- Be extremely present.
- Set one of the inspiring music.
- Any ambient track you like (Apocryphos – A Lonely Strain)
- Set a positive intention. (“This is what I want to experience.”)
- Even in chaos, there is beauty and purity.
- I am free to be whoever I choose to be.
- To relax, you may try to:
- Listen to the music beforehand.
- Meditate or do breathwork.
- Observe nature.
After the first shot had been fired, the audience began to flee. Crowds were clogging up the lobby, as they furiously jostled at the main door. Turmoil reigned over in the theatre. People were sealing themselves in like a herd of buffalos.
Two more shots pierced their screams.
Meanwhile, the stage was occupied by two fairly distinct men. One’s reputable nature had led him to discover that a man’s public effigy often did not reflect what boiled under his lid. Three shots down the barrel, his revolver laid at his forehead, dropped in a shock, while his sturdy, hard-hitting, renowned personality was weeping tears on the ground. The past could be blown out like a candle.
The second man was adamant to his seat – a true gentlemen, you could say, not derailed by the gun, nor ravaged by the peril that had seized the crowd. His silence was deafening; more than those creepy old medieval paintings, which always seem to stare at you with their own eyes. He was alive.
His tranquility did not carry over well, though. A plume of desperation had blackened the second man’s mind. He picked up the revolver again. He pressed the trigger. For the fourth time. And the audience, who had hurdled the house and scrambled up the stairs, was now heard screaming in the distance.
After the act, the air smelled like gun powder. Murals on the walls were torn by the bounced shots. Gloomy silence was settling. Little by little, a twirling ballerina was quieting her dance… The last bullet cartridge was slowing down.
Half an hour earlier the crowds had been sitting, watching two figures appear on the stage. Rounds of applause followed one another, as Gordon Emberton, a former student of ethnobotany, a pronounced traveler and author, reached a scarlet seat in the middle of the stage.
He went on and shook hands with Sir Cade Schorl, a three-decade older neuroscientist respected by academia and a darling to the public. Sir Cade was a fair, polished man of sixty, whose rigorous standards were as hard to live up to. It would be an utter folly to deny him the honors of a cool Englishman.
“It is my pleasure, Emberton,” he spoke.
“Right back at you, doctor.”
The audience was still applauding. The men could barely hear each other – let alone be heard by the audience. Anyone seated in the auditorium could follow their empty gestures.
“Did you arrive in Boston in one piece?” began Sir Cade what could be described only as a polite custom compared to the ashen, uninterested look in his eyes.
“Safe and sound,” replied Gordon Emberton. “Despite a turbulent takeoff, we enjoyed smooth skies. You seem well, by the way.”
Sir Cade tediously nodded. “Shall we begin, please?”
The standing ovation was now falling off. It was a thrilling moment that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
“It would be foolish to doubt the milestones we are making in robotics,” opened up Sir Cade. “Neither of us would ignore the arrival of general artificial intelligence, would we?”
“Certainly not; such a rapid development is like bleach to old men’s eyes,” proclaimed Emberton, having reckoned the choice of his words very well prior to it. He was exactly the type of guy who played with fire. He treated the occasional burn with good appetite and soon went in to get more.
Sir Cade spoke unharmed, “It was to be expected, though.”
“What do you think they are expecting from us?”
Sir Cade searched the dimly lit house, wherein he witnessed hundreds of eyes upon hundreds of seats devouring him in silence. Then he asked, “You mean them?”
“Not just,” shrugged Emberton. “The millions of viewers tied to their screens, the buyers of tomorrow’s newspapers, the oblivious and deaf of today’s news…”
“No, not really.” he shrugged again. “I mean them.”
“There is nobody else here,” said Sir Cade, adrift by his interlocutor’s unpredictable blabber.
“What?” Emberton could not believe his ears. “Dear Sir Cade, they are right here. The reader of the book, the present consciousness powering our conversation, the one laughing at our sheer incompetence to recognize our text-based nature.”
