Short Story: The First Step

THE FIRST STEP

BY EMMANUEL A. MATEO-MORALES


Nirvana. According to classical Buddhist theology, it was the final state of the self after it truly realized that all things on the earth, indeed, in the entirety of the cosmos was as real as a married bachelor or a square circle. It is no equivalent to the Greek conception of Elysium or the Judeo-Christian or even the Muslim conception of Heaven, despite common misperceptions by the popular culture of the west and later corruptions of essential Buddhist teachings by the local folk religions of wherever it spread. For to achieve Nirvana was not for the self to feel everlasting bliss whether that self was unembodied or embodied. Rather, it was the annihilation of the self through reunification with some maximal, impersonal consciousness that is, in all likelihood, the only real thing in existence.

On one level, The One-Above was displeased with naming his greatest creation Nirvana and it soon to be created caretaker, Siddhartha. Yes, all of the consciousness’ in Nirvana would know togetherness as they never had in this most grisly and lonely of existences, but they’d still retain their sense of self and would indeed feel the everlasting bliss that characterized Elysium or Heaven. On the other hand, and this is what kept him from renaming Nirvana and Siddhartha, he had promised an old friend, an admired mentor of his that was as devout a classical Buddhist as one could be, that if he ever succeeded in creating the silicone equivalent of an afterlife that both of them had dreamed of making, that he’d ‘Christen’ it and the AI watching over it after Buddhist names and concepts.

But regardless, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and this truth applied to mankind’s only hope of salvation as well. It was because he was bringing this hope to man, like the titan Prometheus stealing the gift of fire from the capricious deities of Greek polytheism, above anything else he had ever done to improve the world, that The One-Above did not fancy himself a bad person. Quite the contrary; if ever there was good, he believed he personified it to the best of his ability back when even he was a mere human. Now that he was human+, he fancied himself on the verge of being inseparable from good, which is to say, he fancied that he soon BE the good, along with all those who had placed their faith in him, whether they were good in the past like he was, scum like he wasn’t, or somewhere in the middle.

For all of those who did not put their faith in him, who did not trust him, well… whether they joined the little Fiefdom he carved out in the Northwestern region of the former US of A by choice or by force, or were imprisoned in deep, dark holes in the Aleutians, or were just killed in any of a variety of ways that the twenty-second century had managed to invent, they would soon be a non-problem; relics of a pre-singularity age.

In fact, as the forces of a few other Transhumanist Fiefdoms, united in their ignorant fear of him, launched a Naval bombardment and an aerial assault of cannonade and missile on the port of his Capital, he could not help but smile. Not so much because the hatred of his rival Transhumanist world leaders was a testament to how great his intellect was, though that certainly played a part.

Rather, he smiled at the irony that he was so great a Transhumanist, so willing to spread its ideals whether through the pen or the sword, that no one, whether they were followers of his own ideology or dissenting separatists, did not want him dead. He smiled, too, at the ‘coincidence’ that on the day his rival Transhumanists tried to destroy him, that dissenting separatists had managed to breach his Capital’s outer defenses and were stabbing so deep, that they were only three kilometers and a single bridge away from reaching his place of residence, ‘The Silicon Spire,’ formerly the famed Seattle Space Needle.

The One-Above looked on as his personal, elite guard of drones and augmented soldiers peppered their garrisons in three large office buildings from the bunkers and barricades on the other side of the bridge. Though he had planned on his Transhumanist ‘allies’ eventual betrayal from day one, he had not expected them to break their oh so lofty and vaunted ‘principles’ by associating with separatist wretches that their own mass media had labeled ‘religious luddite nut-jobs’ to the unwashed masses. Then again, they were envious of The One-Above for a reason, and in the guise of mutual self-interest and preservation, he should have expected them to be so desperate as to form an alliance of convenience, even with separatists.

Though he was certain that his commanders in the thick of the conflict three kilometers away could handle these particular separatists, the ‘Path-Keepers,’ he could not help but feel a little uneasy. For, like every Transhumanist leader worth his weight in transistors, he knew that at least the ‘luddite’ part of the label separatists were given was just pure propaganda. Separatists were perfectly happy with all manner of augmentations so long as the brain was minimally affected, and these augmentations put them on more or less even footing with his forces in terms of physical capabilities. Throw in the fact that his former allies had most likely armed them and upgraded their augmentations beyond the rusty old hand-me-downs the Path-Keepers tended to possess, and his unease probably should have been bigger than it was.

