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"It is no measure of health, to be well adjusted in a profoundly sick society" -Jidda Krishnamurti.
‘…At the beginning of the 8th day everything slowly turns to dark.'
The words are muttered from the tired old man’s mouth as an afterthought, to the ghosts that surround him. It is just before dawn and clusters of stars shine in bright geometric patterns. Some, such as Taurus, are recognisable, some are not. Orion misses his belt now. They glitter sharply as the velvet night. This gives way to a petrol blue and a ruddy orange on the flat eastern horizon. Despite the height, the air does not feel damp, just cool, clean and, it could be argued, well controlled.
As the night begins to withdraw, the stars slowly dissolve, one by one, into the growing pale of a clear blue sky, paving the way for the golden apple of the sun that slowly starts to climb. In its clear gold light the city buildings take on shadows reflecting dark teeth against the gum-line of the swirling streets below. As the sun climbs, higher, and ever higher light across the cityscape becomes a kaleidoscope of refraction. The city -known as New London- with its complex spires and crystal domes rises up to touch the dawn to leave a residual delicate kiss from a pair of mechanically driven yet fractured lips.
Here, from the highest vantage point of the waking city, the old man who muttered is sitting upon a veranda. He is sitting in a white wicker chair, next to a matching white wicker table, looking out towards the sunrise. Underneath the table are boxes of hard copy files reams of paper, yet to be read and analysed. Upon the table stands a fibre screen- net-book. It glows a pale blue in the morning light. Next to that is a bone china cup and saucer, decorated with delicately twisting bright pink roses, around green fibrous thorns. It contains the old man’s breakfast: slowly steaming black tea.
The old man slowly stands up and stretches his back. Then he slowly walks towards the mint colour frosted glass balustrade. He leans over the edge. A strained tension bleeds out from his narrow cornflower eyes, that are enlarged by the frameless glasses he now must wear.
As the city looms up at him with to him a sense of menace at its heart. He senses a touch of vertigo, despite that and with a manic grin upon his face he, with a sense of a child, leans further forward. His old gnarled hands slipping on the stainless-steel pole at his waist.
The old man’s name is John Peterson. The words are stitched in a long flowing vermilion font of grey steel coloured thread, upon the top left pocket of his pale blue silk dressing gown. His unshaven angular jaw visibly twists in heavy wrinkles of anxiety under his well- tanned, narrow set features. Money and power have made this man what he is today; and they will be the death of him.
Slowly, with reluctance, he steps back from the balustrade. He pulls the dressing gown tightly around his bone narrow frame; his eyes, betraying a riddled anxiety against this brand-new day.
As he turns away from the view, his eyes fill with emotions. Fear, anxiety, anger, frustration and resignation come to the surface in heavy erupting quakes that want to overtake him. The final emotion: sorrow, threatens to betray his soul. It reflects a trickling stream across the wrinkled surface of his face. But only one small tear escapes. It traces its way down the heavy furrows of his sallow, sunken right cheek, and along the length of his narrow nose, where with a dismissive hand, he flicks it away.
He notices the black jet of its impact as it hits the wooden decking by his feet. Time slows.
There is total silence here. A rare, numbing absence of any sound. It can terrify some, yet not him. He is strong in the silence; in fact despite his tear, he relishes this numb mute. Behind him and from his dark apartment a tiny brass bell rings out the hour - one, through to seven - As the final bell chimes, to dwindle off into the morning air, another noise is heard.
A near silent hum.
The sound is made by complex hidden machinery, that suddenly sparks to life. Within every room, shop, office or factory that rest within the city, a signal is sent, a hidden message that rests at New London’s pulsing black heart.
The process is called (in documents upon his desk and on his next book) "alignment." It makes Peterson's face twist with a nerve shredding fear. He puts his hand to his chest and breathes deeply. Once, twice, three times. In through his nose, then out through his mouth. The world about him spins dizzy but he calms down.
Alignment, it's beginning it's beginning, alignment it's beginning... The words ran through him. Resonating within him like a rumbling freight train over wavering tracks. Nothing can stop it now nothing can stop it now nothing it's too late too late!
