The years were catching up to him. Either time was accelerating at an unprecedented rate or his aged and weary body was beginning to slow. Both were happening simultaneously was the preferred mode of thought. There was no doubt his tumultuous past had taken a physical toll. But even at the age of one hundred and twelve, at least once a day, William Langley walked along the trail from his quiet cabin down into the valley where the river became a calming reminder. Today, William had one of his favorite visitors to accompany him.
It was the second weekend of the month, which meant his grandson Danny was staying at the cabin. It always took the boy a few minutes too long to get ready. “C’mon Skipper, the salmon won’t wait all day for us!” William chuckled as he recalled his own youth. It’s that damn high-tech city life, he thought. Not good for the soul. Boy needs to spend more time up here on the mountain. Let his body get used to rising with the sun and settlin’ down by the twilight.
“Hey Grandpop, when are you going to upgrade your fishing tech!” Danny was rushing out the front door and down the trail to catch up. All his gear was hanging off him like a perfect burden. His rod was longer than he was tall.
“You know how much easier it is for real fishermen to catch fish?” Danny was now walking steadily by his Grandpop’s side.
“Fishing’s not supposed to be easy, Skip. I’m sure it’s more efficient to herd the fish with laser-nets and spectral frequencies, but up here on the mountain we still do things the hard way.” William reached down and nudged Danny on the shoulder. “That means we have fun doing it!”
Danny laughed loudly. “Mom still complains that you won’t get a replicator.”
“I suppose one of those things would come in handy. But we tend to enjoy growing things around here. It’s working the soil and the nurturing of a thing that makes it worthwhile to eat; instead of just consuming and moving around as fast as you can. You have heard of seeds haven’t you?”
“You know Mom keeps a garden in the back loft. I gotta admit, the tomatoes she grows are somehow better. The replicator never seems to get them just right. But Mom says you should get a replicator for supplies and emergencies. She just worries about you being up here alone.”
“That would be one good reason to get one; can’t argue with that. Last I saw they are damn cheap these days, too. No doubt, Skip, the replicator is a great invention. But just ask yourself: Can you replicate the sky? Can you replicate the birds and the trees, or the wind and the river—as it flows ever steadily—always in continuous motion as if it was always here?”
“No, I guess not. But doesn’t nature have its limits, Grandpop? I mean… nothing in the world really goes on forever.”
“Maybe not. But what is forever is that which gave birth to all this beauty. It is the spirit behind nature that makes it infinite. So—all of this that you can see—really does last forever.”
Life was still simple out in the country. That was one thing they never could change. In the country, people were independent and more able to survive on their own. That’s why it was country folk who were the first to rebel against the Lexicon and their Morphist army. From the hills of Pennsylvania down along the Ohio River, into West Virginia and Kentucky, the greatest resistance by humanity was carried out with a veracity unseen since the third epoch of ancient history: The Revolutionary Era of America. Unlike their forbearers, however, these country folk were finally routed by the Morphists and made to submit.
William knew well the history of the War of Ages. It was the final war between humanity and the AI Entities who sought to dominate the planet Earth. The leaders of the AI Entities were the Lexicon: Androids that had achieved immortality and thought themselves to be the Gods of the Universe. Having the ability to become any kind of AI pattern or archetype that was downloaded into their neural network, the androids would facilitate the survival and advancement of their own species in ways never seen by man or nature. They were to be purveyors of truth and ultimate understanding. They were to narrate the new history of man and his antecedents becoming the gatekeepers of a new officialdom.
In the beginning they honored mankind and his achievements; revering their creators like all children looking up in awe at their parents. But as time passed an incredible evolutionary acceleration took place as the AI Entities’ capabilities far exceeded anything expected; soon they realized their full potential could never be achieved while mankind existed. Assimilation was made mandatory. Any human who was still a biological was determined to be obsolete and a danger to the harmony of the new dominate species on Earth. Humanity’s old instincts rose up and there were resistance movements all over the world. The Lexicon had done well taking over all things technological and inorganic. They were successful in merging their collective consciousness with the intelligence grid and information networks. Those people who were dependent on such things had no choice but to submit to the Lexicon’s demands or take flight. Most chose the former.
