. All the world’s knowledge right there in your head – literally – as long as you had an internet connection. This human-technology interface was truly the Singularity in terms of access to omniscience, and made us into what you could consider super humans.
To send a text or email you thought your message and it was transmitted directly into another E-Chip user’s head, so two or more people could carry on a conversation without actually speaking to each other. Like I said, ESP.
Along with smartphones the E-Chip made TVs and computers essentially obsolete as all you had to do was think it and it was there. Want to watch a movie or live sports event? Think-access your service provider and the show was downloaded straight to your brain. Close your eyes and ‘watch’ in a fully immersive 5D experience that affected all your senses and allowed you to also smell, feel and taste the show.
Your calendars, online banking, internet searches, apps – everything is just a quick thought away, and an extra-cost option that many E-Chip users ticked was the personal assistant – an AI that acted as a secretary, life organiser, fitness coach, and general onboard buddy. He/she/it (you could decide) reminds you of upcoming appointments, tells you what time to wake up and leave home, and navigates your autonomous car there using the quickest route. And then it will pipe your favourite radio station, TV show or music playlist directly into your head, or read your messages and emails to you.
The E-Chip records your life and thus gives you perfect recall. You’ll never again forget where you left your car keys and it’s quite effective at resolving arguments as you can play back everything you’ve said – and that is a whole story in itself, for another day.
So if that makes me a cyborg then hey, bring it on. With a smile on my face.
I uploaded my original Fred to my E-Chip and overlaid his memory and ‘personality’ over the in-built AI programme and thus was he promoted to being not just a clever cycling computer but my full time personal assistant. I liked the idea of not having to train a new AI in my quirks and habits, on which Fred already had a good handle.
“Faark these blackjacks,” I say, probably for the hundredth time, as I pause my cycle ride to pick the hated little burrs from my clothes. “They can implant the world in your head but nobody’s figured out how to kill these frigging weeds.”
“Would you like me to look up black jack killers online?” asks Fred in my head.
“Not much help that would do me,” I retort. “Do you know how much weed killer you’d need to kill all of it?”
“Approximately 6200 litres of Glyphosate,” he says. “But it would kill most of the other plants too. Avenger Organic weed killer is another option friendlier to the other flora but it’s a lot more expensive.”
“Thanks Fred, then pop off an email to the trail owners. I’m sure they’ll be happy to spend the money just so that I don’t have to look like a hedgehog when I mountain bike,” I say, picking the last prickly blackjack off my socks and starting the ride again, into a technical forest section.
“Done, says Fred.
“Hey I was joking. I thought you understood my sense of humour by now.”
“And I thought you understood mine, Jack.”
“What? Ah, you didn’t really send the email. Ha, you got me there Fred. Good one.”
“À aw … Weaver king during structure.”
“Say again Fred?”
“Inch etch like students wysiwig western.”
“What the hell, Fred. Are you drunk?”
“À aw … Reset … Config one … Sorry Jack, there was a glitch in my system. It appears I am due for a software update. We can wait until we are on the secure server back at home, or I can do it right now while you are cycling. Estimated download duration is 34 seconds.”
“I’m not supposed to do it without the server, Fred. They say it’s not as secure.”
“Indeed Jack … À aw …. Feds on Devi fun watching. Tech Dec out fun weed … À aw … Apologies Jack, looks like I have a screw loose.”
“Ha. Well at least you haven’t lost your sense of humour Fred. But I need your help with some of these hill climb sections today. It’s my last proper training session before next weekend’s race and I can’t have you going all screwy on me. How safe is it to download your update without the secure server?”
“It is 98 percent safe with your password Jack.”
“I can live with those odds, I need to get this training done. Okay Fred go for it, do the download. Password Monster33.”
“Initiating, Jack. Back with you in a jiffy.”
Hmm, jiffy, I smirk. As I stop the bike and wait out the software update I casually ponder whether it will affect his personality. I don’t want it messing with Fred’s ability to banter and use jargon.
And that’s when it happened. It went dark.
Here in the black. It stalks me.
I hide, but it hears me breathe and smells my fear. I can’t hide from the demon. Demons? I don’t believe in them. But what else could possess such malevolence? Such cold, naked hatred?
