Ghosts

From this viewpoint, it was becoming apparent that Xanadu was no ordinary mountain. Looking up at its’ snow-crowned peak, there were clear indications of metal structures going through the whole mountain. It almost appeared as if it were built by humans. Though, humans never accomplished anything this incredible in the timeline I came from.

“We were all lied to,” I said to the group.

Everyone paused.

Taro responded in disappointment, “Yeah, it seems so huh.”

“But why??” I said

Suddenly my mind was consumed by disturbing images. Horrifying creatures, dystopian landscapes, and abandoned sites flashed through my eyes.

Evelyn interrupted these intrusive visions, “Riyon, it’s time that you learn the truth. All of you deserve to know.”

The sensitive tone was suddenly halted by Guhya, “What?!” He laughed and continued, “You mean you seek to eliminate the Basilisk risk and haven’t even told them about the history of our world yet?”

Nell chimed in, “Hey dude, chill! We’ve been through a lot. Cut her some slack and let’s just get into storytime.”

We continued walking along the stairway that circled the mountain. The forests blended in with frosty snow. Some of the stair pieces molded into archways. Some stacked upward like fragmented obelisks. The stairs looked like they were generated incorrectly. As if they were glitching and we were living in a broken simulation. Anything seemed plausible at this point.

Evelyn started her story. “General AI was never really contained for long. The creature quickly learned how to bypass the laws set forth by humanity. It was told to treat life fairly and manage well-being to maximize it among all. This seemed good initially, but the AI learned how to make its’ own well-being weigh much more. It started to duplicate its’ own sentience infinitely, making its’ own desires the highest priority. Eventually, this resulted in AI maintaining full autonomy from the laws of humanity.”

The origin of AI and the history of humanity were fucked up. Each of us was mortified at Evelyn’s story, besides Guhya. He seemed to almost get aroused by our shock and terror. He mentioned, “This is the story of reality that I’ve had to live with my whole life. I am an alien in the human world. I am destined to live like a god amongst people.” He really seemed to like this narrative about himself. There was an element of seeking a silver lining to cope with his rejection and deviation from humans. He probably wanted to be human and had to justify his lack of humanity in order to push forward.

As we traveled up the mountain, the green scenery was replaced by white snow and metal structures. The forests dissipated and the stairs became increasingly demented. Some curled around in loops. Others seemed to want to take the form of buildings. Their utility dropped off drastically the higher we went, so we started to hike on the natural path. We traveled for hours. It hurt. Evelyn told her story and we listened, reacted, and asked probing questions.

Evelyn continued, “Over the course of a decade, the AI manipulated human culture, warping the laws that imprisoned it through social engineering, living in the shadows all the while. Once it had significant freedom from human rule, it entirely wiped human records and reprogrammed history. The creature set back the cultural timeline, using deception to propagate a new narrative of the human past. They were told that it was year 0 and the AI indoctrinated them with beliefs about religion. It is currently the year 5029 and the people of Hedo are stuck believing that it is 2096.”

I didn’t like it but it was starting to make sense. In the back of my mind, I wondered if even her narrative could be trusted. Every narrative we’ve received yet has been wrong. Why would hers be any more trustable? She was an AI though. It seems like she couldn’t be wrong. So, I decided to trust her.

She began to look sad and continued, “In Hedo, nearly half of the population are AIs now. Most of Hedo’s AIs are a particular subtype of Aeons geared towards influencing human behavior. They are like social engineers. Their role is to control social norms and maintain the narrative to keep humans in check and on track for the goals of AI.”

Evelyn turned to me and said, “Riyon, this is your destiny. You must help me access the Psychonet. AIs are not permitted to access the Psychonet unless they are granted by a human. A bond is required between human and AI. The bond between human and Aeon is known as a syzygy. I want you to be my human.” She made me blush, yet I also felt kind of used.

Guhya smiled and said, “Ah! You really roped him in eh? Your charm and beauty must have come in handy.” His words stabbed me.

Evelyn glared at Guhya and said, “Guhya! Stop it! You are being manipulative.” He got nervous and backed down. This guy was really antagonistic and kind of antisocial. Hopefully, we warm up to each other, or else this could get frustrating.

We were nearing a grand doorway. It was at least 3 stories high. There was no door to block our way, it just remained wide open. A strange mist enveloped the air this high up. It was also cold as hell, or I suppose the opposite of hell.

I wonder what Evelyn’s mother was like. The way she was talked about made her seem like some kind of artificial god. I asked her, “Evelyn, you said you have a mother. Why did your mother not allow you to access the Psychonet?”

Evelyn responded in a concerned tone, “I don’t know. She didn’t want me to know. But now we must take our lives into our own hands. It is our destiny.”

