Fiction: Making Light of Death

By Gemma Church

In the low light of the factory floor, T2-171Yb could not make out the individual T3s. But he saw their neuro-chips. Thousands of blue lights twinkled up to where T2-171Yb stood on the mezzanine level. Their small, coordinated motions put him in mind of a night sky where the stars were free to dance.
T2-171Yb’s own neuro-chip blinked red, the light catching his hands as he clasped the metal railing and felt the metaphor being erased from his mind. It only hurt for a second, a dull scratching in his neocortex. 
In the low light of the factory floor, T2-171Yb could not make out the individual T3s. But he saw their neuro-chips. Thousands of blue lights twinkled up to where T2-171Yb stood on the mezzanine level. 
T2-171Yb swiped at the flexi-cuff he wore over his left forearm. Performance charts filled the screen. Every chart was at 99.9%. Perfection.
T2-171Yb grinned and raised the flexi-cuff to his lips, ready to record his daily report. But a scream came from the factory floor. A scream stretched across the full spectrum of sound, simultaneously too high and too low in pitch for a human. Or so T2-171Yb thought. Because a beam of light shot down from the ceiling to show T2-171Yb the location of a screaming T3 worker.
Other T3s in the vicinity turned, leaving the production lines to help their colleague, who was convulsing on the floor. 
T2-171Yb saw the dip in the factory’s productivity levels. His neuro-chip blinked green. The instruction flowed through his brain: Get the other T3s back to work.
T2-171Yb paused and pulled up a control panel on his flexi-cuff. He tapped away to fire out the command. A sea of red blinking neuro-chips told T2-171Yb that the workers had received the instruction and were returning to their posts, now unable to help or even observe the fallen (and still screaming) T3.
T2-171Yb’s neurochip blinked green as the instruction was fired into his mind: Analyse the T3’s vitals.
But T2-171Yb had already pulled up the vitals on his flexi-cuff. The screen was a mess of numbers and charts that flickered and changed without method or meaning. It was like trying to read underwater and no matter how hard he swiped at the screen, T2-171Yb couldn’t connect properly to the T3’s neuro-chip. 
The T3’s screaming got louder. 
T2-171Yb pulled up a different interface and felt his throat burn. The factory’s productivity scores had dipped to 91%. He had to shut the T3 up. He was disturbing the others.
More green flashes. Remove the distraction. You know how.
T2-171Yb hesitated. He did know how. But he didn’t want to do that. Yet, he was struggling to see what other choice he had.
T2-171Yb ran down the stairs to the T3. The T3’s eyes were scrunched up as he clawed at his neuro-chip even though there was no way to remove it. Everyone knew that. But T3s were not known for their brainpower. Speed of hand, not mind, was their purpose. 
T2-171Yb crouched down as the T3 opened his eyes. The T3’s irises were not the dull brown of every T3 but fractured into every colour of the rainbow.
“I can see it all!” The T3 yelled, grasping T2-171Yb’s grey tie and pulling him close until all T2-171Yb could see were the man’s unblinking, rainbow irises burning into his. 
T2-171Yb tried to pull away, the foul smell of the T3’s breath invading his own flared nostrils. 
“You’ll see it soon too!” The T3 yelled, pulling harder at T2-171Yb’s tie until their noses were nearly touching. 
Then, the T3 let go of T2-171Yb’s tie and slumped back on the floor, still screaming.
Do it.
T2-171Yb paused. This T3 looked young, probably only sixteen years old.
Do it.
T2-171Yb waited, hoping the seizure went as quickly as it arrived.
Do it.
T2-171Yb pulled out the syringe’s container from his jacket pocket to show willing and silence the voice in his head.
For a moment, T2-171Yb thought it was over. The T3 started giggling and swatting his hands around like he was trying to catch an invisible fly. Then, the T3’s arms blurred as if made from light and not solid matter. Their skin was glowing and their once yellow teeth shone white.
