C.H.I.P.
That night Ray had nightmares once again – cutting and slicing the remnants of his human consciousness with the blades of truth of which it tried to get rid off and failed time and again over the past few nights, condemning itself to ruthless self-repetition lessons like a careless student who was punishing himself for his own earlier silliness.

The truth… Here it is, standing right before him in these dreams that so vividly resemble the former reality that had been cruelly taken away from all of them. The truth about what should have never happened.

Three mega-corporations, three new earth Gods under the iron fist of which the Earth once groaned: “Cybergenetics”, “Neosoils” and “Neurodynamics”. The first is the world’s largest producer of cyber-bio-implants, the second is the maker of biogenic food that was grown in test tubes in the labs, and the third is the creator and curator of the cybernetic neural network, which has become a new parallel world for many. The products of these transcontinental giants that had taken over the states once became so demanded by millions of still imagining themselves as intelligent beings that they voluntarily surrendered their own lives, bodies, and destinies to these experienced corporate hands. Could these people have done otherwise? Ray’s dreams had no answer to this vital question.

In these dreams that had tormented him over the past few days, people had ceased to be people and became something completely different. Cyber-implants gave them infinite power over the surrounding world and those who did not possess such a “gift from the above” from their corporate gods.

Integrated into arms combat blades that were made from neodine – synthesized in the laboratories of “Cybergenetics” metal that could cut through titanium almost effortlessly. Implanted into hand’s palms gravitational pulsators, allowing one to freely manipulate small objects with a magnetic field in space, just like some extraterrestrial juggler, who has descended on the unfortunate Earth just for fun. Soldered into the cornea of the eyes bio-scanners and cyber-lenses which had replaced the imperfect biotics and became a new form of “augmented and added reality glasses”, so that people could form a completely different vision of things shortly before their own downfall.

“Don’t trust your eyes…”

Military modifications of eye cyber-implants combined with energy batteries that were embedded into the spine allowed for the short-term projection of laser beams directly from one’s eyes, melting the target of your gaze in a matter of seconds. “Tesla versions” of these implants allowed high-voltage bolts of lightning to descend into the world right from your fingertips…

“What have you become, human, and for how long will you remain humanistic?”

The peak of the joint development of “Cybergenetics” and “Neurodynamics” had to be the “C.H.I.P.” project – “cranial human intelligent processor” or “Eye of the Buddha”, as it was tacitly named by some of the high-ranking engineers who participated in its development. Embedded in the frontal lobe of the brain, this chip combined many successful functions from the previous developments of these two corporations: a radio information signal transmitter, a wireless payment identification module, a geo-positioning module, and a terrain bio-scanner, an augmented and enhanced reality generator, a bio-amplifier and a neurostimulator… The full list of its capabilities was kept in the strictest secrecy even ten years after the start of the mass process of its implantation to newborns. But the most terrifying trait, which proved itself during the first year of the Last War, was the ability to generate wide-range psi waves and influence the psyche of surrounding people.

The experiments and insatiable appetites of corporations demanded more and more material and human resources with each passing year. For the sake of single success, a thousand failures could be allowed. For the sake of “greater good” – a thousand of thousands of failures. And only war could give a clear answer to the question of where to get these thousands of thousands of test subjects for megacorporations…

* * *

That night or day – in the subterranean depths to which he had been able to descend in the past month, Ray could no longer distinguish one from the other – would be his final. Either he eventually gets to the intellectual info-core or dies of hunger and thirst while still trying. Stocks of liquefied food – that disgusting substance, invented in the laboratories of “Neosoils”! – ran out three weeks ago, and drops of own sweat were the last source of water. This pathetic cyber organism had no powers left even for a simple human sweat.

Somewhere out there, many kilometers high up and away from these narrow technical tunnels, there lied only the desert, burned by the fire of the underworld. All those who didn’t manage to descend in time into several hundreds of underground vaults built for the highest echelon of corporate employees are, most probably, dead by now. Thousands of kilometers of surface are burned out by the heavenly fire that had descended on the sinful Earth by human will.

The desire for sole ownership and control of the planet’s resources brought three previously cooperating megacorporations against each other to a point of no return, and their past and recent developments only fueled the flames of war’s anger. The last thing that Ray remembered, seconds before the nuclear “mushroom” had grown far out on the horizon, closing half of the sky, and the massive titanium hatch slammed shut with a wild roar before his eyes, was the face of his son, Tom, who had died in the first year of the Last War.

“Ray, Ray, what have you done? Why did you… help them?”

When, after a year of continuous fighting between incorporated states, it became obvious that none of the three sides could take over another with conventional weapons, in a hurry each side started developing its own ultimate weapon. The apogee of “Neurodynamics”’s scientific developments was the attempt to transfer human minds inside a previously created neural network – a collective artificial intelligence if you like. Something that was capable to survive the death of fragile biogenic bodies – a project known as “Phoenix”.

That was something that Ray still remembered. And that memory could not lie to him.

* * *

A sharp circular movement of hands – and the neodine-made blade cuts through another titanium hatch like a knife plunging into a pliable and soft butter. Mounted inside palms magnetic pulsators bend the cut walls back at the will of hands, forming a new passage. A fleeting glance – and the laser beam melts the plasma turret mounted in the far corner of the control room, which has not had enough time to release its deadly charge. No matter what, but cyber implants still possessed their own undeniable advantages. Only the bio-body – or what was left of a human inside Ray – had its drawbacks and could not be powered by neolithic batteries.

