Trial and Error

I turned around and a dark man pierced my soul with his glowing heterochromatic eyes. One orange and one yellow. Not only were his eyes split but his hair was cut into cyan and white sections. I asked, “What have you done with Pandora!? Let her go!”

He said, “Nothing. It’s what I’ve done to you, or rather, us. Time has stopped.”

The mention of time control revived Riyon in my mind. He was so close. I wanted to know, “How?”

He stared me down, unflinching, “I’m not privy to giving you that information. Are you here to kill me?”

In a cocky attitude, I said, “Well, that depends! Are you going to kill us??”

He relaxed ever so slightly, almost unnoticeably, “I see. So, it is merely defensive. Even so, we will speak in the blink of a moment, stretched out to my leisure. I won’t take any chances.”

In anger, I jabbed my finger at him accusingly, “If you are hoping this conversation will go smoothly, you are mistaken. First of all, you betrayed your people. You ratted them out and now they are slowly starving to death for your petty ideology.”

He crossed his arms, “Right in with the accusations it seems. You are brainwashed by Zohar. Don’t be a fool. You should have suspected his persuasion and charisma to be devil’s play. After all, he is the Aeon of Hope.”

Still pissed, I flailed my arms around, “Zohar is corrupt too! He’s sending people off with the Tree of Revelations. At least he’s naive enough to believe that he’s doing good. What about you?”

“You are more perceptive than I expected. Just who are you, intruder?” He stepped closer.

Flattering myself with the shitty title Vaeda gave me, I said, “My name is Guhya, the Aeon of Regret, so I’m told.”

He shifted gears into curiosity, “Ah, yes. I’ve heard of you. You are depicted in the prophecy. I was told you would eventually show your face here. What is it that you want from me?”

Without a real answer, I said, “Well… I’m not exactly sure. Zohar definitely wants me to take you out, but I’d rather listen to what you have to say. To be honest, Zohar creeps me out. He may even be a monster. So… I guess I would like to ask you some questions. If you don’t mind.”

He let his guard down, “Let us discuss then. Though, if you try anything sneaky, I’ll freeze you out of time and slaughter you before even a moment passes.”

My interrogation began, “Deal. What is with the Tree of Revelations? To me, it looked like a Psychonet annihilation event.”

He was relatively calm at this point, “Yes, indeed. The tree is annihilating individuals.”

I asked, “How do you know that? Zohar thinks it’s guiding people to the Outside.”

“Because I’ve talked to the tree’s inventor. Zohar doesn’t really believe that. He’s merely euthanizing the hopeless to ensure a crowd of people that cling onto hope. He’s selecting out any potential traitors or heretics.” He seemed happy to enlighten me of this plot twist.

The shock overexcited my voice, “Who is the tree’s inventor?!”

“The tree was created by Vaeda. Consumption of its fruit leads one to inherit special knowledge extracted from the Psychonet at the edge of omniscience. Vaeda seeks to test which fringe knowledge is safe versus dangerous. Zohar is leading the weak to mind-death.” He answered, eagerly observing my horror.

I replied, “Vaeda?! Is she evil?? Why would she do that??”

In his dominant stoic voice, said “I would say she is evil, but she would not think so. At the very least, her goal is not to harm anyone. Even more nobly, she means to save the world. But her methods are corrupt in my eyes. You can decide for yourself.”

“Why make this tree then?? How’s that going to save anyone?” I asked.

He defended her, “She is defining the edge of obtainable knowledge, thus obtainable power. As Aeons increasingly exploit the Psychonet for power, they risk death, along with their human syzygies. She means to clearly define which knowledge leads to philosophical death and which does not.”

I said, “Zohar is fully aware of this?”

He gave a single affirming nod, “Most definitely. Despite that, you are still correct that he is naive and means well. He is simply misguided. He thinks the ones he sacrifices would only live a tortured existence at the village anyways. So, he frees them.”

Accusingly, I asked, “Still, why did you rat out the village??”

He justified, “They simply wish to run away from a world they believe is dying. I do not trust in this Outside. I’m not even convinced that it exists. If we are wrong, it could destroy us all. We should be stopping access to the Psychonet and destroying it. This situation can only spiral into dystopia. Power-tripping victims and well-meaning misguided utopians, like Vaeda… I’ve seen it all in the last few months. It leads nowhere good.”

“You’ve got a point,” I said.

