No one knew why the Founders had left but the best anyone could tell was that one day the Founders were just not there anymore. No wars or plagues had ravaged the City, no tectonic events or extreme weather had caused their world to end. In fact, everything looked fine. The Founders had just disappeared one day and left their civilization behind.
And what a civilization it was…
A vast City with huge skyscraping buildings whose very tops disappeared into the clouds, a world filled with wondrous machines powered by light and looking after our every need, and, far above, the Great Satellite orbiting us and casting its divine gaze down on our little world.
A fringe of us worried that whatever had wiped out the Founders so suddenly could come back, most of us worried about the Great Satellite up in the sky, and all of us worried if this was not worrying about the same thing.
You see, the Great Satellite orbiting our world beamed a count down to us. The first of us had taken a while to figure it out but now it was easy to see: the Great Satellite was counting down to something.
Initially, there had been plenty of time on the count down and this was a distant future worry. But, time respects no bias, and, one day, we realized that we would soon see Day Zero and what that brought was anyone’s guess?
With years to go, a great discourse began to roll through our world. Day Zero was near enough not to be ignored but far enough away that the panic had not yet kicked in.
Some believed that the world would end then and the same fate that had befallen the Founders would befall us. Others believed that this count down would signal little more than our civilization moving into a new age and it should be celebrated. Some conjecture even wondered if the count down was for the machines and not us, and they would respond to it?
Of course, there were always those that had held the Founders to deified heights and they believed that Day Zero would herald the Founders returning and guiding us on towards enlightenment, or at least, those that were “worthy”. Unsurprisingly, the “worthy” were almost always defined to be those that held that belief.
These “worthy” would spend days staring at and meditating on the Great Satellite and swore that the most enlightened of them saw the immeasurable Founders’ faces floating in the infinite space behind the Satellite. Like cosmic leviathans, they gazed lovingly down on us, judging our every thought and action.
Great debates were held but, as the remaining time shortened from years to months to Day Zero, more and more debates grew violent and spilled out into riots.
And, thus, a growing subset had nihilistic tendencies and took this out via violence against others and, especially, the machines. Perhaps it was the machines’ connection to the Founders or the fact that “killing” them was not the same as killing your own? Perhaps it was that we have bestial natures embedded in us and when cornered these dark undercurrents take over? Or, perhaps it was just frustration at our powerlessness?
In any case, the riots grew larger and more violent and entire buildings and blocks were torched, roads and machines all burnt to ash and their death smoke bellowed through our world turning the City grey and hellish.
And then the months became days…
Mortality is a strange thing. It struggles violently to survive, eventually breaching all moral grounds and shattering any illusions of enlightenment or superiority to anything other than just pure, selfish survival. And, when the end–which is inevitable–can no longer be fought off or avoided, life retreats into a deep and strangely peaceful state of resignation merely waiting for its future to run out.
The riots and violence crescendoed days before the Great Satellite’s count down hit Zero. No one wants to spend what may be their final moments hitting things and screaming, so the crowds and anger dissipated, found their loved ones, and said their final goodbyes.
With lots of the machines and buildings smoldering around us, their fires and smoke drifting lazily through the City, a strange tense peace descended upon us and we looked up at the Great Satellite in our resignation to count down the final moments to Day Zero.
But not me! I know what is going on. When you read this–and I know you will–you will know that I know what is going on.
When you read this know that I have escaped.
And know that I am coming for you!
“That concludes experiment twenty-three,” stated the scientist peering down into the high-tech Ant Farm as the system began to reboot and the nano-AI’s were harvested for processing, “No change. The results are the same. Exactly the same.”
The other scientist sighed and nodded, pushing his hands into his white labcoat’s pockets and yawning widely.
“Why, Fred? I don’t understand it. No matter how much we boost the AI’s level of intelligence each round, the results are always the same; denial, delusion, rationalization, anger, violence, and then–finally–resignation. Surely, in the face of an unknown apocalypse, life should have more to offer than that?”
Fred sighed, looking at the data streaming in, and shook his head.
“Why would you assume that? This data reads just like the others. There is no diff–” Fred stopped, his heart skipping a beat, “What the fuck is this? Hey, Nat, check here. Check me on this, am I reading it right?”
He handed Nathan the data stream and plopped himself down in the chair next to the table on which the Ant Farm lay. Nathan sat down opposite him and buried himself into the data stream, running over all the logged micro-decisions, narrative, macro-variables and environmental data they had gleaned from the simulated apocalypse on their fleet of nano-AI bots.
“Whoa!” Nathan exclaimed, breathing heavily with his face still buried in the data stream, “Whoa… That is new! Really new! I think we have found something. Hey, Fred, I said that I agr–“
Nathan looked up from the data stream at his colleague, the hair rising on the back of his neck and the blood draining from his face. It took a moment to sink in but then he leaped to his feet screaming.
Fred was still sitting in the chair but his head was rolled listlessly forward casting his blank stare, like a dead god, over the Ant Farm. A droplet of blood fell from his nose pooling with others that had collected in the lap of his labcoat.
At that moment, the Harvester emotionlessly announced that it had completed its clean-up and reboot of the Ant Farm, “Data fully uploaded onto the shared drive. All systems restored to initial settings. Nine-hundred and ninety-nine nano-AI reclaimed for resetting. One nano-AI could not be located. Please advise.”
And then Nathan began to scream again, though this time his scream was cut short.