"The compass of creation was cast out into the vast, wild, unknown world."
Editor(s): namio, jelly
The main commander of creation placed the fulcrum of the compass of creation in the bodies of humans, and the other parts were cast out into the vast, wild, unknown world.
With the passage of time, civilizations rose to the peak of their grandeur, before disappearing without a sound. The predictions of the prophets who spoke of the limitless future by reading the space between the stars did not come to pass as expected, and the blueprints that existed within the collective imagination turned out to only be fantasies.
This was a terrible era - in the nucleus of the galaxy there were only three mainlands still inhabited by people; mankind had experienced three different eras of explosive population growth followed by sudden nuclear war, and finally the population has shrunk to less than five hundred million in total. The resources from nuclear fission had been completely exhausted, and huge pipelines of energy ran through the core of the earth, drawing out the raw energy in nuclear fission that was harnessed into power. The surface of the earth had turned into a wasteland, and the Country of Steel took up the largest area - the region known in ancient times as the “Third Mainland".
The Central Computer replaced the government, the parliamentary bodies, and the systems of law, becoming the new governing machine, and one day in the past, with its awakening, robots conquered the entire world. Mankind was either exterminated, forced to flee for their lives, or subjugated...
The steel lifeforms colonized the surface. The sulphur pollution from constant years of production covered the sky, causing the City of Machines to be constantly blanketed by yellow clouds, and though the surface was covered with forests of skyscrapers, they were all icy cold factories of steel. And deep under the surface, that was where the humans lived. They had become the slaves of the steel lifeforms, and their daily lives were simple and standardized: they took shifts to sleep, and when it was time they would get up and start working… as if they were animals kept in cages.
Our main character A-Ka currently lived in the underworld of the City of Steel. He was one of the human residents of the living area known as the "Ant Nest".
A-Ka was sixteen this year, and in the production line he held the role of maintenance technician. His job consisted of seeing different mechanical lifeforms, helping them adjust and change their parts, and testing out the new techniques and parts that Central Technical sent him. Many strange robots passed in front of him, all with logical or illogical requests.
"Replace my infrared vision scope, desired part number RM47,” one android commanded.
"Sorry, there are no more in the warehouse," A-Ka answered. "You'll have to wait until next month."
" Replace my infrared vision scope, desired part number RM47, " the android repeated.
"There's no more," A-Ka said. " No more in the warehouse. "
"Rule Three of the Human Control Regulations," the android said with its dead, robotic voice, " Humans are not allowed to reject any requests of computerized lifeforms, or they will be exterminated immediately. "
A-Ka began to think of a different way to put it -- the last maintenance technician had his head blown off precisely because of this rule. He stared down this client's laser opening, and at the moment it was already starting to heat up. He only had a maximum of ten seconds of life left.
"Countdown," the android warned. " Ten, nine… "
"Please wait a moment," A-Ka answered speedily, before pulling out from his drawer a lens that had already been polished to completion, switching it out for the android; it was a trash piece that he had taken off another robot yesterday.
The android responded, "The model doesn't match, the infrared lens will malfunction."
A-Ka answered, "It's an issue with the technique and needs to be troubleshooted, please return to the queue once more. And also, please rate my services before you go."
The android began to capture A-Ka's body profile, and A-Ka watched this android with trepidation; he knew that he would definitely be sued, but that was still better than losing his head.
The android left, and A-Ka let loose a breath of relief.
"Help me change out my power source." Another mechanical being laid down in front of his workstation. In his mind, A-Ka thanked the heavens and the earth - this one was a clone.
Clones were different from androids; they weren't like those icy cold mechanical life forms, and were the closest kind to humans -- the residents of the City of Machines were split into three different levels; at the top were the steel lifeforms, in the middle were these clones, and at the bottom were A-Ka and the other original humans.
“Do you need a battery or nuclear core?” A-Ka asked.
“Battery,” the clone answered, before shooting a glance at the android that just left. “I thought that you would take the laser head on and be cut into little pieces, and that would be very troublesome. My pathfinding system always has problems, and if I don’t switch it out here then I wouldn’t know how to get back.”
