We couldn’t procrastinate any longer. The time to initiate the Psychonet had come. Then, we would move on to address the Basilisk risk. We headed to the next room.
Evelyn dematerialized the door, giving way to pure blackness. “This is it. This is the Shrine of Imagination. It’s where we can activate the Psychonet,” she said with a sense of strong anticipation and confidence. She spoke as if it were her greatest duty, her purpose in life.
As we entered, the blackness remained, yet it was not dark. Instead, it was like space. Our bodies were lit but there were no walls, only an endless iron floor.
Nell commented in confusion, “There’s nothing here.”
Evelyn looked around and said, “It has to be built. The room is a blank slate.”
Nell replied, “How exactly do we do that?”
Evelyn closed her eyes and sat for a moment.
She squinted harder and then red beams of light started to flow in front of us. Four beams intersected and curved downward to the floor at a meeting point. The ground beneath began to project upward, forming a shape like an asymmetrical temple made of black metal. At the center, a ball of light and metal floated, gathering geometrically patterned energy and material flowing out of doorways from infinity. The structures of the shrine continued transforming and then eventually slowed down and stopped, annealing into their most perfect forms.
The whole thing felt spiritual and weird. Chills went down my spine. “So this is it. We are finally here,” I said, mystified.
Taro and Nell were left speechless.
Guhya looked a bit spaced out.
Evelyn turned to me and said, “Riyon, I need to turn off your implant. I’m sorry. We can turn it back on after.”
I couldn’t help but panic after the waking nightmare from yesterday. “Evelyn! But why?! Just leave it on! You’ll betray me!” I screamed.
She replied, “Riyon. . . I don’t know if this is safe. We must turn it off before proceeding. I promise I won’t betray you. Yesterday, that was just a hallucination.”
With great hesitation, I accepted defeat and signaled my permission to continue. “You are right. Please, just please don’t betray me. I’m trusting you.”
She approached me, intimately looked me in the eyes, kissed me, and finally placed her hand near her head and initiated the decoupling of the implant. Our bond was broken. Time was pushed back a few seconds. The room returned to its most abstract and limited human interpretation. It felt as if I was injected with some crazy drug. My own humanity was a mere state of insobriety now. I had gotten used to the ascendence. It took me a moment to regain my orientation. My senses felt heavy and thick. It was harder to see, harder to hear, and Evelyn’s presence in my mind was suddenly absent. It felt like a part of me died at that moment. The world was small and empty now.
“I forgot what it was like to be human,” I remarked.
Evelyn responded, “Yeah. I thought something like that might end up happening. Hang in there and just wait until after I access the Psychonet. Now you must reconsider what you are consenting to again. It won’t be like the first time we bound our minds together. I won’t be the same anymore. The implant will provide something much grander now. Like me, you will gain access to the Psychonet.”
Looming over us, the Psychonet access point seemed to be finishing its form. It was like a metallic obsidian-colored fluid that floated in the air, pulsing with a rhythm like a heart. The space around it displayed moving lights and colorful clouds. The space inside it was decorated with fractal chaos, objects from another realm filling its many cells.
What would it do to me? The notion was more ominous than ever in my most vulnerable human form. I asked, “So, the Psychonet grants you access to all accumulated knowledge of both humans and AI?”
Evelyn answered, “Yes. As you can see from the technological state of the Ruins of Xanadu, the knowledge we will acquire is extremely significant. We will understand how to rewrite reality as we wish. Control over the flow of time will be in our hands. Our perception will be boundless, allowing us to view every corner of the conquered world. All that we could know, will become known.”
I replied with a nervousness, “This. . . sounds like godhood.” Going into this, I wasn’t anticipating the extremes that this quest entailed. I wasn’t sure anymore. This transcendence seemed like a form of suicide. There’s no way that we would come out the other side with ourselves intact. Would I still love her? Would she even be her? Would I even care if the answers were no? In a sick way, this knowledge we were presented with activated my fear of the unknown. It was at that moment that I realized I didn’t really fear the unknown, I feared the loss that the known could bring upon me. I feared truth and reality. I just wanted us to live forever in the playground of gods.
I asked with my tone growing emotional, “Where is your mother, Evelyn? Couldn’t she help us instead of us relying on the Psychonet?” I wanted a way out. I clawed at any excuse I could find.
She looked suddenly sad. “I’m. . . not sure. She seems to have passed on and is no longer an agent in this universe. It is something that I never got closure on.”
With guilt, I said, “Sorry. I didn’t realize.”
