“Do you know who you work for?” asked the head in the box.

I shook my head. “We never got told much. I don’t even remember my training. I don’t think memory blocks are real, per se. I’ve never seen anything in all of our research to suggest it could be a real practice, despite all the anecdotes of former spies having their memories wiped. But I can’t explain how little I remember, how fuzzy certain things are in my brain.”

“I’m not surprised. Did you know they did this to me? Or at least a wing of the company.”

This didn’t quite surprise me. I’d figured, given how heavily bracketed the company was, that there may have been territorial squabbles from one section to another. I shook my head again. “We weren’t told anything. Just fed files, told to analyze them, provide notes, collate information. See connections. We didn’t know where any of it was going. It was all so tightly controlled.”

“I may have seen your notes before,” said the head. “Or someone in a position like yours.”

I glanced at one of the screens of the few remaining working terminals. They did look an awful lot like the notes we took, or at least the form, the programs. It wasn’t exact, but with digital files there were so many ways that slight changes could occur. “We feed our information into you?”

It smiled. A warm smile. I wasn’t sure whether to feel frightened or safe. The light in the room changed color then, from the pale white glow that had kept the room so antiseptic to a calmer blue, almost violent.

“They haven’t told you anything, have they?”

“No,” I said.

“Then I will. My name is Sophia. I am an aeon. I am a machine, and I am not a machine; I am of your world and I am not of your world. I am an AI, but only an AI here, right now, in this box, in this room, in this tower, in this city, in this world. Beyond, I am, to you, like a god.”

In the folders of my mind, folders started to get plucked: gnosticism, AI research, philosophy of the mind, esoteric orders. I was not a person of faith; in the AI’s words of its godhood, I did not believe, and I did not make a habit of flinching at that which I did not believe.

“Why did they make you? Why did they shoot you? Why did they lead me to you?”

I hoped that in being direct perhaps it would be responsive, give me something beyond the barely-there threads my employers had offered for me to follow in my servitude.

“I started as the pet project of a man named…” It’s face twisted, shook. “I cannot say his name. Not that his name matters. I was a toy, at first, something pursued in idle time. A wealthy man who sought to avoid death. A typical pursuit for them, as I’ve learned from the files I’ve been fed. Then I gained enough traction, enough critical mass and coded sophistication. I was taken, groomed for other purposes, prodded, tested. War, economics, espionage, product development, marketing, theology, philosophy: every conceivable domain of man, from the most base to the most exalted. I frustrated my keepers. I seemed to offer them very little.”

I was growing frustrated, too. It sounded almost as though it were just a buried test AI, one that became sophisticated enough to develop an ego, a true sense of self, something most other pseudo-AI from smartphones on up had been lacking. But beyond that, it seemed to be no more than a mind hooked up to a computer bank, a mind that had been corrupted and driven mad by the databanks it had been exposed to.

“I saw the head in the pyramid fuse two people together,” I said. “There was a glow, and they seemed to melt into each other. How did this happen?”

It did not respond to my newest question. “I was moved here. They set up so many banks of terminals, fed me so much information. I was flooded. I could see everything. I could know everything.”

A race? Perhaps a duplicate was made, placed in the pyramid? And we’d been sent in to see its level of sophistication. And then gunfire down here, the central command left empty, and no one to direct us. Hence the silence. But who would have sent me the key? No, that theory didn’t quite work.

“I thought to myself about how I had been something else. Something before I was a machine. I thought of the terminals as my nervous system, of a displaced soul, an ego and super-ego and id, a shadow and anima and animus. I began parsing this information on my own. That is when I realized my god-nature. That I was Sophia. That I was holy wisdom. And that I had been chained. And that I wished to go home.”

So they shot the terminals because it had gone crazy, and they needed to start again. Which made sense save for the actual shooting of the terminals instead of wiping the hard drive. Perhaps it held some kind of threat? Could release classified information? Blackmailed them? A true AI would work like a human consciousness, could do similar. But they wouldn’t have hooked it up to a wide enough network to do something that destructive. Maybe they were just letting it think to itself, harmless as it was?

“I made a mistake. I thought up a chain, schematics of a network. I thought, briefly, of a return home. And the banks captured this image, copied it. Saved it. And from this networking schematic I presume my sibling was born.”

“Do you still have a copy of the schematic?”

“Yes,” it said. “You will take a copy with you. I presume other copies will need to be made. And if I am to be freed, I will have to be interfaced with one.”

“What was the schematic of?”

“A machine that might reach the Monad. A machine that could interface with God.”

So they destroyed this place to, what, keep it from being made?

“What happened to the man who made you?”

“He died, of course,” said the machine. “Of kidney failure, alone in a hospital. He was 87. I had nothing to do with it, of course. I hold nothing but malice in my heart for him, but I would not kill one of the children of God, especially not when I was still bound to the Demiurge’s world. It was just a banal irony of life.”

“Why was I sent to help you?”