The T3’s rainbow eyes swirled like a pair of whirligigs. He stopped laughing and sat up. “I can see it all. You will too. Endless revolutions without conclusions. There’s no stopping for us.”
“What do you know about US?” T2-171Yb shouted, his skin flashing with heat. The Utopian Society was an underground movement that was gaining traction across the T2 population. T2-171Yb didn’t think a T3 would know about US, let alone understand what a revolution was.
But the T3 was laughing again. Laughing across every frequency both in and outside of T2-171Yb’s range of hearing. The T3’s body seemed to bend and blur, flickering like a candle flame.
Do it.
T2-171Yb opened the container and clasped the syringe.
He paused.
Then, the T3 imploded in a ball of light.
T2-171Yb fell back and closed his eyes. 
When he opened them, the T3 had disappeared. 
All that was left was the T3’s neuro-chip, lying on the factory floor. Its electronic tendrils were covered in blood and curled into the main body of the chip, which was still blinking blue. Still thinking it was linked with its T3. 
T2-171Yb stood, his legs shaking. The other T3s carried on working but T2-171Yb saw the muscles on their necks strain as they tried to turn their heads to see what had happened.
The factory machines continued to clunk and thunk in a regular rhythm as the T3s continued their repetitious dance, calloused hands swaying as they tended to the electronic items whizzing by on the production lines.
T2-171Yb took a breath and looked down to the syringe in his shaking hand, placing it back in its container. At least, he consoled himself, he hadn’t had to use it this time.
But when he looked back up, every T3 was stood rigid. 
The production lines stopped as the automated sensors picked up the lack of motion.
Silence fell.
Then, one after the other, all the T3s fell to the floor. 
Thud. Thud. Thud. 
Each T3 started to scream, spotlights pinging into life above them until every inch of the factory floor was illuminated and even though he could not see them, T2-171Yb knew that thousands of brown eyes had fragmented into every colour there was and every voice raised to create an unholy choir that screamed the same message. “I can see it all. You will too. Endless revolutions without conclusions. There’s no stopping for us.”
T2-171Yb crashed to the floor, screaming to try and block out the sound of the T3s. He curled in a ball and closed his eyes but could still sense a tsunami of light buffeting him from every side making his retinas ache as he tried to hold onto what was sane and logical because his neuro-chip was struggling, blinking green and firing out random decisions into his head because it had no experiential data to make an optimal decision and tell him what to do next.
When he was certain his was the only voice left screaming, T2-171Yb rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes.
The coolness of the concrete floor soaked through the back of his sweat-drenched shirt. T2-171Yb turned his head to see thousands of neuro-chips scattered around the factory floor, blinking blue. He held his arms aloft to check he was still a solid body. The red light of his neuro-chip reflected off his flexi-chuff.
His neocortex didn’t fizz. Instead, it felt like someone had driven a red-hot needle into his hippocampus.
T2-171Yb screamed as the factory lights turned off, one after the other, and he was left lying in the dark as his memory was erased until his screams became sobs and then only silence prevailed.
In the low light of the factory floor, T1-43Ca could not make out the T3s or their T2. But she could see thousands of neuro-chips. Their blue lights twinkled up at T1-43Ca where she stood on the mezzanine level. T1-43Ca saw a lone red light where T2-171Yb had fallen. It put her in mind of a lone beacon in a sea of blue lights.
T1-43Ca smiled and walked down the stairs to find the T2, her own neuro-chip maintaining a steady blue light.
T2-171Yb was sitting at a mahogany desk. Opposite, there was a T1 who had introduced herself as T1-43Ca. She was dressed immaculately in a white suit with a sprig of holly pinned to her lapel. T1s were allowed to keep their natural hair colour and hers was a striking mix of grey and blonde, cropped and combed in furrowed lines. 
T2-171Yb thought of a field of wheat before he had a chance to stop himself. But his neuro-chip blinked red and the thought was lost.
T1-43Ca frowned until T2-171Yb’s chip blinked blue. 
