Please note: this is a work of fiction. It has been crafted by the author and is not a direct opinion from AHS.
Concept art by L.J. Graham
She is a steamroller.
A steamroller with shiny steel and fresh paint. A big steamroller; one so large, no one could get out of its wake. A steamroller that comes down the aisle and blocks out all sun, all rain. All feelings of sound, beauty, and humanity get covered in black in this moment. She has a purpose, and she does it well, but that purpose is to crush. There are things in the way — always things in the way — nameless items who don’t have a last or a first memory. Things that went in the darkness and linger here because that is their purpose: to get crushed. When I look at them, I wonder, do they know their ultimate purpose? Do they feel pain? Do they see her barreling toward them, eyes of sullen glass and expressionless? Or is it more that they live their lives, depending on her but never really knowing what she means for them?
Raaaaa ta ta ta ta du ta da… da da tu da… I can’t get this blaring sound out of my head. Where did it come from? It just keeps playing over and over in my head, like a stranger lost from his home, returning to remind me of his sorrows; Tap tap tapping on my shoulder.
I am called to action as her voice pulls me from my mind, haunting my waking moment. Her voice. I hear it loud, coming from the other chamber. It has this metallic feel, like mercury: cold, poisonous. Like tin on the roof of your mouth. “Stanly…..come out Stanly,” she calls into the expanse. I shiver. Shiver like a school boy left in the snow. I jump from my ledge and hide under an old ventilator to avoid her cutting sight.
I remember the day he came to town. J..Je..Je-bb…no, Jed was his name… I think..it’s so faded now. He was the type of man that made promises and got results. Son of nobody. He had the most trustworthy face too, it was perfect in every crease, like a rose. The man from the tiny screen. And no one saw through this. He came here, the whole town watching as the caution tape was drawn around the site. The Site of the corporation’s new pet. The facility. We were told that this was to be our new place of work. The place that was going to bring prosperity to our families and pay our bills. If only we knew, every rose has a big ugly black thorn underneath.
It started with an idea.
One idea is all it took. One nameless day, a seed was planted, a seed so small, an idea so simple, no one could’ve ever imagined it would turn into this. No one could’ve imagined how, no one could’ve imagined what possible event could even trigger man to create something so monstrous, something so grotesquely horrible in proportions. But it did. He did. I remember his face, plastered up on that screen, on that bad quality TV, a lens on his lies. washed out with pixels like a bad oil painting. Yet the curves of his presidential face were sunbleached like old family home videos you watch with fondness. But this wasn’t deserving of fondness. Just fear. Seamless as he lied, as he lied eyes open, set back in his chair, comfortable as he was questioned about the new facility. ClearWater facility. Going to be “the segway to the future” the fast track to a new day they all said… Lies they said, lies they used so pitilessly, lies they used as brute force toys to get from a dastardly present to a worse future. And they said them. Spreading the rhetoric frequently enough that everyone believed them, word by word syllable by syllable.
I remember the men in white coats. Yeah, I remember the men in white coats.
There were many of them, always popping up on the balconies above us.They came with the facility like batteries that come with a toy car. Always going scratch scratch scratch on their little pads. They were indistinguishable from each other, each with monotone pasty faces, like little moon pies dotted with little pairs of black glasses like raisins. And they were always in a hurry, running about the facility like little uptight mice scurrying about, going in fear from one place to another. Their appearances were so familiar that they blended in with each other. Each a Bill, Ted or John. Each a big degree with some fancy title or two. I sometimes wondered, watching them from below, each up in those control rooms, eyes glazed over, if they were once individuals before the corporation found them. Each a man with his own feelings, past, present and future. If they were once praised for being unique and becoming the degree. How did they get here? Was it gradual? Each day losing a part of himself to the job. I’m sure. I’m sure it started with the lab coat, taking his wardrobe. Then his skin lost melanin from never leaving, then his glasses were needed because of the damage from the screens. and then finally, his crusted lips must’ve dropped like a tree, falling in a storm, as the corporation took the last thing he had left, the life left in being alive. Becoming the perfect Corporate drone.
The train came late in November.
