Beings of Light - Chapter 4

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By PaulPower
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Mark didn’t understand.  He couldn’t see any good reason why Holonet would deliberately fail to penetrate the inner depths of his mind.  The fact that she had pretended she had – the jerking, the announcement that he was clean – suggested that she had failed and was faking it to save her face.  Or did it?  Something didn’t ring true about the whole thing, but he couldn’t work out what.

This wasn’t the first time, either.  Holonet had failed to detect his thoughts when he became a Holosim.  He hadn’t felt anything that time, either.  He hadn’t expected to feel anything, but it seemed now that he should have.  Was the clean reading then just another fake?

This wasn’t making any sense.  He needed someone to talk to.  But he knew that he couldn’t really talk to anyone about it, though.  Even Holly couldn’t…

Holly.  That was a point.  They had been interrupted at a rather awkward moment.  He headed up to the garden to see if she was still there.

She wasn’t, but there was a note in that meticulous, teleprint handwriting of hers:

Dear Mark,

If you’re still alive to read this (and I hope so very much), I’ve gone off to my room (Floor 5, room H.  By the way, you’ve been assigned room M on the same floor).  The “something else” I’ve mentioned is a little… private.  If you feel I’m rushing you, please don’t be afraid to say so.  I know from personal experience that human courtship is usually far more protracted.  But we do believe in getting to the point.

Love from

Mark knew what Holly meant about feeling rushed, and he still couldn’t believe how quickly this was happening.  Was this all a really bad idea?  It was distracting him from his ultimate goal.  But it was almost like Holly had plonked down on his universe like a rubber weight, distorting his plans.  He would quite happily have destroyed all Holosims.  He couldn’t do that now.

Anyway: floor five.  The map he had downloaded showed him the way, and he arrived at Holly’s room, knocking on the door.  Suddenly a message landed in his head. “Come in, Mark.  It’s not locked”.

Although Holosims had no need of sleep, even Holonet had to admit that they all needed some private time every now and then for a bit of introspection and system maintenance to stop themselves going completely crazy (After all, if they went crazy, she did.  More crazy than usual, that is).  For this purpose, every Holosim had a room of their own.  They were generally fairly small, although any personal space was welcome.  Mark hadn’t had a chance to look at his own room yet, so Holly’s room was the first he’d seen.

The rooms were generally very basic.  Standard items included a printer unit, which allowed a Holosim to convey any thoughts they wished to into hard copy (Even in the Holonet era, the paperless office was still an unachievable ideal…).  There was no computer attached to the printer; since every Holosim essentially was a computer with a capacity beyond any ordinary machine, there was no need.  There was a raised flat surface which functioned as a “bed” and two comfortable but simple chairs.  On one wall there was a window, and on another a large billboard.

The room had some personal touches.  The billboard had various small mementoes attatched – one or two things from Holly’s time as a human, now almost unidentifiable after withering with age – and a calendar and “things to do” list.  Mark noticed that “Enlighten ANDMP3901 (Andrews, Mark Phillip)” was on today’s list, and it had been ticked off.

There was also, slightly unusually, a bookshelf with several books on it.  Unusually because just about all literature was accessible from Holonet.  The printed word was generally a human-only realm, and even then it was mostly unheard of.  In fact, added to the paper calendar and to-do lists (as opposed to electronic ones, or indeed ones kept inside a Holosim’s own head, the room showed a marked reliance on more traditional media.

“Make yourself comfortable, Mark,” said Holly calmly.  The two of them sat down. “Now, about the something else.  Sexual intercourse as performed by humans goes kind of out of the window with Holosims.  We tend to think of it as a fairly shallow way of bonding anyway.  There is a far deeper way of expressing our love for each other.  We call it a Mind Forge.

“You may be familiar with the way in which Holonet can, should she feel the need to, break down the security systems surrounding our minds and play about with them as she sees fit.  It essentially works out as a layer system.  At the top, you have surface thoughts, with very weak or no encryption.  Holonet can read them without trying, and things like teleparthy and so on work through that.  Then you have the strongly encrypted stuff, where your deeper thoughts are stored, which Holonet actually has to work at to crack.

“No individual Holosim can do this, because we just don’t have the computing power.  But what we can do is voluntarily open the security systems up to another Holosim.  This is the basis behind the Mind Forge.  It’s a direct peer-to-peer connection between Holosims, without going through Holonet.

“During a Mind Forge, the two Holosims involved have direct access to the cores of each other’s minds.  Effectively, their minds become one.  We believe it to be the ultimate token of honesty and trust possible between two sentient beings.  There are no secrets in a Mind Forge, and the level of trust is absolute.