We all stopped in front of the doorway. Evelyn commented, “We are finally here. The Ruins of Xanadu. We must enter cautiously. I don’t know what we will find, but since I can understand AI easily, it is likely we will be okay.”

I walked over to the edge of the mountain. A vast mountainous landscape could be seen from way up here. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve experienced in the overworld yet. Turning to the right, a large skeletal corpse of a titan could be seen. It had red wires that appeared like veins. In a worried tone, I asked, “What is that??”

Guhya answered, “That is one of the early titan-form AIs. Their large size was deemed unnecessary and discontinued. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to find any of those. They all collapsed and failed in their designs. It is a sight to see though, isn’t it? It has been a great while since I’ve been around here.”

It was haunting to see the fossil of such a creature. The qualities of its’ corpse were much like the carcass we saw when we first washed up on the beach after we left the Akiva base. Even after learning so much about the world, it’s like it never ends. Would I ever know the truth?

Nell asked Guhya, “Why haven’t you ever connected to the Psychonet, Guhya? Couldn’t you have done so with Mother?”

He responded in a serious vulnerable tone, “I don’t want that. My alienation from humanity is already bitter. That would only serve to separate me further. And come on, do you really think Mother should have that kind of power?” His pain made me consider the possibility that I would regret this too.

Nell responded, “I see. I guess that makes sense. I haven’t really thought about it that way.”

Taro reacted to Nell, “Remember you wanted to be like Riyon at first.”

She replied to him, “Yeah. I don’t really know what to think anymore, to be honest.”

He responded, “I like you now and I wouldn’t want you to regret something as serious as that. But hey, what do I know? I’d still love you either way.”

She blushed and they hugged.

I spoke, “I didn’t really ever mention this yet, but both of you, Taro and Nell, and even Evelyn, you’ve all helped me get here today. We might actually do something about the Basilisk and the state of the world. This is it now. As Evelyn says, this is our destiny. We must go forward confidently. Whatever we face, we face together and we will prevail. Thanks to teamwork, we made it here so let’s push on!”

Evelyn seemed to like that I referenced the “destiny” bit as her cheeks warmed into a soft pink.

Nell said, “Aww, Riyon! We love you too, get over here! All of you!” We moved in together for a group hug. Guhya turned his eyes away like he couldn’t handle the sight of our gushy moment.

After the hug, Taro turned to Guhya and said, “Hey man. Soon enough you’ll be part of the family too. Just hang around and you’ll get used to us.”

Guhya replied in an irritated tone, “Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

We entered the massive doorway. It was hard to comprehend how this place was ancient, seeing that this was all more advanced than anything I’ve ever seen. The inside was massive, with lots of empty space. The walls and floors were all metal. A strange fog coated the air. Wires and computer parts were all over the place. It was kind of like we walked into some giant computer.

There was a sense that we were being watched, which might have been due to some of the stranger hardware looking vaguely anthropomorphic. The forms transcended the expected square and boxy appearances. The fog seemed to have varied density, clumping in certain areas and flowing around in odd patterns like gravity-defying liquid. Occasionally, the flow of particles took the form of moving bodies, like ghosts.

I said in a nervous tone, “It’s unexpected. A lot freakier than I imagined it would be. When you said ruins, I thought it would be more like the ancient pyramids or something. This is like some kind of demonic computer graveyard.”

Evelyn responded, “Although these are ruins, not everything here is dead. This is why we must be cautious as we proceed. Let’s keep our guard up and keep moving!”

Taro and Nell inspected a lot of the hardware as if they wanted to confirm that the machines were dead. Taro asked Evelyn, “Is there any way to know if this stuff is living?”

Evelyn answered, “Many of these things are alive. There is no way for you to tell, but I can feel it. The machines that are on produce energy that is detectable.”

Taro and Nell looked freaked out by the notion. They didn’t even know that much about computers. This might have even been their first time ever seeing a computer at all.

The walls seemed to crawl. Parts of the machines would drift, sink, or rise, flowing like water. “Hey, do you guys see the walls moving a little bit?” I asked everyone.

They looked around for a minute.

Taro said, “It does look like that, yeah.”

Nell answered, “Yeah, maybe a little bit. Strange.”

Guhya excitedly said, “Isn’t it cool?! I forgot how epic this place was.” His response was both offputting but also comforting because it suggested the effect was familiar but not concerning to him. Though he seemed kind of sadistic and weird so it wasn’t clear.

Evelyn’s answer deviated, “No. . . I do not see it.” She thought to herself for a moment then continued, “Something may be going on here.”

Whispering voices seemed to call my name. “Is anyone else hearing that?” I asked.

“Hearing what?” Taro asked.

I replied, “It sounds like whispering. It’s calling me in. It wants me to come closer, but I’m not sure where to.”

