The silence in the chilled conference chamber was that of alert, fascinated attention. Only twenty-thousand people surrounded her, but the magnitude of having seven-hundred-million watch her in neuro-reality hummed in the air.
Martha Chandra allowed herself a gentle smile, then continued her speech.
“And so,” she said, “as humanity tried to play God, we failed, because we were not gods. The natural world is too complex, and humankind too polarised, to make the course corrections we need to make alone.”
She paused and her eyes flickered down to the front row of the New Carthage section. Danberg gave her a cheerful thumbs up.
She nodded and continued. “Our very survival as a species is at stake, as is the survival of every other species left in our world. There is no time left: we squandered it in petty arguments with those who deny, even now. But the earth will survive us, believers and deniers both, and she will not weep our loss.”
Smatterings of applause broke out, now, but she pushed on.
“There is no magic bullet, no machine we can turn on that will fix our broken ecosystem. The decisions we have to make are complex and delicate. But technology will augment our own ability to make decisions by a millionfold. Humanity and technology together will be our salvation.”
The crowd were on their feet now – the thousands physically present, at least – the crescendo mounting.
“We must not give up hope, we must take action, we must seek salvation. And that hope, action and salvation has a name: Solomon.”
The ovation continued unabated for several minutes while she waved, and Solomon came back on to stand by her and wave too. She smiled up at her creation, standing there in the digital flesh as if he was real. He looked divine, like a god of old. This new room, and the others like it already underway, would bring him to life. Their saviour would walk among them.
One by one, the segments from the other Future States started to fade out, and a little message popped up to tell her that a good portion of the planet was no longer watching her every move. She could relax – a little. The chamber was left with the New Carthage attendees and the lights came on.
“Well done, Martha,” said Solomon. “A rousing speech.”
She smiled at him. “Thank you. Let’s check in later on the town hall planning, okay?”
He nodded, and walked off stage. An interesting affection he’d developed, considering he could have simply appeared or disappeared on the spot. Was it a desire to be more human?
She tapped her finger on her lip, then shrugged and walked offstage. Drinks would be served in the lobby, and right now, she deserved a drink. She’d just spoken to the same quantity of people that had lived on the entire planet only three hundred years before. How many people could say that?
She was, of course, immediately surrounded. She didn’t stop walking, but that didn’t stop anyone from trying to speak to her.
“Dr Chandra,” said a man she didn’t know. He thrust his hand towards her and she ignored it. “Loved the speech, simply loved it. Can I possibly narrowcast you my contact? I would love to talk to you abo—”
“You can cast them to Danberg – over there?”
“Oh! But yes, I just wanted to—”
“Ah, technology will be our salvation?” interrupted Petersen from her left in an amused tone. “You don’t think that’s poking the bear?”
She took his arm and they moved away from the stranger.
“I don’t have time to worry about it,” she said. “The religious lobby already have a problem with me – let them waste their own time in fake hysteria over my words. I won’t waste mine.”
“Still,” said Petersen. “There are fanatics out there.”
“Johan, we’re on a floating artificial island moving around the Atlantic with a security force more advanced than many small countries.”
“Upon which you received a death threat, just last week, from the Christian far right.”
“Not now, Johan. I mean, you’re right. But not now.”
Her post-speech high was starting to dissipate. She liked Petersen, she was grateful for the bucket of cash he’d invested to help get Solomon off the ground, but by god he always succeeded in bringing her mood down. Likely he did it on purpose to keep her humble.
“I don’t think this Angels of Mercy group—” began Petersen.
“Dr Chandra,” interrupted someone to her right. “Blucroft, journalist. I was wonde—”
“Blucroft? I thought you covered the geopolitics beat?”
“You don’t think a speech like this is geopolitical?”
“I’m a technologist, Mr Blucroft.”
She really needed that drink now. Maybe someone would bring her one? She looked to see if she could catch Danberg’s eye. Where was that man? Normally he was all over her like a puppy dog.
No, that was unjust. He was a friend, too.
“You made some comments today which could be interpreted by some as a jab against your former boss, President Lockwood and his geo-nationalist agenda.”
“I don’t have time for subtle jabs, Mr Blucroft. If I wanted to make a comment about President Lockwood I would do so openly.”
“And do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Want to make a comment about Lockwood? After all, he was in the news only yesterday calling Solomon a dangerous precedent in putting our destiny in the hands of machines—”
“No, I don’t want to make a comment about President Lockwood. I told you, I’m a technologist, not a politician. Ask Governor Solomon if you want a comment.”
“Do you disagree with his comments on Governor Solomon?”
“The only dangerous precedent we seem to have established is inaction. Solomon has been very successful running the six Future States.”
Someone else interrupted and she dodged another hand. “Dr Chandra, can I ask you about where you see us in ten years, given everything you’ve achieved in the last?”
“No,” she said.
Where was that damn drink?
“Martha!” boomed a voice, and Jasper Keeling, CEO of the Future States, pushed his way through. “Outstanding. Though I expected nothing less.”
She tried to smile as genuinely as she could summon up. She had done a lot of work with this man, and there was more to do. “Thanks… Jasper. The venue, I think, made it better than it really was.”
“Oh, a small part only, I assure you, a small part! This was the biggest audience I think we’ve had for an event on New Carthage, perhaps on any of the Future States. You’re becoming quite a celebrity, you and Solomon both!” He paused and nodded at the group of listeners. “You’ll be more influential than me, if you keep going like this!” He roared with laughter and she smiled.
Keeling acted a fool, but the man was a pioneer whose work had resulted in the creation of six floating city-states hailed as the future of humanity. Powered by her technology. He was not to be underestimated, and he might fool everyone else here, but not her.
Flora Jacobs put her hand on Chandra’s arm. “Darling,” she said, “simply superb. You looked ravenous up there.”
“Just the woman I needed to see,” said Martha, and moved away from all of them with Flora in tow.
“What is it, Martha?” said Flora, an edge of concern in her voice.
“You need to get me a drink, stat,” Martha told her, “before anyone else stops me.”
Flora giggled. “Most powerful woman on this island and you still can’t do what you want. But don’t worry, I discovered something.”
“Where they’re keeping the good vodka. Also, did you know your sister is here?”