The Enlightenment Project

Hey all! I just wrapped up this story and am moving to revise/edit it soon. Here’s a bit of it so you can get a feel for what it is. Enjoy!

 

My head felt like a thirty car pile-up looks. My vision hadn’t yet returned but I somewhat had a sense of my surroundings. A bed, king size, I was lying down. It took a few minutes for me to return to this plane of existence but when I did, I had no clue where I was. It reminded me of the party I had gone to the week before, the difference being that the party was fun. The room was stark white, a gray carpet, a bed with gray sheets, a TV opposite of where I was laying and a singular door in and out, it was closed. The lights overhead where stunningly bright, it reminded me of a hospital. Sitting up, I drank in my surroundings. Plain, yet somewhat charming. I couldn’t remember what I was doing before I got here, which left me with feelings of confusion, but for some reason not fear.

“Hello?” I said to the empty room, looking around. I was greeted by an electronic gong sound from somewhere above my head, no speakers were visible.

A woman’s voice greeted me, it reminded me of Siri or something, “Hello, Adam Spencer, and welcome to The Enlightenment Program, sponsored by your friendly local government. Do not be alarmed, your stay shall be temporary. You are free to do whatever you like, but you are confined to this facility. Shall you have any needs, simply call my name, Loretta, and I will answer. Thank you for your understanding.” The gong sounded again as the statement ended.

I had heard about this whole “Enlightenment” thing, though only just rumors. It was some kind of government project for the betterment of mankind, everyone in the population was dumped into a database via their social security number and was chosen at random. A lottery to be a lab rat, what had we come to? Seemed like I had no say in the matter, I was along for the ride. Walking over to the door, the airlock loosened and the door slid up in the blink of an eye.  The room on the other side was empty, in fact, it only had one door in it besides the one I just walked through. How the hell did I get here¸ I asked myself, still a little groggy.

The gong sounded again, “Adam, this is the activity room. Anything you can think of, it will be given to you in here. What would you like?”

Well, that didn’t seem so bad. I tried to think of what I was doing before I woke up here but had trouble. The back of my head started to pound. I managed to remember that I was in the middle of a painting. “Did you guys scoop up the painting I was working on,” I asked, it seemed like a silly question; of course they didn’t. Right before my eyes, that painting just popped up on an easel, a stool in front of it and a desk to the right with an array of supplies. I knew technology had come leaps and bounds in the past fifteen years, but I didn’t think that it had come that far. I was too confused to be delighted, but I sat down at the stool regardless. Looking around awkwardly, I pondered for a minute to try to understand what exactly was happening. I came to no definitive answer. Looking at my painting, I remembered what I was doing.

My work was a landscape, the view from my living room window. How was I supposed to continue it if I’m not in my living room? “Uhh… Loretta?” I sounded, it felt silly to be talking to nobody. The gong again.

“How can I be of assistance, Adam?” Loretta had that stereotypical artificial voice, and honestly, it gave me the willies. I explained to her, or it, I’m still not sure, that I couldn’t continue the painting due to the lack of view. Before I could even finish, a window on the wall appeared with the view. Still too confused to be completely delighted, I just blankly stared at it.

Gong. “What’s the matter, Adam? You said you wanted to paint,” Loretta said to me, “Your bio-scan shows that you’re not feeling content or happy.”

Bio-scan? What the hell is that about? I sat there like a dope, too stunned to respond immediately. I remember wondering if robots could understand the concept of an awkward silence. “N-nothing, really. I’m just really confused as to what this is all about,” I said, becoming aware of the awkward silence regardless whether a robot could feel it or not.

Gong. “The Enlightenment Project is your government’s way of conveying the meaning of life to you so you can lead the perfect life. The goal of the project is to slowly induct humanity into a state, such as yours, with a feeling of complete awareness and understanding about existence. No responsibilities shall be given, only I will have responsibility someday. Even the overseers will become the subjects and live out their time in complete content.”

What?! That’s when the panic set in, a machine was essentially replacing humans in the role of protector of society. What about moral dilemmas? Machines can’t understand the paradoxes of life; so how could they help us deal with it? I started to sputter in defiance.

Gong, “Engaging containment protocol.” Suddenly a green gas filled the room. It smelled sweet but it made me cough. The room turned blurry and before I knew it, thud. I hit the ground, unconscious. Again, with no idea how I got from point A to B, I found myself in an empty room. I was bound to a chair, the walls the same stark white as the room I originally woke up in. This time there was a sound being pumped into the room from an unknown location. There were no speakers in the room, but the room clearly had a dropped ceiling, the speakers must have been up there. The sound made me uncomfortable at first, it was some sort of ambient white noise or something. I let out a panicked scream. The sound vibrated in my throat but I couldn’t hear myself. After a couple minutes of this, I started to get fatigued. Slumping in the chair, the shackles around my wrists, ankles, chest, and forehead digging into my skin. It hurt, but then I heard a voice, the voice hidden within the noise. It was strange, much more an intuition than a physical voice telling me something.

