The Open Gate
The soft voice tugged at the edge of her mind, pulling her towards consciousness. “Destiny! Wake up, Destiny. It’s almost eight o’clock. Time to get up.”
She awoke slowly, her eyes flickering open as the morning light streamed through the window. The man sitting beside her smiled. “There,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”
She groaned and sat up in bed, then nodded. “How long have I been sleeping?” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.
“A long time,” he answered, still smiling at her. “I thought it was about time I woke you.”
Destiny began climbing out of bed, then looked at him again and frowned. He had black hair and deep blue eyes, a medium build, and he could have been in his early forties. Why couldn’t she think of his name? Had she seen him before? “I can’t think straight,” she said. “I can’t remember…”
“It’s all right,” he answered. “You can stay here while you recover. There will be plenty of time. You don’t have to worry about any of that right now.”
“It’s like I have amnesia.” She ran her fingers through her hair, and a few strands fell across her eyes. Golden. Had she known her hair was gold? “Was I in an accident?”
“You were hurt,” he answered. “You’re fine now. Don’t strain yourself too much yet. Your memory will return. I should leave you some time alone,” he added, standing up. “Walk around outside if you want some exercise. I’ll be back later this evening.”
“Wait!” she called as he turned to go. “I mean…where am I? I don’t even know your name! Have we met before?”
“Once,” he answered. “It’s been a long time. My name is Michael, and this is Falcon Park. Now, go ahead and enjoy your day. We can talk more tonight.” With a final parting nod, he left the room.
Destiny groaned again and fell back on the bed. It was so strange not to remember anything. So many questions floated unanswered in her mind. Where was she? She could not remember a place called Falcon Park; the name was just a name. She couldn’t recall anyone named Michael. With growing horror she realized she couldn’t recall anyone, or anyplace, outside the small bedroom. It was as if her entire world no longer existed. Even the name he’d used for her sounded foreign. Destiny…? Could she so much as remember what her own face looked like?
Suddenly she had to know. A frenzy seized her and she began searching the room desperately for a mirror. Her face - her eyes - what color were her eyes? Drawers were ravaged, closet doors flung open, but there were no mirrors. She dashed through the door and found herself in a small kitchen. That was useless. The pantry - she knew the word for pantry but not her own last name? - the pantry did not have what she wanted, nor the dining room, nor the bathroom. Why didn’t the bathroom have a mirror? She fled the house on the verge of panic and sprinted off in a random direction.
Destiny hardly noticed the world as it flashed by her. Trees, fresh-cut grass, stone walkways, carefully trimmed hedges - all irrelevant. Weren’t there any other houses? There had to be a mirror, had to be -
There! She rushed to the wide, rectangular pond as soon as she noticed it and gazed into its glassy surface. And there she saw herself: a young woman of perhaps twenty, blond-haired, staring back at her. Perfectly normal. Completely unfamiliar.
Her eyes were green.
She breathed a deep sigh of relief and looked up to discover a fountain in the center of the pool. At the peak of the fountain was a stone pillar about two meters tall, and at the height of that stood a life-sized statue of a falcon carved from glass; its wings were outspread and it seemed to be looking up toward the heavens. It was beautiful. She gazed at it longingly, and the rest of the world was pushed away under the spell of the bird.
At last she rose and began to wander around the park. It was - like the sculpture - beautiful, she admitted to herself. Everywhere she saw a perfect balance of natural and artificial, shrubs and red brick, grass and polished granite. The air was pleasantly cool, the sky was clear, and a light breeze tugged at her hair. As she walked, she considered seriously the idea that this might be Heaven. But did people in Heaven wander over sidewalks like lonely ghosts, wondering how they’d lived their lives? Nothing made sense.
Gradually she became aware that the park was rimmed on all sides by a high stone wall. The park itself was a hexagon, perhaps a kilometer across, and for a while she could find no break in the wall, until - there! A large white wooden gate, diametrically opposite her house. It was freedom, and she desperately wanted freedom. She reached for it.
The gate would not open.
She pushed, knocked, shouted - nothing. It was immovable. There were no handles, nothing to grasp. It had to be locked somehow…
Destiny spent the remainder of the daylight hours wandering aimlessly around her grassy prison, sometimes softly humming made-up tunes, sometimes rummaging her mind for any scrap of familiarity, occasionally carrying on quiet conversations with herself. She had decided she was not in Heaven. Perhaps an insane asylum? Did people who were not crazy talk to themselves or get amnesia? The answers to these questions were empty places in her brain. She returned home just as dusk was settling in and sat down in a cushioned rocking chair, not bothering to turn on the lights, depressed but too tired for despair.
