- Published: 16 November 2021
- ISBN: 9780241535493
- Imprint: Hamish Hamilton
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 608
- RRP: $29.99
The electrifying follow up to Sunday Times bestseller The Circle
NOTE: This story takes place in the near future. Don’t try to work out when. Any anachronisms of time and physics occur on purpose. All errors pertaining to technology, chronology or judgment are intentional and exist to serve you better.
Delaney emerged from the dim subway and into a world of sterling light. The day was clear, and the sun struck the Bay’s numberless waves and threw golden sparks everywhere. Delaney turned away from the water and walked the hundred feet to the Every campus. This alone—taking the subway, making her way to the gate unaccompanied, without a vehicle—made her an anomaly and confused the gate’s two guards standing in their booth. Their domain was glass, pyramidal, like the tip of a crystalline obelisk.
“You walked here?” asked one of the guards. Rowena, by her badge, was maybe thirty, raven-haired and dressed in a crisp yellow top, snug like a bicycle bib. She smiled, revealing an endearing gap between her two front teeth.
Delaney provided her name, and said that she had an interview with Dan Faraday.
“Finger, please?” Rowena asked.
Delaney put her thumb on the scanner and a grid of photos, videos and data appeared on Rowena’s screen. There were pictures of Delaney she hadn’t seen herself—was that a gas station in Montana? In the full-body shots, she was slouching, the burden of her too-tall teenhood. Standing by the booth, Delaney straightened her posture as her eyes wandered over images of her in her Park Ranger uniform, at a mall in Palo Alto, riding a bus in what looked to be Twin Peaks.
“You grew your hair out,” Rowena said. “Still short, though.”
Delaney reflexively ran her fingers through her thick black bob.
“Says your eyes are green,” Rowena said. “They look brown. Can you get closer?” Delaney got closer. “Ah! Pretty,” Rowena said. “I’ll call Dan.”
While Rowena was contacting Faraday, another snafu occupied the second guard, a gaunt and sullen man of about fifty. A white van had pulled up, and the driver, a red-bearded man sitting high above the guards’ window, explained that he had a delivery.
“Delivery of what?” the gaunt guard asked.
The driver briefly turned his head toward the back of the van, as if to be sure of his impending description. “It’s a bunch of baskets. Gift baskets. Stuffed animals, chocolate, that kind of thing,” he said.
Now Rowena, whom Delaney assumed was the alpha of the glass obelisk, took over. “How many baskets?” she asked.
“I don’t know. About twenty,” the driver said.
“And is anyone expecting these?” Rowena asked.
“I don’t know. I think it’s for potential clients maybe?” the driver said, a sudden exhaustion in his voice. This was evidently a conversation already far longer than what he was accustomed to. “I think these are just gifts for some people that work here,” he said, and reached to the passenger seat, where he found a tablet and tapped it a few times. “It says these are for Regina Martinez and the Initiative K Team.”
“And who is the sender?” Rowena asked. Her tone, now, was almost amused. It was clear, to Delaney at least, that this particular delivery would not be consummated.
Again the driver consulted his tablet. “It says the sender is something called MDS. Just M-D-S.” Now the driver’s voice had, too, taken on a fatalistic tone. Would it matter, he seemed to wonder, if he even knew what MDS stood for?
Rowena’s face softened. She murmured into a microphone, apparently speaking to a different security phalanx within the Every. “Never mind. I’ve got it. It’s a turnaround.” She tilted her head sympathetically to the driver. “You can turn around just up here.” She pointed to a cul-de-sac fifteen yards ahead.
“So I drop the baskets there?” the driver asked.
Rowena smiled again. “Oh no. We won’t be accepting your…”—the pause seemed meant to allow sufficient venom to accumulate for the next, heretofore benign, word—“baskets.”
The driver raised his hands to heaven. “I’ve been delivering for twenty-two years and no one’s ever refused delivery.” He looked to Delaney, who was still standing next to the booth, as if he might find in her a potential ally. She averted her eyes, resting them upon the campus’s tallest building, an aluminum-clad corkscrew tower that housed Algo Mas, the company’s algorithm thinktank.
“First of all,” Rowena explained, clearly uninterested in the driver’s history of successful delivery, “your cargo doesn’t meet security thresholds. We’d have to X-ray every one of your…”—again she hissed the word—“baskets, and we aren’t prepared to do that. Secondly, the company has a policy whereby we don’t bring unsustainable or improperly sourced goods onto campus. My guess is that those baskets”—somehow she’d made it an epithet—“contain extensive plastic packaging? And processed foods? And factory-farmed fruit without organic or fair-trade certification, all of it no doubt covered with pesticides? Are there nuts in these”—still more venom—“baskets? I’m assuming so, and this campus is nut-free. And you said something about stuffed animals? There’s no way I could let you bring cheap non-biodegradable toys onto campus.”
