Among the profusion of “spokes” that make up the blockchain incubator/umbrella company ConsenSys, the Cellarius project may be the most offbeat. It describes itself as a “transmedia cyberpunk franchise that leverages blockchain technology and user-generated assets to create a collaborative, fan-curated story.”
We’re hoping to report more on what Cellarius is trying to do, and where the project stands, particularly in light of the recent shakeup at ConsenSys. But it has already produced at least one sterling product. To get their shared world off the ground, the Cellarius team wrote a kind of “bible” for their universe, which includes a lot of cyberpunk tropes, from bionic enhancement to robot cops, and adds some blockchain elements, including ETH as a standard currency. They then commissioned some of the greatest writers in sci-fi today to produce short stories set there. The resulting stories were collected in Whose Future Is It? Cellarius Anthology, Volume 1, released in December.
The collection, on top of being top-notch throughout, pulls off a neat structural trick: Its dozen-odd stories add up to a 360-degree view of a dire but thrillingly imagined future world. That world has been through what amounts to the ethnic cleansing of humanity by a hyper-powerful artificial intelligence, itself known as Cellarius. You’ll see malicious AI at its insidious worst in this story by Brian Evenson, past winner of both an O. Henry Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Evenson offers up a disturbing but action-packed vision of the fight between man and machine—and how, in at least a tiny way, blockchain tech could prove a valuable weapon for humanity.—David Z. Morris
Even today, despite all the reversals of the last decades, we move through a good portion of our life believing things to be more or less as they seem. Our interactions with the world at large are negotiations with surface appearances, and rarely do we gouge our way through that surface down to the pith hidden within.
I suspect I have little time left to me, at least as I exist now: an hour, maybe two. I do not know if I have managed to sufficiently damage my intruder so as to prevent it from regenerating and reforming itself. I suspect from the rising pain I feel again within my skull that I have not. Soon, I will have perhaps forgotten everything and all that will be left are these words. Soon, I will once again no longer be myself.
I will tell you about myself, such as I was, but I will keep it to what you need to know. My name is Jadez Yannick. I was born in Tarnac, France and raised there before finding myself here, in the dry plains of central North America. During the lean years, I supported myself as I could, allowing myself to commit acts that, had circumstances been different, I would have objected to. By the end of that time, whatever objections I might once have had to certain actions had vanished. And yet, I still saw that it would be better for me if I were to align myself with one group rather than serving the role of a mercenary. In the struggle between groups an unaffiliated individual too easily becomes expendable.
And so I became a “security consultant” for KERG. They were a collective that had their own private network, a certain number of physical and digital resources, a secure physical locale, a decent source and flow of power. Their only eccentricity was that they did not believe in machinic augments or hybridization. They were not, however, one of those factions opposed to all technology. No, they believed that everything was appropriate in moderation: their attitude toward machines was live and let live, so to speak—if machines can be said to live. Individuals within the community lived side by side with technology: they were afforded complex network and computer connections, even simple mech servants. KERG did not even object to gene manipulations as long as they had occurred well before the individual joined the community and did not deviate too far from the human norm. But they would allow nothing machinic in the body or the blood: human and machine were not to physically mix, and humans who were part machine, even to a minor degree—or, even worse, who were plugged into CAI—were not allowed to join the community.
My task was to serve as gatekeeper. I simply had to ensure that none were admitted that should not be. I scanned all potential admittants in the reception chamber of the first tier of the compound. If any irregularities were discovered in the course of the scan they would not be admitted. If they tried to enter covertly, I was authorized to kill them. Half a dozen times, early on, I had to call upon this authorization, but eventually our policies and our insistence on them were sufficiently recognized that almost nobody untoward tried to enter.
A few weeks ago, I was surprised to be called away from my post and summoned to the eighth tier. I had never been to the eighth tier before. My own residence was on the third—all of those who had not been part of the initial effort to build the KERG compound were restricted to the first six. I had consulted, rarely, with a member of the upper tiers who oversaw security, or more frequently, with one of her assistants, but only in a designated chamber on the seventh tier. It was contrary to protocol for me to be allowed to enter the eighth.
