Singularity, a working title
Somewhere around 2012, I started writing a conspiracy theory novel, one set around the year 2022. Had the start, the end, some of the middle, the characters fleshed out, the research was solid, but it missed ‘something’, a spark. Might finish it one day, or not.
The premise was a global event or set of events as we move towards ‘the singularity’, (due around 2040 to 2050). It started with a mass coronal ejection, coinciding with a roll-out of from 5G to 6G, thought not the silliness around Covid-19 conspiracies, more akin to fillings picking up radio stations and advances in more acceptable and now established technologies like bone conductive headphones, and less known ideas like subcutaneous bio rechargers, which have yet to become a thing.
The world economy has collapsed and is trying to recover, the US is bankrupt, southern Europe is a mess, the UK is plodding on, like is does, while Scandinavian countries are doing rather well. All this is partly due to the effects of global warming, and partly due to ‘the big one’ America feared actually happening. I even worked out where the epicentre would be – about 40 miles northeast of LA, just outside Palmdale, CA, and how strong (8.4).
I’ve found the notes, but since lost some of the chapters, which is a sod, but I found the synopsis and a block of text, so I’ll share it below, at least until I can get around to writing the book in full. Depression, writer’s block and such counted for some of it, Lucy being released in 2014 killed off my enthusiasm.
Had even picked the cast, if it was ever good enough to be taken up by a studio: Matthew Gray Gubler, Allison Mack, Jake Gyllenhall, Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang and Ron Perlman. Allison Mack has since managed to tarnish her name, and Jake Gyllenhall is a bit older for the part I had in mind now (‘cos I ‘see’ it in my head), but visually, and as actors, they are how I see it. Was probably a mistake on my part, ‘cos I’m OCD and to attract such great actors meant I had to make the narrative worthy of their interest. At that point, my writer’s block blurted out: “You are not worthy!”
Singularity is real, it’s now and two distinctly different cousins are about to irrevocably change the 21st century.
In certain individuals the new mobile bandwidths appear to unlock hidden potential, specifically the ability to tap into these data streams.
For some, weaker individuals, it’s a descent into madness as the information overload comes to them as “voices in my head. make then stop make. them. STOP”.
For others, of lower morals, it’s a novelty to be used to cause mischief and pain, for criminals it’s a blackmailers paradise.
For the secret services around the globe it’s a race to enlist these ‘readers’ for themselves, or to ensure they don’t become an asset for the opposing side. Ever.
For the governments and telecommunications industry, is it a PR nightmare best fought with denial and misinformation.
For a precious few outcasts, ‘psychic’ already in their own right, it’s much, much more. This tiny handful is divided into two paths, the elementals, suddenly able to hear not only the data transmissions, but the very thoughts of everyone within their range. For them, there can only be withdrawal from the world to those quiet pockets in remote areas the signals won’t boost them, where the mental chatter, doubts and comments and a thousand voices won’t intrude.
Finally on the other path are two unique cousins: Allen, an MIT dropout that suddenly finds the Internet much more interesting as not only can he hear it, it can hear him. He is a ghost in the system, passing through routers, firewalls and encrypted databases with transparent ease, pouring flames and water on conspiracy theories forum and blogs around the world. Nathan, sharing this unique ability see’s a much more lucrative use for his gift, beginning with gambling websites, careful not to win too much too often – to rampaging through the financial markets and ultimately destabilising an already fragile global economy.
There are, of course, several plot twists, and not everything is it seems, but that would be a spoiler.
Opening chapter / prelude
Allen smiles to himself, remembering the punchline to an old joke and, pressing the ‘enter’ key to run the latest test, shouts excitedly to the room, “Yes, yes, it’s tonight. It’s tonight!” As he’s working late on his own as usual, no-one questions his strange outburst nor comments as he chuckles happily to himself.