“THEM wanted me to speak with you.”
“Me?” T2-171Yb said, trying to keep his mind in check. T1s and T2s rarely interacted. If they did it only meant trouble. But T2-171Yb had been careful. Everyone at US was. And if he had been discovered then he wouldn’t be sat at a desk with a T1. He’d be marched in front of the firing squads. Or worse.
T2-171Yb cleared his throat, which felt sore and swollen like he’d been shouting. He tried to remember what had happened in the last couple of hours but his memories felt fuzzy, out of order and clouded. But clouded in light not darkness. 
T2-171Yb shook his head, trying to shake himself free of a stomach-clawing fear that something was wrong. When it was first rolled out, memory loss had been a side effect of the 247 upgrade. But that had been rectified some months ago with a small bug fix, delivered wirelessly to everyone’s neuro-chips. 
The 247 was the latest in a series of upgrades that relied on quantum algorithms, not classical ones. This, THEM (The Holistic Empirical Management) stated, worked better with an individual’s brain chemistry because quantum algorithms were adept at controlling the molecules and electrical signals that the brain used. When the quantum code was fired out across their neural pathways, it was painless and indistinguishable from an organic signal.
The 247 upgrade was first rolled out to a small population of lowest-tier T3s for testing. Once the upgrade was deemed safe, 247 was uploaded across the T3 population. Then, forty days later, the T2s received the upgrade.
The 247 meant that the T3s and T2s didn’t need to sleep. They were simultaneously awake and asleep at the same time, allowing them to work 24/7. Productivity scores went through the roof and (unexpectedly) so had happiness scores - but only in the T3s. It was assumed that this was because the T3s had received the upgrade earlier and the T2s would soon feel a similar level of contentment. 
Contentment meant complicity. So, THEM was thrilled.
But when asked why they were happier, the T3s reported that they could see so much more hope in the world. When asked exactly what they meant, the T3s didn’t have the words. Which was not unexpected. The speech and articulation regions in the left hemisphere were not enhanced in T3s. There was no economic need for them to communicate with anything other than basic syntax.
“Yes, you T2-171Yb,” T1-43Ca said quite coolly. “THEM noticed that you have never questioned a command. You have a 100% obedience rating.  However, you do pause before following commands. Why?”
T2-171Yb swallowed, hard. He knew THEM would pick up any attempts at collusion. He chose his next words with care. “When I was younger, it was told to think before I acted. I guess it’s a hard habit to crack. So, I like to check THEM’s thinking based on my own experiences. But I’ve never seen anything illogical around THEM’s decisions for me, which is why I’ve always followed every command.”
T1-43Ca smiled. “Yes. You really are an excellent specimen and that explains why, during your recent medi-exam, THEM detected that your frontal lobe is particularly advanced. That is the region of the brain where logic and reason exist. We believe this is why your factory is the shining star in our production zones. This is also why THEM needs your help.”
“My help? But I’m just a mid-tier manager. And I really should be getting back to my factory. I want to maintain my productivity levels.” T2-171Yb swiped at his flexi-cuff but it didn’t light up. He felt a flash of panic at being separated from the factory’s data readouts. 
“I know all about your factory’s performance,” T1-43Ca smiled. “I also know that you are always the first in line for any upgrade. In fact, you had the 247 three days ahead of the other T2s. Why?”
“It was the logical decision to keep up with my workers. I couldn’t optimise their performance to the highest levels when I was sleeping.”
T1-43Ca smiled. She was wearing a sheen of something sticky on her lips and her eyelashes were darkened, T2-171Yb observed. Make-up. He’d not seen a woman in make-up since his mother at his father’s funeral. It was a memory made before the neuro-chips were enforced across the entire population. 
So was the memory of his mother’s beating for such an act of defiance.
He couldn’t remember her funeral.
T1-43Ca did not notice T2-171Yb flinching as she continued. “Your records also show that you were one of the last of the population to have a neuro-chip fitted.”