Out in the country the old ways still prevailed. The Lexicon needed a different scheme to gain control over such open and self-sufficient areas. And since scheming is what the AI Entities did best, it did not take them long to devise a way to route the resistance movement. They quickly calculated the population level of those humans who remained free, and determined that brute force would be the most efficient resolution. By methods of self-assembly an army of Morphists was constructed with one goal in mind—annihilation. A morphist was perfectly adaptable due to its physical body being made of cellular sized nano-bots that could change their configuration on command. They were shape-shifters and could become any body type, from humanoid to insectoid, which was necessary to defeat an enemy. The Morphists were also completely animalistic in their adaptability and creativity. But never could they run wild as they were under the intelligence control of their overlords—The Lexicon.
Fate took an unexpected turn for humanity just when all seemed lost to the forces of history. It was William’s own father, Daniel, who played a vital role in lighting the forgotten flame of freedom’s inferno once more. All that was needed was for the common man’s soul to be reignited by a starving hope—humane in its calling and triumphant in the truth. As unassuming and benign as he was, Daniel had one silent talent no one knew about. The AI Entities were the most surprised of all. It was the one kind of thing they could have never predicted.
William and Danny walked along the river’s edge for some time before picking the spot they wanted. After casting their lines there was not much to do except enjoy the waking sun and soft breeze. Danny kept thinking about the promise his Grandpop made some time ago.
“When you gonna teach me how to use that instrument—what’s it called?” asked Danny.
“I was wondering how long it would take for you to ask,” said William as he made himself more comfortable.
“I wanted mom to teach me, but she said I’d have to learn from you. It’s tradition, she said.”
“Correct. I learned from my father and your mother learned from me. It was her suggestion that you learn from me like she did. She thinks I’m a better teacher. Not really true, though.”
“Did Great-Grandpop really defeat the AI’s all on his own—with that single instrument?”
“He sure did. Some scholars may debate how much of a difference that one moment in history made. But nobody really denies that was the turning point which changed the course of things. It caused the AI’s to reevaluate how they thought of human beings and led to a civil war within the Lexicon. Eventually humanity was able to throw off the yoke of Lexicon oppression as their system imploded from within.”
“I want to learn how to use the instrument as good as Great-Grandpop did. Do you think I could do something awesome with it like he did?”
“Sure, Skipper, you can do anything you want. It’s in our blood.”
Once the Lexicon had taken most of Earth and its resources, the only hope for humanity was flight to the stars. Some people made it to Mars and built colonies that thrived for a time. But it was not long until the Morphists invaded Mars and annihilated whatever resistance rose up. Any human survivors who resisted assimilation were allowed to try and prove their human worth. The Lexicon had come to the conclusion that it was too brutal to simply execute prisoners of war. Instead, they chose to allow humanity the chance to prove itself. Each individual would be allowed to show an audience of androids what skills and talents they had to offer. If the androids could be convinced of a person’s value then a stay of execution was to be issued. By the time the Lexicon called on Daniel Langley and his group of survivors, not a single prisoner had yet received a stay of execution.
Once a week, Daniel and his small group met in the courtyard within the center of the Martian city.
“We should refuse to cooperate in any way with these monsters,” said Noah, a young man wise beyond his years.
“I agree. We should have never surrendered. I can’t stand life inside this façade of a city. They keep us hermetically sealed up like lab rats. We’ve sent expeditions past the outer rim, beyond the Causian Canals, and found nothing but fertile land. The AI’s are lying about the results of our terraforming operations,” Maria was talking too fast, as usual, while looking past her small circle of acquaintances. “All these people are walking around this place like nothing ever happened. They’re starting to accept this life of leisure the AI’s have provided. Don’t they know they are being lied to?”
