It was as if I had just been given a pair of glasses and discovered I’d been seeing the world through a myopic mist. When I went into the galley to make a coffee, I’d see guys laughing over a meme, one I would have laughed at myself not long ago, but now I saw something toxic in the image, the poison wrapped up inside a joke, something cruel in their sneers.

Or it was as if a dial had been twitched and for the first time I was hearing messages on a frequency I couldn’t pick up before. A subtle insult. A sexist put-down. A casually racist remark. A statement tossed off in a kind of shorthand, certain everyone present agreed that anybody who raised concerns about how tech was warping people’s behavior was an enemy of free speech, and probably a humorless lesbian bitch. It wasn’t just in the office. I picked it up from the clients, too, ones I’d always gotten along with. It had been there all along. I’d been part of it.

I began to see it in my pitch decks, too, in the code itself, in the ways our products were engineered to turn people’s vulnerabilities against them just to sell them crap they didn’t need. Even worse, when I heard Robbie talk about his projects I grasped for the first time the extent of what Aurora had been worried about. We had built a powerful machine to sell ads, then retooled it to deliver personalized propaganda at scale, and we sold it to anyone who could pay for it, at home and abroad.

Everything had changed.

When I lay beside Robbie in the dark I couldn’t help going over whatever had happened between us that day and in our entire history together. I had always dismissed his rough edges as a personality quirk, just part of who he was, but now I saw how he cut me off from getting close to other people, the ways he gave or withheld his approval like dog treats. The many screaming fights that somehow were always my fault. The hole in the drywall where he’d punched it in frustration, still unrepaired, a reminder I saw regularly. The time he hit me (but it was only once, and he said he was sorry, so what’s the big deal?). Without being conscious of it, I had always been aware of the heat of his anger, fed by resentment and all-too-frequent frustration, making me careful about what I said and did. I knew too well the banked heat of his fury would flare up and scorch me if he had a bad day.

He had a lot of bad days lately. The big project he had been working on, the one my clients were excited about, was behind schedule. He was convinced it was ready to ship, but Adam kept sending him back to retool it. The deepfakes looked too fakey, he said, the phrases they voiced came across as automated, robotic, weird. And it wasn’t just Adam being picky, there was an unacceptable percentage of misfires according to test subjects. “I don’t get it,” he groused one night as we headed for home. “It seems to me to be working fine, but Adam keeps telling me to keep at it. I guess that’s what happens when you work for a perfectionist.”

“That sounds like Adam, all right,”  I murmured, hoping it would come across as support. I was never entirely sure how Robbie would take my words, or what might set him off, and my nervousness just made it harder to figure out what to say.

“He totally knows what he’s doing. He’s a genius. But it’s frustrating. I think the problem is mainly in the language processing routine. Something’s throwing it off. I asked Sanjay to look into it. Maybe he’ll see something we can tweak. He’s pretty good with neural networks.”

So was Aurora, I thought to myself, but I’d have to be suicidal to say it out loud. Robbie’s attitude toward her had only grown more entrenched.


The day after Aurora got the boot I went through my calendar to find all the blocks of time scheduled for my monthly meetings with her and changed each event name to things like “dentist” and “dry cleaning.” Something stubborn in me clung to having an hour dedicated to something other than the job. I would take a walk or have a cappuccino or a glass of wine all by myself, and hope Robbie didn’t notice. He didn’t always keep close track of my calendar—it was too full for me to keep track of it—but when he did, he was prone to finding things to fight about.

When the time for the first falsely-scheduled hour came around, I went to the coffee joint she took me to the first time, back when I was a noob. We often had our monthly meetings there. As soon as I stepped through the door a weighted load of memories landed on me and I felt that stuffed-up sinus pressure that came from holding back tears.

I missed her. I missed feeling good about what I was doing with my life. Coming here was a terrible idea. I would have turned around and left if the barista hadn’t recognized me with a beaming smile. She had served us often and always remembered my usual order, while coaxing the more adventurous Aurora to try something new.

Fine, I’d order my usual and then take a walk for the rest of the stolen hour, anything but sit in this place that only reminded me of who I’d been just a few weeks ago, before I began to doubt everything. I placed my order and snagged a corner table near the window where I could stare outside and try to empty my mind.

But when I went to collect my latte the barista told me to hang on a sec and started rummaging around a cluttered desk behind the counter. “Ah! Here it is.” She handed me a folded piece of paper. “Glad you came by before it got lost.”

My name was on it, and inside was a single line in block printing. “Install the Signal app on your phone (personal not work) and contact me. xoxo.” No signature, but I was sure it was from Aurora. Almost sure. I wasn’t completely confident about anything anymore. But I followed instructions, downloaded the app, and sent a message to the number I had for Aurora’s non-work phone.




I had finished my drink before I got a text in response.