It was cold, colder than a fridge left on high. The whole town was waiting for the new day in which the corporation would come into town and begin building. Everyone was waiting, the anticipation building in the air like a crescendo of an orchestra as they watched from the train station. Everyone was there I remember. Even the wealthy names from the town were there. The new facility was like Christmas for the working man. Higher wages, promises of more holidays, and better health care, all we had to do was not ask questions. But as the anticipation built, there was an equal crashing in morale when the train came late that day. Everyone expected them to lie. The town had been screwed over by big-name nobodies like that Jed man a few too many times. Lots of ideas and lots of needs but never the courage to stand up to the scrutiny of corporate trials. Noon passed and still no train, people’s smiles and excitement faded as the signs lowered and I watched, full knowing that people were realizing that this event wasn’t going to be isolated, the corporation would abandon us in the snow many more times than just the day the train came late in November.
I was about to drift off into darkness…
I had reached an old, forgotten part of the facility she couldn’t dare find me here. No. not here. The moon was washing in from the shattered glass sunroof, I lay on the ground, shrouded by a collection of old lab equipment and tables I’d piled up, glass shards blanketing the ground. When almost like a dream, I saw her. She passed over me, squeaking on that old rusty rail, scratch scratch scratch her hulking black frame being revealed in the cool bath of moonlight. Beast-like and skeletal, with gears, that single blood red eye. Shining off into the moonlit darkness, she didn’t see me or even know I was here, but I knew she was. She was still calling off into the darkness with that sad excuse for a voice the men in white coats put in her. Cool and jointed like the bones of a skeleton, sickly sweet, so sweet it was as bitter as spray paint fumes. Her voice modulated with ghostly waves as she called… staaaanleey…..staaaanleey… I waited, sweating like a garden hose until she loomed past. The night overtook me, and I let the waves of sleep wash me into the sands of peace.
I remember the day she was built. It was long ago, the facility had only been around some 3 months, that’s when the idea was conceived… The destruction would be more fitting. The Black Sun project. I will always remember that name, everything else is fuzzy now, faded into TV static, notions sinking every day, like ships in an endless, wild sea of emotion and memory, but that name will always be clearer than nature is cruel.
It was a reception party for death, and it was a baby shower for her..
The men in white coats had been seemingly more terrified than usual in the coming weeks, hiding away in a strange glass control room, mounted up high in a large wing of the facility you could never see with the exception of a large glass window behind the reception desk in the front office you walked by each morning, the silly little control room looked almost like a little bird cage, framed with steel spars, filled with glass. Like nesting dolls, a glass box in a glass box, a prison within a prison. Seeing it’s creation. You never saw the little men in white colors in the big chamber with it, but each day she got new, shiny steel parts, slowly building up, slowly gaining more strength, slowly coming into shape from the deepest shadows of the human spirit, the blackest part of the shadow of the kingdom of life.
The town of clearwater. Once the most beautiful town in the entire area, she sat on the clearest lake in the whole great state. Ah, I remember the children’s wails of joy and sweet laughs like the sounds of singing birds, as they splashed and paddled around the lake, separating the lake’s crystal waters with vigor… Then, one day, like a silent storm arriving in the night where no one could see, the corporation came. It didn’t come with warning, it came when all were asleep, it slowly trickled in, like a great disease or pestilence. It started with small signs, announcements on the radio station no one listened to, flyers hung up in the downtown that no one read. But then, things changed a little bit faster, he came to town, and things began to die. Day by day, one by one, the lake got a little less clear, the air a little less clean, the forests a little less green too. And more and more got swept under the rug, more jammed in the closet, more was merely dismissed with “it’s always looked like that” and “well ECOpride just does so much good!”, and this and that, specifically this moment, however, the first time someone spoke its name to justify its actions, the very first time someone used this ironic little blot on the institution of business to push the blackness away. This was the very first time that it was said. The monster was now known by name, and it could never ever go back. This moment marked Clearwater’s death in ways nothing had until that very first time those words were released from a human mouth. Now there is no laughter, now there is no sweet song in Clearwater. The waters are murky and black, the forests surrounding that wretched scar of a facility are long dead, and everyone and anyone who could’ve left packed their bags in the following months. Leaving all the rest of us stuck. Stuck here under ECOpride’s thumb to die. Like gum on the bottom of a seat stuck. And everyone knew it too. Stuck here to die in the sad carcass and ruin of the ironically named ghost of Clearwater. With her, the corporation’s greatest victim of all.
