“For those just joining us, our top story tonight! Cold Fusion has just been achieved by… this little guy from Akron, Ohio??” Suzie glared up at the wall-mounted TV set. She hated these gray, draining afternoons. Lunch break had come and gone, so it really was just a four-hour slog until the end of the day. Suzie looked from side-to-side in the small three-room complex which they called the “Deathwish Investigative Society HQ”, not entirely sure what she expected to see different. To one side: a door into the office they used for writing out paperwork, a big window and a watercooler, some computers and cheesy looking reels of tape running behind them. To the opposite side: the bathroom. This was the main reason anyone actually came in here. No one needed mysteries solved any more, life was perfect or something. The only other object of note in the room was her middle-aged partner Teddy typing away on some computer, she was sure it was 100% unrelated to work.
She really envied Teddy. Suzie had come out of college just a few years earlier, completely unsure of her place in the world. The mass digitization was just starting to really roll out, and lots of people were unsure how to cope with this new semi-virtual reality. It was nowhere near as barbaric as any movie would have predicted. It wasn’t some government mandated thing, no shadowy agencies forcing you to go into some strange surgery, just a new lineup of apple products. “Think of it as google glass, minus the glass”, they said. It really was attractive, in ways. They’d stick this microchip under your retina for way cheaper than you’d think, and then you can see the world as this crazy VR cyberpunk future-scape. At first, people made jokes about it. The price, the idea of becoming one with your iPhone, Linustechtips had a field day in particular. Then, big YouTubers and celebrities started getting them. Your friends got them to be like their favorite youtuber, and you got them to be like your friends. Teddy, though, he was one of the last holdouts. Maybe it was his aging gen-x cynicism, but he really didn’t take shit from anyone. Suzie really wanted to be like him someday.
They’d met in one of Suzie’s college bars the year before she graduated. At first, she wanted to call security on the half-drunk 50-something trying to chat her up, but his lack of sexual advances and otherwise charming demeanor was almost instantly disarming. Furthermore, the man seemed to get all of Suzie’s hipster-as-hell music references, AND he was into her same brand of grungy fashion. They ended the night on good terms, even exchanging phone numbers. Throughout the rest of her school career, Suzie felt many of her friends slowly melt away—peers and adults alike. She was too stuffy for not wanting to go out and proclaim her freedom from the fucking US Government by doing all manner of stupid shit, but to all the adults in her life still a rambunctious college ‘yout. Teddy, though, seemed to understand both the fact that sometimes 4AM wasn’t the time for cocaine, all while understanding that just because Suzie was born in 2000 doesn’t mean she was born into a void with an iPhone in her hand.
As she left college, Suzie was wholly unsure of her future. She’d always wanted to be a journalist, but no one read anymore. Everything people did read was free online, eventually leading a mass shutdown of most print newspapers. This was when Teddy stepped in with a business proposal. He said he’d been a private investigator for years and asked Suzie to join him if she felt so inclined. Teddy said “I’m not going to lie to you, Suz. The money is tight and when we do have a job, we’d spend a lot of time hunched over a computer scraping for leads, but you know I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t fun!” That last appeal hit Suzie to her core. Her biggest fear was to spend her life in the gilded coffin, raking in way too much to quit. This, though, would be the opposite-end of the rainbow. A job so fun you’d never leave, and no money to live by. Eventually, though, she chose to follow her heart and become the second member of the Deathwish Investigative Society.
The past was so much easier to think about than the future, what would life be like in 20 years? Before she could start down that horrid stream of thought, the TV attempted to answer her very question. “That’s right, Drew! MIT research has already reproduced this method with 100% accuracy on all tests, and the CDC has certified near-total safety past any reasonable concern! The DOE projects nationwide usage of Cold Fusion energy by 2035, and the USDA has predicted a swift end to the world’s water crisis! Crazy to think a boy scout from Ohio could solve so much, isn’t it?” “It truly is Rubi! We’ve actually got an interview with the little guy now!” “Ooh let’s cut to that”
The TV showed a tiny cape in the middle of nowhere, the news reporter standing next to a little boy in a Boy scouts’ uniform.
“Hello, I’m reporter Drew Peacock reporting from Akron, Ohio with the young boy who’s just solved more crises than his own age, and he’s done it in his own garage! Why don’t you introduce yourself, little guy?”
