SCREENS

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Chapter 17 - Creation

Chapter 17

Chapter 17

The message illuminated the room, it was dim, but the light of hope would rise just as we needed it to. Sometimes the things we create can never be destroyed. They become more than a tangible thing. It becomes an idea; it becomes a movement, it transcends humanity.

A halo floated around the ball of light in the center igniting the curiosity in our faces. It felt like something out of a dream, transparent, and glorious. It was gripping, our suspense amplifying like never before. We were finally here.

“Sasha say something.”

“Wait.”

We waited patiently. And nothing for nearly a minute – just static that evolved to sound almost melodic. Just like the first time we heard the ping. The machine was alive but was it mortally wounded. I could not levitate myself from its shattered brilliance as words finally appeared on the screen, similar to Virgil’s font.

“Open the box. Make a Connection.”

The connection, the unveiling, he knew me better than I knew myself. I was waiting for the right moment, no longer a choice but an order. Even in that cold room where I could see my breath, I was drenched in sweat, vibrating like an earthquake.

But my anxiety ceased when I heard a subtle sound wash over us. A soft piano melody and my eyes erupted. I knew this song, my father the piano player. My eyes damp holding back a flood of tears I wiped my eyes and took the black velvet box out of my pocket.

“We’re here for you Sasha.”

I nodded confidently from the support of my friends. Never trapped in my mind would I ever have considered the four of us friends. I knew why this machine derailed the network. You never know what you have until you no longer have it. Walls were broken, and we had to unite to get here.

Machines teaching us the value of connection – how perfectly fitting.

So when I looked down at that box that had been taunting me for the past four months, my hands didn’t shake. I quickly slid my fingers across the soft surface and firmly released the lock.

“What the hell?”

“That’s a Mirco-SD card you cavewoman.”

I narrowed my eyes and glared at Courtney; I gave her the phone. She wiped some the blood away dripping down her cheek and took a minute to remove one of her hairpins. Her hair dangled down a bit, and she unveiled that she had a tool to remove the card.

“Really?”

“You’d be surprised how many times I’ve had to switch numbers and get a new sim card.”

“I don’t think I would be.” She shrugged at my comment, and we looked up at the partial message now flashing, echoing across the dome.

“Make a Connection.”

“Okay.” Courtney snapped the sim card in place and handed me the phone. She was about to say something; maybe she realized it was better to say nothing. So she just nodded, and I did the same back with a faint smile, unlocking my phone.

Virgil was gone. There was only a blinking white period in the center. If I’ve learned one thing on this trip, it’s the importance of patience. So we lingered on the dot to the hum of the piano in the background. And then the screen opened up. It was my father, but he looked horrible. He coughed profusely speaking into the microphone.

“Hello, Sasha.”

I felt my entire nervous system clench into lockdown. “Dad?”

His image clicked, he wasn’t there. It was only when I glanced at the bottom of the screen that I saw the date stamp. August 6th, 2015.

We attended his funeral eight days afterward.

“I know. It’s a lot to take in.”

“How are we communicating?” I asked him, and he responded while the screen clicked to an earlier date July 24th. He still had a very nasty cough, but his beard was more kempt, his posture straightened and didn’t look as close to death.

“I have recorded over 10,000 responses to the questions you may ask. I knew you would come, Sasha. You were the only one who made it.” So I had to ask the right questions. And the others? Surely they couldn’t have relied on me to save the world; they had insurance. A lot of good it did them.

“Are you Virgil?”

The screen clicked, and he responded. “No. We are a catalyst for it. We are a model of consciousness, and Virgil is drawing our portrait, learning everything it can.”

I shook this unsettling feeling this interaction gave me. Talking to my dead father made my stomach churn, so much so that I turned to my side and threw up. It was so emotionally throttling; I wasn’t disgusted. I was enthralled.

Courtney and Floyd kneeled by my side, Floyd ripped part of his shirt, and with it, I rubbed away the pain that escaped my stomach.