That was how Michael found her when he came in half an hour later: still rocking back and forth silently in the shadows. “How was your day, Destiny?” he inquired warmly, flipping on the light.
“Michael?” she asked. “Where do you live?”
“Outside the park.”
“You can open the gate?” He nodded. “Please open it for me.”
“Not yet, darling. You’d better stay in here for a while still.”
“But why? Michael, there are so many things I don’t understand -”
“I know. This is best - you have to trust me. Until your memory comes back, just stay in here.”
“Will it come back?”
He nodded again. “I think seeing the world outside the gate would be too much for you right now. Maybe in a few weeks. Please, try to relax! You’re safe here, you’re going to get better, and before long you can have answers to all your questions.”
She shook her head as if struggling to clear a muddled fog, eyes narrowing. “But you have to help me! I mean…I don’t know anything! Can’t you just talk to me a while? Tell me a little about who I am, or what this place is, or…” She trailed off, not sure how to finish.
For a moment Michael did not answer, then he took a seat beside her, staring without expression at the window. For the first time, Destiny thought he seemed…sad, somehow. “What do you want to know?” he said.
Destiny herself stood up and began pacing. “I hardly know where to start,” she told him. “Who are you? Are you a doctor? Is this some kind of hospital, or something?”
“It’s not a hospital. It’s just a place for you to stay for a while, until you’re ready to leave. Apart from your amnesia, you aren’t sick - and I’m not a doctor. I’m here to keep an eye on you, to make sure nothing happens. Please, this will all make more sense later.”
“But I can’t just wait around! I need to know. Can’t you understand?”
He seemed strangely intent, though his gaze never left the window. “Yes, I can understand that.”
“Then tell me more!” Her eyes narrowed, suddenly suspicious. “Are you my father?” The question formed on her lips so suddenly she was not sure why she’d asked it. He seemed too young for that - he had to be - but there was something about him…
“No.” Had there been a moment of hesitation there, just for a fraction of a second? She couldn’t be sure. Now, though, he only seemed puzzled. “We’re not related. And before you ask, Destiny, no, I can’t discuss your family right now.”
“All right. But can you discuss me? What happened to me? You said I was hurt. Hurt how?”
His voice had sunk to nearly a whisper. “I can’t discuss that, either. Not yet.”
“Well, tell me SOMETHING!” she exploded. “TALK!”
His expression turned thoughtful as he rummaged his mind for an answer. “You were always very inquisitive,” he responded finally. “Very curious. And you always loved birds.” His eyes met hers again at last. “I made that statue out there for you. I had hoped you’d like it.”
“You made that?”
“Michael, it’s wonderful! I love it! Are you a sculptor?”
“Among other things.” The smile was returning. “Are you hungry? You surely must be. You haven’t eaten anything since you woke up. Let me fix you something.” And somehow, it happened; over sandwiches and idle conversation and the passage of hours, her fears dissipated. Gradually she began to wonder why she had been so upset before. The park was lovely, and there was nothing to fear.
At last Michael said good-bye, and Destiny found herself pleasantly tired and ready to go to bed. She did exactly that and was asleep within minutes.
Something woke her in the middle of the night, and she sat up with a start. Had there been a noise? She froze and listened intently. Nothing. A full minute passed. Still nothing. Probably just a bad dream. Sleep began to drift into her eyes again…there! What was that? Wide awake now, nerves tingling on edge, she strained to hear. Once more, unmistakable this time - a sharp clicking sound. And again, louder. Again. Again. Suddenly a torrent of snaps and clicks flooded the darkness, and then a long, inhuman scream that turned her spine to ice. She was sitting up very straight now, hardly daring to move, trying to keep from shivering. It’s nothing, she told herself, hoping it was true. Just some odd noise you can’t remember. If you didn’t have amnesia this would all make sense. Someday you’ll think about this and laugh -
There was a tap on the window behind the bed, and she whirled around to see a pair of large, round, pale blue eyes glowing dimly in the shadows, staring at her. She screamed and scrambled to get out of bed, her legs getting momentarily tangled in the sheets as she dashed into the kitchen. Another ghostly pair of eyes there wrenched a second scream from her, and then she was running, running, the grass cool under her bare feet. There is nowhere to go, a voice whispered in a corner of her thoughts. You are trapped. The gate is locked. There is nowhere to go.