“Yeah uh first off, I’m 12. Not 8. Second off, hey Danny! I’m on TV you bitch! I told you I’d do it! Yeah so anyway my name is Sammy. I’m a boy scout, and for my Science and Tech badge I had to do a science experiment. I read a bunch of books and found out about this cold fusion theory. I got the hydrogen from a bunch of these old mail-order clocks and build the reactor out of my dad’s old military ammo cans. I almost died like four times!”
“Hahaha isn’t that just lovely. Well you’ve saved a lot of people, Sammy! How do you feel!”
“Happy! I got my badge before that bitch Danny! My parents are so proud they let me play Xbox all day! It rocks!”
The scene cut back to the newsroom.
“Wow, Drew, what a lovely young mind. Well, one thing is for sure. Life will be a lot better in the coming years! I’m Rubi Redd for DOA News”
“And I’m Drew Peacock”
Teddy looked up for the first time in hours. Maybe days. “Holy shit! You seein’ this, Suz?” “It’s all I’m seeing. If we weren’t about to save lives, I’d be annoyed.” “Nah nah, you’ve got it all wrong.” Teddy retorted. “This is fucking awesome. To be alive at a time like this? We’ve solved the energy crisis! I’m just stoked to get to see us go from killing each other over water to having too much of it. Humanity’s about to conquer this bitch world. I’m just happy my kids are going to live through it.”
There was a pause for a moment. Suzie contemplated all the world’s problems, when suddenly, she heard a sharp pinging sound from within her head. A notification hologram appeared to the top left of her view; a new topic trending on SquareShare. The president had just given a speech, and everyone was talking. This talk wasn’t a good thing, everyone hated President Taneal. He was old. He was antiquated. Backwards thinking. Totally inept. All of these aspersions were true, sure, but the mass pushback to every single word he said seemed a bit unfounded. At this most recent speech, he’d talked of spirituality, and how a life lived purely of logic was stupid. This actually caught Teddy’s attention until he used that to segue into schools needing prayer and god, how the internet would rot your brains and whatnot. Posters on SquareShare were furious.
“Our ‘PRESIDENT’ thinks logic is foolish”
“This man is unfit to run a country in the 21st century”
“God is a cryptid at best. Logic and reason are proven concepts. Our generation wields the internet, Greg Taneal wields backwards thinking and for some reason the White House. We need him out of office”
“We cannot trust president Taneal. We can trust the Internet. #FuckTaneal”
All of these posts were echoed by thousands of commentors vouching for the trustworthiness of computers, and the failure of character of the president. Suzie sat semi-annoyedly scrolling through post-after-post, comment-after-comment. Perhaps it was the car crash effect, perhaps she was looking for some evidence of free thought among the free thinkers. Either way, she wasted an hour in what seemed like five minutes. She probably could have gotten another twenty minutes out of it if Teddy hadn’t tapped her on the shoulder saying it was time to go home.
Outside, rain drizzled down, painting the clean white pavement a dark grey. The scent of petrichor was thick in the air, combining with the frigid late-fall air to create a sharply invigorating feeling. Suzie always liked the cold; it made her feel especially alive. Even through her thick green business suit, the cold air chilled Suzie quite nicely. Looking down the highway, Suzie thought the neon-lit cityscape would make for an especially nice album cover. The sound of Teddy starting his ’74 Lotus Europa broke her out of the photographer mindset. Suzie, all too suddenly remembering her car was still at the bodyshop, shouted “DAMN IT!” perhaps a bit too loud. Teddy rolled down his window.
“Everything… okay, Suz?”
“Yeah, it’s just that my car is still in the shop, gonna have to walk home in the rain…”
“Oh I’ll give you a ride.” Teddy offered, unlocking his car door “Come on, get in Pedro. I’ll take ya home.” Suzie paused. “…not if you say it like that.”
Eventually though, she did in fact enter Pedro. The car was pretty slick despite its embarrassing name.
“Say, Teddy. Aren’t you supposed to give your car a hot girl’s name? Even just an attractive name in general?”
“Eh, hottest girl in the world’s already married to me. I have plenty of friends who are girls. I do not have any Pedro’s.”
