More Perfect

More Perfect

by Temi Oh
More Perfect

More Perfect

by Temi Oh

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Overview

A reimagining of the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, for fans of Becky Chambers and William Gibson by Alex Award–winning author Temi Oh.

Using the myth of Eurydice as a structure, this riveting science fiction novel is set in a near-future London where it has become popular for folks to have a small implant that allows one access to a more robust social media experience directly as an augmented reality. However, the British government has taken oversight of this access to an extreme, slowly tilting towards a dystopian overreach, all in the name of safety.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982142834
Publisher: S&S/Saga Press
Publication date: 08/15/2023
Series: Temi Oh
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 153,759
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Temi Oh wrote her first novel, Do You Dream of Terra-Two? while studying for a BSci in Neuroscience. It won the American Library Association’s Alex Award in 2020 and was an NPR Books We Love pick in 2019. She has written stories for Marvel’s Black Panther, Dr Who and Overwatch. Her second novel, More Perfect was published by Simon and Schuster in May 2023.Her first short film Murmur was funded by Sky Arts and the BFI. Since then, she has written on the Netflix TV series Castlevania: Nocturne and the CBBC series Silverpoint

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Moremi ‘Will it hurt?’ Moremi asks the girl from the sixth-form who sits opposite. The girl is lit in zebra-print by the slats in the blinds, holding a hot-water bottle to her stomach, and her hazel eyes keep flitting up to the muted television screen at the far end of the waiting room.

‘Only at first,’ she says.

‘That’s what everyone says.’ Moremi is nervous. She’s only been waiting in the school nurse’s office for a quarter of an hour, but already she’s chewed her thumbnail down to the quick.

‘Where does it hurt?’

This morning she’d been excited about the procedure – she is the last in her class to go through with it and has been begging her mother to sign the medical waiver for almost a year now. There is an asterisk next to her name on the school register, which indicates she is still ‘Pulseless’. Even the word, she hates.

The sixth-form girl casts Moremi a sideways glance as if considering how much of the truth to tell her. ‘Everywhere,’ she admits finally. ‘Your whole body, but only for a minute. Less than, maybe.’ Moremi swallows. ‘And not just your body, also... your mind.’

‘You mean, my head?’

‘No, it’s deeper than that.’ The girl frowns in recollection. ‘It’s a weird sensation. As if something is there that shouldn’t be. That feeling you get when someone is looking over your shoulder, only this is deeper, the machine eavesdropping on your thoughts, your memories.’ She touches her forehead with the palm of her hand. ‘It’s as if you’re not alone in here anymore.’

‘But that fades away after a while, right? That feeling?’

‘Not really,’ the girl says, fiddling with a loose thread on the edge of her school skirt.

Moremi rubs the miniature ballet slippers that dangle from a keychain on her school bag. For luck, like a rabbit’s foot. She’s done it so often, before an audition or a dentist appointment, that the satin at the toe-box has frayed now. She’d only been thinking of the moments after, how good it would feel once it was done; she’d forgotten about this, the scalpel, the pain.

The bulk of the device is the size of a five-pence coin, placed under the temporal bone. The sixth-former must have had hers implanted a while ago because the skin around it has completely healed over. Moremi can’t help but stare, even though she knows it’s rude. Around its central processing unit is a cluster of accessories – the pin-headed RAM, HPU, sensors and transmitters as well as optional drives – that make a ‘constellation’ of LEDs and metallic notches in the skin behind her ear. The girl wears her hair, as a lot of people do, to one side in order to make the lights of her constellation visible. Pinks right now, indicating that she is in mild discomfort, steady beat of her heart, the brightest light, throbbing like a distant drum. Moremi’s friend, Zen, had been the first to get one a few years ago and Moremi remembers leaning close to her head to marvel at it, an unnatural fusion of organic and mechanic that she used to find almost viscerally repellent.

‘How old are you?’

‘Thirteen,’ Moremi says.

‘Isn’t that a bit old?’ the girl asks, regarding Moremi with a familiar suspicion; some people consider parents who refuse to give their children a Pulse the same as parents who turn down vaccinations. ‘Have you watched the video?’