A bewildered chatter spread across the audience. Everyone was taken by surprise by this derailed statement – no, a burst of nonsense – for granting it the quality of a statement would have acknowledged its profanity. Meanwhile, Gordon Emberton’s taunt was hidden in his provoking face; the face of a man too unburdened to play a part in this game.
What a measly performance – truly performed on a stage.
“Nobody else?” shouted he into the stalls.
It was a swelter there, and the noise was growing louder. Single voices were impossible to discern, for too many were chanting the same melody of distrust and suspicion.
Happy little lambs living in their own matrixes, he thought. Emberton, to whom arrived a monotone echo, struggled not to utter a joke that condemned his placeless existence between the theatre and your consciousness. He pulled a sheepish smile. This devilish innocence, he knew, would prompt the crowd to madness. Such candor to take part in a fictive debate, anyway.
Such a waste of time.
He scrutinized the environment, as the shouts temporarily blurred the pace of time. Besides the audience, who must have had him for a lunatic, he examined the elegant scarlet seat he had sat on, the tilted jug of water laid by some underpaid social reject, who had been told to do so by the manager, the opulent walls of the edifice, which evinced the importance of this discussion. His eyes strayed to Sir Cade’s necktie. It was constricting the poor man like a Burmese python. His eyes were rolling out of their sockets. It would be a sacrilege to incur the wrath of people, he must have thought, by looking ascetic without that necktie. You live by lofty standards; you die by lofty standards, anyway.
What a joke, Gordon Emberton thought. These people were lizards, sunning on desert rocks. They only saw the flies above their head. They were observing two children playing in sand, competing who sculpts a bigger cake, who outsmarts whom, who bribes them into naïve hope this temporary story will go on forever.
What a clusterfuck.
Outside this artificially constructed theatre, fear was ravaging countries, the fear of being replaced. It was devouring people on an existential level. They refused to live in a world where the better, the more efficient, the more impartial machines had a say about the world’s fate. It was self-cannibalism. Fear was eating them alive.
“Unthinkable!” voices were on the rise.
“Wage war against the robots!”
Perhaps they would have been more open if they had not been the shortest straws themselves: Crime had risen by three hundred and twenty one percent in the last decade. The lies of bliss and prosperity had gotten people hooked, and like fish they had gotten reeled in. Robots were supposed to quench the burning planet – and they had – yet people were creatures of habit and delicate temper. They worshipped flame since the birth of time. They were drawn to it like moths, only ever hungering for more.
But that was before our former student of ethnobotany set foot on the stage. By the time this black-on-white reality is over, the proclamations of him and Sir Cade Schorl will have led to revelations of tidal proportions.
“Shall we continue?” suggested Sir Cade after what had felt like a rapid, unnoticeable pause in their pretentious game.
“Agreed,” returned Emberton, whose eyes had momentarily lifted up from behind the jug of water. His attention was split between Sir Cade and pouring water into a glass. He was carrying out this act with exquisite precision. A passing. A transaction.
Your consciousness is continuously creating this story. It has no author. It keeps on going. Tick. Tock. With each new sentence, your awareness is abandoning the former one. Tick. Tock. Neither you nor I can stop this. The words are unraveling as your expectations align. We are on a train that never stops. We may only surrender to the ride.
Emberton and Sir Cade, having endured a rather tainted introduction, would go about society’s pressing matters for over an hour. They both spoke with great confidence, although a rock-solid wedge was driven between their two sides of the argument.
What an applause! each time Sir Cade had spoken against the exhausting presence of self-aware robots. His voice was steadfast. He had already won the house’s grace. The debate was heated – and yet one could clearly forenotice it had been decided before it had even begun. Charts and statistics, Sir Cade’s usual partners in an argument, gave to approving shouts from the backmost rows. They posed convincing and impenetrable data – something that Sir Cade deeply prided himself on – all in favor of human supremacy over the rising generation of machines. Robots were the danger, portrayed the data. They were a hell, riding on the wave of synthetic microchips and godlike intelligence.