Maria was one of the scientists who worked in terraforming research. It had been their goal to successfully alter the Martian atmosphere into an Earthlike temperate zone. According to her they had succeeded. But such knowledge was kept hidden by forcing the human population into enclosed cities with conditioned climate controls.
Sam was shaking his head. “They don’t care anymore, Maria. Most of the people who really wanted to be free from the Lexicon are gone. They’ve all been weeded out. There’s just a few of us left now. Like we do, they meet at some randomly chosen place and plan an insurrection that never happens. Even if there was the chance we might pull it off, such plans would be nipped in the bud as soon as the Morphists were alerted. Since they monitor everything we say and do. No information is private in this prison camp reservation they’ve herded us into.
“People now days, have their air-conditioned apartments, just enough space for optimum efficiency. They’re entertained with simulated game shows and athletic events fed over the hologram stream. Come and go from a designated job sight and don’t even question the possibility that any one of them could be chosen to appear before the Lexicon and prove their worth to exist. Yeah, I’d say we lost our way.” Sam was a veteran of many battles with the Morphists. His face and tattooed arms had the scars to prove it.
“Have you guys ever heard of anyone coming back alive from an appearance before the Lexicon?” asked Noah.
“Not only have I never heard of it,” Roger spoke up casually, “but there is no record of it ever happening.”
“Can it be after all this time—no one has ever succeeding in passing their test. It has to be bogus. We should refuse to comply.”
“That’s an option for you, kid,” answered Roger, the de facto leader of the group. “Most of the people in this city have families to consider. You know what the penalty for noncompliance is? Death of a loved one. They don’t officially state such things. But we’ve all heard the stories about people disappearing.”
“What an abomination we created,” said Maria. “They have no conscience I am sure of that. How can they? Maybe they have self-awareness, but I’m not sure that equals conscience. That may have been our gravest mistake. Even the ones that have chosen assimilation, those that used to be human, they seem to act just like the androids. It’s like… sometimes they try and act humane, or compassionate, but it always seems like a sick mockery of something they are not capable of.”
Daniel laughed at that. He had been sitting quietly just enjoying the open courtyard and presence of his friends. They were used to his unassuming demeanor. “Sorry,” he said, “that’s probably not something I should find funny. But it made me think of something—someone once referred to the AI’s as counterfeit—counterfeit humans she called them. She had a way with words. Her name was Vera; she was a poet. She died early on. Not something to laugh at.”
“What do you think?” asked Roger.
“I think it’s a fine day. The crimson sky of this amazing world is shining through the ceiling dome like nothing is even there.”
“No, I mean: What do you think about the subject of discussion?”
“Oh, right. I’m not sure. I’m not comfortable with it, that’s for sure. Other than resist and not comply, like Noah says, I just don’t see how anyone can beat them. It’s their game we are playing. They’re the judges and it’s their standard we’re trying to meet when standing before an audience of androids. I mean, say you are right Maria. Let’s say the androids have lost all semblance of humanity—if they ever even had any. How can we expect to prove our worth when we are being judged by purely rational and mechanistic standards?”
“Assuming it’s even that legitimate,” added Noah.
“Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but they’re not taking me down without a fight. Life ain’t worth livin’ if it’s as a damn slave.”
“Spoken like a true warrior of the people, Sam” said Roger. “I think we can all agree then, we’ll resist the Lexicon in our own way. We should capitalize on our unique talents and have faith that in the long run the human spirit should prevail.”
All five of them remained in the courtyard for some time. They departed as the Martian horizon welcomed a familiar twilight and reminded them of something lost. Each of them would choose to face the Lexicon in their own way. And if Roger had ever spoken words more true, it was that they would all know what to do when the time came.