Fingers drumming lightly on the table, he stares fixedly at the latest configuration scrolling down one window, every now and then pinching or swiping the computer interface to fine tune the numbers. On the screen a model of a beautiful girl with long blonde hair slowly rotates, a section of her flyaway hair magnified tenfold, a hundredfold and a thousandfold on another screen. The wide smile on his face turns to pursed lips and falls into a scowl, his mood blackening with. Although it’s rendered in realtime, Allen watches in what feels like glacial slowness as the individual hairs turn from blonde to the desired pearlescent pinks for a moment then fade to a dirty grey colour, a riot of split ends forming, clumps of hair falling out and aging the girl seventy years in seconds.
With a frustrated sigh, he stops the experiment, muttering, “No, not tonight then.”
Picking up his ageing Nokia he makes a quick call home. “Hi Jenny, you there? Pick up. You know I hate talking to machines.”
There’s a muffled curse, thud and screech as of someone tripping over a cat, then a soft voice chuckles, “But you talk to computers all the time, you have names for most of them. I still don’t know why you dislike leaving recorded messages. So?”
Rolling his eyes, he reminds her, “You can talk to computers, you only talk at answer machines. And it bombed, again. The nanobots are still clustering.”
At the other end of the phone, Jenny studies her nails a moment, making sure he’s not going to get all technical, then asks, “No closer then?”
Running fingers through long brown hair, he makes a derisive snort and looking at the balding model on the screen decides, “Well, as Edison would say, every failure is a step closer to succeeding but it’s safe to say it’s not ready for mass-market any time soon. Look, I need an hour to finish up here. You want me to stop off at Taco Bell, get us some supper? Seven layer burrito?”
A pause. “OK, see you about ten.”
The lanky research student, clad in jeans, trainers and a t-shirt, currently has his feet up on the table and is nursing a large mug of coffee as he dictates his notes and observations for his dissertation. After graduating top of his class in Applied Physics and Electric Engineering, he followed up with a Masters degree in Computation and Neural Systems before taking a gap year working in Norway. Now, financed by a scholarship from Schwarzkopf, he is back at Cal Tech in the final year of his Ph.D on ‘Polychromatic Nanobots and Trichology: casual and permanent implementation’, something he’d got the idea for twenty years earlier in a science fiction television program.
Sneaking his head around the door the ensure the corridors are empty, he lowers the lights, locks the door and connects a credit card sized computer to the university network. A minute later, his anonymity secured by a spoofing routine, he is probing for a weakness in the Pentagon’s firewalls, fingers flying across the keyboard as he tries to locate and penetrate a rumoured back door into the network. As he types, his eyes nervously flick across the screen to a shrinking world map, cities around the globe blinking out as the defence department reverse trace his connection. “This is taking too long, much too Damn! What just happened?”
To the distinctive rhythm of Native Americans drums, a taped announcer and scrolled titles introduce Tom Thomerson, host of Tom Tom, The Talk On The Town. Smiling into the camera as he walks onto the stage, the sun-bronzed presenter relaxes on a wide orange sofa, leans forward, eyes still on the camera and beats on a pair of small drums, resting on a glass table beside a jug of water. Entrance complete, he starts his prologue.
“G-Nile or senile, that’s the question on everyone’s lips this week. Around the world there are increasing numbers of reports of deaths and strange illnesses said to leave the victims drained, with many claiming effects like constant headaches, nausea, dizziness, memory loss, disconcerting buzzing and some even hearing voices. Older citizens are seen to be particularly hard hit by it. Several have been found to be infected with what appears to be a new strain of West Nile Virus, with speculation rife that it’s a consequence of genetically modified products.”
Behind him, as he talks, the wall widescreen changes from a head and shoulders shot of him to display images of an old man being rushed into hospital, while to the right of the scene an older lady is being helped through a door by a nurse and police officer. She is unsteady on her feet and appears to have a nose bleed. The screen fades to be replaced by scenes from a recent riot outside a maize plantation in Lakeland, Florida. One protester is shown attacking a farmer with a placard reading, ‘NO TO FRANKENFOOD!’ This fades with the struggling woman being bundled into a state trooper’s truck and is replaced with a later video of the same farm. The camera pans right to show a large, placid lake nearby, zooming in to focus on a black cloud of mosquitoes.