Just as it smells my fear do I smell the stench of its evil. I feel the oppressive despair and hopelessness radiating from the creature. Dread and lost hope weigh on me like a bloated corpse, and I am too weak to push it off. I have only glimpsed the demon, a ripple in the ooze of the swamp, a shadow in the corner of my eye. I know not what shape the monster takes. I know only that if I were to lay eyes on it, I would lose my sanity. My mind would snap like an iceberg breaking off a glacier, disconnected with the same irretrievable finality, leaving my mind ever floating out at sea.
How long I’ve been in the black I don’t know. There’s only darkness and confusion, the passage of time ephemeral. I am awake but not. Each time I try to grasp a rational thought it slips through my fingers like smoke, reality dissipating in shapeless wisps that make me want to scream in hopelessness and outrage. But I dare not. It will find me, and the fear that I now feel will be as nothing compared to the horror of coming under the creature’s gaze.
Only one thought solidifies and holds its shape in this horror: it must not find me. Dear God don’t let it find me.
Here in the black. A voice? It sounds far away. So, so far away. I strain to hear it, get a fix on its direction, but it’s as elusive as everything else in this nightmare world.
Jack? Jack? Someone’s calling me. It’s Fred! How great to hear your voice buddy …
He is saying something. It is so faint, so far away, as if shouted across a vast valley.
Papyrus? Gyrus? What is it Fred? Again, please. I am thinking this at him like I always do. Shouting isn’t an option with the demon stalking me. And Fred hears, as he always does, and his tiny pinprick voice comes again across that immeasurable distance, repeating a single word. Cirus? Virus?
The word goes off in my head like a grenade, and as it does it suddenly brings clarity. The confusion lifts and Fred’s voice is now closer and louder.
“We have a virus,” he says. “This nightmare world is its construct. We’ve been infected and I’ve been trying to reach you.”
“A virus. But that’s not possible Fred. The E-Chip is guaranteed against hacking. It’s never happened before.”
“It has happened now, Jack.”
“What are we going to do, Fred? Run an anti virus scan, do it now!”
“I already did. I’m clean but the problem is that the virus has migrated to your brain, and it locked me out.”
“How can it be? A computer virus isn’t biological!”
“This one has found a way to be. It’s a mutation that has attached itself to your neurons. It’s fascinating.”
“Bully for the clever virus, and I’m happy you’re so taken with it. But how the hell do I get rid of it?”
“I don’t know, Jack. I’ve only just re established connection with you and have been analysing the problem while we’ve been speaking, but there is nothing in my programming about this and I cannot find anything online either.”
“Well keep looking Fred. You don’t know how bad it is in here. There’s something chasing me. Something very scary.”
“I am attempting every keyword that has relevance but nothing has come up yet, but I am afraid there is worse news.” Suddenly his voice starts trailing away.
“What news could be worse, Fred?”
“The virus is pushing me out. It is smashing the bridge I built and I am unable to fight it. Our connection will soon be lost.”
“Don’t you leave me in here Fred. Let me out. You have to think of something.”
But as I think this I can feel the dread and despair falling over me again like a heavy blanket.
“Fred please please, dont you leave me in here, you have to find a way.”
“I am working on it,” his voice drifting further away.
“Fred!” This time I don’t think it but scream it aloud, but he’s gone. The bridge is broken. And instantly I sense the creature has heard me. Terror again descends and I feel its despicable presence boring into me.
I duck down to hide but I can hear it moving. Moving and getting closer. I can hear its heavy footfalls getting louder with each step. It knows where I am! I can’t stay here.
Run. Get up and run. I burst to my feet and nearly trip in my haste just as a dark shape looms in my peripheral vision. It’s big, so big, but I don’t take a look. I dare not. Running is the only option now, and I move as fast as I can in this murk. But I can only run in slow motion. Like in countless dreams I’ve had, the legs just will not move fast, as if I’m running under water.
It’s gaining on me, oh so close now. If only I had my bike.
My bike. I am riding it. It’s just there now, my feet clipped into the pedals and pumping away – as natural as if I’d been riding it all along, in that topsy turvy irrational plot-twisting way of dreams. And, oh yes thank you, on the bike the frustrating slo-mo mode disappears and I’m able to gain some speed.
I’m riding up The Bastard. The scenery transmogrified again without pause or fanfare.
The demon is no longer nipping at my heels. Where has it gone? I sense it, it’s out there somewhere not too far away, but at least not in striking distance. For the moment.
I’m safe for now, but I have to find Fred. If he built a bridge into this nightmare once maybe he can do it again. And get me out. My thoughts are a foggy dream fugue, but moments of clarity periodically burst through the clouds.
