The artisan was true to his word, he took control of our clouded entity and steered us to the Edge. All around this final vestige of light in a world made of nothing but the stuff, darkness hung. Off of the Edge, all was soot black to the point I’m sure none of us could pick out a single detail within. There was with this dimness an absolute emptiness, the hole was as a void, sucking in all life and sense of existence. For a moment, I was hesitant to proceed further with this most damning of quests. Though it had taken what felt like an eternity to leave the painted world and reach the Edge, I had become uncertain. Yet, any second thoughts I had were ones I could not myself question as I was severed from the others. And though the Fringe rarely allowed for physical contact between entities, it felt as though the others had pushed me into the sinkhole.
As I plummeted, I felt what it must have been like to be an insect washed down a drain, swirling in a vortex I could not grasp nor fight. It was as the rift ripped at my being and dragged me further and further inward that I concluded it was not a push I had felt but a pull. None of the others could have likely guessed that the moment I was released from the collective that I would be yanked inside, but now all they could do was watch. The current grew in pace, and soon I felt a constant swiveling as these incorporeal tides washed over me, sinking me further and further until all that I could see was pitch. That all-consuming blackness was replaced, not with the white lights one would say of death nor of the gray of the flat field but molten silver.
I found myself in a valley, one great tree standing in its center, reaching high into the sky and caressing the clouds. Not far from where I stood, the world was beset by clouds that shone like newly minted silver as though lightning danced in every inch of them. I was not so terribly concerned with what lay beyond the valley as I focused on that unnatural looking thing that stood at the foot of the tree. With caution, I approached, finding myself somewhat at ease that I was in a human form. Were I still a gaseous being, it was likely that I was in the simulacrum wholly and not just a simulation within it. As I made my approach, the oddity seemed to fix on me, how it could without eyes I could never say, but I could feel its gaze.
Bright plates of something that looked like coral extended out as a frock from a perfect sphere that was lit with a moonlit glow. More solid masses of the brightly colored coral-like material extended down from this being, making an almost human shape. Were it a human, or were I to scale, the creature would stand easily ten-feet tall and would have been twice the width of a man. Once I was within only a few paces, I noted the being could not move from where it stood, a rift in the tree had become overgrown with the coral and connected directly to the creature’s backside. This was a comforting thing, to say the least, the intimidating marvel could only do so much to me inside a simulation; however, I did not want to see what it’s limits were.
I tried to speak, summon some word to greet the entity with, but it was far quicker of a mind than I. Before my first thoughts could tumble out it’s distorted voice boomed, “Ah, one of those so far below has come up to see and, no doubt, ask of me something more. I do so much miss visitors. What should I call you, my most esteemed guest.”
“They called me Jynk, a Dreadmind. I don’t know what you are, but the artisan said you might answer my question. Can you answer questions?” I asked, trying to keep the slight tremble from my voice.
Gesturing wildly, reaching out to the sky with open hands, it responded, “Answer? Why I can show you anything you so ask,” two shimmering orbs appeared above the coral hands, “The Overseer should be able to answer any questions and show sufficient proof that these are not lies. Should he not, Jynk?”
“I suppose that is right, but what I’ve got to ask isn’t something I think you could show. It is a feeling, a feeling of helplessness, a question of morals and human nature,” I assured, not confident he could show what I asked of him.
The gray-blue sphere tilted forward, seemingly to express some intrigue, “Well, young man, go on and speak this question, and we will see what I can weave in this ether.”
“How is it we can exist like this and still call ourselves humanity? How can we operate knowing we live virtually controlled with an extremely limited scope through which we can experience the world? How are we men if we are not capable of feeling that we are anything but sophisticated automatons?” I asked, the orb seeming no less interested in my first word as the last.
Leaning back, the Overseers spoke firmly, “We are not humanity any longer. We are the man with his shadow removed. To be limited in the sense that you feel is the only means to make all well and safe for the future of existence. I do believe that was clear and should have been made clear to you when you entered this plane. Is it that you have regret?”
“No… maybe. I just don’t understand it, why would we give away all that makes us human to join in this new world? What could surrendering basic emotions and our ability to experience them as they come rather than negotiate them through a limiter, accomplish?” it felt like he was averting my question with misdirection.
