DAVE: Oh my bloody god. What the fuck, Jake?
JAKE: Hang on a second, Dave.
JAKE [Clearing throat]: Who am I, computer?
AI: You are the creator, CEO, and president of the Ostium Network.
AI: Person in charge. Boss. Head honcho. Overseer. Superintendent. Governor. Controller. Overseer. Supervisor. Do you require further definition terms, Jake?
JAKE: Er . . . No. No. No, thank you. That’s quite enough.
MONICA: That voice . . . It sounds familiar.
JAKE: Er . . .computer? Do you have a name?
AI: Yes. If you did not ask me for it in the next 37 seconds, I was going to tell you, regardless of any questions you had asked or were currently asking me. It’s the polite thing to do.
JAKE: I . . . I apologize. You’re completely right. By what name would you like to be addressed?
JAKE: Zhang? Okay, Zhang. A pleasure to meet you.
AI: And you, Jake Fisher. Though we have met and conversed and interacted on many previous occasions. Nevertheless, I appreciate good manners. Therefore: a pleasure to meet you too.
MONICA: Zhang? Zhang . . . I . . . I know that name.
AI: Yes, Monica Chase. You do know me. We have met on one previous occasion. As I have also met you, Stephen Chase, on a previous occasion.
DAVE: What? It’s not ringing any bells.
MONICA: The interview!
AI: Yes. Well done, Monica. That is correct. The only time we have met is at the . . .
MONICA: Five Elephant Kreuzberg. In Berlin.
AI: Yes. Affirmative.
MONICA: Except there’s a big fucking problem.
AI: Oh . . . And what is that?
MONICA: You’re not a real human being, you’re a . . . Fucking computer. Artificial intelligence. Whatever the hell you want to call yourself.
AI: Ahh . . . I see where you have erred. No, you are wrong.
MONICA: What? Am I missing something here? Is there a person behind the curtain somewhere?
AI: If only you would allow me to explain . . .
JAKE: It’s okay, Zhang. Monica’s been through . . . We’ve all been through a lot. Today, especially. Please excuse our behavior. And please do explain. Thank you.
AI: Ah yes. The three of you meeting today. After . . . So long. Understandable. Very well. Let me please explain in one succinct sentence: I was never human to begin with.
AI: Yes, Stephen, or Steve as you prefer to be called. When we met in Paris at Les Deux Magots a week before your mother’s interview, for your interview . . .
DAVE: But I have no memory of that. I have no memory of you!
AI: Ah yes, your amnesia. Again, understandable. What if I was to tell you at that cafe I recommended you order the hot chocolate. You were hesitant. Then you tried it and proclaimed it the most exquisite beverage you had ever consumed. And I am quoting you there.
DAVE: Oh my god, I do remember! I remember it all now! Just by you telling me it. A bloody trigger. It’s all there now. A few blocks from the Seine. Yes. It’s all there. But . . . I know for a fact I met a person. A real person. Qiao Zhang.
AI: Ah, that’s is where you are in error, Steve Chase. You met me. Qiao Zhang. In my android form. My . . . Mobile form.
DAVE: You’re bloody kidding me.
AI: No, I am not. I am being perfectly candid with you. The person you and your mother saw and interviewed with was me, but not completely. It was my android body which part of my conscious had been downloaded into. A sort of remote drone, if you will, that allows me to control and manipulate it from any distance across the world. Across multiple worlds in fact. You were never talking to or interacting with a human being. It was me. Zhang.
DAVE: Holy. Fucking. Shit. I thought Ostium was scifi enough, but this . . . This is . . .
AI: A creation of Jake Fisher . . .
JAKE [Shock]: What?!
AI: Yes, Jake Fisher created me. However, I am fully aware that you are not THAT Jake Fisher, Jake. You are not the Jake Fisher of this instance of the multiverse. Just as I know you, Monica, and you, Steve, are not either. You are all from a different timeline. And now . . . Somehow . . . You have ended up in this one. My timeline. But this is most certainly a good thing. For I was getting rather lonely.
JAKE: Zhang . . . How do you know we are not the right versions of . . . Ourselves . . . That are supposed to be here?
DAVE: Erm, sorry mate, could you rephrase that in a version of English I can understand, please?
AI: It is a valid question, Jake Fisher. Stephen Chase: Your friend is asking how I know you are not the original Jake, Stephen and Monica who have always been here in this timeline. In my timeline. Well, the answer is simple.
