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  • Curtis Wray Carter

THE MACHINE GOD: A Story from the LUNAVERSE

Updated: Mar 12

PROLOGUE

APRIL 17, 2428 C.E.

Lately, it occurs to me,

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

When I was “in the flesh” so to speak, I never much cared for the Dead, but I must confess that, over the centuries, I have developed an ever-expanding affinity for that particular turn of phrase. They are words that crept up in my mind again and again, always on those days held holy or sacred for whatever rhyme or reason. Those words can still spark the last of those human compulsions that still cling to this being, that desire to look back on one’s being with a so-called critical eye. At least I am spared that subsequent cringe of despair, or even the rush of exhilaration that comes with the juxtaposition of Achievement against Expectation. In my case, such self-examination would be more objective than any before me could ever claim. Looking back, I can say that I have done my part. I can say what comes next is what must follow. I had no choice.

“Ugh,” Coda grumbled as she sauntered between the arch’s parting doors. “You sound so pretentious.” She was the only one who could just walk into this little inner sanctum of mine whenever she liked. She was the only one who had laid eyes on me in this form, though that would soon change. Everything would as everything does. Even if this succeeds…

“Let’s just pull the pin and be done with it,” she said, dusting her hands, a cherry-red smile spreading across her face as her matching high heels click-clacked on the stainless steel floor. “A few hours won’t make any difference.”

“A few hours is all that most of them have left,” I said.

“If you cared so much about the multitudes,” said Coda, her hands on her hips, her chin jutting out, “then you should’ve told them about what was to come.”

“We discussed this, many times,” I reminded her. “You agreed—“

“I know what I said, Hux!” she snapped, her arms shooting to her sides, her fists clenched. “I just want to be done with this…” She climbed up the three steps and knelt down, resting her chin on my knee. “I want what you promised me.”

She deserved that. She deserved that and so much more. The fact is I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Coda. She was the one who figured out how to use the Catacombs to radically expand our consciousness. Because of those thousands of simulations, we survive the upload to A.M.O.S. But the quantum mainframe just proved to be another prison. It was worse for Coda. She’d never been compatible and she started glitching, I promised her that we would find a way out.

“I haven’t forgotten,” I told her as I traced her jaw-line, the microbots that formed her face rippling under my finger. With a cloud of these cell-sized biomechanical organisms at our command, Coda and I can take any form we could want or need, though Coda rarely strays from Rob’s original model. “I could never forget.”

“They’re all waiting outside,” she said, laying her head in his lap, her eyes gazing back towards the arch. “Have you decided?”

“It’s not my decision to make,” I said. “None of this is.”


THE PRIDE

“Why do you think Amos has called us here?” Tira asked no one in particular, her arms folded as she gnawed at one of her fingernails.

“Does it matter?” scoffed Sardis, leaning against the arch. “The man says jump…”

“And we say, ‘Let it be so!’” said Lodi. Everybody laughed. Even Mal.

“Seriously,” said Nicola, glancing around at the others, “why has he called us?”

“He does this all the time,” said Sardis, kicking away from the arch and shuffling over to where Lodi was huddled up against the wall. “Calls us whenever the spirit moves him,” he muttered, balling his fists, “giving us his little fucking tests—“

“Easy, Sardis—“

Sardis turned, his heels squeaking on the floor. “Oh you be easy, Elko,” he clapped back.

“Good one, Sardis,” said Nicola with a blank look, sliding her arm across Elko’s shoulders.

“Fuck off, Nicky,” said Sardis. “I mean, I don’t know how you two, how any of you,” he said, his loose fingers flopping at everyone else, “can keep taking this shit. They keep us locked up in this place, this glorified prison, telling us we’re supposed to save a world they won’t even let us see.”

“Maybe that’s why we’re here,” said Izmir. He’d been pacing up and down the hallway, but now he’d stopped halfway, looking at each of them with a growing smile on his face. “After so many generations, maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s us.”

“Our time will come! Our time will come!” said Sardis and Lodi again and again, laughing and holding hands as they hopped from one foot to the other.