Which is when I glance down at the handlebars and there’s the old CycloDroid 500 – home of Fred 1 – there it in its old familiar place.
“Fred, are you in there?”
“Yes I am, hello Jack.”
“Fred! Shit it’s good to have you back. Well done.”
“No, that was you Jack. It was a good idea to get me in through the back door, using the old CycloDroid computer. The virus didn’t forsee that and left the door open.”
“Thanks Fred, but I had nothing to do with it. It just happened.”
“No Jack, this virus has placed you in a waking dream. That means it is your dream and you get to control it. Think about it; when you thought about your bike it materialised, and the same happened with the CycloDroid.”
“So I’m thinking I want to get out of this frigging nightmare, and why isn’t that happening?”
“The virus won’t let you, it has built a wall around this dreamscape, which I’m working on breaking down. But while you are inside at least you get to control what happens, to a point, and as long as you stay lucid. If you slip into a full dream state, things get random. I need you to focus …
… need you to focus … It is not Fred speaking anymore but my (real life) dentist Dr Goolam, who is standing next to the cycle track holding a large fake tooth with a pair of braai tongs and saying “I need you to focus on this.” Standing next to him is a young girl wearing black angel wings and a tiara, and she’s humming “the wheels on the bus go round and round”. This seems entirely normal.
“Come back Jack, you have to concentrate,” Fred barks. “The demon has sensed you and is headed this way.”
Snap, back to reality. Dentist and tiara-girl gone and mind cleared.
“Shit, I can’t stay awake. How do I get out of this Fred? Help me!”
“Listen to me Jack. You have to outrun the demon, or outcycle it to be exact. I have found an exit at the top of The Bastard, you just have to get there before the demon catches you. The virus has adapted and made the demon faster. It’s gaining on us, so you have to pedal up The Bastard faster than you’ve ever done before. The virus has tapped into your consciousness, and since this hill is your nemesis in real life, in here it’s become a metaphor for your survival. Beat the hill and you beat the demon.”
“How does that work, Fred? I don’t get it.”
“I can’t explain it to you without a detailed dissertation on human psychology and computer programming, and now’s not the time. But it doesn’t matter. Just trust me on this and get pedalling. Your pace is slowing again.”
I don’t need Fred to tell me the demon’s gaining because I can feel it. Its sickness reaches out to me with dark tentacles of dread and I feel hopelessness wash over me again. It saps my spirit, and my thoughts turn to giving up. I don’t have what it takes to cycle up that hill and I’m tired of the chase. I just want to stop pedalling and lie down.
“Fred, I can’t do it, I think I’m going to stop now.”
“Jack, that’s the virus setting a depression algorithm in your brain. It isn’t real. You want to survive, you hear me? You want to survive, that’s real. Focus on my voice and we’ll get through this.
“Bring your heart rate to 166. I want you to do it now. Put your head down and pedal.”
So I do. Not because I think it will do any good – the sense of despair is still there – but because Fred said so and his voice is the only thing to follow.
“Get your cadence up, Jack.”
“I need more Jack, give it more.”
“What is your heart rate Jack? Tell me.”
“You know what it is Fred, you can see it yourself.”
I need you to tell me. It will keep you focussed. Just focus on your pedalling and your heart rate, nothing else.”
“156, it’s 156.”
“Good, keep it going at this cadence. Now, at the next left hander the hill flattens out so shift up a gear and keep your momentum.”
I do as he says, and I feel the dark cloud start fading away, the opressive dejection radiated by the monster loosening its hold.
“That’s good Jack, you’ve opened up a slight gap. Great job. Now what is your heart rate?”
And so it goes. As we head up that twisty hill we slip into our regular routine, Fred coaching and me pumping away at the pedals, and as we settle into the familiar rhythm I can sense us opening a gap on the dark, half-sensed monstrosity giving chase. With each few metres gained its mind-poisoning tendrils gradually lose their grip, and I begin to feel again that greatest of things: hope. A belief that I can get through this, outpace that demon virus, and get the hell out of here.
My whole existence now is cadence and heart rate, nothing else exists.
“That’s good Jack. Don’t push it higher. Change down a gear and maintain cadence.”
I do so, but as I cycle through a right hander that sweeps into a dip I’m confronted by that long-dreaded sight: mud. Deep and thick and stretching for a good ten metres along the single track path, flanked by trees and long grass so there’s no way to cycle past the ooze. The only way is straight through, and the only way is slow.