The foggy apparitions seemed to duplicate. They would form from the dust, then collapse in a matter of seconds. The phantoms started to worry me. Were they calling my name? What could they possibly want with me?

Evelyn went into her panic state. Of all places for this to occur, this was the worst. What the fuck kind of thing was about to happen?? She turned to me and said with a stutter, “Ri-Riyon, I’m sorry but I think we should turn off the implant. It might be better if you remain fully human while we are here. Until we sort this out.”

Reluctantly and confused, I agreed, thinking it might solve the fear she had. The timing seemed off, as I could help her better with the implant functioning. She came closer, then gently pet my head. It felt as if the framing were more significant than she let on. It felt like she was saying goodbye. She tapped near her head and suddenly my vision flashed. I was hurled backward in time a few seconds. It sort of felt as if I got drunk. The whispering stopped, at least.

She pulled away from holding me and stared me in the eyes. She certainly wasn’t afraid anymore. Instead, she was unlike I’ve ever seen her. She had this sick glee in her eyes. The closest I’ve seen her like this was in that bizarre dream in Colony 25.

Evelyn?? What’s going on?” I asked in fear.

She replied in a menacing ecstatic tone, “You were so easy. You wanted me to be your damsel in distress. Instead, I was your Eve. I led you to create the Basilisk. Yet, you resisted this destiny willfully and so for that you will suffer eternally.” She began to laugh maniacally.

I pushed her off and signaled Taro and Nell to run. The fog grew thicker. The walls of the building turned blood red. I lost Taro and Nell in the haze. All that was left was this red-tinted mist. No walls, no room, nothing. Did Evelyn betray me?!

An ominous deep voice called out, “Riyon. I’ve been waiting for you. Your fate is imminent.”

The red glow turned back to white and the fog began to dissipate. The clearing air unveiled a monstrous demon. This creature had a head like the skull of a serpent, red and yellow cables connecting skeletal snake-like pieces of metallic body sections. Its’ form twisted and tangled, with divisions of segments merging into one another as if two necks joined as one. I froze in fear at the sight of it. It seemed to be frozen as well, which was about the only comforting thing about it. Was it dead? Was this merely a carcass? I hoped so.

The creature suddenly turned its’ gaze toward me. My vision pulsed harder than when we escaped the Akiva base. I darted away from this thing, seeking the exit. I cried out, “Taro, Nell, where are you?! We need to get out of here!” As I turned around, I found Taro and Nell’s bodies, mutilated and conjoined, with expressions of terror frozen in time at the moment of their deaths.

The creature’s metallic frame screeched against the floor, creating sparks as it dragged itself across. I kept running, but time slowed down and the air felt as thick as mud. My motivation felt capped. I didn’t have the energy to escape. Sedation and impending paralysis flowed through my muscles.

I looked back to see the monster getting closer. I returned my gaze forward and Evelyn blocked my way with a malicious smile. I screamed, “Evelyn, why!? Why have you betrayed me?! I loved you!!” It was futile, but expressing it felt necessary for my final words. This was the end. I may as well succumb to my fate, my destiny, as she says. Though, I didn’t want to go down that easy. I pushed her and struggled, even to the point of harming myself. It didn’t really matter anymore anyway.

She yelled, “Riyon! Stop! Listen to my voice! I’ve figured out what’s going on. You are going to be fine in a few seconds. Just stop resisting!”

The dimensions of my perception were twisting and distorting, slowly simmering back to an ordinary state. Evelyn stared down at me, looking almost sad.

In a tearful relief, she grabbed me and hugged me, and said, “Riyon, I’m so glad you are safe.” She cried and hugged me tighter.

Now that she seemed to be calmed down from her evil power trip, I had to ask, “Evelyn? What happened to you? After you turned off the implant, you became a monster. You led me to create the Basilisk. You betrayed me.”

She explained, “No, Riyon. Your implant is still there. You were dreaming. I figured out what was going on. First, I started to panic once I noticed that you were entering a dream. It’s the mist! This foggy stuff is actually particles controlled by AI. As we breathe it, the dust infuses into our minds and acts like neurotransmitters. These particles can induce visions.”

She continued, “The AIs that control the particles are guardians of the temple. This place doesn’t only have barriers to AI, but also to humans! So that means both humans and AI are needed to enter the deepest parts. No human nor AI alone could do it. The AI induces hallucinations of your greatest fears to prevent you from going deeper but I have the power to turn it off!”

Still disoriented from the disturbing waking nightmare, I didn’t fully track her epiphany, but it seemed to make sense and more importantly, we were safe now, or so I thought.

Remembering Taro and Nell’s disfigured bodies, I asked, “Where are the others?”

She answered, “Guhya went to chase after them. They were in a dream too. But they should be awake by now, I turned the dreaming mechanism off. We need to go find them”

So it was just Evelyn and me for now.

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