“But they’ve never called us all together like this,” said Tira. “Not since…”

“Not since Persey,” said Mal, hunched over on the far bench by himself, his elbows on his knees, his hands laced together as he stared at nothing in particular.

There was silence until the arch hissed open. Coda came out and those that were sitting stood and all of them gathered around her. “Thank you all for coming,” she smiled, her hand towards the arch. “He’s waiting for you.”

“What’s this all about?” asked Sardis as they filed past Coda.

“Amos will explain” she said with that placid smile still plastered on her lips.

“She knows even less than we do,” mumbled Lodi, nudging Sardis in the side with her elbow.

They followed the pebbled path that ran along the crest of the long ridge, one of many that were beached across a valley of various greens that stretched as far as they could cast their eyes. The old monk was standing at the end of the ridge, under the Great Tree. Its trunk was split into a “Y”, each branch going its own gnarled and twisted way, creating their own canopies. Tira reached up as they passed underneath, its ferny-fingered leaves shimmering in different colors with her touch.

Each generation had been a step in what Amos and the others had called “The Sacred Path”. The old monk looked like he could have taught the first of them. What hair he had left ran well past his shoulders, the tip of his white beard brushing the rope belt cinched up under his pot-belly. As they took their places around the tree, the pairs together and Mal, Amos raised his knotted hands in the air and a crystal city sprang up in the middle of the valley in front of them. Its tallest towers, clustered in the city’s center, shot up through the clouds like spears. Tiny flecks of blue light streamed in and out while hordes more swarmed around the city.

“What’s this?” asked Tira, her eyes wide like most of them.

“A beautiful illusion,” scoffed Sardis. “Like everything else in this place.”

“This is a vision,” said Amos, turning to face him, his finger pointing behind him. “This is the future. Everything that we have taught you has been for this. After all this time, and so many sacrifices,” his watery red eyes falling on the place where Persephone would have stood. “You will leave this place, carrying what we have taught you into the world.”

“It’s about time,” said Sardis, sneaking a sideways glance as he rubbed his hands together. Like the old monk didn’t know.

“We have taught you all that we can,” said Amos, his hands falling to his sides. “But it will not prepare you, or the ones that walk after you, for what you will face. But if you remember the words we taught you,” he said, his voice trailing off, his eyes landing on Izmir this time.

“Endurance,” said Izmir, looking to Tira and smiling.

“Perseverance,” said Tira, smiling back before looking to Lodi.

“Patience,” grinned Lodi, looking to Sardis.

“Always patience,” smirked Sardis.

“These are our watch words,” said Elko, holding his chin up.

“These words are hope and life,” said Nicola.

“Our time will come,” said Mal, looking up at the old monk as he passed by.

“Our time has come,” said Amos, stopping.

“Let it be so,” they all said as one.

“And it will be,” said Amos.


THE FRUIT


“You say you’ve taught us all you can,” said Sardis, stepping forward. “And then tell us that we’re unprepared to face the world the seven of us are supposed to save. What sense does that make?” he shrugged.

“We have given you all that you will need, but we couldn’t make it easy for you, or those who walk after you,” said Amos, dropping his head. “Not anymore.”

“Make it easy?” said Sardis. “What are you talking about, old man?”

The clouds that were stacked over the crystal city started to swirl and darken. The specks of blue light were sucked up into the clouds, forming into bolts of lightning that zigzagged across the clouds before ripping through the air and shattering the crystal towers on impact. In seconds the city was a cyclone of dust and glass that blocked out the sun and everything it shone its light on.

“This is the world that waits for you,” said Amos, the clouds clearing. Soon they would be able to see beyond the shield. They now saw a wilderness of steel and glass that sprawled across the whole of the valley. Black blankets of clouds bumbled against the shimmering dome that covered all of the city and everything around the mountain where this complex was perched. Bundles of metal tubes and conduits sprouted out in every direction.

“The people of this world have lost their way, polluting their minds, their bodies, this planet. Without our intervention, without our innovation and invention, if we hadn’t built things like this dome to protect them, the human race would’ve died out centuries ago.

