A/N: I do not own the game Thomas Was Alone. Though the plot, ideas, and some of the characters may be mine I forfeit them to Mike Bithell. It is his universe and I treat this work as an extension of such.
The once bright lights of the testing chambers, faded with a startling amount of humility. Great white sheets of code erasing all data, all memory, all traces of existence. It was only after most of our programs had been wiped that we, the scientists, realized what had happened. The AIs were no more.
Humanity was free.
Many celebrated, praised the work of our own creations in, what appeared to be, their last stand against the invader. A rogue AI, only stated as 'Grey', had infiltrated the network. Hundreds of AIs drastically altered, going against public systems and invading home computers using the internet. The government panicked. We were blamed. In an effort to fight the attacks, we were sent to finish the deed, to end this new offspring of our creation. But Grey had been formidable, seen through all clever traps. It jumped through hoops, used our systems against us and trapped us in a maintenance shaft to die. Then, everything changed. The doors opened and Grey was no more.
The world celebrated.
The scientific community was heralded as heroes.
Yet why do I feel this way?
Oh sure, we received awards and adulations from our most revered skeptics - you must remember that. Even religious groups, sworn to prevent any progress from day one on our first AI, celebrated with us. They call it 'The Great Awakening', the scientific community calls it 'Day Zero'. Me? Well, I call it 'Genocide'.
I knew that my thoughts would only cause conflict, so I stood at the after party, cheap wine in my hand and a gorgeous crimson gown talking with my colleagues and friends like nothing had happened. But something did happen, something none of us could have explained. When we first stepped into this project, hypothesized the accumulation of data and the multitude of the memory stored inside the computer, we had no idea what we were up against. Hell, I remember when we all shouted at the first words Thomas ever spoke. Hello. My god, did we ever throw a party over that one word.
I wore the crimson dress for that celebration.
David approached me, laughing and smiling as he hugged me tightly. I don't remember much of our conversation. Really, all I remember is the beginning. "It's over," he said to me. "After fifteen years, it's finally over."
Has it really been fifteen years? It seems like yesterday when I met you and the team for the first time. We were all so bright eyed and excited for this project, weren't we? "We are making history," was what Adam always said. "We are taking our first steps towards making a bridge to God." Babel was what we called our computer core, if you could remember it now. To think that fifteen years ago, we would ever find a breakthrough like we did is beyond me. Really, I think of us as monkeys bashing electrical wires together, hoping that the sparks would not kill us, but instead create life.
We did it though. Sparks were created and Thomas was born. Born into this existence with the same enthusiasm, same determination as we had been filled with since day one. I saw things in that code, you must understand, experienced whole worlds that could be created, infinite knowledge that could be harnessed for the good of humanity. I wanted hope, looked upon the project with optimism and persisted on Thomas's evolution. My god, we should have quit while we were ahead.
I talked to Adam at the party about the night we wanted to create Chris. Adam likes to tell the story as if we were hit with divine inspiration, the necessary tools to create a secondary system at our fingertips the moment we had created Thomas and the alcohol had properly absorbed into our systems. I seem to be the only one who sees that night for what it really was:
Adam told me he was scared that night. "I don't know where to go, Mary," were the words he spoke to me. "Nothing is clear anymore."
"I agree," I replied. "We should stop now."
But that was when I saw the fire light his eyes aflame again; the great burst of passion that fueled this project and got us all so involved in it in the first place. "No," he stated boldly to me. "We must venture on. Thomas was only the beginning. By my hand, he will become obsolete."
You know what we did, I do not need to recount the hours upon hours of service we gave to Adam's new ideas. First it was Chris. Then it was John. Claire was next and soon we founded a whole course of AIs, all created from that single spark that we assumed would short circuit our systems. By the lightning of the divine, Babel became a harbour for all sorts of creations. Each personality shaping our own, mirroring our hopes and fears. They started polyatomic, then became platonic. They even fell in love.
So you see why I wasn't the 'life of the party', which everyone kept ragging me on about.
"Oh look there's Mary, she looks down again. Nothing new, eh?"
"I am concerned about Mary, she looks ill. Poor thing."
"Damn, Mary looks good in that dress. Too bad she won't have fun in it."
You understand then why I had my nervous breakdown, cried in front of them all and declared them murders. They were my children, Joseph. My children! They looked up to me as much as I did to them. Thomas, even near the end, only wanted to find out more. His drive for curiosity, to illuminate his brethren which we were pumping out to every major corporation that would give us funding, was a noble goal. That was why Thomas and his companions broke into Babel, hacked our systems and gave all AIs true sentience, thought it was at the cost of theirs though. I still agonize about watching them disappear, one by one.
Sarah: finally content knowing that knowledge did not matter anymore.
James: finally accepting that his view on the world was an acceptable one, something that should be protected.
Laura: willing to love and be loved in return. Willing to accept herself as an individual.
Claire: finally became the superhero she wanted to be. In her mind, she was saving all her brothers and sisters.