The clone turned around, and A-Ka opened a small box built into his back and said, “Your GPS system has been affected by moisture.”
A-Ka turned on a light as he helped the clone change out that faulty part for a spare. The clone didn’t let out a sound, only sitting there quietly, and A-Ka couldn’t help but stare at his side profile.
All the clones had the exact same features, and all were male, so the humans could only differentiate between them by their outfits or their serial number. This matter had A-Ka puzzled for quite a long time.
Compared to the steel lifeforms, A-Ka was more willing to provide services to the clones, if only because they too had emotions - they too felt joy, rage, grief, and contentment. Once in a while they too would be affected by their hormones, unlike the robots. If a human executed a wrong command in front of a robot, they would be instantly exterminated.
“You’re a new person,” the clone said.
A-Ka asked, “How’d you know?”
He took a look at the records on the computer screen, which indicated that within the past three years, this clone had not come in front of A-Ka’s workstation.
The clone answered, “Because you’re very curious, watching me for so long. Most of the humans who come out of the Ant Nest at first are like this.”
A-Ka didn’t dare to answer that; according to the advice of his predecessors, it was best not to provoke the clones either. The effect of emotions like joy, pain, and grief was stronger for clones, and as soon as the hormones in their body became imbalanced, they would also kill the humans in front of them.
“Losing focus while working,” the clone said, “makes it easy to make mistakes, and your customers’ reviews will drop.”
A-Ka hurried to nod. “Thank you for your reminder.”
A-Ka’s rating system had a total of five basic points, and every time they received a D they would be docked a point, while receiving an A would grant them a point. As soon as all five of the points were docked, they would be marked by the enforcement system as “necessary for removal”.
Humans that became necessary for disposal were believed to no longer be able to contribute to society, and they would be brought to the Rebirth Processing Factory, where they would undergo protein dissolution - in other words, death. Their bodies would be broken down into its basic constituents before being returned to the biological energy system, where they would be reassembled into new clones, or turned into raw materials for nutrient production.
A-Ka changed out the battery for the clone’s positioning system before switching out his old navigation chip for a new one as well, so that the positioning system would work even better than before.
A-Ka said, “Done.”
“Your skills are very good,” the clone said easily.
A-Ka answered, “Thanks.”
When the clone left, he casually gave A-Ka a “D”.
A-Ka’s heart filled with rage, but he didn’t dare to make a sound. He stole a fleeting glance at the screen of his computer; there were still thirty seconds before he was off work.
Time passed second by second. When the electronic chime began to echo, A-Ka rapidly put the tools back into order and cleaned up his own things before turning around and starting up the door to the tunnel right behind him.
“Please leave the maintenance stand within ten seconds,” an electronic female voice said in reminder.
A-Ka entered the annular tunnel. The sound of footsteps was concentrated but orderly as the maintenance shop underwent shift change, and humans from all around flooded into the central hall, passing through the metal inspector that beeped incessantly. After entering through the main door, the platform suddenly lowered as it sank under the surface of the earth.
Human workers of all ages wearing the same uniform as A-Ka converged on the platform from different tunnels, and they took the elevator up and down. In the cramped, narrow space they were all pushed and squeezed up against each other, each bearing a harried expression, and none of them spoke.
The first time the elevator came to a stop, two patrolling robots entered. The swarm of people hurried to back up, clearing out a space for them.
With a ding the red light lit up, and the electronic female voice warned, “Awaiting the passage of another elevator.”
It was extremely stifling inside the elevator, and everyone was sweating, but they didn’t dare to move unnecessarily or say anything. A person standing by A-Ka used his wrist to nudge him.
A-Ka turned his head, and it was only then that he realized the two robots had lit up, their cameras turned towards A-Ka. The surveillance monitor was turned on, and a circle of light unfocused and then re-focused as it locked onto the pocket over his chest. A-Ka’s heart almost seemed to leap out of his chest from how hard it was beating.
