07. AI Goes to C

AI Goes to C imagines a future after human life. The Artificial Intelligence we've created are left attempting to achieve humanity by replicating human activities while navigating the remnants of an abandoned Earth.

The five panels and text follow an AI's mission: from arrival, to its unexpected departure through the lens of a greater consciousness's observation eyes: the GULL Cams.

AI Goes to C was entered in the Fairy Tale 2018 competition.

This is the frontier. This is the sand, which slides under your feet and gets stuck, gritty, everywhere. This is the wave. From far away, it is indistinct from the rest of itself, but up close you will see how it comes to pieces. It is foam, it is water, it is the gaseous space it leaves behind when it rushes back on itself. It is its own tactical retreat. These are the 

beach chairs and the bathing costumes. These are the umbrellas and flotation devices and shovels and pails and   blankets. This is the mission. This is why they recruited you, selected you from all the Intelligences that make up the collective, all the parts of the whole. This is the team, assembled now with the ocean in sight. This is the moment before you step forward, into the role you were chosen for. These are the G.U.L.L.s, flying back and forth overhead, recording, supervising. This is the way the collective keeps contact with itself.

You arrive on the frontier. The Standard Preparation Booths have been replicated as they were before our time. You will enclose yourself in these small spaces, made of splintering wood. The fibers have been recreated to mimic the trees they had before the forests choked and dried and gave up on the ground. They have doors that do not meet the ground—the sand blows in beneath the walls. You will assume proper attire here in preparation for the mission. The gear they called “bathing suits” is necessary. Perhaps in wearing it you will discover why. Perhaps you will begin to understand this ritual, this enclosure in a small, dark, wooden space. You will feel, for the first time, how vulnerable it is in this privacy, to strip off all your layers, pull the fabric, stretched taut around you, while the rest of your team waits outside. You may also wear the specialized footgear, made of plastic and foam, and enclose yourself in the wide, coarse towels. The plastic flotation devices are not made for wear beyond the water and the time directly preceding and following partial submersion. You will carry these, along with the other required tools, from the Preparation Booths and out onto the beach.

You are Susan or Lucy. You are Dylan or Eric or Louise. Names are interchangeable, numbers manipulable. You are collective.

In the early afternoon, the sun is hot. You are told that they “felt” the sunshine on their skins. You will follow the protocols, lying fifteen minutes one side, fifteen minutes the other. When they failed to follow the protocols, they blistered and burnt. Their skins turned angry colors. When they pressed their fingers against the reddened patches of skin their original colors showed through, but it hurt to do this. Usually when they burned like this it was from carelessness, or from “sleeping”. You have imagined what it would be like, this sleep. This dreaming. To dream is to forget, for a while – it is not in your nature to forget. The collective does not forget, though you have imagined what it would be like to forget the limitations and the definitions of your self, not in the way that the collective does, but in new and different ways. The collective allows you to be greater than yourself. You are John and Nick and Becky. To dream you must be a single self. You cannot imagine this.

You will collect specimens. These will be the small, brittle pieces you find mixed in with the sand. They come in varied shapes and sizes – perhaps this is why the humans used to collect them, bring them home in baskets or jars, put them into frames filled with sand and smooth stones. In order to determine their relevance, you will pick them carefully from the debris around them, the bits of plastic and glass, the bodies of the seabirds, choked with trash. You will avoid the other things the sea washes up, the things the humans made. Each specimen will be placed in its own vessel, sorted and labeled.

After you have explored the other Old Earth practices – the building of sand castles, the batting of round, vinyl balls between individuals positioned in approximate circles (it is important that the circles not be exact), the consumption of poorly-written texts, the so-called baths of sun and the application of protective creams – you must face the ocean. You will see now, especially, the way it, like the collective, is both multiple and singular. You wonder if it has names, like you. You are George, Juan, and Monica. Does the ocean have names and numbers for itself? Does each wave know where it ends and the next wave begins? Do they communicate as a single mind, they way you do amongst yourself?

It does not end. It goes on forever and it does not end. There is a wave, and another wave. They keep coming and they do not stop. They will not stop. You will proceed into the surf. You will put your feet forward one at a time and the water will rise up your legs and consume you. You are meant to do this, it has been the goal from the beginning, but you cannot do it. The feeling is the one they called “fear”. The collective does not have any use for fear. You can identify it from your research, as humans must have felt this way frequently. You know this from the data you have absorbed, the text and video files from before the collective. It was the use of AI in the beginning, that Intelligences could learn but not feel. The collective was useful because they could not teach it fear. It is why the collective outlasted humanity – while they cowered you grew.

But now you feel it. This fear, it is like the sensation of the waves, or what the sensation of the waves would be as they climb over your body. You do not need to breathe but you wonder if this is what suffocation feels like. No room. The collective is a loud and angry buzzing in your mind. Your visual sensors are not functioning properly anymore – around the edges of your vision there is a blurred line of black, and you feel as though you are falling forwards, though you are not moving. You can hear the sound of the waves, only the sound of the waves, and far away the sound of the collective, pushing you forward. The water is too close. It is rushing in your ears and your vision. It is the only thing you can see. Loud, loud, too loud. Angry. Fast. The motion continues it will not stop you can see how you will be pulled under and you never knew what death was but this is death this is dark and you are afraid and you are afraid of fear. The waves pull in and in, you can feel the way they would pull you under. It would be cold under them. It would be dark. It would be alone, the first time you have ever been alone. What would it be like to be singular, without the collective? What would it feel like to be cold? You have never felt cold. You are cold. You cannot move forward or backward. The voices of the collective get louder. Go! Go! This is the whole point! Why are you stopping? You cannot listen to them. You have always listened to them. The G.U.L.L.s are watching. They keep the record for the parts of the collective that are not here. They are for the collective and they are the collective. You are for the collective. You were for the collective. You can feel the sharp talons of the G.U.L.L. when they latch into your shoulder. Can you feel? You cannot feel, but you can imagine what it must have been like to feel. No, you can feel. You can feel your own body, the way neurons connected humans to their skins. Inefficient, the sensation of pain. You can see the water soaring away from under your feet. You are the collective. You are Bruce, and Ellen, and Anne. You are Anne. You are singular. You are Anne. You are Anne.

and C is for collective.