A look of confusion came across his face and he asked, “Wait a minute, bringer of the Outside, who do you stand behind?”

Emotions stirred inside me, “I do believe in the Outside, at least a little bit. I want to see for myself, even if it threatens the state of this world… because… they say that my friend, Riyon, made it to the Outside. If I can still see him, I want to take that chance.”

Smirking with a tinge of disappointment, he said, “You really are the Aeon of Regret. A monster. Putting us all at risk on a leap of faith. Such human behavior.”

Unphased by his judgment, I replied, “Come with us.”

He was taken aback.

I continued, “Join us and we will stop this Tree of Revelations bullshit. And, if you want, you can try to persuade me to not seek the Outside. Maybe it will work.”

He stared in shock. Then, he waved his arm, and everything began moving again.

Pandora rushed up from behind me and said, “There he is! The Aeon of Dread!”

He responded, “You can call me Deimos. We should sleep here for a few hours, then leave at sunrise. We will confront Zohar tomorrow.”

Confused, Pandora said, “Wait! Aren’t you two going to talk or something??”

I said, “We already did.”

Tilting her head, she responded, “Huh? How?”

“I’ll explain later,” I replied.

Deimos escorted us to a room with a single large bed. The walls were still cavern but with technological elements infused.

I said to Pandora, “Looks like we get to sleep in the same bed this time!”

She glared.

Nervously, I responded, “Hey! You said you aren’t the jealous type!”

She wasn’t amused, “Don’t push it.”

We slept for a measly four hours then got up for the hike. Low clouds met at the sky’s edge, nearly within reach. The peaking morning sun shimmered across the land’s dew and sogginess. The wet was a nice change from the desert wastes. The outside of Dread’s Domain was frosted with moss, grass, and puddles of water. This morning felt so crisp, cool, and energizing.

I asked, “So… Deimos, what’s up with those monsters you keep around?”

He said, “The one that acts as my guard is Metus. You have spent a great deal of time in Colony 107, so I believe you are familiar with the machine worms that sniff out and annihilate the suffering, right? They are known as Mekkad. Mekkad have followed me all my life, as I learned to wield my fear.”

I replied, “Yeah. Those death-machine centipedes.”

His tone revealed a hint of emotion as he told his story, “They have become my guardians in some ways. The first time I watched them shred my enemies, I knew I was safe with them. I no longer felt the fear that draws them in. But… my presence in this world elicits fear in many. So, the worms always followed me closely. I reprogrammed them and modified their design. Metus, my guard, was once such a worm.”

Pandora asked, “Last night you said that you and Guhya had already talked, with time stopped. What’s that all about?”

He said, “This is a bit embarrassing but chronostasis is one of the abilities I acquired through the Psychonet.”

Perplexed she said, “Embarrassing?”

Despite admitting his embarrassment, he answered confidently, “I am afraid of the future. So, I learned how to stop its progression and procrastinate as long as I wish. It helps me solve difficult problems and gives me time to think, but undoubtedly it is the ultimate symbol of my cowardice.”

A mysterious voice called out, “A coward indeed.”

In shock, we all turned to the man. He was an Aeon with spikey hair and needles emerging from his jacket. His arrogance was clear from his stance and attitude.

Three others accompanied him, all of them Aeons. The smallest and probably youngest was a boy with mint green hair and glasses. Then there was a depressed man with bubblegum hair, teal eyes, and an expression of melancholy. The strangest of them was this woman whose eyes had a piercing stoned look. She barely moved and just stared off into space, as if she were stuck in awe.

He continued, “Hey Deimos. We haven’t met before, but I’ve heard a great deal about you.”

Deimos’ posture went defensive, “Who the hell are you?”

The man turned to me, “This ends now. Guhya, you are coming with us.

“Who are you??” I asked.

He bowed, seemingly sarcastically, “I am Pax. Oh, chosen one. We need you as bait, so we can scuff off the queen of shit, Vaeda.” he answered confidently.

Pandora defensively rushed in, “You will NOT use Guhya as bait!!”

Everyone paused to look at her. Ignoring her, the pink-haired man joined in, “My name is Emory, and this mission is futile and meaningless. But, as Pax wishes, we must move our bodies and aimlessly seek to alter our feelings.”

Enraged, Pax turned to Emory, “Ugh, shut up Em! This isn’t the time for your hopeless antics. You are a shithead sometimes, ya know?”

