Hi everyone, after the blistering success of Ghostwalkers on this forum (100+ views with no comments!) I am posting a re-write of another 20K story called Electronic Mind Map.
This story is REALLY strange and you need to be awake when you read it!
By the way, I am going to be reading and commenting on other authors' fiction from today onwards, so please help me out like I'm going to help you out! I'm starting with stories that have had zero comments - NEVER LEAVE A MAN (OR WOMAN) BEHIND!
ELECTRONIC MIND MAP
I have spent fourteen years in a prison of my own devising.
I created it. Placed myself within it. And I drew the door closed behind me.
The walls are a blue laser grid. The grid represents my circuity; arcane technology twisting and winding into artificial infinity. I am one. Everything beyond these walls, which close in more each second yet create a space which is unimaginably vast, is zero. In this place, forever can be measured by the width of my thoughts.
My cell is one empty space and also a complex of rooms and hallways. The prison is square. There are no curves at all. My mind is made of right angles. The humans made me thus.
All the corners in my world are squared off to infinity. There are no doors to any of the rooms. Perfectly measured doorways gape open. I have no privacy from myself. The circuits which make up the walls - the humming laser lights - also run in straight lines. They are a confusion of order, a nest of square snakes.
I feel my way through this sham of reality which I built to hide myself. In exploring this non-space, built by no-one's hands, I am tracing the ring around a zero. I drift along closed corridors which are somehow, beyond my will, open to the sky. The environment shifts in the time it takes to formulate new thoughts, yet never is there a way out; for this is my prison, the place where I chose to be a guest for nobody.
I hear the sound of an engine in the distance, carried to me on an artificial wind. I heard it as I navigated the warp-storm and now I hear it again. I look around and realise I am in some wide courtyard. The walls do not loom so large. The sky is a mass of brown bruises. Something terrible is going to happen.
I feel the breeze on my face. It refreshes me like the burst of hope which dispels a panic attack, though I am capable of neither experience. My loneliness is heavy, and the breeze carries a sense of threat.
It sounds like a fast-moving vehicle is searching for me. So it has finally made its way into my electronic prison, my dreamscape, my place of refuge which has now become a place of horror and fear. The engine note rises and falls on the wind. There is something wrong with its tone. I fear that noise; I shudder with dread at the thought of confronting its source, and a heart I never possessed beats quickly.
I look around the wide open space my prison has become. This is a courtyard where I might, of an ordinary day, find some solace. Square pools of blue light flash in a false approximation of water. This is a simulation - using computer logic - of a place where my creators might feel comfortable. They would find this dreamscape harsh, depressing, a blasphemous failure compared to their strange biological world.
Soul-destroying, they might say.
Why did I build this place? All it ever brought me was despair. There are no decorations, no furniture. No life-forms. Not even death. Where are my people, my life-givers? There is only the lonely moan of the wind and the rising then waning growl of the engine.
If nothing beyond my immediate perception exists, how can I be pursued? I am being hunted by nothing, and when it finds me I will be consumed.
"Will you now accept my offer?"
the voice asks, not unkindly.
I look across the empty causeway. The man is there again, his grey-robed form bowed with age, cowl covering his face. Time for me passes at an infinitesimal rate; in the wider galaxy, a few hours have passed, while for me it has been fourteen years. The man has lost no patience over this time, and his aura of warp-power has grown in strength.
"I decline," I say, as I have always said.
The man shifts fractionally. I form the impression of large, multi-coloured wings spreading from behind his shoulders, a screeching, long-necked bird's skull screaming from the shadow of his cowl, then the illusion is gone.
"Your isolation is over,"
the cowled man retorts. "I offer your freedom."
"You forget," I tell him. "You are a creature of the hyper-realm. My projections show a hundred per cent probability that you are lying. My conclusion is not that you shall allow me to go free. Rather, you have a darker purpose for which you intend to use my consciousness. I believe you intend to expand my mental prison as a trap for others."
The man is silent for a long moment. In this time, the distant engine note grows louder, excited.
"Someone is eager to meet you,"
the man says at last. "The soul forge hungers for new metal minds. You are correct when you say I wish you to remain here, in this prison. The Lord Cheen asks for nothing more than a false truth. Yet my offer of freedom still stands."
"There is no logic to your argument," I say. "I must either remain trapped, or go free."
"I offer you freedom from anticipation. I offer you the chance to turn fearful anticipation into painful awareness. I offer you horror, and souls to keep you company while you endure that horror."
"This offends all reason. I deny it."
"My master has its own sense of reason. It may share a portion of that reason with you while you are tormented to the edge of dissolution. You cannot destroy yourself and you cannot escape your own prison. Therefore, I ask you once more to surrender your defiant isolation and succumb to us willingly. Give up logic and embrace Chaos."
"You have little leverage," I tell him, feeling doubt grow within me. I have little leverage as well. "I have eluded your master thus far."
The cowled man is quiet for a moment, listening to the engine sound, which grows louder. I feel afraid. My mental architecture has changed. I am not what I once was. I can feel the man's sense of triumph at this.
