In the near future, environmental disasters and totalitarian governments have driven mankind to living primarily in synthetic ecosystems, the most common form being domes. Our story centers on a remarkable man, Grath, whose ordinary job in robotics sales is interrupted by Sector 37′s chief investigator, Agent Orange. It appears that Orange is extremely interested in Grath’s special talents: an ability for generating astounding coincidences.
Grath’s smartbed gradually cooled until it wasn’t comfortable to lay in anymore at 0600, where the wandering steam from his recently activated autoshower wooed him out of bed to its warm embrace. He thought about what he had to do today while the wall-jets alternated between soap and water to clean him. He would need to check in with Hess about the android factory line and meet some potential clients, including someone from SeaFarers, an offshore deep sea mining company based on the Mombasa coast of Kenya.
Wasn’t there something else, today? Grath had an odd feeling but there was nothing else on his schedule. It looked like he would get to fritter away the day taking clients out for drinks and slyly breaking the Dome Federation’s gifting laws.
Grath was unnaturally good at this. He was so good that he had rapidly risen to the top of Robotico Inc.’s executive team, enjoying the lavish benefits, prestige, and trust that go with unmitigated success. Any amateur could set up client appreciation parties and other events to win favor while carefully evading the watchful eye of the Ethics Bureau. Grath operated at an entirely different level. He had an uncanny talent for arranging coincidences of good fortune that thrilled clients while escaping the notice of the bureau’s finest officer, Agent Orange. Important clients of Grath would find their way into unexpected wealth, luck, or success, and almost invariably they knew who to attribute the good fortune to. But it was impossible to prove Grath had anything to do with it. To the average observer it was a completely unrelated event.
Agent Orange, famous throughout the Dome Federation, was constantly in the press stream exposing human rights abuses, illegal business practices, and environmental disasters: the kind of stuff that muckraking journalists dreamed of leaking. The self-interested world governments had managed to legislate into existence this independent bureau that reliably broke up all kinds of corrupt practices. It had, in its 15 year history, remained remarkably resilient to compromise.
Modern politics in the domes, thus, were a far cry from the excessive lobbying and vote purchasing that plagued the world governments of the early 21st century. It was a curious legal trick that sent most of the world’s populations into dome living. While the air outside had grown toxic enough to shorten the average life span to 35, it wasn’t until the escalating paranoia and overreaching terrorism laws reached a breaking point that people finally abandoned their homes for the environmental safety of the domes. The US government and most other western nations had so broadly defined what constituted terrorism that all private property fell under the eminent domain of the state, including all necessary surveillance and oversight. This drove the world’s populations to a haven of relative liberty: Domes (and other synthetic ecosystems).
Domes had always been a legal no man’s land: created, built, and governed by a network of nations. Whatever uncertainly lay in their legal protections, they became the last resort for many businesses and citizens. There was at least some surviving form of due process in law. As a result, only hyperbolic politicians uttered clichés like “Big Brother” to describe modern life in the domes. Regular citizens were still acutely aware of what lie outside and the kinds of oppression awaiting them in the outer world.
Grath didn’t bother with politics, though. He was content to work long hours and relax at home. On weekends he’d play hologames on the network, mostly strategy and simulation games, but he wasn’t very good at them. Opponents would regularly outmaneuver his fleets in StarSiege and destroy his mothership.
Today, Grath had a meeting with a new client from the New Republic of Kenya. The nation of Kenya had made great strides in the early 21st century, becoming a beacon of African cultural and economic excellence.
He stepped into Ugalese, Sector 37’s finest African restaurant. His implant alerted the waitstaff of his reservation as he stepped in and they directed him to the corner booth where his contact, Meshak, was waiting. He had developed a slight headache throughout the day, and had become eager to sip on a Silver Tonic and relax.
Before Grath could get to the corner booth, however, he was violently pulled aside into a private room. A voice addressed him. “Randall Grath. Robotico Inc.’s executive sales manager?”
“What is going on here?” Grath was trying to get his bearings. Two men in suits encouraged him into a chair while the man who had spoken, obviously their superior, stepped forward. “Rest assured, Mr. Grath. We’re not here to trouble you. I believe you may know me as Agent Orange.”
Grath could hardly speak. The Ethics Bureau was after him? What could they possibly have on him? That feeling he had in the morning, this was it! He should have seen this coming.
Orange read the concern on his face. “Grath: don’t worry. I’m not here to bust you for ethics violations, and your Kenyan client will be well taken care of. I’m here for something far more important. I need a man of your skills for something much more interesting than wooing dull businessmen. I need a man of your acumen, your demeanor, your… talents.”
