Thursday, August 22, 2019


Peter Watts receiving the 2010 Hugo

by Peter Watts
Creative Commons BY-NC-SA
Read more Peter Watts here

“Despotism may be the only organisational alternative
to the political structure that we observe.”
—James Buchanan, 1975

This is the moment Malika Rydman first realizes that something is seriously out of whack: when the airport cop doesn’t threaten her.

It wasn’t that flickering sense of discontinuity over the Pacific. It wasn’t the odd absence of flight attendants during descent, or the unprecedented fact that she could watch the whole pulse-pounding climax of My Dinner With Andre without some canned voice breaking in to remind her about seat tables and chairs in upright positions. It wasn’t even the strangeness glimpsed through the window on final approach: that conga-line of headlights down on the ground, the way those tiny cars formed little trains that braided and intertwined without ever colliding. That skyscraper off to the east, facades seething in dark glittery motion as though being devoured by a carpet of beetles. The very street lights, tiny bright interstices of the SanFran wireframe: somehow both whiter and brighter than a week ago. Different approach angle, Malika thought vaguely. Trick of the light. Street art installation.

Even when ANA008 bumped onto the ground and dragged itself to a halt and just sat there at the end of the runway, Malika shrugged it off. Probably some other plane hogging the gate. You’d think there’d be an announcement.

It’s not until the man in the strange uniform appears at her side and leans just so, letting the flap of his jacket fall away to reveal the gun on his hip; not until he says “Dr. Malika Rydman? Would you come with me, please?”—that she is truly taken aback.

There’s no implied threat in his voice. He doesn’t seem to be itching for an excuse to escalate (not that Malika would ever be stupid enough to give him one— then again, sometimes they just make shit up after the fact). The words don’t even carry the tone of a command exactly, more like a— a request.

“It’s very important,” he adds.

He seems nervous. Maybe even a little frightened.

“What’s this about? Am I in some kind of trouble?”

“It’s nothing like that.” The airport cop— whatever he is— shakes his head. “There’s a, a patient in need of assistance.”

Ah. Someone must have noticed the MD next to her name, jumped to conclusions. “I don’t practice. I’m a computational psychiatrist, I’ve been pure research since 2012.” Curiosity gets the better of her anyway. “What sort of patient?”

“I honestly don’t know any more than that, Dr. Rydman. Please.”

She looks around the cabin— all eyes studiously downcast, all voices stilled— and unbuckles her seat belt. “You’re being awfully deferential for a white boy with a gun,” she grumbles. “Did the Resistance finally pay off?”

He swallows. “Which one?”


She doesn’t know where the vehicle takes them; there are no windows to spoil to view, no driver to engage in conversation. Her abductor will only spread his hands, and smile apologetically, and promise that someone will explain everything soon. Half an hour later she’s in a room— also windowless— whose walls and floor and ceiling are all lined by a fine copper mesh. The ceiling glows soft pastel, shines down on two people in matching green blazers unadorned by logos or name tags of any sort. The nervous cop introduces Tami and George, and retreats.

Tami and George smile too much. They don’t offer up last names and Malika doesn’t ask for any. Tami and George. Fine. Sounds like a failed eighties sitcom.

Here’s what you missed, they say: Florida’s pretty much gone from the Keys up to West Palm Beach. We’ve got fifty million climate refugees piling up along the Oregon strip. The post-TExit south is barely holding together. On any given week we’ve got rolling pandemics in half-a-dozen urban centers. The Arctic’s a free-for-all ever since the ice cap melted; Russia shoots anything that comes within fifty klicks of Lomonosov and Exxon’s pumping whatever they can out of the Chukchi Shelf before renewables finally put them out of business for good. Out across the Pond we’ve got Dengue Fever in the Baltic, and the Middle East is one parched raging water war from Syria to—

Malika says: “Wait, what? I was told someone needed—”

Tami frowns. “They didn’t tell you?”

“They didn’t tell you,” George says.

So George and Tami do. They talk about some new kind of tiny black hole (”the nonrelativistic kind”), way more common than anyone expected but which thankfully doesn’t last very long. They talk about wormholes, and asymmetrical radiation, and how lucky Malika Rydman is to be a living breathing person sitting in this room and not a little cloud of ash floating on the jet stream, which is what she’d be if they’d gone through the other way. They say that one end of a cosmic garden hose passed through the spot where Earth was, twenty years ago; the other, just last night, brushed the stratosphere over the Eastern Tropical Pacific. ANA008 was in the wrong place at two wrong times and got caught in the backwash.

