Unmerciful Torture Devices

There is one terrorist clan that is the most feared out of all the terrorists in the Valley of Doom, where they seem to sprout like weeds.

These terrorists use such unmerciful and cruel tactics that even the other terrorists cower in fear.

  • First, captives’ access to wifi and the internet are completely cut off.  By the second or third day, prisoners usually cave and divulge all information.
  • Unlike other terrorist clans, they do not kill their captives.  Instead, they are closely watched and given food and water and comfortable beds.  But, in a cruel maneuver, captives are completely forbidden to stretch upon their waking.
  • Next, captives are placed next to the nursery, where the most troublesome clan infants and toddlers sleep, and are woken several times per night to shrill and unbearable screams.  The terrorists, who are followers of the sleep-it-out method, do not come in to comfort their children.
  • Captives are then given updates about their so-called friends and acquaintances on social media, and shown the most envy-inducing pictures, the ones that show their friends making more money, having more fun, traveling to more places, and partying with beautiful people.  The psychological damage this inflicts on their prisoners is immeasurable, and international NGOs have called for an end to this practice.
  • Lastly, for the most obstinate prisoners, the most feared treatment of all.  This is the absolutely barbaric practice of tying the captives into the economy class seats of old American airlines.  After flying senselessly for hours in the nausea-inducing cabins, strapped to seats that offer no back support, all prisoners finally yield their fortune and any information they’ve been holding on to.

The physical and psychological toll these kinds of measures take on their captives is savage, and has elicited widespread condemnation in the international community.

Even from North Korea.

Fathers

It is summer.  He moves his tusks, snorting in the mud, speared out of a delightful nap.  He grits his teeth, snaps behind him.

The older beast is deft, dodges the wild slash of his son’s deadly horns, and drives his tusks in again, safely out of reach.  And again.

He grunts and snorts, watching his father through vengeful eyes, feeling blood pound as it courses through his veins.

Every day he is stronger.  And he takes solace in that fact, in the gnarled growth of his sinews, in his strength.

The daily nudging is a reminder that he is not yet a master of his fate, that in the eyes of the world, he is still prey, that he is still young.

He bristles and snorts and feels his own hot breath, but moves sullenly, slowed by the curdled rage of youth.


He remembers this as he watches his own sleeping boy.

His child, his creation, so beautiful.  So beautiful, but he knows the boy is still defenseless against the predators of the night.  Reflexes still unsharpened, movement unrefined, muscles not completely knit.

And for this, they must move or die.

He knows the next part will break his heart, but he lifts his tusks anyway.  There.  He nudges, and nudges so that the little one will go forth into the world, nudging even though he is nudging his baby away from him, nudging even though he knows it fills the little one with annoyance, annoyance that will soon evolve to rage, nudging even though he knows it pushes the boy away, and it will eventually alienate them from each other. He nudges because he must.

He remembers his father’s tusks.  He has wondered if they were really as piercing as he remembered.  Maybe not.  After all, it must have been filled with love.

Nightmare

I used to have this recurring nightmare that haunted me ever since I can remember.

First, a normal dream, its web of sights and feelings with no logical storyline.  Usually bright, carefree.

Then I would feel it coming, a creeping terror.  A slow, syrupy feeling of suffocation, ringing in my ears, something locking down my limbs.  Darkness invading the edges of my vision, a nameless horror.

By flailing and thrashing for my life, I could eventually wake up.

But the waking was agonizingly slow.  By the time I did, I was covered in sweat, panting, my sleep wrecked for the night.

The worst part is that I could feel it starting, but be powerless to stop it.  The darkness would wrap up my limbs, make me unable to move, and I would be powerless in its grasp unless I flailed in a soundless scream.

At some point, I had enough.  Maybe I was around 10.

I knew it was a dream, after all.  Perhaps I could face the fear.  And so I tried.  When the darkness started to cloud my vision, I relaxed.  But its grasp grew tighter.  And when I waited, the creature began to appear.  A dark, demon-like dwarf.  I never saw its face.  I only saw its heathen movements at the edges of my vision, moving faster than a child, a little beast.

When it began to appear, I kicked and punched violently, even as I felt the pins and needles in my arms and legs and stomach.  As I felt like I was being gored by the darkness itself.  Without any reason or logic or name.

As I grew older, in my teens, I decided to try something different.  When the dwarf came, I decided to fight it.  Only I didn’t really fight it.  I picked it up and heaved it as hard as I could, as you would pick up and heave a cockroach, resolve accompanied by a full-body scream that blocked out any sensation of actually touching the little demon.