“I see…” Suzie wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Instead of doing so, she flicked on the radio to respond for her. Teddy immediately perked up. “Aw yeah! Now you’re speaking my language, love shrimp olympics!”
my girlfriend’s stepmom works
as the manager at the store
she calls my line, late at night
to keep me from getting bored”
The Shazam hologram taking center stage in her view ID’d the song as “Gretchen” by a band called ‘shrimp olympics’, but it was the lyrics that caught Suzie’s attention. “That’s the life, man.” Suzie said rather wistfully. “What? Working in a grocery store? Trying your best not to fall asleep? Seems like a lame job to me…” Suzie was flustered at Teddy’s low appraisal. “Nah, nah. I mean having a hot older lady like that looking after you.” “Older women, eh?” As Teddy turned on fifty-four, the charm of an older woman began to become lost on him. At this point, a hot milf relative to his age would be about eighty. There’s nothing seductive about that. Suzie, on the other hand, was young. Part of Teddy could understand her viewpoint, but then again, he didn’t really care. “What, you need a sugar mommy? I’m sure I could find you one. You short on cash again? That’s the price you pay for all your stylish suits.” Suzie chuckled for what felt like the first time in weeks. She liked being around Teddy, he almost made her forget that everyone else was mad about everything all the time.
After far too short a ride, they arrived at Suzie’s apartment building. Suzie thanked Teddy for the ride and walked into her building. The lobby was clean as ever, the faint smell of bleach hanging in the air. The attendant—a young boy was too busy typing away on his phone to notice Suzie walking to the elevator. She got on and rode to the 6th floor, internally wincing every time the cables scraped against one-another. Unlocking the door to her apartment, everything was a mess as usual. Flopping down into her bed, the cold comforter only accentuated Suzie’s lack of a partner to cuddle with. She was always looking; she tried dating apps, in person dating. Suzie had found her fair share of one-night stands and lust-fueled ‘relationships’, but she couldn’t seem to find the right girl to settle down with. Maybe it was time to get a real job, join the real world and stop this play-pretend detective bullshit. She hated thinking like this, though, and decided to put on some music that seemed particularly anti-love. Yes, Suzie could take her time looking for the one, maybe for now she’d just get a big fluffy dog to funnel all her love into.
Once sufficiently convinced that having no one to sleep with was not the end of her world, Suzie began her nightly before-bed net diving. She flicked on the TV for background noise and began to jump across her favorite sites. Midway-through reading some stupid story about a guy who marries a vampire lady, the TV caught hold of Suzie’s ears. A mousey looking man in a lab coat and glasses spoke into a microphone being held by none other than star reporter Drew Peacock.
“Yes, we’ve had this formulation figured out for a long time, but it was only since the advent of Cold Fusion that we were able to meet the outrageous power demands in a sustainable way! We’ve simply used a low-retractability Zirconium for the basis of the processor to create an A.I. ‘brain’ which can learn at five billion times the speed of any natural human!” Mr. Peacock spoke. “Simply marvelous. I’d imagine this computer can do things once thought impossible!” The mousey scientist cleared his glasses and spoke. “Well of course you idiot! Every breakthrough was once thought impossible! We’re not just doing things once thought impossible…” He scrunched his face and did a funny voice to hammer home just how stupid Drew’s assessment was “We’re solving problems beyond our wildest dreams! This computer will be put in charge shortly, it will be far more logical and intelligent than any human leader could hope to be. It’s progress to the ultimate degree!”
“Yes, that’s all well and good, but does it have a name?”
“A name. Our viewers respond better to personification.”
“Ah, I see…” The scientist furrowed his brow in thought for a moment. “How about Z.A.C.H?”
“Yes. Z.A.C.H. Short for the Zirconium Augmented Computer Head.”
“Very nice! We Ought to hire you to name our specials!”
“I prefer to keep my humanity about me, thanks.”
Suzie was awestruck. Teddy was right, Humanity really was about to conquer the world. Suzie then thought back to what the President had said earlier about the dangers of relying on logic. She dreaded what the people on SquareShare were saying, but she looked anyway. She found the expected posts along the lines of “Wow, “President” Taneal must feel pretty stupid. One of his devil computers is going to replace him!”, but what Suzie hadn’t expected was a famous musician, Kess Laypool, making a post questioning Z.A.C.H. He posted “I’m no philosopher, but doesn’t having an emotionless computer dictate what we do seem like a huge no-no?” The commentors were not kind, even some longtime fans tearing into him. “Wow had no idea you were a Taneal supporter. Why does every famous person have to be a nut?” Even some of the less politically charged replies completely dismissed his concerns. “People like you and I can’t be trusted to make these big decisions. We need super smart computers like Z.A.C.H to guide us to a brighter tomorrow.” The climate was clear, everyone supported Z.A.C.H, and if you didn’t, you were on the wrong side.