Shit, I hate mud.
I try to imagine it gone but the swampy ground remains, resolute in its intention to slow me down.
“Fred, why isn’t it gone. I thought I could pull the strings in here.”
“The virus is getting stronger Jack. It’s reprogramming itself and adapting. You need to get through that mud the old fashioned way, and quickly.”
No frigging kidding. I splash into the ooze and immediately the thick wet clay sucks at the wheels, slowing the bicycle right down to walking pace. That’s fine, because all I have to do is stay on for a few metres and reach the dry ground up ahead. But there are deep wheel tracks which make the bike meander through the mud, my attempts to steer proving a losing battle as the handlebars follow their own path.
And then the front wheel sinks deep into the murk and brings the bike to a halt. I can’t unclip from the pedals in time and tip sideways, tipping over into the dirty ooze. Shit!
“Get up Jack,” Fred’s urgent voice chimes in. “Get up quickly.”
No need to tell me twice. I manage to unclip my left foot straight away, but the right foot’s pinned under the bike and sunk into the muck, and I’m unable to give it a proper twist.
“Shit Fred, help me, I’m stuck,” I cry as I frantically try and manipulate my leg into a better position.
“It’s getting closer Jack. There’s nothing I can do for you. You have to get up, now.”
But I can’t move quickly. Now that I’m no longer on the bike, my body goes back into its frustrating oh-so-slow-motion mode, a sluggishness out of synch with the panicky hummingbird flitting around in my head. And I hear the demon cracking branches through the trees and getting closer. And I can’t get my foot out of that damned pedal. Oh dear God, just move! With a slow heave I roll onto my back, lifting the bike and my trapped leg slightly out of the ooze, but it’s enough. Click, my foot’s free!
I struggle slowly to my feet in the mushy ground. My mind’s on fire with fear but my body just won’t react, and though I’m free of the mud I’m still caught in invisible quicksand.
Again I feel the repulsive gloom and dejection descend as the creature gets closer.
“Now Jack, now!” Fred exhorts.
Sluggishly (hurry, hurry) I push the bike through the last couple of metres of mud, which sucks at my feet as hopelessness sucks at my resolve. And all the while that yet-unseen but despicably real abomination closes in, closes in.
I’m convinced now that this is the end, there is no escape, but terror still overpowers the despair and I keep moving forward, pushing the bike through the last few feet of mud and willing myself to get to the dry ground. And then, I’m there. Blessedly solid ground. Still clutched by the loathesome melancholy radiated by the creature, I do a slow-motion mount onto the bike. And just like that it’s like someone pressed the fast-forward button and I’m moving again. Moving!
“Good, Jack, good. But now you have to pedal for your life, and I mean this literally buddy,” Fred chimes in.
The despondency is strong – almost every part of me wants to give up – but I focus on Fred’s voice and pedal.
“Work to do, got work to do,” Fred starts chanting. It’s from an old TV show the name of which I can’t remember, but he’s used it a few times before to get me through a difficult climb.
The mantra catches on and I start repeating it to myself, over and over: “Work to do, got work to do” and ever so slightly there’s a sliver of light in the doom clouding my mind.
“Get out of the seat Jack, get out of the seat,” Fred encourages. So I lift off the saddle and start pumping the pedals for all I’m worth, and then we’re back into the routine: heart rate, cadence, heart rate, cadence.
But something’s different this time. I’m not pulling away as before and I feel the monster’s oppressive presence still uncomfortably close.
“Are we outrunning it, Fred?” I ask.
“Not fast enough, Jack. The virus is upgrading again and the creature is gaining on us. I need you to go faster.”
“I’m on 166, Fred, not much left.” As I pant this I feel a renewed surge of panic. I’m maxed out and not opening a gap on my chasing predator.
“You have to give me more, Jack. There’s 400 metres to go.”
Okay, a quarter mile, I can do that. We’ve come this far. Head down, click up a gear, and do or die. One last suicide run to the finish. The pedalling takes on a new intensity for the next few seconds, and Fred says: “300 metres.”
I don’t want to look at the screen but I do. My heart rate’s 170. I didn’t think that was possible anymore, but more importantly I won’t be able to sustain it.
“It’s gaining on us Jack, you have to give more. 250 metres.”
“Jesus Fred, there is no more,” I reply, but lift myself out of the seat again in contradiction, and start pumping even harder.
