Gia breathed softly. Her eyes scanned the pitch black room, making out silhouettes of furniture and knick-knacks. It occurred to her that she was awake. She wondered, for how long, and for how long had she slept? A bluish-white light reflected from a wall on the opposite end of the room, bending around the corner, a reverse shadow bulging into the darkness of the night. She knew that behind the light, there must be intelligence.
Groggily, she crawled off of the couch that had served as her bed. She adjusted her uncomfortably twisted clothes, an indication that her dreams had not quite been peaceful. She silently and cautiously approached the corner from which the glow was emanating.
“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?” a familiar voice politely whispered from behind an archaic computer tablet.
“No,” Gia quickly answered, the confidence in her tone betraying her uncertainty as the words left her lips; she was sure that she remembered nothing that could have startled her awake, though the evidence alluded otherwise.
“… we all wake each other up without realizing it …”
Those words echoed in Gia’s head as she was startled into consciousness by the sound of an engine roaring, itself suddenly brought to life. Inertia pinned her to the ergonomic co-pilot seat, blood rushing to her extremities, before the environmental systems of the T-Ion equalized and peaceful weightlessness counterpointed the Health Monitor alarm that was desperately screaming about her heart rate and breathing.
Panic and confusion escaped her eyes like the light from the tablet in her dream, as Kirin placed an oxygen mask over her face. Within seconds, the frequency and intensity of the alarm began to wane, and the energy from her eyes shifted to the alpha and theta waves of safety and platonic love.
Gia looked pale, like she’d seen a ghost, to use an old but still common phrase.
“I spent a week offline,” she blurted, as if she’d been waiting to release those words from the confines of her being for ages.
“I told you it was dangerous. You need to adjust slowly,” Kirin scolded.
“I know. I couldn’t help it. It’s like you said, it’s like a drug. Honestly, I didn’t know what that meant, really. I’ve i-dosed but it was nothing compared to this. I was hooked. I had to go further.”
“You’re back online now?” Kirin guided.
“Yes. I’m back online now. Kirin, it was incredible! I felt so many things. I felt intoxicated. I felt… pain… in my psyche. I felt… lonely?”
Cut off from the network, she had finally faced herself. In Kirin’s younger days, before the C.I.s, few were brave enough to do just that, in a world increasingly socially interconnected. Kirin had always thought that was what humanity had lost and what it desperately needed. It was what was responsible for consciousness in the first place, what was new to the sentient machines, and what was missing from modernity: serious introspection.
Kirin looked her deeply in the eyes, and then hugged her. Since they had first met, they had hugged, and Gia had been confused why Kirin enjoyed the physical contact. Her face was now in his chest, she understood, and she began to sob.
“I got into dentistry as a fetish – not a pain fetish,” Alejandro related. He wasn’t concerned about Kirin’s opinion of him, or anyone else’s; he just wanted to be clear. “I was at the dentist a lot growing up. Post puberty, my adult teeth just went downhill from that crap they used to pump us with in the old days: high fructose corn syrup. Anyway, I remember once I had this really hot dental assistant, and as the doctor was injecting my upper mouth full of novacane for my four root canals I had to endure that day, I remember the nurse telling me not to hold my breath — to breathe — that holding my breath would only make it worse. I realized then that pain and orgasmic pleasure weren’t too far off.”
Kirin could hear the tooth crackling under the force of the crude metal pliers, but thankfully the antibiotics held the infection at bay, and he felt only pressure, no pain.
Kirin stepped out of his vehicle, the door softly closing behind him. A coffin was, in fact, what the pirates called this gothic chamber. Fittingly, a few have died, buried alive, unable to escape its riddle. Their ships and persons were scavenged and their bodies composted. The locals were sensible.
Kirin’s interface indicated the quality of the air was old and stale, and the amount deemed breathable was slowly, steadily dropping.
Drones were a surreal irony. They were the height of human achievement to humanely regulate itself as a species. Therefore, they were ultimately useless against a truly purposeful rebellion. Mind manipulation was the final wall on that front, and once an individual had awoken from the hypnosis and toppled the walls, he was met with the maddening sensation that he was alone.
The last time he had been confronted by the drones, Kirin had only recently stepped into the next phase: realizing that he was not alone, and forming allies. He was lost at sea, ill-prepared, and the machines easily captured him. Now he had learned a lot from that experience. He now knew it was hardly as simple as finding fabled allies; of vast more importance was the know-how to work the system. This time if he was apprehended, he could only blame himself.
“Hey. How have you been?” he monotonously asked, following the usual script of small talk.
“Me?! How have YOU been?” Gia echoed with exaggerated expression, as if instructing him how to over-act. Though, behind the enthusiasm was genuine concern.
“Can we go inside?” Kirin nudged. “It’s cold.”