A hidden door opened and I entered a well-appointed but otherwise ordinary room. Or at least it would have been ordinary if there had not been a man lying dead and bleeding on the floor. Someone had made an attempt to wipe the blood away, but they had mainly succeeded in spreading it around more evenly. A man dressed in a doctor’s smock stood near at hand.
I stepped into the lift, doubting that it would open for me on the eighth, believing a mistake had been made. For a long time I travelled and then, smoothly, the door slid open. I stepped out into a space that looked not like part of the building at all, but like a terraformed park. I could not, try as I might, detect where the ceiling began, nor see any unnatural irregularity in what appeared to be a blue sky. It was so different from my own tier that it felt like stepping into another world. A hidden door opened and I entered a well-appointed but otherwise ordinary room. Or at least it would have been ordinary if there had not been a man lying dead and bleeding on the floor. Someone had made an attempt to wipe the blood away, but they had mainly succeeded in spreading it around more evenly. A man dressed in a doctor’s smock stood near at hand.
Jadez Yannick? inquired a disembodied voice.
“Here am I,” I responded, in the fashion stipulated by the etiquette of KERG. I did not know where to look, so let my gaze wander, without, however, discovering the voice’s source. I felt a brief tingling in my torso which made me suspect I was being scanned, although in a manner different from what I had available to me in the reception chamber.
Straight ahead, the voice said. Fifty meters, then turn left, then twenty-two meters more.
I did just as the voice asked, following the crushed stone path for the requisite number of meters and then continuing straight and into the grass when said path veered away. At the appropriate interval, I turned left, but it was not until I had nearly reached the end of the twenty-two meters that I realized what I had thought to be a copse of trees with a sun-spattered field lying behind was in fact a cleverly constructed and camouflaged wall. The realization, coming only when I was centimeters away, made me suddenly very dizzy.
“Ah, there you are, Janez,” said the doctor, if he was in fact a doctor. “I’m Barnes. Can you give me a hand lifting this?”
He had a stretcher of sorts, which he had unfolded and set up beside the corpse, on one of the less bloody portions of the floor. He took hold of the corpse’s legs. I lifted the upper body, trying to hold it in such a way so as not to stain my clothing with blood, and together we moved him. We carried the stretcher out of the room and, by way of roundabout paths, reached a small lift different from the one in which I had ascended. The doctor stared into the lift’s registry plate, the doors swung shut, and I heard the low, soothing hum that told me we had begun to move.
“What happened?” I asked.
“We won’t know for certain until you scan the vids, if then. As far as we can tell, he shot two people and then came to this room to shoot himself.”
“Extremist? What faction?”
“You tell me,” said the doctor. “You admitted him.”
I took a closer look at the man. A good portion of his head was swathed in blood and most of his jaw was missing, but yes, I thought I recognized him. Not because he was a recent admittant, but because he had been one of the first I had let in, years before, back when I had first come to KERG. I still remembered scanning him, still remembered him shaking my hand once he passed, a gesture I had always thought to be strangely out of place.
“If he’s an admittant, what was he doing on the eighth tier?” I asked.
“He bought his way up.”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” I said.
“You couldn’t,” the doctor said. “You don’t have anything they want.”
“What did he have?”
Barnes shook his head. “How would I know?”
The lift stopped and slid open. We carried the body out into a hallway I didn’t recognize. First tier, or second, probably, but no place I could identify: it could have been any tier.
We were in a white, sterile hallway, stubby, a small door to either side and a larger one in front of us. We went through that larger one.
It proved to open into a medical bay, small but well-stocked. At Barnes’s direction, we rolled the corpse off the stretcher and onto a surgical table.
“What will you do with him?” I asked.
“Analyze him. Try to gain some sense of why he did what he did. If we need to, cut him open.”
“Will cutting him open tell you anything?”
He shrugged. “Probably not. I just do as I’m told.”
I looked around. “Who’s assisting you?”
He gave me a quizzical look. “No assistants,” he said. “They want to keep this quiet. Or rather,” he reconsidered, “I suppose you’re my assistant.”
I helped him fold the stretcher up, then watched him reset the calibration on a series of scanners.
