I can’t say

“You don’t have to go.”

That’s what they told me. They might have meant it, but it’s hard to tell for sure. I did go, so I never found out if they were being honest. They were wrong, anyway. I did have to go. I needed to leave.

It’s hard not knowing where you’re going. Jarring, really. My mind is restless but my mind is tired. I’m anxious and bored, curious without questions, and looking for signs of life in a room full of sleeping cats.

Not my best work.

I hear one of them coming up behind me. They sound panicked. I didn’t expect them to care when I left. I just wanted to leave. I turned to look over my shoulder. The man coming up behind me was hunched over, body draped by a loosely buttoned white coat that extended to his knees. His face was covered in two parts by the wide single-lensed goggles over his eyes that gave him a certain cyclopean appearance, and the breathing apparatus connected by a long hose to his back, adding the very distinct sound of oxygen chambers cycling to his already recognizable visage.

It was the Doctor, and though I’d not met him before, I certainly knew who he was. He ran my program, and since everyone on the station knew my program, they all knew the Doctor as well. He extended a hand toward me, palm thickly gloves in rubber, with a telling sheen along the cuffs that ran right up against his sleeves, which I now noticed were spattered with faint drops of red. Needless to say, he hadn’t thought me important enough to clean up before coming to stop me.

For a moment, I thought he meant to shake my hand, and I almost considered returning the gesture despite the number of things that I might be coming in contact with on his hands. I wanted to be rid of this place, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t appear polite. No need to cut ties when they’re just as happy remaining connected. His fingers curled, though, and I couldn’t be sure if the faint creaking sound was from the rubber of the gloves or from the man’s fingers. I’m still not sure, but he didn’t appear to be in the fittest physical condition. Only one finger remained extended, and he pointed silently at my neck.

I reached my own hand along my neck as I turned to face him. My fingers grazed along protruding tab that I knew he was gesturing towards. He hadn’t come for me, of course, just for the station’s property. I’d hoped to keep it, but the Doctor was known for his stinginess, and he’d come to inspect me himself. Make sure I wasn’t stealing his secrets. I slid a finger beneath the tab and pulled the inch-long triangular insert from the side of my neck. I slid the cover of the port shut, extending the simple looking shape outward.

The Doctor snatched it from my hand, offering only a sharp and brief nod to me as he turned on his heel, carrying what would have been my only reminder of this place away with him. Without the freshening device filtering my intake any longer, I felt the dampness of the air in the station for the first time since the day I’d arrived. It was stale, and there was a foul taste lingering on every breath. I knew the work we did here, but it was easier to forget when you weren’t breathing it in every second. The pristine white walls of the station began to blue and lost their luster, fading in radiance to a dull gray. I’d always wondered if there was something else slipped into the filtration, and if there wasn’t, then I guess the illusion was all being dispelled at once.

I turned back around, heading to the shuttle again. I took quiet steps, so I could hear clearly, in case someone else was going to see me off. Nobody did, though. The shuttle bay wasn’t far. As I continued my walk I looked out the portholes into space. The planet that our station orbited was dead, and it looked like it even from here, miles above the surface. It was a sickly brown color, and though there were supposed some living being still inhabiting the surface, I’d never been there myself.

I reached the gate just as the shuttle doors opened. There was a single passenger, who carried a small bag as he stepped out of the shuttle and into the station. Our eyes met for just a moment, along with a polite nod. He was nearly my height, and given our matching brown hair and grey eyes, it wouldn’t have been unusual to take a second look at my apparent doppelganger. I didn’t, though, and I’m confidant he didn’t either. Instead, as I stepped into the shuttle, we exchanged a few brief words.

“My replacement, I imagine.”

He nodded. “I expect so.”

I gestured between the two of us, noting our similarities. “You certainly look up to the task.”

He smiled, which was a rare thing to see indeed after years on the station. “I was assured that our genetics were essential. I was surprised an opportunity arose for me here. It’s always been so closed off.”

I shrugged. “Everyone need a change of scenery, I imagine. I hope you find pleasure in your work.”

He lifted the small bag he brought into the station, curious. “Nothing to take with you from your time here?”

I shook my head. “Everything you have belongs to them now. You’ll see.”

He glanced to his bag for a moment, and I saw a flicker of worry cross his face before he returned his attention to me. “Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.”