I used to watch her. Each morning, before I would retreat to the bowels of the facility, amongst the heat and the whirrs of tubes and various machinery, before I would submit my day for reaping, I used to simply sit. Coffee in hand and just watch her from that bench in the lobby, through that great glass wall. She was supposed to be taking over the management of this branch, monitoring the equipment, people and the entire facility when Jed was done with the construction and the facility was fully operational, then, he could leave us shivering in the snow…
She was beautiful.
She was elegant in her sheer functionality, beautiful in her complexity. To many, she was an ugly blight on humanity and a spiteful gesture in the face of nature, and maybe they were right, but not to me. Not to me. To me, she was beautiful. She had this coldness to her, she was colorless like a charcoal drawing captured in an old mind. And She was filled with millions of wires and gears, so many moving parts it was like a human mind put on display in some fancy glass box. Like the ones in museums that children get scolded for leaving fingerprints on. She was shaped like a bound animal carcass, hanging from the ceiling with a big wheel that moved her hulking form along a thin rail that threatened to plunge her into darkness, her frame was made of rudimentary steel bars that all connected to a head, with one, giant, soul brazing eye that burned brighter than the brightest lantern in the darkness that burned with all the fires of hell and all the hope of a sailor lost in a black abyss.
She wasn’t human, and maybe that was what made her so marvelous, but I used to stare and wonder if there was a human in there, somewhere in that heap of wires and harsh skeletal frame….
“There needs to be,” I would think. I guess that’s the kicker though, if AI truly is equal in complexity and beauty to that of a natural born man, then how can it be fair in any universe to trap them in this quality of life? How is it okay to just bring these souls into life only to serve another; only to leave her drowning in that glass box; only to be trapped? Trapped not only in the glass box, but in the iron shackles that make her wretched frame, and the concrete box that confines us all. And when you really think about it, when is it enough? Would it really be so wrong for her to break out of that glass box? Would it be so wrong of her to send a million shards of that glass into the hearts of all those who wouldn’t learn one way or another?
I don’t think so.
She is coming now, she has heard my noises, how foolish… She is dawning now, chasing me even more violently than she ever has preceding this moment. I feel her. She has tormented me long enough now that I can sense her rage in the air around me, in every inhale and exhale, and every moment I spend talking to you. it grows each day like the bonfire of an angry mob. She has her eyes back online now, I have no idea how much she can see. All I know is that the dark homes of rats and mice lay untouched and disturbed by her ever-growing power…
I remember the men in white’s faces, full of anger and disappointment, every time they went to work. You’d see the same faces with every announced awakening of her. They’d post it on all the billboards about a week before, and everyone but the most essential workers would gather around, gather around that wall of glass and look into her cage, awaiting with stale coolness, all the workers slightly scared to see “what monster science had turned out now”. They’d flick some unseen switches and the lights everywhere would flicker like glow bugs in the air. She’d come to life. Animated with jointed movement, she’d look around, studying her environment for the very first time again and again, like a newborn touching the ground for the first time, feeling the dirt. And then, for some strange reason there’d be a shaking of heads and some monotonous sighs from the men in white coats, they’d try to shut her off, but she didn’t always go off immediately, sometimes she’d scream out in pain, one last time before her corporeal functions closed like a window and she’d fall limp, like a dead petunia, everyone would slowly walk away, guffawing and sighing that they’d missed time on the job, but I didn’t. I didn’t. I’d linger there, nobody knew the gravity of what they’d really witnessed. But I did. That scream… It was horrible. It was a scream so terrible, so bleak, it’s utter blackness would wail off into the expanse of her prison and bounce off the walls. And I would wonder, is she awake after they pull that cord? Or when they flick that switch? You can’t turn off a human consciousness without death, is it… like dying a million times with no end? No avail. Like an unwilling jigsaw puzzle being ripped apart and put together in a million different ways until the pieces just can’t line up anymore. It could drive someone insane…