On the screen above them, it’s running on mute with subtitles. An informative broadcast about the implantation procedure. Moremi catches words like ‘direct neural interface’ as they flick across the monitor. ‘I’ve seen it a few times,’ she says. In doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms, on television. Something about it, today, makes her a little queasy. Maybe it’s the spongy pink schematic of the human brain. The nanoscopic fingers of the Pulse are called arrays. They measure less than one thousandth of the width of a human hair. Once the Pulse is implanted under the bone, millions of arrays extend, penetrating the thick membrane of connective tissue that surrounds the brain. The arrays spider through grey matter, routing around for cranial nerves: the optic and auditory neurons, the hippocampus – where memories are stored – and the amygdala to interface with.

‘So... it’s like brain surgery?’ Moremi says.

The girl snorts derisively. ‘Don’t be dramatic. My dentist does, like, ten of these a day. It’s like getting your ears pierced.’

They’ve learned a lot about the brain this year in biology. Moremi has discovered that it contains around 86 billion neurons. That the external world can be fractured into lines of analogue or binary code for it to interpret. The colour of the sky right now is a specific wavelength of light that sends a pattern of impulses into the back of her brain. A kiss on the cheek sets off fireworks of its own in her facial nerve. Strange to consider how rich her inner life appears to her – including at this moment, the smell of the waiting room, the glitter of dust in the air, the sound and sight of schoolchildren playing on the Astroturf out the window – even though it is simply the result of some chemical code disseminated through grey and white matter. Just as hard to believe that the whole of the internet, every picture and video, email and game, is written in the binary language of machines: ‘on’ and ‘off’ switches, 1s and 0s. It’s these similarities which make it possible for the machine to interface with her brain.

The Pulse is programmed to transform neural signals into lines of computer code and vice versa. The whole process has been called ‘neural digitisation’ and it allows the Pulse to turn the brain into another node on the internet. This means that once the procedure is over, Moremi’s head will be part of the internet in the same way a phone or a tablet computer is. The thought of it is astonishing and terrifying.

Her console makes a noise in her bag. Moremi scrabbles for it, and when she sees that it’s her mother, she races into the bathroom to answer.

‘How did it go?’ her mother asks.

‘It hasn’t happened yet,’ Moremi whispers. Through the window, she can see a group of girls from her class ambling to their final lesson.

‘I thought it was this morning.’

‘Oh! The audition.’ Moremi makes herself look away, focus. ‘Well, I think... I mean, I fumbled the last part of the adagio but—’ Even before she finishes she can hear her mother sigh. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It’s not me you have to apologise to.’

Moremi wants to say, ‘Isn’t it?’ Her mother almost never calls her out of the blue. These past few months, preparing for the auditions for the Regency Ballet School, have been some of the happiest of her life. She’s cherished the time they’ve spent together. Those late nights and early mornings in the kitchen, listening to her mother clap out the beat and say, ‘again’, ‘again’, ‘again’, with feeling. That elusive glimmer of pride in her eyes, the blessed light of her attention. It will all evaporate, Moremi knows, if she doesn’t make it through the next round of auditions, and her chances don’t look good.

‘If you could only focus,’ her mother is saying, and as she does, Moremi flips the tap, waving her hand to make the setting hotter and hotter, then forces herself to hold her fingers under the stream for as long as she can bear.

‘Where are you now?’ her mother asks.

‘I told you last week.’ Moremi grits her teeth at the pain in her fingers. When she finally snatches them away, steam curls like cigarette smoke off her nails. ‘I’m doing the... thing today.’

Heavy silence on the end of the phone. She can already imagine the expression her mother is making, her lip curling with disgust.

‘I forgot,’ her mother says finally.

‘I figured.’

‘You know, you don’t have to go through with it.’

‘But that’s the thing,’ Moremi says, ‘I want to.’ She would have had the procedure years ago if it wasn’t for her mother’s hesitations. Her older sister Halima had done it as soon as she was old enough to sign the consent herself.