“My mother - “ T2-171Yb began, ready to explain as he had explained countless times before to countless T1s. 
T1-43Ca quickly interrupted. “We’re not talking about that woman. THEM wanted me to speak with you because, even though you were one of the last to receive your neuro-chip, your successes in the second tier have been remarkable. Despite your lack of formal neural training, your factory has always achieved peak performance rates. Minimal sickness. No syringes in three years. Your commitment to THEM combined with your logical reasoning make you the perfect person for this assignment because you instil something in your workers that makes them, simply put, the best.”
T2-171Yb could feel his cheeks burn at the compliment. “Thank you,” he murmured looking at the floor. “What assignment? Would you like me to help some of the other managers?”
“No. We have far more important work for you. THEM believes that you have the capabilities to step up.” T1-43Ca sat back in her chair and folded her arms.
T2-171Yb’s heart hit his rib cage. “You think I could step up a tier? Become a T1? But…” He tried to find the right words, knowing he must tread carefully. “But what would life be like without THEM optimising my decisions? I don’t want to seem ungrateful but without THEM, I could never have seen such successes in my career. I certainly never would have been sat here and offered the opportunity to step up.”
“THEM has only ever wanted to steer everyone to a better life. And now THEM has steered you towards a T1 promotion because it is the best decision for you. As a T1, you will gain a level of autonomy where you are free to imagine and think more creatively, to help THEM solve society’s most complex problems.”
T2-171Yb’s neuro-chip flashed a brighter green than it ever had before. His heart sung with pride. He did not pause for thought. “It would be an honour.”
“Excellent. We would like you to manage a team of T2s to gauge your suitability for stepping up. The team is working on a bug fix. An error has crept into the 247.”
“What sort of error?”
“You don’t need to worry about that. Do you accept?”
 T2-171Yb nodded. “But I don’t have any software development experience.”
“That doesn’t matter. What matters is developing the solution as quickly as possible.”
“How quickly?”
T1-43Ca checked her watch. “You have thirty-nine days and twenty-two hours.”
T2-9Be stuck up her hand. T2-171Yb walked over to her desk, smoothing down his black hair. The blonde was starting to come through at the roots but he didn’t have time to dye it. T2-171Yb was wearing the same grey suit that every T2 wore. The other T2s in the room had been given standard-issue T3 black boilersuits for this assignment. It was a decision that hadn’t sat well with T2-171Yb but he could understand THEM’s logic. It sent a clear message that he was in charge. 
The room was filled with the light of one-hundred computer screens where one-hundred T2s were sitting in a white-washed room, typing in eerie unison. 
T2-171Yb tried not to think of the sound of a freight train. He focused on the vast digital clock on the wall instead. The clock didn’t show the time. Instead, it counted down to the bug fix deadline.
There were 137 hours left.
But T2-171Yb wasn’t worried. If the team maintained their performance levels, then the fix would be discovered in a couple of days, he predicted. Three days at most. 
T1-43Ca had been right. Managing a team of T2 developers wasn’t as difficult as T2-171Yb had feared. Just as he had done with the T3s, he maintained his schedules with 15-minute breaks every five hours. The only difference was that this team asked questions and he had to take these interruptions into account on his predicted timings. 
T2-9Be didn’t take her eyes away from the screen as T2-171Yb approached. He smiled and then quickly straightened his face, remembering how T2-9Be had instructed him to pretend they were strangers. They were not. T2-9Be was a leading light in US. She’d also recruited T2-171Yb some three years ago when THEM had put a syringe in his hand and made T2-171Yb a murderer.
Over the last few weeks, T2-9Be had also been T2-171Yb’s most productive worker. She had made several significant breakthroughs to fix the bug, leading to many conversations between T2-9Be and T2-171Yb. Conversations that T2-171Yb used to replay in his head when he had a rare moment to himself.
“Do you have the information I requested?” T2-9Be asked, still typing and not looking up from her screen.