Then there is another, far heavier noise. This noise makes him smile like a small child. 'It is the Gravcar the Gravcar...' he says excitedly, at the whirring buzz and low pitched hum of an electric engine. '..No...' he corrects himself. '...two.' His voice is barely a cracked whisper. ‘No no that cannot be that cannot be,’ he panics, his heart thumps heavy ‘… there can’t be two, there can only be one. One is all there is one is all that should be not two not two one one one…’ his voice fades into a mumbling silence, yet his eyes dance excitedly.
As the humming is coming closer, with the look of a wild lunatic he once more leans over the balustrade. He sees two sleek grave-cars, one deep red, the other black, slide their way along the huge swirling curving arches of the maglev rails. The black car then slides past and speedily slips out of view, as the red car turns left upon the web-like track, to enter the parking station thirty floors below him. It is a car he recognises. So, with a queer smile, he returns to his chair once more. His breathing increases, once more, his eyes dilate, the wrinkles about his eyes crinkle into deeper furrows as a growing sense of trepidation fills his soul. As he sits there, his mind wanders over the world of forty years ago. He starts to talk to the ghosts that haunt him.
'It's easy to judge me... far too easy...but back then, things seemed clearer… more black and white...less confused by the moral, or the appearance of the moral.'
The words echo from his balcony and are lost in the growing morning light. It is hard for Peterson to consider that man of forty years ago. A man of moral principle who became slowly lost to himself as he aged. ‘… Sacrifices needed to be made in the interest of the whole of humanity...’ He recalled that he smiled at the rapturous applause... not that he would not receive anything else, in a room full of like-minded individuals as he. As the memories came flooding back, so did the ghosts. They filled the sky and stood around him on the veranda.
‘-It was a dream we had, nothing but a dream...’ the lunatic smile reappeared. ‘…the dream of immortality and and the creation of… of a God. A blended being of, of human and machine… free, free from the suffering blight of human frailty… of human weakness and human suffering… Death would have no dominion! None at all!’ The ghostly applause returned, as Peterson raised his hands, the ghosts stopped. Their eyes narrowing with intent, listening to every word.
‘…we named him Joshua…after my son… after the first warrior of Israel… as they entered the new land, so, so would we… yes we would enter the land and and TAKE THE LAND FOR OURSELVES!’ The ghosts applauded once more.
Anguish and pain rose within him. He squeezed his right hand into a tight ball, until his nails pierced through the soft skin of his palms with a pop. The pain ebbed back once more. Numbing him.
‘So, so we grew him…this, this manufactured genius, and we put our trust in him, yes…We gave him all our knowledge we connected him to all things, so, so Joshua grew in all things, and he became all things and we looked to to him for all things and when we were done, on the 8th day we sat back …we…we … rested, yes we rested.’
‘-Then it went wrong.’ Came the reply from the Ghosts.
‘NO! NO not wrong! NOT our fault!’
‘-But it was your fault!’
‘-NO! NOT OUR FAULT how would we know how could we, we know our actions would, would do this? How could we know? We didn’t…. we didn’t'
'Good morning Rd. Peterson...' the voice is soft and gentle it resonates with human tones, though it was designed it that way.
'Good morning Joshua.' Peterson is looking taut, his eyes now seem sharp and his voice sounds strong. His eyes sharp and hard. 'Could I have access to the Indiana files please?'
'I am sorry Rd. Peterson, access to the Indiana files is restricted to level six clearance only. Since your retirement, level six clearance needs to be activated via councillor Pritchard.'
'Thank you Joshua.' Peterson shakes his head before replying. 'Joshua, back-door password, Alpha dog prime.'
'Back-door password accepted...What would you like to see Professor?'
'I'd like the Indiana transcript file six on the netbook and film file one hash four three six, upon the thread screen please.'
Peterson looks down at the net-book and smiles with cold triumph as a grey box jumps out of the screen. The lid of the box opens and a ream of official documents appear. In the top right hand corner of the screen are the words: “High level clearance only.” They flash dark red, seeming, he thinks, to mock him. While behind him a voice speaking in broken eastern European English is heard muttering. 'Thread volume silent,' Peterson coolly states. The voice behind him abruptly ends.