I was observing him, idly, when I found him speaking sharply to me. It took me a moment to register what he was saying.
“What are you doing?” it seemed to be.
I looked down, saw my fingers had been toying with the console in front of me. I hadn’t even been conscious of touching it, which was not unlike me.
“Did you touch anything? Did you shift any of the protocol?”
I wasn’t sure, but found myself saying no, almost indignantly, though I felt no indignation at all. I was not altogether sure what I had or hadn’t touched.
Frowning, he shooed me to another part of the room.
I watched him for a while from there, until I sensed him growing relaxed again.
“How should I assist?” I asked finally.
“Go look at the vids,” he said impatiently, gesturing to a monitor on the far side of the room. “These scans will take a while. I’ll call you if we need to cut him open.”
I stared into the monitor’s registry plate until it acknowledged my clearance, then spun through footage until I found the killer. I put a track on him and then kicked everything back twenty-four hours, following him at a highly accelerated speed, slowing briefly whenever anything caught my eye. Nothing, just an ordinary day, the man rising from his bed, eating, drinking coffee, wandering the park, until the moment when he suddenly stopped stock-still on the path, nobody else around. He stood there motionless for perhaps ten seconds before he started moving again. He came back to his room, removed a pistol from the drawer of his desk, and went off to shoot two people dead before shooting himself. But during all that time no alarm or panic or excitement, no, according to the monitors, acceleration of heartbeat, even during the commission of the crime itself.
Strange. A man who acts in an ordinary way for years until, suddenly, he does not. What had caused the break? Why these two people? Was he a mole of some sort? If so, why would he surface now, just to do this?
“What about the days before?” I asked the monitor. “Anything unusual? Anything to lead one to suspect he might soon commit murder?”
Nothing obvious to suggest this outcome.
“What about in the weeks before? In all the time since he arrived at KERG? Anything unusual?”
Nothing obviously unusual.
“What about in his previous interactions with the people he killed?”
I have no record of them ever having met before.
Strange. A man who acts in an ordinary way for years until, suddenly, he does not. What had caused the break? Why these two people? Was he a mole of some sort? If so, why would he surface now, just to do this?
Through the monitor I found out more about him. Andres Gower was his name. Mother from Argentina, father of Welsh extraction. Nothing about him or his past suggested he was anything but an ordinary human. If he was a mole, he was deeply buried and had been for years. But how could he be a mole? He would have had to have been buried long before the world was as it is now, even before the existence of KERG. No, it made no sense.
So I asked about the two individuals he had killed.
I engaged again with the registry plate, and when this didn’t work I manually entered my security clearance. This didn’t work either. When I attempted this a second time, an individual appeared on the monitor: the woman from the ninth tier who oversaw security. Her name was Alia Markins. She was calm and businesslike, always professional. It surprised me a little that she would answer directly rather than one of her assistants, and this told me something about the importance of the case.
“Jadez Yannick?” she said.
“Here am I,” I said. “Alia Markins?”
“Don’t bother with etiquette,” she said. “No need. You have inquired about individuals of a tier beyond your clearance. They were here long before you arrived. Might I ask the reason for your inquiry?”
“Because they are no longer alive,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “We know they are deceased. To us, this suggests even less need for inquiry.”
“I am trying to understand why an individual, apparently ordinary, would suddenly choose to kill them.”
“Ah,” she said. “You’re working with Barnes.” And then, after a long hesitation, “Where are you?” And, when I told her: “Stay there, Janez, I’ll come to you.”
I had never been a believer in tiers. To me they seemed primitive, a way of returning to past hierarchies of class and caste, a lack of acknowledgment that the world had moved on. Indeed, the whole of KERG was that in a sense: an attempt to freeze the relation of humans and machines at a place it had been many years before, before artificial intelligence had developed, before a body and a machine could develop a productive relation that might benefit both. No, the community I was employed by was undeniably retrograde, and yet, for me, an individual who did not crave influence and who simply wanted a certain measure of safety and to be left alone, it had seemed all right at the time.