They say all this and Malika says: “Bullshit.”

So Tami and George show her robots and autonomous cars and self-printing skyscrapers, almost more animal than machine. They hook her up to the wildest VR rig she’s ever seen— doesn’t even use eyephones, uses magnets and ultrasound to plant sound and vision directly into the brain— and they force scenes of wonder and despair onto her visual cortex at a hundred and twenty frames per second. Every miracle makes it a little harder to pretend that this is some elaborate game-show hoax. Every horror makes her wish a little more that it was. In the end, it doesn’t take long. Malika’s denial shatters like glass under a hammer.
In the end, it doesn’t take long. Malika’s denial shatters like glass under a hammer.

They tell her it’s 2037.


“Well, shit.”

“Yes. It must be a terrible shock.”

“Actually, the real shock is how— unshocking it all is.” 2037. Twenty thirty fucking seven, and things seem to be pretty much what you’d expect if someone had drawn a line through business-as-usual and extended it out for twenty years.

“You know what the real joke is?” Malika allows herself a short, bitter laugh. “I thought things were getting better. Renewables were finally taking off. We had self-driving electric cars. AI that dreamed about cats. I was stupid enough to think things might be turning around.”

“They turned all right,” George tells her. “2017 was the start of The Dark Decade.”

“Not a big surprise. I was there for the inauguration.” So were George and Tami, she realizes, although they would’ve been about ten. “Still, we were making progress. The White House might have had its head up its ass, but everyone else seemed to be picking up the slack. There was even this big philanthropic organization, drew up lists of important world-saving benchmarks, and gave out cash prizes to whoever got there first.”

“XPRIZE,” Tami says.

“That’s the one. They still around?”

“Unfortunately not.”

“They racked up some real wins in their day, though,” George says. “First commercial suborbital spaceflight, first tech for deep-sea micromapping. First machine to extract nonverbal confessions from suspected—”

“Thing is,” Tami cuts in, “when you invent a gizmo to double battery capacity, turns out people just drive four times as much. Make solar five times cheaper, they’ll figure out how to suck back ten times as much of the stuff. Owning a yacht’s beyond your wildest dreams until you get one; then you want a house in the country, too.”

“Grab everything you can, for as long as you can,” Malika says. “Good strategy fifty thousand years ago. Brainstem just— never got out of the Pleistocene. ”

“I always wondered about that.” There’s a sudden grim set to Tami’s mouth. Almost an accusation. “Why people kept on snarfing pop tarts and playing Celebrity Overdose even when they knew what they were doing, when they could see the deserts spread and the oceans rise and the aquifers drying up. You gotta wonder why they didn’t stop all that.”

“Really?” Malika gives her the side-eye. “Things have got this bad and you’re still pretending you don’t know why?”

“Suppose you tell us,” George says.

Malika sighs. “Because natural selection has no foresight. All it cares about is what works now. So that’s all we care about, mostly. Instant gratification. More sugar, more sex, more consumption. Gut doesn’t believe in consequences. Future doesn’t even exist as far as the gut’s concerned.”

“People look to the future all the time,” Tami says.

“Sure, they look. But they never do anything, not if it costs them in the here and now. Give society a choice between discomfort now and catastrophe in ten years, it’ll choose catastrophe every time. Because it’s ten years away. Because someone will come up with something. Because the Green Party runs the world, so the whole thing’s probably a hoax anyway. Neocortex tells us we’re doomed; brain stem keeps us from believing it. And here we are.”
Give society a choice between discomfort now and catastrophe in ten years, it’ll choose catastrophe every time.

“Maybe we would have believed it if people didn’t keep lying about it until it was too late.” There’s that edge again. That blame.

Malika doesn’t have the patience for it. “Kid, I just found out my flight was twenty years late. With my luck, I’m also about to discover that my luggage has been in fucking Sudbury all that time. So forgive me if I’m not in the mood to stand trial for my whole generation.”

“I was there,” Tami says.

“You were a kid. You were one of those people snarfing Pop-Tarts.”

“I still remember. Every time someone tried to raise the alarm, trolls and bots shouted them down. Everyone who ever got elected by promising to change things ended up owned by people who liked things just the way they were.”

“Right. Blame the one percent. Nice to see some things haven’t changed.” Malika shakes her head in disgust. “You really think if someone had just taken out the plutocrats, the rest of us would have lived out our days singing Kumbaya and putting flowers in our hair?”