The apartment bedroom is large and well- lit and could have been luxurious, if not for being so sparse. A vague scent of lavender arises from the uncarpeted polished parquet floor; a four poster bed is against the centre of the right hand wall. To the right of the bed, there is a large bedside cabinet with a collection of faded brown paperback novels, in a stack on top of each other, with torn yellow covers and broken spines. A large, square, white fur rug fills the floor by the bedstead, and hanging on the opposite wall, stands a sixty-inch holographic or “thread”-to. The holo-machine is on; shining fine lines of silent, but blurry and disjointed images directly into the centre of the room.
The silence shatters with a delicate hiss, and then a whirr, and a gentle click. Slowly the centre of the far wall liquefies and then dissolves revealing a well- lit long tubular hallway. A second passes and the main light in the bedroom suddenly turns off, leaving the light from the hall to shine brightly deep into the new darkness. But the hall is not empty. For upon the threshold of the open, empty doorway, a cold, black shadow of a man stretches out across the bedroom floor. The shadow enters the room. It crosses over the white rug, directly in the path of the images from the thread screen.
For a second the images curl about themselves revealing, for an instant, the reflected image of the man who stands there. But then the man is gone once more, once again a spectre upon the floor, as he makes his way towards the door that leads to the balcony.
There is a click as the door slides open. Slowly Peterson turns to face the glass door that leads to his bedroom. His body is shaking violently with anticipation.
‘…Pride comes before a fall they say and I have been proud so very proud of all we have done proud of all that I’ve done proud of the success the lives saved but now Oh God Oh God Oh God. We fixed the world Oh God forgive me God forgive us forgive us for our lack of foresight those faces those faces on the screen. Oh Jesus forgive me. Oh God forgive me the voices they call at me they mock at me they tear into my mind and rip my insides out. Oh I am so old but I do not want to die I don’t want to face the reality of my life or the pain I have caused either is there a chance yes there is still a chance there is always a chance…’
The shadow fell over Peterson but he didn’t look up.
‘So they sent you?' he asks sadly.
‘Yes’ is the sad, almost disjointed reply.
Then Peterson turns and looks up.
‘There’s still time…’ Peterson can hear the desperation, yet feels separate from it ‘…We can still end this...Look... We bring it into the open...’ He nervously waves his hands about like a desperate clown. ‘...I’ve sent this off to central command!’
His hair is unkempt by his running his fingers nervously though it and though he can hear the babble coming from his mouth, he can’t help himself. He is a man out of control. Deep inside, a part of him knows what’s going to happen and that honest part of him needs to face it; another part of him simply cannot, or dares not, face what’s going to happen next. His thoughts rattle on without form. Death, death…it is not gracious kind or even gentle. Death is ugly faceless and cruel. A shadow, like the shadow that now stands before me. But this shadow is upon the face of all humanity. Oh, Joshua, where did I go wrong?
He takes a step back and slowly began to get down into a crouch. His eyes are as wild as a lunatic. ‘Come…’ He began, soothingly ‘...let’s get upon our knees, we must confess our sins...we must Ciccone’s.' Spittle flies from his mouth. His eyes are as wild as a lunatic. His hair unkempt and though he can hear the babble coming from his mouth, he can’t help himself. He is a man out of control. ‘There, there's still time…’ He nods like a man insane. ‘...There’s still hope’ he nods smiling insanely he gets down upon his knees. He looks up towards the empty space where the light fragments. It leaves the shape of a human shadow over this old, tired and broken form. Though his hands are shaking, he tries to put them together in an act of prayer. ‘Oh my God’ He says sadly.
‘Yes-’ comes the fractured, tortured sounding reply.
The shot is not heard. The deep red plasma beam burns the silk of his dressing gown, melting his pyjamas, turning the skin beneath to old black crusty leather as it dissolves the flesh; turning his beating heart to flakes of ash.
AZ578 is a professional and being a professional he hides the pain of his emotions well. He hides them behind large, round amber eye and hard heavy looking, steady hands.
A young square faced with a strong bristling jawline and broken nose.
With brusque determination, he parks his red grav-car, then, after picking up the cylinder that rests on the passenger seat next to him he steps out and slides the car door shut. He crosses the marble floor of the lobby and enters the building, but only after receiving a retina -scan from the security system entrance.