“Are you alive?”

“July 25th, 2015: No, my death has been expected on August 8th. This is my last will and testimony. Those tanks you see behind you? That is where I have been resting. Dreaming relentlessly, dreaming in a world with no reality. I’m sorry I left you, Sasha.”

“But why? Do you have any idea what that did to us?” The heartbreaking thing was that I couldn’t see him react when I told about what happened to Mom and Dustin. He was trapped in the machine – his body lifeless – his brain restless. He couldn’t have known and grafted a response – he only ever sent me one message after all, and I’m sure Virgil was programmed to show that to me in case the journey started to turn sour – which it absolutely did.

“I had debt, your mom never told you about my cancer. She never told you about what I did at the college.”

“Which was?”

“We were building this. Well, a small part of it. A tiny but vital part of this computer – who knew it would create artificial intelligence? I left because I wanted to give the last of my life, that last effort to ensure my daughter’s future. You’ve always hid from the world Sasha; it’s not so bad out there. I can only answer one more question.”

Two years apart from a lifetime together and I only was allowed five questions? I started to think of the cruelty until my evolving perception convinced me otherwise. One question left.

“The sphere is gone, how do we reconnect the world?”

August 4th, 2015: This is yet another unlikely incident; the sphere is like a womb for this technology. In the event it is not working, do not attempt to fix it.”

“Don’t think we need to worry about that one –“

“Trevor shut up!” Everyone shouted glancing back at my phone. Virgil had pulled up two tabs. One red, one yellow. Each with a different symbol on them.

“There are two choices. One, your phone is one of five. Each of us who gave our minds to this machine created a successor. Ulysses, Virgil, Shiva, Ophelia, and Athena. You must find the other four, Virgil will return to your phone as an operating system, and it will guide you on the way.”

“And the other?”

“You could restart the computer, it is built to recover from worse than this – that’s the beauty of having a computer that is made out of data and not moving parts. It will give you everything you want, anything you could ever want, you could be safe and sound, but the Virus will spread – it might end the world, or it might save it. I wish I could guide you on what to choose, but the outcome couldn’t be simulated by the computer. People are… more complicated. Though from where you are standing it might not seem that way.”

Strangely it did though; A computer couldn’t make this decision - that is why I was brought here, and now I was perplexed.

“And you’ll die if I choose option one?”

“Our life supports will not work without the computer Sasha.”

“But I just found you. You’re the last bit of family I have left.” Decisions, decisions. I could get anything I wanted, but it would mean destroying all of the data in the world, and there was so much I wanted to change after all I had seen. Or I could shut down and be right back to step one. I was at a stalemate, now knowing that my entire journey here I may choose the very thing we were trying to avoid. I’m just glad nobody pressured me.

“I’m sorry,” I said to my friends. Selfish as I am, I didn’t even realize that this entire time, I already had everything I could ever want. My friends were the ones who made that evident to me.

“Sasha, I don’t care how many people listen to my music on my SoundCloud account. You do what will make you happy.” Floyd replied with his vocalizer.

“Before I met you, I was drowning in my grief, like you but I channeled my pain through my hostility, my words. I never thought I’d say some corny bullshit like this, but I will gladly trade 10 million Instagram followers to have a few friends like you in my life. I really mean that.”

I laughed wiping my face and looked at Trevor; I needed to know his opinion. “What about you. What do you think I should do?”

“Well other than the kidnapping, the murder, the car chases, and the cramped car spaces, this has been the greatest time I’ve ever had. This whole journey I feel like I’m part of something bigger. Because of you Sasha, my troubled past seems so distant. Do you what you think is right Sasha. I’ll be behind you no matter what.”

“Damn right girl.”

“I haven’t left your side since you came to our home Cousin.”

I would have to kill the last of my remaining family to finally move on with my life. How fucked up is that? But the fact hung in my face; my father died long ago. This manifestation of him in front of me was nothing more than a mirage. It was like reliving a memory; I think he wanted me to kill him. What’s the point of living forever if you can never be with the people you love? If you can never relive a memory? You would lose sight of purpose, and this thought cracks my fortified shell.

