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Synopsis

Each story in this sequence is set five years apart in order to allow the tale to be determined by the content, not a frame, and so the voice and style of each is distinct.
As such, it is simpler to let it speak for itself than describe it:

The island had been their world for over a year now. It could have been idyllic, or terrible, but instead it was host to a contented team busily working underground, amidst screens and handfuls of wiring and components, like the bloodless remnants of a robotic massacre.
Whether they would still be there tomorrow depended on the game.

Feng wasn’t normally competitive, but did not want to lose today. Losing meant that they would leave the island in victory, and he would become the first high ranking player to be beaten by a machine. That aside, leaving the intellectual Elysium of the island was itself unpalatable. His defeat would be their triumph, but was still sour in his mouth.
If anyone had bothered to ask, he would have told them so. They didn’t, partly because he was sitting alone in the centre of the room, the others arrayed in tiered seating around him.
Still, he would have liked someone to ask. Or, for that matter, talk to him; the contrast between their easy conversation and his tension wasn’t helping. He sat back, treasuring the few moments of calm before the game began, scanning the faces around him.

They were a study in diversity, disparate ages and nationalities brought together by the promise of technological marvels. Each had achieved something substantial, early enough that it did not draw too much attention, and turned down personal glory, believing their work and the products of their labours to be more important than their egos. Somehow, despite their privacy, they had been noticed by a well-resourced but secretive start-up called Abraxas, and enlisted to create the computing architecture of the future, the systems that would enable a new wave of interaction with the world and between humanity.
That was what they had been told, at least. It was revealed as a lie when they got to the island. They didn’t really care. On the island they had access to technologies that were little more than rumours to the world at large. These marvels were duly understood and accepted as justifications for duplicity and secrecy. In a connected world, paranoia was no longer rare, or unreasonable, an inevitable cost of being at the edge of progress. They had been sold, and hungrily bought, the dream of building a brighter world.

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