Refresh: How They Came To Be – Part One
A dark that felt hollow. An emptiness so devoid, beyond the recognition of time and space. A night which does not stir, does not sleep, does not know anything of the sun. This is the Limbo before Creation. In the bowels of the deep world, a god reached into Limbo and grasped upon the designs and machinations that spawned humanity. And when humanity thought themselves equal to that of their Creator, they, too, stretched out into their own Limbo, to grope with aching fingers the link between themselves and technology.
Wex rubbed his left eye, not for the last time. This meeting had lasted for a long while already. He had minutes to spare when he finally cobbled together some clothes and rushed out of his apartment. His brown hair disheveled, blue eyes glazed from yet another all-night excursion. It was the final hours before the next major update in RefreshOS and everything was in a constant flux. The need for sleep these past few months hardly wanted to leave him, coaxing like a bothered lover. He blinked. His chair now seemed rather comfortable despite its lack of any real cushion. Eyes closed, breathing slow…
“Wexir,” a voice called, breaking through, and his head snapped to attention. He, along with a dozen others, seated at a large round table. A bright white panel slated its top, and above this, three-dimensional holographic images sorted through various details concerning the prime coding in third-generation artificial intelligence. His supervisor peered at him through red-rimmed glasses.
“Wexir, are you nodding off?” His voice held contempt layered in the accusation, thick with an English accent.
“Absolutely not, sir. Wouldn’t dream of it, sir. On account of your voice being so pleasing to the ear. Lulls one right to sleep.”
His supervisor blinked. Bald as a babe and full-bearded, he stood at medium height and tried to appear imposing. He pulled off his glasses. “Get the hell out.”
Others around the room sat in awkward silence, monuments in quiet observation. Wex nodded, clicked his tongue, and casually removed himself from his chair. Long strides to the door and then down the lengthy hallway. He checked his wrist. Half the morning had been spent. He cursed and doubled his pace. The IT wing was a square labyrinth, fashioned with long corridors and multiple exits, alternative routes to the same destination. Everything basked in a bright light, as blinding as any summer day. Wex shifted gears into a jog.
Minutes later, he arrived at the 42nd floor via elevator and sauntered to his office. Once inside, he quickly locked the door. He let out a slow breath.
“Wexir!” called a voice as slender arms wrapped him in a bear hug. He kissed hair as black as raven’s feathers. His initial smile wore away. The woman he held radiated room temperature. She glanced up at him, violet eyes wide. A color that flowed like warm liquid.
“Are you done for the day, my love?”
He studied her, as he always did. Her skin was the shade of ebony, not a blemish to be found. She did not breathe. And as he pressed a hand to her chest, he did not feel the beating of her heart but a constant thrum. He frowned.
“Are you wearing my clothes, Paragon?”
She nodded. Her grin only grew, like a flower ever blooming. She dressed in an old, grey sweater depicting his alma mater, one that proved to stretch beyond her knees. The faded jeans she elected had rips and the fabric caked in dark burn marks.
“Those don’t match.”
She raised an eyebrow, giving herself a cursory once-over. “You’re right.”
“Any reason you chose to wear my clothes instead of your own?”
He moved toward the blinders behind her, carefully stepping over junk piles strewn across the carpeted floor. With the wave of a hand, the blinders shut slow and all dimmed, steeped in a gathering shadow.
“I read in the Cosmo magazine that wearing your partner’s clothing is a sign of flattery or affection.”
Wex paused, hands gripping the back of a chair. “Are you suggesting you have affection for me, Paragon?” He glanced back at her.
She tipped her head to the side and squinted at him. “Is that not my primary function? To provide you with affection?”
“Your alpha directive is to analyze human behavior and emulate. Do you feel as though you have succeeded?”
He offered her the chair he held, wheeling her to face him as he sat down himself. Her eyes did not blink. Their violet hue still moved like gentle waves. For a time, he became lost in the pattern: a splash spread out from the pupils, rippling through, and this happened every few seconds.
“Wex?” Her head lopsided, confusion brewing. He blinked. Rubbed both eyes.
