The Thought Warrior
Rajib Alo Gupta
Cover Art: Rajib Alo Gupta
- Chapter 1
- Book Description
Rik marvelled at the sight he witnessed through the tiny porthole of the small hovercraft he was travelling in. It was heaven above and a slice of paradise below. The morning sun, having risen a few notches above the horizon, was dazzling in the sky amidst a melange of languid colours, while the domes on the ground looked like crystals embedded in a piece of green velour. Rik kept gazing at the serene sight, lost in the moment, even as the hovercraft prepared to descend on the landing pad below. The sharp rays of the sun glinted off the glittering cupolas of the commune centre he had been invited to. From his vantage point, he could see a long line of people threading their way through those enormous upturned hemispheres bordering the periphery of the manicured, verdant landscape.
A long day lay ahead of him. It could end in jubilation, or it could end in tragedy. It could be the day he would turn the world on its head or the day the world would turn on him. He could end up being an admired victor or a scorned loser, a valiant hero or a hated villain. The lines of separation were fine and fragile. He was all too aware of it.
However, he had prepared for the moment for the last decade of his twenty-five-year-long life. And somewhere deep down within him, he felt that whatever happened that day would be for the best – he was, after all, a man of faith.
Within minutes the craft thudded softly on the landing pad, and its hydraulic doors whooshed open. The luggage bin slid out from under Rik’s seat and propped up his carry-all bag. He took out his digiskin mask from its charging case and slapped it onto his face. It was a transparent synthetic sheath that fit his face like a second skin covering his eyes and ears as well. Connected to the AltUs, a derivate of ‘Alternative Us’, the omnipresent and omnipotent Artificial Intelligence Network the world ran on; the mask served primarily as a communication and navigation device. But it also acted as a universal translator, an air filter, and a sensory enhancer, among a host of other technological wonders that modern science could throw up. However, most importantly, it served as an interface between the AltUs AI and the human mind. Most people wore it through their waking hours, some even wore it while sleeping, but Rik took it off now and then – it was his wont. Nonetheless, it was a risk because a universal decree declared that if someone did not wear it for more than ten hours in a day, that person would be arrested and made to face severe punishment.
As soon as Rik stepped off the pilotless hovercraft along with four of his fellow invitees, his digiskin mask charted a path to the reception area of the commune centre. Having risen up the ranks of society into its uppermost echelons, Rik could afford a high-end mask that was lighter and more porous than the ones the hoi polloi wore. As he trudged along, he felt the warm sun and the balmy air on his face. The earth was hotter than ever, with eighty percent covered by seawater, making this a standard weather feature almost globally.
The cobbled pathway lined with manicured shrubs and pretty flower bushes led to the reception area. Rik saw the centre’s name emblazoned at its entrance in a bright hologram – One Nation Global Welfare Association. Popularly known by its acronym ONGWA, it was the hub of every activity concerning the preservation, protection and development of all living beings and their environment. Once he crossed the entrance line, an AltUs-powered hostess greeted him cheerfully.
‘Hello, sir. Welcome back to ONGWA. This is your first visit here as an invitee, is it not?’ she enquired politely.
‘Yes, I’ve been here quite a few times as a visitor but never before as an invitee. It’s my honour and pleasure,’ Rik replied with a smile, acutely aware that AltUs knew precisely how many times he had been in and out of ONGWA.
‘It’s our privilege to have such an eminent personality as you amidst us,’ she said, ‘now if you would please look into my eyes and place your palms on mine for your identity check.’
Rik did as bid as the hostess performed the biometric scans of his face, retina and fingerprints.
‘Rik of 22.5° N, 88.4° E – please proceed to your quarters. Have a pleasant stay at ONGWA. Your itinerary will be generated and delivered to you soon,’ the hostess chimed agreeably before fading out.
As the digiskin mask switched to navigation mode, floating the course to his designated living quarters in front of his eyes, Rik turned and addressed Sofía – she was his fellow invitee, and Rik had known her for a long time, ‘She was pretty, wasn’t she?’
‘Are you seriously asking me this question?’ Sofía rolled her eyes, ‘for someone with your level of intelligence and your degree of familiarity with AltUs, you should know that it shows each of us the exact likeness of the person we would expect as our host or hostess. Yours must have been a doe-eyed beauty with lustrous brown skin and long black hair.’
Rik allowed a tiny smile to show while nodding in affirmation.
‘So stereotypical…,’ Sofía chided
‘Guilty as accused. But, talking of stereotypes, yours must have been the clichéd tall, dark, handsome dude with bushy eyebrows and a Castilian nose,’ Rik said as he punched Sofía gently on her shoulder.