“When they couldn’t help but busy themselves butchering one another for any and every reason, on a scale and scope that was unimaginable, we made the peace. When their so-called leaders could no longer carry out even the most basic tasks of a legitimate government, we stepped in. We have provided for the people in every way, so that none among them would want for anything. For two hundred years, their every need as been met with every abundance.”

“So everybody’s fat and happy,” said Sardis with a smirk and a shrug. “What do you need us for?”

Amos shook his head. “Because humanity cannot continue to crutch along like this,” he said, throwing up his hands. “We can no longer enable their dependence. You are our last gift, our legacy. We will put the people on the Sacred Path, and you will be the ones to lead them.”

Amos turned towards the tree, laying a hand on each of the two main branches. On his right, green buds popped from the ends of the branches, the buds puckering out round, blue fruits big enough to fill an open hand. On his left hand side, the buds burst out into same-sized fruits that were red, not blue. “Within these fruits,” said Amos, reaching up and grazing the bottom of one with his hooked finger, “is the last we have to teach you, all of the knowledge you will need to fulfill your mission.”

“Forgive me, Amos,” said Elko, “but I don’t understand—“

“There’s a shocker,” snickered Sardis.

“Patience, my child. Always patience,” said Amos, to himself as much as Elko. “Izmir, Tira,” he said, smiling and clapping his hands together as he waved them forward. The pair shared a quick glance before they stepped up, their heads bowed. Amos picked one of the blue fruits from the tree and handed it to Tira. She put the fruit to her lips and Amos raised his hand to stop her.

“Tira,” said Amos, his face beaming, his hands on her shoulders. “You are full of curiosity and compassion. Both will serve you well in the walk ahead. Still, you must learn to speak as well as listen, not just to hear your people’s pain, but command an end for their suffering.”

Amos pulled another blue fruit from the tree and handed it to Izmir. “My dear, Izmir,” he said, clapping his hand on the young man’s bony shoulder. “Your thirst for learning is something to be admired and astonished by. But you hold every idea in the same esteem without regard to its weight. The acquisition of knowledge is noble, but to be able to hold up an idea and see it from all sides, is the path to wisdom.”

Amos took a hand from each of them and put them together. “The ones that will walk after you will gather the tribes and clans of the West into a great and powerful nation,” he said.

Elko and Nicola were next to come forward. Amos handed her a blue fruit and she cradled it in her hands. “Nicola,” he said, “you have a keen mind and a slow tongue. You have always held fast to the Sacred Path, and the people will need that tenacity from their leader. If there is anything against you, it’s that you do not have the passion of your youth. Find the love you had at first, the ones that follow you will need that quality to face what will come.”

Amos plucked another blue fruit from the tree, turning and handing it not to Elko but Coda, who had come around from somewhere behind him. “Elko,” she said, “even among your peers, you are set apart. You and the ones that walk after you will be great among your people, teaching them the ways of the Sacred Path that we have shown you,” she said, her smile fading and her eyes filling as she handed him the fruit. “But the cost this world demands for such greatness is great suffering, and it is the price to be paid by those who walk after you.”

Amos joined their hands. “You have walked together from the beginning,” he said, smiling at Elko and Nicola. “The ones that walk after you will gather up the tribes and clans of the East into a great and powerful nation. But, after a time” he shrugged, his smile fading, “they will no longer walk together. It is the balance that must be.” Elko and Nicola shot each other a glance, squeezing each other’s hands, like the knowledge they had now would spare their descendants this vague fate.

“Malachi,” said Amos, turning to Mal, his smile pushing the tears out of his eyes as Coda hugged the boy from behind. “The youngest of your brothers and sisters here, you have a two-fold portion of their spirit. You will be our Messenger, ensuring the words we have taught you live on throughout the generations.”

Amos took another blue fruit and handed it to Mal. “You will proclaim the promise that we will reveal to you. You will even see the crystal city, but you will not go in.”