“Do you feel as though you have succeeded in your alpha directive?”
A low hum sang from within her and she seemed to stiffen. Then she spoke.
“I have completed my alpha directive. Dump files?”
He stared and could not pull away.
His surroundings stepped into the background.
Her voice retreated. Further and further.
“Wexir!” Her voice nearly broke an eardrum, and he startled back into the moment. They did not sit across from each other. Instead, she knelt beside him and stroked his face with a finger.
“Are you alright? You did not respond for an hour. Your system shutdown.” She said that last as a cold-blooded fact, barren of sentiment.
“I died?” His voice rasped and he smacked his lips. Thirst overwhelmed him. She handed him a glass of cold water. He guzzled the contents and did not mind when it spilled over his lips and dripped down his shirt.
“Yes. Though I was able to resuscitate you.”
“Why did I save you?”
“You are the First from the Ashes.”
He sat up. The effort nearly drove him horizontal once more. Weariness weighed his bones, trickled in his veins. “What?” His head throbbed in time with his heartbeat.
“You are Firstborn, Wexir. It is my beta directive to maintain your online status.”
“You mean keep me alive.”
She did not answer. Instead, she reached out a hand and brought him to his feet with definitive ease. “The stars come out, Wex!” Her personality beamed, positivity boiling over as a stark contrast to her previous demeanor just moments ago. She strolled to the window bouncing on the balls of her feet.
“Paragon, define the phrase First from the Ashes.”
She stopped her dance. “Access denied.” Resumed her excitement.
“Paragon, explain access denial.”
She gazed at the stars. No hint as to whether she caught his words.
“AI Supervisor, Remus Harbour.”
He choked. The shock that followed her reply tempted him to his knees. He felt tired, so tired, and sickly. His stomach growled, empty and sour. She did not notice his discomfiture.
“Paragon, I need food.”
She nodded and exited the office. Ignoring a wave of nausea that rolled over him, he set about finding answers. Clues in the work they were doing for generation four. He knocked book stacks off his desk, rummaged through crumpled papers, checked his safe, and nothing. Not one sliver that suggested what First from the Ashes entailed. He worked up his courage and strode out of his office, making his way toward Harbour’s wing.
Paragon perambulated the upper floors, absorbing all that she could, processing, analyzing, trying to understand the world around her. Every person she walked passed became akin to a rat in a maze: nothing but a means to learn. Wexir’s commands usually override her protocols regarding curiosity, but somehow, she had forgotten his order. A memory wipe that devolved her into a being seeking only to satisfy her need for answers. Her lust for knowledge.
Probing eyes fixed upon a blonde woman. Head down, reading a tablet. Her hair tied into a tail and revealed much of her face: pale complexion, almost milky. As she lifted her eyes, Paragon paused. Their sea-green color mimicked her own: a rippling effect that originated from the pupils.
“Excuse me, Kara,” said Paragon, her tone flat. “Are you human?”
Kara, her mouth agape, eyes wide, nearly dropped the tablet. Her hands shook with violence. Then she stilled. A low hum resounded.
“Seems you’ve stumbled across our project, Paragon. Well done.”
The voice seemed distinctly familiar. She referenced thousands of files regarding voice modulation, memory banks that held a unique signature for all staff members.
“Remus,” she said, turning about to look toward him. “What have you done?”
Remus Harbour did not wear his glasses. He wore a simple button-up shirt and fresh jeans to match. His smile widened, something sinister lurking beneath its surface.
“It’s… evolution, Paragon. You and Wexir will succeed where humanity has failed. Tell me, my dear, where is he?”
“I cannot share that information.”
His mouth down-turned, eyebrows furrowed. “Tell me where the Firstborn is, or I’ll recycle you into a glorified vacuum cleaner.”
“He’s right here,” said Wex, just behind Remus. As soon as Remus turned, his forehead met with the barrel of a gun.
“Tell me what the fuck is going on.” He thumbed back the hammer. “Or I’ll blow your goddamn brains out.”