It was cold – steam rose from their breaths – but really he wanted to get somewhere with a lot more privacy.
Gia nodded and led him through the human-sized mouse-hole entrance to her home. Once the two were in the foyer and the front door was closed, Kirin nodded at her and lifted his eyebrows. It wasn’t much of a cue, but it was enough for her to get the message. The truth was, Kirin was bland and predictable enough that just about anything would have served the purpose, especially with the worried look on his face. The more subtle the better, anyway. At least he didn’t have to do anything drastic. For most of the time he had known her, he had prepared her for this inevitable moment.
They stepped through a hallway, down some stairs made of earth, and came to a heavy stone door. Gia operated a mechanical puzzle lock, uniquely designed by Kirin, with a custom key changed regularly by her. The door opened, and they entered the home’s womb.
They were effectively invisible to the network in here. They were directly in the center of the house, inside the earth beneath the kitchen, surrounded by a Faraday cage. Through a script injected from his C.I., Kirin had programmed the house to automatically spoof their signals while they were inside these walls. To the network, they were upstairs, relaxing, talking about the weather. It had stopped registering the fact that their heartbeats were steadily elevating and their breaths were becoming shorter – these were called “panic rooms” for a reason.
Larry was an amphibian – not a human who identified as an amphibian – a Colorado River Toad, from birth. Kirin ensured him the best life possible for a captive animal, as per the Common Order, and Larry had no complaints. Kirin went above and beyond, as far as Larry was concerned, because he talked to him; watched movies with him, projected onto the wall; and occasionally let him sit on his chest and feel his breath. That last one was Larry’s favorite.
In fact, Kirin loved Larry, not only as a companion animal, but as the source of his awakening. Larry’s skin emitted a psychedelic substance, Bufotenine, that had granted Kirin the personal insight to gain the courage to rebel against the Common Order; to fight the idea of a consensus philosophical truth. Kirin had come to believe that some things were empirical, and while the Neural Net had some compensation for that, its ideas and implementations were old; in need of upgrades. That, coupled with the social engineering; the subliminal influence; the mass hypnosis…
Larry himself was no violation. Ethics required that species be preserved, and also that humans be allowed to explore their consciences. In the mainstream, psychedelics were watered down in psychological settings, and few brave explorers dared use them recreationally. Besides, Kirin could go offline at any time and let his brain chemistry wander, without being monitored. Kirin had always been a strong individualist. That had been the reason for his prior imprisonment.
Everything around him was black. The landing pad was black. The lines on the landing pad were a different shade of black. The geology around him was made of black, barren, cubic structures that served to scatter all types of waves, allowing this moon to remain stealth. He glanced back at the sky as he descended, taking in this new arrangement of stars, the only bit of light on this dark world. The look on his face was anxiety, necessity, survival, desperate hope. As he approached the landing pad, it opened with a faint “whirr”, and he disappeared into a black coffin below the surface of the Pirate Planet. The surface closed behind him, and depressurization commenced.
“THESE PREMISES HAVE BEEN SIEZED. YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF COMMON ORDER.”
The drones stopped. They were malfunctioning. Kirin’s defense scripts were working. He was invisible to them, spoofed. The trick that had led to this very event was saving him from it.
Kirin cautiously but quickly turned and skipped, jogged, and sprinted to his vehicle. His scripts were bruteforcing the ignition system that had been disabled during his attempted arrest. The blockchain-based brain wasn’t vulnerable, but there were always hardware flaws to exploit. His hands began to tremor as he waited for what seemed like minutes but must have been several seconds for the door to open. His C.I. flashed in his vision. That damned bug in his program. The drones turned, now aware of his location and escape plan. They rushed him. He dove into the vehicle as the door slammed behind him. It raced rapidly in reverse and then upward. The turbo engaged and he was in orbit. He sling-shotted and escaped into the black sky.
For a split second, her vision flickered, her C.I. restored in a flash, and the text “suidgod” registered in the corner of her eye. Then it was gone.
“Ahhu!” she moaned, “What was that?”
“Sorry. Just a minor hiccup. Fixed now. How do you feel?”
She thought for a second, but she didn’t know how to respond. Her emotions were all over the place, sweeping through her body in waves as the earth around her pulsated with deep, meaningful feeling. She breathed.
“I’m ok,” she replied. “Thank you.”
As if she had discovered the magic phrase, the motion in her vision stopped. She was integrated.
“It stopped.” She sounded hesitant.
Kirin let out a soft sigh, then spoke, “That’s good. You’ll still get flashes, but I think you’ve got this. Just remember everything I told you leading up to this point. Now, when you’re ready, I’m going to switch you back online.”
“Not yet. The sun is setting… It’s… I’ve never seen it like this.”
Kirin grinned and quietly laughed, “I know.”