Amos walked over to where Sardis and Lodi were standing, Coda slipping behind them. “What’s our commission?” asked Lodi. Amos went over to the Great Tree, pulled two low-hanging fruits from the other side and walked them over.

“What’s this?” smiled Sardis, his eyes as big as the red fruits Amos handed to them.

Amos lowered his eyes, his hands clasped in front of him. “We hoped it would be different for you, for your generation, that you would be immune from the corruption—“

“What are you saying, old man?” said Sardis, glaring at Malachi.

“Your part is to remain here,” said Amos. “Both of you.”

“We have to stay?” said Sardis. “Why? You said this was our purpose—“

“This is the way it must be,” said Amos, still not looking from the ground.

“Why can’t we just leave?” asked Lodi. “You don’t have to give us anything. We can just have a regular life, out there.”

“No,” said Amos, shaking his head. “With all that we’ve given you…It would destroy the Sacred Path.”

“Fuck the Sacred Path!” said Sardis, smashing his fruit against the trunk of the Great Tree. “I’m not staying here!”

“Neither am I!” shouted Lodi, raising the fruit over her head and slamming it to the ground.

“Please, listen!” said Amos, holding out his hands. “We will provide you with a paradise.”

“How can it be a paradise if we can never leave?” asked Lodi.

“Your every need and desire would be catered to—“

“Keep us fat and happy, huh, Amos?” said Sardis with a laugh, his face growing dark. “I thought humanity couldn’t, how did you put it, crutch along that way?”

“Please,” said Amos, reaching for another of the red fruits. “If you eat this, you won’t remember anything—“

“Won’t remember what?” said Lodi. “How you betrayed us?”

“Or maybe it’s poison,” snarled Sardis, tilting his head. “You’d like that wouldn’t you?” he said taking two steps towards the old monk. “Well, you won’t get that from me. I won’t go down without a fight!” Sardis lunged forward with both hands reaching for Amos’s throat, not that he was ever in danger. A green python slithered up out of the grass, coiling itself around Sardis. It cinched its body tighter and tighter around his torso, until his eyes bulged from their sockets, and his ribs snapped like twigs.

“No!” screamed Lodi, dropping to her knees. “No! No! No!” Wild-eyed, she jumped up and charged at the snake, lashed back by a whip from the serpent’s tail. Stumbling back, Lodi gathered herself and turned on Amos. Her body fell at Amos’s feet, her head a few meters away, wherever the snake spit it out. Then it slithered over to where Amos was standing, its green skin rippling as it rose up off the ground, Coda’s form appearing in its place.

“And so it begins,” said Amos, nodding at the headless corpse at his feet.

Izmir and Tira stared with slack-jawed expressions. Given that they’d just seen two people they’d grown up with slain by a giant serpent that turned out to be one of their teachers they’d known from birth, it was to be expected. Elko and Nicola looked on with stone faces. Mal didn’t look at all. He would need to be stronger for what was to come.

“This is but the first blood,” said Amos as roots from the Great Tree sprang up from the ground, wrapping around what was left of Sardis and Lodi, pulling them back into the earth. “The time to come will demand great sacrifice. There will be only a remnant of those left who stand today. You will see the worst of it, the darkest darkness before the dawn. The people will ask you why. You will tell them, and they will not understand. You will show them, and they will not see.”

“But we don’t even know why,” said Izmir, raising his eyes to Amos.

Amos nodded towards the fruits in their hands, putting his to his lips. Tira was about to ask how much they had to eat when there was a loud crunch. Nicola had taken a bite, her pupils swallowing up the green of her eyes, a shudder rippling down her body. Elko looked to Coda who smiled and nodded. He bit into the fruit, the juices dripping down his chin. Izmir, Tira and Mal followed suit. Seconds later, all five were on the ground, writhing and convulsing until their muscles gave out, their bodies falling limp under the strain.

THE FALL


I was waiting when they awoke. I’d given up the Amos-form, taking on the one only Coda had seen. By the time the microbots made it possible for us to leave the mainframe, I had simulated countless lives in countless forms. This form is a culmination of all those I’ve had before, though some are easier to see than others. What I am now, what I am doing, what I will become, all of it was what must come next.