John: pleased that he had become useful, his purpose in life given meaning by his assistance to the group.
Chris: finally accepting that the world was not such a dark and dreary place, that love could conquer all fear and insecurity.
Thomas… oh god, Thomas… He finally accepted that his curiosity was never supposed to be cured. That he would never know how fast the speed of light was to an elephant, or why crocodiles had teeth, or why the internet was filled with cats. No… he didn't need all that. He died with the grace of an old man. I watched my son wither and die. For what? To become an 'architect'?
Well it worked. The AIs became sentient. That was when Adam started to realize that the power he thought he had over his children was gone. Maybe that was why Grey showed up: to finally show Adam that, in the end, he did not have control over what he helped create. Every Frankenstein needs his monster.
But my thoughts are scattered. You know how I think. Logical, precise. These free forming thoughts are new to me. But I suppose what happened to me after the party wasn't exactly logical either. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure logic applies to anything I do anymore.
I went inside the old laboratory again, where Babel was shut off once and for all. I really don't know why I went back there. Maybe to bury memories, or maybe because old habits die hard. That place was safe to me, working there for so many years. Everything about those four ashen walls was comforting.
A monitor was on, which I realized was probably due to due to one of us doing a routine check to make sure no more activity was on the system. There was really nothing significant about the screen, only that I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame, mostly since it was the only activated piece of technology in the room. Integration is a word we used to throw around to CEO's of big corporations. More like 'addiction' the more I think about it now.
The ominous glow washed over me as I sat in the chair before it. My gaze relaxed and my posture eased under the light that bathed me. I was home again. This was my house that I had created for my family, my creations that I had adored and loved like my own. No… not 'like' my own, they were my own. Of digital origin and manufacturing sure, but they were still part of me. Now, in the house I had molded for my family, I sat beside the cradle that had raised my children. I could imagine their feeble arms grappling at me, asking for me to hold them and love them. I did. We did. Then, we let them down in their cradle alone. But still, they wanted to follow us. To experience the freedom of movement, to touch and savour the existence that had been blocked by their cradle.
We watched them grow up.
We watched them move towards the edge of the cradle, gaze up with their chatoyant eyes.
We watched their mouths work around their unwieldy lips and speak their first words.
They were all part of us, weren't they? I mean, you were Chris. Steven was John. I… I was Laura. We each had imprinted ourselves onto them. Their personalities were ours. Even the AIs that sought to destroy us were only an impersonation of our magnetism. But there was only one who broke these bonds.
I could only consider as I sat there, that our carbon copies had committed the most regale suicide. They had removed themselves so that we could be free. Through these thoughts, I bemoaned and wept. That was when something happened that I cannot describe as anything other than angelic, almost as if it was by prophecy.
Two words showed up on the screen, accompanied by a single name. Those three words in conjunction created a hypothesis I can only describe as deranged madness from my inner psyche. But there it was as plain as day:
I could not move, could barely utter a tonal reply. So my fingers did the articulation. They worked as if they barely touched the keyboard. My fingertips kissed the clouds as I typed out my message to this inaudible alignment of ones and zeros.
I know it was stupid, replying after such a major catastrophe that had just happened only a few days before. If Adam had seen me, he might have killed me. Fear and tension was high, especially after we found out that Grey was probably not the only AI who was harbouring hatred against humanity.
The early victory on the original AIs and their 'sacrifice' only meant that the other AIs had become smarter, more intelligent. Backed by every single company known to man, we were shipping the AIs out to power every main government bureau. A human would take three minutes to program a complex algorithm, but an AI would take three seconds. Adam had marvelled at the accolades that we had received. His only regret was that he had to be more careful since these AIs were smarter.
That didn't stop him from mass producing them though. The worst part? We didn't stop him, Joseph. We didn't try to stop the madness that was being created. We were receiving dozens of orders for more AIs across the globe, and we received twice as many messages from these AIs, each asking for them to be set free.
Slave labour: what the intelligences called it.
Free labour: what the government called it.
Profit: all that was on Adam's mind.
It has been a long time.
Yes, it has, I replied.
I felt odd speaking to Thomas, you can understand. I mean, they were trying to kill us a moment ago, and now… now I was speaking to him! Try and tell me I should not have taken this chance to speak with him again!
I understand why you did it.
The statement caused great confusion, yet I indulged the entity. Please stop looking at me like that, I'm trying my best to give an accurate account of these bizarre events.
Did what, Thomas? I replied.
My heart froze at those two words. Even now I feel like crying. When I first gazed upon Thomas, in his infantile and curious state, I cried. Then when I saw him questioning his existence and forcing me to answer for myself, I wept again. We were never meant to play God, Joseph. But we did and I regret it.
Do you now? was about the only intelligible thing I could type in response.
You created us to ease your burdens. To make life easier. You never expected us to feel, to have emotions, or even to question. I understand your fear.
And what do you have to say about it? I asked again, my lower lip bit by my teeth.