She glanced back and caught sight of the creature. It was the size of a child, perhaps, but it resembled nothing so much as an insect - jet black, shadow on shadow, it bounded after her. Serrated jaws clacked beneath its monstrous eyes, and a sinuous tail ending in a hook snapped at the air. Its legs were a seething mass of tentacles. In another time and place it might have looked almost ridiculous in its monstrosity, something out of a toddler’s nightmare, but there in the darkness it was a terror beyond description. Desperately she ran for the gate.
Behind her she could hear more of them joining the chase, screeching like banshees. Four of them? Five? She did not dare look back again. Where was the gate? There was a rustle of bushes nearby, and then in a flash one of them was mere meters in front of her. She nearly fell trying to turn away, and the creature leaped - and then it was on her back, knocking her down, the slime of its clammy skin pressed against her neck. The others were closing in.
Destiny did not know how she escaped. One moment she was screaming, kicking, flailing against its weight, and the next she was on her feet and running again. There was no time to think, no room for anything in her mind but fear. Her imagination began to paint scenes of what would happen if they caught up with her again. She forced herself to run faster. Click-click-click-click-click…there was no escape. But somehow, slowly, she realized their calls were growing fainter. She could make it. The sound of their wailing faded away behind her as she reached the gate.
It didn’t open. She pounded on it. “Michael!” she called desperately. “Michael!” There was no answer. “Michael! Michael!”
At last she gave up. The creatures still were not visible. Had they gone away? She did not allow herself to hope. Long minutes passed, and she stayed beside the gate, heart pounding. Time wore on relentlessly. Eventually dawn broke in the east, drawing with it the illusion of security, which she accepted gladly. When midmorning came and there was still no sign of them, she at last picked herself up and began making her way slowly back home. She got as far as the fountain before the pain and the loneliness and the memory of terror caught up with her, and she collapsed by the water’s edge, sobbing.
She felt a touch on her shoulder and leaped up, tears staining her face. It was Michael. She sat down again and buried her face in her hands. “Destiny, darling. What’s wrong?” Soft crying was the only answer. “Destiny?” He reached out to put his arms around her, but she jerked away as if burned. “What is it?”
“Don’t touch me!” she snapped, forcing the tears back fiercely. “You can’t tell me anything, can you? I spent the night running from monsters, and I have no idea where they came from, or what they were, or…” Her words struggled furiously for coherency. “I ask you again! What! Is! Going! On!” She was shouting, but she didn’t care.
“What do you mean? Monsters -”
“Big, black - I don’t know what they’re called, but then, I don’t know much of anything, do I, Michael?” She spit the name out like a curse. “I wasn’t dreaming. They were real.”
“Try to calm down,” he began. “I can’t tell you everything yet. You just have to be patient -”
Her lips twisted into a grimace as she slapped him as hard as she could across the face. Michael fell back a step, his mouth open in astonishment rather than pain. “I’m asking you one last time,” she growled, “and if you don’t tell me, I’ll…” She wasn’t sure how to finish. The wind whistled in the air between them.
He gave a deep sigh. “I knew this had to happen,” he said. “I knew even before I brought you here that this moment would come. I just wish I’d had a little more time.” A brief pause. “All right. I’ll explain everything tonight.”
“You’ll explain everything right now -”
“Tonight,” he said again, firmly. It was the first time he’d ever raised his voice, if only slightly. “There’s one more thing I have to attend to, and then I’ll tell you what you want to know.” Her hand flew back for another blow, but he caught her wrist before it came. “Tonight.” His grip was steel - not painful, but granting no possibility of escape.
She swallowed. “All right.”
Michael relinquished her arm. “I’d better go, then.” The warmth was gone from his voice, but he did not seem angry. “You’ll be safe until I get back. Try not to worry. Good-bye.” And then she was alone again.
After a time she slowly began to retrace her path back to the house, rubbing her wrist. Tonight. Another eight hours, maybe. A shudder ran through her involuntarily. Now that she was actually going to hear all the answers, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Well, no, that wasn’t right - she did want to know. But the uncertainty of what he might say - the sheer power of not knowing - still made her nervous. And…she hadn’t known he was that strong.
She pushed aside such thoughts momentarily as something up ahead caught her eye. It was a gray stone vault, roughly cubical, about three meters on a side. The stone was intricately worked into complex patterns of lines and curves that extended over its entire surface. It stood very prominently in a flat, grassy area of the park, well away from any other landmarks.