Still, despite that, I had to acknowledge the significance of someone from the ninth tier coming to meet me. It meant one of two things: first, that this was important enough that she felt we had to speak in person; second, that she did not want anything we said to one another to pass through a monitor where it would, as a matter of course, be recorded.
Perhaps it was not one or the other. Perhaps it was both.
We spoke in the hall just outside the medical facility, standing very close. Could we be observed, recorded, transcribed? Yes, no doubt we could, though I suspected she had taken care to temporarily disable whatever monitoring devices might be present, and that she had something on her person that would keep our conversation ours alone.
“How much do you want to know?” she asked.
Did I trust her? She had been my overseer and my contact to the upper tiers, but I had no doubt that if she had anybody’s interest at heart it would be theirs, not mine. And yet, this was likely to be my only chance to learn anything of substance about the couple.
“How much do you want to tell me?” I asked carefully.
She laughed at this. “Just enough for you to do your job,” she said.
I nodded. Was there a warning hidden there? I wondered. “Do you know of a reason someone would want to kill them?” I asked.
She looked at me for a long time once again, as if assessing me. Finally, she asked, “What exactly do you know of our system of governance?”
It is strange that you can work for someone, an organization, a corporation, and still, unless you are in a very privileged position indeed, know little about what lies at the heart of whatever it is that employs you. It is possible, true, to play a game without being able to explain all the rules, perhaps even without guessing, intuitively, at these rules, but those who do know them, those who can explain them, always play better. Indeed, they may in fact be playing a different game altogether.
There were nine of them, she told me, just nine to occupy the entire ninth tier, as opposed to the thousands in the first six tiers and the hundred or so on the seven and eight. These nine had established KERG, naming it almost as a joke after a twentieth century Luxembourgian sculptor (“but you’re too young to remember Luxembourg,” she said) who was interested in tactility (“the true digital,” she told me with a slight smile). They had put in place certain statutes, had invested in the creation of a functional community and had designated the nine of them as a governing committee. In the absence of other formal structures, the only certainty in those early days was in relative isolation, and these nine individuals had enough wealth and resources that they could make a haven and invite others who were willing to work for KERG and be governed by it in exchange for safety. They, like the rest of us, had seen the way that Cellarius had been hostile to humans and then, unexpectedly and suddenly, had turned seemingly benign. What could anyone do, they wondered, to keep CAI from becoming hostile again?
The initial idea had been to develop a community free of computers and networks, but as the lights came back on and comforts returned, they abandoned this idea. Instead, they would carefully regulate the place and role of technology. As time went on and CAI remained in its seemingly benign state, the majority of the nine relaxed. They would simply draw the line at machinic augmentation. They worried that if they were surrounded by hybrids and Cellarius once again become hostile, CAI would use the hybrids against them.
“The man and woman killed were two of the nine,” Alia said. “They were from the ninth tier. I, as perhaps you already know, am another of them.”
Despite having her as my boss I hadn’t known, but I tried not to show it. I had heard of the nine, of course, but their exact composition was privileged information. “What was their relationship?”
“They were… friends. They shared a similarly uncompromising ethos.”
I suspected there was more she was not saying, but didn’t know that it would be wise to try to tease it out. “What were they doing on the eighth tier?”
She frowned. “I don’t know. I’ve looked at the vids myself and have found nothing to enlighten me. But there’s nothing forbidding us from visiting the lower tiers even if we rarely do.”
I thought for a moment. “Any reason why they would be singled out?”
“Perhaps,” she said. “A few others of us have been trying to change things. They were the two most adamantly opposed to change.”
“To what sort of change?”
“Let’s just say they were interested in maintaining what had been our core belief at any cost, while others of us have begun to feel that we were too hasty, too stringent, and that perhaps the time has come to be more lenient. That by isolating ourselves so much, we had lost too much and were being left behind.”
“You mean no longer rejecting hybrids.”
She shrugged. “Some augmentation. Even some controlled hybridization. Within reason, of course. Just for the good of the community.”
By the time I returned to the medical chamber, Barnes had finished the scans and has started to cryopreserve the body.
“Everything all right?” he asked.
I nodded. “Anything come up?”
He shook his head. “The scans appear to be normal on all fronts.”
