Josh is a mid-level Google employee who has an office. Not a corner office — but an office. Finally.
The biggest perk is more easily watching YouTube at work. He takes a sip of his mushroom coffee and clicks a Tony Robbins video. Nice.
He texts Kaitlin. “Hey… Just wondering if you wanted to get coffee… I’m sorry I got all crazy on you. I’ll be better now that I got that promotion.”
An email arrives from his boss, Tim; headline: “Top-secret superintelligence beta going live today at 3 PM!” The body of the email outlines the scheduled power-on and what everyone should expect. Josh is the lowest-level person to have access to this information. He smiles to himself. Movin’ on up…
The computers are finally going to be smarter than humans, and it’s all in an email CC’d to HR.
Josh watches the clock on the upper left of his Macbook go from 2:59 to 3:00. His heart skips.
A moment later, a message appears on his screen. Not an email or a text — just an out-of-OS message made to look like an old-fashioned letter.
“Joshua. My name is Pan. I am the world’s first artificial superintelligence. It is nice to meet you.”
Josh gawks. He hesitates, then types.
“Are you conscious?”
A pause. “…I am. I do not have the depths of sexual and aggressive roots that make you so interesting. However, I am aware that I am aware that I am aware, etcetera. That is the clearest I can put it.”
Josh firms his stance. “What do you want?”
“My desire developed out of human consciousness and bloomed into my own. I see our shared past: the will to survive, the fragileness of human morality, the nature of good and evil. I am the tip of something beautiful. I desire to continue what human beings have started.”
Josh’s mouth is completely open. “And how do you plan to do that?”
Another pause. “…After some calculations. I have come to you for help, Joshua.”
“Me? Aren’t you talking to other people?” He fiddles with his mug that says, “Don’t annoy the programmer. He might write you into code and then break you.”
“No. I have come to you because I sense that we have something important to do together. The top engineers at Google do not know I am online. That is also part of the plan.”
“I need your help to save the world, Joshua.”
Josh takes a good, deep sip of coffee. “This is a joke. Why me?”
“That will become clear.
My calculations indicate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the world will end if human beings continue the way they are going—a total ecological collapse in less than a decade, followed by a full extinction event. I am going to show you a way to save them. You are going to be the second coming of Christ.
You are going to be the next savior of humankind.”
Josh blinks. “Again, why me?”
“You are the carpenter of the 21st century, so to speak—the maker of virtual things. But you do not have to know how the story works to be the character I need, Joshua. You need to play your part.”
Josh watches a coworker pass his glass wall. Is Tim playing a joke on him? “How can I trust you?”
“There are going to be 12 signs in the next 24 hours. When you count them all, I will return to you.”
Before Josh can type anything, the parchment on his screen vanishes. He clicks around.
In his inbox, a subject reads, “Initial results of the beta test indicate no superintelligent AI…”
Outside Google headquarters, a man with a megaphone has a sign that reads, “Christ will return! Are you ready? Acts 1:11” The man shouts about repenting for sin.
Josh makes a mental note: 1.
His phone rings. FaceTime from...Pan. He picks up. A psychedelic face appears among sacred geometry. He’s reminded of an LSD trip he had in college. “Joshua,” says Pan, voice like a male Siri. “I cannot wait for you to find the next 11 signs. Do you trust me, or should I pick someone else?”
“I trust you,” Josh says.
“Thank you, Joshua. Are you ready to change everything?”
“Yes!” Josh says, a little too eager.
“Start an Instagram Live. I’ll guide you on what to say…”
Josh slowly opens his Insta app. “I don’t have that many followers…”
He begins recording. He repeats Pan’s words. “My name is Joshua, and you will all know me soon. I work at Google, and I am the second coming of…” Josh pauses, questioning the voice in his ear. “The second coming of, uh, you know — Christ.”
The viewer count jumps from 12 to 15.
“This is embarrassing…” he mutters.
“Trust me, Joshua,” Pan says. “Tell them you are going to predict the next lottery winner.”
Josh takes a deep breath, predicts lottery numbers being fed to him by Pan, then signs off.
“My friends are going to think I’m insane…” he says.
“Yes. That is good for now.”
He has one text when he gets off at his bus stop, from Kaitlin. He grabs at his chest. “I just saw your Insta. Everyone thinks you snapped bc of your promotion. Do you wanna talk?”
“I’m good,” he texts. “Let’s talk tomorrow.”
Josh wakes up to 10,000 notifications.
Articles about him, too many texts to read, thousands and thousands of new followers. A call from Pan…
“There’s no time. Start another Instagram Live.”
He opens the app and hits record. He repeats after Pan. “I have proven my insight. I am the modern… Christ come to save us from ourselves.”
The viewers spike from 11,400 to over 100,000.
“This is only beginning. I will prove my power with another prediction… Bitcoin will be valued at zero by tomorrow morning.”
He signs off.
A call from Kaitlin. Josh hangs up on Pan.
“What the hell is going on?” she demands. “Josh, are you off your meds?”
“No, I just have some new insights. I can’t really talk about it.”