“Today on the show we have Dr Jim Garcia, a leading researcher at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Dr Garcia specialises in tropical diseases and is a world authority on the West Nile Virus. Welcome, doctor.”
The doctor, in a crumpled grey pinstripe suit, pushes his glasses back up his nose, nods at the presenter, goes to adjust his tie and stops with his fingers on the knot, trembling slightly. He glances at his hand, opening and closing his fingers a few times as if they are bothering him and moves his hand out of camera view, pushing it under his thigh.
Unnoticed, Tom Thomerson turns smoothly to his other guest, continuing, “On the other side of me, we have Samuel Smith, a senior executive with GenMod Research Incorporated, a leading supplier of GMO, itself a division of the Faber-Sobong-Sabins Group. Welcome, sir.”
The clean-shaven executive is wearing a dark blue Armani wool suit, cut to fit his tall, lean frame. He flashes a smile, showing perfect white teeth. “It’s a pleasure to be here, Tom. Thank you for giving us the chance to set the record straight.” He reaches across, giving the presenter a firm handshake.
Introductions and welcome over, the presenter aims his first loaded question at the GM executive. “In the wake of this new pandemic and other concerns now headlining the press, Congress is believed to be meeting this month to repeal the controversial Monsanto Protection Bill passed back in 2013. Many people in and out of government both here and in the EU are said to still be angry both over the devious and underhand way it was introduced and how it is currently being exploited by several corporations to avoid substantial damage claims that, totalled up, run into billions of dollars.”
Raising a hand placatingly, Mr Smith objects, saying. “That was before my day and I can’t comment on the practices of other companies, but I would like to point out that the then President Obama read through the petitions and allowed it to go through at the time. Everything is within the letter of the law.”
Smiling triumphantly, Tom points out, “If we are being honest here – and we are, aren’t we Sam, if I may call you Sam? – after years of failed lobbying Monsanto and their supporters only achieved this by paying one senator a substantial fee to help write it and having another senator anonymously attach it to an emergency short term government spending bill, a rider buried deep within another legislation, one that the country couldn’t afford to fail to pass at the time. Then, despite repeated allegations of coercion and corruption, GM companies tried the same in Europe and Australasia, even preparing legislation that would make it illegal to grow crops that are not on a list of approved seeds. A list decided and controlled by corporate profits with little or no regard to endangered species, regional varieties, nor amateur cultivation in gardens and allotments. As I recall, it was only when a senior politician realised cross-pollinating his prized chilli peppers would be – in your eyes – a criminal offence that the hammer came down.”
With consummate professionalism, still smiling and keeping his posture neutral, the executive turns the topic around, drawing Dr Garcia into the argument. “Surely you don’t wish to bore your live audience and online watchers rehashing old history, Tom, nor get into a legal wrangle over current litigation with corn and wheat crops. The ties I’ve heard are the result of a fevered imagination spread by uninformed panic, gossip-mongering and gullibility. West Nile Virus is spread by blood-sucking bugs. Mosquitoes are not known for feasting on grain. What is your expert opinion on this?” Sam pauses a heartbeat and, with a slight inflexion on the word, finishes, “Doctor?”
Dr Garcia blinks a few times, takes a sip of water from a glass on the coffee table in front of them and looks around the studio, taking a hanky to dab at a line of perspiration running from his brow and down his cheek. “Yes? Sorry, ” he apologies, haltingly. “I, er, needed a moment to gather my thoughts. It seems rather warm in here.”
The host shrugs, and motions to someone off stage. A moment later there’s a faint rumble as additional air conditioners are turned on above, drawing sighs from the front rows as refrigerated air washes over them too. Showing benevolent grace to his quiet counterpart, the executive makes a show of appreciating the draft, commenting, “This is the hottest spring the southern states have seen in recent years and you will have been working tirelessly due to this outbreak; please, do take your time.”
Taking charge again, the presenter reiterates, “How do you respond to figures in the media suggesting a connection between modified crops and this devastating new virus?”