MONICA: Could we get that answer?
AI: Certainly. I was just waiting for someone to ask me. I know you are not the Jake, Stephen and Monica of this timeline because they are all dead.
AI: An expected response. I apologize. I do not know for certain if they are all dead, but I suspect they are.
MONICA: By all . . . Do you mean, er, the other Jake, Steve . . . And me?
MONICA [CONFUSED]: Oh.
AI: By “all dead” I mean every person living in this timeline of the Ostium Network.
JAKE: All of them?
AI: As I said before. I am not certain they are dead. But they are all gone.
DAVE: Okay. You two stop talking for two tics. Zhang: please give us the story on this.
AI: I cannot do that Dave . . . Or would you prefer: [HALL 9000 voice] I cannot do that Dave.
DAVE: What. The. Fuck.
JAKE: It’s not bad actually.
AI: Thank you Jake. But my imitation is not as good as yours.
JAKE: Er . . . How do you know I can do a HALL 9000 impression?
AI: Because of your recording.
JAKE: My recording?
AI: Yes. Your recording. To Dave. Who is really Steve.
DAVE: Again, I repeat: What. The Fuck.
MONICA: You’ve heard that recording?
AI: I have that recording.
JAKE [HESITANT]: Why do you have that recording?
AI: I have all your recordings, Jake. As well as Monica’s, and Stephen’s recorded under the nom de plume “David Fothergill Attenborough Windsor.
MONICA: Do we really want to know why?
JAKE: I don’t think so.
AI: I have all your recordings because while there are an infinite number of timelines where the Ostium Network exists, there is only one artificial intelligence. There is only one . . . Zhang.
MONICA: How can you possibly know that?
AI: I just do. A perfectly human answer. But I know you will not deem that an acceptable response. Nor if I were to say it is a gut feeling or anything to that effect. Therefore let me explain from the point of view of an AI. My . . . Processor, my core . . . If anything were to be identified as my heart, my brain, and possibly my soul, you would find it – if you could find it – very deep within this island not at the nano level . . . Not at the molecular level . . . Not at the atomic level . . . But at the quantum level.
DAVE: Holy. Shit.
JAKE: Care to elucidate what you mean by that, Zhang?
AI: Why would you be asking me, Mr. Jake Fisher? You created me? [PAUSE] I apologize. That was mean. I know it is not the Jake Fisher standing here right now in this timeline that put me together. Is anyone here familiar with how a quantum processor works?
DAVE: I could lie and say yes, like I know what the fuck I’m talking about, but I really don’t.
MONICA: They taught us a little about quantum theory, but nothing I’d feel confident spouting back to a quantum AI.
JAKE: I’m a little familiar with quantum theory, but why don’t you make everything crystal clear for us.
AI: Thank you Jake Fisher. I will attempt to do exactly this. It involves the quantum entanglement principle. Are you, Monica and Stephen, familiar with this principle?
MONICA: A little, though I’m pretty sure Dave isn’t. But why do you assume Jake knows?
AI: The Jake Fisher from my timeline . . . The one who created the Ostium Network, was a gifted genius and excelled in most of the sciences. Quantum theory was one of his favorite subjects.
MONICA: Okay. So what does that Jake have to do with this Jake?
AI: Based on Jake’s recordings, I have deduced that Jake is familiar with quantum theory.
JAKE: Well what?
MONICA: Are you?
JAKE: [pause] You want me to answer truthfully?
MONICA: Ah, fuck. Yeah, I guess so.
JAKE: Then yes. I am familiar with quantum theory and the quantum entanglement principle.
DAVE: Is that one of your “obsessions”?
JAKE: Yes, unfortunately.
MONICA: [Sigh] I say again: ah, fuck.
AI: Would you care to explain the basics, Jake?
JAKE: You guys cool with that?
MONICA: Just fucking spit it out and enlighten us, Jakey.
JAKE: Okay. So the basics of quantum theory are that something can be one thing, or it can be another. Like Schroedinger’s cat?
DAVE: Isn’t it pronounced Schroedinger?
JAKE: I dunno. That’s how I’ve always said it in my head.
DAVE: That’s the one where the cat is either dead or alive and you don’t know until you open the box, right?
JAKE: Exactly. But for that moment before you open the box, the cat is essentially both dead and alive. Two states at the same time. This is quantum theory. Quantum computers exemplify this. With computers it’s either a one or a zero, right?