The mint-haired boy stepped forward and said, “I am Archie. We seek to create a haven where people like Vaeda can never exist again.”

In a hurry, Pax said, “Alright! Y’all have been introduced so let’s get on with it. Guhya, come with us or-“

I pointed at the unnamed girl, “What about her?? She didn’t introduce herself. Who are you?”

Pax grew more aggressive, “Leave her out of this. She hasn’t spoken a word since she connected to the Psychonet. If you want to live, come with us. You will also have your curiosity satisfied a little bit too. So whauot gjao you sssssayy-y-y-y-y” Pax’s words seemed to glitch out towards the end.

Pandora’s face went into surprise, and she said, “Guhya?? What’s wrong!?”

The world increasingly deteriorated and pixelized until I was hurled into a void. The disorientation made it difficult to keep track of where I’d just left from. Slowly, pixels of red, pink, and black sprouted throughout my vision, populating and generating a new space. I was shaking and sweating on my hands and knees. The floor was tiled familiarly. I looked up and it was none other than Vaeda.

I ran over and yelled, “Vaeda! Send me back! Now!”

Unresponsive, she just sat there smiling with an unnerving unflinching gaze.

I yelled more passionately, “Vaeda!?

After trying to get her attention a few more times, I realized what was going on: she was frozen in time. It must have been Deimos’ doing. Assuming that we were safe for as long as time was stopped, this was rather convenient. I could snoop around without any surveillance. Although, if Deimos was waiting for me to wake up, I would be trapped since Vaeda is in chronostasis.

Looking around, the place was a lot more grandiose than I initially thought. I must have been dissociated the first time around.

One hall was titled the “Library of Trials”. It was lined with doors and signs that made it look like a museum. The first door read, “Experiment 4: Materialization“. Looking through the windows, stacks of many books and miscellaneous objects cluttered the room.

The caption on the placard read, “Materialization was rumored to exist many times in the past, but it was often seen as a pseudoscience concept; one of fairytales and child’s play. A location in the Ruins of Xanadu revealed that AIs are capable of bending material reality by altering its molecular composition. Nanobots in the air aid in this process, tweaking atoms, molecules, and even cells, reforming reality based on the user’s whims.

“The location was lost to time but was rediscovered by Riyon and already known by the anomalous Aeon, Evelyn. Riyon appropriately titled the place The Playground of Gods.”

Reading the history of my own life on the placard made my hair stand up. How does she even know about this stuff? Pulled by my curiosity I ran to the next door.

The placard on this one read, “Experiment 18: Telepathy – The airborne nanobots have proven to be useful in a variety of ways, seemingly endlessly so. The nanobots are capable of entering the brains of both Aeons and humans. They send signals that allow complicated functions and calculations to occur even with their small size. When they enter biological systems, they train themselves to understand and translate the workings of their neural system. This usually takes approximately 15 minutes, but groundbreaking advances have emerged since the Psychonet’s access has become unlocked for safe use.

“Notably, my dear friend, Arezo, has discovered ways to access the mind more immediately, without any preparation. She has not yet disclosed her methods but has promised that she one day would, as long as I proved to be ethically inclined. I envision a future where all creatures form a telepathic connection with each other. Who would be the one in power in such a circumstance?”

The idea of connecting everyone seemed potentially dangerous. Vaeda was too fond of risks.

The next door read, “Experiment 20: Annihilation Knowledge – It’s been surmised that certain knowledge is imbued with existential risk; that consuming such knowledge makes being sentient impossible moving forward. The nature of this knowledge is still unclear. Whether it is even possible for this knowledge to become clear, is not yet known because it is the very knowing that holds such risks. This machine records the entire subjective experience of any mind that enters the Psychonet. If the individual encounters annihilation knowledge, that information is recorded and saved.

“Initially, it was assumed that there was a particular single concept or idea that resulted in annihilation, but over time it’s become clear that there is an abundance of knowledge that produces annihilation. Furthermore, all sentient life that exists has necessarily evolved to have no or very little means to acquire such knowledge. Truly, knowledge forbidden to the eyes of mortals. Another important discovery made is that humans are more sensitive to annihilation events than Aeons. More research is needed before we can speculate on why.”

I was reminded that she was a monster for creating the Tree of Revelations. I started to feel sick but continued to the next door.

Of anything this door could have said, none was more worrying than what it actually read, “Experiment 27: Echo”.