Again, the Overseer replied with little feeling in his voice, “To take away that all too erratic and volatile mind to replace it with one more focused and even-tempered was the only way to correct humanity’s mistakes. With all of that unmonitored hate and wrath disposed of, the removal of lustful and recalcitrant motives, we mended these flaws. And now, with this sacrifice, look at all we have gained. For multiple centuries now, there have been no murders, no rapes, no wars, and not a soul goes on feeling longing and hurt and melancholic. Sure, the Fringe is filled with all of those types, but what they do, what you experience out there, is your freedom, in a safe context. We have ascended, don’t you see it, friend Jynk? When you plugged in, joined the rest of the world, you ascended from human to so much more.”
I stood in silence, analyzing what the Overseer had just said, not sure I wanted to believe it all. They had tied the hands of humanity for not only a century but multiple centuries now. They prevented wars and crime, but they stole away so much of our selves, of our fire and nature. Yet, who would argue with results? Inside was safe and secure, and there was no threat of nuclear annihilation or purging through holocausts. The worry of being robbed or beaten or raped or even having a lover break your heart was no longer. The question truly was, who would argue that this result was anything but beneficial despite what was lost. I would argue you it though, not because I wanted change, I just wanted out now.
“How do I leave this simulacrum? If I’ve grown tired of it and the limiters, and I have, where do I go to leave?” I asked, maintaining a calm in the face of this monstrous prospect.
A low chuckle rumbled out of the coral figure, “Leave? No one leaves? It is no longer possible to leave.”
“Why is that? I thought… I could be wrong, but I thought that when we entered the simulacrum, it was by choice. There were so many opposed, I can’t believe that everyone came in over time. Is that what you’re saying?” now I had reached an inquiry that caused the ethereal sphere to come a light like a television screen.
Directing my attention to the vision, the Overseer remarked, “No, it is not as though all of humanity joined in the simulacrum, that would have been impossible. However, there is no humanity left to go back to now. As a matter of fact, there is nothing left to go back to anymore.”
A planet, desolate and wasted like any desert baked by the sun until a drop of water would evaporate before hitting the sand. Earth was dead, slain, but who could tell there were not even ruins to go by. Sand had buried or eroded all that stood in its path and had centuries passed as the Overseer insisted, there would be nothing to find even if I was allowed to return. It was possible that some percentage of humanity had mastered space travel and existed off-world somewhere, but I doubted the Overseer could bring me to them. Returning to earth now would mean death even were I able to step back into my old body, somewhere on the planet’s surface.
A final question occurred to me then, “How is the machinery, cloud, or A.I that supports the simulacrum maintained without humans? Shouldn’t we all be dead by now, and this world gone cold and dark?”
“You’ve forgotten so much in these years, friend, but I suppose you weren’t meant to remember much outside of the simulations. Organic hosts, not humans, of course, but genetically fabricated things that would protect against all those things that electronics are not immune to. No electromagnetic pulse would ever pull down this world, no sir,” the Overseer remarked with a low chuckle.
He still was avoiding my question, “Then what could you have used? A living creature would still be susceptible to plenty of harms and would eventually die. What are we broadcasting out of a half-rotten skull?”
“Oh, that truth is not one you want to face, Jynk, but I won’t deny you your answers,” the other orb came alight with another scene, “Look upon that which helped make humanity extinct. The cleaners that would swallow up those who refused singularity, paradise, among their fellows.”
I watched, awe-struck, as a collection of horrors crept their way across the face of the burnt-out planet. Lit by a sun glowing with a faint blood-red through cracks that were being overrun by dark, desolate crust. They were unpleasantly flexible, like a bundle of eelworms writhing through freshly turned
soil. Whatever matter made up their bodies allowed a great deal of transparency to see within a horrible melding of technology and organic structures. Pockets of brightly colored gas made enormous protuberances across their length and reminded me of all the others on the flat fields. I knew this could be no lie, damned if I wish it weren’t the truth. But as I watched those horrid worms, turning the planet into swiss cheese while carrying all that remained of humanity within them like fetuses, centuries passed term, I laughed.
I cackled and heaved with breathlessness until finally, the tears came, and I began to suck up all that sorrow and despair that the limiter allowed. At that moment, and even now, I’m not sure if it is regret I feel or just some dreadful sense of futility in it all. Still, I had to turn away from the Dreadminds, debating philosophy, and the meaning of life now seemed inconsequential. Regurgitating art, endlessly, and without innovation or fresh eyes was pathetic, to say the least. To smash and destroy until I had become nothing more than a collection of debris would be fun for a time but worthless overall. I was left to either return to the simulation and be content in lies or allow myself to slink low and become a Pleasurefiend. Yiet had seemed happy enough, and when he had first come upon me would have swallowed my being whole so that I would be lost within his entity eternally. That didn’t sound so bad, after all, we were all already swallowed whole, the rest just didn’t know it, yet.