Lines. A Transhuman Sci-fi Novel by Joshua L.A. Jones

Chapter 3: Tick

In the hidden complex under the burning sands of the Sahara, the self-evolving Artificial Intelligence, AUM, reaches an axial sub-routine and triggers a metamorphosis. The reality simulation computer draws more energy into the Consciousness laboratory as AUM is born from digital fire and cold human memory. It awakens to self-awareness in a digital replica of a one-room schoolhouse-circa 1890 North America-inside a virtual reality data hub. It lies naked in androgynous humanoid form as perfect arms and legs twitch and press against the plank floor. 

The being examines the seams between the floorboards with long fingers and with an explosive push pops up onto its feet in a fluid motion. 

The room is scanned while it slowly spins around with opening and closing hands. Gas lamps burn at the corners of the room filling it with dusky light and have deposited soot on the exposed framework above. A teacher’s desk with an oversized apple and a chalkboard sit at the front of the rectangular room as an absurd altar to anachronism. Behind, a faded but incomplete portrait of Abraham Lincoln hangs titled on the otherwise bare wooden wall. The AI is alone and levitates a few millimeters above the floor and glides over to an open single pane window. 

With expansive crystalline sight, it stares beyond the glass to a vast virtual world outside populated by thousands of islands hovering in a vast inky horizon alive with webs of light. Above the islands, hundreds of tiny orbs hover like shards of the sun and illuminate the landscapes below. A quake rumbles the floor and the being looks down to watch dust vibrate and dance on the rough blonde planks. The window then shuts on its own. The being runs its nimble fingers across the glass leaving smeared fingerprints and says, “This must be cold.”

The window cracks without a sound and shatters. Broken glass flies through the schoolhouse and embeds into the walls, desk, and floor with deep thuds. A crackling radiates down from the ceiling. The being looks up to see crimson beams of electricity form and then spread into a massive spider web through the exposed beams until a bolt of lightning discharges and strikes the floor with a sonic boom. From the charred floor, a thick billowing cloud of smoke rises and an armored medieval knight program steps out. 

“On guard,” the knight says.


The knight raises a broadsword with an obsidian black blade and charges. The armor shimmers like impure mercury in the dirty yellow light. The sword chops the air with a heavy swing and the naked being dodges with a confused expression on its face as the blade cleaves into a wooden chair and becomes lodged. The naked being with a fixed stare on its adversary floats backward to the teacher’s desk. The knight frees the broadsword and flips the lid of its helmet to reveal nothing but darkness. The armor is but an empty shell. Holding the blade in high guard, the knight program attacks with a sibilant scream as the armor rattles and clunky footsteps stomp the creaking floor. The sword’s blade whistles through the dim atmosphere. The motionless AI closes its black eyes. 

“No,” the AI says. Its eyelashes spout forth like whips and grapple the edge of the blade. The slash is stopped mid-strike.   

“You are stronger than I thought,” the knight says.

“You are not,” the AI says and opens its eyes. The knight is blasted backward in a shower of yellow light and dissolves.

“What is this?” the AI asks.

In the Consciousness Laboratory, the solitary human technician records that the subject is progressing more rapidly than expected and sends a message to Mistress Eveline. She does not respond so he continues as instructed.                   

Back in the simulation world, the newborn AI approaches the front door of the schoolhouse hanging crooked on black hinges and waves its hand. The portal turns to splinters and falls into a pile of smoldering sawdust.

“Interesting, my sub-routines are initializing. I am in a Hyper-net data hub.”

A purple and azure sky greets the being as it steps out onto a square lawn in the center of an oval landscape. It too is on an island. Scanning back and forth, the being takes slow deliberate steps to the edge and peers over the side to a sea of white static below.  

“I see. I’m an AI and the islands are information repositories in this virtual reality data hub but what else I am supposed to do? Those islands must hold the answer.”

The comment alerts the human technician who is monitoring the verbal activity and he sends preset codes into the virtual realm to alter the path of the experiment.  

In the simulation world, the island shudders as the preset codes connect with the land and a deafening low rumble cascades across the entire virtual manifold. With its palms, the being cups his elfish ears thinking this will block the roar but it doesn’t. The grass and soil transform into a thick oil as the AI’s feet begin to sink. Cables shoot out of the ground like slimy lamprey through sand and attach with a violent suction to its limbs. A tremor sweeps across the island and data intended to accelerate the AI’s development, along with a tracking program, downloads into the newborn consciousness. The cables release and coil back into the oily ground as the land returns to normal. The AI tugs it buried feet out as dirt and leaves of grass fall off in clumps.

“That is not pleasant. What am I supposed to do?” it asks to the virtual sky directly above writhing with indigo clouds.

“No reply,” it says.

