“Tom Reissmann brings us a novel of big ideas, pulse-pounding action, and deep emotion that will keep you guessing as Max and Olivia struggle to uncover the mysteries behind The Reality Games.” –Hayden Trenholm, award-winning author of The Steele Chronicles.
“The Reality Games had me spinning, changing my mind, and then changing my mind again. It’s a page-turner that kept me guessing until the end.” –Steve Peters, Experience Designer and Founder of No Mimes Media.
What happens when Artificial Intelligence becomes sentient?
In the year 2061, Artificial Intelligence has solved most of humanity’s problems from global warming to viral diseases, while synthetics have become impeccable lovers for humans. But there are those that resist AI technology, fearing the gradual enslavement of the human mind by an all-powerful superintelligence.
Following the mysterious suicide of his wife, history professor Max Wheeler welcomed a synthetic into his home. Programmed to help Max overcome his grief, his synthetic, Miri, is an exact physical and psychological replica of his late wife, Miriam, a fact that provokes revulsion and outrage in Max’s daughter, Olivia.
As tensions escalate between the United Continents and the Tech-Resistance Territories, Max is recruited to help locate a dangerous quantum-hacker. But, when his friend is murdered and his daughter is lured into the territories of the Tech-Resistance Army, Max begins to question not only his allegiance but also the very nature of reality itself.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-65
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was often dismayed by dystopian visions of the future depicted in many books and movies, so I felt compelled to write a more optimistic science fiction novel offering a brighter outlook, while also discussing the obvious dangers of artificial intelligence and the current drift into authoritarianism, alternate realities, and surveillance capitalism.
I believe we are inundated with bad news every single day and it is all doom and gloom. However, looking at history and statistics (Sapiens by Harari) our world is actually more peaceful and safer than ever before. It seems that technology and science can solve most problems but we’re always focused on the problems. Therefore, I wanted to write utopian and optimistic fiction while also warning about technology and climate change.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters are an amalgamation of the people I have met throughout my travels and the years living in different parts of the world.
Once I conceived of these characters they took on a life of their own and started living in my head and having conversations with each other. That can be disconcerting at times.
Part One: Truth and Fiction
“All of us have a stake in making sure that future generations don't live in a world where reality and fiction, truth and lies, are indistinguishable.” Samuel Woolley, The Reality Game
Max closed his eyes and climaxed. In the brief moments that followed, the post-orgasm slip of consciousness—la petite mort—he felt connected to her again. She was with him once more and he had not yet made any of the mistakes that had led to her untimely departure. How much he wished he could go back in time and undo all of his mistakes. He opened his eyes and gazed up at her with unfulfilled longing, attempting to ignore the small ‘S’ engraved on her cheek, which shone below her skin as it reflected the sunlight. The synthetic sitting on top of him was an impeccable replica of his late wife, Miriam—a more perfect version of her—but even her artificial green eyes seemed to shine with a deep-seated sadness. Could synthetics emulate sadness in their eyes? Was it possible that Miriam’s consciousness now resided inside Miri’s artificial neural network? Max was fairly certain that it wasn’t possible but, some days, he wished for her spirit to return and inhabit this new artificial body.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your moment of serenity, but you have a very urgent phone call from Cleo Portero,” Miri said.
“Seriously? Now? You couldn’t have waited until you’ve climbed off me at least?” Max asked.
“I have already kept her waiting for ten minutes,” Miri said.
“You kept her waiting while we were having sex? Never mind. Patch her through—but without video,” Max said, gently pushing Miri off himself.
Cleo’s voice boomed from tiny speakers encased in the bedroom walls.
“Good morning, Max. I’m sorry to interrupt your morning routine.”
“No worries, Cleo, and good morning to you, too. What can I do for you?”
“Have you watched the morning news, Max?”
“No, I just woke up.” Max was unsure why he felt the need to lie, although the lingering sense of shame from having sex with a synthetic loomed large.
“Okay, I’m sending your home-AI a news report,” said Cleo. “I’ll hold while you watch it.”