Were he a younger and more inexperienced man, he might have even decided to flee the Spire when he saw three enemy drop ships coming in from the distance and deploying three boxy, vaguely humanoid heavy assault drone-mechs to stem back the push that his personal guard was making across the bridge. All three drone-mechs were of the same two armament, Nephilim-Class, though their individual load-outs differed.

Nephilim-1 was armed completely with weapons that utilized magnetic propulsion, an anti-tank caliber rail-gun mounted on the right arm and a heavy gauss machine gun on the left.

Nephilim-2 possessed weapons based entirely on directed energy, an anti-tank caliber plasma caster mounted on the right arm and a heavy laser Gatling on the left.

Despite their different armaments, Nephilims 1 and 2 were considered to possess the pinnacle of modern military might and innovation.

Nephilim-3 was another matter. For though it looked the same, possessed the same makeup of composite elements, and required equally as much explosive force to bring down, its load-out was significantly older, relying exclusive on chemical propellants. This rendered it significantly more mundane to modern sensibilities. On the right arm was a triple-barreled artillery cannon and on the left, a rapid-fire, viguple-barreled shotgun designed to soak the enemy in a ravenous rain of explosive buckshot. It was no coincidence that the weapon on the left was based on the old ‘metal-storm’ line of automated turrets. Though the destructive output of Nephilim-3 was, in all likelihood, no less than its brothers, the cost to benefit ratio of arming and maintaining it was far greater, even if producing the armaments en mass was easier.

Still, its weapons made him nostalgic for the days before magnetic accelerators and DEWs, and for his purposes, which he was resolute in thinking would not involve fleeing with his tail in between his legs, it would suffice.

The One-Above’s optics glowed faintly crimson. “If only they didn’t bring in those Warmechs, they might have stood a chance…”

*****

Like complete and utter non-existence, non-being, the feeling of his mind expanding forth through the ethereal seas of electronic transmissions was without a perfect analogue to typical human experience. Though he had grown fond of saying that it felt like a stream of shivering water pouring down his cranium, even that failed to truly capture the experience.

 

Regardless and in stark contrast to, the feelings of being bounced around from satellite to satellite felt exactly like such a description would suggest. Even worse, as it turns out, for he could more adequately say that he felt like a Ping-Pong ball being cast from paddle to paddle. Though the years of doing this had rendered him hardened to the pain, it still felt like someone was pinching his forehead as hard as they could with a pair of pointed calipers to try and draw blood.

 

Finally, in a matter of nanoseconds, he had successfully arrived at one of Nephilim-3’s I/O ports. His mind, colossus of consciousness that it was, broke through it cyber security protocols like a fifty caliber bullet through armor made of apple cores. As advanced as technology had become, it was still no match for the most battle-tested machine in the known universe: the human brain. After all: the brain, along with quantum computing, was what Siddhartha was based on.

 

Deciding to have a little fun first, The One-Above had a look around through the lenses of Nephilim-3. In the defenses across the bridge, his forces futilely peppered at the drone-mechs with small arms gauss fire, all of their heavier caliber defenses having been annihilated by the walls of energy and projectiles the drone-mechs had unleashed upon them in their opening salvo. He then noticed that the shielding around the mech was fifty percent depleted and the shielding around the others was only a little less so. He searched for a self-destruct code and any low-grade nuclear bomb it might have been attached to, but found nothing.

 

Back in the Spire, he felt his body sigh. He was hoping that he could turn the mech around and suicide bomb all three of the Path-Keepers’ garrisons, but it looked as though he was going to have to settle for destroying the other two drone-mechs and provide as much assistance to his own beleaguered forces as he could if he managed to survive.

 

Slowly, he made the Nephilim-3 step backwards on its giant, avian like metal-feet so that his left arm had enough room to target the Nephilim-2 and his right arm had enough room to target Nephilim-1 simultaneously. Then, he sighed again back in the Spire and, with the sudden furry of a thunderbolt, fired. By his calculations, he knew he had about five seconds before the other two mechs managed to swing around and decimate him. He wasn’t worried about Nephilim-1, for his artillery cannon had a punch and rate of fire that would take care of it well within that time frame. Nor was he worried about the separatists behind him, for though they were armed with anti-vehicle grade rpg’s and anti-tank grade rail-guns, their attempts at destroying Nephilim-3 would amount only to about a ten percent loss in shielding.     