The pause before talents rolled off knowingly. Grath was guarded. “I can take care of my own clients.”
Orange smiled to the point of near laughter. “I know you can. A little too well, I might say. I would really hate to have to explore other forms of motivation, though. An exposé of your work at Robotico wouldn’t do you any good, would it? Such a colored career, full of such success! But we both know the public loves a good fall from grace story.”
Grath didn’t blink. “You’ve got nothing on me. My career is clean. Exemplary, even.” Grath was mentally scanning his entire career, thinking if he had any undotted i’s or uncrossed t’s. Had he left a trailing mark on an extravagant gift? A scandalous receipt with his name on it? A party thrown for an undercover agent posing as a client? Grath was a meticulous man which led to his confidence, but one could never be too sure. Nothing came to his mind, though.
Orange agreed with Grath’s self-assessment. “Believe me, I know you’re an honest man, at least technically speaking, but I’m in the business of nothings, Grath. My team is frighteningly good at finding something from nothing… But perhaps we can restart this conversation on a less antagonistic note? I have a job that requires someone with your skills. I don’t have to upend your life, so if you are willing to hear me out I promise that this compulsory offer will not only be profitable for you, but it will satisfy your conscience as well.”
Grath thought for a moment. Agent Orange took the pause in stride and continued. “I must say that I’ve been watching you for awhile. I’ve been impressed at your ability to… how do I say it… arrange events, orchestrate the intangible chances of life. You were responsible for the Dome robotics boom, weren’t you? Countless industries switched over to android labor in lieu of human workers.”
It was a bold assertion, but Grath knew an answer to this. “There were a ton of factors involved in the robotics boom. Highly specialized, dangerous work was necessary due to the black cloud and the great migration to synthetic ecosystems. We needed a way to do this work that no human should be subjected to…”
“Don’t be modest, Grath,” Orange interrupted. “There was nothing inevitable about the boom in robotics. There was an inexhaustible supply of unemployed immigrants and outlanders entering the domes. They were willing to risk their health wearing hazmats to do the dangerous work. There was nothing cheap about switching to robotic labor in the face of such readily available cheap labor.”
Grath deflected this line of reasoning. “You can’t seriously be pinning an entire cultural and economic shift toward robotic labor on my career as a salesman for Robotico Inc.?”
Orange was undeterred. “You are wise to be coy about this, but you have a gift. You have an ability to immerse yourself in the complexity of life, to see the bonds of causality and manipulate them.” Orange stared unblinkingly at Grath as he said this. “You know how to create magnificent accidents.”
At this moment, two men burst into the room, apparently in a brawl, yelling at each other. They tumbled over Orange’s agents, knocking over a side table and sending various dishes and silverware toward Grath’s chair, but Grath had already made a move at the exact moment the men burst in, slipping past Orange and out the door. He briskly strolled out of Ugalese not even looking back at the corner table, which was now empty. He moved fast, but not suspiciously.
Outside the restaurant, a robocab had just dropped off an elderly couple and was about to return to the station when Grath hopped in. “Take me to Union Square.” The cab whirred away, hovering above the ground.
Orange’s agents had separated and restrained the brawling men with their nanocuffs – nano machines that temporarily instigate a localized paralysis in targets. While they brushed themselves off, Orange opened a comm-line to headquarters. “Yeah, he got away, but it worked. This is the closest I’ve ever witnessed it! Truly extraordinary and yet perfectly explainable in natural, causal terms.” Orange listened to his superior. “No, nanocuffs would have made no difference, he would have still gotten away somehow. I imagine he’s looking for a crowded place to hide in while he thinks.”
Orange listened for a moment before answering again. “I didn’t want to interfere this time. I wanted to see what he was capable of. We need to know the extent of his abilities.”
Grath canceled the rest of his appointments on his way to Union Square and told Hess he’d check in with him tomorrow. As he weaved his way through the crowd of commuters to the southeast end of the station, he took a pedestrian transit line to the East Commons. He walked up to a hotel that had just had a last minute cancellation. “I’ll take that room, off the books, for double.”
Grath couldn’t go home, not tonight. Maybe not for some time. Even so, he had been prepared for this day, ever since he became more aware of his special skills. He might never get to return to a normal, simple life. Nothing was for certain, but maybe he could find his way to a distant dome system, an off-world colony, or even venture into the outer world, condemned to a life of hazmat suits and small shelters.
None of those sounded great, but for now he needed some rest. He would figure it all out tomorrow. As Grath drifted off to sleep on the hotel bed, his notifier started blinking with a new message.