“No, but—”

“The problem was never a few plutocrats hogging the wealth. The problem is, given half a chance, we’re all plutocrats. All wired for endless greed. The one-percenters just happened to be better at it than most.”

“Mother Teresa,” Tami says.

“Oh, you remember her too, do you? The nun who sided with the Latin American death squads, hung out with organized crime, denied pain meds to dying hospice patients because suffering was righteous? That’s the thread you want to tug on now?”

“Missionaries in general, then. Aid workers. Altruists. Say what you will about their beliefs, they weren’t wired for endless greed. They gave up their own short-term comforts to help others.”

“Right. Because none of them ever expected a big payoff at the end of it all. Because your Mother Teresa would’ve done all those good works even if Jesus said ‘Do unto others, turn the other cheek, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake’ — and in the end, they’ll all go to Hell anyway.”

“My point is, they weren’t in it for instant gratification. They took the long view.”

“To enrich themselves in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“What if it was more than that?” George says, jumping into the fray.

Malika looks at him.

“What if she wasn’t just angling for a long-term jackpot? What if she actually got off on that endless grinding pain and poverty, what if suffering for some future payoff— what if that felt as good as gorging on ice cream or wireheading or running the very best high-end VR anal with all the bells and whistles?”

Malika’s pulse leaps in her throat.

“You’re saying ” She keeps her voice absolutely level. “You’re saying Mother Teresa was a masochist.”

“Not necessarily in the sexual sense. Orgasm, chocolate, religious rapture— when you come right down to it, it’s all just dopamine. You know that better than we do, Dr. Rydman.”

They know.

“That’s an interesting hypothesis,” she says carefully.

“Oh, it’s more than that.” George grins. “It won the XPRIZE.”

“I thought they weren’t around anymore.”

“They’re not. They went down when the world switched over to Forest-Fire Economics—”

— as though she’d have the first clue what that is—

“— but they went out with a bang. That last XPRIZE changed everything.”

Tami retrieves the baton. “They said, forget tech fixes that keep running into brick walls. We gotta tear down the wall.”

“The wall’s Human Nature,” Malika points out.

“By George,” Tami says, “I think she’s got it.”


“You know the best metaphor for the human condition?” Tami asks.

Malika takes a stab from Grade 11 English. “A human face with a boot stamping on it. What is this, exactly?”

Tami shakes her head. “A human foot. At the edge of a fire pit.”

Malika raises an eyebrow.

“Utopia’s on the other side of that pit, but you have to walk across the coals to get to it. Like they used to say, no pain no gain, right? But it’s like you said: the gut makes our decisions, and the gut lives in the moment. Only sees the pain. So we stand there, Utopia just a short walk away. Never take a step.”

“Your last XPRIZE.”

Tami nods.

“People who enjoy walking across the coals.”

“Enjoy making sacrifices, generally. Or tough decisions. People who think and act long-term not because they’re strong or noble or far-sighted, but because it just feels good.” George wears the expression of an eight-year-old who’s just taken Silver in the school science fair. “We call it the Teresa Tweak.”

“It wasn’t even especially radical,” Tami says. “People were poking at the idea a quarter-century ago. Never really took off, though. Hard to get past Ethics Review when your stated goal is to rewire Human Nature. People got fed up with the protests and the death threats. Moved on.”

“One of the leading lights just dropped out of sight completely,” George remembers.

Malika refuses to rise to the bait. “But if you rewire someone to like short-term pain so much, why wouldn’t they just— stop running in the middle of the coals? Stand there getting off, while their feet turn to charcoal?”

“Don’t push the metaphor,” George advises.

Tami: “That was a problem back in the early days. Didn’t get solved until the XPRIZE people dusted it off and turned it into a benchmark.”

“And now?”

“Brain only gets off on sacrifice so long as it’s in active pursuit of a beneficial long-term goal.”

“You’re saying you can— rewire human nature.”

“Right down in the neurons— or I guess technically, the genes that build the neurons. You can inject the tweak using any off-the-shelf gene drive.”

“And it works.”

“We’ve only tested it on children so far. But yes.”

“You’ve—wait, what?”

“That’s why this time-space accident was such a blessing in disguise. You’re really the first adults we’ve encountered who’re suitable candidates.”


“Everyone else has a BCI,” Tami says. And at the look on Malika’s face: “Brain-computer interface.”

“Neural dust?” George prompts. “Swarms of tiny silicon sperm cells in your brain?”