And through it, I’ve grabbed something.

I’m not going to pretend that I have the answers to life and why we wake up every day to deal with the obstacles it places before us. It might be the will to create, the inspiration to build, the determination to succeed, the need to discover, the want to share, to teach your children right from wrong, the desire to belong. It might be all of the above. I look around this room, and I see at least one of those things in everyone here, at least a little bit. But what about myself?

All I know is this. All I’ve wanted since my accident is to forgive myself for what I’ve done and to know that I can move on. I’ve needed to know that my family doesn’t blame for their demise. Maybe it was fate that it happened if you believe in that sort of thing. But what happened brought me here, and now I held the outcome of the connected world in my hands. I could only make one decision. It was obvious before I even had a chance to think about it because it wasn’t under my authority to choose. I had to put the world back together.

“Dad?”

“Yes, baby?”

“I have to let you go.” I shared with him as the tears continued to create momentum in my eyes. I saw then what I assumed was the last day he was able to record. He had accepted death entirely, that pained look on his face disappeared, and complete acceptance covered his expressions.

"August 6, 2015: Thank you, Sasha. But I want you to do one thing before you set us free.”

“What’s that?”

“Do you still have the box I gave you on your birthday?”

I scurried around in my pockets, and I pulled it out. Did I miss something?

“But I already opened it.”

“I’m glad you waited to open it because now you have the reference to give it purpose. You are more perceptive now Sasha, give it another look.”

My friends gathered around me, as did Arnold who needed to see this just as I. They all did. My hands slowly glided across the velvet, once again as I flipped open the lid. I saw it almost immediately.

“Is that?”

I lifted the tiny alter inside and found a secret compartment. I slowly lifted the veil, and I was struck when I laid my eyes on it. It was a necklace, a golden locket that contained a picture of my family all together and on the inside, it read:

Love is energy, and it cannot be destroyed, with you always.

My emotional dam broke, and I erupted in tears. I had to travel half-way across the country and witness the crumbling of civilization to realize how selfish I had been to blame myself for their deaths.

In my hysterical stupor, I looked towards the dome and smiled at my father in the reflection of my screen.

“Your life, like technology is a tool Sasha, it how you use it that gives it meaning. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, but what you plan to do next.”

You don’t realize it, but sometimes the simple things can be the most profound.

“It’s the greatest gift I could’ve received. Thank you, Dad.”

“And you’re the greatest gift I’ve ever conceived Sasha. Who needs immortality when I have you? Now, are you ready?”

I felt the closure embrace me; it was liberating. Despite everything that has happened since the accident, the emotional baggage collected along the journey, I finally felt myself let go of my past. And as soon as I nodded to my father and approached the console I felt that final string disintegrate.

The screen appeared, and I placed the phone on its surface, and it lit up. I never thought I could ever feel this complete again; I didn’t replace my family I created a new one. I felt whole again; I think now I can start moving – nothing has been broken. There is nothing in life that you cannot achieve.

The button to power down popped up, and I looked up at my father one last time. I could find the words as I listened to his goodbye.

“If you ever find yourself losing hope, just think of me, your mom and your brother. Your past made you who you are, and because of that, we will never be apart ever again. I love you Sasha, and I hope you have a wonderful life.”

“I love you.”

I felt that last of my fluids drain through my tear ducts when I pressed the button. The dome shutdown, one interface at a time and the light in the center began to fade gradually. As the bright center dissipated, I felt a new feeling began to culminate inside of me. I didn’t know this one, but I liked it.

“Well. We got a whole world to reconnect.” Courtney said as she and Floyd took me away from the center.

“Where should we go first?” Floyd asked.

“We’re pretty close to New York. I’ve always wanted to go to the big apple.”

“We gotta see Niagra Falls!”

“This isn’t a vacation Trevor!”

