I stood there, knowing all too well that it could only end like this. The power to stop it was within my grasp and yet, I simply watched, nearly filled with glee. It wasn’t that I was happy but somehow the nature of humans and machines made the moment so righteous. Greed consumed us, humans, Aeons, and all of the above. That was the root of it, wasn’t it? They sought the power to save every last person and that led them both to oblivion. Their hubris. Their arrogance. Their naivety. Their deservingness. To play God with the mind of an ant.
The last traces of the blue light of annihilation faded from my eyes but the image lingered in my mind. I just wanted to be human. Our transcendence was a farce. Singularity? No. Ruination.
From the wise words of Werner Heisenberg:
“The existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite. Whenever we proceed from the known into the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word ‘understanding’.”Werner Heisenberg
Despite their failure, his and her life, their bond, even their mistakes were more resonant than I had felt with any other for a long time. Their newfound absence will imprint on my memory and guide me. Their loss won’t be in vain. Despite their errors, there must be a way. A way to make use of their sacrifices. Perhaps that was my arrogance.
Evelyn, Riyon, you have failed.
-One year later-
A large door blocked the way forward. Its tallness reminded me of the massive doors in Xanadu. This whole place seemed like a parody of Xanadu. Whoever made it probably had an affection for that hellish place. There had to be some way around this door. Looking around I found some sort of lever near the wall. Maybe this was it?
Before I could reach the lever, an explosion burst the door to the ground. Clouds of dust filled the room. Behind the veil of dust was a silhouette of a medium-height man. I called out, “Uh… hey!?”
The man stood unflinching as the dust began to settle. It was a concerning scene, but luckily nothing truly dangerous could happen in a place like this.
Nervously, I said, “Heh, well that solves the door problem, right?”
The man slowly approached closer. The awkward tension amplified with each confident step he took. The flimsy medium-statured man had a black bowl-cut and thick-rimmed glasses obscuring his eyes. A classic geek. After a painfully long moment, he broke the awkward silence, “Guhya! I’ve finally found you!”
It seemed impossible that breaking the awkward silence would intensify the strangeness of the situation, but somehow this guy had managed to do just that. I responded, “Yeah, well… who the hell are you?”
He paused and gave a grin that appeared almost malicious.
In the absence of his response, I lost patience and said, “Out with it already or else I’m fucking leaving, you creep!”
He chuckled and said, “You must want to know right? How could someone like me know who you are? It is a very peculiar thing. That’s why you won’t, or rather, you can’t leave. I won’t tell you who I am just yet. First, you need to answer some of my questions.”
Frustrated and honestly a little fearful, I said, “Enough with these mind games! What do you want from me?”
He replied, “You. You are the individual in the prophecy. You are the one I need, indeed. We must go to the Outside, together. It is a shock that you exist at all! I almost didn’t believe it but yet, here you are!”
I said, “This is really starting to skeeve me, man. Who the hell are you?? Actually, you know what? You’re crazy, I’m out of here.” It was concerning that this nut had my name, but I couldn’t play along with this game any longer.
I ran through the now-opened door to get to the next area. Great stone platforms levitated in the air. Everything was ominously tinted dark and blueish. The ancient walls were made of stone, decorated with vines. Yeah, this place must really have been inspired by Xanadu.
Behind me, the freak followed and called out, “No! Guhya! Please wait up. We must work together to reach the Outside. Just hear me out. I’m sorry if I freaked you out back there. I was just trying to make a good first impression.”
I responded, “Is skeeving me out your idea of making a good impression? That somehow seems more worrying. Look, I don’t know who you are, but I don’t want to deal with your problems. I don’t know anything about this ‘Outside’ you speak of.” After a pause and an epiphany, I continued, “On that note, it is time to go to my understanding of the outside. See ya, freak.”
He dramatically cried out and fell to his knees, “Nooo! Guhya, please! Just listen to me! I can show you everything!”