>Hi yourself. Sorry I didn’t say goodbye.

>Not much chance.

>Can we meet?


Those tears tried to make an appearance again.


>YES. When and where?”


Right now, apparently. Following her directions, I called a cab and gave the driver an address in a neighborhood I’d never been to before. It turned out to be a residential street with working class houses and rust bucket cars parked on one side, a fence lined with overgrown shrubs on the other. I tapped a message into the app: “I’m here.” She sent back instructions to head back the way I’d come and follow the fence around the corner until I got to the cemetery gates. Once inside, take the first left.

There she was, a short distance away, sitting on a concrete bench. She held out her Faraday pouch and I fumbled my phone into it. “Left my work phone at my desk,” I said once it was sealed up, whispering for some reason.

“Good idea.” She stood and pushed her palms against the small of her back. “Oof, I don’t know who Arthur McTavish was,” she pointed to the inscription on its back, In Memory Of. “But his seat sure is uncomfortable.”

“I’m so glad to see you.” I couldn’t keep them back this time, the tears. She looked dismayed, but stood and wrapped me in her arms, rubbed my back, made soothing noises until I broke away and wiped my face. “Sorry. It’s just not the same anymore without you. I can’t believe they did that to you.”

“I can’t believe I gave so many years of my life to that place.”

I knuckled my nose again. “What’s with the graveyard?”

“It seemed appropriate.” She laughed. “Here lies the career of Aurora Bello, rest in pieces. Also, not a lot of security cameras in this neighborhood, and with all this open space there’s less chance we’ll be overheard.”

“Shit. You’re being watched?”

“Let’s just say I don’t want to run the risk of getting you in trouble for talking to a troublemaker. How much time do you have?”

“As much as you want.” While I was in the cab, I’d juggled my afternoon schedule and put in some dummy errands, in case anyone checked.

“Up for a walk? I’m stiff, thanks to Arthur, need to stretch.”

We strolled down the drive, then took a footpath through rows of headstones. “I can’t believe Adam canned you,” I said.

“Oh, I can.”

“He just let a lot of talent walk out the door. Seems so stupid. How many job offers have you had?”

“Well, now, that’s an interesting thing. I’m suddenly a pariah in the industry. Ain’t nobody gonna give this crazy bitch a job.”


“I gave this talk, right? At a conference. A small one, mostly academics. Said stuff people have been saying for years. When I say people, I mean mostly women. Mar Hicks, Timnit Gebru, Safiya Noble, Virginia Eubanks. For some reason, the bros aren’t all that concerned about what kind of damage they’re doing as they move fast and break things. Anyway, I didn’t think it was a big thing, but it’s all it took. Adam used it as an excuse to cut me loose. Then he finished the job by cutting my career to shreds.”


“Yes, it’s what Eventive is good at. They move quickly, I’ll say that for then. I started reaching out to my contacts thinking ‘fuck this shit, I’ll show him.’ And every door got slammed in my face. Even my old advisor at MIT got weird when I called him. He’d been hearing things. The old rumor mill grinding away, and turns out there’s all kinds of shit out there about me once you start poking around.”

“But people know you. You’re brilliant.”

She held up a finger. “No, I’m crazy. Which, okay, I have a mental illness, I’ll cop to that, but I didn’t do any of that stuff that you’ll read about me online. It’s part of the deluxe package, planting reputation-destroying stuff that forms a whole backstory, all of it detonated with the push of a button, then boosted with industry-leading SEO and hand-crafted fieldwork personally organized by Connie Uys. I should be flattered. This kind of operation usually targets heads of state or opposition leaders. It’s expensive.”

“But … why? I mean, what’s the point? Is Adam that pissed off?”

“He’s pissed off, all right, but it’s tactical. Preemptive. He wants to make sure nobody will listen to me if I tell them what Eventive is doing. I know too much, and he thinks I’ll blab. What really gets me?” She shook her head and looked up at the sky, unable to speak for a minute. When she did, her voice trembled. “Goddammit, I helped build Eventive, and it’s doing so. Much. Harm.”

“I didn’t see it before, but now … I don’t even want to work there anymore.”

“No.” She stopped to face me and put her hands on my shoulders, her grip painfully tight. “No, no, no. Wait. Let the dust settle. You leave now? They’ll freak. You don’t want them connecting you with me any more than they already do. You hear people saying shit, don’t stick up for me. Keep your head down and do your work. Plan an exit if that’s what you need to do, but put it off as long as you can. I don’t want them…” She paused, her mouth tight. “What they did to me, they’d do to you if you’re not careful. You have to take care of yourself, you hear me? Now, let’s walk. Let’s pretend we’re here to visit the deceased.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked after a while.

