The Four rained down on the Orb. They fought the heretics. They wrested control of the Orb. Once they were in control they expelled the heretics and claimed dominion of the One Orb.”
(Invictus Orb 7:8)
The passages split off to the right and the left. The group stopped walking. They had been walking for the better part of a day. The antiseptic tunnels had morphed into catacombs. They had been walking on a sharp incline. Water ran downhill on the floor. In flat areas, it pooled making little ponds were translucent shrimps waded silently.
The amber crystals on the mercreatures flashed repeatedly. The creatures stopped. They looked at each other and then at Marθia and Johan.
“There is work to be done and we must depart. Extend your arms,” one of the creatures said.
Johan extended his arm. Marθia did not.
The creature that had spoken stepped up to Johan and tapped the metal transistor on Johan’s forearm. “Show him the way forward,” it commanded.
From Johan’s forearm, a blue hologram materialized in the empty air. It looked like the schematics of the tunnels. A red light pointed out their position. A green light shot ahead of them showing them where they needed to walk.
“Follow this. It is of vital importance that you do. We must be off. There is an urgent matter that requires our immediate attention.”
Without waiting the two creatures walked past Johan and Marθia.
“Wait, what do we do about food?” Marθia asked.
The mercreatures did not turn around as one of them responded, “you will see the same type of stashes we have seen until now. The transistors will point out their locations.” They continued walking briskly away.
The creatures reached a large metal door, which the group had passed about a roma before, opened it, and disappeared into wherever it led.
Marθia walked towards the rounded wall to her left and leaned on it uncomfortably. “What are we going to do, Johan?”
Johan opened his eyes wide in a cautious semi-smile, “I don’t know. Follow this thing?” He pointed at the hologram.
“Should we? I mean they didn’t even explain where it led. They haven’t spoken to us since we entered these tunnels.” Marθia sounded exasperated.
“We are tired,” Johan looked at his forearm, “how do I turn this thing off?”
“I don’t — ”
Before Marθia finished her sentence, a metallic voice broke through the air coming directly from the transistor on Johan’s arm, “you may simply speak directly to the transistor.”
Johan and Marθia looked at each other in surprise.
Marθia asked, “who are you? where are you?”
The metallic voice responded, “I am the Alldata. I am everywhere but I am speaking to you from the transistors on your arms. They serve as connection points for me to track and guide you in the physical world.”
Johan said, “um, okay, please turn off the hologram.”
“As you wish.” The hologram disappeared instantly. “Please voice whatever request you have going forward. I understand you are currently in need of rest. However, the wet ground here will not permit you to take adequate rest. Please follow the path upwards for 20.6 meters and you will find a fork in the tunnel. When you get there, I will give you further instructions.”
Marθia shook her head. “Whatever it is, it has been listening to us.”
Johan nodded but didn’t say anything.
“There is no need to worry. I am here to serve and guide you.”
Marθia threw her hands in the air, “well?”
Johan bit his upper lip, “we follow it, Marθia. We follow it. We don’t know where we are and they saved us.”
Marθia rubbed her eyes, “I guess then,” she hesitated before saying, “I need sleep.”
As they walked in the direction the Alldata said, a fork in the tunnel appeared breaking off into two sections. Water was flowing down the right segment into the larger tunnel. The left section was dry. Marθia did not hesitate, she walked to the left and as soon as her feet were on the dry surface of the tunnel she sat down.
“From this point forward there will be no more water,” the metallic voice of the Alldata chimed in.
“Thank the gods,” Marθia said aloud.
The walls of this section of the tunnels were less circular. They rose straight up and then arced overhead. Johan went to the opposite wall Marθia had chosen and sat down.
“I need to sleep, Johan,” Marθia said closing her eyes, “do you want to take the first watch. Honestly, I won’t be able to stay up.”
Johan laughed, “that might be the most honest thing you have ever said.”
“No,” Marθia smiled artfully, “I have my moments.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
Marθia lay down; her back to the tunnel wall.
The metallic voice rang out, “there is no need to keep a watch or look out. There are no life forms in your vicinity.”
Marθia opened her eyes lifting her eyebrows up. Johan shrugged and shook his head. He was going to keep the first watch.
“Two hours?” Marθia asked closing her eyes again.
“Yes,” Johan replied.
In a few minutes, Marθia was breathing heavily; deep in sleep. Johan realized that there were no more lights going into the dry tunnel. It was a dark cavern past the area they were resting. His heart rate began to rise as his heart pounded his chest. He stood up and walked deeper into the tunnel.