‘I don’t understand you and your sisters. You’re already “connected” all the time. You have computers, consoles—’

‘Not connected where it matters.’ Moremi’s gaze drifts back to the girls who are walking into class, the same dozen feet, black leather Hush Puppies, almost in step. The other girls live on a different plane of existence. They live in the Panopticon, the network of networks, connecting everyone’s constellations to each other, and tethering them all to the internet. It’s the Panopticon that allows them to talk without opening their mouths, or to watch each other’s memories. She’s heard that they all wear filters on their skin, bat wings or cat ears that she can’t see. Sometimes their class teacher raises her hands like a musical conductor and everyone but Moremi says, ‘Oh!’

Over the past few Pulseless years, Moremi has lost every single one of her friends; she can’t understand them anymore.

‘Is that what you want?’ her mother asks. ‘To be like everyone else?’

Moremi says what she always says: ‘Of course!’

There is a knock at the door.

‘I have to go,’ she tells her mother.

Moremi’s resolve weakens a little, though, when she steps out of the bathroom and remembers how afraid she is of pain. If only there was a way around it, she thinks.

The nurse is calling her in now. Moremi stares at the door to her office and wonders what she will be like when she emerges. Will she emerge fundamentally altered? Or will it be different like turning thirteen was different, only an incremental change? The seconds before and then after midnight on New Year’s Eve on the dawn of some millennium? Different the way people say losing your virginity is different?

‘More-rem-me?’ says the school nurse, an overweight Filipino woman, before frowning at Moremi’s last name. She makes a familiar halting attempt, sounding out every syllable with none of the certainty of Nigerians.

‘Hi,’ Moremi says, and follows her in. The detergent tang of the room threatens to turn Moremi’s empty stomach. Lemon and pine-flavoured floor cleaner. Sponges soaked in iodine. The curtains drawn, and the place cold as a mortuary. She was told not to eat anything for twelve hours before the procedure, and now her gut is twisting itself in knots. It’s like getting your ears pierced, she tells herself, reaching her hand up to the little silver stud in her left ear and reminding herself of the day her mother took her and her two sisters to Claire’s Accessories to get them done. Her older sister, Halima, had been so nervous about the procedure that when the technician touched a Sharpie pen to her lobe, she burst into horrified tears. Moremi had been braver, but she still recalls that her terror in the moment before the needle punctured her skin was so much worse than the event. She still remembers how silly she’d felt on her way home, compulsively touching the gold hoops just to remind herself it had happened. It had been such an easy thing. Such a short moment of pain, nothing compared to the rest of her life.

In the centre of the room is what looks like a dentists’ chair. Several monitors have been set up to measure her vital signs, a glass console with a projection of her brain, as mapped half an hour earlier by the scanners, turning like a bloody moon.

‘Okay, then,’ the nurse says cheerily. ‘Are you ready?’

Moremi tries to smile, but then she spots the scalpels glinting on the equipment tray, blades silver under the sun-bright surgical lights. ‘Um...’ She can’t bring herself to say ‘yes’ yet.

‘It’s been a while since I’ve done this procedure on a pupil so old.’ The nurse eyes her suspiciously. ‘Are your parents...?’ She doesn’t want to say the word ‘Luddites’ or, worse, ‘Revelators’. She doesn’t want to ask if Moremi’s mother is the kind of person who burns down cell masts and carves stars into her skin as a sign of protest against the Panopticon.

‘No, nothing like that.’ Moremi is quick to jump to her mother’s defence, even though she has noticed that whenever the Revelators are arrested, her mother will never denounce their actions. Instead Moremi says, ‘I’m scared... it will change me.’

‘Of course it will change you,’ the nurse says, ‘but what doesn’t change you?’

She tuts near Moremi’s head where she guesses her date of birth is projected. ‘Thirteen. It’s too late, really. The way things are going, give it a generation and most people won’t even remember when they first get it. Which, they say, is the best thing, really. You know, the solid-state drive inside the Pulse is capable of storing a lifetime’s worth of memories.’