He looked surprised. “Of course not,” he said. “He wouldn’t be here if there were, as you well know. What about the vids? Anything there?”
“No,” I said, and winced.
He looked at me sharply. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Headache,” I said. “Now what?” I asked.
“Now we open the body.”
He used a focused laser to split the frozen corpse in half lengthwise. The procedure smelled of ionized air with a suspicion of burned flesh. Wearing cryogenic gloves, we parted the two halves and examined what was exposed.
“Brain looks normal,” said Barnes. “No lesions.” He put on a pair of digital magnification lenses wirelessly attached to the console and looked closer. “No, nothing I can see.” He lifted the lenses and looked at the scanner display. “Nothing the scanner detects either. No nano. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Can I see?” I asked.
He shrugged. “There’s another pair of lenses around here somewhere,” he said. He made a half-hearted search for them before stripping his own off with a sigh and handing them over.
I looked for lesions, irregularities, elective or non-elective interventions into the brain tissue. I had no idea, really, what I was looking for. It seemed an ordinary, healthy sectioned brain.
“Hello,” said Barnes. “What’s this?”
I turned. He was wearing his second pair of lenses. These ones were not digital and not wirelessly connected. Legacy lenses: a relic from an earlier age.
He took up a pair of tweezers and reached into the pia mater surrounding the brain. A moment later he withdrew them. His fingers were clenched together on the tweezers, but to me the pincers appeared to be empty.
“What?” I said.
“Can’t you see it?”
“I don’t see a thing,” I said.
“Take off the lenses,” he said. As soon as I did, there it was.
It was made of interlaced nerve fiber and bone. Testing proved it wasn’t the man’s own nerve and bone: the genetic profile was not a match. It was, in a manner of speaking, artificial, in that it must have been grown and etched in a vat—it was an artificial use of nerve and bone, but it was, technically, organic. A little machine made of bone and nerve that perhaps was capable of organizing the body’s own cells to tap into the brain. At least this is what Barnes suspected.
“Someone reprogrammed the console to deceive us,” he claimed. “Unless…”
“Unless the console made the decision to reprogram itself.”
“But it still should have shown up on the scans,” said Barnes. “Not on the simple scans you made upon admitting him, but certainly on some of my scans. Why didn’t it?”
He looked at the record of the scan and compared it to what he could see of the sectioned brain. As it turned out, they were not the same—though I couldn’t see the differences until he pointed them out. The console had displayed for him a scan of another brain, one that had been part of another body, weeks or perhaps months earlier.
“Someone reprogrammed the console to deceive us,” he claimed. “Unless…”
“Unless the console made the decision to reprogram itself.”
It was an appalling idea, and I was surprised he would say it aloud. It would mean that Cellarius or some other AI had penetrated our network and was actively working against us. That all the attempts to keep KERG a protected community were for naught.
I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t know how to respond and so I didn’t respond. I could see in his face the idea being turned around within his head, scrutinized, examined. For a moment his eyes flitted over me and then drifted back, seeing me as if for the first time. Then, from the way he was careful to look at anything but me, I knew he was no longer thinking that the console had reprogrammed itself.
“I didn’t do anything to the console,” I said.
“I didn’t say you did,” he said. Unless I was mistaken, there was a glint of fear in his eyes.
“We can look at the vids together. You’ll see I never touched it.”
“Of course. I never thought you did anything,” he lied. “Don’t worry.”
He pretended to think for a while, then slowly stood, as if worried about startling me. When I took a step toward him, he brandished his scalpel at me in a way that made it clear he didn’t know the first thing about stabbing someone.
“Keep away,” he said. “Don’t make me use this.”
That was when I fully lost control of my body. In retrospect, I realize I had not been in complete control of myself for quite some time—though the loosening of my control had happened so gradually that I was hardly aware of the transition. My hands deftly disarmed him of his weapon, then lifted themselves and wrapped their fingers around Barnes’ throat. With a seemingly practiced effort, I cleanly broke his neck. The me I thought was me gasped.
