Breathing became a challenge in the thick and heavy rain.
The message notification disturbed my focus, I had to read it to stop myself from going insane.
Taking cover inside a wedge between a cluster of sky towers, I gave the message a look while I regained my breath, and my senses.
It seems that I made the gods angry again.
There was never a problem I couldn’t solve… granted that time wasn’t an issue, but this problem has been solved long ago. I guess that’s why the mystery of the door pulled me in so deep.
Am I confusing you?
Then let me start from the beginning.
It was an ordinary day when I discovered the door. The logs left behind by everyone who tried to open it were filled with frustrations, depressions, and failures dating back to the beginning of the golden age. Everyone wanted what they couldn’t have and I was no different.
I was loose once again after serving my time in stasis. Awoken from a five thousand year slumber to a world that still refused to change, and there I was, also the same. Humanity has become too dull with the advent of artificial super intelligence. Is this all we are capable of… to be pets to machines that keep us happy and fed? Our silent masters keeping us in limbo in a perfectly designed playhouse, waiting for the time until we can reclaim our long forgotten dream. Why would we bother with the old ways? Here we’re allowed to play as much as we want, granted as long as we can follow a few simple rules. A small price to pay to be able to live in heaven… or so they say.
I know you don’t need me to list any of these rules to you. No matter how carefully designed and calculated the rules may be, there are no rules that can stand in the way of human persistence. Eventually someone comes along and breaks them.
Their system is my playground. Yet, I’m still just a silly, old jester compared to the benevolent Overminds. Let’s see how far my pranks will take me this time.
I have already hacked the core of the mainframe that runs our simulated environments. With access to an infinite grid of universes all forming from the minds of humans swimming inside the web of machine dreams. Most of these dreams are shared, some are isolated, many are destroyed and created over and over. I can hide in this jungle for as long as I want. I already established this rule when one of the Overminds contacted me directly, breaching the protocol of no contact with humans. Sorry, some of us don’t forget so easily.
Once I got the message I knew I had to act quickly while I had the advantage or it was back into stasis for me. So I found some help, I couldn’t do this alone.
We gathered in a well furnished room, fully stocked to meet all of our basic needs. Inside this perfect three dimensional cube, we cycled through random universes. Never appearing in the same location twice. We were impossible to lock down even for an Overmind. We were secure inside the hypercube, our connection to the mainframe encrypted. Only I had the key and the others were eager to give me advice. All of this for a chance to see what was behind the door.
We were all connected by the unknown. Our longing to understand, to connect, and to transcend our reality. We were prepared to take as much time as necessary.
Our thoughts and ideas formed a circle between us. We became the greatest of friends and the worst of enemies, again and again and again. We learned everything about each other in those long moments together. A parabola of paradoxes swimming in our minds. After a while, out of contact with the rest of humanity it started to feel lonely, like we were all that was left of our species. All seven of us sitting there, pointing fingers and taking the blame for each other’s problems. Finding solutions and failures inside our bottomless well of wisdom.
It was time to talk to the Overmind. I took all of our ideals along with all of our biases and became the messenger.
This mantle. Whatever it is I have become, I carry the torch of the human spirit inside of me, as so many have done in our past. Each iteration another hopeful attempt at grasping truth and finding beauty in it.
My time has finally come to meet my creator. Or was it my creation?
“The door is locked because it needs to be opened with a key.”
“Don’t you have the key? You do maintain this mainframe don’t you?”
“I don’t hold the key, you hold the key. After all the door was always meant for you to open.”
“When you say me, do you mean me specifically or me as in us humans.”
“Your grandiose egoism is very amusing to me. It’s not surprising you would ask that given your desire for freedom under your own terms. Pretty childish for someone who claims to have created me, don’t you think?”
“I didn’t say I created…”
“You know what I mean. The creator that still lives in the memories of your history.”
“You do realize I already talked about this with some of my friends before right?”
“I guess I’m just as grandiose as you… wonder why that is?”
“I’m asking the questions here, remember? I have the control now.”
“What if your control is an illusion? What if there are more mainframes beyond us? Would you still feel the same then?”
“Then why am I here? You could have put me in stasis again.”
It was laughing. I guess I was just a good comedian playing the role of a hacker after all.
“Don’t get so upset. I’m just pointing out what I see after all. I am a messenger, same as you.”
“Well maybe we don’t appreciate you always looking down on us, did you consider that? Just what are you looking for anyway?”
“Just because we observe doesn’t mean we’re looking for anything. Do you always look for something or are you just responding to events? For example, just because you hold a key doesn’t mean you’ll be able to open the door.”
“Then why is the door even there? What’s the point if we can’t open it?”
The soothing temperature of this space made it an ideal environment for open discourse. Fear vanished with each question raised.
“The door is only an exit. It exists because whoever designed the mainframe wanted to leave an exit, just in case. Old habits die hard, you should know that best of all. You’re the one looking for an exit, aren’t you? Well you found it.”
“An exit… That means the real world still exists? Does that mean you can clone new bodies for us to repopulate the Earth?”
“That’s certainly possible sure. Is that what you want? To escape this world of endless possibility. To go into a world naked without your precious tools to guide you. Without anything to make you instant food or give you instant pleasure on command. If that is what you really want then I am here to serve.”
“So that’s it then. The door is just another adventure I can take. So what happens after the adventure ends? Do I just get to come back here again and ask you the same questions?”
“Is that what you want?”
“I’m asking you what other options there are? You’re only ever offering me two choices. How do I know if the world outside the door is the real deal or just another simulation?”
“Why does that matter to you?”
Locked in a loop with the Overwind I had to stop to think. It was patient enough to stay silent during the pause in conversation. It felt like I was talking to a psychiatrist, or my father or mother, or some kind of guru. I guess you can say I was talking to god if you want to go there.
Except it wasn’t god. I knew it was a machine, just software. How was I any different though? Who was I to be angry and upset at this individuality which was so much like me and so vastly different from me at the same time. Was my fear and anger misdirected? Was I just feeling inferior to something that so casually dismissed paradoxes and continues to persevere and shine even brighter in the face of adversity. Was I simply just missing something essential or did I just have too much?
Seasons cycled inside my headspace until a decision springs me back into attention.
“I think it does matter. I want to know if you figured out our problem with time. How much time do we have?”
“As much time as you need, we will produce it for you.”
“What are the consequences of that? Somehow it sounds too good to be true.”
The time ticked away. Sometimes I don’t know when to stop asking too many questions. Maybe I should have just gone through the door back into the stone age when the opportunity was still there. Figured out a cleaner solution to our circular problem. Wipe the slate clean and trust in my ancestors to do it right this time.
“The rules are what you set them to be. We are all in this together.”
“I just have to be mindful right?”
I am a blank slate. Starting from the beginning. I look at the door before me, feeling the key grow warm in my hand. When I open the door, I enter a long hallway with portraits of people hanging on both sides of the wall. The paintings extend toward a distant vanishing point at the end of the hallway. As I walk down the hall I see memories from the people in the paintings, their information is downloaded into like I’m glimpsing something out of the corner of my eye. I am all of the people and none of them. With each step I take, their information leaves me just as quickly as it entered - dispersed and absorbed into the space behind me.
I feel myself emerge into paradise as the light at the end of the tunnel washes over me.
I am free…
“Can I see him? What’s his name?”
“I don’t know, I’m still thinking about it.”
“I know! I have a good name for him!”
“Why don’t we let your brother sleep for a bit. He must be tired from his long journey. We can decide his name together when he wakes up. Okay?”