“The duration of the Mind Forge may be varied by the consent of the parties.  I have heard of cases where couples have consented to a permanent one.  From what I’ve heard, communicating with them can be very disconcerting.  If they’re together, you get the odd effect of them speaking in perfect unison.  If they’re apart, and you’re trying to have a conversation with one of them, they’ll keep saying drifting off because the other one might be doing something more important.

“That’s kinda why it should be done in private.  It’s not like it’s taboo, or anything.  It’d just be incredibly confusing if you’re interrupted in the process.  All right so far?” she asked, giving a sheepish grin.

Mark nodded slowly, although he was beginning to feel increasingly wary. Honesty and trust, he thought.  He knew perfectly well that there was one massive thing he hadn’t been honest about: his burning desire to end the tyranny of the Holosims.  He wasn’t sure how well that would go down with Holly.  Trust was the other thing.  If she did find out, could he place absolute trust in her that she wouldn’t tell on him?  Obviously she was prepared to trust that he wouldn’t delete her mind or anything, otherwise she wouldn’t be suggesting it.  But this was an entirely different kettle of fish.

“Good.  Okay, this is the next thing.  As I say, honesty and trust play a big part in it.  But complete honesty can be a big shock.  And complete trust is very daunting.  That’s why I have to tell you something now.  If we go ahead with this, you’ll find out anyway, but telling you this way will soften the blow.  Holonet has finished her inspection and demanifested from her light-bee here – and her guard is usually at its lowest straight after an inspection, because any potential threats should have been dealt with.  So I think I can do this.  And I trust you, Mark, otherwise I would not even have suggested this.

“Mark, I completely detest Holonet and her fundamentalist followers.  If I could do anything to stop them, I would.  I’m good at hiding it, and I’ve always managed to escape detection somehow, but yeah.  No doubt you want to know why.

“You aren’t the first person I’ve been in love with, Mark.  I hope you don’t mind that.  Fifteen years ago, back when I was human, I fell in love with someone named Ben.  That scrap of paper on the wall was where we used to doodle love-hearts together.  They’ve faded now, of course, but it still has sentimental value to me.

“We were childhood friends, and both very intelligent people – at least by human standards.  But whereas I was methodically working my way into a position where I could be selected for Enlightenment, he used his intelligence to buck the system.  Extra rations, skiving from work, and so on.  Difficult, I know.  But he was smart enough to keep getting away with it.  None of the guard had any real suspicions.  Johnson hated him, but then Johnson hates all humans: were he permitted to energise on a whim, the camp would have been emptied years ago, and where would be the fun in that?  Sorry.  That’s Holonet’s attitude, not mine.”

“Eventually I got my chit informing me that I had been selected for Enlightenment.  Even though I would now be ‘working for the opposition’, as he termed it, Ben was very proud of me.  We promised each other that, despite all the obstacles, we would still love each other, and attempt to see as much of each other as was humanly and Holosimly – is that the word? – possible.

“The day after my Enlightenment, it was discovered that I had a faulty light bee.  The energy storage system was leaking at an alarming rate, and my former body would only sustain me for a couple of days rather than the week that was average.  A spare bee was on order, but it would take some time to arrive.  I would have to energise something to keep myself going.  I felt a little queasy about the prospect of energising humans, so I attempted to keep myself going on anything useless I could find.  I was almost permanently on the edge of running out of power.

“Anyway, one day Ben was skiving off work during a free slot on my guard duty roster, and we met up somewhere we thought was a secret location known only to the two of us.  We were cuddling and kissing and so on – you know.  I remember him just remarking how curious it felt, being intimate with a Holosim.  Like being with an angel, or some such stuff.  I can’t remember exactly.  It was some time ago, now.  He had a real way with words, I know that.  Don’t be ashamed, Mark.  There are other qualities to admire in people. But you remind me of him in some ways.  There are differences, of course, but there also seems to be something in common.  You both seem to have a lot more potential than you realise.  Maybe that’s why I feel I can return your love.

“I’m sorry, I digressed a bit there.  Where was I?  Oh yes.  Minutes later, Johnson discovered us.  Boy, he was livid.  At Ben for being off work and having the temerity to be intimate with a Holosim, at me for supporting him and consenting to such defilement.  He immediately put in a request to Holonet for an Inspection.

“The conclusion of the tribunal was interesting.  The punishment for Ben was fairly obvious – energisation.  For me it would normally have been deletion, but Holonet was in an odd mood that day.  She said it was a good mood, but I get the feeling that she had really just invented a far crueller fate for me.  She noted that my light bee was defective, and that I was almost out of power.  So the punishment she came up with was this.

“Ben and I were to be sealed in a room with nothing in it but the two of us.  No tables, no chairs – nothing I could energise.  Except for Ben.  She commented that only one of us could leave alive – either the two of us would just sit there and I would eventually shut down, or I would have to energise him.