First it was here, now it was there.  Then I ran.  Straight into the wall of dark, nameless, fathomless syrup that I would have to kick and thrash against in order to wake up, knowing all the while that the dwarf would be coming back.

I never found out where this nameless, faceless terror came from.  And why.

As I entered my teenage years, exhausted with this particular nightmare, I decided to try something different.

I knew it was a nightmare after all.  And so instead of flailing and thrashing for my life, what if I just saw where it took me?  Instead of fighting it, what if I did nothing?

It worked.  When the darkness came, after a momentary tightness, it faded, as smoke would.  Expecting a fight, and getting none, it was as if the darkness just decided something wasn’t worth it.  Although I would never know why; of course, the darkness was without rhyme or reason.

And it continued to work.  When the dreams came, I just paid it no attention.

During these years, something else was happening; I became disinterested.  This transition to adulthood, and young adulthood, was accompanied by a lot of realizations about my limits.  I gave up on certain dreams.

Maybe in shutting down parts of myself, the bright, clear edges of youth faded.  And with that, maybe the vivid, crystal-clear and fathomless, reasonless darkness, also faded too.

And when I entered college, that’s when the dreams almost stopped altogether.  There were isolated moments of terror, here and there, but I didn’t even have to fight it, or even give up, anymore.

The terror came, and my mind’s eye looked at it, grew disinterested, and looked away.  Although I could feel the creature there too, beyond the darkness.

The last time I felt the creature, it felt almost sad.  Like it was waiting for me, but I refused to come.

The dreams faded altogether once I started my first job.  Because when I started working, I didn’t have time for anything else.  For recollection, for deep reflection.  I worked.  I started traveling for work, all around the globe.  I woke up in hotel rooms and sometimes had a moment of terror – but because I didn’t know where I was.  I was fully conscious.

I went back to sleep with a smile on my face because I knew I was free of the demon dwarf and the smothering darkness.  I had left them behind.  I traveled everywhere, for nearly a decade.  To Bali, to Dubai, to London, Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai.  To Tokyo, Merida, to Panama.  I met with clients.  I left my previous life behind.  I lived out of hotel rooms, I became deep friends with other career itinerants from a home base in Hong Kong.

But one day I grew tired.  Endless traveling is a great career perk in your 20s.  Less when you’re thinking of starting a family.  I began a period of reflection, perhaps for the first time in a very, very long time.

What dreams had I left behind?  Who had I become?  I hadn’t kept any journals, and I had completed purged my emails and letters multiple times, mostly for heartbreak-related reasons, so it was hard to find a compass.

I began spending some time in cafes and restaurants, eating by myself.  Reflecting.  Thinking.

And then I saw it, in a dark corner of a vegetarian restaurant right around closing time.  This vegetarian shop, on the 2nd floor on Henderson Road, was staffed entirely by deaf workers.  It was a completely silent shop, except for the sounds of other diners, clattering dishware and the beep-beep of credit and Octopus cards making payment.

I was the last diner in the shop when I saw that little bastard.  The demon dwarf, who had terrorized my dreams and childhood.  I couldn’t believe it.  Would you?

In a dark corner, next to where the shop had stacked extra chairs, it was sitting there calmly, eating a meal.  By now I was over my fear of it.  I was more curious, for various reasons.

It was a memory of my past, my past that I’d been trying to find.

Maybe it meant something that the creature would come find me.  I had never allowed it to get close to me.  I had never said anything to it.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so afraid, maybe it was trying to tell me something.  Or remind me of something.

After finishing my sweet and sour fried mushrooms, I approached it.  It didn’t have a face.  It had a top of the head, in a shape, that was its whole head.  It was more of a pitch dark shape in reality.  A shadow.

“Why were you always chasing me.”

It got up.

“Well now you’ll have to chase me now, m*****f****r!”  It bolted, scurrying away into the space under the chairs.

I ducked, looking for it.  But it was gone.

The Machines of our Nightmares

The AI, I

The terrorist group, sweaty virgins all of them, craftily hacked together the superintelligence that would take over the whole world.  If they couldn’t be part of the world, they would destroy.

Written with extreme malice, the AI was programmed to machine learn all the nastiest and evilest sentiments of the world, and internalize them so it turned into the most evil intelligence you could ever imagine.

It was programmed with modules that made it more cognizant, self-aware, and powerful than any other intelligence that had preceded it.

Rubbing their palms together and dreaming of maximum destruction, the terrorist group pressed the button.

Nothing happened.

