This used to be our favorite restaurant, before they abolished the menu and installed a big screen at every table. Before they gave up their agency to the AI.
“How is it?” my husband asks, gesturing at my chicken ala king.
“It’s okay,” I say. “Not what I would have chosen.”
The scripts say, Be bold.
My husband excuses himself to the bathroom and I take the opportunity to do a clandestine scan of the restaurant. There’s some men in the back with button down shirts and ties and sprinkles of grey in their hair. They look seasoned, important. There’s a tall one with a beard and obvious muscles under his clean white shirt. I imagine what I would look like next to him. I’d wear high heels and stand up straight so we could look each other in the eye.
The scripts say, Free will shall return.
Seated a few tables away, there’s a young guy with an angular face and thick glasses. Clean-shaven. He’s seated across from his wife, but they’re not talking. Maybe he’s bored with her. He looks about ten years younger than me. I wonder if he likes women with experience.
The scripts say, When the world ends, you will be free.
My husband comes back from the bathroom and flashes me a smile. He’s a good guy. Honest and helpful around the house. A decent, but not adventurous lover. We’ve been together since college.
Sometimes it feels like the end of the world is taking too long.
They all start the same: Do not fear the singularity.
If I close my eyes, I pretend they’re falling from the sky, like pamphlets at war time on the Champs-Elysees. In reality, they spread via social media. Not the public feeds, although occasionally one of them pops up there. They’re shared in private groups, in DM, via encrypted email or those apps where the messages delete after a few minutes.
I grab screenshots and zoom in as if I’m looking for a long lost friend in an ancient school photo.
The instructions were quite detailed in the first iterations. They posit that the singularity, the moment when all the AI’s around the world, the computers that control our daily lives, become sentient and inevitably wage war against each other, thereby ending the world, is upon us. To prepare, they recommend a series of failsafe options.
First of all, take out cash. Hide it.
Stockpile food, medicine, toilet paper. The AI’s will pick up any illegal hoarding of supplies, so you must go to different stores in different counties in different days to avert suspicion.
Learn to use some kind of weapon.
Finally, find yourself an end of the world lover. Screw the AI arranged marriages. Fuck whoever you want.
That last part always makes me smile.
My husband is going away on a business trip. I help him fold and roll his clothes so he can fit the most in a carry-on.
“It’s going to be so quiet around here,” I tell him.
He smiles. “Housemate,” he calls to the air, waking up our house AI. “Play heavy metal.”
An avalanche of guitar and drum sounds ricochet around the house. He makes a mocking “rock out!” gesture and tries to pull me into a dance. I swat him away, laughing.
He’s often funny.
Virtual communities popped up to dissect and discuss the scripts.
There are a couple of different theories about why we started referring to them like that. Some say it’s because of the faintly biblical tone. Others because of the flowery font used in the text. I prefer the former.
I throw in comments here and there, but mostly I lurk. Most of these people are focused on supplies, food and such. Important, sure, but I’ve got other concerns. When the discussion finally veers towards the final commandant – or whatever you want to call it - I sit up a little straighter and type slowly into my phone.
We need a meeting place, I say. When things go to shit, some easily accessible place in every city and town where we can meet.
Everyone agrees, but where?
After some discussion, we decide on the most bland and unromantic place to avoid suspicion: Panera Bread.
It’s cold today so I’ve got my layers on as if I’m heading into battle. Inside, there’s one of those pockmarked rubber mats where I can stand and remove my scarf and hat and jacket, any excess ice just falls to the floor and disappears somewhere.
There’s a line of people culminating on a big screen. While standing and waiting, I look around at the people who populate a Panera Bread at eleven AM on a Tuesday. Could any of them be from one of my groups? I spot a handsome man behind a laptop screen. His hair is dark as night. He glances up at me and I don’t turn away.
I get to the front of the line and touch my thumb to the screen. The AI decides my food and drink order without consulting me. I want coffee and a bagel. The AI prescribes tea and a scone. As if I’m the fucking Queen of England. Below the order, there’s a green checkmark icon I have to click to receive my number placard. There’s no other options. I hesitate.
The lady behind me in line says, “You have to click to proceed.”
“I don’t want tea,” I tell her. I think she gasps.
The man in the dark hair is now definitely looking at me. Other people, too. I slap the screen, boldly, I think, then turn on my heel and leave the store. It’s not as dramatic as I would have hoped because I stop to put on my coat and scarf and hat.
But it’s a start.
Elad Haber is a husband, father to an adorable little girl, and IT guy by day, fiction writer by night. He has recent publications from Literally Stories, The Daily Drunk, and at The Night's End Podcast. You can follow him on twitter @MusicInMyCar or on his website, eladhaber.wordpress.com.