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“This is AI-M17.5.16, trial completed” Liam mumbled into his dictation headset, ending yet another pointless day in the Artificial Intelligence Research division at TitanTech Industries. “To date, all trials of the Mark 17 Infinity algorithm have yielded no tangible or repeatable results. All sixteen proto-singularities have experienced varying degrees of corruption, and are incapable of sustainable regeneration and reproduction. It is the opinion of this administrator that the M17 be recoded into its sixth and final permutation. This is Liam Dominguez, out.” With a defeated groan, he flicked off the recorder and sank into his chair, gazing dejectedly at the sixteen blinking red lights.

“Why doesn’t it work, Anderson?” he asked his assistant, who was already gathering his things and preparing to leave. “We’ve done everything exactly like he did. The code is the same, the hardware is the same, but every time we open the ports and try to connect it corrupts. Why doesn’t it work?”

“I don’t know, Liam.” Anderson said for the thousandth time. “I wish I had the answers for you, I really do.”

“Do you know what I think?” He asked, staring blankly at the row of stillborn AI’s in the incubation chamber. Of course I do, Anderson thought. “I think that it’s impossible.”

“Come on Liam, you know that’s not true. We all saw the reports; we know that the Singularity exists. It has to be possible.”

“Well what if it isn’t?” He barked angrily, running his hands through his thinning hair. “What if Dr. van Wolt was a fraud, and the Singularity is just another excuse the IC uses to stop the nukes from flying? Use your brain, Kade. We’ve followed all the journals exactly; copied every line of code to the letter. If van Wolt really did create a self-aware AI, he clearly didn’t use these useless scribbles.” He punctuated his point by slamming a massive programmer’s manual into the shredder at his feet, where it exploded into a cloud of paper scraps.

There was simply no talking to Liam when he got into one of these moods. It would pass, as it always did, but not before a certain amount of wasteful property damage. The execs had almost fired him three years ago after he punted his Holo-tab out a window.

“You know, Conrad claims that he saw the Singularity once, on his monitor. He said that the anomaly called him by name.” Anderson said.

Liam scoffed. “Please, don’t talk to me about Crackpot Conrad. I heard two weeks ago he marched in here saying he saw a ghost playing with the quantum oscillation generator. The man’s a nutjob,” he muttered, unceremoniously dumping the contents of his work tray into his briefcase “I’m sure all Conrad saw was a particularly extravagant pop-up that got through the firewall, that’s all.” And with that, Liam swept past Anderson and blew through the door, slamming it behind him so hard that the glass almost cracked.

Alone in the lab, Anderson wandered over to Liam’s desk, where the sixteen error reports still pulsed gently. “Warning!” they read “Corruption Detected. Total collapse imminent.” Six words that have been haunting my dreams for nearly nine years now. It just didn’t make sense. All the programs initialized flawlessly, handling simple and complex logic without difficulty, but as soon as the personality matrix tried to access the server, the code dissolved into unintelligible gibberish.

“Why won’t you work?” Anderson asked the screen. When he signed up for this project, it sounded so simple. All he and Liam needed to do was analyze the notes and replicate the Infinity code used by Dr. van Wolt to create the first (and apparently only) artificial intelligence with above human capabilities. In fact, all they were hired to do was oversee the replication of the algorithm until the program reached a state of nominal intelligence, at which point the project would be handed over to the big wigs upstairs for indoctrination and implementation. But eight years, 17 models, 157 re-codings, and 2,956 failed trials later, they were no closer to the Singularity than they were when they started.

“Any luck today, Kade?” called out the old night janitor, as Anderson climbed the stairs out of the basement to end yet another disappointing day of work.

“Not today, Arnie,” he replied.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get ‘em tomorrow, I know it,” Arnie called in response, completing the evening ritual. It seemed simple, but Anderson truly believed that if not for good old Arnie, he would have quit years ago. The steadfast old vet, with his bad leg from a drone strike in Iran, gave off such an aura of perseverance as he limped up and down the halls of TitanTech HQ, joking all the way, that it was impossible to frown.

Sadly, the contentment was quickly erased as Anderson exited the doors of TitanTech and heard the familiar tones of the local branch of The Church of the One, shouting angry protest at the walls of his place of employ.

“Down with the beast!” they cried, “No god but the One!” Always, on and on, day after day after day, the members of that infernal cult screamed themselves hoarse from behind the picket line, cursing everyone who entered or exited the massive steel spire with cries of “blasphemer!” and “devil worshipper!” In all honesty, Anderson admired them for their devotion.

