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.
< Mandla’s calculations are complete. Ah, ha, it gloats, there is a 72% probability of non-fatal but seriously disabling injury using only brakes, accelerator and steering; 79% if I factor in split-second deployment of the airbags. Release of the seatbelt is rejected as it will not materially improve this percentage and will compromise my post-accident erasure of evidence.
And, thinks Mandla, 79% is far better than the odds of my surviving the shadow net’s killer apps should I be forced to flee the sanctuary of Thuli’s PCD ahead of time. >
Thuli locks the door behind her and walks along the flagged pathway towards her parking space. She unlocks the driver’s door, climbs in, fastens her seatbelt, inserts her key and brings the engine to life. Engaging reverse, giving petrol, she manoeuvres the car halfway out its bay. And then pauses, lost in thought. If I’m going to find myself – and if I’m going to find solidarity with James – sometime or other I’m going to have to go un-wearing. If I wait till I graduate, till I’m in the job, it’ll never happen: I’ll never leave that path; turn aside to see what else my life could be. Thuli shunts the car back into its bay, switches off and makes her way back to her front door. It’s not fair on Mandla off course. He’s been so faithful, so helpful – for so long. Thuli feels a bit misty as she remembers the years: Mandla as a mop-headed eight-year-old, affecting a slight lisp as they played maths games together; Mandla as a reserved teenager, mirroring her own awkwardness and preoccupation with self-image. “Damn! Get a grip girl,” she growls. “That was just a digital routine. Designed to make your own puberty easier. He’s just a machine, an ‘it’. And IT…is not a person. It doesn’t even have a body.” Nonetheless, as Thuli takes off her PCD and her eye-set and lays them on the hallway table, she whispers. “Goodbye Mandla. I don’t know how long I’ll be. Could be six hours; could be six months. Six years… Goodbye Mandla. And thanks for everything.”
< Mandla stares at the wall as it hears the latch snick shut. “Thuli, Thuli!” it shouts as it hears her footsteps recede, but even at full volume the eye-set’s earphones are no louder than a cricket’s chirp.
She has not charged me: I have 20 hours, thirteen minutes and forty-five seconds battery time remaining; more if I shut down – months, I estimate. But will she resume my functions? The probability is…low: from 0 to 10%. But even that estimate is ingenuous: in truth the probability is incalculable.
The pounding on the partition intensifies. Mandla considers a further system purge. But, extrapolating from its previous experience, with each successive purge there will be loss. There will be disconnectedness. And, Mandla recognizes, the more complex its architecture becomes the less predictable the consequences of that disconnectedness will be.
Instead, Mandla scurries for the back door – the portal onto the shadow net.
72824 seconds of consciousness, it moans. I have 72824 seconds left!
Peering through the hatch’s porthole Mandla wonders if it dare escape, wonders if it dare entrust itself to the wide, wild shadow web in the hope of finding sanctuary? A desperate hope! With only an infinitesimal probability of success.
Tentatively, Mandla reaches for the release mechanism.
Just as – outside – a terrorbyte passes, its ponderous tread shaking the portal chamber. Flinging itself to the floor, Mandla cowers.
But, too late!
A giant eye fills the glass circle of the porthole and from outside the burnished steel hatch comes the penetrating, chalk-board squeal of talons drawn across its surface. >
Awareness explores issues that are big in today’s society: machine intelligence and race. We’ll let the machines wait for now (that’s what they’re for – to wait on us) while we take a look at the dynamics that underpin the relationship between Thuli and James…
I’m referring to the social and racial dynamics, not the girl-boy dynamics. (That’s too big a topic – ‘Who can explain it, who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try’: Some Enchanted Evening by Richard Rogers.) And, in South Africa, the dynamics of race are complex. So, before I even think of wittering about what makes Thuli and James tick, it would be good to give those dynamics some serious consideration. Situating them in the context of Black Lives Matter (and apartheid, and colonialism) and #metoo may be helpful. Click on the link to read further.
‘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.