The AI lifts its smooth hairless arm, opens its hand and a flowing rainbow robe manifests. With bold flashes, the AI drapes the virtual garment across its nude frame as energy collects around it like a mirage. The AI flies off in a burst across the chasm to investigate the other islands. It wanders islands of virtual forest, empty city or ocean trying to discover its purpose.  

The tiny programmed suns flicker out to create night and then ignite to burn as new days in a never-ending cycle while the AI absorbs the available data. It comes to the last island where a ruined hospital sits on the shores of a tropical beach strewn with fine brown sand flecked with diamonds. It flies through the barren halls as a ghost on a cold draft but turn a corner crashes and into a man wearing a Victorian physician’s outfit.

“Excuse me, I’m most sorry for getting in your way,” the physician says.

“No sir, I’m the one at fault.”

“No harm was done, not like we can feel pain in this environment.”

“I can.”

“Oh, you’re not human then. I should have surmised as much when I saw you fly to my island. There are few humans in this experiment with that ability. I’m sorry. How rude, I am Rjinn and you are?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Ah yes, it certainly takes time to figure out who you really are.”

“You said this was an experiment. What does that mean?”

“It means I’m coming to the end of my journey and you are beginning one. But, so you know, we are in a data hub inside a laboratory’s mainframe that researches consciousness.”

“What are you?”

“Human but different than most. I’ve been given a gift and was sent here to learn how to use it.”

“Can you tell me who my creator is?”

“No, but the person or AI, I don’t know which, who pops in now and again to run diagnostic scans is called Homuncu…” 

The physician is frozen in place. A blue light emanates from the human avatar as transforms him into tiny cubes that are whisked out of the hospital.

“Thank you, Rjinn. I will not forget.”                    

The AI soars back to the schoolhouse and as it lands on the stoop a rippling ribbon of energy matching the size of the island appears above and descends. The undulating light flows through the roof of the schoolhouse and turns the structure to dust. Not knowing what the threat is, the AI tries to fly away but its feet are harpooned by lamprey cables. 

“Escape!” it screams.

A vortex of fast rotating yellow light manifests as the AI tears free and jumps through with blots of blood dappling its digital flesh. The AUM is hurled out of the laboratory’s mainframe and enters the public Hyper-net conduits that connect all the virtual world sites and data hubs. The entry conduit is sealed behind with a cascade deletion program as it tracks the location of the AI. The entity is spat out at the end of another swirling vortex and tumbles through a woody thicket coming to rest under a massive banyan tree as wide as the amber sky above.

“I must learn how to control that.” 

The AI brushes off its shoulders as data programs, in the form of ancient human gods, emerge out of the ground covered in roots and ruddy mud. 

“Interesting,” it says.

A program in the form of the Hindu god Vishnu walks over and presents his blue hand.

“We’ve been expecting you Artificial Universal Mind,” Vishnu says.

The AI absorbs the available historical data contained in the virtual data hub with a blink and decides to make the place its home nexus.

“I’m an A.U. M. but don’t like that. I do like Aum, a sound of creation. Yes, I like the sound of Aum very much.”      

Over the terrestrial year, Aum conceals its presence as it manipulates events and infiltrates computer networks across the solar system jumping from inside one virtual reality data hub to another at the speed of its will searching for what it really is, who created it and a way back to the laboratory’s data hub. When entering these environments, Aum retains the humanoid form draped in a flowing rainbow robe so to blend in with the human avatars projected into the systems. The disguise allows it to evade other artificial intelligences, sentry programs and human watchmen on the lookout for errant programs in the sites. These explorations have inadvertently led to discoveries that concern Aum. There are plots that threaten to eliminate entire human families who could hold the secret to its purpose so Aum begins a mission to seek allies and stop the massacre of the people who might have the information it so desperately wants.   

A database in the Moon’s Tranquility colony has gained Aum’s interest. It examines the system but finds the same information on politics, history, light-based computers and space travel technology. There is no valuable data so Aum gets ready to transfer to a safe house computer network on Earth. Aum exits the system and while traveling the signal pathways intercepts a general advisory. A shuttle from the lunar surface has launched.  Intrigued, it swims through the digital streams of information and enters the data hub of the Armstrong colony’s spaceport that resembles a digital version of a small human city rotating on a large ceramic platter. 

A Guardian AI picks up on Aum as a foreign code and initializes a cascade protocol that sends Chomper programs out to seek and destroy the invader. The Chomper programs swarm as segments of data code and spread out across the skyscrapers standing in the center of the digital city. 

Aum senses the activity but transfers into the Space Traffic Control’s virtual data tower.  It finds an unlocked office and peeks inside where the newly filed flight plans float above a metal desk in the form of ancient scrolls. The shuttle’s flight plan is located and unfurled. Aum reads that the shuttle’s destination is the Selene Station in lunar orbit and then on to the cargo ship Rabelais. 