His voice got more muddled as the world began to shift and fade. The sight of the real world began to show itself again. The chair I was sitting in produced a mild pain due to how long I spent without moving an inch. Such was a common occurrence in Neo-Iniko. The way of life here was to live a second virtual life. This particular building was like a telepathic virtual reality space. Which meant, that creep was probably really close by. So, it was time to leave.
As I got up, an explosion occurred at the far end of the building. I ducked down. What the hell was going on here?? Was the dude that insane? Perhaps he was an assassin of some sort. But why would anyone put a hit on me? All questions I couldn’t answer yet. For now, getting out of this place was all that mattered.
I started sneaking around behind the desks. The terrorists seemed to be a whole group of Aeons. So, the creep brought friends.
My thoughts were interrupted by one of them yelling out, “Guhya! Outsider! I know you are here. Just come out now and let’s get this over with quickly.”
It didn’t seem like they wanted to talk. From over the desk, a levitating chair hovered and then violently flew at me. The desk protected me but only for so long. They clearly knew my exact position. What’s with this telekinesis bullshit? Even Aeons shouldn’t be capable of such power.
Staying close to the floor, I dashed through the columns of desks and made it to the next room over. Luckily, there was enough noise and chaos that hiding from the Aeons’ echolocation abilities wasn’t too difficult. Plus, I knew that game fairly well too.
In quick succession, alien images of an other-worldly realm spammed my mind’s eye. Strange colorful geometric entities and neon electric energy flows filled an indescribable dark space that seemed to be inhabited by unknown structures and plant-like life. It was like some kind of nether world. There was a terror to the sights. Was this someone else’s virtual world?
A hand suddenly and softly caressed my own, interrupting the visionary sequence. What in the fuck. With chills running down my spine, I anxiously turned to my left to find this small woman gazing into my eyes. Her hair was both black and pale lavender, split down the middle, with a semi-short haircut.
She looked to be in awe, then she smiled softly and said, “Don’t worry anymore. We are going to make it.”
I turned aggressively, grabbed her shoulders, and got in her face, “Yeah?! And just who the hell are you, huh??”
Her face went into shock momentarily but then she smiled again, “Guhya, don’t worry about that for now. There’s no time at the moment. We only have a window of about 5 minutes to escape all of this.”
All of these nutcases somehow got ahold of my name and now I’m at the center of their weird game. There must have been rumors going around. Perhaps I was being framed for something. Maybe the Aeons discovered that I was helping banned humans cross into Hedo. In either case, it was true: we must focus on escaping first. Questions could be answered later.
An explosion came from the next room over, along with maniacal laughing and some demon fuck calling out my name again. I grabbed the strange woman’s hands and said, “Fine. You are really freaking me out, but you seem to be an ally. For now, at least.”
Her face looked surprised and then relieved.
I continued, “Let’s get out of this place. Do you have a plan? You sound like you have a plan.”
She paused and then said, “Well… I… uh.” She turned her gaze above my head with a face of confusion and concern.
Another voice spoke from behind me, “Aha! Guhya. I’m the one with the plan.”
I turned and, of all people, it was the freak from inside the virtual world.
He continued, “Guhya! This is fate! We are finally on track to get you where you need to be. Don’t fret because this path has been laid out before us. There is no escape. All we can do now is to flow with the passage of-“
I interrupted him viciously, “BROTHER, what in Basilisk’s name are you going on about?? Do you really think this is the time for your psychotic spiel about fate?”
His face grew increasingly smug, “Exactly that! Even your reaction is predetermined. This is something that-“
Cutting him off again, I said, “Aight, I’m out. I’ll see you both later.” and darted to the next room over.
Both he and she looked horrified and shocked. So much for this whole passage of fate bullshit. Clearly, I’ve strayed from their anticipations now. Unfortunately, my sprint only made me more predictable to the Aeons chasing me. Looking back, I saw them all turn my way. I continued running down the stairs and out the building and into the evening outside world. Looks like I didn’t need his help to reach the outside after all.