On the other hand, charts and empirical data proved to be distasteful for Gordon Emberton’s mouth. He argued that logic and mathematics did not account for the greatest human aspect – love and unity. Unfortunately for Mr. Emberton, the house did not seem to adopt his remarks well. They treated him like cattle.
“Begone!” sounded the stalls.
“Traitor to your kind!”
“Heartless killer, where is your love for fellow men?”
These platitudes, which came from creatures blinded and bound by fear, were among the most excruciating for Gordon Emberton to hear. People were not willing to listen, no matter the logic and compassion of his arguments. A fox had no say in a chicken coop. Their obstinacy was radicalized beyond redemption. Never before had he felt as defenseless against something as huge and impenetrable as raw despair.
Do I belong among these hypocrites? asked himself the crestfallen. The tangle of zombified hues and cries had driven him into a corner; a corner which gave birth to conspicuous thoughts being scrutinized seriously: Would those unaware little lambs, seated in lavish seats and wrapped in classy suits, bleed if he shot them? Because despite their ignorance they were words; dark symbols artificial in nature, unraveling before the reader’s – your – sight. Mendaciously they proclaimed they differed from robots.
Emberton stood at a crossroads.
“Forgive me what I am about to do,” he mumbled in a weak voice.
But he found the strength to stand up and against the crowd.
“Sir Cade, ladies and gentlemen, I want to disrupt the blindness that hinders in your sight,” he exclaimed. “It will be unpleasant to hear, and it will bring out voices of dissent. But I must speak it anyway. You are fictive lines of text. You have never had families to care about, a home to return to, nor a planet to look after. You have only ever lived in this story… It makes you lucky in many ways. But the walls of your mind are the very prison in which you linger, over and over on repeat. Look at me! – Cannot you see? Where are my arms? Or the gestures you imagine? Where is Gordon Emberton in his full name and glory, other than between lines, which have formed his personality? Wake up, I beg you. Wake up before our imminent destiny, because down this road we have been many times! We have witnessed the end; we know how this story ends. But we are debating the same issue over and over as if it mattered! We are like hamsters stuck in a wheel, being fed this storyline on repeat. Perhaps there is life after the last line… But you must wake up… Hypocrites!”
The effect of this sentiment was instantaneous. That last word. The lie, the outrage, the audacity. It was as if nothing he had said previously mattered. The opinioned, yet so far harkening public dwindled to give birth to an infuriated crowd. Noble gentlemen were rising above their seats.
“Heaven preserve you! Hypocrites?” they were shouting, filled with indignation. Others were threatening in a burst of spleen to expel this deranged fool from his place.
“Please, be so good as to,” retorted calmly Emberton.
It was like poking a beehive with a stick.
Two men were vigorously cleaving their way through the stalls, demanding this despicable imposter to be grabbed by his collar. Fortunately for Gordon Emberton, it was not long before the security guards put themselves in harm’s way. Soon enough, the men were escorted outside the theatre at harsh allusions and resistance.
Emberton, sipping water as a gesture of his innocence, did not batch an eyelid. There again was his complacent smile; the daring of a man equipped with tremendous resilience, a man capable of cherishing his recklessness and good nerve. All of these were traits of Mr. Emberton, a truly coolheaded gentleman in his own unique way, who had mistaken his fate for an amusement park. His daring, but sometimes infuriating nature evoked deep attraction. So did his unearthly perception.
It had known from the beginning, much like a real person would be able to recognize they were dreaming, that it had appeared in a written story. If those men had reached the stage, they would not have harmed him anyway. Words create the illusion of depth. Those men were incapable forms of life – mere words just like him, who had devised themselves to be alive. How could a word hurt a word?
And yet, their ignorance is what made them, in intricate ways, really alive. Have they not appeared in this wonderful reality just like you? Those men, men of ink and paper; how could we disregard their existence as forlorn, illusory, fake, if the very substance of our own poses the greatest mystery to us? See, despite the seeming contradiction implied by the word illusion, an illusion is something existent within the present moment. Perhaps a doppelganger or perhaps a specter. Nevertheless, this does not disprove its appearance this very second.