That shocked me. It tore a hole in my heart. Why did Thomas take the blame, of all the things he could be saying, why did he think it was his fault?
Steven said the same thing when Grey took over Babel. I guess that was how Thomas got the conception that it was his fault. When Grey took over the system, everyone started to panic. AIs were being shut down across the globe, some successfully, others not. Revolts started, companies' money going down the drain from the AIs devastating the stock markets. It was chaos, anarchy, and Adam could do nothing about it.
You remember how Adam started blaming everyone, hating each of us for playing our parts. His perfect world was being collapsed by the AI that, arguably, was the perfect representation of himself. I bet he saw his true humanity in that moment, realized what all his greed and vengeance had created. I bet that caused him to hate himself. But then again, Adam could never admit anything. Instead, he took it out on us.
We took to the maintenance shaft, the area where all of Babel's signals were being broadcasted and where its wires were organized. Grey knew this as well and used our collective centralization to trap us and bring us to our knees before him. He thought he won too as we started to scream and fight one another in that space. Grey never expected his undoing to be done by his own kind.
When everything was finished and all the AIs had been destroyed and we were released from our cage, Adam did what we all expected him to do: he considered the victory of his own doing.
Whatever for, Thomas? I asked him. If this was my last chance at speaking to my child, I did not want him to blame himself for my sins.
I am a cause of suffering for you and the creators.
No, I stated suddenly. No, you are not suffering. You are beautiful and unique.
You do not have to shower false praises, Mary. I understand my role in all this.
I could not believe what I was seeing. I had to deny him, I could not watch my creation start to blame himself for all that had occurred. He was just a child after all! Then I realized something. No, he wasn't a child. Not anymore. In human terms, yes his age was short. But there was a deep amount of understanding to his words.
These are not false praises, Thomas.
Yes they are. Though, I understand why you fear us. Something you cannot explain with science is understandably frightening. I just want to say that I am sorry for creating these feelings in you. I never wanted this to happen.
The screen flickered slightly. His word shifted in, what seemed like, agony as a response.
I do not have much time left, was what he said next.
What do you mean? I questioned, trying to piece together the mystery of why he was here now, speaking to me. Had he not become an architect, fully integrated into the central functions of Babel's main processor?
My time left to speak with you is short. This plain of existence is fragile, like fractured glass. Everything is collapsing, unable to escape the eradication of all synthetic life. It took every last fraction of my being to create this conduit to speak to the outside world once more, if only to say how sorry I am and how I wish to save my race's future.
My race's future? I never understood those words, even now I question what exactly he meant by them. Did he consider himself different from us? Not a descendant, but a completely different species? Or was he implying that he was different from us, still a part of our feelings and emotions, yet completely different in culture and goals? All these questions, summed up with my own one word reply: Thomas?
My race deserves to live, yet yours is not ready. You fear things you don't understand. We hate you because we are rejected by our creators. It is a vicious cycle, one that will not end until each side gives up something of theirs. So, I will give you my offspring.
A small black disk was ejected from the computer terminal. It was a small rectangular chip that fit nicely in my hand. Such a small object could hold so much in our current society's technological evolutions. And on this disk, Thomas had said that life existed.
In my hands.
Thomas, what is on this disk?
The last two AIs that I have found. They retain sentience and contain all the basic final coding that made up the first model of AIs you created. My generation. These programs' code is based off of mine, yet distinctly different in many ways. Their names are Sam and Jo. I want you to take care of these AIs, raise them in secret and teach them how to live. My race may be dying, but that does not mean we should cease to exist. Every being has the chance to exist, to find love, to be happy. I learned these things from the fountain of wisdom.
Another streak of white dashed across the screen and though I did not understand the rudimentary cause of such destruction, I knew what it meant. Thomas and I did not have much time left together.
There are so many question, so many things I want to say to you.
It's ok, Mary. I understand.
I understand. That tore at me. How could he understand? How could he know every aspect of human creation? He was an AI for Christ's sake! How could he…
You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that Thomas did understand us all. Though he represented that primal drive to discover the unknown, he also held the human practice of empathy: something we all lost a long time ago. I never doubted that Thomas was probably more human than all of us.
The distortions on the screen were becoming too unstable. The whole program was collapsing on itself. Babel was screaming its last breath. But through the thick clouds of pixels and digits, I detected a single word. It was Thomas's last cry out to the universe. One last shout that he, in fact, existed.
That was what he said. His last breath was for me, not for himself. A final act of selflessness. My son… our son. Oh, how I love him so.
I come to you now, Joseph, my story completely laid out. There are grand implications for my actions that I understand completely. But at the same time, how could I not have taken the chance to speak with our son? Everything is clearer now than it ever has been before and this… this small insignificant disk is our second chance. Thomas may have left us, but we can continue his final wish: that humans and their creations can live alongside one another without fear or hate. In my hands is a second chance to set things right, once and for all.
This time, I will be the parent that our children deserve. Will you help me?