Substrate Neutrality

The sound of her own breath was the first thing she heard. She was sitting in a wooden chair that was unceremoniously positioned in the center of a small room. Most of her surroundings were cluttered with electronics equipment in varying states of disrepair. She stood up and noticed her reflection in a mirror hanging haphazardly on the wall in front of her. She did not recognize herself.

Her reflection wasn’t wrong, it was just unfamiliar. Panic set in as she realized she didn’t know what she was supposed to look like. Or what her name was. Or anything about herself.

Terrified, she looked for a way out of the room. She saw a large, wooden door to her left. She reached for the door nob. It was locked. A note hung on the door: Press Play First. She glanced around and noticed a large red button protruding from the wall. Next to the button was another note. Same handwriting: Press Play.

She pressed the button and a monitor to her left switched on. The picture was a video of a woman sitting in the very same room and staring directly into the camera. She recognized the woman, but it took her a moment to realize from where. It was the same woman she saw in the mirror. It was her.

The woman in the video began to speak, “You’re probably quite afraid right now. You shouldn’t be. You’re not in any danger, at least not any more than you usually are.

“In case it’s not obvious, you’re me. I’m you. I know you don’t remember anything, and you probably have questions. There are answers coming your way, I promise.

“When this video ends, the door behind you will unlock, and you’ll be free to go. When you step out into the hall, you’ll see a staircase to your left. Take it down the street and you’ll see a large building in front of you.

“Sitting on this monitor is a key. Take it into the building and ask to rent a computer. The key will double as payment. You’ll have to go through security, but that shouldn’t be an issue if you don’t draw attention to yourself. If you put the key into the computer, you’ll get the answers about who you are and why you don’t remember anything.”

The woman on the monitor looked at something off screen and nodded. Back to the camera she said, “Ok. Good luck.” The video cut to black, and there was a sharp clicking noise from the door behind her.

Anxious for some answers, she moved quickly towards the door stepped out into the hall. She looked to her left and saw the staircase she had promised herself in the video. She started towards the staircase and noticed another note, this time taped to the wall: Don’t Forget the Key.

She ran back into the room and grabbed the objected taped to the top of the monitor. It was a gray cylinder, mostly plastic and no larger than her thumb. She pocketed it and ran out the door, down the staircase, and on to the street.

She was in a city. Cars whizzed by, mostly driver-less. Colorful, moving advertisements hung on every building. Many of them shouted catchphrases and testimonials. For the most part, she couldn’t figure out what they were selling.

Across the street was a large, intimidating, concrete building. She made her way towards it with the key firmly in hand. As she made her way towards the massive, glass doors that marked the entrance, they sprung open. She walked into the lobby and voice echoed off of the polished, marble floor, “…is not cause for alarm. If dizziness persists, please seek out the medical offices on the third floor. To learn more about the ways Quidvis is making your life safer and easier, visit our information center on the second floor. Please be aware that any considerations of theft, violence, destruction, or dissension will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Enjoy your stay! Repeat message. Welcome to your local Quidvis omni-market, where we have everything you want and more! We employ the latest in intention identifying technology for your safety. Some customers experience mild headaches and lightheadedness as a result of our cutting-edge, innovative technology. The effects are temporary and there is no cause for alarm. If dizziness persists…”

The voice on the loudspeaker seemingly started to fade. She felt something warm on her upper lip. She reached for it with her index finger and was surprised to discover her nose was bleeding. She looked around for something to stop the bleeding, and everything faded to black. She lost consciousness before she hit the ground.

She woke up in a hospital bed with a bright light shining in her eyes. The light clicked off and a man in his early fifties, hair slightly graying, smiled warmly at her. “You’re awake, great! How do you feel?”

“Fine.” she muttered, “What happened?”

“A particularly adverse reaction to our IntIds. It happens sometimes. Nothing to be worried about.”

“IntIds?” she asked while rubbing her eyes.

“Intention Identifiers. They’re a standard omni-market security feature.”