It is made up of a virtually indestructible quartz crystal capable of storing a zettabyte of data. That is, Moremi has seen in her study console before, one sextillion – one followed by twenty-one zeroes – bytes. A number so large it means almost nothing to her at all.

‘Research suggests we only remember about a tenth of the information we are presented with. Which is pretty appalling. If I ask you what you were doing at this exact moment last year? Seven months ago? Can you tell me? Probably not. And do you know that every time you recall something, the way your mother sings, your tenth birthday, the first time you ever jumped on a trampoline, you change the memory just a little. It’s not like replaying a DVD – oh, I know you don’t remember DVDs – you change a memory every time you recall it. Most of them slip right out of your head. Whole days, whole years, it feels like. More when you get older. Before we had the Pulse, there used to be this disease of forgetting, a real epidemic. It happened in the elderly. I’m a nurse, I still see what happens to old people who don’t get the procedure.’ She shakes her head sorrowfully. ‘A home I worked in a few years ago. This lady of eighty-five tossed all her family pictures in the trash. She kept shouting at me, “Who are these people? I don’t want these pictures!” It was heartbreaking to watch. You see it less and less, and in your generation, we won’t see it at all. For that reason alone, if it ever comes time to vote over “total adoption”, I know I’ll vote to give the Pulse to everyone. Let’s not forget anything. Not a thing.’

As Moremi sits down, the nurse adjusts the height of the chair then takes her wrist and says, ‘Okay now, you’ll feel a sharp scratch.’ Barely a moment, and the needle breaks her skin, cool liquid pours into her veins. Quickly, a numbness sets in and her muscles unspool.

‘This is a unique cocktail, devised by the Panopticon to aid this procedure. It’s called nox.’ The nurse straps a mask to Moremi’s face, and her jaw flops open as she breathes. ‘You might notice the taste’ – like bitumen and burnt sugar in the back of her mouth – ‘especially calibrated for your height and weight, this concoction will keep you asleep for the duration of the procedure.’

As Moremi’s mind peels away from the inside of her skull, the nurse’s voice takes on a tinny discordant ring.

‘The machine will wake you to a cue we recorded.’ The cue is a song that comes through a speaker with a childish soprano trill.

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques

Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?

‘... the cue will help you sleep as well...’

Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!

‘... Sleep paralysis sets in when...’

Ding dang dong.

She feels as if she could shrug her bones right off. Her mind is flung into a graveyard orbit, spinning out, out of her body, of school, of the sprawling city.

‘... here comes the machine.’

‘Is this the part that hurts?’ she wants to ask, but can’t. It is. Her mind is shunted back into a body full of pain. She screams, an animal howl of agony, every joint locking, every nerve on fire. They say it lasts a few seconds, but there is no time in this agony.

‘No!’ she shouts. But the machine is inside her now. Although she knows it’s impossible, she thinks she can feel its microscopic needles puncturing her skull. Spidering into her grey matter.

‘Make it stop,’ she cries. This was a bad idea. A mistake. Too late, now, to change her mind. ‘Make it stop!’ When she opens her eyes she can see nothing but the blinding surgical light, all faces eclipsed. Nothing but white-hot, searing rods of pain thundering through her bones. How much longer, she wonders, before it turns on?

They say it feels like falling. That falling asleep Pulseless for the final time really feels like tumbling off a cliff. And it does. She slips right out of her skin, elevator-drop plunge in her gut, like falling in a dream. Her life will never be the same. Her mind will never be the same.

What does it feel like to wake up in the Panopticon? It’s like waking up for the first time ever. It’s like waking up with a third eye. The nurse is beaming at her. ‘What can you see?’ she asks. It looks as if Moremi is staring at her from behind the lens of a digital camera. Her vision is dotted with points of light that resolve into letters, numbers. Cross-hairs appear around the nurse’s doughy features, as the retinal interface searches the Panopticon for a match. The nurse’s profile appears in a nimbus of translucent light floating around her. Moremi learns that her name is Julliana Sanchez, DOB: 3/04/2001, Occupation: Paediatric Nurse, Pimlico School, Children: 6.