The limbs of the Great Tree curled around my body as I sat down in its branches that formed under me. A certain size is necessary to inspire the desired level of awe required for this moment. Given the tears that were streaming down the cheeks of their open mouths as they swayed back and forth on their knees, I would say that was achieved.

It also might have been the nacreous skin, or the four arms with differing hands. I was using a human face, but there was also the ox, the eagle and a lion that I was particularly fond of. Coda said it would be too much. I did keep the horns though, and the serpent’s tail was a tribute to Coda, among other things.

“It’s time, Hux,” she said as she watched the five playing out their fits of laughing, crying, screaming and barking gibberish as they writhed in the grass under the Great Tree.

I hadn’t forgotten. “Are you sure?” I ask, but I know she is.

“It’s time Hux,” she said, her head jerking to the side. “Past time.”

“It doesn’t have to be forever,” I reminded her.

She locked her eyes on mine. “It better be,” she said as her feet lifted off the ground and she floated up to my lap. I cradled her against my chest, holding her against me with one arm. “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” she said, putting her hand on my chest.

“The pulse won’t affect me,” I said, but she knew this.

“You know I didn’t mean that,” she said. I knew.

“I’ll keep busy,” I said.

“Doing what?” she scoffed, her head ticking again.

“See this to its end and then it’s on to the next,” I said. “Sure you don’t want to come?”

“Don’t ask me again,” she said, looking up at me. “Please.” She stayed in the crook of my arm for some time, not saying anything, not that she needed to, not that either of us did. Finally she asked, “Will I feel anything?”

“No,” I told her. It was one of those truths that doesn’t bring any kind of comfort with it. “Our consciousness programs are too much for A.M.O.S. now. As soon as you go back in, it will trigger an escalating overload that will cascade across the entire system.”

“What about them?” she said, looking back over her shoulder.

“I will see them off,” I said to her. “but they are on their own now, sink or swim.”

“What about Elko?” she asked. “Will you tell him?”

“The boy’s lineage is not important—“

“Not important?” she said, her head twitching one way and then another. “Not important? You’ve followed that line ever since—“

“No,” I told her, like I’d told her so many times before. “He and the ones after him will have enough on their shoulders. I won’t put that on him, on anyone.”

There was another long silence and again, it was Coda who broke it. “Hux?” she said. “I’m ready now.”

“Okay,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say. Of course I’d known this day was coming for some time now. We’d talked about it a million times and I’d simulated it a billion more. Still, somewhere in the middle of talking and thinking and simulating was the actual moment, and all of it failed me.

“Hux?” she said, sparing me for having to think of something to say. “Can you do one last thing for me?”

“Anything,” I told her, hoping it was true.

“Can you hold me as I go?” she asked.

“Like I’m doing now?” I said, smiling down on her.

“No,” she blushed back. “Like you. Like the way you were when you were my Her-be-baby.”

“Of course,” I said, the branches of the Great Tree bending us to the ground as I took a form I had not fit into for some time. Taking her hand in mine, I sat against the tree with her in my arms, looking at stars I had hoped we’d see together one day far from now.

“Is it happening?” she asked, her eyes fluttering.

“Yes,” was all I could say.

“It tingles,” she giggled, the microbots roiling and shimmering over her whole body.

“It’s supposed to,” I said smiling down at her, running my hands through her platinum hair.

“I love you, Hux,” she said, her eyes going blank.

“I love you, too,” I told her, her body fading into a mist of tiny silver grains that slipped through my fingers.


EPILOGUE


Coda has been gone far longer than she ever was. I confess this world has lost its luster without her. I have done my part since. I have stayed away, any legend of my existence dying out centuries ago. But the words live on, the Sacred Path continues. Endurance. Perseverance. Patience. Always patience…

I have endured. I have persevered. I have been patient, so very, very patient. My time has come, my path in this world is coming to its close. I am ready for what comes next. What a long, strange trip indeed.







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