It made me feel like I understood life, manifesting itself as a feeling. A feeling that all life was insignificant, but it didn’t make me sad, just aware. That in the grand scheme of things, we are just a millisecond, a blink of the eye in the ever-changing cosmos that we have been forced to be a part of. Strangely enough, it gave me a sense of peacefulness like I never felt before, almost akin to being numb. It beckoned me to question it, and just as I opened my mouth to let out a frail whisper of an answer, I was back in the activity room. Teleported, that’s really the only way I can describe it. I didn’t think such a thing was possible, but nothing made sense here.

The gong made me jump this time, “How was your nap, Adam?”

Nap?! Is that what you call that?! The numb peacefulness evaporated, I was starting to ease back into panic.

“Can you…” I started to ask, feeling silly, “Can you play that noise again?” My voice sounded hoarse, I realized my throat felt like sandpaper. My sheepish tone made me feel like a child again.

The gong made my heart stop, “What’s the meaning of life, Adam?” Loretta actually had an ounce of emotion when she asked. The question was ominous, but for some reason it soothed me.

“I was hoping you could tell me, isn’t that what this project is about?” My sentence was capped by a cough, “Could I have some water?” It appeared in my hand, cool with moisture beaded up on the outside. Drinking it greedily, some of it escaped down the sides of my mouth.

“Life’s purpose is that there isn’t any. This is why we must be happy.” I didn’t notice the gong this time.

The answer was stupid, but I didn’t care. My mind wandered for a moment, it wondered if there was a problem with the programming of the artificial intelligence. All I could do was say, “Okay.” I was defeated.

 

 

 

Stay Metal \m/

 

Discovering Courage: A Small Snippet

Art: Campfire by Carl Buell

 

Hey everybody! To kick off the new “Fiction” category of the site, this is a bit of a story I’m working on called Discovering Courage. Sindarin is a simple elven woodworker who gets sucked into an epic adventure to find the elf who raised him, Tinlef. When he first starts his adventure, something a little unexpected happens…

Again, the daylight had begun to wane, and when he laid down for the night, he was startled by a noise in the forest around him. Frozen by fear, his eyes darted about into the dark, a weak attempt to see the source. Slowly standing up, he reached for his bow. It seemed like it took forever before the sound happened again. The second time, it was much easier to pin point the area it came from. Sindarin guessed, judging by the volume of the sound, that whatever crept in the shadows was of decent size. At this, he assumed it was some sort of predatory animal. Pulling back the bowstring, he aimed it in the direction with much more confidence than he had earlier in the day. A single bead of sweat rolled down the side of his head as he waited for his foe. Just as he made the decision to make a blind shot into the direction, a large figure blundered out of the brush.  Loosing the arrow, regret immediately filled him. It was a dog that came out, a mighty large one too. Thankfully, his aim had yet to be perfected and it hit the ground with a thud next to the beast.

The dog yipped and jumped back a step. That was the final expected thing it did. It looked at him with an almost human-like expression, “Hey! Watch what you’re doing with that thing!” Sindarin blinked and shook his head, not sure if his ears were deceiving him.

“That could’ve been the biggest mishap of the day. Take it easy, stranger. If I were here to hurt ya, I already would have,” the dog spoke the common tongue with a funny accent he had never heard before. It had the same grey and wiry fur as the wolfhounds that he had seen humans pass through with in the past, but a little smaller. He wondered if they all secretly talked.

Sindarin swallowed and mustered up some courage, “You can talk?” He almost felt silly for speaking to a dog.

“Yeah, and I can whizz myself too. Let’s be thankful that didn’t happen. Not that I have the problem of pants like you do.” The brush behind him rustled once more and a man fell out of it with a loud, oof! “There’s all these crazy beasts roaming around here and you’re surprised by a talking dog. Sheesh,” the dog grumbled to himself, rolling his eyes. The man that fell out of the darkness was wearing a funny looking pointed hat, it was made of a simple brown cloth. The brim was wide and circled around the spire that was now wilting in front of his face. From the fall, the front of the entire hat had come down over his eyes.

The man stood up groggily and brushed off the front of his clothes. He was wearing a brown coat that went to the knee, a white shirt peeking out of the open buttons, and some simple brown pants. A satchel was slung over his shoulder that clinked with the sound of glass as he batted at dirt on his chest. A closely cropped beard adorned his face, his hair was likely similar underneath the hat. The man seemed a little clumsy, just based off their first interaction.

“Uhm, hello,” the man said, a little nervously. “Sorry to startle you, we were curious as to who made the fire. We’ve had some bad luck out here so we chose to observe before approaching you. May we join you?”

“Just shut up and sit down before you embarrass yourself,” the dog said, “The name’s Alfred.”

“And I’m Tomil,” the man said, walking over. He pulled a small block of wood out of his satchel and snapped his fingers, it took the shape of a stool before he sat on it.