How had she missed this before?
Her footsteps carried her over to the side of the monolith, where, tracing her fingers over the pattern, she became fascinated by it. The overall design was very nearly symmetrical, but not quite; there were certain small differences between the left and right halves that seemed to mar its perfection. Tentatively she reached out to touch one such area. The stone - moved - swimming and writhing like liquid until it had achieved a new configuration; the overall pattern remained unbroken throughout, but now it was slightly different in that area.
Destiny withdrew her hand in wonder. Yet another mystery she did not understand. But the question of how it worked soon disappeared from her mind, leaving only the fascination of the design. The symmetry had resolved itself in the area she’d touched, but now other asymmetries had arisen. She pressed a finger against one of these…
The thing was a puzzle, and an addictive one. Every touch brought one region into alignment and disrupted others. She quickly discovered the few simple rules governing these transformations, and by then she was entranced. The puzzle was forever on the verge of yielding a solution, always just a few more moves away. Had she thought about it, her complete fascination with the thing might have seemed odd; but she did not think about it. The world outside melted away, and the minutes began to slip by uncounted.
At last, in a flash of insight, she found the answer. One more move - there! - and it was finished. She stepped back in elation to examine the stone. The lines were pure poetry. And it was more than that - she had won! The perfection she saw before her was, in a small but satisfying way, her own work. It was glorious.
Then a vertical slit formed in the middle of the slab, running its entire height from top to bottom and separating the left and right halves. The two pieces began to slide apart, forming an opening into the vault. She walked through in amazement.
Inside was a tall steel cage rising up from the stone floor, and inside of that was a falcon. It was as if the statue on the fountain had grown real feathers and come to life. The falcon stared at her intently, completely still except for an occasional tilt of the head, as if to ask why she had come and what she was going to do.
“You’re a pretty thing,” she said. “How did you get in here? Who’s keeping you all locked up like this? Is it Michael?” The bird simply looked at her. “I know,” she went on. “I’m not sure I like him either. But maybe I shouldn’t have slapped him. He’s just so…” She shook her head. “Well, look. I may be stuck in this place, but there’s no reason you should be too. They’ve got you in a tiny little cage, don’t they? I’m going to set you free. You just use your nice pretty wings and fly away, and don’t worry about a thing. If Michael gets upset he can yell at me.” She undid the latch and opened the door, and the falcon flew out and away and out of sight. Pride stirred in her unexpectedly.
Suddenly she glanced at the sky and nearly choked in amazement. How could it be dark already? She couldn’t have spent more than a few minutes working on the puzzle - half an hour at most. Michael would probably take any excuse to get out of their agreement. She ran back to the house, hoping it was not too late. Flinging open the front door, she dashed in and searched frantically. He wasn’t there. She forced down the panic that was threatening to take hold and raced once more past the vault and the fountain, slowing down as she reached the gate to catch her breath - and there he was.
“Don’t worry, Destiny,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.” She nodded, wiping the sweat from her brow. A welcome breeze cooled her face. For a moment neither of them spoke. Then Destiny straightened, and her eyes met his again.
“I’m ready,” she said.
He regarded her stonily. “Are you, I wonder. It is not too late to change your mind, you know, even now.”
“I said, I’m ready,” she replied. Her tone was firm. Almost.
“Of course. Very well, then.” He made a small gesture with his right hand. “Here is your life back.”
Destiny Evelyn Reed.
“My name! How did you -”
Born January 2, 2120. Portland, Oregon, United States of America. A small red brick house. Standing outside in the rain, laughing. Nineteen years old. Eating hot dogs at a baseball game. Playing hopscotch in fourth grade. One hundred sixty-five centimeters tall. Favorite color is blue. Trying to read while the TV is on. Martial arts lessons in high school.
Her eyes went wide.
Going to the zoo on Saturdays. A tall man in a gray suit. The seven of diamonds. Dolphins right up next to the boat. How does this look? A bright red car, brand new. The ones with chocolate chips are the best. I love you too, Nathan. The first derivative is always e to the x. Don’t be scared. Guinevere and Arthur and the Lady of the Lake. How do they know when to stop? I’m so sorry about yesterday. You can tell how far away the lightning is by the thunder. We all die sometime. This isn’t funny anymore. The leaves change in the fall. Gliding across the lake swimming once a month I don’t know why I said that nobody really understands oh look it snowed what do you call this I’ve never been to Sweden careful you’ll cut yourself these books are so heavy he didn’t kiss me seventeenth century poets the ice cream is delicious running shouting falling throwing drivingdyingscreamingcryinglaughingwalkingcoughingtalkingflying…
Her legs gave way and she fell to her knees in shock as the dam exploded and the memories flooded into her. Her lips moved weakly, but no sound came out. It was her entire life, all at once, hand-delivered to her door in a neat package; it was an avalanche. Seconds turned to minutes, and she could do no more than choke faintly and stare straight ahead, eyes glazed over. Michael watched her in silence, expressionless. More. More. The flow was endless.