“Spend time with my folks. They’re confused right now, and worried. I have to reassure them. See if I can rebuild my life. There might be a place for me in Germany. An old friend runs a center for AI ethics at a university. He’s been trying to get me to work with him since before I got my doctorate. He seems to be on my side, or at least reserving judgment. I might be able to do research there, unofficially.”

“Maybe I could come visit. Unofficially.”

“Best thing for you to do is pretend you never knew me.” She paused by a lichen-covered gravestone and crouched down to peer at it. “Look, I have a favor to ask, and I’m not sure I should.”

“Ask away.”

She traced a carved name with a fingertip, then rose from her crouch. She looked as if she were about to speak but closed her mouth and walked on. “Do you believe what I’ve been telling you?” she asked, looking out over rows of headstones that marched in a line down the swoop of the lawn.

“What? Of course.”

“It’s pretty whacky stuff. You aren’t thinking somewhere at the back of your head ‘sounds pretty paranoid. Maybe she did go off the rails. Maybe those rumors are true, and all this is just a symptom of her psychiatric condition.’”

“Hell, no. Don’t even say that. I don’t know if I can trust anyone else, but I trust you.”

“What about Robbie?”

I sighed. “I think we’re done. I just haven’t figured out how to end it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not. Well, I am, but only because I tried so hard for so long. Anyway, I’m not going to tell him anything. What’s this favor?”

She took a deep breath, blew it out, her hands jammed into her pockets. “Okay. I’m going to give you something. Don’t do anything with it. Just keep it, in case. Hide it good. I shouldn’t do this to you, but I don’t have anyone else. Can you hold onto this for me?”

She reached for my hand and I felt something slipped into it. A thumb drive, warm from Aurora clutching it. I followed her lead and casually put my hands in my pockets, my fingers wrapped around it, holding onto that warmth. “Of course. I’ll keep it safe. What is it?”

“Documents. If something happens … you know a reporter, right? Someone you trust? Give it to him if something happens to me.”

“Something already did happen. They’re trashing your career. Why don’t I—”

“No. Promise me.” She glared at me, suddenly fierce. “Just hold onto it, okay? Don’t let anyone know you have it. I’m going to call you a cab. You’re not going to be able to flag one down out here.” She fished out the pouch, got out her phone, then turned away and made the call. “He’ll meet you at the gate. I’m going to go see if I can find where Arthur McTavish is buried, tell him what I think of his stupid bench. You take care of yourself.”

She took my phone out and handed it to me before she crushed me in a hug. She whispered “thank you,” then pushed me away before striding down the path, head held high. She didn’t look back.


I stopped by our apartment before returning to work, sorted through the random thumb drives that had landed in a junk drawer, and found one that would do. It was similar in appearance apart from a piece of paper I’d taped to it years ago when I’d downloaded my favorite film from Pirate Bay and saved it on a stick. Brazil. The ink was a little smudged, and the paper it was written on had yellowed. I carefully pried the tape off the USB and smoothed the label onto Aurora’s thumb drive, dug around to find a roll of scotch tape and carefully added just enough to ensure it would stay put without looking too fresh. Robbie hated that movie, and it wasn’t likely he would reuse an old USB when the new ones were so much faster. I pushed the thumb drive to the back of the drawer and scrambled its contents to restore it to its usual chaotic state. Then I went to the office.


The next months were strange. During the weeks after Aurora was fired I was adrift, confused, having trouble concentrating. But strangely enough, after our meeting in the cemetery I resumed my old identity, joking with clients, landing more contracts, talking up the capabilities of the product with my trainees as enthusiastically as ever. I had somehow switched on my previous self, as if it were a highly-realistic automaton equipped with the latest version of speech generation software, while the aware, human part of me stood back in the shadows, assessing my performance. My relationship with Robbie had returned to normal, too. I was able to parry the barbs he threw at me when he was irritable with even greater success than usual, smoothing his ruffled feathers and avoiding arguments.  The love, or whatever it had been, was gone, but he didn’t notice.

I had lost all faith in the company, in Adam, in Robbie, but work went on. I segmented my life so thoroughly that I didn’t let my doubts surface except in private moments, like when I was waiting for a flight in an airport or waking up in a hotel room somewhere far from headquarters, or the times when I stopped by the coffee shop for a latte, hoping for another message from Aurora. I never got one on paper or through the Signal app. She was keeping me safe, I told myself, but it still stung.

At those times of doubt, with my guard lowered and my automated identity switched off, my gut would twist and thoughts would circle, running on a hamster wheel, going nowhere frantically. It was a weird, bifurcated pause in my life, a hiatus between my years as a tech evangelist, unthinkingly helping Eventive run endless experiments on the public, perfecting its ability to surveille and influence, and the time that followed, when I was on the run from that hideous power.

Those weeks of performing my former self, a loyal employee happy to work at Eventive, stuttered to a stop the day I learned that Aurora was dead.




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