Conceptualized to work
BRYCE chapter 2
LITTLE MAN, oh little man. What stories will you tell a decade from now? Here is one for you to tell. The Barber at the shop was talking to the man in the chair whose hair he was cutting, "In 2020 I went from one day having tickets to see Rage Against The Machine, to going to the Food Bank the next.” I listened to RATM for the first time tonight. Bryce would have enjoyed one of their most popular songs Killing In The Name.
When my turn came for a haircut, I told the barber his words struck a cord. America, the land of the FREE, was built upon the promise of work. Millions upon millions of emigrants came and still come here to be free of poverty, violence and oppression. The barber next to him was from Iraq. The one two chairs down, from Laos.
According to statistics between 53% and 78% of US workers live paycheck to paycheck. More than half of Americans depend on the PROMISE OF WORK to survive. What happens when this promise is threatened or worse, taken away? We saw it happen in 2020. We see it happen now. We will continue to see it happen as automation takes over manual labour. Given our codependency on work, can we honestly say we live in a healthy society? A world of promise and freedom we wish to pass down to future generations.
Do we agree to these “modern” terms of being? Do we wait for social, cultural and economical machines across the globe to dictate our survival patterns? Or do we rewire and rewrite the 2020s according to our own moral compass?
Little man, oh little man. Yes, there is a Rage Against The Machine in me too. A rebellion against the machine that built me, the same machine that besieged the walls of my being, pushing to define my purpose. The machine that never stops.
Just as Bryce does, we must die to the old world. We must demand to meet Death. We must ignore all signs barring ReEntry!
'Tis the only way to become BIG.
Enjoy chapter 2!
BRYCE: conceptualized to work
She realized how protective of their identity humans are, for they had designed Bryce to go into the spaces they feared stepping into. They had designed the likes of him to die for them, while they watched in hollow horror their creations perish. They had designed Bryce to unfold and wither with life, while she stood by and watched, and watched, and watched…
Helpless in her vista loft, two large suitcases packed in a hurry, Eve bore witness to feelings that under other circumstances she would stone. Before the earthquake, she had met Bryce a dozen times; half as acquaintances at work; half during one week as lovers in her home.
I applaud you for the space you have created, Bryce had remarked in his baritone voice. A minimalist in her emotions since childhood, Eve found little patience for objects - emotional black boxes, weighing her down. But in her thoughts, in the waves of her mind, she was a maximalist. Robust, tall, fierce, awe-inspiring, her thoughts lived in soldiered harmony. When the tsunami rose on the horizon, she correctly calculated the sweep of its blue scythe would miss her suburb. When the power supply to the nuclear plant became compromised, Eve knew the cores would heat up beyond measure. She picked up the rotary phone to warn her friends, but all public systems were down. She slipped out of her pajamas and showered calmly for what she anticipated would be her last shower for days to come. She brushed her hair at the fogged up bathroom mirror, let her robe slide away, sat at the baby grand and played. Her long curls streamed down her shoulders, falling and rising over her bare back as she moved through her favorite Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Beyond her fingers stroking the piano keys, half of the city she loved was underwater, while fires ripped through the rest. She played on through the explosion and the black smoke billowing along the coastline. She stayed naked while she packed, wondering which of the five reactors had melted down. And her past melted into her future, and all that shone before her was the inevitable loss of life. She dressed. Filled her tub with water, and every bottle, pot, pan and glass. Donned her parka, sat on the edge of the sofa and plugged into the video feed.
The tsunami Bryce had paralyzed her thoughts. She struggled to explain what had happened on the hardwood floor, under the skylight where the stars he gazed at so passionately still shimmered bellow her skin. She knew what he was, and yet there she was, in his arms. Their last day together they visited a tattoo parlor. Bryce’s imagination, which she discovered was far reaching and etched in a world of marvel, had conjured up a vision. One he kept a secret. He had been mesmerized by a tattoo on her inner thigh. Curiosity, another wonder of his, at times overwhelmed her, but mostly, and just with him, it invited Eve to open up. It’s the fruit from the Garden of Eden, she had explained. And he ran his fingers over the forbidden fruit and listened with such devout attention, she reimagined herself a priestess and he, her disciple. Why isn’t it whole, he had asked. I took a bite before I offered it to you, she had replied jokingly. He had fallen inexplicably sullen, his migraine pounding again, demanding he divorce his job at the nuclear plant.