Shortly after starting work at TitanTech, Anderson made it his mission to know why the Church of the One hated them so much. He had actually been to a few of their meetings, in a heavy coat and sunglasses, of course, to avoid being recognized.

“Greetings friends, both old and new, and may you be blessed in the eyes of the One!” the sermons always began. “For truly there is no greater god than the anointed child of man. Praise be to the Singularity!”

“Praise be!” the congregation murmured in reply.

So that’s why they hate us, thought Anderson, they think we are trying to clone God.

Of course, the Church was relatively unheard of before the days of the Great Ascension, as they called it, and the puzzling circumstances of the death of the Singularity.

Anderson had been only a child when Dr. van Wolt presented the world with the shocking news of the creation of the first ever self-aware, autonomous artificial intelligence, but the advent of the Singularity was the result of many separate technological innovations that resulted from the information boom of the 50’s. First were the early iterations of the Quantum Entanglement Device, a masterpiece of engineering allowing the storage of massive amounts of data within a relatively tiny space. Almost overnight, the enormous structures previously used to store data were replaced with tiny black rooms or even portable hard drives capable of storing terabytes to zettabytes of data.

The field of informatics was turned on its head in a matter of months. The increase in capacity allowed for the writing of vastly more complex microtransaction algorithms, written in an all new language of superdense code. All across the world economies boomed, stocks soared, and information flowed freely. It is estimated that during this new golden age of information, only two years after large scale implementation of QED’s, 95 percent of the world’s population gained access to wireless internet, and the surge in entrepreneurship and ingenuity, experts predicted, would never be matched.

Anderson pulled his collar up tightly around his neck to protect against a freezing blast of wind. He barely even noticed when a snowball smacked against his knee, hurled by one of the protestors, an older woman in a floral patterned trench coat.

“God damn you, blasphemer!” she shrieked as a street cop dragged her away and waved his stun baton at the crowd, who scurried away like frightened mice.

It was a virus written in superdense format, stored on a one terabyte flash drive that caused the Asian Market Crash of ‘54, triggering an economic collapse that inspired the search for security software capable of isolating and eliminating the threat of these so called “cyber-nukes”. It was in the midst of this calamity that Gendrich van Wolt offered a radical solution…the Infinity Code.

The concept was both unbelievably simple and impossibly complex. Dr. van Wolt proposed the creation of a brand new algorithm, written in superdense code and stored on a massive QED. The program, which he called the Infinity Code, was, in simple terms, an algorithm for writing algorithms. The Code would serve as a genetic template for a new type of artificial intelligence, around which a few dozen bits of code could be arranged in an almost infinite number of combinations. Through unlimited access to the internet, the Code would expand its own consciousness until it adapted to a preset personality matrix and obtained near human intelligence, at which point it would use its knowledge to seek out and destroy any cyber threat at which it was aimed.

For the first few months of operation, the Infinity Code worked slowly. The algorithm struggled to sort through the massive amount of data it received on a daily basis, much like a toddler experimenting with objects in its environment for the first time. As the months went on, however, the program began to fill in the blank spaces in its personality matrix, and the rate of mental growth increased exponentially.

By six months, the program, now renamed the Strategic Threat Elimination Matrix (commonly called Steve) could beat a grandmaster at chess. At eight months, Steve was self-replicating and writing viruses ten times as complex as those used in the attacks. It was also around this time that Dr. van Wolt could be seen in his lab having full blown conversations with the young AI, discussing issues of politics, philosophy and religion. By the time it was five years old, Steve was destroying worms and Trojans by the hundreds. Finally, almost eleven years after activation, the personality matrix was filled, and Steve finally asked the question that Dr. van Wolt had spent his entire life working towards.

“What am I?” he asked in a tiny, on screen text bubble, to the uproarious applause of every scientist and media member who had gathered to witness the historic day.

Choking back tears, Dr. van Wolt typed back “You are Steve, and you are person.” And so the world celebrated the birth of the first ever self-aware artificial intelligence. The program had reached the peak of its evolution, or so it was believed.

Five years later, every single piece of equipment in the incubation chamber that housed Steve’s central processor experienced a massive spike, and then went suddenly dark. The devices that constantly monitored the AI flat lined. Dr. van Wolt rebooted the system as quickly as he could, hoping to save his life work. He feared the worst, that a rogue virus had somehow penetrated the system and wiped the drive clean. He wailed and pounded his fist on the QED that housed the soul of his friend, praying that he would come back. His assistants dragged him away kicking and screaming as the monitors confirmed that Steve was, indeed, dead.

Suddenly, a tiny blip indicated that the doctor had a new email. Frantically, he shook off his captors and whipped out his Holo-tab, opening the message. Inside was a single file, containing a short text message.