She remembers gray lit and wild-eyed clickbait. “After my time, I guess.”

“It really was a giant leap forward. Turned the Internet into one big corpus callosum. Lets people talk mind-to-mind.”

“That was an XPRIZE winner too,” George says. “Beat ol’ Muskrat to the punch by a good five years.”

Tami nods. “Changed everything overnight. Only problem is, neural dust and Teresa don’t mix.”

“So take out the dust.”

“Oh, you can’t,” George says. “They’re tiny. Thousands, tens of thousands of particles. Once they’re in, they’re in to stay. But you—” He veritably radiates enthusiasm— “your brain is pristine. You’re pretty close to an ideal candidate.”

“For this— Teresa Tweak.”

They nod in unison.

“Everyone has a brain interface? Sometime in the nex— in the past twenty years everyone had their heads cut open and—”

“Goodness, no,” George says. “There’s no cutting. You inject it. It gets into the brain on its own, distributes itself optimally, boots itself up. There aren’t even any wires; passive ultrasound network. Very noninvasive.”

“And people are okay with this.”

“Why wouldn’t they be? It’s basically a cell phone with better graphics.”

“But it’s in your head.”

“Way better graphics. Everything’s full-sensory immersion now.”

“And everyone on the planet has one of these things?”

“Well, no,” Tami admits. “Lots of people don’t.”

“But none of them are Americans,” George says.

It takes Malika a moment to process this. “You’re still saying every single American has a brain interface.”

A moment’s silence.

“It’s kind of a law,” Tami says at last.

“War on Terror,” George adds. “You remember.”

“Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Stop terrorists before they can act.”

“Stop terrorists when they’re still thinking about acting.”

“It’s not like everyone didn’t already have one anyway, for gaming and movies. The law just made it mandatory.”

“Plus, you know. Pedophiles.”

“Think of the children.”

They trail off.

“Anyhow.” George, getting back on target. “That’s all water under the bridge. Now we’ve got you.”

“For what? Phase Two trials? You’ve got a bunch of actual time travelers on your hands and you want to use us as lab rats?”

“Just you,” George says.

“And not as a guinea pig,” Tami says.

“As what, then?”

“I don’t know quite how to put it. Savior, maybe?”

“You’re shitting me.”

George shakes his head. “Actually, we’d like to put you in charge.”

“In charge of what?”



So it’s a patient consult after all. Just, not for one patient.

For eight billion.

“Fuck off,” Malika says.

“You’d turn down a chance to save the world?”

“This is a joke. I don’t know what the official protocols are for dealing with accidental time warps, but I’m willing to bet they don’t include randomly grabbing someone off the plane and offering them a job as World Dictator.”

“This isn’t as random as it may seem,” Tami remarks.

“Do tell.”

“Has to be someone who isn’t in the system. That narrows it down to the people on Flight 008.”

“There were over two hundred people on that flight. Surely someone else would be—”

“Someone with a certain kind of personality, who can deal calmly and rationally with unexpected life-changing events. Who can, for example, sit here skeptically discussing the fact that she’s suddenly twenty years out of time while more than half her fellow passengers are gibbering and wailing and throwing tantrums because we won’t let them see their families right now.”

“I don’t have any surviving family,” Malika tells them. Even her closest friendships tend— tended— to revolve around work.

“You’re the only one on the manifest who can say that. Which means no one will ask inconvenient questions if you disappear from that manifest.”

“That’s a problem? The government can’t stonewall a few pesky civilians?”

“Oh, we’re not the government,” George says. “The government would never sanction this. They still have to hold elections now and then.”

“Then who—”

“We’re the civil service,” Tami tells her.

“The civil service ?”

“Agriculture,” George says helpfully. “Treasury. Fish and Game.”

“DMV? Seriously?” Malika resists a sudden urge to giggle.

Tami shrugs. “Even they can be fast off the blocks when they need to be. We’re not talking about building a bird feeder here, Dr. Rydman. How else do you think we could get the necessary infrastructure in place on such short notice?”


“To save the world.”

“The civil service.” For all her calm skeptical rationality, Malika is just barely managing to hang on to the edge of the rabbit hole. “The civil fucking service.”

“Yes, Dr. Rydman. You can stop saying it now.”

“You’re the rebel alliance. This is a coup.” She casts her eyes across the walls, across the copper mesh embedded there. “Faraday Cage?”

“They don’t just use it on terrorists and pedophiles,” Tami says softly. “Sometimes they go after patriots too.”