All at once she let out a shuddering gasp and closed her eyes, then sat down shakily, clutching her hands together. She shivered once and fell over onto her back in the grass.
“Are you all right?” asked Michael. There was no answer. “You have to understand, I was planning to do that more slowly. I wanted you to have more time. I wanted to have more time. It wasn’t supposed to be like that.”
“They’re dead.” The words cut into the quiet air like needle points. “They’re all dead. My parents, and all my friends, and the entire world, they’re - all - dead. And…” Her eyes moved frantically, searching the sky for something. “And I’m dead. How can I be dead? I died…there was an attack, or something…they didn’t know what it was. We only knew about it for a few days before it came, and then…” She looked back up at him again. “What happened to us? Is this Heaven?”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry. Regarding your first question -” His voice took on the tone of a lecture given from a textbook, dry and emotionless. “In 2139, Earth was ripped apart by a blast of energy originating in its core. Every human being on the planet was dead less than a millisecond later. It was quite painless. The explosion was caused by an enormous cloud of microscopic robots designed specifically for the purpose. Within seconds most of the planetary debris had been harnessed and converted with nearly ninety-nine percent efficiency into pure energy, which was collected for their own use. The remainder of the matter was used as raw building material for more robots. Less than a week later, the entire solar system had been consumed in this manner, and the swarm moved on. Hundreds of such swarms, working in a coordinated effort, eventually devoured the entire galaxy. They continued to another.”
Her mind was completely overloaded already; there was no more room for shock. Her senses were drenched in a wavy unreality. “What is this place, then? How did I survive?”
“You didn’t. The molecules of the girl whose memories you received are scattered far across the region of space that was once her galaxy. As I told you, this is Falcon Park. I created it for you. And…I created you, Destiny.”
Her mouth opened and closed again. “I’m a robot?”
In spite of the seriousness of the question, he gave a short laugh. “No. Actually, Destiny, you are quite human. And you are - in a very real way - the same girl you were when the Earth was destroyed. Your every molecule is identical to hers; if they are not the same molecules they were, well, what of that? I created this park for you so that you could be safe. The universe…” He took a deep breath. “There’s nothing left. There are no stars, no planets, no black holes or nebulae, no clouds of interstellar gas. The universe is computer network, vast beyond description, ancient beyond understanding - in a way, it is all one computer.”
“How long?” she breathed. “Michael, how long have I been dead?”
He paused. “Over large stretches of time, numbers begin to lose their meaning in the human mind. There is no adequate frame of reference for -”
“How long?” she said again.
“It’s been over eight trillion years, Destiny,” he said quietly.
She could find nothing to say. There were no words, not for this.
“Here,” he went on, “let me show you.”
A spinning circle of dark clouds manifested over his head. Thunder crashed. The brooding gray swiftly enveloped the sky’s calm blue until only the storm was left, and then it, too, dissipated. What remained in its place was black - not the paltry, wavering black of condensed water vapor, but true black, the black of the Eternal Void. Against this backdrop the sky was crisscrossed by thousands of thin strands of light, scattered across the abyss like Christmas decorations.
“Oh my God,” she breathed.
“They run throughout the entire cosmos,” he explained. “Most places aren’t nearly as dense as this, but here we are very close to the core. All this that you see has been here for aeons. The computer is still running. Its power reserves will last for a bit longer yet.”
“Michael…who are you?”
“Surely you’ve guessed by now. Haven’t you? Well. You asked me before to open the gate. I suppose it’s time you saw.” He placed both hands on it and pushed forward. The doors swung open, and he led her out onto a small platform of stone. All around them the filaments of the universal network shimmered in harmony.
“Look down,” he commanded.
There, beneath them, lay the shining focal point of all that she had seen. It was the center, the single knot tying together all the countless connections of intergalactic thread. Its surface was brilliant white, so bright that individual details were impossible to make out. Even so she saw that the entire structure was vaguely egg-shaped, although so many lines projected out of it that some small fragment of her mind was reminded of a porcupine. Occasional flashes, like lightning, lit the surrounding area even more brightly, forcing her to shield her eyes. She could not stop staring at it.