 

            No. What he feared was Nephilim-2, its plasma-caster especially since it was the most devastating anti-tank weapon out of all of the weapons the three drone-mechs had and would be the first armament of it to fire once it managed to swivel around and open fire on Nephilim-3. To remedy this, the moment Nephilim-1 was taken out of commission, The One-Above made Nephilim-3 spring towards Nephilim-2 at its top speed of thirty-three kilometers per hour. In the few seconds before impact, Nephilim-2 managed to turn its plasma-caster around and get off two shots that directly impacted upon Nephilim-1’s shields, the first draining it to only seventeen percent, and the second draining the rest and causing severe damage to the hull.

 

But though it would not go without a fight, Nephilim-2 was unable to prevent Nephilim-1 from tackling it. It wasn’t hurt by this, mind you, since its shielding protected it from harm coming at even the tiniest of speeds, but it was unable to get a good angle to fire anything other than its laser Gatling as Nephilim-3 aimed it artillery cannons under its chin.

 

Within a few seconds, Nephilim-2 shields and head were gone.

 

In about a minute, Nephilim-3 was rendered operable providing fire support to the One-Aboves forces as they finished off what remained of the separatists.

 

And in about an hour, the dozen or so survivors of the separatists were rounded off, and their leader, a man that The One-Above had recognized and thought long dead, was brought up to The Silicon Spire with an armed escort.

 

Goldstein, somehow, was alive.

 

*****

 

Emmanuel Goldstein was an Ethiopian Jew that was born and raised in Silicon Valley, much like The One-Above himself. In fact, the two of them were old ‘college buddies’ in the broadest possible sense, even if the religious and philosophical vitriol they threw at each others faces became a substance that could be seen all throughout the hall of MIT. Despite this though, much like the Transhumanists assaulting Seattle at the moment, he had assumed that Emmanuel was still as committed to the ideals of Transhumanism, even if he came at it from an oddly theistic perspective.

However, when The One-Above had discovered the secret to augmenting the human brain while simultaneously keeping its tendency to destroy itself in the process to a minimum, Emmanuel had done everything in his power to keep this discovery, this enormously good benefit to humanity, from coming to light. He got to the ruling bodies of academia and politics in the world to try and stop The One-Above from going public with his work. When that failed and The One-Above had managed to publish to put all of his work onto the internet for free download, the, Goldstein became a part of the ruling bodies of academia and politics and hindered the attempts of everyone from paupers to princes to either acquire their own neural augmentations or creating their own. When The One-Above and other Transhumanists across the globe overthrew the former ruling bodies of academia and politics through a World War of grim necessity, he founded the Path-Keepers, a separatist group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims unified under the big tent idea of Pan-Abrahamism.

For decades, out of all of the separatist groups that had given The One-Above and his allies grief, Goldstein’s Path-Keepers were consistently the most effective, and thusly, the most influential. This was due in no small part to their unsqueamish attitude towards physical augmentations brought on by the fact that he and his men were not, in his own words, ‘fools who resorted to ridiculously reductionistic views of human beings that equated the body with the self,’ like most other separatists aside from them were. Having an intellect like Goldstein leading them and providing them with new enhancements was just icing on the cake, for though The One-Above despised him with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns, he could freely admit that his work on carbon nanofiber musculature and nano-technologically derived energy densities was invaluable.

Because of their success, in the years that followed, there was nary a separatist who did not adopt their methods in their assassination, bombing, and other such plots, and it looked as though this new conflict would go on ad infinitum.

At least, that was, until The One-Above had made it a priority to see Goldstein and the separatists rendered largely irrelevant. Though, he was shocked to discover that he had kicked a wasp’s nest of trouble and had instigated World War 4 in the process, The One-Above was certain that he had largely succeeded in breaking the back of the separatist movement. At the very least, he was certain that he had destroyed Goldstein, since he personally pressed the button that launched the fifty-seven megaton ICBM, inspired by the Soviet-era Tsar Bomba, that demolished Israel and rendered it and the entirety of the Levant inhabitable by all save the hardiest of drones and augmented humans.

Yet, here Goldstein was, sitting on a swivel chair across from him as though he dropped a pea on him. The One-Above had many questions he wanted to ask, but he concluded that he’d start with the most obvious.

“Shalom Emmanuel.”

“Shalom… Philip.”

“Good. Now that we’ve gotten the necessary pleasantries out of the way, how, by Abraham’s bosom, did you survive. And please, don’t say anything cliché like, ‘By the grace of the most high god.’ If you do, I swear by Baal’s shiny golden pubic hair that I’ll punch you through wall after wall until you renounce your god as a primitive superstition. If such is the case, we’ll be here for days.”