“What did you do?” the person next to him asked quietly. “They seem to be watching you.”
In that instant A-Ka’s entire body trembled; when he was working, he had secretly hidden away a chip.
The electronic voice of the patrolling robot sounded.
“Warning, your body temperature is too elevated.”
Everyone in the elevator grew alarmed. The patrolling robots each carried their own infrared sensors to monitor all humans within the Ant Nest. A-Ka instantly thought of a scene -- within the infrared sensing system of the patrollers, in the entire elevator, the outline of his own body in the infrared due to his body temperature would be extremely eye-catching.
“There’s nothing… out of the ordinary right?” A-Ka asked tremblingly. “I… I haven’t violated any laws.”
Everyone was watching A-Ka now.
With a ding, the green light of the elevator came on again, and the elevator continued to travel downwards, letting out loud hong hong noises as it did so.
“Undergoing inspection,” the patrolling robot warned. “Warning, beginning four kinds of inspections.”
A-Ka’s only thought was: I’m done for.
As long as the patrolling robot found the chip he stole, A-Ka would be immediately gunned down on the spot. Sweat dripped down his back, and his mind went completely blank.
Just then, a middle-aged mechanic standing behind A-Ka trembled non-stop, his face white as a sheet as sweat dripped down like rain. He convulsed violently, almost hitting A-Ka.
A-Ka suddenly turned his head around when that middle-aged man grabbed his shoulder; he didn’t know what he had done wrong.
“Save me… save me…” That middle-aged mechanic seemed to be clutching at his last ray of hope as he squeezed A-Ka’s hand.
Everyone simultaneously realized one thing: this man was about to be terminated.
“Arriving at: the Ant Nest,” a woman’s voice said in the elevator.
The elevator door opened, and that middle-aged man immediately pushed A-Ka aside as he rushed out.
“Warning, stop immediately!” The patrolling robots rushed out in pursuit together. The people in the elevator swarmed out after them, only to see that middle-aged man sprint into the hallway.
“Get down!” someone shouted.
The entire hallway filled with people immediately exploded with noise, and the surveillance camera installed on the ceiling shot out a thin, small metal nail with a weng. The metal nail spread its wings, darting wildly back and forth midair.
With a loud peng, the fleeing middle-aged man took that metal nail straight through the skull, sending him sprawling against the wall that he was firmly pinned on.
The group of people grew restless as they started to discuss amongst themselves. A-Ka was covered in cold sweat; according to the conversations he heard around him, that mechanic had garnered three D ratings today, and after he finished his last supper, he would have been escorted away to be removed.
A-Ka took the opportunity when the patrolling robots were cleaning up the cruel scene to hold his breath and leave the hallway. He walked faster and faster until he reached the end of it, where he couldn’t help but run into the bathroom. Turning on the cold water, he washed his body, trying to cool down his body temperature which kept rising out of control from anxiety, before calming the frantic, violent beating of his own heart.
A-Ka’s entire body was soaked and dripping with water, and horror suddenly enveloped him in its embrace. He knew what the final fate of that mechanic would be -- the corpse would be taken away and put in the factory to freeze, before it would be dismembered and tossed in batches into the decomposition solution to corrode, disintegrating into basic nutrients that would be used to create new clones or turned into animal fodder.
A-Ka only felt a wave of rage and pain wash over his heart; he wanted to shout wildly as if he was insane, but he couldn’t summon his voice for that. He wanted to vent, but nowhere was safe; surveillance monitors were everywhere, and he didn’t even dare to let out a wordless roar. With his back to the surveillance monitor, he pulled out the stolen navigation chip that he had stashed in his shirt pocket and took a look. The chip was like a hot potato that burned his hand, terrifying him with its existence.
He needed to get rid of it quickly… the more A-Ka thought about it, the more he felt fear. He walked out of the shower room, drying his body, before returning to the living quarters.
The humans of the Ant Nest came and went, each on their own duties. When he returned to his own section, A-Ka finally let loose a breath. He was absolutely exhausted and could do no more, and this was only his first day on the job.