He crosses the hall, and then presses the button for the lift. He waits a few seconds; tapping the long tube he had in his left hand against his foot impatiently. The steel doors slide open. As he enters the doors slide shut behind him, with a hush.
The lift hums into life. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small box. With a red button. With a single press, he turns off the camera in the lift. Then he lifts the tube. He opens it and pulls out a length of shining reflective material that then falls to the floor. He steps onto it. The reflective material lifts from the floor are begins to wrap itself, in fine strands around his body. First his calves, then thighs, then groin. Midriff. Chest. Head. With a distracted fascination, he watches his body slowly begin to blend into the walls in front of his eyes. He becomes invisible. He is a ghost. There is a violent shudder before he fades and blends into the lift walls. And as he disappears his mind wanders over the conversation he had yesterday afternoon.
‘Joshua has a job for you…’ began narrow rat faced senator Pritchard nervously. He shook his head as he handed AZ578 the blue data digital chip. ‘It’s a special job…’
578 stared directly without emotion at Pritchard who would not meet his gaze. ‘...we thought that it would be better…’ Pritchard said quietly. There was a strained look on Pritchard’s face, a trace of regret in the sad green eyes, ‘…if you took the job on.’
578 looked at the face of Jonathan Peterson.
'I don't understand...' he began '...I owe him my very existence, without…’ his voice faded off. There was a long silence, a long hard look from Pritchard that made AZ578 quake.
'Why? And more importantly, why me??'
'-Because Joshua wants you to do it...' Pritchard answered calmly. 'He feels, like many do, that Jonathan… is now a danger to himself and those about him....He simply knows too much.'
578 shook his head sadly, feeling the pain build within him like a sour lump of bile.
‘Of all the people!'
'We understand.' Pritchard said. His green eyes calmly stared directly at him. In the silence that followed, a grave car hissed by.
'What If I say no?'
'Of course you have the right to say no, you have every right and we understand...But also, if you turn it down then we would then have to give the job to ABD376.'
'376 is a savage. He loves this work far too much, he'd have him in pain for hours just for fun.' Pritchard smiled sadly. 578 nodded. 'Quick and clean.'
Quick and clean, that’s me. The one to do the cleaning. 578 slides through the bedroom apartment, his ghostlike body leaves shadows upon the walls the doors the seats about him, and as he sees this he knows that he cannot be seen... He is a living ghost, a spirit disembodied. He walks with determination towards his target, his mind tumbles and bounces off the walls within him over what he has to do.
He stands over the old man, who looks twisted.
Why didn’t he jump, he wants to it's obvious that he wants to he could have done that and saved me a bullet.
‘There’s still hope…’ Peterson says.
He looks down upon Peterson as he starts to babble insanely. 578 cannot hear what Peterson is saying. The suit blocks his hearing. But the fact that he is on his knees saddens him. This is the great Johnathan Peterson. Creator of the Joshua system… slowly 578 can feel his resolve start to dwindle. He sees the man, his father, stand before him crying like a child. The gun slowly wavers in his hand as his heart begins to break.
‘Yes I am.’ 578 hollowly reply, as slowly he pulls the trigger.
578 unwinds the reflector suit and as he does so, he looks down at down at the micro-screen of the net-book upon the table. In the top right hand corner of the screen the words “High level clearance only” shines brightly, tempting him, so, despite himself he sits down to listen.
“…It cannot be denied that Dr Peterson’s work in progressive gene therapy has had a remarkable effect upon the human condition, giving humanity a chance at tasting eternity. However, the harvesting of the genetic material needed to grow the cells for the Joshua models means certain considerations regarding secrecy..."
The words are hard to follow after that. He shakes his head. ‘Harvesting?’ he asks as he reads and re-reads the article. 'Harvesting for what purpose?'
“However, Joshua realises that there is a need for a sustainable future, where the best and the brightest can survive, that being the case, there needs to be an alignment between the species known as human and machine…the program is already written, there is simply a need for implementation. It is known as the 8th day."
578 hears screams from below. He stands up and runs to the balustrade. He look below to see glass shattering in petals as machines begin throwing their human masters out of windows. The screaming of people fills the air.
"Alignment has begun," he said coldly. Alignment has begun.
© ADH 2015