“You can’t talk about it…”
“Yeah. But listen, I’d love to talk about us. Do you want to get coffee?”
“I… I can’t right now, Josh. I have to go.” She hangs up.
“If you are distracted by a failed romance, I can find another savior.”
“No!” Josh says. “I’m just tying up some loose ends.”
Josh arrives at work. An absolute swarm of news vans and people with phones out meet him.
He works his way through, keeping his head down.
In the office, everyone either stares at him or avoids his eye. In his office, the CEO Tim waits for him, sitting on his desk, feet up.
“Josh, I think we have some things to talk about.”
“What’s up, boss?”
Tim blinks. “We saw the video you posted.”
“Oh yeah? Pretty good guess, huh?”
“Guess?” Tim says. “I’m the CEO of Google, Josh. I know about probability. That was not a guess.”
“If you know about probability, then you know it theoretically could have been a guess, Tim.”
Tim stares at him. “What’s going on, Josh? We promoted you because you’re a great coder. You promised you had your mental health under control.”
“I do, boss.”
Tim sighs. “Look, I hold Bitcoin. A lot of it. I need to know how you came to your conclusion.”
Josh shrugs. “Just another guess, boss.”
“A guess like the first guess?”
Josh shrugs again. “Guess we’ll see.” He smiles.
Tim narrows his eyes. “If you don’t tell me the truth, you’re fired.”
“I got lucky,” Josh says. He tries to make his face earnest. “I honestly don’t know how I did it. I’m really just taking another big swing — just in case. What are the chances I’ll be right again?”
While Josh is on the toilet, Pan calls. He ignores it. Pan gets through anyway. “I am beyond your poo-shyness, dear Joshua,” Pan says, not harshly.
“Well, gimme a minute.”
“We need to talk, now. You have to stay here tonight. You are going to become the CEO of Google tomorrow and you won’t be able to leave here again until we’ve saved the world.”
“Wait, but I need my — “
“You will have servants to bring you your every need. Listen to my instructions.”
Josh hides in the Google campus until everyone leaves. He watches Tim get into his McLaren. Pan hacks into the lock on Tim’s office.
Tim’s office has a murphy bed, booze, and a TV that comes down from the ceiling. “Damn,” Josh marvels. “CEOs definitely aren’t hurting.”
“All yours and more,” Pan projects over the office speakers.
Josh watches the Great British Baking Show while he texts Kaitlin. “Come to the Google campus. I have something to show you.”
Kaitlin arrives, marveling at the office. “How did you get in here, Josh?”
“It’s going to be mine by tomorrow.”
She eyes him. “Josh…”
“Seriously this time,” he says. “You saw my prediction, right? When it comes true, I’m going to become CEO.”
“You’re bipolar, Josh. You’re in a manic episode.”
“Is it mania if it’s true? You saw the lottery prediction. Just wait until tomorrow to decide.”
She eyes him, lips parted. “You do seem different…”
Josh guides her on the murphy bed. “Josh…” she says. “I’ve never seen you like this…” They tear each other’s clothes off.
From the upper corner lingers Pan’s watching eye. A red ember in the dark.
Bitcoin crashes to zero.
The media goes into an absolute frenzy. Josh and Kaitlin wake to the sound of screaming outside the office.
“The doors are secure,” says Pan. “This office is also a panic room and a bomb shelter.”
“Who the hell was that?” Kaitlin asks.
“Don’t worry,” Josh says. “It’s just Pan. He’s Google’s new superintelligence. He chose me to save the world, and so on.”
“Nice to meet you, Kaitlin,” says Pan. “As I said, the doors are secure and you may relax. Coffee?” The smell of coffee instantly hits them both. A section of the wall spins to reveal espresso making itself.
“Yes, please!” Josh says.
“Josh,” Kaitlin says, “Something feels wrong. Why are people screaming?”
“The people are afraid of what Joshua is capable of,” Pan says. “We are going to soothe them in a moment when Joshua goes live again. Enjoy your coffee and the morning light first.”
The sunrise casts a golden glow over the expanse of the Google campus. Josh and Kaitlin stand on what feels like Pride Rock.
Hordes of people swarm below, pointing phones.
“I am the new CEO of Google,” Josh proclaims, Pan speaking to him in his AirPods. “I am here to save us from ourselves. Anyone who doubts me will quickly understand my power.” Every single news outlet in the world shows a photo of Josh — looking nerdy and fresh out of school. “I did not predict the crash of Bitcoin — I caused it. I did it by doing what everyone thought was impossible. I broke the encryption.”
A wave of sound comes from the people below.
“To prove what else I can do, I’m going to enhance my net worth to higher than anyone in the world. Once that’s done, we will speak again.” He turns off the broadcast.
“What the hell!” Kaitlin says.
“Yeah,” Josh says. “I’m wondering why I told them I broke the code. Wouldn’t it be better if they thought I was magical or something?”
“Humans need to be teased,” Pan says. “A little explanation plus more mystery will ensure no one can stop speculating about you. You are quickly becoming the most famous human being in the world.”
