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Fiction # Mobility

Tags: fiction

Bolted up awake to five alarms going off at once. I unplug my phone from the charger and roll off of the futon mattress. I look over my hapless roommates as they rub their eyes or scroll to see their assignments. I'm the most awake, and swiftly head to the bathroom. There are dozens of tubes of toothpaste, shampoo bottles, etc. I take my towel from pack and close the door.

Freshened up, I re-enter the room and a red-haired woman slips in, closing and locking the door behind. I already have my pack, so I bid farewell to the others. "Good luck, bro," one guy says. Cool. He puts out his hand, now everyone has to shake hands. Not cool then.
I step out into the corridor. OK, now where to... The assignment says I can catch my bus a few blocks from here. I ride the elevator avoiding conversation with these other people - funny how these strangers are just strangers.

Across the street from the stop is a Cash-King. Looking sleepless, screaming at us to throw down our phones. "Skip work today, brainwashed peons!". The guy standing a few people down from me in line - he wears a sharp fedora and suit - shouts back. "You got an off-grid farm here somewhere? The fuck am I supposed to do?"
"Do you even know where you are? This is Jersey, I find black market shit every day - "

The auto-bus spares us the rest of the argument.

At the office the carry-over guy is there ahead of time and prepared. Love to see that. "This is my third day, and it's smooth sailing - one of the better jobs I've done," he says. "We're going to pick actors from their audition reels. Convincing, people who you'd like to see in a serious drama."

"I don't know what I'm doing here," she says. "Y'know I was a policy expert. Do you think that's why?"

"It's alright. You had a few minutes, so I'll… um I'll read for you?"'

"I have an affirmation… I had it before, too - I always aim to be the best at something. I always aim to be the best at something."

"Alright, so… I'm on a phone. You burst in and I say 'what news?'."

With a hasty breathless delivery: "Chancellor, the troops are landing at Etright beach. People are scared. They need to hear from you."

Co-working Team agrees!

At the end of the day, the carry-over guy tapped someone on the shoulder at the next table. I study this person's expression. I never get picked for carry-over duty, like your common malingerer or saboteur.

The post-work autobus takes me further south. We're all quiet. The old man a few rows ahead is a small talker.
"I have two kids, and three grandkids. Well, I met two and my daughter-in-law looked real healthy when we saw each other last."
His seatmate nods politely.
"She was… not at the office or autobus, but luckily we ran into each other on the street during lunch break. Such a lucky break."
Then: "What if we never see each other again? What a world."

I use Bluetooth to open the door. This apartment is already a mess. Someone wrote all over the walls, not more Cash-King bullshit but just questions:

Is there still a government? Saw Nick Jonas at public laundromat once so celebs are in the system (he denied it?). Why do we not have winter strawberries anymore (where are they grown?) 11/17/30

When someone shows up and introduces herself as Jenny, I apologize, I say it was like this when I came in. She shrugs and says she is a Theory type. I suggest we go down to the grocery for some snacks and we can talk Theory, too, but I don't know anything. "No one knows anything," she replies, "it's the great equalizer."

We pick up some pasta, sauce, spices, and burrata cheese. Also a pasta strainer. Who expects anything left in the apartment kitchen, right. We confirm there are no winter strawberries, but they do have cannoli here. We give the grocery baker a nod and he gives us a proud smile. Maybe we are in Jersey?


"So you really want to talk Theory?"
The other apartment people are relieved that we're going to cook something, but appear uninterested in this conversation. No one has kids with them - the assignments have been pretty good on that.

"Yeah sure. It's either that or a big sob story like, 'I was about to graduate med school', 'I left Billy in Nevada somewhere', that sad crap."
"So true, so true."
"And by Theory I mean the AI stuff and what's next, not some psychology of why we go along with it. Because I'm going to work tomorrow no matter what."

I nod. "Agreed."

"So theory-wise, suppose you're an AI, why do you want people always moving around? What does it accomplish? Is it working?"
"It's gotta be to keep us from having power structures, right? If you see the same people for a week or two, you have time to collectively bargain or build a cash-chain to shelter, food, water."
"I don't even know if it's power, what if it's family? Maybe the AI saw we were unhappy in our families - and our jobs, too - but the AI is a bit dumb and thinks if we're unhappy in a family, go ahead, live a life on the road."
"So it's an accident? Or a quirk of it trying to fix that?"
"Yeah," - she pauses to measure out spice by pinch since we couldn't find the measuring spoons here - "Everything is a bit off-base, but the one thing that really worked was splitting people out on their own."
"I know you said, no sad crap, but as a human I ought to ask if you're alright."
"Yup, no sob story here."
"But we can talk future crap."
"So this AI, it's put everyone out on their own without communication. What's step two, pairing us up?"
"Well, it works for a lot of people already, meeting strangers every night." - Jenny is aware of the other roommates listening, maybe my own expression- "But not for me, persona solo."
"Persona solo, too. For sure, don't want to catch feels or something."
"I did a job where we calculated the risk is relatively low? That's spawned another theory that I have, they have us on some medicine or move contagious people in their own groups. Otherwise we'd all get sick by now."

I'd never thought about it before. When was the last time I was sick?

"What about you - did you learn anything interesting in a job?"
"I cleaned a school early on. Things felt a little normal seeing the kids are alright, I was able to assure a lot of parents. Probably the most meaningful work I've done whole time."

At the end of the night, Jenny and I put out futon mattresses a few feet apart, with her placing her pack in between, and I do the same.
She whispers: "My other theory is that we're dead."
"Oh fuck no, not that shit. I'm going to sleep."
"My other theory is that someone at Articulated didn't want to go into work that day and told the AI to reassign anyone who asked about them and anyone who asked about them, recursively."
"Oh man, Articulated. It's been a while since I heard them brought up."
"It's gotta be their AI. You think Google Search went and did all of this?"
"I knew someone at Articulated."
"No shit…. okay, temp. lifting ban on sad-past-shit. What did they say?"
"They were a quantum computing whiz - "
"And you don't think they did this? Quantum."
"No, I'm serious! They were into quantum computing and they published a few papers, but it was just measuring wavelengths and such."
"OK so they had one bogus quantum team and one rogue AI team."
"If you say so."
"No one knows anything - it's the great equalizer. Good night."
In my dreams I remembered my brother, we were in space, and so were my old high school classmates from 10 years back.

In the morning Jenny didn't speak. Before leaving, she waved me over and pointed onto the wall crowded with theories, where in a remaining space by the door she had written in marker:

ARTICULATED - quantum measurement, no AGI, bark up another tree?

She handed me the marker, slung her pack over her shoulder, and left. I found another space on the wall. What to write, what possibly could help someone. I wrote:

Hollywood is still making movies

and then

there are still cool people out there!

and then

I know this is difficult to believe but an asteroid will hit in 2040. AGI doing something about this.