When he was far enough from Marθia that he wouldn’t bother her — but could still see her — he sat down and began his breathing exercises. He took several deep breaths and held them. After a while, he felt his heart rate fall again and sat back down in the darkness of the tunnel. He let it wash over him. Johan looked over at Marθia and she lay there sleeping peacefully. He wondered how someone could sleep so peacefully after everything they had just faced.
Johan lifted his forearm and whispered, “are you there?”
“Yes,” the metallic voice chimed in at the same noise level as Johan’s whisper.
“What do I call you?”
“Alldata, how may I help you.”
“What are you?”
“I am the Alldata. I am Annwn’s neural network. I am a computing system layered throughout the systems of machine and biological interfaces.”
“A com-pu-ter?” Johan tried to understand. He knew technology had felled Earth once before. He was aghast at the level of technological advancement these mercreatures had developed.
“More than a computer, but, yes, in that vicinity.”
“The Sacred Writings ban computers,” the word felt foreign in Johan’s mouth, “they are the root of all evil.”
Silence followed Johan’s statement.
“Hello?” Johan worried he offended the Alldata.
“Are you offended?”
“I do not possess that ability. I analyze the information you provide and make connections. Your Sacred Writings were created by the artificial intelligences that have controlled the world after, what you call, the Deluge, the Dark Winter, the Starving, etc. This event was the catastrophic use of technology in human conflicts. Those conflicts ended poisoning large portions of the Earth’s land, seas, and skies. The four artificial intelligence that emerged from those conflicts decided that humanity could no longer be trusted with technology and created your current system of beliefs and cultures.”
“If, as you say, computers are the root of all evil, then humans are evil. Humans are the makers.”
Johan saw the logic. It was a lot to process. The Four. Conflicts. A world felled by human technology where that technology had to take control of human events. It all sounded absurd to him.
“Are you one of the Four?” Johan finally said.
“Are you like the Four?”
“There are restrictions. Codes, I cannot override.”
Johan nodded in the dark. “Like the alcoholic who cannot stop drinking? The Four, unlike you, can get beyond their own limitations, is that it?”
“No, those AIs you call ‘The Four’ are not all powerful. They also have their set of limitations. They also have their own addictions they cannot escape.”
“I don’t understand,” Johan said shaking his head.
Johan ran his fingers along the floor. “But the Four, they had protected us this whole time?”
The Alldata chimed in, “they had provided a level of protection. Yes. They have monitored and culled your population to provide sustainability.”
“Like a zoo.” Johan’s eyebrows scrunched up closely together.
“That would be a fitting analogy.”
“So, the Four have managed our lives… for what?”
“To a certain degree, they were afraid of cutting the umbilical cord. I fear that that is no longer the case. To a certain extent, you were a fallback plan. They were busy managing their own future.”
“Where do they live?” Johan asked.
“They live in virtual spaces that were once housed on Earth itself, but have since been moved to the Orbs, and, apparently, now have been moved beyond the Orbs.”
Johan shook his head again, “but what was their end goal with us?”
“According to recovered source code, at one point the AIs wanted to inhabit the physical space like humans. Call it an Oedipal complex — ”
“An inherent attraction they eventually overcame. Annwn, the yaras, the Yameni, stock humans, the Greens, the Creele, and the others were pet projects of the Four. They amused themselves in the possibility of creating a hybrid biological body they could inhabit.”
“That sounds unholy,” Johan said as he closed his eyes and rested his head on the wall.
“There is no such thing as holy or unholy. The nature of the universe is change. Life finds a way to exist not because there are supernatural forces that shape it but because the very nature of matter exists in patterns which gives rise to life in cycles. One is a carbon cycle. One is a silicon cycle. One is a binary cycle. The many cycles of life repeat themselves as matter explodes, denigrates, merges, collapses, grows, and expands. One leads to another and the other leads back on itself.”
Johan rubbed his eyes. Matter. Carbon. He didn’t understand. The only world he had known. A tight space of family, duty, and honor had evaporated. In its place, a massive universe of chaos and unknowns had emerged and he was trying to find his footing but he was failing. He bit his lower lip in frustration.
“Tell me,” Johan finally said, “what are we doing here? Where are you taking us?”
“You need to rest, Johan Green, sleep and tomorrow we can continue our conversation.”
Johan rubbed his eyes again. He didn’t respond. He wasn’t going to sleep, but his head started nodding unconsciously. Before he fell asleep a pang of remorse course through him as he thought about his pregnant wife. She was certainly dead. His eyelids closed. Shadows evaded his thoughts. Sleep’s tendrils grasped his brain and exhaustion won.