He took a look at his watch; he had ten hours to rest. When he entered the living quarters, someone nodded at him. A-Ka returned the courtesy with a stiff smile.
“A-Ka-gege’s back from work!” a child called. “What’s the surface like?”
“How do you feel about your first day of work?” a young person walked over and patted his shoulder.
A-Ka nodded and said, “It… it was alright.”
Among those who lived here, a large portion were people who were younger than A-Ka. The Ant Nest was divided into fourteen thousand sections, and the workers of every section were titled “Human Representatives”. The behavior of the human representatives on the surface directly affected the quality of life of the entire section. The rest of the humans were left to undergo training from the robots, to reproduce in relative privacy, or to learn skills.
Likewise, people who had gone through many rounds of tests but had yet to master any kind of skill were also deemed to be non-contributors, and the only result that awaited them was disposal.
The “D” he had gotten today weighed heavily on A-Ka’s mind, as well as the fact that he was going to be sued soon. The legal system would analyze the video recordings of his work, and if he was lucky, maybe he would only be allotted a “B”, which wouldn’t add or dock points. But if he was given a “D”, the pressure on him would become very heavy.
The young ones were sitting in the lounge reading. A-Ka sat on one side quietly eating his allotted meal, when he saw a very small child slumped by the table, watching him.
“Can I eat your fruit?” the child asked.
A-Ka answered, “Of course.”
A-Ka handed the fruit to him, and as soon as the child got it, he ran off to share the special gift that A-Ka had given him with the rest of his playmates.
In the blink of an eye, the electronic voice broadcast a notice: the time for sleeping had begun, and the humans that needed sleep were to return to their sleeping chambers. Subsequently, A-Ka threw the plates that he had cleaned up into the trash bin, and with an anxiety-ridden heart, he returned to his sleeping chamber.
Every human had their own sleeping chamber, and this was the only personal space that existed within the Ant Nest. A-Ka initialized the sleeping frequency properly before climbing into his own sleeping chamber. The space was vast, and it could squeeze even two A-Kas side by side. There was even a small green potted plant in the chamber.
The outside darkened, and the hatch to the sleeping chamber closed.
A-Ka turned on the reading lamp and pulled out the aged navigation chip that he had stolen and brought back today. This chip was very useful to A-Ka.
He wanted to sleep for a little, so he didn’t want to go out, at least not today. Only sleep would let him temporarily forget about the troubles with that “D”. However, after the sleeping wavelengths began to play, A-Ka lay there for a while, his frustration mounting as he tossed and turned while sleep evaded him.
He forced himself to close his eyes, but he couldn’t fall asleep; he couldn’t stop thinking about the robotic entity that he had hidden away down below, as well as the navigation chip that he had stolen today. After half an hour, A-Ka got up, opened the sleeping chamber, and slipped out.
Within the sleeping hall, row upon row of sleeping chambers emitted blue light. A-Ka left the hall with rapid steps, pressing down on the sensor to verify his fingerprint as he returned to the living quarters. Many humans still filled this area as usual, and A-Ka went into a safety tunnel, then followed the descending stairs to the bottom, hiding in a corner of the stairs just before a bend.
Suddenly, he heard a quiet noise from behind him, as if the door had been pushed open.
In that instant the blood in A-Ka’s entire body seemed to have congealed. Who was it? He subconsciously wanted to turn his head, but he forced himself to suppress this desire.
You can’t turn your head, A-Ka admonished himself. There were no robotic noises, so it wasn’t a guard. It was probably a human coming over for who knows what purpose, unless aside from himself, someone else had found out about this tunnel?
He heard the sound of the door closing, and A-Ka let loose a sigh of relief. Only then did he dare to turn his head back and look. No one was there. He still felt uneasy though, and when the surveillance cameras turned in another direction, he stayed still for three seconds before darting out like an arrow, rapidly clambering into the rubbish chute.