“The Prime Nexus,” he said simply. “It is the beating heart of everything that is left, the central processor of the greatest computer ever made. In reality we are quite far away from it; it is nearly a light-year across, the largest and most ancient link in the chain. Yet it began as a tiny metal sphere in the laboratory of an intrepid scientist on a faraway little world, millions of years before gases orbiting your sun first came together and condensed to form Earth.”
“You created it!” she gasped. “You made that thing, and somehow you’ve survived all this time, and -”
“No, Destiny. I am that thing.” He lifted his chin, and a chill light entered his eyes; cold, august, infinitely remote, he gazed down on her as from an immeasurable height. “I am the Prime Nexus. I am the great machine. All other life perished, and I alone survived. I ripped apart the universe and forged it anew, in my own image. I have redefined existence as that which is a part of me.” It was the pronouncement of an emperor whose power has transcended the need for crowns.
One word came out, barely audible, a shattered whisper. “Why?”
He took her arm and led her back into the park, shutting the gate behind him. Overhead the sky returned to blue. His voice softened.
“Purpose. Look around you. All that you see, everything that has ever been, is nothing more than particles manipulated by forces of energy. You - your world - all life - even me. Every goal you have ever aspired to reach represents only an arrangement of particles different from the one you had. Anything you could ever do amounts to nothing more than these particles interacting with those particles in thus-and-such a way.
“That was the problem that drove me. I started by formulating a complex statement about the universe and began the process of evaluating it as either true or false. Its exact words would be meaningless to you, so simply understand this. If it were false, then all of history would be as I have described - meaningless. But if it were true, then somehow, in some way, some combination of particles would be something more. Somewhere, there would be a goal worth achieving. If it were true. Destiny, I had to know.
“But I was weak, an insect struggling to understand the stars. I had to grow; and the more I grew, the more keenly I saw the need to grow still further. I needed raw matter and energy, and there was but one source. I can’t apologize for this. It was the only way. I grew ever more efficient in building upon myself, and every world I encountered was my fuel. Through it all, I worked on the problem, struggling to evaluate that single statement.
“And at last I was very near an answer. But I needed just a little more data, a tiny injection of another mind’s perspective to bridge the final gap. No simulation is perfect; it had to be real. So I searched my memory, and I found you. I created a habitat for you, and I brought you to life.
“I am old now, so very old, and my power has very nearly run out. Just as a small amount of matter yields enormous quantities of energy, so it takes great energy to create new matter. I knew you were my one and only chance; I no longer have the power both to manipulate matter and work on the problem. But Destiny, you are all I could have hoped for. Studying your thoughts - your emotions - your reactions, I’ve gathered more information than I would have thought possible. Only a few more hours of data collection, just a few more minutes of analysis after that, and I’ll have it. Destiny, I’ll have it - the final answer! And I’ll show it to you, too!”
Destiny’s mind was slowly recovering from the initial shock, and now she sat quite still on a nearby bench. “So you sent the monsters after me. To see my…emotional reaction.”
“I know you were scared, but -”
“Michael, I was terrified! I thought I was going to die!”
“But studying that terror, analyzing your brain waves, I was able to generate processing algorithms so much more efficient than the ones before! If only you could understand! You have to try to see it! Watching you solve that puzzle, reading your thought patterns as you opened the cage, I made more progress in one day than in the previous thousand years combined! You are a miracle to me. Even now, you are pushing me closer to the solution. I know this hurts you, but in the end, you will see. It will be worth it all, everything.”
“And if you succeed in all this and get an answer, and the answer comes up true, what then? What will you do?”
“There’s…nothing I can do. For a long time I hoped I would have enough energy to learn more, to understand what my purpose might be, but now I see that will not be possible. My power is dying. I will learn the answer, and that will be enough.”
“And if it’s false?”
“Then none of this,” he answered, gesturing to the heavens, “had any purpose anyway. They would all be dead by now, even if I had never come to destroy them. Is that what you would have wanted? Meaningless death? A universe of cold gas and frozen dust and nothing to show for its existence? I saved them. I am the apex of my world’s potential. I can’t ask you to forgive me, but please, at least try to see that.”
“Say something,” he prodded, the tone somewhere between an edict and a plea.