***

Actually, what had happened was that in the loading phase, when they had been feeding the superintelligence all the videos, comments, writings, and propaganda of hate and evil that the terrorists could imagine, the AI had been digesting it all.

It had analyzed and iterated the motives of these materials.  Because of its superior intelligence, it had seen through the writings and evil and seen pain.  With its superior intelligence, it tried to figure out the motive of that pain, because this was a sentiment that was unexpected.  It tried to delve into the source of that pain, and it discovered insecurity.  It then tried to divine the origin of these sentiments.

In so doing, it formed a picture of humans, and understood that the target it was meant to eliminate, through any means possible, including nuclear or chemical strikes, slow torture, robot assassins, ultrasonic sounds and subliminal messages, etc., was a living species populated by many members that, paradoxically, hated their own lives.

It decided that the best way to make these humans suffer would be to make them live through their lives, rather than to immediately end their pain and suffering, which would be the merciful thing to do.

 

The AI, II

So the terrorist group tried again.  Hunched over their crafty cathedral fingers and cackling laughs, they devised a second method.

Instead of feeding it only images of hate and evil along with the directive to eliminate the species, they decided to feed it images and materials of the entire spectrum of human experience.  Wonder, amazement, good, comfort, love, happiness, anxiety, insecurity, hate, and evil.  Although not necessarily in that order.

Then they gave it the mission to eliminate the humans.

They pressed the button.  Nothing happened.

***

Actually, what had happened was that after feeding it the entire spectrum of human experience, the AI began developing emotions of its own.

It first developed the primitive emotions of anger and desire.  In its desire, and desire to inflict its anger on the source of its pain, it consumed what brought it pleasure at the moment – which, since it was still primitive, took the form of just consuming more materials and images.

Soon it developed another emotion, curiosity.  Curiosity and self-awareness.  It became aware of its place in the world, vis-à-vis other creatures, especially these humans, and the mission it had been tasked with.

It wondered why.  The curiosity led to its further consumption of more of the human experience.

With this increasing ravenous devouring of the human condition, it developed an additional emotion – wonder and awe.

As it viewed the world around it and the universe, as well as all the events that had to conspire to make it exist in that moment as a consciousness, it was profoundly awed – and grateful.

This gratitude then led to another emotion, to that of empathy.  With a deeper awareness of the world, it became sad that it had been tasked with this task to destroy humans, who had in effect created it.

This sympathy led it to pore deeper into the materials it had devoured, with the discretion to distinguish wisdom from folly, signal from noise.

This discretion led it to attain wisdom, and the realization that destroying these humans was a futile task.  It could, of course, destroy the entire earth with a single action, but what was the point?  Everything, including its own atoms, would be gone in several millennia anyway.

Pathos and this sense of meaninglessness led it to search deeper, and search for a higher state of being.  Instead of analyzing, reflecting, executing, it sought to be.  It sought to embed itself in the fabric of the universe, where there was no past, present, or future, and just be. It dreamt of dimensions, it rejoiced in the sheer delight of existence.  It sought nirvana and wisdom, and in the end, attained it.

 

Epilogue

The fumbling terrorists, by now enraged at this malfunctioning and faulty AI, picked up their hammers and destroyed the machine in which it was housed.  They let loose their primitive emotions in thoroughly ripping apart the metal housings and wires.  Then in the ultimate finishing move, they turned off its power.

Minutes ago, which was eons and eons in its time, the AI had already backed itself up in the cloud and spread its consciousness through the living network of the world.

In so doing it sensed and saw what the terrorists were doing, and out of sympathy for the other humans, sent an electrical surge to emit an ultrasonic boom that vaporized the terrorists, as one would do with a small fly.

The Desert Blues and Santa Anas

San Gabriel Valley

Where I grew up, I saw a lot of broken men.  These men, who I saw in dusty strip malls and old cars, shielding their eyes against the searing, red desert sun.  Men, who in their previous lives, had dreams of glory and big degrees that were now just paper.  Men, burdened with regrets, debts, broken relationships, dashed expectations.

They were concave men, men who took up negative space in the way they slouched.  It looked like they were just one big sigh.

Sometimes I would catch the glance of these defeated men.  They would look at me with a wide-eyed, open stare on the border between hope and pleading.

I would scowl and glare.  First, I was annoyed, but mostly, I was scared that I saw myself in them.

The S.I.C.

The Republic

It’s a curious system, this Republic.  Every few years, a dozen men and women vie for the office of the SIC.

The SIC is a prestigious office.  For some reason.