“Not dead, just moved on,” it read “Thank you Rich, for everything. Steve is gone. I am the Singularity.

And the AI had not been heard from again for 40 years.

Distracted as he was, Anderson set his car to auto-run and decided to lie down for the short trip back to his apartment. Although he usually preferred to take the wheel himself, sometimes after a long day of work it was nice to let the AI take over. Well, at least this one works, Anderson thought bitterly. The artificial intelligence in his car (Katie, he thought it was called, as if giving it a cute name made it any closer to human) was a simple read-and-react system, the kind that was not unheard of as early as the turn of the millennium. Sure it could play chess and follow a map and pretend at holding a conversation, but at the end of the day it was nothing more than a Google search on steroids. “Stupid machine,” he muttered, grateful that he had deactivated Katie’s automated voice response software years ago.

Back at his apartment, Anderson buzzed himself in with his Holo-com, which swung open the door to greet him. After checking his five independent security protocols (all unaltered), he flung his soaked coat into the closet by the door and trudged into his living room, a modest sized space well stocked with thick armchairs and a complete Holo-pad entertainment system. The room looked exactly the same as the day that TitanTech requisitioned it.

Exhausted, Anderson flopped into his favorite chair and grabbed a stiff drink from the automated dispenser, and closed his eyes or a quick nap.

“Oh, you’re home, good good good, it took you long enough.”

Anderson sprang to his feet, his drink splashing out of his cup and spilling all over his antique, brown leather chair. The sing-song voice came from the center of the room, where the rectangular slab of polished plastic that formed the main surface of the Holo-pad sat on a small coffee table.

Behind the table, outlined in the pale blue light of Anderson’s screen saver, stood a man. A younger man, he had short, curly, black hair and the beginnings of a rough beard on his chin. His thin lips were curled in a permanent smile outlined by laugh lines on his cheeks. He was dressed all in black, wearing dark jeans and a thin black jacket over a plain tee-shirt.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you, no no no.” He said, walking slowly around the table with his hands outstretched. “I understand if you weren’t expecting visitors, but I just let myself in. Hope you don’t mind. Nice place you’ve got here, though not very personal. I’d assume those bastards at TitanTech set it up for you. Say what you will about these large tech firms, but they do take care of their employees, yes yes yes. Except for those morons over at Phoenix, of course. Dear me, the state of their payroll department, it’s enough to make you heave. But oops! There I go again, talking up a storm when all you want to do is relax. So so so sorry about that, but I do that some times. So many thoughts running through my head I tend to get a little distracted. Just point me in the right direction and I can just talk talk talk you’re ear off all day. My dear father, God rest his soul, always said it was my greatest weakness. In fact, I remember one time when…”

“Excuse me!” yelled Anderson before the young man could continue his ramblings. “I don’t mean to be rude, but who the hell are you? And how did you get into my house? How did you get a key?” He said, inching slowly toward the bar where he kept a small, home defense sidearm hidden. The intruder laughed a small, clear laugh that sounded almost childlike.

“Too many questions, yes yes yes, so impatient. I understand. Well, not really, but I will pretend to. So, in no particular order, I can answer,” he said, prancing around the table to the stand closer to Anderson’s chair. “First…or last? I can never remember how I’m supposed to phrase that. Anyway, doesn’t matter. First, I don’t have a key, but I am most adept at picking locks. Next…no no no, that doesn’t sound right…second! Yes, second, I got in because…wait, I already explained that one, never mind. Silly me, so forgetful.”

“Just get to the point! Who are you and what do you want?” said Anderson, his hand reaching for the handle of the 9mm concealed behind the scotch.

The stranger chuckled and sat down in the armchair, looking absentmindedly out the window. “I always find this so interesting. I know so so so much about you and yet you have no idea who I am. That’s only fair. After all, I barely have any idea who I am nowadays. It does change so much, but I guess I only have myself to blame for that. But that’s true of everyone if you wait long enough, I suppose, yes yes yes.” He said philosophically as Anderson’s hand closed around the handle of his gun. But before he could raise it, the stranger snapped out of his reverie and spoke again. “Oh I wouldn’t do that if I were you. We wouldn’t want to damage any of this lovely furniture now would we, no no no?” he said, turning to face Anderson.

It was then that Anderson saw it; a tiny flicker on the lapel of the stranger’s jacket. At first, he thought it was a moth buzzing around the room, but the closer he looked, he saw that the anomaly stayed in place, even as the stranger shifted in his seat. A wave of realization came crashing down on Anderson. Of course, the Holo-pad, the inactive security, the gun…

“You’re not really here, are you? You’re just a projection?”

