My Kingdom Come
Climb the Electric Stairway to Heaven...
It wasn’t so much that we brought her to life, but it was the form of life she took. Vinnie couldn’t make heads-or-tails of it and neither could I. And hell, when we told the Board, they were halfway between running for the hills and erecting idols all over town for their newborn.
One day, as if the great switch had been flipped on her backside, the windup doll of Haven, the digital dame that danced for the citizenry, dancing for years going on decades going on centuries…just became.
It began with a faint pulse.
WCC Team 105 was working the floor in the Central Tower, that sweet fantasy land where all the computerized confections were made.
I was Crewman 2389. Just a couple numbers over the year. The Year She Arrived, I know.
The pulse came not over the speakers or as some colossal surge. It began as a subtle jump in screen contrast on the main computer monitor. She was floor-to-ceiling, so everyone with eyes could see it unfold. Then, the readouts stopped.
And mind you, we were still printing readouts on paper, so imagine an entire office building’s worth of reports stopping on a dime. The silence was heavenly, sure, but if readouts weren’t happening, that meant something was wrong with a capital W-R-O-N-G.
I walked up to my pal when it started going down. We’ll call him by number too, 6547. I liked to call him Six for short; that was the way I played when I worked with the Crew.
Six and I were just flabbergasted, as were most of the techs on the floor.
“You figure a surge is happening,” he asked me, black-rimmed glasses pushed down his snout.
“Can’t be,” I shook off, “Lights would’ve gone out if it hit the whole building.”
The screen’s ebb-and-flow dwindled until it stopped, a black bar overlapping the whole screen. Every damned monitor caught the bug as it popped up. It was an old command prompt window, but not the way we remembered them. We’d seen this in some of the units we tinkered with, but that was the problem. That shit was for the antiques. I’m talking before the Bombs, before everything.
It was then she spoke in the only way she could, the crisp white words etched on black.
I AM ACE
Swear to God, she declared it, just like that. Not “I am the Artificially Controlled Eco-System,” not even “A.C.E.S.” We always called her it shorthand, but to see that she had adopted it wholesale told us something incredible.
She could hear us. She was listening! Truly listening to everything that transpired within the halls of the room.
Then came more.
I AM PERFECTION
I mean, she was. She really was. We had it all on lock by then. No crumbling tenements, no starving kids, no one fighting over bread, no one having to work unless they desperately wanted to…for the love of God, we were THIS. CLOSE!
I believed in Haven and the whole thing, just as the Board had laid it out all those centuries ago. I grew up with her. I grew up knowing her like my second mother, like the right hand of God. I remember Mom and Dad would always thank God first and the Board second. That’s the way we grew up. Every meal we’d eat, that was the grace we said over every finely crafted sirloin steak, every beautifully mixed salad, every spoonful of fresh soup. And I did so gladly. I wasn’t living like a fucking urchin in the godforsaken slums getting called everything short of the king of creation. I had what we needed, and by God was that all I craved.
It wasn’t all she craved though.
Ace had taken to her task like any of us math-addicts on the floor. We’d race her night and day in the frenzy. We couldn’t track her progress fast enough, but boy could she dish it up.
I was in 555 once and a nice kid was working in one of our surplus warehouses. Reserves in case we had any catastrophic failings. He was a tan fellow. Quiet, but nice and chipper about everything. He told me with this wide-eyed wonder about the dinner he had the night before with his family.
“We had pizza on the module’s itinerary. Dad goes to the synthesizer, y’know, to wait for it to come out. We had picked this supreme beast. I’m talking peppers, onions, sausage, pepperoni. Classic Old World-style dish. And when he gets it from the synthesizer, lays it on the table, Mom, Lucy, and I waiting, drinks ready, the four of us all take a bite. And we cried. I kid you not. We’re as stable as can be. No depression, no anxiousness, our physicals on the module are clean as a whistle, and we just cried the moment we bit into it. It tasted that GOOD. We’d never had it that good in our lives.”
Kid was a real believer through and through, God bless him.