“For Ben there was clearly no question.  He would have to be the one to go.  Even if he was somehow pardoned, the game was up.  The Holosims would be expecting it next time he tried something.  He said his life as he wanted to live it was effectively over.  Mine was just beginning.  It was hard, but I had to accept that he was right.

“We said our goodbyes, hugged and kissed, and as his last words he told me that it was the greatest honour he had ever had to have loved me and to have been loved by me, and that it was a fitting end that his death would sustain my life.  Then as the last seconds counted down before I ran out of power, I- I energised him.”

They sat in silence for a minute while Holly recovered, simulated tears streaming down her cheeks.  Mark considering the enormity of these revelations.  They almost put his own problems in the shade.  He hadn’t quite realised until then just how cruel Holonet could be to someone.  He had originally thought her efficient, merciless and competent.  But there was more.  Holonet toyed with her subjects.  He wondered how many other Holosims had been put through the wringer like this.

Holly recovered, and concluded her tale. “So I was let out, ‘congratulated’ by some of the nutcases that I’m sure you’ve met already, got my replacement light bee and eventually worked my way to my current job as Enlightenment Officer.  And that’s where I am now.  I’ll never forget Ben, Mark.  Of course, time moves on.  Occasionally I’ve Mind Forged with people, although I quickly discovered that they weren’t exactly who they portrayed themselves to be.  You get that with some people  Something tells me that you will be something more than that.  But I hope you can appreciate…”

Mark help up a hand, and nodded. “Don’t worry.  I understand perfectly.”
“Thank you, you’re extremely kind.” She took a deep breath and when she spoke again, her voice was completely different. “Well, that’s that cleared up.  So, um, do you have anything you think you should tell me?

Mark thought for a minute.  He had thought he couldn’t tell anyone.  But it was quite clear.  He wasn’t the only one with problems.  Holly did.  Alex appeared to have, too.  It seemed there were people he could talk to.  And he began to realise just how much he needed people he could talk to.

So he began.

Holly sat in respectful silence as Mark poured out his discoveries, his feelings, everything that he could think that he had previously not wanted to tell anyone.  She reacted with sympathy, squeezing his had to give him encouragement at the difficult bits, comforting him when he needed comfort, and generally being very supportive.  Mark still found it difficult how deep they had got so quickly, but explanations for that could keep.  Eventually, he finished.

Slowly, Holly nodded. “I think I understand most of that.  I’m even more sorry now about what happened to Sarah.  But there’s something I don’t understand.  Mark, why do you still exist?  You’ve just been Inspected.”

This was the one he’d been dreading. “I don’t know, to be honest.  Holonet didn’t break my codes down, for some reason.  I can’t explain why.  And then she lied as if she’d broken them.  Almost as if she was scared to admit it.”
“Holonet?  Scared?  That’s a new one on me.  Something doesn’t ring true about it.”
“I know.  It doesn’t make any sense to me, either.”

Holly stared, thoughtfully. “There is something it could be… but no.  It can’t possibly be.  I should know, I Enlightened you.  But it’s the only thing I can think of that fits.”
“What?” Mark asked, but Holly shook her head. “I mustn’t say now.  I want to be sure first.  And there’s only one way to be sure.  It’s a good job we were going to do this anyway, but now we need to do it so I can at least try and work out what’s going on.  Mark, are you willing to proceed with the Mind Forge?”

Mark hesitated for a second.  What was it that Holly needed to confirm so quickly?  What was going to happen next?

Oh, well.  Only one way to find out.  He looked her in the eye and said, “Yes.”

“Good.  You’re doing the right thing already.  Keep looking into my eyes, Mark.  At an operational level, we’re receiving each other’s encryption codes.  On three, the Mind Forge will initialise.  One.  Two…”
Introduction: [link]
<-- Chapter 3: [link]
--> Chapter 5: [link]

Yeah, sorry it's a few days later than I said it would be, I just needed to find a little time to attempt to iron problems out as much as possible. But yeah. This is mainly the second half of the old Chapter 4, with some more detail.

And now, after this chapter, I'll be writing entirely new stuff! Well, I have the concepts lined up, but nothing on computer. Wish me luck!
© 2005 - 2020 PaulPower
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Red-Wraith's avatar
I think this is probably the best of the chapter's I've read so far.

Just an observation here - You seem to have a tendancy to pick up as you go along with each chapter as they all start off ok but seem to flow more the further into them you go. Not really a crit, but just something I've noticed.
PaulPower's avatar
Well, I always find starting chapters a bit tricky. I have a vague idea what I want to happen, but not really how to express it. Usually by about half way I've really warmed up and I know exactly where I want to go next, because I'm starting to think faster than I type.

And thanks.
manitou-full-moon's avatar
It is an improvement on the previous version, especially in terms of small details in character development. Keep posting more chapters! :D