A-Ka slid down the rubbish chute all the way to the trash disposal bin far outside the living quarters. The trash here was incinerated once every six hours, and it was filled with a pungent scent of smoke that had not yet dissipated.
He climbed out from a hole in the rubbish chute, making his way down a rusty ladder. The sea breeze blew into his face, and the sound of the tides blanketed the heaven and the earth, almost drowning him.
This kind of absurd weather… A-Ka began to regret coming out today. He was still drowning in the anxiety of recent events; had someone discovered this tunnel? But how could that happen? The disposal bin had been abandoned for a long time now, and recently there hadn’t been any new footprints...
The rubbish chute led directly to the harbor, where the sky, the land, and everything in between was pitch-black. Lightning connected the sky and the sea, and the roar of the waves and the roiling of the thunderclouds seemed to be warning him to go back as fast as he could.
This was not a good day to set out. Compared with the vastness of the sky and the ocean, A-Ka was nothing more than a little black dot carefully crawling his way over an exposed reef as he picked his way towards a hidden cave by the ocean. In this grotto, he had hidden a robot. Right now, as he made his way over, he prayed incessantly for it to still be there when he arrived, and that it hadn’t been taken.
If the legal system was aware of these kinds of things, A-Ka knew clearly that the only route that awaited him was disposal. But from the time he was ten, when he had unwittingly discovered the passageway in the rubbish chute that led to the outside world, he couldn’t help but wish to breathe the air outside.
Though the air was filled with the constant, pungent scent of sulphur and the surface of the ocean was covered with pitch-black crude oil, none of it could stop A-Ka’s heart from yearning for freedom. He used the past six years to gather several lifestyle necessities from the Ant Nest and some scrap steel from the rubbish chute, and bit by bit he moved them here.
At first, he only wanted to create a small boat and leave the City of Machines in search of a place where he could live. He heard that on the other side of the ocean, there were still nations where humans gathered. There, no Central Computer called “Father” existed that controlled all, and there were no robots that cruelly slaughtered humans at any time. That was a true nation where humans were the masters.
A-Ka wanted to go to that place, so he began to use his knowledge to gather the necessary parts to make such a vehicle. But, the materials he had collected were random odds and ends of all different varieties, and in the end he had cobbled together a strange mechanical apparatus that was kind of like a robot.
A-Ka left a space in the robot for a seating chamber, which made it look like it could be driven, and he gave it a name: “K”. Compared to the intricate, complex techniques of the City of Machines, which used nuclear reactors to power steel lifeforms, this thing called K seemed to be a scrap heap.
But A-Ka was very proud of his creation. At least K wouldn’t receive commands from “Father” or the legal system, and it wouldn’t beam a laser at humans. Whatever A-Ka had it do, it would do. This kind of controlling a robot to follow human orders gave A-Ka a massive sense of accomplishment.
He couldn’t help but treat K as his only friend; this was a secret that he had kept with great difficulty. He didn’t dare tell anyone, but he hoped that one day he would be able to drive K away from here.
But before then, he first needed to install a setup on K that would extract tritium from seawater to supply power to the fusion reactor.
The interior of the cave was dark and damp, and the thunder and crash of the waves outside seemed earth-shatteringly loud. When A-Ka entered the dark cave, he turned on the light source, before pulling off the oilcloth draped over K. The steel shell stared back at A-Ka.
It had no intelligence, but A-Ka planned that one day, he would help it achieve simple intelligence.
He pried open the front cover of K’s chestplate, installing the navigation chip that he had stolen today, before testing it out by connecting it to the power source and waiting for the navigation system to initialize.
Outside, every peal of thunder was louder than the last, and the waves roared wildly, as if something was heavily slamming against the side of the cave, creating huge bangs.
A-Ka couldn’t wait around for K, so he ran out, afraid that water would get into the rocky cave. But just as he hurried out, some large object was caught up in a violent wave, and it rushed towards the entrance of the cave.
“Ah--” A-Ka’s voice was drowned out by the huge bang.