Max glanced at Miri, who sent a signal for a screen to unfold at the foot of the bed. The screen lit up with a news report from the morning of the 11th of March, 2061. It was an aerial view of London. Burning debris was wedged into the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Smoke rose from what appeared to be the remnants of a commuter drone. The voice of a British news anchor emerged from the loudspeakers.
“Scenes of chaos this morning in London, as an unverified number of commuter drones have crashed across the city, killing at least eighteen people and injuring countless more. All commuter drone operations have been suspended indefinitely. The councilor of London has urged people to remain calm as the investigation into the cause of the crashes continues.
“Some AI experts have sounded alarms, stressing that the swarming algorithms, which direct the drones to behave like a hive of bees are fail-safe, leading to suggestions that the crashes were caused intentionally. Military experts are blaming the Tech-Resistance Army, the TRA, for sabotaging drone operations in the British capital. The TRA has not yet issued a statement or claimed responsibility. In light of the incident, several other European cities have suspended commuter drone operations until further notice.”
The screen went black, rolled itself back up, and disappeared inside its box. Cleo’s voice returned.
“Max, the TRA has entered a stage in their fight against the Alliance of United Continents that we hoped would never arrive. But here we are. As of this morning, the AUC is facing a new kind of enemy and we could use your help.”
“My help? You do know I’m a history teacher, not a military advisor.”
“We believe that the TRA was able to recruit a quantum computer expert from our midst, who is now running a team of hackers. You might be able to help us catch him before he causes more chaos.”
“Do I know this man?”
“Not yet, but he will, in all probability, contact you shortly. I’ll explain further when I see you in my office. This line of communication may not be secure. Please come and see me before your lecture today.”
“I’m confused—but sure, I’ll be there.”
Cleo terminated the call.
Max exchanged a puzzled look with Miri. Why would a defector to the TRA contact him of all people? Truthfully, he was secretly thrilled that his expertise might be relevant. He smiled at Miri.
“Would you like me to play you some music?” Miri enquired.
“Yes. Make it play in the bathroom while I get ready. In the meantime, prepare coffee and warm up the Trailcopter for my flight to Calgary.”
“Sure thing, Max,” she said. She kissed him gently and told him she loved him. Max did not return the gesture of affection. His mind was focused on processing the information he had just received. He meandered toward the bathroom, distracted, though not so much he didn’t notice the longing look on his synthetic’s face. Nothing but her artificial algorithms, directing her to seek my attention.
As he stepped into the shower, birdsong greeted him. He recognized the song immediately; it had been one of Miriam’s favorites, although he was fairly certain that it wasn’t the only reason Miri kept choosing this song. There was a not-so-subtle message in those lyrics that was probably meant to work its way into his subconscious. A part of him knew what she was trying to do.
The wooden door frame creaked ominously as Bella Thor entered the bar, populated by thick-necked bikers, adorned with swastikas and white power tattoos. Sweet Home Alabama echoed around the room, interrupted only by the clink of beer glasses. Sunlight seeped through dusty shutters, piercing wafting drifts of cigarette smoke.
Bella was the only woman in the bar, but it was her caramel skin that really set her apart. She walked to the bar and ordered a whiskey.
Bella directed her attention to a trio in the corner, drinking a pitcher of beer. They were former Joint Special Operations Command mercenaries, upgraded fighters who had garnered plenty of combat experience in the running battles that marred the US metropolitan areas in the 2030s. These men were her targets.
“You lost, sweetheart?”
A biker had sidled up to her, interrupting her thoughts and obstructing her sightline.
“I’m exactly where I want to be,” Bella responded.
“Did we have a Tinder date? I get so many requests I get lost sometimes,” the biker said, flashing a yellow-toothed smile.
“Unless it was for a ball-busting session, I don’t think so,” Bella responded.
“Cheeky little bitch. Maybe I need to teach you a lesson,” he said, advancing toward her.