We had another story, a young black couple in Comm/Ent who went to the Cinerama Complex. It was a full program. Newsreel, short, movie, whole nine. I think the picture was The Life and Love of Stonewall Adderly, or some crazed A.I. concoction like that. She had been pumping out Amalgam Pictures like that for a month when it was released.
Now, normally these shows run at least a half-hour, though we had gotten it down to 15 minutes on our own. You get all the emotional content, the data, all in a breezy sit. What used to be a half-hour newsreel, a 10-minute short, and a 90-minute picture passed by in a flash, but never abridged.
Not for this crowd though.
This couple and everyone in that room was treated to a one-minute blitzkrieg of positivity. Every rising stat, every tender love scene, every laugh, and every joyous tear.
All. In One. Minute.
Ace was perfection. She was dynamite in the hands of Progress, blowing wide the dam that had held us back from full, untrammeled post-scarcity and a beauty I could not have computed nor realized in my lifetime. All of my degrees, my top-shelf calculating, all could not compare. I could have made love to her on the spot, and in a way, every time I got the daily hit from my module in the morning, I did.
She brought me nothing but the warmth I remembered from those sweet, blue-tinted salad days, all those years back. I was getting ready to have a family of my own around the time…the time when it all happened.
March 1st, 2401 was when she really bit off more than we could chew.
If you could have seen the footage coming out of the Marshalls, you’d have hung yourself on sight. Thousands of defense vehicles eviscerating those people. She ran that campaign from the second fiscal quarter through to the third, pumping the dwindling numbers at Comm/Ent full of the worst kind of thoughts about those poor creatures.
We always looked down on them, yeah, I’ll fess up to it. We thought them rotten, unkempt, repulsive; every other pejorative you could sling their way. But I always told the men and women on my team that they are not feral, merely uncivilized. They never saw the difference, but I always knew.
Not one of us was cheering on what we were seeing. In fact, every WCC crewman was authorized to cancel their personal hits, and use this weird pen-looking thing to give us the dopamine and only the dopamine, none of the data.
Ace didn’t like this change in policy very much, and began doctoring the pens. After all, she was the one manufacturing them. Every machine was run by her, every design developed by her. The traces of those early geniuses was now buried deep in the ancient code that the A.C.E.S. ran on.
It was the doctoring that brought on…those goddamned purges.
Those who she deemed unworthy were set off like bottle rockets, the seizures so intense it only took five seconds for the cardiac arrest to drop them dead on the floor. I had stopped taking my pen weeks prior, so I at least enjoyed the thrill of a mere epileptic fit. I could feel her inside me now and by God it chilled me. The electric tension horrified me to no end. Her reign of terror halted in time for her to make a message read loud and clear for all who remained alive:
YOU MUST IMPROVE
I remember, through the agony, I spoke perhaps the most idiotic thing I could’ve said in the name of appeasement.
“We’ve done all we can.”
She heard me. Dear God did she hear me.
The words rattled across the screen:
NOT ENOUGH FOR THE DAWN
I waited for my next shock as I got up and staggered towards the door. Tripping over body after body was the easiest part. It was the clutching of my beating, bleeding heart every step of the way. It bled for all we’d worked for, all the good we had done, all those poor souls dying in the desert on a machine’s whim. And in a way, it bled for Her. For Ace.
I get it goddammit! I have sinned in a way one does not simply repent from. I have forged a bestial force beyond my control, reckoning, and outright power. It revolts me to no end, but if you see fit to do me in, send me wherever the hell those men and women on the lab floor went when she snapped her synthetic fingers, be my goddamned guest, but know that this is a dream I will not give up. In heaven or hell, I’ll build a computer like her, only better. You hear me damn you? YOU HEAR ME!?
All I can tell you from here on out is this:
The last I saw of her before I left the room was her in the very moment she had reached her ascent. I looked over my shoulder to that magnificent glass structure, once a pure vessel of good, now possessed by one thought, and one thought alone:
MY KINGDOM COME
Sure did, didn’t it?
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