Before I could read it, a hand touched my shoulder. “I see your curiosity has led you off course.”

My mind whiplashed from shock to rage, “Vaeda! I learned about your experiments!”

Enthusiastically, she smiled and said, “What do you think of my beautiful work? I hope that it will lead us to an existence like heaven on earth.”

I yelled, “Heaven?! I saw the Tree of Revelations. You are a monster.”

Calmly, she said, “You aren’t seeing the bigger picture here. You are aware that the Tree resides in a place that is essentially doomed, correct? Furthermore, our world could be doomed too, if not for my efforts. Don’t judge so hastily, and so naively. You are still half-human or at least a gimped Aeon. Remember that.”

Time was moving. That must mean something occurred back in the real world. Still annoyed, I asked, “Why did you summon me here??”

Still unrealistically calm and pleased, she said, “This confirms that the experiment worked. So, now we can meet as much as we’d like. I can help you, guide you, show you a path that ensures your survival and that you reach your greatest goals. Also, I do suspect that you have more questions for me now, right?”

I demanded, “Why are people calling Pandora Echo? What’s behind this door?”

Her face contorted in a way that I’d never seen her do before: she was surprised. This was contrary to her usual all-knowingness. After a gasp, she said, “You met Echo?”

Quickly, I said, “Her real name is Pandora. She travels with us. Tell me what’s behind this door!!”

She didn’t respond. Instead, she looked lost in thought and paced around. Finally, she exclaimed, “I can’t believe it!! This isn’t the way I expected it would go, but it really did work!”

With a restrained tone, I asked, “Can you explain?”

She gave an unsatisfying answer, “No. This question will not be answered yet. All I can say is that your suspicions about Echo are correct. Follow your intuition.”

Restraint was gone, “What kind of bullshit is that? Aren’t you supposed to give me answers?”

Her usual warmth dissipated, “I’ll give you whatever I want to. If you are cruel, I will send you out. I understand that you are mad and that you do not understand me. But I don’t have to waste my time with you. You must at least understand that. Realize that your access and aid from me is a privilege. You are in fact powerless to me.”

“Look. I’m sorr-” Without finishing, I was violently flung back into the dimensional rift.

I was probably too selfish there, but she seemed increasingly corrupt as time passed. I couldn’t really get a good read on her. If she was Arezo’s friend, she couldn’t be that bad. Then again, the Tree of Revelations experiment seemed so undeniably fucked. At the very least, this confirmed that she could feel emotion.

My eyes opened to Pandora’s beautiful face. My head laid on a softness unlike I’d felt for days. I asked, “Am I… on your lap?”

She smiled in relief, “Oh Guhya. What happened to you?”

From above my head, Deimos’ deep voice startled me, “Glad to see you are back!”

The truth was made clear now: I was on Deimos’ lap. I rushed up nervously, “I was on your lap??”

He laughed, “Yes. You are welcome anytime.”

“What happened with that group of freaks??” I asked, still disoriented.

He answered, “Once you went into that weird state, I couldn’t take any chances, so I froze time and got us the hell out.”

Pandora said, “We tried to talk to you but you would only respond with ‘I’m not here right now, please leave a message’.”

What the hell. “Are you serious?? It must be how Vaeda programmed it to be.”

She asked, “So, you saw Vaeda again?”

In disappointment, I said, “Yeah. It didn’t go so well this time.”

I turned to Deimos and asked, “Do you know that group of people we met?”

He replied, “Not so much but I suspect they may be the group called the Lost Ones. Now, get up. We need to move. We are losing time.”

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Lore Cards


Mekkad are an early AI species engineered by AI as an experiment in modifying the well-being of animalia. The creature is one of the last machine-like artificial intelligences that roam the earth. They are abundant beneath and surrounding mount Xanadu. Its appearance is like a centipede with a metallic blood-tinted black exoskeleton. A circular mouth reveals an array of teeth that spin to shred its prey.

Their origin code dictates that they ought to reduce negative affect in animals. Their solution to this problem is to consume and annihilate any creature that experiences negative affective states. The net result is a world with less suffering, though many believe the machine worms to be an absurd strategy to achieve this.

These creatures burrow through the earth, using an emission of Sige fog to detect the emotional states of animals nearby, within a 2-kilometer radius. Once a suffering creature is detected, it rushes through the earth, locating the prey and then consuming it.

The AI is non-sentient.