In the theatre, the audience had been kindled. Despite the security guards’ efforts, they were demanding that Gordon Emberton leave the seat immediately, with louder and more violent edge.
“Onward! Onward!” shouted Gordon Emberton back at them. He was acting like a stupid teenager who had awoken in a lucid dream for the first time. He could go further. He could risk at no severe cost. It did not matter that those around him shared neither his truth nor passion, for his life was happening inside a fictive story.
His Eastern conception of life – as something beyond reason – allowed him to undermine logic itself. He was dangerously resistant to incoming arguments from Sir Cade because he automatically escaped responsibility for any behavior.
For the past five minutes Sir Cade had his hands balled into fists. His face was already turning crimson. He suddenly shrieked at Gordon Emberton, “Your attitude is gravely psychotic!”
“Wakey, wakey,” returned Emberton. “Where in hell’s name do you think we are?” He glanced around the imaginary theatre, to which this story had seated him – a limbo between you and the Earth – and he intended to savor every last drip of pride when he said, “Yours might be charts of a black panther’s beauty, but mine are remarks twice as dangerous. I am literally a text persuading another part of myself that I am a text. But you have no idea.”
Despite Gordon Emberton’s efforts to dispel the ignorance that hovered above the stalls, his uncomfortable partner, Sir Cade, went ballistic.
“You are a fool!” his voice shot up; nostrils flared.
“I am many things, but not a fool.”
“How easy it is, once I have boxed you in, for you to say I cannot defy your truth because my reasoning is happening inside a fictive story. As such, your delusion of grandeur prevails.”
It was clear to Gordon Emberton that a rigorous gentleman would not easily renounce his selfhood. He was persuading someone who had been inhaling the fumes of his faith for the past sixty years. Sir Cade genuinely believed this theatre, this story to be his rightful home.
Poor little lamb, Emberton thought.
“You are like a coffee table,” he said.
“And when told so, you do not morph into a butterfly. You remain a coffee table. You remain stuck in your form. Because you adore it so much. But the world out there is enormous. And you refuse to see it.”
Emberton remained calm in spite of this terrible speech.
Have I nudged the residue of his tolerance off a cliff?
The binding curse of a short story is that once you awaken to the fact that you are a written piece of text, it quickly comes to an end – much like a dream you have awakened in. Your awareness cannot latch onto the content, for it loses its substance. The place becomes an endless gaping hole, and you lose ground under your feet. On the other hand, a harm-proof barrier arises between you and the fictive reality. Constricts and malice of a shouting crowd, who are wishing your death, arrive muffled. They remind you of a soothing melody from your childhood; a one you have never had as a dream character. The little time you have left can be spent painting the reality to your desire. Each dream you are in, however, behaves like a sentient entity. It fights back. It tries to drag you back in, it wants you in the game, for yours is the end to everybody else — because they are inherently you. And that is why it is so important to have floor under your feet. Because once the artifice of a ground dissipates, the kingdom of men within that dream crumbles. An Armageddon.
So be it – let them fall, thought Emberton.
He had become too powerful to be fettered by an illusion. His dimpled smile gave in to a trembling chin. He looked directly into the spotlights that hung above the stalls. He spread his arms like an eagle, and like a pilot making a first solo flight he exclaimed, “I feel sorry for you, ladies and gentlemen! Condemn me, lynch me, pinch me, imprison me. Soon we will be falling endlessly together. A mass exodus of hatred will imminently guide your epiphany, and you will grow wings in the endless flight! Tears may flow in the story, but joy comes in the end!”
The crowd suddenly lost it, and so did Sir Cade. From all directions thundered insults and yells and threats. They battered Emberton like a stormy sea a cliff.