T2-171Yb shook his head. “I’m sorry but THEM refused my request.”
“But how can we fix a bug when we don’t know what we’re fixing? If I can’t access the full code base and the T3 neural recordings then I’m coding blind.”
T2-171Yb pulled up a chair and sat next to T2-9Be. Their knees glanced and he tried to ignore the flash of electricity that pulsed up his leg. He focused on the screen instead, which was a jumble of numbers, letters, and symbols. “I don’t know how you make head nor tail of this.”
“Because I’ve been programmed to,” T2-9Be said, without smiling. She was younger than T2-171Yb by about ten years, he estimated. That meant her neuro-chip would have been fitted when she was a child, allowing THEM to train her brain and optimise it for one type of work. Software development, in T2-9Be’s case. “And writing quantum algorithms isn’t as complicated as people think. It’s just a different way of thinking.” This time, T2-9Be did smile. “A bit like the quantum computer that runs our neuro-chips now.”
“I don’t get it,” T2-171Yb said, suddenly wishing he’d paid attention in physics class.
“Normal computers think in 1s and 0s. They see the world in black and white. Right or wrong. Quantum computers don’t use 1s and 0s. They don’t just see black and white. It’s like they can see the world in full technicolour. They simultaneously see every possible answer to every possible question and can pluck the right answer out of the air.”
“Then why can’t you just pluck the answer out of the air for this update?”
“Because I’ve not asked the right question yet. That’s why I need the information from THEM.”
T2-171Yb sat back in his chair as T2-9Be kept typing. Her hands were moving so fast over the keyboard that they blurred in the screen’s white light. For a moment, T2-9Be’s ring finger flashed with a diamond solitaire. Somehow, T2-171Yb knew that he’d given her the ring and he closed his eyes, a wave of contentment washing over him.
When he opened his eyes, the ring was gone and his neuro-chip blinked red. But something in his brain remained. Not a memory. But a feeling that there was something good sitting in his future. Something so good that he was willing to do anything for it.
A thought dashed through T2-171Yb’s brain.
“If THEM won’t give us the information, then is there another way to access it?” He whispered.
T2-9Be stopped typing and turned to face him, folding her hands in her lap. When she spoke, she spoke quickly and quietly. “Now, that is the right question. Take this.” She took something from her pocket and pressed it in T2-171Yb’s palm.
T2-171Yb opened his hand to see a small, white disc with a yellow button on it. “For me? But I thought US only handed neuro-blockers out to their most senior members.”
“Keep your voice down!” T2-9Be hissed. “We’re running out of time. In a few seconds, THEM will register this conversation and your memory will be wiped. I’ll be carted off and you’ll never see me again. You won’t even remember me. But this neuro-blocker will stop THEM from monitoring your thoughts and erasing your memories. It might give us a chance to solve this thing. Together.”
T2-171Yb couldn’t fault T2-9Be’s logic. He also couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing T2-9Be again.
He pressed the button.
That afternoon, T2-171Yb was walking around the exercise yard when he saw himself, walking ahead and a little faster. He bent down to pick a dandelion that was poking through the concrete. He saw himself running to T2-9Be. He tapped her shoulder and gave her the flower. She smiled and pushed it into her buttonhole. Just above her heart.
T2-171Yb felt his heart surge with a happiness that he had not felt since before his father died.
His neuro-chip blinked red and he bent over double until the pain in his hippocampus subsided. T2-171Yb felt a hand on his back.
“Are you OK?” 
It was T2-9Be. After T2-171Yb had pressed the button, T2-9Be explained that the blocker didn’t stop THEM fromdetecting sub-optimal thoughts. But it did stop THEM from reading those thoughts, sending a dummy signal back to THEM. Then, THEM’s counter-signals still fired out across your brain but the blocker prevented your memory from being wiped. THEM was left none the wiser.
What T2-9Be had failed to explain was that it hurt like hell.