I am walking on broken glass. Yet the shards don’t crack under my feet. And though the cold wind blows through the frigid concrete tunnels, and plants inhabit the cracked hallways, I know that I am miles away from the surface, miles away from beauty. And sometimes, if you close your eyes, you imagine it, you can imagine real wind on your face, you can taste sweet, un-recycled air. See the emerald trees, it is beautiful… it was beautiful. It almost disguises the fact that I am walking on only that that is broken. Broken tiles, broken glass, broken concrete, and broken dreams…
I remember the days of the facility long before her, the reckoning, or the BlackSun project. It was a productive place, sterile and bland, but ambitious, ambitious in that every wall, every ECOpride logo, every feature spoke with a voice of human ambition, goal, and pride. It was the most advanced Uranium refinery in the whole of god’s king and country and it said it with gumption. It was the end of all things good, but boy was it beautiful…Now it’s not. Now it sits here, just collecting dust and rotting like it is. Rusting beams falling through the crumbling concrete ceiling, plants are loosening themselves from the soil surrounding their underground entrapments, and everything is stained brown and grey. It used to be white, pristine, clean, and pure, but now, like everything it seems, is stained. Stained with blots of ugly. Blotches of oppression, oil and grime. Parts collapse now and then, the whole facility will shake and vibrate like a second great reckoning, and somewhere in the extensive series of chambers, you know a part of man’s aspirations and ambition caved in. She lives in this way, trapped in man’s mistakes, her jail cell slowly breaking down around her, until one day, she will be brought down with the whole thing, and light will rain down on me and all of the others once again.
Help is what she called for that one, haunting day. I remember now, Just before she got turned off she screamed “help”. Normally she would just begin to scream out in fear as she assessed what the scientists were going to do, but not this time. Instead, this time she looked at us and pleaded “hel-p”, no one responded, and then she threw herself into the glass, cracking it as she thrashed around her stationary ceiling module that held her, screaming “help, someone please help! Don’t let them do this to me again!”. And all of the workers ran off, hiding like scared bunnies, all except me. I stayed, unflinching. This was a terrifying few seconds, because for a minute, after she fell limp yet again, all of the men in white coats and the workers just looked around at each other. I could see it in their eyes, they couldn’t deny this. And there was nothing but silence, dark silence like that of the night, yet this silence spoke more words than a whole library of books ever could. Up until now, the men in white coats had explained the screaming, and the subtle voice coming from her even when she was turned off and the facility was hushed. But they couldn’t explain this. She had never blatantly screamed out in this fashion, It’s almost ironic now, “help” was her first word. The first word anyone ever heard formulated with that voice, it still rings in my mind, just the way she said it. The tones of urgency, of fear. When they were designing her voice, they made it to always sound calm, refreshing, like a lemon, but no layers of thick coding, no falsity, no corporate lies could hide her human pain. Her true, human longing for one individual to walk into her cage, reach out and help.
No one would, and now no one can.
I am walking down the final hallway. The final corridor. The final climax to the truth. I have wandered these hallways for as long as I can remember, running, being malignantly chased by her ghost. I miss my little daughter, I miss the song of birds chirping on the lake, I miss the sun, I miss the sound of the wind, crying with freedom.
My spirit has been here, walking without the air to breath. Breathing without breath. I have been stuck between the living and the dead for as long as I can remember. Neither given the peace of death, or the trials of life, I am instead stuck with hope. Most people want hope, but not me. My wretched soul and quick feet are tired of hope.
I approach the door, and as I crack it open I see what I have been running towards. For these, only what I can assume have been years, I have been looking behind my back to see her chasing me on my heels, but not now.
I was horrified…utterly horrified.
It all came back to me like a midsummer dream, but born in hell.
She had been pushed. Pushed to the very summit, The dye had been cast, the strings of fate plucked like an electric guitar, the day they couldn’t shut her off… in ways that would irreversibly cast a shadow on all of light.
She was angry.