“You don’t accept non-biodegradable toys?” the driver asked. He had his meaty palm against the dashboard now, as if bracing himself against collapse.
Rowena exhaled loudly. “Sir, I’ve got a few cars behind you now. You can turn around just past the booth.” She pointed to the roundabout that was no doubt busy all day with people, trucks and goods, unwanted by the Every, returning to the unexamined world. The driver stared long at Rowena, and finally put his van into gear and rolled toward the turnaround.
The scene was odd in so many ways, Delaney thought. A non-Every delivery driver in the first place. Five years earlier, the Circle had bought an ecommerce behemoth named after a South American jungle, and the acquisition created the richest company the world had ever known. The subsummation necessitated the Circle changing its name to the Every, which seemed to its founders definitive and inevitable, hinting as it did at ubiquity and equality. The ecommerce giant, too, was happy for a new start. The once-rational, once-dependable online marketplace had been allowed to devolve into a chaotic wasteland of shady vendors, product knockoffs and outright fraud. The company had ceded all control and responsibility, and customers began to peel off; no one loved being cheated or deceived. By the time the site course-corrected, they’d lost the trust of a fickle public. The Circle engineered a stock takeover, and the site’s founder, increasingly distracted by divorces and lawsuits, was only too happy to cash out and devote his time to space exploration with his fourth spouse. They were planning to retire on the Moon.
After the acquisition, a new logo was conjured. Essentially it was three waves crashing around a perfect circle, and hinted at the flow of water, the bursting of new ideas, of interconnectivity, at infinity. Successful or not, it improved upon the Circle’s previous logo, which implied a manhole cover, and easily beat the longtime logo of the ecommerce behemoth, which was an insincere smirk. Because the negotiations had been fraught and finally unfriendly, now that the merger was complete, it was unwise to use the ecommerce company’s previous name on campus; if it was mentioned at all, it was referred to as the jungle, lowercase j intentional.
The Circle had been in nearby San Vincenzo since its inception, but a fortuitous confluence of events brought them to Treasure Island, largely manmade, in the middle of San Francisco Bay—extending from a real island called Yerba Buena. This new landmass was built in 1938, the intended home of a new airport. When WWII broke out, it was converted to a military base, and in the decades since, its patchwork of airplane hangars were slowly converted to maker spaces, wineries, and affordable housing—all with breathtaking views of the Bay, the bridges, the East Bay hills. No developers would touch it, though, given the unknown military (and presumed toxic) waste buried under its abundant concrete. But in the 2010s, speculators finally worked out the mitigation, and glorious plans were drawn up. A new water-port was built, a new subway stop was added, and a four-foot wall was erected around the perimeter for the next few decades’ expected sea-level rise. Then the pandemics struck, capital dried up, and the island was there for the taking. The only catch was California law dictated that access to the waterfront be public. The Every fought this quietly, then publicly, but ultimately lost, and a shoreline perimeter path around the island remained available to anyone who could get there.
Delaney spun left to find a man in his early forties standing before her. His head was shaved, and his large brown eyes were magnified by rimless glasses. The collar of his black, zippered shirt was positioned upward, his legs smothered in snug green denim.
“Dan?” she asked.
After the pandemics, handshakes were medically fraught—and, many thought, aggressive—but no one substitute-greeting had been agreed upon. Dan chose to tip an imaginary top hat in Delaney’s direction. Delaney offered a brief bow.
“Should we walk?” he asked, and slipped past her, through the gate. He strolled not into campus but out into the island’s perimeter sidewalk.
Delaney followed. She had heard this was the way of most first interviews at the Every. With humans as with non-biodegradable toys, the Every did not want the unscreened, the unchosen, risking the infection of the campus. Each new person presented a security risk of one kind or another, and given that interviewees like Delaney had no clearances and had not been vetted in any thorough way—not beyond nine or so cursory AI screenings—it was best to conduct the first interview off-campus. But this was not what Dan said.
“I need to get my steps in,” he said instead, pointing to his oval, a ubiquitous bracelet able to track myriad health metrics, made by the Every and required by all insurers and most governments.
“Me too,” Delaney said, and pointed to her own oval, which she loathed with molten fury but which was integral to her disguise.
Dan Faraday smiled. Every candidate, Delaney was sure, came wearing all possible Every products. It was not pandering. It was an obligatory ante before the game began. Dan motioned Delaney to cross the street, entering the public promenade.
Forgive me, Delaney thought. Everything from here on out is lies.
The aging captain, gray at the temples now, had steered the great ship Glory for many years, and was ready to retire.
It began with the allocating of luck, our bodies pinballs inside a machine. It was the year of overlapping adolescences, when the girls started to faint and grow tall.
Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.
It was religious yearning granted hope, it was the holy grail of science. Our ambitions ran high and low – for a creation myth made real, for a monstrous act of self-love.
Nadia once told me that she was kept awake at night by the idea that she would read about the end of the world on a phone notification.
Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.