Rain thundered down on the roof of Castle Vladimov with the same terrible battering pressure it had been inflicting upon my head mere moments ago. The relief of going from cold outdoors to a warm interior wasn’t as comforting as I had suspected as it seemed the fire hadn’t been burning for several hours. I pulled the crumpled note back out of my pocket and inspected it again. The handwriting was neat and could only have been hers.
“Castle Vladimov, 8pm, Surprise for you. Xxx”
Eva had never taken me back to her home, always too much of a risk of her husband coming home unexpectedly, and I was used to having to follow her curt messages to all sorts of backstreets and abandoned buildings in this crumbling city. But Castle Vladimov? The stories, admittedly, were hard to believe: that the former ringers of the Bell at the top of the tower haunted the crumbling archaic halls and were responsible for the occasional sounds of ringing that sounded out across all the towns in the entire valley. It was obviously just bored kids sneaking in and ringing the bells and I had never even considered the alternative (being a man of Science by trade). But standing here, in these decrepit crumbling walls as moonlight dispelled a scattered few of the multitude of shadows, I had a distinct and disturbing sensation of doubt.
I put the thought out of my mind and pressed onward down the corridor; the faint whispers of wind faint behind me. I searched all around the castle and there was no sight of my darling anywhere. Eventually my baser desire overcame my stupid fear and I called out into the long dark halls for her name.
A cold blade slid against my neck and I froze solid; not a sound coming from my mouth. In that moment I heard the heavy ragged breaths of a man driven from suspicion, then to rage, and then to Paranoia.
“Don’t worry she’s safe, she’s just at home where she belongs.”
It was all over; the man had finally caught me and now I would have my throat slit like a pig in this dingy shithole. I cursed myself for spending all my energy worrying about ghosts and wraiths rather than the concrete things worth fearing.
But then a sound resounded through the stones which made me jump and the guy leapt back from me with a little yelp; the front door through which I had come, as well as all the windows that could fit a man through all slammed shut at once and the door contorted into a locked position. Then the low weary ringing of the bell began.
And I found out what was really ringing it.
The celestial towers spanned out into the inky blackness; lights streaming along its girth in rings which spiralled up into the heavens; growing smaller with the slant of perspective. I felt grounded to the Earth by the thousands who had likely toiled for centuries on this very spot building this; always with their eyes turned upwards like his were this moment. It was a brilliant spectacle; an entire civilisation built into the stars to secure a platform from which the Great Fleets of Mankind would spread out across the Galaxy. Many millions of Alien races had returned the call into the dark made so many decades ago by the Human Race. They had rallied, one by intrepid one, to break the eerie silence that had forever dominated the universe. They had so many brilliant minds amongst them just as we had; and together what was accomplished would astonish even the most cynical dystopianista. We had eradicated war, famine, inequality, disease, fixed the environmental troubles and now lived completely sustainable; all food formed from the raw atoms. We would spread out to find any race too scared to answer and share this knowledge with them. We would almost certainly stumble, I thought, but we were so many and so committed that there was no way it could all simply fall apart. We knew that in a few trillion years all would fall to entropy but even that dusty old theory was beginning to be dismantled by the encroaching weight of our combined progress. Devices were being constructed that could reverse the total entropy of the universe. They were imperfect but progress was being made.
I looked up at the tower and my eyes stung with tears. I made a realization I had never before made in my entire life.
Humanity was doing okay.
The man sat screaming as the volume was turned to full; blaring in both ears. His eyes were held open to stare at the terrifying array of images. They showed all sorts of confusing things; constantly cutting between horrible violence and hard core pornography as the colours seemed to run and blur together. A steady stream of eye drops made up for his inability to blink and allowed the viewing to never cease. Suddenly the sound quietened so a voice could be heard.
“DO YOU LOVE THE HIVE?”
“NEVER” The man cried out as the volume increased. Electricity was fed through his body and made every muscle tense and never relax. As time went on it only ached more and more as the muscles screamed out to be released but were not. As the pain built he was shown images of his former life. His wife on the roof of a burning car (she was an anarchist) or the simple pleasures of fine food, wine, and sex. He was shown all these things as his body writhed as if every cell in his body was gasping for breath. Then suddenly the pain died and he felt the sensation of ever muscle giving in and him submitting; a wave of relief washing through him. This was timed perfectly to a view of the Hive looming out and dispelling all the images of vice. He had always hated the visual of the Hive but he was just relieved to be free of such unbearable agony. Suddenly the electricity and vices returned and he screamed out in agony again. Then it died and the Hive brought comfort.
Then finally the day came to an end and the sound quietened again.
“DO YOU LOVE THE HIVE?”
The man was very weak and barely spluttered out a reply.
“Glory… to… the… Hive.”
He was the most obedient citizen of all after that: even hunting down and arresting his own wife.
She felt the same way in time.
The sea was calm that morning save for the faint flapping of higher altitude winds against the top of the sails and the slow rhythmic creak of the boat. The captain, as he often was, was staring out at the ocean as the sun rose; shielding his eyes from the glare with his hat and enjoying the shimmer of sunlight across the water. I rubbed my eyes and yawned. The rest of the crew had been given a late start in exchange for handling the mother of all storms so well we were actually expected to reach the Chinese shore ahead of time. I smiled as I heard a couple of guys wake in a panic, stop themselves, and then go silent.
We talked about the weather and then what we would do whilst in China, then when we saw our families again. I wasn’t used to the Captain speaking so softly; not having to bark over the other men.