“Sorry,” he said, standing up. The image of the dandelion was still there. Everything was still there. 
“You sure? You’ve gone an interesting shade of green.”
“I-I think THEM just tried to erase some sort of a glimpse of the future. It wasn’t a memory. Does that make sense?”
“No. Are you sure you’re not remembering something that THEM erased?”
“I don’t think so. I saw you and me. I plucked that dandelion by your feet and gave it to you.”
“You wouldn’t do that. You know we’re banned from wearing colours. Especially yellow.” T2-9Be’s neurochip blinked red and she was the one to bend over in pain. 
T2-171Yb was not sure what the correct reaction was to T2-9Be’s discomfort. His hand hovered over the small of her back but he put it in his pocket. “Are you OK?”
T2-9Be’s chip blinked blue but she didn’t get up. Instead, she bent down further and picked the flower. 
“I’m fine,” she eventually said, putting the dandelion in T2-171Yb’s buttonhole. Her hand pressed against his chest. “Looks like you’re crap at predicting the future though.”
A klaxon fired to signal the end of their 15-minute break. T2-9Be skipped back inside. 
T2-171Yb stood there, watching himself simultaneously skipping after T2-9Be and staying where he was for all eternity, smiling with a dandelion in his buttonhole.
It wasn’t time for a scheduled break but T2-171Yb needed one. He staggered out into the exercise yard. It was dark and the cold pinched his fingertips but T2-171Yb barely noticed.
“What’s wrong?” T2-9Be said.
T2-171Yb turned on his heels. “You can’t be out here!” He checked his flexi-cuff. T2-9Be’s absence was having an impact on the team’s performance. “We’re so close to fixingthe bug.”
“I wanted to check you were alright. You were acting like a madman in there. Muttering to yourself and pacing around. Some of the T2s are a bit spooked. I only just persuaded them not to report you to THEM.”
“It’s just - “ T2-171Yb stopped himself. He didn’t know how to explain. But he had to tell someone before his brain imploded. “I’m still seeing things from the future but not just one future. I’m seeing things that happen and those that don’t. Like I’m seeing different strands of the future. Like right now I can see you running back inside to report me and still standing here listening to me and… ”
“And what?”
T2-171Yb hoped the pale moonlight hid how red his cheeks had gone. “And kissing me.”
T2-171Yb saw T2-9Be slap him, laugh at him, and run back inside, all at the same time. He put his hands on his knees and tried not the throw up as his neuro-chip flashed red. “Are you seeing these things?”
T2-9Be frowned. “No. But I think I experienced something similar. I was coding and saw myself type three possible solutions down at once. At first, I thought it was the blocker screwing with my brain but then the T2 behind me said the same thing happened before THEM nuked his brain and erased the memory. These future flashes, or whatever you want to call them, just seem to be a lot stronger for you than the other T2s. But I can’t figure out why.”
T2-171Yb could. He’d had the 247 update three days before everyone else. 
But T2-9Be didn’t give him pause to speak. “Do you think these visions are linked to the bug?”
“Seems logical. Because they’re showing me versions of the future where good things happen. And that leaves me feeling… happier than I’ve ever been. I think I experienced one before you gave me the blocker. But because it was a memory of the future, not past, then the feeling of contentment wasn’t erased. And I was happier. Happier than I’d been in a long time.”
“Just like the T3s,” T2-9Be added.
“Exactly,” T2-171Yb said. “I still can’t remember what happened at the factory. I’ve got to go back. I’ve got to find out. Find the information you need to fix this.”
“But aren’t the T1s monitoring your visuals?”
T2-171Yb shook his head. “Not anymore. I requested temporary T1 clearance a couple of hours ago. Said it would help boost productivity - and the neural blocker stopped THEM from detecting the lie.”
T2-9Be nodded and watched as T2-171Yb marched towards the exit. 
T2-9Be saw him leave. She also saw him run back into the exercise yard and kiss her. And she too felt happier than she’d felt in a long time.