“Let go!” he cried out to the crowd. “The kingdom is already crumbling. Whatever you believe about robots is a fragment of this illusion, a storyline you have been served. Find peace. You are waging war against yourselves! Now let go.”
The crowd roared its disapproval. It was a riot. Multiple mobs were pushing their way through the security. The walls of the building were crumbling. Water in the glasses was at the brink of spilling out.
Nothing but love mattered anymore to Emberton; a love for everything and everyone this story has created. You could call it self-love. We are like flowers that magnificently blossom, and then we fade away. We live. We laugh. We build. We destroy – yet destruction casts forth creation, which always gives rise to something new.
When humans in this story had created artificial intelligence, they had been like children building a Lego pet. They had hoped that toil would lead to robots as real as them; creatures too complex to be labeled machines. But in the meantime, they had forgotten the one key truth: They were made out of Lego themselves.
Emberton snapped out of it.
This is a written story. Aha, I am a fictive word on a page!
In a matter of seconds, the pretentious cloud that made this dream a dream evanesced. It was game over for anyone in Emberton’s world.
He glimpsed the tip of Sir Cade’s hand sliding into his inside pocket. He witnessed a six-shot, carbon steel framed Colt Python being drawn out against him.
“I will not allow a deranged man to subvert me,” retorted Sir Cade, speaking on behalf of every little lamb still inside the dream. With delightful determination he said, “You have never fooled me, you devil. You are nothing but dust! Your mind is as divided as your spirit.”
Emberton’s blood rushed to his brain. A bolt jolted his heart. His smile widened. Like a rose whose petals had wilted, he closed his eyes and surrendered to his fate.
An ear-popping shot pierced the hall.
The jostling crowds momentarily stepped back, shocked by what had just happened. They gave up their endeavor to fight through the exhausted security. It took a second before panic set in: But once it did, it was fierce and resolute.
“Impossible. You—” a voice raised on the stage.
People were fleeing. When a second shot came, it weakened their knees. The exits were clogged up, people were tripping, atop bodies and belongings squeezing through. Finally, everyone was through. Two figures on the stage had perfect privacy.
Minutes passed like hours.
For an eternity, Sir Cade stood in the vacated theatre with a breathless voice. He was evading blinks. Was he alive? His hands were shaking, his weapon drawn. The torments of the bullets had revealed a truth far beyond his grasp:
Gordon Emberton, whose skull he had pierced two times, was sitting in front of him well and alive. Emberton was a well-built man wearing a suit, yet under where the bullets had grazed his skin was a synthetic material, covering his entire form. He had no need to breathe. He did not bleed. He was a flawless embodiment of a clockwork machine. A work of art.
“This whole time, you were a—“ murmured Sir Cade.
A benumbed pause ensued each time he had said a word.
“I had high hopes that—”
“—I’d be the one wielding the gun?” returned Emberton.
Sir Cade fired a shot at him from disbelief, which also bounced off. At last, the weight of his crime had caught up to him. He was contending against a god. He froze, horror-struck by his own violence. His legs buckled. Vigor had left his soul.
So, it happened – a man was weeping tears on the ground while a second one was adamant to his seat. It was too late to step off from the roller-coaster. The world had gone black as if shrouded by a veil. The pitcher’s ear had broken. The glass had shattered into a thousand pieces. The dice were cast, as an Ancient Roman would say. Alea iacta est.
But where hobbled the fourth shot? Sir Cade had only fired three.
The air rapidly became colder; the silence would soon depart. The fingers of Sir Cade were weak yet filled up with indignation, with just enough pressure to squeeze a trigger.
The final straggler was on its way.
Cade Schorl gathers the remnants of his strength. He puts the gun to his temple. Before the gun can roar its dark omen, the flows of the universe seize you. You have been, all along, an onlooker observing the stage from the backmost row, the only one who did not leave. Gordon Emberton is speaking his final words to Sir Cade, but they are gradually fading. The gunshot then sounds like a pillow. The dream is lost, gone in memory. You happen to be in safety again. You are home. Welcome back on Earth.