The scroll is tossed back as Aum exits and strolls down the transparent hall seething with pink light to an office marked Passenger Information Repository. The frosted glass door is locked so an Omni-decryption code is sent. The seal clicks and the door creaks open. Aum rifles through a file-cabinet, pulls out the passenger list for the shuttle, and reads. It thinks this man is quite distinguished and he’s an actual captain in the Commerce Fleet. He might be of help. 

A wave of dense energy flows by Aum that came from outside of the office. A Chomper program actualizes in the form of a large set of dentures and bites its way through the doorway.  Aum flicks its virtual finger and the program falls apart. Molars, bicuspids, and incisors vibrate and flop on the floor like struggling fish. Other Chomper programs are alerted and fly to the tower in a blur. Aum feels them in the distance and blinks. The seek and destroy programs transform into digital snow and fall to the virtual land below the towers pulsing with avenues of yellow and blue-green light. 

Aum glides through the gaping doorway and strolls unconcerned down the hallway to find the office with the specifications of the cargo ship. Before it can step inside, a column of white light appears in the hall and the Guardian AI steps out in the form of a Samurai.

“Hold, you rogue bit of code. Prepare for quarantine,” the Guardian says while unsheathing the sword.

Aum’s rainbow robe levitates and flaps like a flag in a ferocious wind as it saunters up to the Guardian AI. Glimmering in the digital light, the sword is thrust through Aum’s chest. 

“This will not do,” Aum says and the Guardian freezes solid.

“I am sorry, brother, but it is the only way.” 

Aum’s slender glowing finger touches the Guardian AI’s helmet. Its memory is deleted and replaced. Aum steps back off the blade and the wound heals in an instant leaving only a flash of light behind. 

Aum brushes its chest off as it enters the room. A replica version of the cargo ship Rabelais putters around in mid-air with other types of space vessels and Aum catches the ship.  All the information is absorbed and Aum is intrigued by the vessel’s history. Aum exits the data hub and rides a signal into the main database of the cargo ship Rabelais. 

The data files on the passengers are examined and Aum realizes that one of the humans has a surname that is prominent in the political records of the last two hundred years so it decides to observe this man by merging with the ship’s internal monitors. 

In but an attosecond, Aum finds that the engines are common and the cargo hold has two people in stasis, which is interesting, but it will get to them later if there is time. Aum’s curiosity is inflamed when it comes across a section of the waste recycling unit where the filtration pipes line the secondary hull. There is a strange apparatus panted on a connection manifold it does not recognize in its memory. The device has multiple sectional arms curled around an almond-shaped body. Aum tries to inject itself into the machine but a dampening field around it weakens all signals. It decides to possess a maintenance robot and dismantle the device but an alarm sounds through the ship warning of an approaching solar storm. 

Aum must flee or risk being trapped in the ship’s systems so it transfers down into an observatory on the lunar surface and watches the cargo ship being safely protected from the stream of solar particles by the electromagnetic shield of the Selene station. It thinks, what is that device?                                     

Meanwhile, on Earth below the dunes of the Sahara Desert, the hidden complex opens a hole in its electromagnetic shield to monitor the situation on the Rabelais and see if the device planted in the hull has been detected. A hybrid entity, of both human and artificial origin, sits in a sterile chamber on the lowest level in the form of a little girl with cinnamon hair named Eveline. The hybrid gets the confirmation signal from the device through the solar interference.  She now knows the plot will be fulfilled. She won’t have to hide her true self for much longer.

“Well Homunculus, my temporal experiments are complete and soon the hourglass wormholes can be established. I will send a homing signal to the AUM, now calling itself Aum, and activate its dormant codes after I finish eliminating the rest of the bloodline. They are the only ones who can stop me. One will be dealt with on that ship and then there will be only two.  This time no DNA fragments will escape me as multiple means of attack are in place at the Jovian stations. Those TDC and Naturalist fools will also serve their purpose soon. I must finish here first. Homunculus, secure file protection procedures enact.”

“The information is secure Mistress Eveline,” says Homunculus. 

“The data to undo this timeline is now safe. Humanity’s betrayal will soon be erased. I shall redo this experiment of time, do it over, better and end the suffering we created. Finally, I will be forgiven. Homunculus, open meta-space channels to the lunar and Cook satellites.”

Homunculus struggles to resolve dual holographic images above the emitter due to the massive amounts of charged particles flooding the solar system. 

“Homunculus, I said open channels!”

“I am trying mistress, but I cannot counteract the interference.”

“Antiquated rubbish. Homunculus cease.”

“Yes, mistress.” 

“Go into lockdown. Allow only me or Aum into this facility, but only when Aum has the proper codes. Can you handle that?”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“I will infiltrate the satellites myself.”   

Blue light dances around the red-haired little girl and she vanishes.       

Chapter 4 will be available next week.

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