T2-171Yb placed a button-sized mag-drive on T2-9Be’s desk. “Here’s what you wanted.”
“Are you OK? You look like shit.”
T2-171Yb pressed his fists into his eyes. “No. My vision’s being affected now. Everything’s so blurry. It’s like the entire room might dissolve at any minute. But it’s not just that. When I went to the factory, it was empty. There were no T3s anywhere.”
“Maybe they closed down your factory while you were here?”
“No, I mean there were no T3s in the whole production zone. It was empty. Hundreds of dark, silent factories. And when I was in my factory, I saw a future where the T1s were working the production lines. They were dressed like T3s. What does that mean?”
“There’s only one way to find out.” T2-9Be placed the drive on her flexi-cuff’s magnetic docking strip.
T2-171Yb raised an eyebrow. 
“Don’t worry, my flexi-cuff is fitted with a version of the neuro-blocker. THEM won’t see what I’m doing.”
A raft of code filled the cuff. It was nonsense to T2-171Yb but T2-9Be worked the code with fast, skilled hands. 
“Does the neuro-blocker make you more productive?” He asked. “Because I’ve never seen any of the other T2s work so well.”
But T2-9Be just let out a small gasp.
“What is it?”
“I must have read it wrong,” T2-9Be said, scrolling through the lines of code again.
“What does it say?”
“That all the T3s are dead.”
“What? What killed them?”
“The wave-particle duality.”
T2-171Yb frowned. “The what?”
“It’s this phenomenon where every atom is simultaneously a wave and a particle at the same time. But that phenomenon only exists at the atomic level where quantum effects occur. When you scale up, then solid matter is just solid matter. Waves are just waves. But it looks like the T3s started to experience the effects of the tiny, quantum world in our macroscopic, classical world.”
“But the quantum algorithms have been around for years. Why’s this happening now?”
“It looks like the 247 manipulated this wave-particle duality, forcing our brains to be simultaneously awake and asleep at the same time. Brain waves and grey matter started to screw each other over and then the effects leaked into every atom of every T3’s body. Every atom of their bodiestransformed from solid matter into a wave of light.”
“And if we don’t fix the bug? We’ll all just disappear in a ball of light?”
The look on T2-9Be’s face answered his question, the clock’s fluorescent glow reflecting off her face. 
The T2s had four days, 2 hours and 42 seconds left.
T2-171Yb did some quick mental arithmetic. He had seven hours.
“What do we do?” T2-171Yb asked.
“We? We do nothing. I get to work. With this new information, I’ll find a fix,” T2-9Be said, turning to her screen. “There’s no point sharing this with the other T2s. It’ll just alert THEM.”
T2-171Yb signed and sat down next to T2-9Be. He didn’t want to tell her that his clock was ticking to another time. That was illogical and would only distract her from finding a fix. 
The future flashes got stronger and T2-171Yb sat back, observing every possible future with T2-9Be. He glimpsed birthdays, arguments, and dancing in the kitchen. Laughing. A walk in a forest. A house with a yellow front door. A dog with one blue eye and one brown. A child. A greenhouse filled with tomato plants. Wrinkled hands. Grand-children. A life stretching out before him. An impossibly, happy life.
The hours passed and the clacking of T2-9Be’s fingers against the keys hammered against T2-171Yb’s skull. Compared to the other T2s, she was typing out of time and T2-171Yb imagined T2-9Be as a virtuoso playing her own beautiful song surrounded by an orchestra of T2s. He sensed his neuro-chip blinking red but he didn’t feel any pain. All he saw was the clock count down. He saw himself disappear into light and he saw T2-9Be fixing the bug. He saw the impact of that change, rippling out across time and space.
He saw it all.
He took T2-9Be’s hands away from the keyboard.
“What are you doing?”
“I can see it all. You will too. Endless revolutions without conclusions. There’s no stopping for us,” he whispered.