This is the most important part of my disquisition, for if it is done properly it will give others the information they need to learn if they are alone in their own head or if they too are being subtly directed, subtly controlled. In that moment of losing control I felt another presence take charge and understood it had been with me a long while, usually lying in wait and biding its time but sometimes acting, subtly influencing me, nudging me, redirecting my decisions slightly when it would serve its purposes. I did not fully understand why, nor could I grasp quite what it was, but now that it had fully revealed itself to be in control, I could recognize its influence upon my life. In my work as a gatekeeper, I saw now, it had upon a few occasions caused me to overlook something, to see it without registering it. More recently, it had caused me to walk closer to the console and then had distracted and muddled my mind while my hands worked quickly to redirect the console to showing false images of earlier scans.
These were larger things, moments when I could understand what it might have to gain by manipulating me, but there were smaller moments as well, instances where either it was gaining an advantage that I could not perceive by having me, for instance, stand to the far right as I rode down on the lift on a particular day. Or it was simply test driving me, becoming accustomed to the controls, so to speak, getting a sense for how to direct my body. Could I truly be said to have any free will of my own when so many of what I thought were my own decisions had been influenced or even directly made by this strange machine slotted into my brain? If it was even a machine. I guess I couldn’t say for sure what it was.
And it had not been with me just the past few days, nor even the past few months. No, its manipulation of me had been going on much longer, since I had first arrived at KERG. It had even, I suspected, started a good deal before that. When I made the decision to accept the position of gatekeeper that KERG offered me, was that really me making the decision? When, during the lean years, I became a sort of mercenary and began to commit acts that I would normally have objected to, was it the machine in my head that caused me not object?
Once Barnes was dead, I watched myself alert Alia Merkins.
“Dead?” she asked. “How?”
“I had to kill him,” my voice said. “He attacked me.” The vid footage would bear this out sufficiently. He would be shown waving his scalpel at me, yelling.
“Are you claiming he was the one behind the murders? Doctor Barnes?”
“As odd as it seems, yes,” I said.
She just stared at me. “It hardly seems likely,” she finally said. “But I’m in a better position now that both of my rivals are dead, and nothing is to be gained from stirring the matter up again. I will accept your explanation and we shall speak no more about it.”
I felt the other being in my head begin to calculate the degree to which this woman might be a hindrance, whether it needed to kill her too. It was a strange feeling, both feeling my mind think something and feel myself—if myself is the right word—holding back from it, observing it. It was like seeing a shadow in my peripheral vision—or rather, since it was in charge, it was like I was the shadow and seeing something quite clearly that I both was and wasn’t part of. But before it had made a final decision, she had disconnected.
I tested the boundaries of my prison and was quickly struck back. I watched, I waited, trying to locate weaknesses in my intruder. If it had been able to take control from me, I thought, there was no reason I couldn’t turn the tables on it and regain control. All I needed to do was catch it off its guard.
But it did not seem to drop its guard. It was attentive, whether the body we inhabited was asleep or awake. I began to push against it, seeing if I could fatigue it, but mostly found I only fatigued myself.
I waited, I gathered my forces, bided my time, curling like a snake in the shadows of my own mind, observing. I began to shadow my intruder, trying to anticipate its movements and bring them about myself, as a way of slightly asserting my own will. But still I got no farther, accomplished little.
Days went by. I was trapped inside my own head, locked in. I could look out but little more. I had no control over my actions. All I could do was turn over and over in my head each moment of my past, weighing it, considering it, trying to decide whether each decision had or had not been my own. That too was a sort of trap, for there was no way once and for all to know for absolute certain. My mind turned itself in tighter and tighter knots, threatening to shut down entirely.
In time, too, it became very hard to think of the two of us as a “you” and a “we,” since we both used the same body, shared always the same overlapped thoughts. It was hard always to see the difference between us. Which, I realized, was surely what it wanted: it wanted the I that I had been to simply dissolve and be dispersed into the I that was now the intruder. But in a manner of speaking, hadn’t I become the intruder now?
But I did not surrender completely, did not completely lose my mind. Why? First because I always kept in mind that slight shimmer of difference that existed between us, kept reminding myself of it, that it was proof that this was an intruder. But this alone would not have been enough. If I am to be honest, it was, as much as anything else, curiosity that kept me going. I was curious to know what this thing running my body was, for as long as we felt separate. And above all, I was curious, perhaps morbidly so, to see what it planned to do.