“You’re right it’s whatever Sasha wants it to be. Where to captain?”

*****

Agent Quinn

“Wha? What happened?” I said as I jolted out of my brief and desperately needed 5-minute nap – when I did I head butted Arnold who was trying to take his jacket back from me.

“God dammit Quinn!” He stalled, and Floyd continued to carry me. We had just left the chamber, and Floyd was hauling me through the cooling room.

I didn’t need to ask, that desperate feeling amongst them was gone, and something I had never seen these kids feel before had taken hold. We were out of the chamber and heading towards the surface, I had barely regained consciousness – but I needed a little closure of my own. I knew she would figure it out.

Although, I saw the computer shut-down and continued to hear it. All of the rotors, its lights, and the steam coming from the cooling room, it was all winding down. I didn’t notice their noise at first, too focused on stopping Gable.

“So what happened? Sasha?” She didn’t respond at first – she was smiling. Never had I seen her smile, or heard of her smiling. She was caressing a necklace, and her screen was lighting our way with its blinding brightness. I’m still not sure if she was just mesmerized or actually happy, but she was glowing - and I didn’t ingest anything at the music festival, this wasn’t my hallucinations spiraling out of control, this was real. She had this aurora around her – and you couldn’t help but feel happy seeing that girl smile.

“Any ideas phone girl,” I asked.

“There was never any one-way ticket to stopping this. You can take me in, but this is far from over, we still have to reconnect the world.”

I nodded my head at her slung over Floyd’s shoulder we finally made our way to the roof. In the middle of the night, I saw the lights in downtown Boston flicker one by one. It reminded me watching the tide slowly roll in from the ocean. These people knew something was out there watching over them. We did it; we prevented a technological apocalypse.

That’s the last thing I remember doing before I fell over. I passed out, snoring like a lion roars I was told. Floyd and Arnold would carry me to the chopper. We arrived in Washington, and I finally fell asleep watching the sun’s light stretch over the curvature of the Earth slowly bathing our nation’s capital in a warm and embracing

I slept for nearly a day before I would be reassigned as Sasha’s security manager, and now I’m here writing this report to you. Choose to believe what I’ve written or not; this was the hardest I have ever pushed myself in my entire life. Many good men died to give Sasha a chance she has to repair the world, and I’m not leaving her side until this is over.

I’ve slept enough, and I think this report is more than a sufficient summary detailing the events that transpired since the inception of this crisis.

Sasha needs me; she’s about to begin a brand new journey. But before all of that, I need to get my hair done. I’m thinking blue, possibly pink, we’ll see when we get there. Peace out, Agent Andrew Quinn

*****

At the threshold of the helicopter, I took one last moment to look upon the ending of this path before I would begin another. So much has happened, some of it terrible, some of it remarkable. I know my purpose now, and this is not going to end soon. We have a duty, and I know my friends are behind me one-hundred percent of the way.

Now I just need to figure out how to reconnect the world. Maybe we can build something. My phone still had its abilities Virgil still felt the same, though the entity guiding him was now destroyed, it still felt evolving – and I’ve come to trust it.

It was all up to me now. I was now in control of this, let’s see what we can do to help the world. My mom, my brother, my dad they gave this to me, and I know that they’re out there somewhere, floating on an ethereal plane parallel to me in some way spreading their influence and their ever-present love.

I love you all and thank you, thank you for everything you’ve ever done for me, to help me, to teach me. I will make sure that the memory of you lives on forever, I’ll carry you with me while we change the perceptions of the world.

And to everyone who has ever lost something, you are not alone. The worst thing you can do is hide from the world. People are the most important ingredient for the cure to trauma and self-destruction. You may think you’re alone sometimes, but you couldn’t be more wrong – there are 7 billion people on this planet – no one is alone. You might have to search to find them but the individuals like you, they will help you. Don’t be stubborn, open your mind in your most vulnerable state and make a connection.

Once you do this, nothing will ever feel the same, but then again – is there anything worse than being normal?

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