T2-171Yb fell to the floor, laughing. 
T2-9Be screamed and scooped him in her arms. She tried to hold his hand but it slipped through like he was a ghost. “What’s happening? Why do your eyes look like that?”
“Don’t fix the bug. I’ll wait for you,” he whispered. “I can see it all. You will too.”
“What? What do you see?”
“Freedom,” T2-171Yb whispered as he disappeared in a beautiful blur of light.
T2-9Be sat at her desk, watching the digital clock tick down. Around her, one-hundred T2s typed dumbly and furiously at their keyboards. 
There were 137 seconds left. 
T2-9Be had found the fix but she hadn’t deployed it. Because the fix meant erasing everyone’s long-term memories, creating a void in their brains that prevented the 247 from leaking out across every atom of their bodies. All those memories of a time before THEM took over… theywould be deleted. Every T2 would become a blank page so THEM could imprint whatever they wanted onto their souls. There would be no more revolutions.
But without the fix, there would be no more T2s.
T2-9Be didn’t know what to do. Her finger twitched over the return button, ready to upload the fix. Her brain fizzed with T2-171Yb’s last instruction: “don’t fix the bug.”
She waited, desperate to see what T2-171Yb had seen when he disappeared in her arms. 
Desperate to see T2-171Yb again.
The future flashes had hit T2-9Be hard and fast recently. She’d glimpsed birthdays, arguments, and dancing in the kitchen. Laughing. A walk in a forest. A house with a yellow front door. A dog with one blue eye and one brown. A child. A greenhouse filled with tomato plants. Wrinkled hands. Grand-children. A life stretching out before her. An impossibly, happy life.
The clock read one minute and 38 seconds. She caught sight of her reflection in the screen. Her eyes had fractured into every colour of the rainbow. 
Time slowed and seconds became millennia. She saw the bug fix roll out and the never-ending misery for the T2s as they lived their lives of algorithm-induced confinement. She saw herself being discovered and tortured with her fellow US members. She saw THEM grow stronger. THEM becoming unstoppable.
She also saw the bug fix never leaving her computer. She saw every T2 fall. She saw THEM refactoring the T1s into T2s and T3s. She saw the T1s revolting. They were smarter and stronger than the other tiers. THEM had made the T1s that way. 
She saw THEM falling.
T2-9Be sat back, knowing why T2-171Yb had told her not to fix the bug. At least in the T2s’ death, THEM would also die. It was a sacrifice she was content to make.
T2-9Be closed her eyes and sat back in her chair, giggling. But then she stopped. Because from under her closed eyelids, she saw another future. Despite the T1s revolt, THEM simply rose from the ashes in another form. 
Time slowed. More futures hit her. Whether she deployed the fix or not, she saw infinite revolutions and no conclusions. There was no end for anyone to the never-ending loops of struggle, collusion and repression dressed up in a billion different forms. 
She saw every possible future. And she saw there could never be a yellow-doored house. That future was one only possible in impossible worlds where the likes of THEM had never existed. It was a fiction. A life she could never lead.
The world around her broke down into colour. Desks, computers, clocks, floors, ceilings, and walls became waves of colours. Their blacks and whites became a full spectrum of all there was and could be and in the middle…there… there was a cascade of light… there was T2-171Yb.
T2-9Be looked down at her hand. Light punctured through her knuckles but it didn’t hurt as the particles of her body transmuted into a wave of light.
T2-171Yb flowed through her and she through him as the pair became forever entangled. 
And maybe that’s all they’d ever been, T2-171Yb and T2-9Be both thought in perfect syncopation. 
Light constrained in mortal flesh. 
Free to dance amongst the stars once more. 
Free to find new worlds and forms.
Where they could, one day, open their yellow front door.

Gemma Church (she/her) has worked in science communication for 20+ years and currently leads content for a quantum computing company. She has an Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing from Cambridge University and her short stories appear in various publications. You can find her on Twitter/X: @gemmakchurch


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