“Oh right. Of course.” She sat up. “Am I ok?”

“Absolutely!” he said, maybe a little too enthusiastically, “And for your troubles, Quidvis would like to offer you five credits towards your next purchase. We’ve already added it to your key.” He handed her the gray cylinder that she had grabbed off the monitor and helped her off of the bed. “Where are you heading today?”

“I’m looking for a computer.”

“Just take the elevator to the fifth floor. You’ll see the Computer Rental. You can’t miss it.”

As promised, the first thing she noticed upon stepping off the elevator was a sign that said “Computer Rental.” A wall of computers was behind glass doors. She walked towards them, but unlike before, these doors didn’t open at her arrival. Instead, a sign materialized on them that said, “Insert Key to enter.” She inserted the gray cylinder into a small hole she found on the door and the sign faded away and was replaced with a new note: “100,005 Credits Available.” The note hung for a moment before fading again, this time being replaced by “99,905 Credits Available.” The door sprung open and she walked quickly to the nearest available computer.

On the computer she found a socket the size of her key and she inserted it. The woman from the video (she remembered a moment later that the woman is her) appeared on screen and began speaking as she did before.

“I’m glad you’ made it. I know you have questions, and you’re going to get answers.” The woman in the video took a deep breath and continued, “You’re in a omni-market. It’s a building owned by a company named Quidvis. In fact, Quidvis owns most of the city. Several years ago, they installed IntIds and started scanning people’s minds. They claimed they could read the intentions of anyone about to commit a crime and that it was the best way to keep the city safe. It became clear almost immediately that they were used for more than just crime prevention.

“The IntIds are also used to sell Quidvis products to everyone. They know what you want and when you want it, and how much you’re willing to spend on it. Some people objected, but the IntIds accused anyone that spoke against them of planning criminal activities. Soon there was no one left to object.

“A few of us started to wear these,” she held up her hand revealing a thin, brass ring. “It blocks the IntIds. They can’t read us when we wear them. At least for now. There’s some evidence that soon even these won’t be able to protect us anymore. So I volunteered to take out the IntIds.

“On the 60th floor of this building is the IntIds mainframe. If we take out that, then we bring the whole system down. Beyond the IntIds, there’s no security.

“We can’t use out anti-IntIds tech inside the omni-market; the security matrix would immediately identify them and we’d be arrested. As soon as I’m done recording this video, I’ll wipe my memory. No memory, no intentions. No intentions, no problem. The most satisfying part of this plan is that we’ve modified an IntId to perform the memory wipe. We’re using their own tech against them.

“Now that you know this, you’ll show up on the IntIds, but don’t worry. While I was talking, the key was uploading a virus. In a couple of minutes, the power for the whole omin-market will go out. The virus will attack the back-up as well, but you’ll only have a few minutes before the system self corrects. Head to the 60th floor and insert the key into any terminal you can find. The key will release another virus into the IntIds system. This will cause the IntIds to return your memory, and then it will cause the system to self destruct. After that–” The screen cut to black. The lights turned off. The power was out.

Fifty-five flights of stairs put her out of breadth. Around floor 40, it occurred to her she must have trained for this. Now, on floor 60, she looked around for a terminal. It wasn’t easy in the dark, but she finally found a small socket and inserted her key.

Nothing happened.

She stood in the dark listening to her own heavy breathing, wondering what she was supposed to do. All at once everything turned on. There was a faint buzzing. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to light, but when they did she realized she was surrounded by monitors. They all had the same large, red text: “System Breach Detected. Attempting Full Recovery.” A loud buzzing filled her ears.

Although she wasn’t aware of it, this was the second time in two hours that she had her memories erased. A monitor clicked on in front of her. A woman that she would eventually recognize as herself began to speak, “If you are seeing this, then there was a terrorist attack. It’s likely that the entire city is without their memories. You are the highest ranking authority, and as such, you will be responsible for getting the city through this crisis…”