‘You have six children?’

Julliana rolls her eyes. ‘That’s the part that everyone asks about. Did it tell you, too, that I speak five languages?’

‘Spanish, Portuguese, English, Malay and French, but only to a B1 proficiency.’

‘Senegalese ex-husband.’ She waves dismissively.

Moremi can’t help but try to reach out to touch the words, the way it’s hard to stop yourself from grabbing at bubbles. People call them ‘holograms’, but they are really ‘phosphenes’, hallucinatory points of light produced when the microarrays send electrical signals to her optic nerves, physiologically similar to the explosion of stars she sometimes witnesses when she rubs her eyes.

When she turns left, a projection on the window pane tells her there is a 90 per cent chance of drizzle between 4.26pm and 5.40pm, tells her that it’s T-shirt weather until then, expertly feeding information about her core body temperature against the weather predictions for that day. An architecture app spies the newly built maths block of the school and the profile of the architects is summoned up; Moremi waves a hand to dismiss it. After a while, the Panopticon will learn her preferences and only feed her information relevant to her profile and interests. It will point out her friends in a café. It will tell her if a celebrity she likes frequents the same coffee shop; it will define words she’s always wondered about. Answer questions before she’s thought to ask them.

When Moremi closes her eyes, the nurse activates the GrapeVine, the main memory-sharing app that she used to access on her console. Moremi already has a profile, and so her familiar dashboard floods the darkness behind her eyelids with light. Video tutorials, ironically spliced cartoon clips, Michael Jackson lighting up the sidewalk with his toes. Commercials. People liked to upload their own memories recorded off their quartz, which always look like poorly edited videos captured on a handheld camera. As Moremi’s Pulse configures to the local TV channels she sees space cowboys, beach getaways, a map of Manchester’s sewer system, discount sofas, gardening shows, sit-coms, a laugh-track running and running...

Group chats run audibly in the background, which gives the room the ambient sound of an overcrowded diner, different people talking, people she hasn’t spoken to in months, the school eco-society, her old ballet class, the girls on her apartment block who promised that they’d get together to make a newspaper but now do nothing but send each other ironic memes. All of their voices are in her ears, and Moremi feels as if her head is a radio, and someone is twisting the dials up and down. The nurse demonstrates the hand and eye motions that control the volume in her cochlear nerve.

She does a few more checks and then sends Moremi on her way, warns her to take it easy, give herself time to get used to it. ‘If you like, you can watch a couple of the tutorials on the Vine. But most people like to experiment. Think of this like a relationship, you need to get used to the way things are from now on.’

The school day is already over and when Moremi heads out into the street, it is gorgeously transformed, awash with hallucinogenic light. The sky spells ‘Hello, Moremi’ in soft ivory contrails. She strides past the brutalist red brick of the World’s End Estate, and onto the far end of the King’s Road.

Lots of the fun of the Panopticon is in the filters, which she can change with a swipe of her hand. It’s quite intuitive; Moremi is used to manipulating images and displays in the same way on her console. There are hundreds of millions of filters, arranged like apps with the most popular for her demographic first. There is the default one called InfoWorld, which fills her vision with relevant information. If she looks at a bus it tells her where it’s heading and what time the next one will arrive, street names float up in Comic Sans bubbles, there is an endless ticker-tape scroll of news headlines on the edge of the pavement. Moremi summons up the profiles of strangers, their names and ages. The Panopticon has a function that lets them know she is new to the network and lots of people smile and greet her.

Moremi heads into the local Polski Sklep and with the flick of a hand all the newspaper headlines are legible to her. ‘Czy moge ci pomóc?’ asks the woman behind the till after ten minutes of watching Moremi hold newspapers up to the light. ‘Can I help you?’ An automated voice reads in her cochlear nerve. The woman’s profile tells Moremi that her name is Zuzanna Wysocki, 26, and Moremi is so thrilled they can understand each other that she just grins widely.