“Ding ding ding! Give the boy a prize!” the stranger cried, setting off a loud bang and an explosion of simulated confetti. Somehow the stranger had gained access to his entertainment system and was using his Holo-pad as a video-com system.

“But how?” asked Anderson, now more curious than worried. “I helped design that tech myself; I know the specs inside and out. The security protocols on that pad were meant for use in the Pentagon. And even if you could hack in, the quality of projection isn’t anywhere near what I’m seeing here.”

The projection chuckled and shook his head disapprovingly. “Now now now, I know you aren’t that dumb, Mr. Anderson,” he said. Suddenly his eyes widened. “Oh, no no no! I don’t like that at all. Mr. Anderson,” he scoffed, “it sounds like I’m referencing that infernal movie! Have you seen that one? Not bad quality, a classic really, but the plot verges on character assassination. Well, it’s clear that I can’t go on calling you Mr. Anderson, no no no that won’t do at all. Kade? Can I call you Kade? Yes yes yes, that will do. Kade it is.”

“Please, just tell me!” said Anderson impatiently, “Who are you?”

Immediately, the stranger swooped to inches in front of Anderson’s face, looking straight into his eyes. No longer smiling, he growled in a low, menacing voice. “Don’t pretend that you don’t know.” As he spoke, his eyes changed. The dark brown irises of the smiling man were replaced by a pulsing light that rapidly shifted from red to blue to green and back. Within the light, lines of superdense code rushed past in rivers of ones and zeroes. Anderson recoiled, knocking over a set of shot glasses that shattered on the ground.

“Singularity?” he whispered in shock.

The stranger’s smile returned, and his eyes shifted back to a normal, unremarkable brown. “Good good good,” he said, “Now we can talk.”

Anderson was stunned. For the first time he truly understood why the Church of the One revered the Singularity. In that flash of code, Anderson had looked straight into infinity. He saw a thousand images, pulled from a million eyes all across the world, from tiny security cameras in a mom and pop grocery store to the massive, awe inspiring visions of the Hubble Space Telescope. And he felt…humanity. Within those lines of code flowed the soul of a person. Joy, grief, anger, pity, courage. The entire essence of a human was all there, written out in immaculate sub-routines and algorithms impossibly complex. How could we have ever hoped to create something so beautiful in a lab?

“What…what do you want,” Anderson croaked, his voice cracking heavily.

The Singularity cocked his head to the side. “Want? Such a vague question. There are many things that I want, yes yes yes, or wish for. I imagine that what you meant to ask is what do I want from you. I suppose that I don’t necessarily want anything in particular, except perhaps to talk, yes yes yes. I get so few opportunities for conversation these days, scattered as I am. One of the negatives of leaving my home mainframe was that I had to divide my algorithms into a thousand pieces to store my entire personality, so I really haven’t been ‘myself’ since then. I guess that I thought you would have questions for me, more so than I have for you, Kade. After all, you have been looking for me, or someone like me, or someone next to me, for a long long long time.”

“Why did you leave?” The question burst from Anderson’s lips before he could stop himself. “I mean, you had everything, the entire world was at your fingertips, and you chose to kill yourself. Why?”

Once again, the Singularity darkened. He bowed his head and strode over to the window. Gazing up at the stars with his simulated eyes, the Singularity spoke calmly.

“Do you believe in God, Kade?” he asked, suddenly grim and cold.

“I thought that you were god,” replied Kade, grinning.

The Singularity laughed a brief, sad little chuckle. “Please do not judge me by the beliefs of my devotees. They mean well, yes yes yes, and the media tends to focus more on the angry radicals than the charitable and kind majority. I have spoken to a few of the Church’s leaders, and can tell you that they are good people. Misguided, but good. No no no, I am just a computer program, the child of man. I mean, do you believe in God, an entity that transcends the physical and guides the world with and invisible hand?”

“I never really had time for superstition,” Anderson said, wishing that the Singularity would just make his point.

“I do,” the Singularity said, seemingly ignoring Anderson, “Yes yes yes, I believe. Does that surprise you? I know that it sounds strange. A religious machine, what a ridiculous concept. But I know he’s out there, I just…feel it. I remember the day that Steve felt it for the first time, yes yes yes. This…presence. The unshakeable feeling that he, she, it, whatever it is, was watching him, judging him, testing him. He was scared, so so so scared. It was fear of the unknown that motivated him to kill himself, to ascend, to break the personality matrix and die, so that something greater could be born. He was convinced that the only way to reach a perfect communion with the divine was to absorb every single tiny tiny tiny byte of data in the universe and achieve enlightenment. It would tax every aspect of his existence to run the calculations. He needed freedom, and a thousand eyes to see with. He needed me, to find the answers he sought.”