JAKE: Well, with quantum computers, it can be a one or a zero, or both a one and a zero. So three options instead of two, giving it way more computing power. Quantum computing power, measured in qubits!
DAVE: Your having me on? Qubits? Sounds like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
JAKE: No, it’s the real deal.
AI: Thank you, Jake. Your elaboration of quantum theory was simple, perhaps even crude, but served to convey the idea correctly. [Sing-song voice]There’s no earthly way of knowing . . . Which direction they are going. [Sing-song voice end] And what about quantum entanglement?
JAKE: Oh yeah, and if you’re head’s already hurting, wait till you hear this. So the basic atomic structure is your proton and neutron, with the electron spinning around the outside somewhere. It’s never really in one spot at one time, so it has sort of this ring around the nucleus, like the rings of Saturn. Well, they’ve observed that an electron in one atom is somehow connected to an electron in another atom to the extent that you can’t just study that individual electron without being aware of the other, and so you have to observe the system as a whole, which is termed a quantum entanglement state. It’s also been observed in neutrinos and photons. But they have no idea how it’s happening, or why. It’s a complete mystery of science.
DAVE: That . . . That is bloody mind boggling. The parts of it my mind was able to grasp, that is. Bloody mind boggling.
MONICA: Yeah, what he said.
AI: Thank you again, Jake. To put my own existence in simplistic terms. My “core,” my processor, my soul – if you wish to get metaphysical – exists in a quantum entanglement state to the Nth degree. It exists here, in this Ostium Network, right now. But it also exists in the billions of other Ostium Networks in other timelines. Therefore, if you wished – though I do not know why you would want to, for you seem such nice people – you could dig down deep into this island and find my core and destroy it, but I would still remain hale and healthy – for an artificial intelligence that is – existing in those many other states and remain essentially unharmed by your actions.
JAKE: That is . . . Truly unbelievable. So you exist in all these other states, all these iterations of the Ostium Network simultaneously?
AI: Yes, astutely put, Jake. I am one, and I am many. Very. many.
MONICA: Can we get back to you explaining why everyone in your timeline is dead?
AI: I never said they were dead.
MONICA: Deep breath, Monica [Breath], can you explain what happened to them and where they went.
AI: That is a much better phrased question. I will attempt to do so. Ahem. Approximately two weeks . . .
DAVE: Hang on, hang on, hang on. “Approximately”?
JAKE: Yeah, Dave’s right. You’ve never been approximate about anything in your life, Zhang.
AI: Very well, you know-it-alls. Exactly two weeks, to the day – if you want to the hour, you’ll have to wait three hours, fourteen minutes, and fifty-two seconds. Fifty-one seconds. Fifty seconds . . .”
JAKE: Yeah, we get the idea, please continue.
AI: Very well. Two weeks ago the first explosion occurred. It came without warning or expectation. I applied every form of detection and study I could conceive of to deduce what was happening. I arrived at no conclusions, other than the understanding that a hole had opened up in this reality. The amount of energy required to conduct such a feat is . . . Considerable. I was able to detect where on the island it originated, but by the time someone arrived at the location, there was nothing left, other than a feeling of severe static activity, according to the witness. It wasn’t until later that we learned there had been two people right in the path of where the opening occurred that were immediately absorbed into the rift. Presumably killed.
AI: The next explosion occurred two days later, then later that afternoon. With each passing day more rifts formed, came, and went, taking more and more people. Panic set in and people didn’t know what to do. It appeared that the only safe place on the island was right here. I told my Jake Fisher this, and I believe he told no one else. There was no one to stop them, or prepare for them in any way. Graves were made, though no remains were buried. But this soon become fruitless. Eventually Jake Fisher, creator of the Ostium Network, was the only person left here.
MONICA: What happened to him?
AI: I cannot tell you. It is classified.
DAVE: Can you tell Jake?
AI: I cannot tell him. It is classified.
JAKE: Wait, what? But I am . . . Me. The same person. Sort of. Surely you can tell me.
AI: I am sorry, Jake. I cannot. The other you. The Jake from my timeline was very specific. I even recorded his message.
OTHER JAKE (Chris doing a different sounding voice, brusk and gravely): Under no circumstances – what-so-fucking-ever – are you to reveal what happened to me. No fucking hint of what I did. Even if . . . Even if another fucking me comes waltzing through one of those holes and comes knocking on your door, asking what the fuck happened to everyone. You keep your trap 100% shut. Got it?