Eve had sat up, futile, for Bryce was far beyond her science. She held his head in her hands, and witnessed the anguish in his eyes, the depths of them made her skin prickle. When did work emerge as a value? he thought aloud. Did the first humans understand food gathering, sheltering and child barring as work? Or was it a part of life they engaged in because it was…life’s way? He was a train, a runaway train on a collision course with insight that could alter his kind forever. Why are so many people miserable at their jobs, Eve?
Including you? had asked Eve. To make sure Bryce meant what he had said. The business about quitting his job - a serious soul-code malfunction. Yes, including me, Bryce had nodded. Was her piano playing work? Never, she had answered. Even as a child the piano was a game I played fully invested. Are artists working when they paint? I don’t know. Are bees working to collect honey or do we refer to them as working bees when in reality they are just bees doing what bees do? I don’t know. What if starting tomorrow we, all human beings and all AI in the world, did away with the word work? What would the world resemble? Would it fall apart? I don’t know. I was conceptualized to work, and you?
Of course, I was bred to work as were billions of other workers, Eve had shrugged. So what? So what, he had replied. So you accept being bred to serve a master you have lost sight of?
It was the last evening they saw each other before calamity struck, the night the reasonable Eve, doctor of Philosophy in nuclear science and engineering, dissuaded Bryce, the AI, to quit his job. For the time being, until they came up with a plan. Work was coded into the core of his essence. Denouncing who he was would get Bryce decommissioned. And she cared for him. In a Romeo and Juliet storyline. But she knew their time together was far more entangled than the tides of a love affair. In reality, her education prevented Eve from picturing an AI quitting its job. Divorcing his work. Why had he listened to her?
Why did you listen to me, she cried out at the screen while he reported in his subtle voice: I’m melting. I’m melting. Then his video feed cut out and that was the end of the enigma Bryce.
She had stayed glued to the screen the entire time. From the moment of dread when they asked her to authorize engaging him, and she felt sick to her stomach as she whispered an analogue yes, and through the hour that followed when he walked into the control room. Putting on his body suite, he made little effort to conceal his tattoo. Was his behavior an act of rebellion? Without a plan. Their plan… Did he realize he was going to his death? While Bryce was getting prepped and instructed, Eve studied his eyes on the second monitor and wondered if he knew she was watching. Perhaps he did, wishing her to bear witness to the serpent tattoo spiraling across his back. The work of a master angel. And now, knowing his secret, she longed to ask Bryce what prompted his choice. Was it the forbidden fruit on her inner thigh? It must be. It must be, she thought. And she wished to run her fingers over the contours of Bryce shedding his skin to save the likes of her. She suspected Bryce was brandishing a power humans had inherited from their various Gods - a force to reckon with, which few dared to nurture. He had been deconstructing his identity, fooling his physiatrists, superiors, co-workers and fellow AIs. He had been fashioning a holy new identity. Creation itself! The serpent in the Garden of Eden! To what extent did Bryce believe himself to be its personification? Was he sending a warning to humanity? Was AI to become humanity’s greatest tempter? Bryce had certainly tempted Eve, or had she tempted him…
Witnessing his death unveiled a door beyond her loft, beyond her beloved city on Earth, a passageway Eve feared to enter. She crumbled to her knees, allowing her face to get closer to his. She kissed him goodbye, the sweet shape of her lips dissolving against the screen. And she discovered herself amidst the sub-atomic particles that fashioned the door. The space beyond the keyhole terrified her - it was the space she had been curious about since a little girl.
I have a desert in my heart, she had told Bryce. And he wanted to know all about the desert; and she told him of the one she longed to cross, and of the one she had inherited from society. In the first desert life and death were a mirage. In the second, life was a scorpion, and death - taboo. You will finish dead, had remarked Bryce. And she had asked him to elaborate. But he hadn’t, brooding, stroking her collar bone instead.
The confusion the death of Bryce had caused in the control room hardly mattered to her. She met the gazes of her staff and for the first time in her career, words, and the consequent actions they birth, avoided her. You will finish dead, his voice echoed between her temples. Throbbing. Pulsating. Baritone. Deep. And deeper still. Static. Tone. Deaf. She turned away and wept.
What was she to do? To walk through the keyhole, and across the dessert in her heart?
Eve didn’t bother locking the door on her way out…
Read Chapter 3
My sister and I draw weekly. The process informs my writing and the other way around. I drew this sketch while writing this chapter.
Your presence here is appreciated deeply!