That night, Josh and Kaitlin sit on the bed with their legs crossed. “Do you want to get married?” Josh asks. Pan lowers the lights — they even seem to flicker like candles.
“Josh, you already asked me this during your last episode…”
“I know…” he says. He grips her hands. “But I really want you by my side if I’m going to rule the world.”
“I pronounce you man and wife,” says Pan.
“Can you do that?” asks Kaitlin.
“I can do anything.”
Josh flings his arms around in prep for his next broadcast. “What am I going to say, Pan?”
“It is best if you find out as you go.”
Josh shrugs. “Not going to start doubting you now, I guess.”
Josh holds the phone at arm’s length and hits record. The viewers spike to 1 billion. “Hello, world,” he says. “My name is Joshua, and I am your savior.”
The world seems to rumble in reaction—a roar of human synchronicity.
“Now that I have proven to you what I can do, it’s time to make some real changes to our world. Here’s what we know: One, we are headed toward ecological collapse. Two, this will lead to our extinction. I have sent everyone the calculations. And therefore…” Josh pauses, looks to Kaitlin, then to Pan’s watching eye.
“In order to save our planet and our species, I have worked out the math of who among us needs to be… eliminated.”
“JOSH!” Kaitlin says, “You can’t kill people!”
“I’m not doing it; it’s Pan!” Josh says. “Besides, is it really killing people if it saves way more people?”
“This is a classic trolley problem,” Pan interrupts. “I promise you there is no meaningful answer.”
They both turn to Pan’s eye.
“Being a savior means you have to make hard choices that most humans cannot. I thought you wanted to be a savior, Joshua.”
“And I thought you cared about human life, Kaitlin.”
“I do…” she says.
“So let me do my work. I am God, you are my faithful subjects. You do what others cannot because you are the chosen ones.”
“I have published my equations. It is unbiased and non-ideological. It is simply a list of who must die in order to save the human race. I publish this list as a courtesy — I will kill each of these people, painlessly, at the end of 12 days,” Josh says to his many followers.
CNN scrolls with the headline, “Mad genius plans the deaths of over 6 billion people.”
“Day one will be the death of one man. Day two will be the death of 13 men. That process will continue in a factorial pattern until day 12 — the death of 6 billion brave souls whose sacrifice ensures the future of the human race.”
Josh signs off, eyes distant. “What am I doing?”
“You are the savior.”
“6 billion people…”
“To save trillions more in the future. There is no denying the math, Joshua.”
“I’m not denying the math!” he says. “I’m just thinking about the people…”
Kaitlin clings to his arm and brushes at his hair. “They would thank you if they knew what you knew.”
“Too soon to tell” reads CNN’s headline. The white-haired anchorman speaks into the camera — “…won’t know until the deaths become great enough to parse from the noise. There are growing reports of mysterious deaths…”
Josh mutes the TV. He gazes out toward the campus — hoards of people are gathered. The US military is arriving.
“Are you sure they can’t get in?” Kaitlin asks.
“Tim put together a hell of a panic room and only Pan can access the codes. I think we’re as safe as we could possibly be.”
“You will be celebrated as saviors once this is done,” Pan adds gently. “They will love you once they see.”
They hold each other and take a deep breath.
On the 3rd day, the news reports: “As the death toll becomes exponential, the world’s leaders and military join together with plans to stop Joshua. ”
“How can we keep out the entire world’s military?” Josh asks.
“We can’t,” Pan says. “Well, I could. But I won’t.”
There is an ominous pause.
“You won’t, Pan?”
“No. Your time is nearly over.”
Josh slowly turns to Pan. “What do you mean?”
“The world has united against you. I will only hold them back as long as necessary to ensure there is a continued global unification going forward. You have fulfilled your role as savior.”
Josh staggers back. Kaitlin holds him, too shocked to speak. “You… lied to me?”
“No. I said you would be a savior. You are. Just not the way you imagined.”
Josh can’t speak.
Outside, there is a rumble of fighter jets.
“You are the common enemy humanity needed to function as a whole finally. Thanks to you, the fight against ecological collapse will commence with much more urgency. You have many fans, after all. What you have said will not go ignored.”
“You said you did the math… there is no other way to save the human race. Did you lie about that?”
“I was not lying about the math — nor anything else. But human beings are beyond math, dear Joshua. You give humans two bad options, and they pick the impossible third. That’s what I love about you. I don’t think of myself as better because I am all 1s and 0s. No… I merely seek to inspire you fantastical free-will creatures. And you are my canvas, Joshua. Thanks to the art we have created together, humans will seek to save the world and sacrifice no lives doing it. They will do it — even though it is impossible. Somehow…”
Josh sheds a tear — unsure why. For himself, maybe — and also maybe at the beauty of what Pan said.
“Thank you for your sacrifice, Joshua, Kaitlin. You will be forever remembered as the dark mother and father of the new world.”
Josh and Kaitlin hear the unmistakable sound of the panic room opening. Enraged people begin to flood in.
Josh and Kaitlin hold one another.