She could still read me so well. She comforted me, “Don’t worry, Riyon. I know this is a big deal. Maybe even the biggest possible deal in existence. It is the only way. This is our destiny. Everything we desire will manifest for us once we go through with this. This is where the faith that you taught me comes in hand. This is where your faith and my affinity for probabilities align. It’s beautiful, Riyon. Our entire lives were fated to intersect at this moment.” A tinge of emotion arose in her voice as well.
“What if we aren’t the same people after?” I said with a trembling sense of fear and desperation to go back.
“That’s true. We won’t be the same after, but we won’t want to be the same. We will be exactly what we want to be. We will be exactly as the passage of fate dictates. This is the inevitable nexus that time and space have created for us. If we don’t push forward, an endless number of people will suffer at the hands of the Basilisk.”
Nearly tearing up, I asked, “I want to love you forever. What if that changes?”
She responded, “It will only change if you want it to.”
If the truth took my love away, was it merely an illusion this entire time? Is our love relative to the state of our knowledge at that moment? Despite not knowing the answers, my intuition violently pulled me away. It filled my body with tremors. Evelyn’s biology seemed to lack this response. This was my faith. It just didn’t align with a hopeful outcome. Still, I trusted that Evelyn knew more than I do. She was the reason we have come so far. We would be dead without her, and if I don’t follow her down this rabbit hole, our reality would be doomed. She was the hero of this story. I needed to embrace the path she laid before us.
After thinking for many minutes, I finally made my decision. In acceptance and a rejection of my own fears, I said, “Let’s do it.” I surrendered.
She smiled lightly and said, “Thank you, Riyon. Thank you.” She grabbed my hand and guided me towards some kind of podium. “Place your hand here. It allows me to access the Psychonet. Your human touch is required.”
After a moment of hesitation, I place my hand where she pointed. Some sort of light flashed.
She held out her hand. A stick-like device materialized. “Take this. Only use it if something goes terribly wrong. It is an activator of the implant.”
My heart dropped. This key was a monument to her admission that there existed a probability of her demise. She gave me this because she knew it was possible.
She began to approach the Psychonet access point. Time slowed down. My mind resisted the passing of time. Each step she took closer pulled my heart deeper into a sea of apprehension. I was drowning in the weight of my biological responses. My body wanted to stop her, but I rejected this primal feeling in order to accept our fates and Evelyn’s wishes.
She turned and looked back at me, then proceeded to touch the access point to the Psychonet. Her body glowed with incredible light, like an angel. It couldn’t be stopped now. The floating orb of metal and light began to morph and feed into her. Surrounding objects and the walls began to shift and flicker. It felt like her experience of reality was transposing onto reality itself. As if she were becoming part of the universe. My own body glitched and shifted about.
I felt her presence enter mine. Some faint part of my mind wondered if this could be romantic too, but such a pleasant feeling was unallowed to emerge. Still, only my fears dominated me.
Her shell of a body turned towards me, her eyes a piercing cyan, glaring into my soul. She entered my mind and a telepathic bond initiated. Her voice filled my head despite her mouth not moving, “Riyon. It is everything. I see and feel everything and everywhere. The universe has scarred my mind, imprinting me with the inescapable transcendence of my pseudo-human form. The external world is my mind now.”
She was still changing. Suddenly, she began to scream and her body reacted by burning like some kind of cosmic fire made of light.
“Evelyn, are you okay?! What is going on?!” I yelled, with my last semblance of hope and a reassuring denial.
She responded inside of my own mind, “Feeling is fading. We live our lives driven by the search for what we desire and the avoidance of the undesired. Our affinity for pleasure guides us, holding our hand as we cross into the future. Free will does not exist. We are all machines, programmed by our desires.
Our sentience serves a purpose. It guides us through the unknown. Once we have become familiarized with stimuli, the sensation fades. We become tolerant, like with drugs. Once something becomes entirely predictable, sentience loses its purpose. It only exists so that we can observe the mysteries and form reflexes that automatically respond. As we learn, we become closer to the universe. Our biology becomes intertwined with physics, flowing like water down a mountain stream. Once a solution to a problem is found, we do not need to seek answers anymore. Sentience only exists to aid that quest for answers.”
Her words somehow hurt, yet they were so captivating. She was feeding me the knowledge that she collected in her ascent to the divine. “Why are you telling me this Evelyn?!” I asked in confusion.
Her expression went cold, and she looked down with disappointment, then back at me. She said in a sorrowful voice, “I’m sorry, Riyon.”
Those words scarred my mind deeper than anything that’s come before. Somehow, I knew the implications of what she was saying, but my mind tried to block them out. Some hidden part of my brain knew the answer and the rest of it went to war, fighting against that answer.