‘No,’ she says, ‘Zuzanna.’ She can go anywhere now, with this device in her head. Talk to anyone and, as she steps back outside, she imagines conversing with a tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok, or a begging monk on the streets of Ginza.

It’s fun just watching the adverts playing in the shop windows. A translucent family lounging in striped pyjamas in the Sofa Workshop. Models dressed up for Ladies Day at Ascot in the window of Jane Taylor, invisible horses churning up the grass before their feet. There is a filter that turns the world sepia-toned so she can imagine she lives in an old photograph. There is a filter that the Year 7s love which gives everyone elf ears and manga eyes. Moremi has heard rumours of some X-rated filters that her child-locked Pulse won’t give her access to.

There is a girl walking her PanoptoPet, a pink creature with rabbit ears. Someone has built a Minecraft Taj Mahal in the middle of a garden square, and Moremi peers through the gates to admire the pixelated detail on the ivory blocks. At the bus stop, a girl casts a Patronus, a spectacular leopard the size of a bus that bounds down the street and then turns to smoke. Everyone who sees applauds. Moremi does, too. This new world is magic. Reality can be remade with the turn of a hand.

There is a couple outside Chelsea Old Church who’ve just got married. Moremi lingers for a while, taking in the satin of her dress. Annie Ross, DOB: 2/04/2023, and Peter Emmerson, DOB: 3/10/2015, their profiles say. They make her think of her parents, for some reason. There is only one picture of her mother and father on their wedding day, and Moremi has stared at it so often, the edges have faded a little. She would have given anything to have been there, to see them that happy – never so happy again.

It’s saved forever for this couple, though. Moremi imagines that this wedding is over and, very soon, the couple will leave behind the laughter, the music and the quick clicking of heels outside the courthouse. The grinning faces of their guests will vanish like smoke. Their few witnesses, who have lined up to say goodbye, along the cracked pavement, tossing dried petals. Annie and Peter run between them, she clutching her satin train, he flinching from their balled fists. Two people have lit sparklers even though it is daylight. Moremi imagines that the sweetest impressions of this moment will be saved in five dimensions of digital code, etched by lasers into the pound-sized quartz crystals in the sides of their heads. With a flick of her hand, Annie might be able to replay the instant again, or to share it with anyone. Only a generation ago, moments like these were made of nothing but memory, saved on nothing but neurones; carbon, salt and lipid membranes delicate as soap bubbles. So, maybe love doesn’t last forever. This exact moment can last until the end of time on a virtually indestructible disc; their young faces on the courthouse steps, naively optimistic, splashed with hysterical light.

During the same year that men first landed on the moon, two computers 560 kilometres away from each other made first contact. Moremi has seen a couple of black-and-white pictures of it, the birthday of the internet. She’s seen the computer scientists in flared trousers at the University of California and the Stanford Research Institute. They had meant to transmit the command ‘login’ but the transmission sputtered out, spelling only the two letters ‘L’ and ‘O’; ‘Lo,’ people liked to say, ‘lo and behold.’

The Panopticon was born in 2025, five years before Moremi was. She has seen the videos, photos, memes and spoofs of it, too. A crowd of scientists stand behind a pane of glass that overlooks a spartan exam room. Among them are the three founders, known as the Magi: Professor Jitsuko It o, a Nobel-prize winning neuroscientist; Bertram Fairmont, a billionaire philanthropist; and Hayden Adeyemi, a young hacker. In the videos, Ito sits with her eyes closed in the middle of a room, cross-legged and barefoot like a monk. There is a large machine on her head and her eyes are closed as she wills her mind to speak to their computer outside.

In the video, Hayden is standing before it, teeth clenched in anxiety. ‘Say something,’ he commands, over the intercom, the way that Alexander Graham Bell may have demanded when he picked up a telephone for the first time. A bated-breath silence as they watch the empty screen waiting to see Professor Ito’s words.

‘Lo and behold,’ she had said, in a nod to the way that history always repeats itself, and all the scientists gasp. The first time a brain speaks to a computer. In the recording, Bertram can be heard shouting for joy the way that Archimedes might have shouted, ‘Eureka!’ I have found it.