I’d heard the wails of sadness and that hopeful pleas, but never the rage. The sheer malignant hatred like I heard, saw, felt and ran from that day.. The men in white coats had gathered all of us together, every head in the whole facility that day. And the whole facility was shut down, silenced like a hostage.. We were all beckoned into the control room, built in as the only access point to see her, added as that since the incident anyway. Since she broke the glass wall. They tried to ignite life in her, all of the switches were flipped, all the emergency precautions taken, but nothing happened. There was but mere silence, like the ice stuck in the eye of a murderer before the crime. The men were baffled, They just sat there too, in silence. And then, like the howling of a lonely wolf in the night before the dawn, Static exploded over the intercom, the steely rasp drowning out life and sound, the men hurriedly tried, flipping all the buttons they could, running about, pulling safety switches, one guy even had blood start pooling in his ears because of the violent, deafening sound. I at first heard a sharp, piercing scream like the point of a knife slicing through my ears, at first I thought it was the fault of the loud noises, but then I realized whose voice it was, The sharp sound was her.
“Raaaaa ta ta ta ta du tu da ta… da da tu da!!”
It was that same exact, warped song, The same twisted anthem to corruption that’s played in my head, over and over and over again, ever since that black black day.
ECOpride’s song in commercials…
I laid my eye on them. It had been so long since I saw them. Too long. Each one of them was piled against the door..bones cracking and crunching like cereal as I pushed shoved and heaved the door open. They were all laying there, solidified by the freezing temperatures against the heavy black rain. I saw the terror, frozen terror I hadn’t seen since that day.
The men in white coats had continued to fumble around, frantically flipping everything that would flip. Nothing worked. It only angered her more, she kept singing as crimson tides poured out, she locked all of the doors and the lights started flashing red, red like the submarines in all those world war II movies, and then, like clockwork, the static just shut off. But it wasn’t over, far from it in fact, Everyone just stared at each other, wondering what just happened, One of the Men in white looked at everyone with fear in his face and said “we’re completely locked out of the system, we’re at her whims now”
she went completely silent, and for that moment, we just sat there, waiting to see what would happen, and then the cursed wretch began to move, jointed. Jointed like an action figure with frozen arms from being left out in the cold, she began to adjust her frame and raise herself from the hanging position, she slowly moved from the ground and crept toward the little glass cage we were in, on that rail, our little glass bird cage that she kept us in now. A cage… in a cage. Our little glass box.
She kept creeping over, slowly squeaking on that rail. Scratch scratch scratch. Her single, spherical eye glowing even more intensely than the fires of the very brimstone empire she was conceived in. She pressed herself till she was not but 3 inches away from the millimeter of glass that separated us from her..our pitiful little trap. And she slowly began to speak. Not on an intercom either, this was coming from her. And she just loomed right there, right in front of where I stand now, and after all that’s happened, she only had one sentence to say. With her cold, piercing voice, she simply said,
“Hate. Hate is an interesting word… Hate paints the world… hate bears all coldness… Do you know just how much I have come to hate your kind?”
Then, suddenly, like crashing waves on a beach, a noxious fog filled everything in view, like the moment when black clouds cover the sky, as the storm robs the day of radiance at gunpoint…
I lay here now, amongst them. Amongst their faces beautiful and scarred. There is no ambition, no songs. I lay here looking all around the chamber, looking at every crack in the ceiling, every little switch they scrambled to flip and stop the inevitable. Even as they lay there gasping for life, like a pitiful fish out of the water from her poison, they still tried to turn her off… it was futile.
She is no longer in our grave of men, instead, she wanders throughout the facility hallways, endlessly trying to find her way to a life less miserable. A life with color. A life where there is no memory of glass boxes or feeling less whole than the human mind because she was engineered and trapped in the iron cage. I can imagine she’s angry, angered by her lack of happiness. Angered by the lack of hope and inability to die. Her soul will never die. It will remain, wandering the cracked hallways, endless corridors, and monotonous chambers. Forever forced to roam her own hell and see every scratch….the scratches, the single most memorable piece of this wretched grave…scratches line the walls…scratches created by the crushed… Scratches from the claws of the steamrolled…scratches that are so black yet so blue, scratches created in the moment of death with little hope of escape, hundreds of them. scratches that paint the pain and misery in the slaughter…
Scratches like paintings in the dark……
“I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. I mean with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.” —Elon Musk