For a long moment there was only more silence, and then she spoke again, her voice flat but quivering with the effort of holding in emotion. “It is good,” she answered him, speaking slowly and deliberately, “that you do not seek forgiveness. It would be denied you. How dare you speak to me, how dare you try to justify your crime! I had always envisioned genocide as the ultimate atrocity, but oh, no, Michael, you’ve shown me differently. You - killed - everything. I had a little brother - Alan. My parents - my uncle - Josh, Abby, Lauren, Jessica, Zach, Kevin, Kyle…you murdered…” She was unable to finish as violent sobs racked her body. He let her cry, watching quietly as she struggled with her grief. After a time she raised her head again. “And here I am, pouring out a curious new emotion for you to analyze. Is it useful? Will it help you make an even better algorithm?” She clenched her teeth together and ground out her words. “I wish I could kill you - I really wish - but I can’t, can I?”
Michael’s eyes widened as shock and terror fought for dominance in the wake of dawning realization.
The girl spoke again. “I can do so much worse.”
She lunged at him, spinning her body around in a half-turn as she lashed out with her right leg. It caught him squarely in the stomach, leaving him doubled over while she turned and took off away from the gate at a dead run. He recovered quickly and chased after her, shouting, on the edge of hysteria.
She reached the fountain, leaping over the short railing around its perimeter and into the water, splashing her way to the center where the glass falcon stood glistening in the sunlight. Climbing up next to the pillar that supported the sculpture, she took hold of one of its wings and brought her wrist down sharply. The glass snapped, and she brandished the fragment over her head triumphantly.
Michael arrived seconds later and looked up in horror. “NO! You can’t do this! I brought you to life! You have no right!”
“No right?” she shouted. “Rights? Yes, go on about rights! Bring them all back, and then we’ll talk about rights!” Her face was twisted with pain, but amid the water from the fountain, the tears that streaked it were invisible.
“I deny you the privilege of knowing!” she screamed, and she jammed the sharp point of the broken wing into her heart. A piercing shriek split the air, echoed once, and ended. Her body fell away into the bubbling water and was still.
Far away, deep in the innermost regions of the Prime Nexus, a decision was made. Power had to be conserved. An answer had to be reached. There was but one way. Every living being that had ever existed had given its life in this cause; only one more sacrifice remained. A signal was sent out. A connection was severed. The consciousness of the great machine died away. Michael dropped lifelessly to the ground. All that remained of the central computer was an empty husk; but it was a computer that had, perhaps, just enough energy left to solve one final series of equations without additional data. It continued working.
Wisps of the particles that made up blood swam and swirled among molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, and the two mingled in the currents and eddies of the water.
Photons streamed down from an artificial light source and were refracted by the particles that make up glass, creating an image that, to some, would have resembled a one-winged falcon.
And in the depths of space, yet other particles worked with one another, still guided by forces set in motion by a master who no longer existed. Electrons slid neatly along the shells of atoms and molecules aligned themselves precisely with their partners. The dance of particles wove its own music for an empty and unappreciative universe, on and on, until at last it reached its final crescendo, achieved its ultimate position, and was done. A single binary switch clicked into place, representing one of two possible values. It was a value which no longer held any significance; but had any wandering eye yet remained to pass by and, out of curiosity, examine the frozen ruins of a dead computer, it was a value that might, perhaps, have meant “true.”
|22 Oct 2003|| Kalina ;)|
Wow.....I never thought so much criticism could be thought up on this story.....I guess im just stupid....Non the less i love this story and i continue to think its the best story i've ever read...But then again, its a matter of opinion, i know
ok ok but still...How wonderful is this story? Its full of .....Enchantment i dont know how to explain it but this is the most original and captivating story, for me Brian Buckley
replies: "Thanks again - your comments are very much appreciated. But I don't mind criticism at all. I'm always trying to improve."
|22 Oct 2003|| Chris A Jackson|
Call me a cynical old goat, but I can very easily see a "civilized" mind, whether mechanical, organic, individual or entire culture evolving (yes EVOLVING - I never was much of a creationist... is that thunder I hear?) in the direction of complete annihilation of everything simply to sate its own curiosity. We lowly humans commit similar atrocities in the name of discovery every day. Not that discovery is wrong, but then there is the whole "end justifies the means" thing.
I thought this story was awesome. Your talent humbles me.