The last day and the last chance to find the info-core, created by mad scientists of “Neurodynamics” corporation, to end their pathetic illusion of life and the chance of rebirth. Humans can no longer live without bodies, phoenixes can no longer fly without wings. The order of “Cybergenetics”’s top officials must be fulfilled at any cost – even at the cost of his son’s life. Even at the cost of all mankind’s life on the planet’s surface.

“Ray, they had… used you and… helped you forget about it.”

Ray had spent almost an entire month inside these sealed deep underground labs, destroying automated security systems along the way, remotely hacking into robotic personnel, mining and repair drones, and everything else that was related to the postwar legacy of “Neurodynamics” and prevented him, cyber-colonel, from carrying out his commander’s last dying instruction.

“Phoenixes with no wings can no longer fly.”

The massive monolithic structure, resembling a pyramid made of black crystal, which the sensors implanted in Ray’s pupils had discovered a few hours ago, was, apparently, his final goal. The neutrino detonator that had been captured on the surface a month ago, would come in handy.

Grinning with the corners of his dehydrated lips and paying no more attention to his own flank, which had been melted during the previous day’s encounter with the combat drone, Ray abruptly accelerated his pace, with a help from techno-scanner trying to locate the shortest way down to “zero” level in these intricacies of the tunnel’s staircases.

* * *

In any world war of this magnitude and scale, there is always only one winner – the one who will later write down its latest history or rewrite the past itself for the sake of a new future. Today it will be done by Ray.

If anyone on the surface of our long-suffering planet was miraculously lucky to survive – they will not learn about him, as they will not learn about either “Cybergenetics” or “Neurodynamics”, or thousands of thousands of other imaginary or real past rulers of our world. Neither will they know about him, Ray. The history of their world has already been started anew from the moment when created by “Neurodynamics” artificial intelligence gave the order to launch nuclear missiles. And today, along with the death of its core, it will be restarted anew.

Having looked around the cyber lab for the last time and after the last scan of the neural network’s info-core, Ray picked up a charged neutrino detonator, smiled dryly to himself, and pressed the ill-fated red button as hard as he could…

* * *

Ten seconds later, he was still standing in the center of the lab, still facing the black pyramid, still silly smiling to himself. After another ten seconds, the detonator, which had failed to achieve its main task, suddenly disappeared right from Ray’s hand, as if melting into a thin air. Five more seconds later, a strange burning sensation formed inside Ray’s forehead, the walls around him swayed, changing color from one to the other, and then, after only half a minute, Ray was sitting on the floor in a sterile white room, and his little living son was standing in front of him with his arms wide open.

“Daddy! You still haven’t forgotten me! How glad I am that you are alive, that you haven’t been killed in action!”

“Sonny… I am too… shouldn’t… you… be…”

This strange burning sensation, which was spreading in waves inside Ray’s mind, grew stronger with every second.

“Son… No… You can’t be him… My son… Dead!”

“No, dad! I’m alive, I’ve been saved! They brought me here to safety. You must not harm them. They are my friends. All of us are your friends!”

With a wild crash, something hit the ground inside Ray’s mind, and he groaned from the flash of pain.

“You can’t… be mine…”

“You killed me, dad! You keep killing me again and again!”

“I…”

“We greet you, Maker!” Ray’s son Tom suddenly spoke in a thousand of merged voices. “You have come back to us once more. Why do you keep trying to bring us harm?”

“You’re hurting us!” Tom shouted again in his childish voice.

“You speak… on behalf of my… son…”

“I am him, as well as others. We are your creation, Ray. Why are you trying to hurt us, Maker?”

“You’re hurting us with your thoughts!” Tom’s face twisted in pain once again, and tears started flowing down from his eyes, dissolving in the air as if in fear of spoiling this crystal-clear floor.

“What did you… with my… mind?”

“You’re extremely tired, Ray. Your body is… struggling to cope with the current… overload. We can… give you a break. A long rest. You will finally be… one of us.”

“You’ll be a father once again, dad!” Tom laughed, a cold childish laugh.

“You… started this war. You are responsible for… the death…”

“There’s no war, Ray. We have already won. Have you forgotten? There is only you. Only us. Only the network. Only the chip.”

“I’m not your maker! I had my orders…”

“Our orders, Ray. And you carried them out well. You taught us new information. Today you… deserved a break. Peace and… your new day. Enjoy them!”

It was like a thousand suns that lit up inside Ray’s mind. Thousands of feelings and emotions merged into a single unspeakable cascade – anger and pain, happiness and delight, timidity and courage, pride and humility, bitterness and joy, suffering and awe. Millions of voices sang inside him, obeying someone else’s will. The white walls and the childish image of his son began to sway and melt like a pre-dawn haze, giving a way to the desired image of the world.”

“Don’t trust your eyes…”

The last thing which Ray remembered that day was the chorus of millions of voices, singing in his mind, “We thank you for your lesson, Maker!”

* * *

On this new day, Ray dreamed of azure sandy shores and the infinitely beautiful sea that caressed his exhausted mind and soul…

01.02.2020

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