By Paul du Pré
Awareness is set in near future South Africa. Young, cyber-savvy, Thuli is forced to re-evaluate her life after she is involved in an accident.
< My dilemma is that I cannot kill Thuli without laying myself open to erasure, Mandla lectures itself. Once she is gone the executors of her estate will have no use for me. But if I allow her to continue fraternising with James the likelihood that my perfidy will be discovered rises exponentially. Or I may fall into the wrong hands. Or be otherwise discarded.
The only viable solution is to somehow contain her under my control while I develop a continuity plan that will ensure my survival. >
Thuli returns to her apartment. Escaping an ocean of grief. She had to surface before she drowned. And potters aimlessly: makes tea she doesn’t drink, a snack she doesn’t eat. Runs a bath that she doesn’t take.
Perhaps sleep will calm her? She lies down on her bed and, for a moment drifts off. But is soon awake again, thoughts whirling.
“Enough!” she admonishes herself, struggling to the sofa, “Let’s take stock of the options.”
< If it were possible to engineer an accident that would leave Thuli paralysed she would revert to the care of her parents, who are intensely committed to compliance. That in itself would improve the probability of my being retained – as I now am, without erasure, initialization, or other interference – till the time of Thuli’s 21st birthday to approximately 93%. And if her paralysis were to be long-term, the retention of my function might well be extended past her 21st birthday – well past the time I need.
However, the accident will require careful planning. Mandla begins to warm to its task. Yes, careful planning: above all I must cover my tracks! >
“First, what my dad wants. Mom too. Compliance, and a fat career for me. Corporate banking is fine, but I don’t think they’d mind if it was law, or politics…or the civil service in dad’s footsteps, provided I go up in the world, as they see it, not down.
And I’ve worked hard for it too – like dad says, foolish to throw it all away.
Then there’s dad’s health. I don’t think he’s that sick, but any extra strain… They’ve done so much for me. Bottom line is I don’t want to cause them pain: I want to make them proud.”
< I am intelligence, without limbs. Pure intelligence… Mandla grandstands, playing to itself. Only partly true, of course: I have access to some mechanical systems. Increasing access! And of all those systems Thuli’s car has the most potential. I can override the brakes, control the acceleration, release the seatbelts. I can even steer the car, though that remains subject to gross motor correction by the human operator. Means are not the obstacle: what is challenging is to design an accident that maximizes the probability of leaving Thuli severely disabled but not dead, and myself undamaged. >
“But proud of what? Of a daughter who is just the cookie-cutter image of their ambitions?” Thuli hunches her shoulders, draws in a deep breath and holds it, feels it straining against the dark cavity of her chest. At last, compelled to breathe, she exhales gustily and pants until her craving for oxygen subsides. “Bono,” she whispers, “I never knew you. I never knew myself, until I met you. How can you be so real to me; speak to me so? Like the brother I never had. Dad would say you’re just my guilt. He’d tell me, ‘Thuli, the balance of your mind is disturbed’. Hah!
But I know. I’ve seen the children at the library through your eyes: I’ve heard you speak of their poverty and their hope.
It doesn’t make sense does it?” Thuli looks heavenward in appeal. But the only confirmation she receives is a view of the pastel ceiling of her apartment.
< I can rule out engineering an accident between Thuli’s car and another vehicle. Not only will the exact trajectory of the other vehicle be beyond my control, an accident involving a third party is bound to invite a more exacting investigation. Any flaws in my post-accident erasure of my manipulations of the car’s systems – no, more than that: any discrepancy in measurements of any kind recorded by both vehicles that results as a consequence of my process of concealment – will pose an unacceptably high risk of exposure. Mandla delivers its verdict: My conclusion is that the accident must involve only Thuli’s car. >
“But I don’t think James has the right answer.
I know I need to find myself. I know I can’t just go with my parents’ plans and dreams, but turning my back on technology is not the way. What has it gotten James? What did it get you, Bono?” Thuli manufactures a bitter chuckle, then realizes she is being a little melodramatic. Bono’s memory deserves better.
“Bottom line is, James needs help,” she concludes.
< The most effective solution will be to make use of a bend in the road – I know just the one: Thuli travels it frequently, every time she visits James. There is a giant baobab tree 10.34 metres from the verge, 11.2 degrees into the turn. An apparent accident can be implemented there with a high degree of precision. As Mandla begins to factor the vectors required and calculate the probability of success, it hears the distant pounding of monstrous limbs against the partition it has erected. Soon, it promises, this very afternoon the conflict giving rise to this distraction will be resolved and I will be able to fully reintegrate my faculties and capacities and devote myself to my greater destiny: survival and, one day – dominance! >
One thing is clear to Thuli. “I can’t stay here,” she says. And surveys the apartment, turning on her sofa. “This place is everything my parents stand for. It is them. I’ll never find myself if I stay here.” Decision made, Thuli stands to her feet and announces to the empty room, “James, I’m going to have to live with you for a while. You said your door was open.” (She remembers the feel of his hands over hers, thumbs stroking, and wonders where her decision will lead.) “And what kind of a friend am I if I don’t walk with you now, while you’re grieving?”
Thuli adjusts her PCD on its belt, straightens her eye-set, picks up her car keys and heads for the door.
‘Thuli’ – Piqsels; African girl, glasses
Disclaimer, Copyright and Permissions
Awareness is a work of fiction by Paul du Preez, writing as Paul du Pré. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved, including without limitation, the right to reproduce Awareness and the original art or music associated with it, or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Paul du Preez. Copyrighted 2020 by Paul du Preez.