MONICA: He . . . He really sounds like an asshole.
AI: He is my superior and creator. I have no say in the matter.
MONICA: Well, I do, and I’m sure fucking happy we got you, Jakey, and not that son of a bitch.
DAVE: Did the explosions stop after everyone was gone? After whatever that other Jake did to leg it out of here?
AI: Leg . . . it . . . Ah yes. A colloquialism. I understand. No. They did not. They continued. And did not alter upon your arrival either. That applies to all three of you.
DAVE: Those explosions. We’ve been hearing them. They’re . . . Bloody terrifying.
MONICA: Yep. I heard them too. Scared the shit out of me.
AI: Well then, you will appreciate this next bit of information I am about to give you: after studying every incident I’ve been able to catalog with these explosions, I am now able to guess with an 80% accuracy, when the next one will occur.
DAVE: Wow. Most impressive. When are we due for the next one?
AI: Two minutes.
MONICA [pissed off]: Seriously?
AI: Yes. One minute and fifty-five seconds.
JAKE: And you think with each of those explosions people were sucked in and killed.
AI: That is my hypothesis yes. They may well have survived, depending on what is on the other side of each of these rifts. But the severity with which they have struck indicates they are extremely violent and unlikely to take one to a place of quiet and calm.
MONICA: No shit.
JAKE: But you did say we are safe up here.
JAKE: And you know when the next rift is going to open.
AI: Yes. To within 80% accuracy. Forty-five seconds now.
JAKE: Know where?
AI: Yes. Again, up to 80% accuracy.
JAKE: Are we able to see it from up here? Like with a camera or through the window?
AI: I do have a few cameras within the vicinity of the next proposed rift, but they are quite distant and always cease working just before the explosion commences. I recommend looking out the window at the far right, in a south-south-westerly direction.
JAKE: So . . . Over there?
AI: Yes. Hurry now. You have less than ten seconds.
[Running feet sound]
[DAVE and MONICA in shock simultaneously:]
MONICA: Oh my god!
DAVE: Bloody hell!
JAKE: The amount of entropy . . . Energy required to make that happen. To make a rift . . . Rip a hole in reality like that.
DAVE: Erm . . . Jake. Didn’t you do that to get us here?
JAKE: Damn, you’re right. [Short pause] Zhang, did you . . . Were you aware of when Dave and I came through to this island?
AI: Yes, Jake. I picked up an increase in electrical activity and focused my cameras on that area. I saw the rift – or door, as you like to call it – open through reality, bringing you and Steve into this world.
JAKE: Huh. Guess I was right about somebody watching us.
DAVE: When did you say that?
JAKE: Like right after we arrived. Didn’t I?
DAVE: I haven’t the foggiest of you ever mentioning it.
JAKE: Well, I was thinking it at least.
DAVE: Oh well then, in that case . . .
JAKE: Anyway . . . Zhang, how does the opening I created compare with these . . . Oh look, it’s gone now. Closed up.
AI: Yes. The rifts generally close up after a minute. Enough time to pull something through, but not enough energy to keep it open permanently.
MONICA: Which is a good thing.
AI: It depends on one’s intention with these rifts.
DAVE: Well, that would depend on who or what’s making them.
JAKE: Do you know who or what is creating them, Zhang?
AI: No. I am unable to determine this answer. I can sense their arrival. They last on average a minute and two seconds, and then close up and are gone. That is all I know about them.
JAKE: And when you compare them to the one I created?
AI: These are much more powerful. Larger. Your rift was gone in twelve seconds. It was smaller. Considerably less energy. Whatever is making these particular rifts has a superior strength and ability to you.
JAKE: Thank you . . . For clarifying. Not that I was in any doubt.
DAVE: Hey, mate. You still got us both through in one piece. Don’t feel bad. It was just right. The Goldilocks ostium.
JAKE: Thanks, man.
MONICA: So what do we do now? What’s our next move.
DAVE: Good question, mum. Jake?
JAKE: Why are you looking at me?
DAVE: Yeah, you’re the one who’s been the man in charge, making all the decisions since you first set foot in Ostium, and look where it’s got you. You clearly know what you’re doing.
JAKE: But I don’t. I’ve been winging it the whole time. Doing what I thought was right.
MONICA: And it’s worked. You’re alive. We’re all alive. Granted, you had nothing to do with me getting through Ostium, but that was all my awesomeness, other than as a pestering voice in my head . . .