Regaining his composure, the doctor snaps, “I correlate hard facts, not rumours, and it’s not a devastating new virus. As far as we can tell, it’s a mutated strain and actually appears to be a milder version of the Nile Virus.”
Tom Thomerson looks incredulously at the doctor a moment, saying, “You’re known to be a fierce objector to GM crops; now you’re supporting them?”
Wiping his face again, fingers flexing, the doctor looks at the two men, then consults something in his suit pocket. “That’s not what I said at all. You’re trying to put words into my mouth.”
Smiling widely, the senior executive from GenMod cuts in, saying, “The statistics, such as they are, are purely circumstantial at best and open to interpretation. As our esteemed colleague here will attest, viruses mutate all the time naturally. Take the bird flu outbreak in south-east Asia last year, that claimed the lives of…”
Scowling slightly, the presenter comments, “I’m sure he would if you’d let him get a word in. Well, doctor?”
“It’s too early to say without more data. I am indeed against meddling with nature,” he affirms. “All I can confirm at this stage is that we have isolated a new strain and that it has been found in birds, mosquitoes and in some people with all the symptoms of the illness.
“Yes, Dr Garcia, if I may interrupt a moment once more,” the executive smoothly interjects, “Aren’t reports of the condition coming from all over the globe, therefore from countries that are too cold and dry for mosquitoes to breed in any numbers?”
Nodding, Tom says, “You make a fair point., How would you answer that, doctor?”
Looking animated for the first time in the show, Dr Garcia clasps his hands together and leans forward, saying, “Yes. That is something I’ve been discussing with my peers overseas. As yet I must confess we are a little baffled. Perhaps there are other carriers for it. Newly approved GMO livestocks like cattle, poultry and fish muddy the water, so to speak, but the circulating and unproven theory on the Internet is that birds eat modified crops, get bitten and so it’s passed round. However, not everything fits. West Nile Virus also causes rashes and diarrhoea, which isn’t being reported. Nor does it explain the uniform spread across the planet. I can state with confidence that the virus I’ve examined is not airborne, nor passed by simple touch or contact, so there’s no need to cause a panic in that respect. It would seem the two, while bearing similarities, maybe prove unrelated coincidences.”
“I’m sure all our viewers will be relieved to hear that,” says Tom Thomerson.
“It goes without saying that our sympathy goes out to individuals and families affected by this outbreak,” says Sam Smith. “However, in defence of our industry and companies like our own, the widespread use of enhanced crops is a blessing to farmers, improving their production and reducing the need for costly and toxic pesticides. I feel I must still point out that this link is unsubstantiated and, as the doctors confirms, most people with the symptoms don’t actually show the virus. The doctors should be left to seek the real cause of this illness rather than listening to conspiracy theories spread like manure by green activists and reactionaries. I’m sure a century or two ago their predecessors were waving placards at Friar Mendel, pulling up his peas and kicking over beehives, decrying his ungodly activities.”
The audience jeers loudly at this and the host stands up, hands in the air. “Well,” he says, “I’m afraid that’s all we have time for this right now, but I’m sure this debate will rage on for some time to come. Now, though, can we have a big warm cheer for our next guests, the hottest girl band around. Yes folks, raise the roof for Red Hot Nanobeats, here to play their new hit single, Finger on the micropulse’- right after this word from our sponsors…”
As the guest speakers leave the stage together, signs around the auditorium change from a bright red warning of ‘recording’ to a dark green sign reading, ‘off air’. Most of the audience remain in their seats talking amongst themselves, with only a young blonde woman in a cap getting up from the back row and let out through a side door. Walking towards the exit, she overhears the tall executive ahead saying, “… be in touch,” before he and Dr Garcia part in opposite directions, both reaching for mobiles as they walk to their cars.
A seven hour drive south from the Atlanta recording studio two men are sitting in a large and noisy cafeteria, surrounded by students of varying ages. Both are wearing cheap black suits and look out of place. The older of the pair is sitting upright, listening to a call, a sandwich untouched on his plate. The younger man is slouched down, brooding over the gritty dregs of a coffee. His attention though is centred on the pretty Hispanic girl he’s been watching for the past day.