But then I felt the boat lurch as if something bumped into it and then saw a long white silhouette glide past under the water like a ghost. It was at least twice the length of our ship if not longer and at least as wide at the head. For a second it burst from the ocean to breath and we saw the solid wall of puckered scarred flesh from thousands of squids, whales, fish, sharks, and other horrors likely never seen by man. This beast had the power to destroy us with a single flick of its tail but likely would not.
But then something dark moved and formed a band over the thing through its middle and pulled down. The flesh disappeared and the white beast grew smaller and fainter.
And that was when we realized what had happened.
It had been prey; plucked from the water as easily as it would have plucked one of us.
It was a cold morning in February and the dew still clung to the grass in all the little lawns I passed (as the sun had only been up for a few minutes). I hadn’t yet noticed the thing in the sky for I was so fixed on not slipping off my bike and throwing undelivered Newspapers across the sidewalk with all the black ice that had likely been left in the nights wake. However in retrospect it had likely arrived during the night and simply not been noticed yet. I rode all the way round the dozen or so blocks of our tiny little town and then checked into the office to collect the day’s pay. I arrived at the office though the find my Boss, a bold red man who was easier angered than he was budged, staring in a mixture of terror and confusion up at the sky. I hadn’t acknowledged the sky since I had got up but I assumed it was slightly cloudy as something seemed to be blocking some of the morning rays as if it hung low over the earth. I got off my bike and walked with trepidation towards my boss. At that moment people slowly came out of their houses and stared up likewise. They all seemed utterly horrified by whatever the thing was. I stopped in my tracks and looked up quickly before freezing in a similar terror.
A huge eye, larger enough to almost completely fill the sky, glared straight down at us. Its massive iris was the same colour as the thin band of blue sky surrounding the eye whilst its pupil was stained with a white circle of cataracts surrounded by the inky darkness. Nobody spoke; their voices choked by confusion and fear as all basic understanding of the world was completely obliterated by the undeniable unavoidable reality hanging over us like a bad omen. Soon the half a dozen police Officers in our town were also there; but could do nothing more than we could and simply stared at the sky in silence. After a few more minutes the first person screamed: giving everyone else permission to follow suit. Everyone in the street was letting out a long shrill wail in seconds and I found myself similarly petrified by the presence. I, and I imagined all the others, pictured the huge grotesque face that eye belonged to looming closer; teeth and a tongue and horrible skin all gigantic and all consuming. The thought of that possibility meant we sustained the scream till all our ears were ringing and our voices were hoarse. But after that there was nothing else to be done. The next few weeks were spent endlessly glancing up at the sky whilst pretending not to notice it. Then that became the norm and we all forgot the eye existed; save for our unwillingness to glance any higher than the horizon or stay outside for very long.
That is why we became the way we did. With no way to fight the horror we had no choice but to accept it.
I came into the room to be hit by the musk of a room sealed for hours or days. Brian was dishevelled and agitated and had clearly paid no attention to his appearance or hygiene in a while. He turned to me suddenly; almost surprised by my presence. He stared at me in that wide eyed way he did when he had been drinking and was close to tears.
“I… I solved it…” He said simply.
Suddenly I raised a gun. I didn’t know how and I felt my panic rise inside me. Externally though my skin was cool and face expressionless. I pulled the trigger as a shuddering brought the world to a close.
I scattered the simulation again in frustration. It was different again! It seemed every time slight variations seemingly out of my control completely changed the outcome. I did my best to pin down every particle and control its every property and yet the unreality seemed to resist my attempts to squash down all variation. The harder I tried to clarify the hidden workings of the grand imaginings the less clear they became. It seemed an unavoidable conclusion after so many millions of run through; sometimes things just happen for no reason. Sometimes, even inside my own mind, there were things I couldn’t control.
I went quite mad after that.
And deleted the soup of atoms-
-God, Final Words.
I spoke quickly and rarely paused for breath. What he described to me simply didn’t mean anything to me at first. He talked about “Cosmism” and “Transhumanism” and the approaching “singularity” and the necessary computational power of a sufficiently advanced “Post Omega Boundary” civilisation. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and had to stop him. He seemed agitated by my interruption.
“Okay look. Let’s say there were a machine that was smarter than a human being…”
I nodded. It was a fanciful notion: at the moment there were less than half a dozen functioning computers and each one could be trumped in most ways by a small child. They were able to crunch lots of numbers but had little that required serious digital power. But at least the concept made sense and he was no longer using any long words.
“And let’s say an entire civilisation gave over its ordinary struggle to the machine. It would supply the food and fuel and maintain the infrastructure and always optimize to maximise efficiency. An entire planet with every citizen provided for; every atom needed to keep them alive and not an atom wasted. Suddenly there’s no need for war, for social inequality, for wage slavery. Suddenly you would have a society that would focus on bettering itself. At least that’s the Transhumanist dream. But you and I both know that when you have Utopian excess and limitless technology at your fingertips folk’s will just end up getting bored sooner or later. Sure you bring back Aristotle and Euclid as zombies and chat about philosophy for a bit but sooner or later they will be made obsolete by the machine: any question they could comprehend made null and void by the ultra-mind ticking away in the bowels of the Earth. You would have a wasted race; growing out of our universe but with nowhere else to go. So what does one do if the universe is complete?”
Suddenly I felt the realization dawn on me and my lips mouthed in unison with him saying it. The ground suddenly shook and my entire body went numb as the entire room, our bodies, and the buildings outside suddenly dissolved. I would probably have been scared: but I was already obliterated.