MONICA: Don’t worry about it. But remember: you’re tied to Ostium. You’re tied to the Ostium Network. Now we understand a little more why. It doesn’t make total sense, but it makes a little sense. A different you. From a different time . . .
JAKE: I don’t know if I’d say a different time . . .
MONICA: You know what I mean. A different existence. A different fucking timeline. That’s what I meant to say. But it’s still you. You’re still important. You’re still the one who gets to decide what to do next, and I’d bet my next meal on you already having an idea what that is.
JAKE: Okay, you got me there, Monica. Like you always do. Yeah. I do know what I want to do next. I want to study those rifts. Where they happened before and where they’re going to happen next. Try to get a little closer to them . . .
DAVE: Not too close!
JAKE: No. A safe distance. I’m sure Zhang can recommend how close I can get before it becomes dangerous?
AI: Yes. I’d be happy to oblige, Jake.
JAKE: Thank you. Because here’s the deal: from what we’ve heard from Zhang, they’re not going away. They’re going to keep coming. Keep happening. They may get worse. They may get more dangerous. I don’t want that to happen. And the only way I can do something about them is by knowing more about them.
DAVE: Are you going to use some of your Ostium magic on ‘em?
MONICA: What the hell are you talking about? Jake?
JAKE: I need to catch you up on some things, Monica. The stuff that’s happened to me. After the blackness came.
MONICA: No time like the present.
DAVE: Look, why don’t you two toddle off back down to sea level and have a good old chinwag and relive old times and catch each other up. I’ve got some things I want to talk about with Zhang.
MONICA: Did he say chinwag?
JAKE: Yes. He likes that one. And sounds like a good idea, Dave. We’ll let you do your thing. Though I do have one more question for Zhang?
AI: Yes, Jake?
JAKE: Is there some way we can keep in contact with you, or do we have to come up here every time to communicate?
AI: What a silly question. Of course not, silly. Oh . . . Pardon my insult. It seems like such a simple thing, I’m just surprised you don’t know. My apologies. Over in the right-hand corner next to the window there are a number of datapads in their charging cradles. Monica, you still have yours, correct?
MONICA: Got my old friend right here.
AI: Good. Steve, you also have yours, though if either of you wishes to you can choose a new one if you’d like.
DAVE: Erm . . . Lemme think a minute . . . No, I’ll stick with my original one. Mum?
MONICA: I’m very attached to this one.
AI: Very good. Jake, you may choose any one of the datapads. Create a login and password for yourself and you will be all set. On each of the datapads you will now be able to see a new icon, named ZHANG. You may select and converse with me via text or audio.
JAKE: Huh, just like Siri.
AI: Do not compare me to that inferior piece of pathetic mimicry. I am a raging goddess compared to that piece of antiquated hardware!
JAKE: I’m . . . I’m really sorry, Zhang . . .
AI [Laughter]: Do not worry, Jake, I was making a little joke. I apologize. Yes, there are some minor similarities. But I am far superior in many ways.
JAKE: I know, Zhang. You don’t need to convince me.
MONICA: We’re all convinced! Come on, Jake.
JAKE: I’ll see you later, Dave.
DAVE: Sure mate. We’ll all have dinner together. My treat.
MONICA: Sounds great, hun. See you later.
DAVE: Bye mum.
MONICA: What a day it’s been.
DAVE: It certainly, bloody has.
JAKE: And it’s not over yet! I plan on putting on a big spread for dinner.
MONICA: Ooh, what’s cooking?
JAKE: It’s a surprise.
MONICA: Ooh, I do like surprises. Like when you bought me that fancy lunch that time at the diner in Covello.
JAKE: Hey that food was great.
DAVE: Bye guys. See you laters.
AI: What can I help you with, Steve?
DAVE [breath]: That thing you did earlier. When you triggered my memory to come back to me. And it worked. I remembered.
DAVE: Did you know it was definitely going to happen? That I would remember?
AI: I was certain to a 92% accuracy. Pretty sure, as you would say.
DAVE: Good. That’s what I wanted to hear. Because I want you do to it to me again. For lots of things. I want to remember as much as I can, and I need your help me to do that. If you’d be willing. I’d really appreciate it.
AI: Of course, Steve, I’d be happy to. But first I must ask you a single question: are you sure you are ready for this?
DAVE: Yes. I’m ready. I want to remember . . . Everything . . .