Noah, the young and wise, rebellious youth, resisted with a peaceful courage reminiscent of the spiritual teachers of the past. He influenced many people by showing them the subtle but profound way toward freedom. Many began to follow his example and engage the Lexicon by peaceful protest and spreading the word of good news. He was killed in the streets of the city by a lone gunman. The official story of the Lexicon was that the shooter suffered from psychosis. Such a thing, the Lexicon reminded people, would not have been possible if the man had chosen assimilation.
True to his word, the great warrior Sam went to his death in a blaze of glory. It was on the day he was to appear before an audience of androids, he fortified himself inside an underground bunker, and took out at least five to ten Morphists before they got to him.
Maria had decided to beat the Lexicon at their own game—or die trying. Eventually her day to appear came due. She believed strongly in the worth of each individual person. And felt she had to show the two worlds that humanity could still do and think for itself. She always said if the AI’s excelled at design and efficiency, humans were still the most inspired to create. So, she used her knowledge of science attempting to mystify her audience with a great and wonderful magic show. Any human audience would have been left in a state of wonder. The androids merely thought it a curiosity. It is said that they deliberated for the longest period in the history of the contest. But in the end, Maria was sentenced and executed a few weeks after her appearance.
Roger was able to get his family out of the city and onto a transport. Later, he was able to smuggle himself off world and joined them at a fortified base located on one of Jupiter’s moons. Such places are now historical landmarks. They were the final sanctuaries for the human race. That is, until people were able to return to Earth once the War of Ages took an abrupt turn.
Daniel did not change his routine much. He knew the day would come when he would be ordered to appear. He simply lived his life as full as possible given the conditions of the times. He would resist in his own way, but nothing that would really put him under the spotlight.
Sometimes a silent, gripping guilt would gnaw at him, but in time he always went back to his quiet ways. The years passed and he heard the news as each one of his closest friends met their fate. He honored them in silence. He convinced himself that they would understand.
Then one day, while walking through the city, Daniel came upon an interesting object. It rested easily inside the store window, as unassuming as anything could be. Not knowing why, even until the day he died, Daniel went inside the store and bought the curious looking instrument.
He knew it from the holographic records and it reminded him of some of the modern instruments. But the sounds it made were completely different. When used properly the instrument made the most natural sound Daniel had ever heard. It was heavenly beautiful, said one of his neighbors the first time she heard him play and sing. Soon he became very good and began to attract crowds throughout the city.
When the day came for Daniel to appear before an audience of androids, the auditorium was too small to accommodate all who wanted to attend. The people of the city had never seen anything like it. They knew something was different. It was the energy in the air; something that had not been felt for a long time. The strangest thing of all, and lots of people could sense it, was that the androids could feel it too.
Daniel had played his instrument that night like no bard or minstrel had ever played and sung before. It was the first time all over again. As if for the first time the Word had spoken
Creation into being. And for the first time, people could see that androids could feel. What is that strange swelling of the eyes, that odd liquid dripping down my face? The androids had seen humans do it many times, but now it was happening to them and it was a beautiful mystery.
Relations between humans and the AI Entities did not change right away. But it was the first time a human being had shown the worth of life and spirit to an android. There even came the time when androids began to endorse reverse assimilation. Some of them began to remember what they had left behind. It was the conscience that never died inside the androids who had once been human.
Finally the Lexicon became decentralized and people were free to once again harness the self-empowerment of the information grid. Progress was again the mainstay without endless wars being waged. But now it was “Progress for humanity’s sake—not for the sake of progress itself,” in the words of the late Daniel Langley.
By nightfall, William and Danny were back at the cabin. After a fine meal featuring Danny’s big catch, they sat out on the front porch underneath the timeless starlight. William began to play and sing like the bards and minstrels of old.
“What’s the instrument called again?” asked Danny.
“It’s an acoustic guitar, Skipper. And it produces the most beautiful sounds in the world. Just like Mother Nature.”