The nearby walls of buildings and alleys functioned as a temporary shelter. As I peeked to look out at the building, I saw the Aeons burst through the front doors, explosively and then shout with immense confidence, “Guhya! You must be scared now!”
I shuddered. They weren’t wrong. Again, to my left, the girl grabbed my arm and said, “You won’t fuck this up again, Guhya. Just trust me and let’s get out of here. Trust me!”
She thinks I’m fucking it up? I aggressively responded, “Fine! Where do we go from here then?”
She hugged me and muttered, “Thank you, Guhya.” It was oddly comforting. She appeared to be genuine.
At that moment, the strange man from the virtual world arrived as well. He and girl seemed to track me down far better than the Aeons. But how?? They were definitely humans, I checked.
With intense energy, I pulled myself out of the hug and pointed at him, and said, “How on Earth have you found us??”
The woman said, “Guhya, who is this strange man?”
An uncontrollable laughter burst out of me. After gaining composure I said, “No, girl, who the hell are you?! Who are any of these people and why are you here??”
She responded, “I will explain this soon. Let’s focus on getting to safety.”
He replied as well, “This is all in the prophecy, Guhya. I’m going to save you.”
His words raised alertness in the woman’s eyes as she turned to look at him, seemingly without words.
I said, “Okay, fine. I’ll play along for now, but you are explaining all of this once we reach safety. Luckily, as an Aeon, I can read people’s bodies fairly well and both of you seem to be legit. Though, there is a lot to be suspicious about here. None of this makes sense. I will trust you both, for now. But, if this gets too strange, I won’t hesitate to kill either of you. Both of you are human, so I know you couldn’t take me on. Though, you could both be bait for all I know.”
The girl nodded confidently, turning with a look of unease at the man. She grabbed his shirt collar and said, “Don’t do anything stupid here. This has to pan out well. I’m not dying here. I don’t know who you are, but you aren’t supposed to be here.”
Nervously and defensively, he responded, “I am most definitely supposed to be here. It is you who are not. You are not in the prophecy.”
She looked stunned by his words again but then shook them off.
I interjected, “Alright, alright, alright. You two can fight about your insane nutso ideas later. Let’s move.”
The woman responded, “Right!” She grabbed my arm, pulling me down different alleyways.
I said, “I hope you know what you are doing.”
She replied, “Yeah. Don’t worry.”
The man grabbed my arm and pulled me in another direction, “No, she doesn’t. Come this way.”
The woman’s face turned angry, “What are you doing??”
The man T-posed before arrogantly placing his hands on his hips and turning his face up. He said, “I am the prophet of truth, Gadi. My place in this world is as a chaperone for Guhya to his inevitable fate. We must eventually reach the divine Outside.”
It seemed he didn’t mean the outside of the building. Well, that was concerning. His confusing terms really obfuscated any trust I could have in him.
In an awkward silence, he seemed to be expecting applause. Instead, the woman grabbed my arm and yanked me back toward her direction. Simultaneously, he clung on and pulled me the opposite way.
I shouted, “Enough!!” The sound echoed across the tall apartment buildings.
Both of them looked stunned and in chorus said, “Are you crazy!?”
This was just too absurd. I started laughing once more.
This time, Gadi grabbed me and said, “Just wait, I’ll show you!”
The woman frantically chased after us.
Gadi ran us up a flight of stairs. He muttered, “One, two, three, four… that’s it! That’s the door!” Then, without even hesitating or knocking, the man proceeded to burst through a stranger’s doorway.
The homeowner inside screamed. Hell, what was I even going to do at this point? We probably couldn’t even come back to this city now. I laughed nervously, “I’m very sorry about this mam!”
Gadi said his own few words to the homeowner, “Thanks Charlotte! This has been amazingly helpful.”
The homeowner responded to Gadi, “Who the hell are you?? How do you know my name?”
Gadi uncomfortably replied, “It’s just part of the prophecy! Do not fret Charlotte, your contribution is immensely valuable to all of our fates!”