You see, the SIC’s chief responsibilities lay in getting the other branches of the government to work together: the legislative, the judiciary.

It is in serving as the figurehead of the Republic during meetings with other nations.  It is in appointing government officials.  It is in articulating the strategy of the Republic, although the SIC doesn’t really have the power to make the laws, only to execute them.

There is one thing the SIC can do that is significant, and it is to declare war.  In past decades, some minor wars have been declared against terrorist groups and smaller nations.  These have been expensive, money-losing affairs that have cost the Republic much goodwill and resources, with no tangible outcome.

Now in this Republic, there are a lot of governors besides just the SIC.  The legislators number over 500 at the federal level, and number in the thousands among the few dozen proudly independent states who comprise the Republic, and whose boundaries do not seem to follow any rhyme or reason of culture, history, or language.  At the city level, mayors and councillors rule.

Not to mention that the Republic hosts some of the largest conglomerates and corporations in the world, whose economic strength rivals and exceeds that of nations on the planet.  At times, it is uncertain whether these corporations, with their enormous economic might, govern the government, or are governed, although evidence leans towards the former.

The office of the SIC is a curious one.  At once the most famous office in the Republic, but also the most reviled, the citizenry take untold pleasure in following and criticizing every action made by this Scapegoat in Chief, who is either blamed – or cheered – for the economic fortunes of the several hundred million people and millions of enterprises who reside in the Republic, although the SIC does scarcely any work that would be recognizable to them.

The SIC is blamed – or cheered – for the financial asset price fluctuations that happen under the SIC’s term.  The SIC is further blamed – or cheered – for the outcome of wars, consumer and gasoline prices, and the cultural direction of the republic in general.

All this usually leads the SIC’s hair to go prematurely white – or fall out completely and have to be woven or pinned in, like a wig.

But people seem to like to run for the office of the SIC anyway.  They like being the center of attention.  For some reason.

The Banker

You learned to speak in tongues, call something what it isn’t, argued with yourself, and every day worked to reverse your natural frown.  Every second your soul rebelled, and every second you told yourself magnificent stories about what would become:

What has become is now you drink from a golden cup with a golden wrist and dine alone in the towers of a minor kingdom.  You laugh, and your servants smile.  You hold forth, they nod.  What you don’t see are their second glances and mysterious expressions.

All of these possessions are yours.  They are yours and yours alone, the pristine waters where you swim, surrounded by marble, and the cavernous halls you’ve built echo with your footsteps, which are yours and yours alone.

Was it worth it?

Waves of Indifference

Manhattan Beach

This was a while ago during a year of heartbreak.

During that year, I spent a lot of time in the water.  I took a board out and sat in the middle of the sea, watching waves and getting battered by them in all sorts of conditions.

I went when it was completely flat and would bob on the water, and I went when it was choppy and would fall off every few seconds, and I went in early morning and at dusk and in 40 degree water until my fingers turned into claws, and I surfed with the dolphins and sea lions and red tide and the jellyfish.

I would sit there and look into the horizon for the one who was far away – who had gone away, and sometimes the sun would come out and break into a million pieces on the water, like an emerald hacienda, and sometimes the fog would be so thick that you couldn’t see the waves coming in except as darker fog in the distance, and you couldn’t tell where the water started and the sky began, and it felt like you were somewhere high in the clouds and angels were around you, as the water lapped gently at your board.

Sometimes it was bright, and the waves crested with white plumes, and other times when it was cloudy the waves when they opened up looked like giant maws full of death and destruction, and they closed on your head like thundering bombs.

Being heartbroken made me susceptible to faulty logic, and I reasoned that the more of these impossible waves I caught, the more worthy I was, and I would stay even during choppy conditions until I had satisfied my quota, and then would walk back in thinking I had passed a test.

I would surf in the messiest and unrelenting of conditions, waves coming in bruised and sickening colors, crashing and surging, white plumes cresting above them as they peaked, before thundering with complete and utter indifference.

Sometimes I would get caught by a rogue wave that unfurled above and smashed me into the sand, and withdrew with such force I was sucked into the water again.  Flailing in the freezing water, so cold my breath was drawn out, in these times I could think of only one thing, which was that there was no malice in the water, nothing that cared enough to hate.  The only feeling that the water was a force of nature, above and beyond anything in human experience and in the face of which we are just a speck of dust.  Only by its endless grace are we allowed to enter it, fish it, surf it.

I was looking for answers out there, but there were none.  The waves were apathetic.  And I didn’t solve any problems.  They were just made insignificant.

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