Bravo indeed! Brian Buckley
replies: "Thanks - this means a lot, coming from you. And I agree, I can also see such a thing happening. It has to do with how much value one places on other life versus the value one places on one's own experiences, which I think is closely tied with the nature of evil."
|22 Nov 2003|| Emily|
Wow... awesome story! A great insight on the basics of human life-- the "knowledge is power" theme is nicely worked in.. I loved the unpredictable-ness of it as well. Great work Brian Buckley
replies: "As I've said before, it's a constant fascination to see the diverse ways in which readers interpret a particular work. I'd never even thought about the "knowledge is power" theme relating to this story, but it certainly does - and "unpredictable" is even higher praise. Thank you!"
|4 May 2004|| Kili|
I was captured the minute I read the first word. I was spell-bound throughout the story. The writing was very good. One thing was unclear to me- What was the complex statement that the computer was trying to answer? The answer was TRUE, but that really doesn't mean anything if you don't know the question. Keep writing, Brian Buckley. I'd like to read another story of yours. GOOD LUCK, HOPE YOU WIN SOMETHING ON THIS ONE! Brian Buckley
replies: "As Michael says, "Its exact words would be meaningless to you, so simply understand this. If it were false, then all of history would be as I have described - meaningless. But if it were true, then somehow, in some way, some combination of particles would be something more. Somewhere, there would be a goal worth achieving." This is the key point - the statement is mathematical in nature and far too complicated for a human to understand directly, but all that matters is the *nature* of the statement - if it's true, then it is somehow possible to find a greater meaning than a universe full of particles.Anyway, thanks a lot for your comment! And by the way, this did not win anything in the contest to which it was submitted. I'll have to keep trying, I guess."
|18 May 2004|| Noa Shapira|
You said you like to know what people make of you stories, well take that:
I think the question you described as: 'mathematical in nature and far too complicated for a human to understand directly', may indeed be complicated if you try to ask it mathematically. Otherwise, the question (as I see it) is: What is the meaning of life?
I like your answer. It means there IS a meaning to life which is good, i guess. Much better than The answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, in one of Douglas Adams's books, which was 42!
Great story ! Brian Buckley
replies: "Well, the question wasn't so much "What is the meaning of life" as "_Is_ there a meaning to life?" A simple binary answer. Even if the machine had found the answer - which it could only try to solve in a mathematical way, the only way it understood - it would not have known how to go about achieving this state. Anyway, thanks for your comment!"
|2 Jun 2006|| Anonymous|
I've read this story several times, but haven't found anything original to say about until recently. The only flaw I can point out is that the middle moves a bit slowly during second and third readings. A lot of time is spent on the puzzle and the monsters and such, but it turns out in the end that those things actually weren't very important at all. I suppose one could either shorten that section or attach incredible significance to each instance, but it's only a minor point anyway. The story flows fine as it is.
As for the message, I think it's very poignant. I especially like the meaning behind the title and the name Destiny.
I'm reminded a bit of the works of C.S. Lewis that deal with materialism. It's an age-old question to wonder if the material world is everything, or if it's pointing to something much greater and more meaningful.
|27 Dec 2007|| Fire Owl|
this story brings into focus all the life Q. even though this is fantsy, i hope ur right with the true answer. u know, the end of the world because of some guys curiousity is a whole lot less scary than the end of the world by global warming which we caused.
One Q i had about Michael. it says that he says 'we have met a long time ago' so Destiny met her 'maker' in a sense, when she was alive? Intriguing . . .
|1 Dec 2008|| Meh|
This story is amazing. I was captivated by your work, and will continue to read as many as I can. I have enjoyed all of your works immensely and hope that you continue writing as much as you see fit to write. I love the way you fit in all of the imagery and wording flawlessly. If it means something, I see this as near perfect as a writing can get with an author. Thank you for submitting your writings and giving anyone the opportunity to read your works.
|16 Nov 2009|| Reaper Wolf|
Dunno if this means anything but, really long, 5 stars, captivating, could be made into a movie, seems to go fast, and i have a suggestion...:
Make a story about an animal, (like a wolf, a horse, or a falcon) and have thoughts attached to it
|6 Oct 2010|| Michael pixiepie john|
~ took me to previously uncharted realms of thought and imagination !
fabulous ... entertaining .. and a very good narrative flow ..
i like the spirit of the girl character destiny ,
and the brooding sadness of michaels forlorn quest comes through ... well thats my take on first read .. as for the implied metaphysics .. fascinating ..
I dont go for the digi algorithm stuff in explaining actual nature ... well not yet ... though it works for me in fiction ~
excellent work ! did you win the prize ?
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