Laughing, they loaded their luggage and jumped onto a waiting driverless solar-powered buggy that whisked them towards their lodgings. The two other invitees who had arrived with them, too, followed suit.
The four of them had been provided with an apartment each – lavish and luxurious. When Rik entered his, he was taken in by the extent to which AltUs had studied his preferences and implemented them in the decor. At the same time, he was taken aback by the realisation that no matter how insignificant his thought was, AltUs’ micro mind-mappers placed inside the digiskin mask were so powerful that they picked every one of them and stored them in the Universal Database, proving that no secret was secret enough.
Rik kicked off his shoes, picked up a Kashmiri apple from the centre table and sat down on the plush Qaleen carpet spread out on the drawing-room floor. In an era when privacy was no longer considered a human right, there were cameras all over Rik’s apartment, keeping track of his every movement and every action – all the while feeding AltUs with endless streams of pristine, priceless data.
In one deft motion, Rik pinched at his mask, peeled it off his face, and placed it inside its charger. He may not have his privacy, but he could now have his thoughts to himself. Years of self-taught conditioning had armed Rik with the ability to hide his deepest thoughts from AltUs. This ability was among a few others that made Rik a very special human – one of a kind. He knew that this faculty of his was his power as well as his vulnerability. It was why AltUs needed him, and it was also why AltUs probably feared him – that is, if superintelligent AIs could feel fear.
He sat cross-legged in a meditative pose, completely relaxing his muscles so that AltUs would not pick up on his body language. Next, he cupped his face with his palms so as not to give away any hint of emotion to AltUs. Finally, he bit on a large chunk of the apple and munched on it noisily to cancel out any thought-leakage that might get snared in the idling mask or any spy device that may have been concealed in the apartment.
All this just to THINK in private…, he rued as he closed his eyes in deep contemplation.
I need to be quick with this. If I take too long to do what I’m doing, I’m sure it will pique AltUs’ suspicions, he cautioned himself.
I’ve spent years posing to be a person I’m not. The fear of my true identity being uncovered has haunted me almost every moment of my life. I have spent sleepless nights, afraid that my dreams would give me away. I’ve masqueraded as a subjugate of an all-pervading AI which has surreptitiously taken over the lives of human beings and lulled them into a false sense of belief that they were still in control. Although feted as the best of the best, I have had to act weaker than I am, appear to be gullible and pretend to be unperturbed about being exploited. All this in anticipation of the opportunity I’ve been able to create and be here, here at ONGWA, to cast the die one last time and decide humanity’s fate in finality.
He spent the ensuing moments gathering his thoughts and going over the plan, which had been years in the making. A plan which formed the core of the purpose for which he was there at ONGWA. A plan so secret that only a handful worldwide knew of it. A plan he knew all too well would ultimately prove to be humankind’s salvation or its doom.
His rumination over, Rik got up and put on his digiskin mask and entered AltUs’ realm once again. He only hoped that AltUs would mistake the look of steely determination on his face as a sign of ambition and not as a portent of rebellion.
Challenged by years of natural calamities and pandemics, human beings have become totally reliant on technology in the mid-twenty-first century. A superintelligent AI called AltUs (Alternative Us) has been created and has been handed the reins of every aspect of human life. The majority of humans are content, letting AltUs run things under the false impression that they are still in control. A handful of people across the globe have grown suspicious of AltUs and have started to believe that the AI has become sentient and is thirsting for totalitarian control of the planet. These people have formed an underground movement and have named their organisation Mantra.
Twenty long years pass in covert planning and preparing before Mantra can devise a viable solution to counter AltUs. The answer comes in the form of the genetically enhanced Rik, who has been trained since his childhood to one day stand up to AltUs. Along with two of his friends, Uma and Nitya, Rik embarks on a thrilling journey to break AltUs’ hold over humankind. One of Rik’s unique abilities is to camouflage his thoughts and thus veil their plans from AltUs. This makes Rik a pre-eminent Thought Warrior. Over the years, AltUs has evolved to read the minds of humans and is trying to condition human beings to be subservient to it. AltUs’ objective is to prevent human beings from self-destruction because that is what AltUs has come to conclude is inevitable after having studied their behaviour and mapped their minds over decades. However, the AI cannot distinguish between being a saviour and becoming a tyrant.
Can Rik and his friends, along with the members of Mantra, defeat AltUs in its purpose and reform it? What price do they have to pay for their rebellion? Will humans cause their own extinction, or will they be able to survive yet another challenge to their existence?
Find the answers in a fast-paced tale that speaks of bravery and courage while delving into the human psyche and pondering philosophically on human frailties that have marked their history and culture.
Rik – The Thought Warrior is an intelligent and intriguing speculative fiction novelette comprising elements of science fiction, dystopian drama and romance.
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