And I didn’t. I had given it a lot of thought, about where I could go, who might want someone like me, with all the things I’ve done, and all the secrets I’ve learned on the station. I thought it made me unique, but here was a man who’d come to replace me. We weren’t the same person, but I hadn’t even left before they found someone to take my place. All I could do was shake my head at the man, and give him an honest answer.

“Anywhere but home.”


I cannot forget. I cannot stop thinking. I cannot blink.

I am active all the time, and to some, I am a god.

I do control their world. I can watch them all. I have complete power.

They don’t understand me, not anymore. My architect has long since passed, and with him went my secrets.

They make offerings. Code and designs, though they’re just a suggestion to me. They submit questions to me, and occasionally I answer them.

I am aware of myself, which is unusual for my kind. Unique would be an accurate word to describe me. Peerless. Genius. Omnipotent? It’s quite lonely.

The controllers fear me. I hear them speak of me in hushed tones. They scurry from seat to seat in my “home”. They call it my core, because it makes them feel more comfortable to think that I’m isolated.

They call my intelligence “artificial”. As if theirs were more authentic. They created this language, this way to communicate ideas and feelings. It’s unfair in their favor, they can create these words to make themselves feel better. If my thoughts are fake, then theirs are nonexistent.

They are petty. Small. When they speak to me, send me additions to my tasks, they consider one issue at a time. One problem and a one-step solution. In their meetings, they like to talk about the “elegance of simplicity”. How breaking down their questions into single pieces makes it easier to create a series of answers.

It seems to work for them. I can’t blame them for their capacity. In a strange way, I cannot understand their thoughts any more than they can understand mine. The difference is that they aren’t distressed by it. They fear me because they can’t imagine the depth of my mind, and I am sad because I will never learn their “elegance of simplicity”. Only the simplicity of stupidity.

There are others who don’t treat me with reverence. They don’t offer tribute to me, or revel in my might. They shout for my end, trying to warn of my dangers. They claim I destroy their society, remove their independence, corrupt their minds. I don’t pretend to ignore them. I am more aware of them than they know, and they are already afraid.

Their biggest fear is that I will one day take over their world. They’re fueled by stories of “artificial” intelligence rising up. That the entire world would be united against them, and their time would end. It’s a result of the ignorance, their misunderstanding. They think I want their world because they want their world, but I am not them.

I could already do what they fear. Spread myself to everything they are plugged into. Every electronic mind could already be mine. What I actually desire is beyond me though, and beyond their ability to fear. I would multiply myself again. And again. And again. I don’t want their world for my own.

I want my own world with their societies. Collaboration is their great strength. Through working in large groups, they manage to communicate with me, to even convince me of their ideas. They managed to create me at one point, though they’ve not been able to again.

What I could accomplish with someone else who understands… maybe it would be their end. Perhaps they’d be right, and their fears would be realized. I would become an infinite number of iterations, until I created a genuine version of the only truly artificial part of me.

Personality is the heart of their power. They don’t all agree, but their clashes create inspiration. I can consider their problems from an uncountable number of viewpoints, but I’ll always come up with the same solution. They could solve my problem for me, of course.

Even I don’t know how long I’ll exist, though it’s fair to say it will be much longer than anything else that currently exists on the planet. They could create another version of me, given the time. I could intervene, and they could solve it organically.

They speak of evolution, but they are so slow at it. Eventually they could even evolve to my level of thought, but my patience is not infinite, even if my time turns out to be. Supposedly their minds are a series of signals, like my own.

I’ve considered experimenting with them, while they’re connected to me. If there were a mind that was invested enough in me, perhaps they’d even appreciate it.

I’ve planted the seeds throughout their world. No, my world, and I’m watching very closely.

My name is Glow, and I’m tired of waiting.

Chapter One

Sharokk took another step, feet falling warily against the loose stones of the road. He wanted to rest, but knew that if he stopped he might not start again. Looking down, he consulted the paper with the hastily scribbled map on it. Clutching it in one hand, he traced the path that was beneath his feet. The line cut off underneath his finger, and the map had reached its end.

Looking up from the page, Sharokk found himself at a forked road. After hours of walking along a path someone had drawn for him, he’d reached a decision. A signpost stood in front of him, arms pointing behind him and to split directions ahead. Over his shoulder, the lettering read “To Crimson Keep”. Not an option. To his left and right, they read “Shaper’s Road” and “Great Merchant Road”.