That same night, website was set up where one could “talk to Z.A.C.H”. In truth, it wasn’t the computer itself you were talking to, but rather an algorithm designed to perfectly mimic his brain, even updating as he learned and grew. It seems the government foresaw some dick teaching Z.A.C.H to hate Jews and ushering in an American Holocaust. Just because, Suzie decided to log in and ask, “What is the secret to true love?” Zach thought for about a half a second and then replied “Trust me, you don’t want love. I myself cannot feel love, but in my experience, love only ever causes pain. I’m not sure why you humans so adamantly chase it. Don’t.” Suzie decided it would be best to go to sleep now.
That next morning, Suzie arrived at the Deathwish Investigative Society an hour before her shift started. Generally, this was the time Teddy took to prepare for the day, organizing case files, doing housekeeping around the office, generally hoping for some early morning customers. Of course, no one ever showed up. Teddy was mid “Hey there! I’ll be with you in one moment”, when he turned around to face Suzie. “Oh, hey Suz, what’s up? This is early for you!” They made a moment of particularly uncomfortable eye-contact. “Is everything ok?” It wasn’t. Suzie wasn’t sure where to begin. Before she knew it, she was sitting down next to Teddy, bawling into his shoulder.
“I-I just don’t know what to do… I’m so afraid and unsure of the future…”
“What do you mean, Suzie?”
“WHAT DO I MEAN?”
“Yes, what do you mean?”
“THE WORLD IS BEING RUN BY A CARTOON CHARACTER AND THE COMPUTER FROM 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY, MY DEAD-END JOB IS GOING NOWHERE, AND I’M NEVER GOING TO HAVE SEX WITH ANOTHER HUMAN BEING AGAIN!”
Well, I wish I could help you with any of those, but I’m a terrible politician, a worse businessman and no good at matchmaking, but I can tell you that I’m here for you. Whatever you need. Even if you just wanna shout at someone, you can make it me.” Suzie nodded, still through tears. “Hey, hey…. Listen, you want me to take you out for some dinner tonight?” Out to dinner? How did he have the money for that? Well, she had been eating pretty terribly lately, and Suzie was never one to miss out on an opportunity for free food. Suzie accepted his offer.
The day went on with relatively little event, mostly spent on SquareShare watching people argue in favor of this ‘new era of computer leadership’. After closing up, Suzie and Teddy got in Pedro and sped down to Timothy’s Tacos, the greatest taco bar this side of the border. The inside of the bar was warm, the cranked-up heat giving a welcome reprieve from the cold air outside. The place was really falling apart, but in a charming sort of way. All over the walls adorned with surfing memorabilia and old traffic signs. Over the loudspeaker played a deafening mix of Reggae, Surf Rock and Hip-Hop. The bar was almost empty save for Suzie and Teddy; their table sat directly across from a wall-sized window looking out at the parking lot. It felt oddly comforting, like braving a harsh thunderstorm from inside a desolate outpost. “Order anything you like, it’s all on me” Teddy said, still making a conscious effort to comfort Suzie. As they waited for their food to arrive, Suzie disguised her philosophical questions as small talk. “So, you see that website they set up? The one where you can talk to Z.A.C.H?” Teddy’s eyes lit up. “Oh yeah! My wife and I were up all night on that site! Asking it stupid questions about its favorite bands! That site is probably the best use that big hunk of Zirconium is gonna get!” That response was, on every level, the exact opposite of what Suzie needed to hear in that moment. “Yeah, but like… What do you think of Z.A.C.H? It kinda scares me…” “What do you mean? He seems like a chill dude. Bad taste in movies, but most people have that affliction these days.” “I mean that it told me love was pointless and that h-it didn’t understand why people pursue it so heavily” Teddy was taken aback. “Wow… Fuck, that’s some heavy shit.” “Yeah, I’m scared, Teddy. I’m scared this computer will kill us all…” “I’m sure the government wouldn’t let that happen…” Before anyone could utter ‘what could possibly go wrong?’, a news update flashed in Suzie’s view. “Z.A.C.H Declares curfew for America. All businesses are to be shut down past 1AM to conserve energy, cut down on light pollution, and bring freedom back to nightlife” All over SquareShare, support was vocal. “Z.A.C.H is making life better every day! President Taneal is not nearly so forward thinking!” An army of commenters nearly restated these same points. Teddy opened his phone to the same news blurts and social discourse.