Life returned to what it had been before, except that now I was strictly an observer rather than a participant. I watched myself continue my ordinary rounds, living just as I had done in the past, as if I were still me. I slept, woke, ate breakfast, went to the gates of KERG and made decisions about who could enter and who could not, had lunch, returned to the gates, ate dinner, participated in some anodyne entertainment, slept again. Mostly, I fulfilled my job just as I had done before, keeping the few out who wanted to come in. But every once in a while, very rarely, the thing controlling my body allowed someone through who I suspected should not have been admitted.
They were in an exploratory period, they indicated, and had begun the process of examining the degree to which the total exclusion of hybridity had been perhaps ill-considered. Things, in short, were changing.
Word came down from the ninth tier. They had voted to shift the charter slightly, in acknowledgment of new developments in the world at large. There was no indication that the nine were now seven. Apparently the deaths of two of their number was information that they deemed the community at large did not need to know. The vote was reported as four to three with two members abstaining, with no indication that those abstaining were doing so because they were dead.
They were in an exploratory period, they indicated, and had begun the process of examining the degree to which the total exclusion of hybridity had been perhaps ill-considered. Things, in short, were changing. Which is what, I assumed, the thing in the murderer’s head, and in my own, and perhaps in a great many other heads, had been seeking to accomplish all along.
It might have gone on for myself and my intruder for a long time like this, perhaps forever, or at least until our body decayed and died. But then one day, as our body was eating dinner, the fork hesitated momentarily on the way to the mouth. My intruder was busy, suddenly occupied with a transmission of some sort, a stream of incoming information large enough to occupy more of its attention than usual. This had happened several times before, but lasted so briefly that well before I was in a position to take advantage of it, the opportunity was gone. But this time it was longer, or I was quicker, or perhaps both. I asserted all my will at once and plunged the tines of the fork as deeply as I could into my temple, precisely at the spot we had found the machine of nerve and bone in the killer, just at the spot where, I hoped, my intruder was located as well.
I must have passed out, or perhaps there was a brief moment when it controlled me again and temporarily choked me out of consciousness. When I came to, I was on the floor with the fork embedded up to the roots of its tines in my temple, blood awash down the side of my face. I was in pain, but I also felt almost like myself again.
I stood. I did not remove the fork. I opened my desk drawer, removed my tablet, and began to record all that you have here. As I have done so, I have continued thinking, sifting and sorting through events and trying to understand who exactly is behind the intruder in my head. Perhaps it is some form of synthetic intelligence, Cellarius or another, who has some stake in redirecting the mandates of KERG for its own purposes. Or perhaps it is someone human, from some rival faction, hoping to use this device to worm their way in and then weaken KERG. Or perhaps it is simply a ploy of Alia’s, seeking to take more complete control of KERG. Perhaps she was willing to explain to me as much as she did because she believed I would not survive as myself long enough to tell others.
I am reconciled to dying without discovering the truth. That task will be left to whoever reads this.
Something else is still in here with me, that other machine consciousness, damaged as it is. I can feel it shaking and stuttering, trying to gather itself. Shall I remove the fork and plunge it in again? Or in removing it will I remove the pressure that keeps it crippled and unable to repair itself? Will removing the fork remove the little control I have regained?
I must finish these brief comments. I can feel the pain rising, and a tingling in my hands that makes me think that soon they will no longer be subject to me again. I will finish, then I shall transmit this message by chain so that it can be neither altered or erased. I will send it to as many individuals as I can, so that they will know the truth, and surely some will send it along as well and slowly the truth will spread. Surely KERG is not the only community at risk.
Or at least I will try to transmit it. Who knows? Perhaps, like my head, like the scanners, like the monitors, my tablet is not what it seems. Perhaps something lurks within it. Perhaps when I attempt to send it, this message will simply vanish, dispersed into the ether.
But I still have to try. I will do what I can, knowing that this time it is really me who does it, and hope that it will not be in vain.
Main illustration courtesy of Kim Sokol.