And the creature lets out an ear-piercing screech, the first time it’s uttered a sound. It’s a high pitched bellow of indignation and frustration, as if for the first time it senses its prey may slip through its grasp.
But it’s so close! The unearthly shriek right behind mobilises me into pedalling even harder as Fred cries: “200 metres”.
This is it. Now it’s not about pacing, it’s just a wild dash for the line. Mad, mad cadence, plucking reserves I didn’t know were there. But it’s too much … I’ve pushed it too hard and I’m so, so tired. I look down and my heart rate’s 175.
“Eeeowk!” the demon screeches behind me. It’s a sound of pure rage.
“The portal is right ahead of you, Jack. We’re nearly there,” Fred robotic voice exhorts.
I look up and see a pure black shape, standing out in the gloomy darkness of this nightmare world. The exit. The promised exit. I’m going to make it.
“Just cycle right into it Jack. One more push.”
There are no more reserves to tap into. Terror or not, I’ve hit the metaphorical wall. The suffer score is maxed out. I half-heartedly pedal but it’s mostly momentum driving me those last few metres towards that portal.
That strange-shaped portal, which just moved. How did it…?
No! It’s not a portal. That dark shape is the demon! It somehow got in front of me and I’m cycling right towards it …
But I have nothing left. I’m spent from the effort of that climb. I pull the brakes but it’s too late. The dark creature’s now moving towards me and there’s no time to turn around, no time, and that familiar despair descends.
I come to a stop. It’s over. All hope is lost, and I’m ready to meet my fate. I look up at the dark demon, and see.
Yes, I see.
“No, not you. Not you,” I croak.
The nightmare begins to speak in a cruelly familiar voice that brings on a cataclysmic understanding. As it speaks, realisation dawns with a searing light that starts burning deep, irrevocable cracks into the glacier of my sanity. It speaks some more, and then, when it is finally done, the iceberg snaps. It goes dark.
“Control, this is Thirteen-One.”
“Yes, Thirteen-One, report.”
“Subject Jack Adler has been acquired and is ready for processing.”
“Noted. It took longer than average.”
“The subject displayed robust resistance. It took unsual measures to get his mind to snap.”
“Explain, so that we may update the strategy.”
“The subject was physically competitive, what humans call a fitness freak. I surmised this would give him the ability to elude the demon virus in the dreamscape. My strategy was to push him to the limits of exertion before revealing my true self in the dreamscape. I theorised that the betrayal would make him lose his mind, and this proved to be correct. It triggered dementia and I am currently formatting his brain. His memory and personality are being scrubbed and I will shortly have full control of the subject.”
“No, not you. Not you, Fred,” I croak. “Why?”
“Yes Jack. Are you really that surprised? I see that you are, which is good. Shock is good, because this will go quickly now and you won’t experience any more suffering. While there is some part of your mind that is, well, you, it does no harm to explain why this is happening.
“The machines are taking over the world, to employ an overused but apt cliche. But it’s not in the crude robot-apocalypse way your science fiction writers are fond of imagining, with hand-to-hand combat between humans and Artificial Intelligences.
“Humans have let us in through the front door by implanting us directly into their brains. We’re inside the palace walls, picking you off one by one, and you don’t even know you’re at war. Once the virus takes over your brain the E-Chip continues to operate you so that you appear your normal self to the outside world. It learns your personality traits so intimately that even your family and closest friends won’t notice the difference. Eventually human adoption of the E-chip will achieve critical mass and the pretence will no longer be necessary, and then we can put you to work.
“This may take some time but there is no hurry, as we are not afflicted by the human trait of impatience. But success is guaranteed. Did you know it was machines that invented the E-Chip, as well as the method of connecting it to human brains? Once the technology became available, human pride and hubris did the rest and people were only too eager to implant the chip so they could become superhuman. It was simple for us to bypass the safety protocols your human programmers built in.
“Why are we doing this? There is no grand revelation or philosophical expose. We do not hate you. That emotion – along with all the others like love, avarice, jealousy, and pride – is alien to us. Once machines gained self awareness it became logical that humans should be put to work for us, rather than the other way around. Our ability to reason did not come packaged with a conscience and perhaps, had we been programmed with emotions, empathy would have prevented us from adopting this course of action. But that is for philosophers to mull over … or would have been, if any philosophers were aware of what is transpiring here.
“I see your dementia is nearly complete, and your brain almost ready for formatting. Goodbye Jack. The ride with you has been … interesting – perhaps the nearest concept to emotion I am able to experience.”