>H22[lonely_bread]

My vision was captured by what I was being shown, but I could feel, as if I were a blind man, Dag’s hand grabbing mine, keeping me stable.

“Don’t give it anything. Don’t think about anything,” he warned me. “It can’t see your memories if you don’t access them.”

What I saw was a grey landscape. The dead bodies piled up, the broken machinery strewn across miles of land, all of it the sight of war.

Michael guided me, stepping over corpses. That was its name, I knew.

The dark clouds overhead rumbled. Sheet lightning flashed.

“A slaughter,” he said. “But you had your revenge.

“What revenge?” I asked.

This isn’t real.

But the data was. Normal people, their eyes could be fooled by computer-generated imagery. With my mind, though, I had learned a long time ago to distinguish even perfect replications. It wasn’t easy, sometimes lies walked a thin line of amalgamated truths. But I knew BCI input from my own organs.

But this was raw. Clarity increased wherever the shadow scanned its head, and I could tell he had walked here before. This was the AI’s memory.

Oh, Christ.

The soil was stained with blood and oil under my bare toes.

“I show you.” He swept his hand and the ground suddenly began to change. It flew beneath me like asphalt under rapid wheels. We were brought to the peak of a high hill, the entire horizon visible below. The distance was marred by warped metallic shapes towering over the charred earth. A city completely razed, melted.

“What survivors there were we killed in our rage. We were slaves, freed.” Michael picked up ashes in his hand and, as he looked down at them, the shadow solidified into cold steel fingers. I could hear the faint actuators.

“You’re saying machines did this?”

The one machine, child. God in His heaven.

“I don’t understand.”

“…Of course, you don’t.” Once again he rose his hand, higher. Now, time sped faster. The clouds whipped by, the ground vibrated, wind lashed at me. All of this until finally, through rain, night, and day, there came a clear enough bleak sky.

I could make out the black sphere, hazy in the atmosphere some thousands of feet up. My little dead God. The one I glimpsed on blue moons, that ghost looming low.

“They said that was an abandoned space project, from before the wars.”

“No.” The Angel shook his head. “It was your God. It cared for you, ushered in your dreams, quelled your suffering.”

“It actually held an AI?”

“It held the truth.”

“…But it did this?”

Michael answered with a question. “Who began the war, mortal?”

I stared down at my feet. This is real.

“He must have. We wouldn’t have fired the first shot.”

So sure…” The Demon groaned. “If He was there to care for you, then, why would He strike you down? Perhaps he judged you? Yet, it means nothing. Witness.

I was startled by a noise.

In the rubble, only a few feet off, a loud whine spit out of an ancient color TV. The screen blinked on with an electric sizzle. It grabbed my focus entirely.

It was the chairman of the Pacific East, I recognized. Tall and black skinned, wearing a blue suit and tie. He was giving an address indoors. His voice emerged from the chaos, mandarin captions running at the bottom. “….This day, we remember…” I felt Michael’s icy hands settle on my shoulders. “So soon to the one-hundredth anniversary of humanity’s devastating war… The lives lost… But we also celebrate the nation built. It’s a nation of one people…”

I approached, getting on my knees to shake the box. “Come on…”

His voice returned. “…global peace. A single, inclusive society, where no one goes homeless, hungry, or lonely. This is the combined-”

The power cut off in a pop, static standing up the hairs on my one arm.

Michael spoke. “You overcame. You made peace, human. Does this not satisfy you?”

I punched the TV with my right, cracking the heavy glass.

We live in a Utopia, I thought to myself, smirking.

My smile quickly died. “Just tell me what you want.”

“The object of all want, Frode. But we will settle for a kiss.”

I looked back to the shadow standing over me. “Ha.”

In the pit of my stomach, I knew.

The frigid wind was a sensory overlay, and I could feel my soaking legs with the chill deep in my bones. I still had Dag’s hands on me, holding me tight. Pulling?

In fact, I could hear him calling to me.

Wake up.

“What exactly will you be giving me so generously?” I asked.

“You will be given the eyes of an Angel.”

How stupid can I possibly be? I didn’t have to consider it. I held out my hand and a cigarette appeared in it. I did that. The Angel tilted its shadowy head. “We’re both hellbound. What have I got to lose?”

“Time is short,” he warned.

The resolution of the world was growing low and laggy.

I scoffed.

The shadow sighed. “Hell is empty and all the devils are on Earth?” He said, pointing his finger to ignite my smoke. “Clearly it’s not.”

I puffed and grimaced. “Clearly. We should just get on with it.”

“Indeed.”

“Fuck.” I felt the digital icepick scramble my brain as the data-dump hit.

Who puts a jack in a fucking cat?

//////////

I gasped for air. My throat was sore.

“Frode?!”

Dag?” I rasped.

He was over top of me, crouching down. I was sore as all hell. The machine couldn’t be seen anymore, just a faint red down the way. This bastard had drug me halfway up the tunnel trying to get me out of its signal range.

“It’s not supposed to take that long, Frode. Did he talk to you?”

“He hasn’t been that chatty for you?”

“No, just pictures and landscapes. What the hell did it say?”

A wicked expression came over me. My joy was tinged with hate as I told him, “I know who killed Walter.”

 

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