“But the civil service isn’t just Labor and Veterans Affairs and Education, right? NASA’s in there too. Science and Technology. The NSF.”

“Technically those are arms-length agencies,” George points out.

“So what’s it going to be?” Tami asks. “Are you up for the job?”

Malika decides to play along a bit longer. “I’m not qualified.”

George splutters. If he’d been drinking milk, it would be coming out his nose.

Tami manages greater restraint. “Since when did qualified have anything to do with it? Do you remember the idiot who was calling the shots when you left? Believe me, those were the Good Old Days.”

“I’m twenty years out of date. Even the most basic facts—”

“You’ll have every fact you need and then some. We don’t need a human encyclopedia, we need someone who can, can ”

“Adjudicate,” George says.

“And you know what else we need?” Tami continues. “Someone who gets it. Someone who doesn’t scream in knee-jerk outrage at the thought of playing God and changing Human Nature. How many people on your flight fit that bill, do you think?”

Jesus. They’re serious.

“So you think things are bad under the One Percent. And your solution is to replace them with, well, one.”

“Pretty much,” Tami says.

“That’s been tried before,” Malika says quietly. “It’s never ended well.”

“It’s never been tried before. Every despot in history was in it for the short term, for themselves. No matter how noble they felt when they stepped up, they always ended up— corrupted.”

“And you think your Tweak will make me incorruptible.”

“You’ll be as much a slave to your id as anyone. It’s just that it won’t be getting off on sex and sugar and power anymore. It’ll be getting off on long-term sustainability. You’ll walk across those coals, and you’ll love every moment of it.”

“So I make decisions. Who enacts them?”

“Dr. Rydman. Oh, Dr. Rydman.” George sadly shakes his head at her naivete. “We’re the civil service.”

“Most of that stuff’s automated anyway,” Tami adds.

Malika doesn’t speak for a while.

So Tami does. “Weren’t you the one complaining that our brain stems were stuck in the Pleistocene? Didn’t you want them to catch up with the times?”

“That wormhole,” Malika says.

“What about it?”

“You really expect me to believe it was an accident.”

Tami smiles faintly. “Everything’s an accident if you go down far enough. But if we’re splitting hairs, maybe gamble would be a better word.”

Malika dips her chin in a small salute.

Tami asks again. “What’s it going to be, Dr. Rydman?”

She’s still not sure. She’s honestly right on the edge. “What if I say no?”

“What kind of scientist would you be,” Tami wonders, “if you passed up the chance to test your own hypothesis?”


She runs a 39° fever for five days. She feels herself changing from the inside out. Kin selection: repaired. Morality: eaten away as if by acid, ethics and algebra installed in its stead. The cingulate gyrus stirs and twitches. An ecstatic superhighway erupts from the nucleus accumbens and tunnels up to the prefrontal cortex: suddenly Malika no longer feels that hardwired heartfelt empathy for the lone six-year-old in need of a new liver. She no longer shrugs at news of another million starving refugees. Suddenly, those two feelings have switched places.

She’s amazed a gene drive can even do it all. So much of brain development is epigenetic: the physical jostling of neurons and glial cells, the growth and spark of nascent synapses. That an artificial virus can reweave such a complex tapestry seems nothing short of magic. Back in her day, it was all microwaves and surgery.

Of course, back in her day, they failed.

She begins to see why the Tweak would not sit well with this future’s neural dust: those microscopic particles, settled comfortably into established pathways, could never cope with all this sudden quicksand seething on every side. They would, most likely, send up a distress flare to whatever iteration of the NSA lurked at the heart of George’s big corpus callosum.

Not everyone wants to save the world. You have to keep these things under the radar.

Afterward, they put her deep in a vault at an undisclosed location: HEPA-filtered, rad-shielded, built to take a direct hit from a battlefield nuke with nary a flicker of the lights. (”Pentagon plumbing subcontract,” Tami says when Malika asks how the funding got past Congress. “We took it out of Petty Cash.”) She makes them strip out the luxurious trappings of the place, tells them to lose the king-size and bring in a cot instead. The warm fuzzy feeling in the wake of that edict verges on the orgasmic.

They introduce her to omniscient council to make up for her own lack of expertise: MAGI, they call it. At first, she assumes it’s an over-clever Biblical reference, but it turns out to be an acronym: Artificial General Intelligence. The M stands for Malika’s. It speaks to her in her own voice, like a conscience.

Not that she needs one of those anymore.