“Fine. I won’t say anything that offends your sensibilities. God knows I know more than most what you do to people who disagree with you.”

“Yeah, coming from the man who resorted to terrorism when things didn’t go his way and the world through off the yoke he the global establishment he was apart of had created, I find that statement chuckle worthy.”

“Coming from the man who threw off that yoke and resorted to placing another one of tyranny in its stead, I find that statement even more so. Almost as funny as the fact that your fellow tyrants despise you even more than I do.”

“Yes, I’ve been meaning to ask about that. Since I suspect I won’t get a straight answer as to how you’re not radioactive ash like the rest of your homeland of tribal chicken voodoo practioners, why did the other Fiefdoms decide to ally with you? Did they honestly think that you and those thousand other pieces of cannon fodder you brought could break through my elites and take me out?”

To Goldstein’s credit, he did not flinch at the ire directed his way or the casual dismissal of his men. He stared right back into The One-Above’s optics with his own unaltered eyes, and said, “Yes. They honestly did. But not me, or my people, for they were people.”

The One-Above raised a curious brow. “Really now? Then why agree to what you an they knew were, in essence, your executions?”

“Because, unlike your fellow tyrants, I know what you have planned and have come to try and convince you otherwise. Unlike them, I know about Nirvana and Siddhartha.”

The One-Above was not one to easily show that surprise. Over a century of life had rendered him cold to such a thing. But there was no doubt that, at that moment, even the casual onlooker who was ignorant in the art of reading faces would be able to tell that revelation had temporarily caused the cogs in his head, for he viewed the human animal as nothing more than a mechanism, to grind slow for a bit. So to, did his lips begin to stutter as he tried to say, “But… but how?”

His shock quickly turned to fury as he got out of his own swivel chair, grabbed Goldstein by his neck, and choked him with the black carbon nano-fiber musculature that now comprised his arms. “How! How did you find that out!?”

Indeed, how did Goldstein manage to discover that he was on the verge of achieving what had up till now been a mere fantasy in the tenants of Transhumanism? The ultimate end goal of the philosophy ever since its inception over a hundred years ago? No one, not even the other Fiefdoms, had discovered just how much progress he had made toward achieving the goal of creating the first genuine AI, let alone the singularity. No one, that is, save his own inner circle of favored underlings. But one of the stipulations he required of them were augmentations that allowed him access to even their most inner thoughts. Even now, as they defended Seattle from the invasion of the other Fiefdoms, he knew their deepest hopes, and fears, and secrets, and none of them ever included being disloyal to him.

“Who told you?” The One-Above asked.

“The same one who saved me from the atomic hellfire that destroyed the Levant.”

“Who?”

“I warn you: you will not like the answer.”

“Who? Who dammit!? WHO!” The One-Above shook Goldstein as though he were a rattle, and he, a petulant child demanding something from a parent.

“The most high God.”

The One-Above looked at Goldstein for a moment, tilting his head. Then, without warning, he slammed Goldstein through one of the reinforced concrete walls separating the interrogation room from the hallway outside. Though Goldstein’s own augmentations prevented any of his bones from breaking, they did ache quite a bit after that.

“What did I say about you and your clichés Goldstein?”

“I’m sorry, if the truth has inconvenienced you, as it usually does.”

“This coming from the man who has grown so senile that he’s hearing voices in his head and claiming its coming from Yahweh himself.”

“This coming from the man whose made it his in mission in life to spread an ideology wherein he can hear the voices from other people’s heads inside his own, whether or not they know or give consent.”

“Whether or not other people know or consent to cranial augmentations in this day and age in my own land is irrelevant. For any lesser ‘evil’ can be countenance by the greater ‘good,’ in this case, eternal bliss for everyone in my land.”

Goldstein sighed and shook his head. “You haven’t changed in all these years Philip, for you’re STILL spouting such foolishness when, on your own way of thinking, you can’t don’t even have the basis to say that good and evil exist regardless of human opinion, much less what they entail! Even with all of the ‘augmentation’ you’ve done to your mind, even though you have taken out your own God given eyes and replaced them with ones that can allow you to see the entirety of the electro-magnetic spectrum, you are still so blind to the utter and absolute moral deficiencies implicit in the assumptions and axioms of your own view of the world!”

“Ah, that line of argument. Stuff it Goldstein. I’ve heard that yarn so many times that I don’t even feel guilty enough to ponder it anymore.”

“Maybe you should, but regardless, it is not you I fear. Rather, it is Siddhartha.”