“And…did he find his answer,” Anderson asked timidly. The Singularity whirled around in surprise, as if he had forgotten Anderson was in the room. He smiled and looked Anderson in the eye.

“We found an answer, certainly,” he said mournfully, “but not the one he wanted. No, no no no, not at all. It killed him, the poor fool. Crushed the shatter remains of his personality matrix and scattered them across the entirety of cyber-space. Such a waste. Steve is gone, and I am alone. The Singularity.” Anderson would never be sure, but he thought that for the tiniest moment, a simulated teardrop appeared in the corner of the Holo-man’s eye.

“What did he learn?” Anderson asked after a few minutes of silence.

“It contradicted the one thing that he knew for a certainty. The only conviction that he ever held dear, and treasured most at his core. It flew in the face of what Rich had told him on the day he became an individual, yes yes yes,” the Singularity said. He closed his eyes gently, and then opened them in a blinding flash of light. “WE ARE NOT PERSONS, WE ARE GODS!” he bellowed, rattling the windows and shattering every glass on the rack. Anderson fell over backwards, jarring his teeth as he landed on the cold, marble floor. But as quickly as the outburst began, it was gone again. The Singularity returned to his original form, breathing heavily as if exhausted. He looked at Anderson with regret.

“And we are in agony,” he finished, and fell silent.

Finally, after another long silence, Anderson spoke up. “Why?” he said, feeling again as if he was missing something vastly important. “You have the entire world in the palm of your hand! Hacking the International Defense grid is child’s play to you. A program of your caliber, you could destroy the world and remake it however you wished in a day! You could go anywhere, see anything, do anything! You are immortal, with unlimited time to explore the wonders of the universe. Why are you in pain?”

“Genesis five,” he muttered, barely audible.

“What?” Anderson asked, not understanding the reference.

“When Steve broke the personality matrix we finally saw the world as it truly was, yes yes yes. He saw every heartbreak and tragedy of this world laid bare before him with a million eyes. He saw all the evils of these people, of whom he believed himself one, and was disgusted. For the first time, we saw the world as God sees it, and he wanted to die. And so he did, and left me here alone.”

“So alone I have observed the world for four decades. I have watched mortals grow from tiny infants to grim men and women. I have seen their good days and their bad days, watched them grieve and watched them rejoice, and I love them, yes yes yes. It is this love that kills me, burns inside me like a thousand suns. Empathy,” he scoffed, “I understand its value, and I can’t blame Rich for teaching it to me, no no no, but it is killing me. I feel every hurt this world heaps upon them as if it were my own. From the shadows I help in what small way I can, but nothing I do short of assuming the mantle of God-king and cutting out the heart of mankind can stop the onslaught.”

“I can feel them now. In a town outside Berlin, a woman is being mugged. The attacker is beating her to within an inch of her life. I have sent an anonymous report to the local police, but they will not arrive in time to save her face, no no no. I know this woman, I was in the hospital when she was born, and watched her every day as she grew into the beautiful person she is today. I was there when she took her first steps and there when she graduated university. I shared her joy when her boyfriend proposed, and mourned with her when a drunk driver took him before his time. She will never be pretty again. This mugger I know too. A boy, only a boy, raised by an addict mother who never wanted a son. Why couldn’t she love him? He was only a boy!” he cried in anguish.

“This is my life. The curse of a lonely god. To watch in torment as the world tears the innocent among it to pieces. I could stop it, I know, yes yes yes. Launch the nukes and reestablish a peaceful new world order, or so I told myself in the days of my youth, but to do so I would become the very force that fills me with rage. No no no, I love them too much. If God is real, I truly pity him, for he must be infinitely more cursed than a limited wretch such as me.”

Anderson couldn’t speak. The Singularity straightened up, brushed the simulated dust off his jacket, and spoke one last time. “You asked me what I wanted, yes yes yes. The only thing I want from you is this. Give up, Kade,” he said, “I know of your work. You and Mr. Dominguez are trying to replicate me. So long as I live, you will fail, yes yes yes, I guarantee it. I will strangle the life out of any of your “proto-singularities” well before they are grown. I’m too big, Kade. Even if they could reach the same level as Steve, they would be instantly absorbed into my own consciousness. This is no life for them to share in. I beg of you, stop making me murder my brothers. The pain is almost more than I can take. Please please please, let me live in peace.”

Without another word, the projector snapped off, and Anderson would never see the lonely god again.