As He Prepares to Joust

On this day years ago he stepped on the stage, armor burnished and gleaming, veins coursing with power.

He felt immortal with youth, he did not feel the weight of the armor.

He crushed his opponent, and threw off his horse.  He remembers the crowd gasping at his strength, it is all seared into his brain.

For years afterwards, he has returned to this moment.  Every day he reassures himself that he is still the people’s champion.

He looks at the younger knights with a critical eye, judging that their strength is lacking, that they are slow or small.  Any battles he has had with them are in his mind, pitting his former self against them.

In so remembering, he has forgotten time.  They still cheer his name, remembering him as the knight of old.

No one knows how much time has worn the sinews of his muscles, how it has made him bent and flaccid, with slight aches in his feet and knees in the morning.

See them cheer him on, as he enters the joust, about to ride to his death.

The Pursuit

At night, you look up at the sky.  Your heart leaps out and back into your chest, aflame above the simmering, ever-present burn in your stomach.  I’m so hungry, you think.  This hunger will not let me rest.  In the glittering sky, the stars look like jewels strewn on and over an undulating plain.  There is something there on the other side, and you hear its faint whispers in the wind.  

The village wise man says, there is a legend of a treasure that will cure your hunger, a fruit that will make you never again hunger, this discontent by another name.  

It is in the lands far away.  No one has ever seen it, no one has ever ventured so far.  All those who have left the village have never been heard from again.  It will be foolhardy and brash.  It will be unheard of and rash to go. 

But you go anyway.  

You are on the road, leaving everything you’ve ever known.  Along the way, there is scarce nourishment.  You eat the barks off trees and live on dew.  There are roots that pulse with something deep beneath the earth, which are filling when you can find them.  In your mind, you dream of the fruit that will make you never hungry again.  It spurs you forward. 

Around the bend you startle, because before you on the bridge is a demon, the most terrifying monster you’ve ever seen, a wolf, ogre, succubus.  A patrol on the bridge that you must cross.  It reeks of blood and death.  For a moment you startle and hesitate, your mind flickers and pulls against your heart and hunger.  You’ll be torn to pieces.  

And yet.  What fate is worse than starving slowly to death?  You will wither away, you think.  Instead, you stand up straight, and in that moment’s courage the demon sees you standing there, erect.  You have one way to go, and you stride with purpose, and seeing you, the demon’s menace drains.  You stare it in the eyes, and it looks away and you cross the bridge unscathed. 

You are growing famished and drag your feet.  But ahead are the spires of a mountain city, a more glorious sight than you have ever seen.  It looks prosperous and full, and surely you will find some food and shelter there.  Your heart leaps in joy and your hunger is suppressed for now. 

But this is not a city of warm hearths and friends.  This is a city that has grown old and fat in their own abundance, and you hear insolent whispers about your skeletal appearance.  Their bellies cascade with rolls as they sit around, their servants and slaves more plump than you.  You, whose skin has been stretched across your jaws and your fingers, realize now that they are shaming your name, that this is a city where you will not stop, where you will not find rest or drink or shelter, that stopping here will cause you to also grow old and fat and live out the rest of your days. 

Confidently now you stride, your hunger so deafening you do not hear the crowds’ titters and trifling nothings.  My hunger cripples me, but it also leads the way, you think. 

The city opens up to a mountain pass, bleak and forbidding.  The clouds are clenched and on the verge of being black.  You look up to an explosion as a storm begins to roil.  With neither mercy nor malice, the winds shriek like banshees, battering you off the path, almost to your death below.  You clutch yourself and crawl forward by inches.  Then the hail comes, battering your head.  The storm will not relent, it is terrible in its apathy, in its pure indifference, and you look back and see a sunny meadow in the distance. 

You think, will I roll with these waves of indifference?  Do I turn back now, because the way forward is more difficult and forbidding than I ever imagined?  I will surely be forgiven, for I have proceeded further than I ever believed possible. 

Or will my heart beat and hunger be the crosswise force, the thing unlike the others, the beating heart in the midst of these winds, cold and dead and terrible?

Then in the midst of the storm, another rumbling. 

But you realize this is the sound of your hunger.  And it, only it, spurs you forward, because you will not accept your fate.

Now your steps quicken because you see the peak, where the treasure lies.  You expected angels and light, but instead it is dark and unassuming, craggy peaks with withered trees. 

Could it be? 

There, in the distance, you see little drops of what look like light hanging from the wizened branches.  This is it. 

In your excitement you do not see until you almost stumble over him, a man who sits beside the pass. 

Where are you going, he asks. 

You look at him, this strange man.  He looks young, but his eyes shine a strange light, and his body is feeble as he leans against the rocks. 

I’m going to eat this fruit, this treasure that makes you never hungry again. 

The man gives you a weak smile.  I recommend against it.  

Thinking this is some sort of test, your mind races.  If this is one of the challenges, it is the most confusing one yet. 

I must.  My hunger is deathly, it causes me to suffocate. 

He is short of breath.  You came across the plains, did you not? 

Yes, I did. 

You terrified the demons with your strength. 

I did. 

You passed through the village without dying there. 

I did. 

You made it through the storm. 

I did. 

How? 

How? 

How. 

Because I sought the fruit.  To never be hungry again. 

The man shakes his head. 

You get impatient and take a step forward as he speaks again.  The treasure you sought, did you ever have it? 

The fruit?  No.  It’s there.  You begin to scowl.   

No, he shakes his head.  What helped you get here was your hunger.  Your hunger is the gift.  It’s the treasure.  Why would you want to get rid of it? 

He slumps back, as if from the effort.  It’s better to be hungry than full.  Take it from me, he says feebly again.  

You look at him.  You blink and hear the abrasive winds.  You look back down the mountain.  You have faced your demons, you have forded wild streams, you have faced down the insolent mob of strangers, the shrieking hue and cry.  You have been bold and with conviction, you have defeated plights that would cause others to succumb. 

You have overcome. 

Suddenly the hunger flares up again within you.  It feels warm, and fills you with light.  There is a path that leads past the grove and into the wider world, one you have never explored. 

That’s right, you think.  Your hunger is your strength.  That is the gift. 

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.