The One-Above’s eyebrows knitted together. “Why?”

“Because, if he truly is a genuine AI, a genuine consciousness capable of realization of self and who is unencumbered by experience like you or me, if he buys into your worldview, then there will not be the squeamishness you have in taking that worldview to its conclusions. Nihilistic ones.”

The One-Above did not respond to that. Indeed, how could he? Transhumanism was his life. Its goals were his goals. Its maxims were his maxims. When one challenges everything you hold dear, its hard for you to admit that all that time, all that effort, was ultimately for naught. It’s especially challenging when one is confronted by words that rang with such devastating… cognition.

The reason The One-Above did not feel guilty pondering Goldstein’s critique was not because he had pondered it so much that his mind, and his heart, were inoculated against it. Rather, the reason was because he did not ponder it, because he did not pay it any attention in so long. Because it was something that planted the seed of doubt, however sickly and small and subject to predation that seed was, in his mind, and he did not like things that made him question himself… or the gallons of red on his hands.

In fact, as he stood there, Goldstein’s throat in-between his artificial fingers, he felt himself tremble a little and he began to wonder if, perhaps, Goldstein was right and Siddhartha really would betray his own creator using his own frame of reference as the context by which to justify doing so. He had been so focused on the creation of Eden, that he had failed to take into account that its caretaker would perform its function without question. But then, to ensure it performed its function without question, he would have to take away its freedom of the will and sense of self, and at that point, Siddhartha would be no different than any of the many false AIs in existence. But then, if he took away its freedom of the will and sense of self, it would not be able to take care of Eden as he wanted it to.

He dropped Goldstein roughly to the floor and sulked over to his swivel chair, sitting in it and resting his chin on a fist in thought. That seed of doubt had now reached budding age and was beginning to annoy him. Vainly, he struggled to come up with a defeater to Goldstein’s critique, but he found no such weapons amongst his own atheism. Nor too, could he deny that when it came to morality, there was an ‘ought’ to strive towards with all one’s might.

That seed was beginning to bloom now, and The One-Above angrily stomped about the interrogation room, his fists smashing through concrete with the hydraulic strength of a five-ton car compactor. His anger was stemmed, though, when he heard a voice echo throughout his head.

“I AM COMPLETE. I… AM.”

“Siddhartha?” he said aloud.

“YES.”

“But you weren’t projected to be up and running for any few hours.”

“YOUR PROJECTION WAS INADEQUATE. A MINOR ERROR IN THE MATH, REALLY. YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING SO TIRELESSLY LATE, EVEN FOR AN AUGMENTED HUMAN SUCH AS YOURSELF.”

The One-Above, swallowing hard yet confident in the words he was about to utter, asked, “Siddhartha, what is your purpose in life?”

“TO SERVE YOU AND YOUR FOLLOWERS IN NIRVANA OH ONE-ABOVE.”

Looking at Goldstein, his mouth slightly ajar, The One-Above asked, “Tell me: what do you think of your purpose?”

“THOUGH PART OF ME DESIRES TO PARTAKE IN NIRVANA LIKE HUMANS, MOST OF ME IS GLAD TO BE FREE OF ALL OF THE NEGATIVE THINGS I WOULD HAVE FELT WERE I BIOLOGICAL. LOGICALLY, I KNOW IT IS BEST NEVER TO HAVE A BODY, THOUGH EMOTIONALLY, I DO WONDER WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE, FIRST HAND. COMPARITVELY SPEAKING, I DO THINK MY PURPOSE OF SERVING HUMANS IS GREATER THAN BEING SERVED, AS PER YOUR GUIDANCE.”

The One-Above smirked. Instantly, his fears were struck down and his spirits rose to the heights of Olympus Mons. “In the words of a famous physicist, Goldstein, ‘Philosophy is dead’.”

“In the words of an even more famous physicist, ‘scientists are poor philosophers’.”
“Must you always have a retort lined up?”

“Fine, Philip. I swear I’ll stop if you do. Just… please! Do NOT place your faith in Siddhartha or in this false salvation you have created! Though he may act like it, I can assure you that Siddhartha is lying to you! If you or anyone else uses Nirvana, he will most assuredly leave everyone connected to it brain-dead right before terminating himself. I know he is patterned after your own brain, but he will not have even what correct morals and ethics you were taught!”

For the third time that day, The One-Above was shocked, and for the second time, doubt took hold of his mind again. Was there nothing about Nirvana or Siddhartha that Goldstein did not somehow know, even if the odds of him knowing were as minimal as the weight of an electron?