“Yes, Papa, of course I’m fine. How was your show?” he hears her say. Then, “No, I have a lecture soon, but I’ll watch it later and you can tell me all about it when you get back.” She glances up as the older, suited man on the table opposite stands, then returns to her conversation, swapping to Spanish.
Shoving his associate’s foot off a second chair, he says, “Time to go, new instructions, we’re not needed here.”
Unfolding himself, the man is a good 6’4″, tall and athletically built. “Ham and cheese on that? You not eating it then, Frank?” he asks. Getting no answer as his partner turns and walks off, he gathers it up and starts eating, muttering, “Can’t be as bad as their coffee.” One large bite later, it’s thrown into a bin and he walks a little faster to catch up, saying, “If that’s university food now, it explains so much!”
Grinning wryly, he replies, “Hah, guess so.”
Chapter 3 extract
Scratching at his beard where the chin straps of his riot helmet were plucking at a few hairs, the officer nods at their custody and mutters, “I hate transport runs these days, you just never know what you’re going to get any more, give me protest rallies any day.”
Taking his eyes off the prisoner a moment to look, his colleague nods, shuddering slightly and asks, “Your mate going to be all right then? Heard it was touch and go after they got him to hospital.”
Squashed between two burly prison guards sits an old man, despite his large frame and rugged build he looks almost frail and subdued. A woolly cap pulled tight over his head and several days of stubble fail to hide the deep bruises that marr his right cheek and jaw. Both eyes are blackened, one of them still half-closed and puffy after they beat him unconscious again. On the bench opposite another guard, firmly holding a Tasar, watches impassively as a bead of blood drips from the man’s nose; he makes no effort to clean him. Hunched over, his head down, large hands hanging loose between his legs, the pensioner stares unseeing and uncaring as droplets of his blood splash against the chains of his leg irons.
At the front of the cab the driver, who was leaning forward to change channels on his radio, looks up in horror and spits out a strangulated curse, slamming hard on the brakes as a delivery truck cuts in front of him from a side road. The driver’s string of expletives are drowned out by screeching tyres and the agonised sound of crumping steel as the police van embeds itself in the side of the vehicle and grinds them both forward several metres, leaving a trail of bottles and broken glass as the cargo of wine and bottled beer spews from the ruptured side and back door.
In concert with this turmoil, a chaos of it’s own is playing out behind the grill of the black Maria. Unbalanced and thrown forward, the officer with the tasar lands heavily on top of the policeman opposite, his unfortunate associate jerking spasmodically over, curling unconscious into the foetal position as the 50,000 volt bolt is accidentally discharged into his groin. Freed from the pressing weight of the guard the craggy prisoner lunges forward suddenly, screaming, cuffs scaffing his wrists as his hands come up, clawing in front of him.
The remaining guard grabs the prisoner round the waist, bellowing, “Forget him, forget him, get this bastard’s hat. Get up you dumb shit, get his hat back on before he loses it completely.”
Shaken about as the van slides to a halt, the fallen guard scrambles on his hands and knees, gathering up the dislodged woolen cap and holding it on the man’s head until he calms enough for them to wrestle him back into his seat. A rough voice from the drivers seat calls through, asking, “Everyone OK? Anyone hurt? Got a right bloody mess out there. Please tell me that nutter’s secure!”
Hands trembling and ashen-faced, the younger guard finishes flattening the tin foil festooned hat to man’s head before retrieving his tasar and answering slowly, “I think we’re fine now.”
Muttering in hindsight, “Should have done this first!”, the bearded officer removes his riot helm and carefully fits it to the prisoner, who’s now sat quiet and disinterested again, eyes downcast. Satisfied, he cuffs the other policeman and shouts back, “Fine my arse, we’ll need an ambulance for Harry, he’s been shot in the nuts, poor bastard. Turning out to be a bitch of a day and we’ve still got to get this guy all the way up to Scotland somehow. You called it in to dispatch?”
Lost, for now.