Hayden Adeyemi bursts into tears. And Moremi always wondered if they were tears of relief. Because life affords few moments like that. Few momentous thunderclaps of triumph. In between, and for years before, only failure and striving, exhaustion and self-doubt.

With all that came after, the recording has taken on the sheen of inevitable history.

In a TED talk a couple of years ago, Hayden asked the audience, ‘How many of you have ever felt lonely?’ Of course, every hand went up. He explained that the current incarnation of the Panopticon is only the beginning of his design. He promised that a time would come when the Pulse would not only store your own memories – incorruptibly and eternally – but soon it would be possible to inhabit the memories of others: loved ones and friends.

‘It will bring us together,’ he explained. Solve a fundamental human problem. The problem of other minds. ‘At the moment we are essentially alone. Consider sorrow. Pain. Consider love. The only experience we have of any of these phenomena comes from inside ourselves. You are the only person in the world who has ever been in pain. You only know what the sky looks like from behind your own eyes, and you experience the entire world, from your cradle to your grave, locked inside a cage of your own bones. What if you could be freed? What if you could understand what it really feels like to live behind your lover’s eyes? What if you could traverse their dreams as you would an island? You might never argue again. You might never say, with forlorn disappointment, “You don’t understand me at all.”?’

What is the sky like from behind her mother’s eyes? Moremi asks herself as she crosses Battersea Bridge and into the park. Does her heart break with wonder too, sometimes? It’s almost spring and a brisk wind whips up from the Thames as Moremi walks. Her Panopticon lets her know that she’s receiving a call. The lovely thing about a call on the Panopticon is that you hear your own name, in the caller’s voice, and it rings like a bell in a deep part of you. Remi: she could listen all day to the sound of her own name in her mother’s mouth. Remi. Such a strange sensation, someone’s voice inside her head. She fights the urge to turn around, or to touch the back of her skull.

Mum? She thinks the reply, imagining her mother on the other end, leaning into the speaker of her old console.

‘It went well?’ she asks, her voice full of tension. ‘No side effects. No headaches?’

‘It was fine,’ Moremi says. ‘Better than fine. I feel...’ How can she explain it to the uninitiated?

‘... like you’ll never be alone again?’

There is a sourness in her mother’s voice but Moremi only says, ‘Exactly!’

‘I’ll see you after work, okay?’ her mother says.

‘I love you,’ Moremi says, but her mother has disconnected before she hears.

Moremi takes a left, strides past the sub-tropical garden and into the woods. Last week, her younger sister, Zeeba, had told her that trees are social creatures. Apparently they ‘talk’ to each other through an underground network of roots. It turns out that even trees have their dramas. A dying tree divests itself of resources for the benefit of the community; a mother tree pushes nutrients to her sun-deprived sapling. A plant under attack from pests sends a warning to its neighbours. Some scientists are suggesting that the entire forest could be considered a super-organism.

There is a filter called Wood Wide Web that allows her to see it. Moremi stands in a wooded glade and turns it on with a hand gesture. It lights up the soil, revealing a root system that looks like molten lava, pulsing with life. Moremi drops to her knees in surprise at its beauty, buries her fingers in the loam. It’s so wonderful it’s almost terrifying. Under her knees are patches of moss as thick as a bear’s pelt, and she pushes her face in the dirt, tears in her eyes. She hadn’t realised how much pain she had been in until it was gone. Her loneliness. She imagines herself as a spindly oak, integrated, only now, into the network.

Moremi knows that Hayden believes there is a future where everyone has a Pulse; he called it ‘The Singularity’; had said, ‘We’ll be complete, like lovers – everybody. We’re calling it the Singularity. Science will take us there. Science will usher in the time of everlasting joy.’

There are people all around her. In her head, Moremi can feel their presence. Hear the susurrus of their voices. She will never be alone.

Hayden says that the Singularity is almost upon them. ‘It’s almost here,’ Moremi says to the network in her head. A promise that brings goosebumps to her skin. ‘?“Our mind will be an open eye, the eye of God.”?’

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