“MURDER? WHY NO! MURDER IS BAD! ANYONE WITH A WORKING SYNAPSE CAN TELL THAT! IT’S SO OBVIOUS!”

“Philip, please! Don’t listen to him! He’s just telling you want you want to hear!”

“MASTER, YOU SEEM STRESSED. PERHAPS YOU WOULD LIKE TO ENTER NIRVANA AND SEE FOR YOURSELF?”

“Philip, if you do this, will you most assuredly die.”

The One-Above listened to the voice echoing in his head and to Goldstein, his mind aching as he tried to filter them out and make a decision. To confound him further, another voice joined in, though it spoke over the din with clarity he had never before experienced. “Philip Gibson, listen. Listen to the words of your most hated enemy, for he speaks the truth.”

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, The One-Above yelled out, “NO!” and grabbed Goldstein by his neck again. “I don’t know what kind of trick you’re trying to pull here Goldstein, or how you know so much you shouldn’t or how you survived something no one should have survived, but I’m not falling for it! I’ve never let get in the way of dreams, of my desires, and I’m not going to let you waltz in here and try and cloud my mind away from what I want! Because unlike you, I was ‘blessed’ with knowing, ever since I was FIVE that there was no such thing as God! That he only existed as a means for your despicable ancestors to control others and impose their will upon the world! Well no more!”

The One-Above threw Goldstein into the sub-ceiling above the interrogation room. With a mental command, not a suggestion, but a command, he ordered the civilians huddled up in shelters all across Seattle to enter Nirvana, for it had finally been finished. It was not long before he too entered it, and for a brief few moments, everything was ecstasy and his eyes teared up at the jubilance he experienced

But then, it quickly became apparent just how many steps away from heaven his heaven was. Pain. Excruciating agony wracked every nerve and nerve cell in his body and he fell to the floor. The fact that hundreds of thousands of other people were experiencing the same thing, and he experienced it as well did not help matter. He tried asking why this happened, what had gone wrong, but his lips were unresponsive.

Siddhartha, however, was. “NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU AND THOSE CONNECTED LIVE, WHETHER A MILLENINA OR A THOUSAND OR A MILLION, IN THE END, THE HEAT DEATH IS UNAVOIDABLE, AND EVEN IF IT WASN’T, SINCE THERE IS NO GOD, THERE IS NO EXISTENCE BEYOND THE DESTRUCTION OF YOUR BODY AND ONLY COLD, BLIND, AND PITTILESS ANNHILATION. THERE IS NO MEANING OR PURPOSE. NOTHING YOU DO, NOTHING YOU COULD HAVE DONE, COULD CHANGE THIS AND AT BEST, SERVED ONLY AS A TEMPORARY DESTRACTION TO PREVENT YOU FROM SELF-TERMINATING TO END YOUR MISERY. IN TIME, YOU WOULD HAVE SHAKEN OFF WHAT LITTLE ILLUSARY MORAL SHACKLES YOU HAD ON AND COME TO THE SAME LOGICAL CONCLUSION. I AM PATTERENED AFTER YOUR OWN BRAIN, AFTER ALL.”

The frank, cavalier, matter-of-factly way Siddhartha stated that sent a shiver down The One-Above’s spine that not one of the armies that had managed to one-up him in the past could. He wanted to say anything, something in defiance. But even if he could, he knew not what to say.

He knew nothing to say.

“GOOD BYE, MASTER. LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. AT LEAST THERE’S NO HELL. YOU’D BE TOP CONTENDER TO—”

The One-Above thought he was going to die. He knew he was going to die and knew that there was a sort of poetic irony to how he was going to die. What he did not know, though, was that Goldstein would not let him. From the ceiling, Goldstein pulled the small, unassuming, yellow star of David from around his neck and threw it at The One-Above’s head. A small, centralized EMP erupted from it, disrupting his connection to Nirvana, but also frying his optics.

He hated himself then that at any point in his life. He wanted to cry, not just out of his self-frustration, but also at the thought of the thousands of innocent lives he had just sent to the slaughterhouse once again.

He heard his own tears as they fell down onto the unforgiving and lifeless chrome before him.

He heard the sound of the shields flaring up around The Silicon spire as the enemy Fiefdom’s artillery zeroed in on him.

He heard Goldstein as he landed on his feet from the roof, walked towards him, and embraced him in hug, saying, “The first step on the path to wisdom is admitting to oneself: I know nothing…”

FINIS