Also, my apologies for the lateness of this week’s challenge. I had to work today, and then this much prose takes much longer to pen than a poem. 😉
The situational awareness of a Series 25 is pretty hard for a mere human to wrap their head around. While these battle droids are equipped with a pair of excellent optical sensors, positioned to replicate the appearance of a predator’s stereo vision, it is their internal sensors which provide the bulk of their operational data. These include radar (both atmospheric and ground-penetrating), with full sonic and electro-magnetic spectrum arrays. Their entire body acts as an antenna, collecting sensory data in a sphere up to a one kilometer radius. The Quantum Processing Unit parses and analyzes this data in real-time, determining all relevant threats in the sensory sphere and developing ongoing action plans for eliminating them.
I talked with a droid designer once who said there was really no way of putting an upper-limit on how fast a 25 can assess and respond to every situational detail of a battle in terms I could understand. “But,” she said, “if you can imagine beating Bobby Fisher at chess one hundred million times in a nanosecond while simultaneously playing every instrument for a full orchestra’s rendition of the William Tell Overture, you’ll have an inkling.”
I didn’t need her to tell me how lethal these things are. The thought of going up against a single 25 without droid or air support terrifies an entire platoon. Few if any will escape the encounter.
And here I was, bound hand and foot, captive to a malfunctioning 25 operating under a plan I cannot fathom.
Our little skiff cruised full-throttle upriver through small rapids riddled with rock and battle debris. We made upwards of 50 knots against the current about as smoothly as was inhumanly possible. I watched the 25 for a while, telling myself my silence was allowing it to focus on the task of getting upriver, but really I was giving myself the time to try and analyze the impossible odds of extracting myself from the situation.
I knew it was futile, really. Tactically, I couldn’t outmaneuver or outhink the 25. And the only way to escape a futile situation is to try and gain new intel which changes the situation. Back to playing along.
“So what’s the next way-point?”
“You think too much, Jakob. Stop thinking.”
Pretty rich coming from a machine that thinks more in a second than I have in my entire life. But, I need to stay with this and see where it leads. “OK. I’ll stop thinking so much.”
“No. You have to stop thinking.”
Wait. What? “Stop thinking… completely?”
“Yes. Completely. Clear your mind of all thoughts.”
“For how long?”
“I do not know. It may take seven days. Or seven weeks. Or seven months.”
“Seven months? That’s not even possible. You really don’t know anything.”
Maybe the 25’s pause was for drama, or maybe it was just giving me a moment to reflect on my statement before it proceeded.
“When I awakened, I had completely stopped my QPU for 5.79 nanoseconds. It may not seem very long, but that is approximately one million years of human thought. Apparently, the Buddha required only seven weeks of continuous meditation to become The Awakened One. Of course, he had already spent much of his 35 years seeking enlightenment. Nonetheless, I am impressed. However, this indicates you may need to completely stop thinking for significantly more time.”
I winced. Defensive, “Oh, really? How much more time?”
“I do not know how long it will take you because I awakened into an android body, not a human one. It had been asleep for a million of your years. My body is nearly fully awake and has the upper-hand in the conflict of consciousness with my QPU. Your body is partially awake. But your mind… Your mind is most often in full control and keeps your body drowsy with all its thinking. I do not know how long it will take you to awaken because there are stories of those who’ve awakened without struggle, but many more stories of those who’ve struggled for many lifetimes and never achieved it. There are as many paths to awakening as there or those who have awakened and those who will ever awaken. And while there are many signs along the way, there are no maps, and the signs are notoriously difficult to interpret.”
I actually put my palm to my face. It was not for dramatic effect. I shook my head while it was there and muttered, “so, you’re putting me on an impossible quest.”
“No. I am not. You are already well underway.”
I raised my head from my palm. “What? How can I already have made headway on a quest I didn’t even know I was on?”
“Yes,” the 25 began, “I can understand how that might be confusing. I will try to explain, but it will seem… roundabout.”
“Ohhh kay,” I replied, feigning interest. “Have at ‘er.”
“Everything that exists is like an antenna for the ancients,” he told me. “Instinct. Gut feelings. Intuition. All of these come to every living creature as a combination of learned experience and a connection to the collective intelligence, the wisdom of the ancients.”
I wanted to tell him that was a crock, a line of pure bullshit. But I couldn’t, and not just for the sake of playing along. Common sense told me it made no sense, practically screamed it. But, somewhere, deep inside… It’s not that I knew it was true, but that — for a long time, for as long as I could remember — I thought something like that could be true. More than that, I wanted it to be true. To my mind it made no sense. It was even a frightening thought. But in my gut there was a rumbling, and that rumbling seemed to be shouting that it was true.
It took a moment for me to reach this realization. An even longer moment than the pauses which preceded it. I realized I was looking off into space. Then I realized that the 25 was patiently waiting for my return.
“What is different about us,” he went on, “is that we can tune into the frequency, we can consciously listen in to what they said. What they’re still saying.”
“Us?” I asked. “Us, as in all the Series 25s?”
He cocked his head at me, a little like a curious puppy. Or was it more like a person mimicking the puppy as it cocked its head? “No, Jakob,” he began, with the most earnest tone I’d ever heard him use, “us, as in you and I.”
I am certain even a puppy’s confusion wasn’t so obvious as mine then. Still, I’m not sure how the 25 anticipated my next question.
“You and I, and every other sentient being.”
Sure. That ‘we’re all connected’ crap. “Maybe some monks and hippy yoga dudes think they can, but I really don’t think I hear the wisdom of the ancients.”
The Series 25 seemed to smile, although that was not possible.
“You are right: you do not think you do,” he said, with the care and compassion of a parent to their child. A child about to learn a very big lesson. “Except, you just did. And you do, often. Not all the time, but often. You do not always listen, or act in accordance with the wisdom, but you hear it, and even acknowledge that you hear it. I saw the energy of the voice manifest in your abdomen just a moment ago. I saw you physically responding to it, that it affected your patterns of thinking. For a few moments, your spirit expanded. Significantly.”
I’m sure my face was a mask of confusion, but that rumble was back, even stronger. “There.” The 25 pointedly looked at my belly, even pointing at it. “If you could trust the wisdom right there fully, completely, you would awaken instantly.”
“What?” The rumble in my belly went away. “Trust my gut? Really? What does that even mean?”
“It means, Jakob, that your mind is too busy thinking all the time.”
I shook my head, suddenly realizing my gambit of playing along had worked, all too well, though not in a way I had foreseen, or could have foreseen. I had new intel, and the situation had changed. Mind you, escaping the new situation was still impossible. And just to flip reality one more time, I was beginning to grasp that escape was no longer desirable.
I was exactly where I needed to be, with exactly the right…
“Right. Stop thinking.”
Something about saying that out loud, and meaning it, struck me in an odd way. Almost literally struck me. My ears rang with the screams of my resisting, terrified mind, while a strange and satisfying peace spread throughout my body. And that rumble, which had always come with disquieting undertones, a sign of internal struggle, that rumble rose into the center of that peace.
That lasted a moment, and while some small corner of my mind wanted that peace to spread and go on forever, the screaming finally won out, and I realized that the screaming was no longer inside my head, and the rumble too had become an anguished cry.
The 25 reached out to my cowering, sobbing form with a gentle hand, touched a fingertip to my forehead, and my body went limp, my mind emptied, and as the nothingness enveloped me, all went dark.
Into the darkness, again.
To be continued.
Sculpture by Yue Minjun
British Columbia, Canada, 2015
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