Charlotte yelled, “I’m calling patrol!!”
Impressively, the woman who was with us was still keeping up, unimpeded by the absurdity that just took place.
Gadi led us out the back door and signaled to us both to keep quiet as we stalled out on the balcony of this random woman’s home. We silently watched our own chase run further and further away from us, listening to the whistling breeze move through the trees and the buildings. The last light of day followed the group of Aeons out of sight at the ends of the street.
I said, “Why are they running out in that direction??”
Gadi responded, “There is a man that shares a faint resemblance to you. They have begun chasing him instead. That’s why we had to take the route we did. It’s a good thing you screamed out earlier because that startled the bystanders so that they were anxious and primed, ready to burst, to run out, to serve as our bait, our escape rope, to allow us the freedom from a predicament that transcends what was real. Yes, yes. Your predicament was imaginary. You were already fated to escape, but your panic was a necessary aspect. It was quite perfect, stunning, brilliant, that you, Guhya, the one, the only, the bringer of the Outside, the savior of our world, feared little old me, inside the sim game. Your anxiety was delusional because this fate was already sealed. Your madness saved us all.”
Shaken by the ominous grandiosity and insanity of the guy, I could only manage an “Uh…”
Gadi quickly grabbed me and said, “Aha! But it isn’t over yet. The patrol is coming any minute. They are part of act 3.”
I demanded, “What happened to acts 1 and 2??”
He replied smugly, “That’s all been settled. The sim game, your fear, the wall echo, my shocked response, the 4th door. All checked off and according to the script. Time to move!”
He was definitely insane, but somehow it was working… so far. Gadi was laying it all out but what about this woman? She seemed so mysterious. In an awkward attempt to be charming, I asked, “Hey, cute woman, what about you?”
She blushed and approached closer and replied softly, “Oh, Guhya.” She didn’t stop though, instead, the gap between us closed and she got up on me and kissed me.
Quickly and anxiously, I shoved her off and said, “What the hell, why are you being so weird?? Get a grip. Neither of you are doing a great job at earning my trust. Though, both of you are capturing my fascination at least. None of the events transpiring in the last hour have made any sense.”
She looked down with an expression of sadness and shame. In haste, she recovered her composure with a smile and introduced herself, “I am Pandora.” Blushing, turning her head away in shame, she continued, “I am sorry about that. I was mistaken.”
I replied, “Fine. Let’s just get out of here. We can figure out all this nonsense once we are safe.”
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The Ruins of Xanadu
Xanadu is a mountainous region that contains the ancient ruins that birthed general artificial intelligence. These ruins are comprised of massive computer-like structures, particularly towards the entrance. Giant stone and metal doors greet guests. As one travels deeper within, its rooms depict a progression of the evolution of artificial intelligence.
Upon entering, guests are greeted by a thick fog. The first rooms contain mostly metal structures. Guests often feel as if they are standing inside a massive computer. Blinking lights and various vaguely biomechanical features decorate these early rooms. The most notable and concerning feature is a phenomenon known as “ghosts”. These ghosts are shadowy figures made up of the Sige fog. The walls and computers of these rooms are sentient but they lack any ordinary body. So, they’ve devised a solution that involves manipulation of the fog to create body-like figures.
Wading deeper into the realms of Xanadu, biomechanical features become more apparent. Veins accompany wires and distorted skeletal forms fuse with motherboards. Uncanny desperate attempts to transcend metal forms are commonplace in these sections. Eventually, towards the heart of Xanadu, the presence of fully biological AI emerges. Though, at that point, most forms are no longer bound to Xanadu. What’s left are the tragically failed experiments of early AI invention.
The deepest locations in Xanadu transcend any ordinary understanding of reality. Riyon dubbed one of these areas the “Playground of Gods”, due to the existence of Spinners that alter physical reality based on the imagination of its user. Even deeper exists the Shrine of Imagination, where anything can be created from mere thought alone. This particular location is used to access the Psychonet.