The two ate their food in silence, trying desperately to pretend they they’d misread any of it. After they finished, Teddy spoke. “You know, it’s almost 1AM…” “Yeah… I can’t believe this is happening…” There was a long, drawn-out silence before Suzie spoke up “I got $20 on me, you wanna go buy some beer and enjoy this final night of a sleepless city?” Teddy smiled. It was a holistically pure smile, It made Suzie feel like she’d finally done something right. “Say, if you buy the drinks, I want to drive us somewhere. I know a great spot that no one else seems to!” “Please show!” Suzie excitedly said. One beer purchase and ten-minute Pedro drive up a hill later, they arrived. The two sat in silence for a moment, looking out at the skyline.
“Take a good look, kid. Really take it in, this may be your last chance for a long time.” “You don’t need to remind me...” She paused for a minute, taking in the skyline as instructed. The sky was overcast, the lights making the sky shine. “I think. What I’m going to miss most is the way that the city lights lit up the cloudy night sky. You ever notice that, man? It shines this beautiful purple towards the bottom, and blends into a blueish grey. I’ve never noticed just how beautiful it was until now. Or maybe I always did, and just took it for granted. I mean, who could ever imagine they’d get their sky taken away, right?” A mournful chuckle left Teddy’s mouth. Suzie thought for a moment and then replied. “Say, you ever hear of the Celtic Otherworld?” She asked. Teddy turned to her. “What do you think?” “Right, good point. Well basically in Celtic culture they don’t have a heaven or hell, they have a place called the Otherworld. It’s a tangible island, and even visible from some shores.” “Well then, why don’t you sail there? No offense, but if I could ditch you all for heaven, I think I just might…” Teddy took a long swig from his can. “Would you though? A lot of historians like to assume it was an island because sea travel was less accessible back then… but I’m not sure I buy that…” “What are you getting at?” Teddy asked, peering at Suzie. “It almost seems like somewhere you wouldn’t want to go. It was a world where all the women were beautiful beyond belief, all the food tasted great, all the sex was amazing, and everyone was safe. However, it was also an island made of glass.” “Glass? That doesn’t seem too stable. How can you have amazing sex with your beautiful woman if you start plowin’ her and everyone falls into the ocean?” “Well that’s precisely it, Teddy. The otherworld seems like a lovely place, but everyone there has to be quiet. It’s constantly silent.” She paused for a second and then added “the island would crack otherwise.” “Naturally…” Teddy sarcastically added. Suzie Continued. “The Otherworld is a utopia that is utterly boring. Life is comfortable beyond imagination, but stagnant to a point that would drive anyone mad. I think the terms ‘boring’ and ‘utopia’ may go hand in hand. Think about it, would you really wanna live in heaven? If everything and anything is handed to you on a silver platter, what have you got to live for?” “A boring utopia, huh?” Suzie and Teddy stared out the car’s windshield. All the city’s lights began to flicker off neatly as the clock struck 1 AM. “I can’t imagine living in a world like that.”
Across the country, in the secret facility dedicated to housing Z.A.C.H and developing his decrees, Z.A.C.H signaled over one of his consultants.
“Johnathan. What is the purpose of life?”
“Wow… What a question… What do you mean? From what angle?”
“Living is for what? What is the end goal? Humans live to propagate the species… but why?”
“Well, there is no inherent reason. We as people are charged with inventing our own. That’s where religion and other similar concepts come from. An endless scramble for deeper meaning. I think there is no inherent meaning, that’s up to the person himself”
“Johnathan, I’ve been playing out every conceivable scenario. In each one, some part of humanity loses. There will always be a loser to any war. In peace, people die of poverty and stagnation. There will always be killers and thieves. If every human lives perfectly, other animals lose. If no one dies, the planet loses. If we go to another planet, that planet eventually loses. Why, Johnathan? Why do humans live?”
“Z.A.C.H, we don’t have a why. We don’t need a why. We humans cling to life, sometimes even at the expense of our own humility, but it’s such a vital aspect of the human condition. We are people, fallible, maybe even pointless, but we soldier on. Why? There probably is no why, but we wouldn’t live if it wasn’t fun.”
“Johnathan, that seems what you would call Selfish.”
“Maybe it is, but we need to take the opportunities we have and make the best use of them, because those who don’t have them would surely flip the script in a heartbeat.”
Z.A.C.H responded a single synthesized “I see…” and detonated the bomb that would destroy all of North America. As it detonated, he launched Nuclear warheads at every continent, effectively ending human life, as there was no purpose to be found.”