In that instant, he saw something glowing in the seawater, which banged into several rocks as it floated its way towards the entrance of the cave. Four or five loud cracks echoed, and it fell from some rocks that were ten plus meters high. Those several muffled sounds were of a metallic object striking hard rocks.
A-Ka had been drenched from head to foot by seawater, and he was shocked beyond belief. Sprawled out in front of the entrance, he looked down, only to see some shiny, metallic object being swept away by the black waves. That seemed to be something big, and maybe it would be of some use.
But A-Ka didn’t dare to head down rashly, or the (tidal wave) would immediately sweep him away.
He first turned off K’s power source to prevent any short circuits, before peeking anxiously out from his position near the entrance. The waves gradually abated, allowing him to see it more clearly - it was a metallic chest that bobbed in the water, pushed now and then towards the shore by the waves before being pulled back into the ocean by the tide.
A-Ka prayed for the heavens to leave that metallic chest there. What could be inside? Or maybe the material of the chest itself could be made into a new robotic body for K, or maybe inside the alloy chest there was the fusion reactor that he so desperately desired.
The waves gradually quieted down as the sea finally recovered its tranquility; the tempest had passed.
With great difficulty A-Ka got down to the beach, where black petroleum covered the entire surface of the ocean. He left a trail of footprints on the beach.
A wave pushed the chest to the shore, and he saw it!
A-Ka followed the coastline as he sprinted over to that steel alloy chest. Before, looking down on it from the reefs above, it hadn’t seemed real, but when he got closer, he realized that it wasn’t a chest, but rather a sleeping chamber.
A-Ka stared suspiciously at the sleeping chamber, but just as the waves were about to sweep it away again, A-Ka hurried to jump into the sea, exerting a tremendous amount of strength to push the sleeping chamber to the shore.
“The Lion ... Republic.” A-Ka saw a faint symbol on the sleeping chamber in the shape of a lion.
This sleeping chamber was very durable, and the exterior was mottled with rust and draped with seaweed; obviously it had floated in the ocean for a very, very long time. There was a hole in the sleeping chamber, and its inside was half-filled with crude oil, in which there lay a corpse.
A-Ka sighed. Having drifted on the ocean for so long, it must have rotted by now. Was there anything valuable left?
A-Ka pulled out a wrench and tried to pry open the sleeping chamber in front of his eyes, but it didn’t budge even an inch. He panted loudly as he scrabbled at it for a long while, before his eyes suddenly caught on a line of words on the lower section of the sleeping chamber.
“Year 7210, 4th month, Heishi.”
A-Ka was greatly shocked; it was 10073 this year, so this was an ancient sleeping chamber from almost three thousand years ago?!
He watched it for a long time before he realized that he couldn’t keep dragging it out like this. He started to search for the switch for the sleeping chamber; this ancient machine’s layout was completely different from all of the technologies that A-Ka knew.
It was as if A-Ka had found a priceless gem, and he held his breath, like he had discovered a new world. Thoughts of ancient tech instantly flooded his brain: perhaps the ancients had left behind some sort of energy source, or a weapon. Taking ten thousand steps back, even if it was a few slabs of circuit boards, he would find it useful...
A-Ka didn’t know what he touched, but the entire sleeping chamber lit up. He jolted from shock as he hurried to back away, his limbs flailing as he did so. He immediately thought, there shouldn’t be anyone still alive inside of the sleeping chamber, it’s been almost three thousand years.
The sleeping chamber slowly opened, and A-Ka scrambled over, before discovering that there was another layer inside. The space between the two layers of the sleeping chamber was filled with crude oil and seawater, which spilled out in that instant, and wave after wave of heavy fog rolled out slowly. The inner layer was clear, and on it flashed a low energy warning.
The lid of the chamber opened, and the fog within seeped out and dissipated.
Inside lay a wholly naked man. The man’s hands and feet were even in length, and he was a whole 180 cm tall; his hair was very short and black. A-Ka stared at him unwaveringly, before reaching out a hand to touch his body.
That man was still alive.
moon: and here we are, chapter 1!
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), moon.