Bella sighed. She wasn’t here for this. But, she reasoned, she was here to fight. She downed her whiskey, slammed the glass on the bar, and in one swift motion reached out her upgraded arm and squeezed her assailant’s balls with a clamping power of forty kilonewtons, turning them instantly into scrambled eggs. He shrieked like a schoolgirl. His friends were temporarily suspended in shock at the turn the exchange had taken, but that didn’t last long. One lurched forward to take a swing at her. Bella’s arms shot forward. Her left arm shielded her face from his punch, while her right hand made contact with his face. Time slowed as her fist broke his nose with a satisfying crunch. Stepping closer to him, she folded her arm, slamming the side of his head with her elbow. It brought her into the perfect position to use the back of her fist to knock the biker’s meth-riddled teeth out. The other bikers stumbled backwards.
So far so good, she thought. Now comes the hard part.
By now, Bella’s targets, the three JSOC mercenaries were on their feet. They could spot a fellow upgraded, special-ops soldier from a mile away and Bella was less than ten feet from them. In a split-second, one of the men sent a knife flying toward her, she caught it mid-air, flip it and hurtled it toward him like a boomerang. It lodged in his right eye, making him fall backwards. Another pulled out an expandable steel baton. With a snap, it trebled in size. Bella stood her ground. She enjoyed the intensity of close combat, as well as the power she felt in waiting for her victims to approach.
First, she neutralized steel-baton man by kicking straight into his groin. He froze in agony and she pummeled his face with her fists. She stopped abruptly, dropping him to the ground when her internal AR system flashed a warning. The third target was approaching from behind, arms extended to lock her into a chokehold. She used a side-kick to his chest to fend him off. Her super-human strength sent him flying against the wall.
Knife-guy advanced, attempting to slash her. She dodged the knife and used her extended fingers to stab his remaining eye. He yelped and cursed her. She grabbed his head and pulled it toward her while bringing her knee up to his face. There was a cracking sound.
The man with the steel-baton had recovered and swung at her head from behind. She extended her leg backwards and kicked him in the throat. He stumbled backward, choking. Satisfied that she had eliminated all of her targets, she loudly said: “End simulation.” The bar around her dissolved gradually, beginning with the ceiling, until she was once again standing in her apartment in London.
Bella inspected her upgraded skin, which was capable of emulating the impact of punches, kicks and even knives. Her thigh and left arm would bear bruises in the morning. She could apply soothing balm but she relished the pain; it made her feel more human.
Fifteen years ago, during a mission in Mogadishu, Bella had lost both of her legs. Advances in stem-cell biotechnology meant they were able to regrow her limbs. She had also received upgraded capabilities that gave her superior strength and faster reflexes. Such upgrades broke some of the United Continents Charter on augmented reality—but being a soldier in the fight against the Tech-Resistance Army was not without its advantages.
Bella was the most up-to-date hybrid human combatant in the world today, connected to a military quantum computer that allowed her to receive constant upgrades and data streams. In some situations, she could even relinquish control over her motor-functions to this quantum computer, allowing her to move and fight without the restrictions and delays of the human mind. Bella had used this ability on various occasions when confronting a group of soldiers. And even though it had undoubtedly saved her life in those situations, observing her own body fly through the air and kicking targets like a character in a Marvel movie, terrified her. The loss of control scared her more than death itself; it made her more like a video game character than a real human being. It made her question her sense of self and whether she had any control over her life. What if the quantum computer simply decided to maintain command of her body? Would she become an AI-operated robot, her consciousness trapped inside a body she no longer had any supremacy over?
Her train of thought was derailed as an internal AI-system announced a communication request from North America. She furrowed her brow but accepted the request. The three-dimensional image of a well-dressed woman in her forties came into view.
“Good evening, Ms. Thor. I am Cleo Portero the Councilor of Calgary. I am sure you are aware of the commuter drone crashes in your city. We’ve been monitoring chatter in various TRA subreddits and may have found a potential culprit, with the capability of carrying out such a sophisticated quantum hack.”
“It was the result of a hack, then?” Bella asked.
“I cannot go into further details on this communication channel. I have spoken to your commanders in Europe and they have released you for a mission here. I have booked you a seat on the next Falcon X rocket to Calgary. I will see you in about four hours.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. It will be an honor to work for you,” Bella said, before swiping her hand left to terminate the call.
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