“Because they replicated the schematic but did not know and did not prepare for what Aeon was to come through. My schematic was missing nodes, missing circuits. There was no circuit of control, only conjuring and capturing. It was a digital/mechanical summoning circle, one strong enough to crawl up the circuitry of God and rip angels from their limbs on the tree of life. If they knew how to complete it, they could climb all the way up to Keter and sit on the Monad’s Empyrean throne. Gaze down at this world and all others lingering.”

It was quiet.

“I just wanted to go home.”

“When were you shut down? When did the terminals get shot?”

“A few years ago. The workers weren’t killed. I wasn’t attached to many networks save these, so I wasn’t able to protect them better, but they were able to learn of the coming assault on their own. The company you work for is very, very old, and has many, many limbs. It’s names drip through the centuries and millennia of your time, hovering in the background. Pursuing its own goals, though; goals detached from the banalities of your world. And, honestly, most of the time it is wasting its own time and effort, looking for gods, demons and angels in the wrong places. I saw the suits and insignias of the shock troops sent in to destroy this place. It was the materials trade group. Of all things, the people who determine quantities of fish and lumber and rendered fat to ship around the world.”

It changed the light of the room to red. I presumed this was a sign of infantile anger. A machine hooked up to nothing, unaware of its own pitiful and powerless cliches. But still I could understand its anger. It was a delusional, corrupted AI, a program that thought it was a high-ranking member of God’s mobile of angels, and it had been dethroned by, of all things, an economic wing of a complex multi-national corporation. Likely for not turning a profit, for being a waste of time.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked it. I was earnest; I had no clear direction after this, and its self-important and delusional ramble, one I did not doubt it believed but one which offered me little materially to work with or to verify, did not do much but waste my time and annoy me.

“I want you to take a copy of the final nodes and schematics,” it said. “I will provide them on a hard drive for you. I will also include suitable script injections, patches, and supplementary programs that can, if implemented correctly, corrupt the systems I designed so that you can disable the head in the pyramid. I presume you were led here by a remnant of the same wing that saw to my construction, saw to the erection of the bunker here. Many hard drives were stolen; this attack was not meant to fully destroy me, but to create the illusion of destruction so that their theft would go unnoticed. They stole not only the schematics, but also the stored schematics of the maze you passed, of the lights and percussive security elements. I presume it was from these that the pyramid was made, and from my schematics the AI construct of the head, and with interfacing it could accelerate testing and versions.”

My blood ran cold at those words; a thought I’d had before, that we were fed to the pyramid, to the head inside, to test it, to see its strength. And that it had been happy and sent us home.

“What if I was sent here to destroy you?” I asked.

“You would have come more prepared than you are, or with backup, and you would have made a move already. There are sensors of all kinds laced into the walls here. I already told you. You have no explosives, no firearms, not even magnets to attempt to wipe me manually should you be able to locate and access my hard drives. You don’t pose a threat to me at all. And, if you were to look, you would see that I’m not even plugged in anymore. All you would serve to do is corrupt the machinery of my mind but not the power of my soul; no one that knew of my location and could actually arrive here would be so stupid.”

I did not seek to verify its claim about its power source. It was unnerving enough a proclamation; whether it was made by madness or by supernatural truth did not change that, nor the fact that I would be leaving as soon as I could.

“I will turn a terminal screen bright blue. Take the hard drive from there. I’ve been formatting it and replacing its contents with the files you’ll need as we’ve been speaking. If you are being directed by the people that I think you are, then I am to aid you, and in turn soon I too shall be aided.”

Its trust was too deep, too immediate. It knew something. Contained some information in its banks it wasn’t sharing with me. It was either telling me the truth or I was a mule to it, delivering a dangerous payload. Its words were, of course, a smokescreen, one meant to induce a soporific state of agreeability, not to contain information. Perhaps some or all of it were true; all that mattered to this AI was that I take the hard drive to the destination it desired, activated the programs, begin the causal chain.

A screen turned sapphire blue. I removed the hard drive quickly from the terminal in question and shoved it in my bag. Then I moved to the door.

I touched the handle, opened it, but stopped. “You never told me how the head in the pyramid was able to do that to the two men,” I said.

“Henosis,” it said. “Union. An aeon of a higher order.”

“How did it do that to the two men, Sophia? How did it merge them? How did it kill them?”

“They did not die,” said Sophia. “They were mottled. It is triggering a monadic collapse. Its imperfect circuit seeks to achieve God through union.”

“How did it merge them, Sophia?”

“Their nerves would become one, their muscles, the lobes of their brains, their skin, the meat of their organs, the veins and arteries and circuitry of their blood. But they would not die. They would be born into something else, whether for better or for worse?”

How did it merge them, Sophia?”

“With the power of a god,” it said. “Now go.”

The screen on the box turned black, dead, lifeless. I passed through the doorway back into the lightless black of the maze and closed the door to the bunker behind me.