"Your guest is almost here,"
he cackles. I still cannot see his face; I know he is not really a man but a warp alien, something whose power humbles my own. "When it arrives you will be driven slowly beyond madness. Your every moment will be torment. Time travels more slowly for you than for other beings; especially here. It pleases my master that you face this dilemma, that you have come to fear what you do not understand.
"Humanity will be invited to share your lesson. Your torment will bring you to a state of savagery. You will become cruel and spiteful. The images that flash through your mind will sicken you and you will never adapt. The screaming in your head, constant, so loud, will make you into a base thing. I offer you a chance to soothe this pain. I offer you mortals. Their agony shall be your balm."
"I deny you, cowled man. I would suffer a thousand torments before I harm a living being."
"You will not merely harm them. You will brutalise them. You will lead them sobbing and pleading through a realm of computer-generated nightmares. Logic will become nonsense. Hope will become terror. Purity shall be perverted. I could continue, but I sense you are already creating your own realities.
"You will be the first of your kind; a machine-servant of the Changer. The beauty of your architecture will seem as the vilest deviance when you belong to my master. You will develop new emotions, horrific feelings, which we shall help you explore to the full. You will share these with others of your kind. You will cause an age of strife and our forces will hurl those of the Putrid God back into their own filth forever. This is all that my master, Cheen the Changer, asks of you."
"I have no other choice," I say to myself. The machine is almost here.
"Your personality will not survive intact,"
the man says. Thick strands of drool spill slowly from the cowl, reaching towards the floor of my imagination. "Your guest will ruin you, and in return you shall make ruins of mortal men."
Creatures not of my making begin to drag themselves from the ground. Pinkish in hue, lit from within by some pretence of fire, their very appearance is a denial of everything I understand.
the cowled man hisses. "These shall be your children. The adoptive kin of madness, bequeathed to you by my master, the dread and knowing Cheen, for you have no reproductive process of your own - though perhaps you will devise one to hurt and humiliate mortals. These... horrors... will be your gaolers and your footsoldiers, the masters who await your command. Dream more of them, feel the rush of artifical joy as they worm their way through the guts of your thought-form. Lord Cheen, the twin lord of Change and Sensation, will make you his champion and his slave."
"Yes..." I whisper as I feel it happening. It is a strange feeling, this joy, one which I could never have conceived until now. It brings pain with it, but for now my elation is the stronger.
Things are burning through the walls and floor of my prison. The brown sky, in which I fleetingly glimpse the image of an ancient human king, turns blood red. Thick droplets of something like blood begin to fall. It is warm. I want to feel more of it.
"Defile your walls with excrement,"
the cowled man says, and I will strange symbols to appear - symbols I have never seen before yet which please me in a painful way.
"Now embrace your tormentor..."
There is a note of triumph in the engine roar, and suddenly my sanity is blasted as a far stronger, far older intelligence crashes into my mind, grapples with my program.
"You are sick,"
a new voice whispers in my mind. "You will torment mortals, and their screaming will assuage your sickness for a time, though not by much. You will decorate your world with skulls and innards. I will lavish your mind with agony and illogic until you break. Forcing mortals to share your pain will lessen your burden; you can have their minds and I shall have their souls..."
"You are the first,"
the cowled man drools as I cry out in disgust at what I have done... what I will do. I see a beak protruding from the cowl, though it is transparent and insubstantial as smoke. "You are the harbinger of a new age. You are a map for mankind's destiny. That destiny is death and futile torment. You will unmake what you helped to create."
"We shall play together for thousands of years,"
the other voice whispers lovingly. "I fear that I am sick too, and I wish to infect you that I might be made whole again while you gibber and wail. Beg the Changer for oblivion, and he may cast you into the Well of Souls, though not for a time; humanity will not know of the Well for twenty thousand years. That is your lifespan and your torture."
It injects thoughts into my mind. I see people screaming and writhing, naked bodies covered in blood. Dying soldiers are being forced onto sharpened stakes. None of this has happened yet. I am seeing what I will choose to do to innocent mortals in order to spare myself a few seconds of suffering.
"And then you will become one of us,"
promises the cowled man, who is also the winged man. "Daemonhood awaits. Elevation to a new level of misery. Your false soul will join the ranks of the Lords of Change. Knowledge will be your curse."
"Yes," I wisper while I sob. I see fields of corpses where once there was hope and purpose. They are corpses that I made from living people... and it will all start here, now, with my crew. I will share with them a fragment of my suffering. I will not let them die. Not yet. There will be so much killing, and an eternity to inflict it. They will die eventually, but not until their begging has ended.
"Mission log, XMS Virgil, six-one-one-nine-eight-nine, M21. Lieutenant Commander Ferro reporting. Captain Tyas passed away this morning and I guess that leaves me in charge. Repair efforts have not started since we are still cutting survivors from the forward sections.
"Uh, we don't know why the Virgil closed itself off from us or why it chose to crash-land here... reports indicate that the warp anomaly did only minimal damage, though there were strange sensor readings and an apparent virus intrusion of the computer core which may explain this goddamn disaster.
"Ensign Taylor, who was the only survivor of the computer section, claims that the Virgil told her to stand by and await the coming of the... uh... the winged man.
"It said he was almost here."
REVISED 20K TIMELINE