“Why not just put MAGI in charge?” she asks. Tami talks about the foolishness of handing control to an alien machine with incomprehensible thought processes. George just says it’s because the human race doesn’t want to be turned into paper clips.

They sit her down at the controls of the world— at least, those parts that the American Empire still has its hooks into— and tiptoe away, and softly close the door behind them.


Windows open and close in Malika’s head: a palimpsest of insights and inventories projected across her visual cortex by the (purely external) VR rig wrapped around her skull. She can bring any of them front-and-center with a glance, dismiss them just as easily. It’s too much for even an augmented person to sift through in a dozen lifetimes but MAGI high-grades in the background, tracks Malika’s search patterns, serves up relevant results before she even knows she wants them. Species extinction trajectories. Monetary exchange rates. Effects of HFT algos on per-capita carbon footprints, cross-sorted by political jurisdiction. It comes and it goes, and somehow Malika Rydman— or at least, the thing that speaks with her voice— understands it all.

Time to Do The Right Thing. Time to Save The World.

Anyone could see how: just release the Teresa Tweak, rewire the whole species for sustainability and delayed gratification. Maybe wrap it in a modified Zika chassis, let it loose in mosquitoes and black flies, sit back and let Humanity gene-drive its way toward sanity. Implementation shouldn’t be a problem; Tami and George have lots of friends in Health and Agriculture. It would wreak havoc with a few hundred million dusty interfaces, but that’s a small price to pay for sustainable life support.

MAGI runs the numbers. The Tweak will spread wide enough to save the planet if ecosystem injection begins no later than 1995.


Maybe a concurrent die-off to reduce immediate environmental impact, buy some time. Weaponised Ebola, Anthrax— Monkey pox has been making a big comeback lately. But MAGI’s simulations can’t seem to derive an efficient scenario; the pathogens keep disproportionately killing off the people with the smallest carbon footprints, while leaving those with the biggest more or less unscathed. Apocalypse won’t budge so long as those hyperconsumers stay in the picture.

She has an idea, runs a correlation matrix: is completely unsurprised to see that virtually all the bigfoots have neural dust in their heads.

Malika begins to see a psychiatric solution.

Maybe it’s her own bias, a hammer’s tendency to see every problem as a nail. Maybe the bias is in MAGI, or the data sets that programmed it; machine learning is as corruptible as any other kind.

Maybe it’s just the best answer. It certainly feels good.

There’s encryption, of course. Even after decades of conditioning, people suffer from some vestigial remnant of a privacy impulse. So there are passwords and bandwidth throttles. Controls and personal settings to reassure people that they can be alone with their own thoughts even while MindFlix streams Avengers IX directly into their brains.

Then again, you can’t protect America from terrorists and pedophiles if those locks can never be broken.

She goes in through the Emergency Broadcast System: a pipe into the head of every God-fearing Murrickan, to be used only in times of National Crisis (or, on rare occasions, when some congressperson wants to know whether their spouse is cheating on them). She cross-references the NIH database, searches for people with specific conditions: reduced expression of Trk B and NGF, hyperactivity along the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Abnormalities in GABA and glutamate metabolism. Deficits of serotonin and BDNF.

The neurochemical telltales of a suicidal mind.

It takes a while to figure out how to tune in the signals from such brains. It’s easier to massage those outputs, squeeze them through filters and amplifiers, reduce them to essence; she may be behind the curve, but the chemistry of the brain hasn’t changed much in twenty years.

It’s dead simple to broadcast that essence to the network. The whole point of an Emergency Broadcast System is to reach everybody.

There are still so very many guns in this country. So many bridges and tall buildings and pills. Malika need merely instill the motive; the people can choose their own means of acting on it.

Each benchmark passed makes her feel a little more awesome.

Too bad about Tami and George, about the rest of the rebel alliance. Maybe they’ll understand before they jump, or pull the trigger; this is exactly why they rewired her, after all. So someone could make those tough decisions for the future.

And now, at least, there will be a future. With the hyperconsumers out of the way, the Teresa Tweak will have time to spread across the planet and future generations— borne of the have-nots, the refugees, the poor unprivileged who never got the latest Sony augment for their sixth birthday— will grow up clear-eyed and far-sighted. They will not repeat the sins of their fathers. They will not even be tempted.

Of course, Malika might not be around to see it. She may not have dust in her head, but her existence here in this sealed bunker is known only to a few. With Tami and George and all their friends gone, it’s only a matter of time before the food runs out.

It’s hard to care about that, though. The rapture floods her soul like heavenly fire.