The evening sun had set behind the hills, orange hues fading as the town of Ansfelden was settling in for the dark. Not far from the edge of town sat a young couple, Elias and Clara, on the hood of a rusty Volkswagen Beetle, engine running to keep it warm as the cold crept in. They had gone to watch the sunset, yet stayed to talk for hours. Now only headlights, cigarettes and the street lights of the town outlined their silhouettes. The sounds of wildlife were kept at bay by Bowie on the stereo.
“Remember when we first met?” Elias was dressed like an american rockabilly, the neighborhood rebel with slick hair, black leather jacket and oversized collar. He blew a puff of smoke out the corner of his mouth. Clara wore a flower dress beneath a brown tweed jacket, her blond hair set in a bun. She stared at the horizon, shaking her head with a slight giggle.
“Me neither,” Elias laughed. “Weird to grow up like that, meeting the light of my life before I even knew what a girl was.”
“There’s nothing weird about that.” Clara stroked his hand, “we’re just luckier than most. Especially now.” A worried look came over her, “god knows who’ll find the time to go dating when society is going down the shitter.”
“Ah cheer up. Times are always changing. Right now it’s just-... changing a lot faster than we’re used to.” He took a long drag on his cigarette. “Especially with my family.” There was an awkward pause in the conversation, mood dropping from playful to dead serious.
Elias' family had been participants in a government program to accommodate for birth restriction laws, by letting families adopt a Synthec - an extremely sophisticated android, built to grow and learn like humans do, for development of unique personalities, skillsets and better integration into society. However, a few days ago, an attack by US troops on an installation in Finland had sent the world sideways, Synthecs freaking out across the globe. News had it that New Europe had broken the “Anti-AGI treaty” by building an artificial intelligence capable of rewriting itself - and that the Synthecs had all been connected to it, manipulated by it, until it was destroyed. It quickly came to light that this AGI, publicly dubbed Primordia, had actually created the Synthecs.
Clara drummed her fingers on the hood of the car. “That chapter is over. Thank god it moved out before all of this happened.”
“He’s not an it - he’s Max.”
Riots had broken out following Primordia’s destruction, Synthecs and humans on both sides, everyone feeling confused and betrayed, no one knew who to blame. In the US, the riots had turned into manhunts, Synthecs dragged to the street and executed. In New Europe the conflicts were milder, but individuals calling themselves Mediators had surfaced; cyborgs claiming involvement with Primordia, but each with their own agendas and opinions, often in direct conflict with each other. The comfort of “us and them” had been obliterated overnight, black and white turned into a smear of colours, governments struggling to maintain order in the chaos. Had Primordia wished to protect itself when restricting the Synthecs from talking about it? Who were the Mediators and why did many of them outright hate each other?
Elias looked Clara straight in the eyes, took a deep breath before saying “Max is coming back. He already called.” He didn’t have to say more. When Primordia was nuked, most of the network nodes for phone services and internet were burned out. Calls were only possible within local regions.
The Synthec, Max, which he considered his little brother when they adopted him, hadn’t been with the family for long before reaching the same level of maturity as himself. Babysitting quickly turned into friendship. Then Max had rocketed past until graduating with a PhD at the age of 7, from the Johannes Kepler University in Linz. Had that been an act driven by Primordia, or had that been a genuine relationship? Being an only child before Max came, there wasn’t much for Elias to compare. And how would Primordia’s removal from the equation change any of that?
“He is family, whether you like it or not. I don’t expect you to agree now, but I am sure you will see, given time.”
“No, I don’t understand. I don’t understand how you can’t see how dangerous they are.” Her right hand was shaking, “your family needed the money, but you don’t have to be part of that anymore.” She grabbed his shoulder and looked straight at him, “you saw how they changed. Some of them are still killing people - and each other.”
“I would be confused and angry too, if someone blew up my mother.” He put his hand on hers and returned the look, “they’re a lot like us. Freedom is scary if you were birthed with shackles.” He moved closer to her, putting his arm around her shoulders. “Truth be told, I’m scared shitless too. But to think I’ve lived with him all these years, the things he must have experienced but couldn't talk about.” He squeezed her shoulder, “but now he speaks freely. I have to talk to him. What’s happening is bigger than us - you can’t just ignore the universe and hope it overlooks your little corner.”
She took a deep breath and turned her gaze to the stars. “Well shit… For our sake, I hope you are right about Max.”