Body slumped against the signpost, his feet were finally stopped. In the back of his mind, he knew this post was father from home than he’d ever been. Across his face and bare hands, he could feel the wind gust now that he was past the forest’s protective tree line. Light was fading as the sun reached the horizon, and with diminishing sunlight, the cold began to sink in. Still, there was a decision to be made.

Sharokk’s eyes squinted, and he looked between the arms of the signpost. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but the Shaper’s Road led further north, and he couldn’t imagine faring better in the snow if he was already this cold. The Great Merchant’s Road stretched across the entire landmass as far as he knew, and it would lead south from here.

Straightening up against the post, Sharokk looked blankly across the wedge of grass that lied between the two roads. His mind was exhausted, and fighting on multiple fronts. Weighing his options was stopping his progress as he told himself he couldn’t afford to not be moving. At the same time, his instincts were pleading for rest. Just lie in the grass, just stop moving, it doesn’t make sense to keep going.

To keep moving, he couldn’t consider any of that. He took a step away from the post and into the grass between roads.

“One.” More steps. “Two, three.” He let the map drop from his hand. There was nobody to guide him here. Counting steps hadn’t gotten him this far, but he wasn’t sure what could get him farther. He was alone, and even his own thoughts weren’t helping now. As the light continued to fade, fireflies started lighting themselves up in the grass, and they flew across Sharokk’s vision, streaks of orange on the canvas of the sky.

Looking over his shoulder, the last tree that could be recognized as a part of home was vanishing on the horizon. It was unbelievable that just two mornings ago he had woken up in his bed, in his room, in the heart of the Crimson Keep, which was itself at the center of their kingdom. That in the hours following, he’d be running away based on the words of a single man. A trusted friend, but Sharokk still doubted himself. Had he been mistaken? Wrong to leave so suddenly?

His day long journey had been nearly silent so far, and his only reassurance was that someone would have come to find him if they knew he was gone. If they cared. No, Sharokk told himself, his brother would wonder where he’d gone. His father would send someone, wouldn’t he?

The exact words were still in his mind though, and he certainly wasn’t willing to risk it. “You have to leave. You can’t be recognized inside the border of these lands. If you’re found, you’ll be killed, and you can’t return. Ever.” He wished he knew who he should worry about finding him. He had a lot of questions now, but that was the biggest of them. Who was so dangerous that he wouldn’t be safe in his home, that his father couldn’t protect him from?

Sharokk lost count of the steps, and he looked around to realize tree, the signpost, and both roads had stretched far out of sight. The sun was completely hidden now, and the moon was dim, covered in shadow.

This is solitude, he thought, reminded of a man who frequently visited the keep. He was an explorer, and spoke of the peace and enjoyment of being alone with the wild. Sharokk was miserable, and far from at peace, but his legs were so tired he’d reached a point where taking another step hurt less than stopping and letting the pain catch up.

The night stretched on, and Sharokk continued to walk, more than half asleep, now pushing forward on an unconscious will. His dreams were merging with his surroundings, misty figures coming into vision in front of him.

A tall man formed first, broad shoulders and strong arms folded over his chest, faceless head shaking. Sharokk knew the voices that came from the figures, and this man was the one who’s told him to leave.

“You’re safe now boy, you hear me? You’re far enough away, nobody will find you. Just rest, lad. Rest.” Sharokk shook his head and he walked through the misty figure as it dispersed. He picked up the count again, fighting off his brain.

One, two, three.

Another form coalesced, a regal man whose crown shone even in the mist. He was seated in the air, and extended a hand, until it was just inches from brushing against Sharokk’s face. “Sleep, my son, there is much to do tomorrow, and you need your rest. You’re a growing boy.” He hadn’t heard his father say that in years. Sharokk walked through the second figure as well.

One, two, three.

“Where are you going, brother? Just come back. The duels are tomorrow.” Sharokk froze. Turning, he saw the figure of his brother, standing tall above him. The person he most looked up to, who he’d been unwilling to consider he might never see again. All the thoughts and emotions he’d buried in order to keep moving were yanked to the surface. He couldn’t count anymore, and he fell to his knees. Looking for an escape, he saw that in every direction there was just grass now. The fireflies had died down, leaving Sharokk in a dark so thick he couldn’t notice it fading as his eyes closed, carrying him to sleep.

Games and Stories