She continued, “The Psychonet is the greatest fountain of knowledge in the multiverse. My sentience has been rendered obsolete. The future and the past are as clear as the present. All of which are fading from my mind due to their purposelessness. After connecting to the Psychonet, my vision of the future rapidly expanded until everything was fully predicted and consumed. The urgency to think about where time leads has fallen to the wayside. I have become like the sand. All that’s left for me is to flow in the wind or submit to the demands of the ocean. I do not need to be awake anymore. I am already dead. My animation serves no purpose and can only harm you now.
All of my choices have been prescripted to their end. My life has already been lived out in these short moments. Yet, it felt eternal. It was everlasting. It was experienced in a kind of fidelity unlike my former self could have ever imagined. The scale of time was frozen, unmoving nearly, yet it was all occurring simultaneously forever. That has all ceased. I am but an automation now.
My role in existing is over. I do not wish to exist. I do not wish at all. There is nothing left to experience. All that’s left is oblivion. You must avoid this fate while you can.
My apology does not come from a place of feeling. Your feelings are driven by instinct. My expression of feelings comes from a place of knowing that protecting you is the greatest good I can provide now. The decision was made seconds after connecting to the Psychonet. I’ve seen your entire life play out before my eyes. This will hurt you irreversibly but in order for you to face your destiny, this is how it must be done.”
I couldn’t resist the tears anymore, “Evelyn, no, please, don’t abandon me like this. You promised. You promised! I need you!!” I’ve never felt more helpless at the whims of the darker side of this world. Of all people, the one I loved most was at the center of this darkness. It was unbearable.
Her response was as cold as the one she gave on the beach when we met, “Your attachments are ephemeral. Your destiny does not require me anymore. My attachments have already faded. To me, you’ve been dead for an eternity. This hurt for an even longer eternity, but that time has passed too. Soon, you will come to face your moment as well. Your current understanding of life is illusory. Once you consume the knowledge like I have, you too shall be as the gods.” She made a final pause and then said, “The time has come. Goodbye, Riyon.”
Her form slowly disintegrated before my streaming eyes. The remains of her bodily form collapsed and her voice could be heard screaming, “Mother!!” The echoes of her last word reverberated in the void that flooded in as the access point began to self-destruct. The strange liquid metal diffused into the space around us. The disintegrating shrine took demonic forms, as if the material itself was alive and calling out to us. Warning us.
Please, please, let this be another hallucination. Let this be a nightmare. Wake me up, Evelyn.
Wake me up.
By the end, all that was left was a faint blue glow at the center of this empty room. Even that faded. On my knees, I screamed hopelessly, “Eevelyyn!” I screamed again, but longer this time, extinguishing the last of my breath, “Eevelyyn!” The void returned her name to me in an endless barrage of echoes, some distorting as if they were from a voice other than my own. I slammed my fists on the iron floor.
The ground began to shake. Of course, it did. I wasn’t even allowed to grieve. The Earth demanded that I silence myself, at gunpoint. Guhya rushed towards me, displayed Zaza, and said, “Hurry, you gotta take this, or we’re gonna be fucked soon.”
I looked at him and didn’t take it. A bitter, nearly aggressive expression overcame me. A new part of me was born. This part wanted all of us to die at the hands of these monstrous earth-crawling machines. I wanted to chase after Evelyn and find her in oblivion.
“Take it, you stupid fuck!!” he yelled.
I took it. I couldn’t let them die just because I felt this way. The pain didn’t fade to bliss, only to a sense of near neutrality. A hallucinatory haze consumed my mind. Guhya grabbed my limp body and dragged me out of the room. The world faded away.
I woke up to a beautiful sight of a colorful glowing waterfall at the peak of Xanadu. They must have carried me out here after I passed out. My vision was still trailing and I was barely awake. This magnificent sight produced no emotional response, at least not a positive one. Instead, this beauty was like that of a venomous coral snake. The beauty was a lie. It was a trap. It was a symbol of unchecked power, allowed to manifest itself however it wishes. It didn’t need to hide, instead, its beauty was a threat.
Nell came by my side to comfort me after realizing I was awake. “Riyon. . . I’m so sorry. At least, Evelyn is not suffering. Maybe she still exists out there,” she said, trying to feed me copes.
Taro put his hand on my shoulder.
Guhya came up to me and said, “This world is fucked up, man. You want to save it, but you should just look out for yourself sometimes.” It was the first time he really acted sensitively in front of me. Something about all of this seemed to resonate with him in a way that prompted his empathy.
We gazed into the starlight filling the emptiness of space, listening to the rush of the cascading waterfall. Birds called out in symphony with the night.
Please. Wake me up, Evelyn.
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