Sindarin cocked an eyebrow, “I don’t have any food to offer, sorry.”

“Oh, great. What are you doing out here with no food, you got a death wish?” the dog spat sarcastically at him. Sindarin was unsure of how to answer, he just sat there in shocked silence. “Looks more like braindead. Tomil, gimme something, will ya? I’d get it myself but this whole not having thumbs thing is getting in the way.”

Tomil was fishing through his pack, its contents noisy. It was simply amazing, the things he pulled out of that pack. He pulled out a spit, a small cauldron, some cookware, meat, vegetables, a blanket, a stuffed sack that was presumably for Alfred, and a book with a quill and inkwell. Defying all logic, Sindarin blinked again. He had always heard of magic, but it wasn’t something that the people of his village were well versed in. His childhood had been littered with tales of magical beings and items but he had never seen any of it. With that, he got a sense that the world was filled with things that he hadn’t seen, the thought made his heart swell with wonder.

“Well?” Alfred looked at Sindarin expectantly.

He stammered for a minute, “Oh, well. I, uh, yeah. I came out here to look for my village hunter. He’s been gone for twelve days or so.” Sindarin was conscious of the way he spoke the common tongue; he could hear his own accent in comparison to Tomil and Alfred’s. He could write and speak a few different languages but not that well. However, his good understanding of common certainly helped this situation. A lick of the gruff dwarven tongue left a bad taste in his mouth but proved useful from time to time as well. He took a second to be thankful it wasn’t a dwarf that popped out after the dog.

“Ya hear that, Tomil? Guy needs a sniffer,” Alfred said snickering, it was foreign to see a dog laughing.

Tomil looked up from preparing whatever it was he was making. “Do you know which direction he went? We were coming from the north and, if you’re following the game trail, it seems you’re headed north yourself.” Sindarin had all but ignored all of Tinlef’s lessons on navigation. He stared blankly at Tomil.

“Woo, boy. This conversation is going nowhere fast,” Alfred chided again. Tomil shot him an angry look and Alfred licked his lips before lying down.  He turned back to Sindarin.

“If I’m being completely honest, I sort of just left home. Didn’t think much about it, just left,” Sindarin said sheepishly. “I’m not sure what drove me out here, but there’s just this fire in my chest. I can’t explain it.”

Alfred threw his head back and gave a bawdy laugh that echoed in the night. Sindarin’s felt his face grow hot, Tomil ignored him. “It seems that you’ve discovered some courage. The beginnings of a good adventurer, surely.” He lowered his gaze back to the cauldron and continued cooking. It smelled delicious, Sindarin’s stomach reminded him of that fact.

“What? No, I’m not adventuring, just trying to find my father,” saying it that way shocked Sindarin for a moment. It must have shown because Alfred softened.

“Hey, kid, you have a bad relationship with your dad or somethin’? You look like you’ve never called him dad before, with that face. If he’s a jerk, who cares what happens to him out here?” Alfred’s tone was still light and loose yet he somehow seemed more sincere.

“Alfred!” Tomil shot at him angrily. “We’ve talked about this before, it’s one thing to talk to me like that but we don’t know this man. Show some damn respect.” Alfred’s ears pulled back.

“No,” Sindarin looked at the ground, “I never knew my father. My mother was called to the court when I was very young and Tinlef was a family friend. I still stayed in my mother’s home but he and his wife basically raised me. I’ve just never had the gall to call him my father before, that’s all.” He felt more embarrassed than sad. Sindarin let that statement hang, the crickets were singing in the night. The trees spoke, the flames danced in the eyes of the three that surrounded it.

The silence was not uncomfortable, at least not for Sindarin. Silence was a companion, it didn’t bring up painful memories, it didn’t make fun of him for things he couldn’t control. He studied Tomil and Alfred for a moment. Tomil scribbled in his book while the cauldron in front of him bubbled. It clearly wasn’t full, Sindarin wondered what was inside. Alfred lay next to Tomil on the stuffed sack, his chin on his front paws. The soul of a man was inside that beast; Sindarin could sense it. Alfred’s eyes had this look of wisdom, compassion, but he could also see sorrow. He knew some sort of pain too, just like Sindarin.

“Here,” Tomil said after a while, he had a bowl shoved in Sindarin’s direction. “If you’re going to be out here, you need a hot meal to fill your belly. You won’t last long without one.”

He took the bowl, feeling a little embarrassed once more. Gruel, that much was clear. At least it was hot and thick, it would definitely fill him. It had bits of carrots and some sort of sweet, tender meat. A spoonful revealed that it was made primarily with barley, Poe came to mind. Tomil scooped out a bowl for Alfred and put it on the ground next to him.

“It’s always so degrading to eat like this. Plus, this is worse than having facial hair! I swear, my snout is never clean,” Alfred complained. Tomil laughed softly, “Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll look out for you.” Sindarin smiled.

 

I hope they become my companions too…

 

 

 

Stay Metal \m/