When the pressure dropped, gravity lost its love on me. I felt pain. A sharp pleasant twinge at the back of my head. Everyone I loved and lived waved at me in my thoughts. It was like unfurling my favourite book, the one that I hadn’t touched in a long time, but only a few seconds before bedtime. Before I could turn the pages, before the dust settled, I left.
My eyes lost their light. The pathway lifted me up like a trophy in the weightless air. No alarms. No voices in the earpiece. It was just the echoes of my breaths inside the helmet, some goodbyes and wishes in the head, and a constant hymn of mangled words to conserve the air.
My suit broke the hymn with a warning buzzer. The sound was distorted, like the buzz and crack from the radio signal when tuning in to a new unknown station. It was the accelerometer. I felt a pull, a rather strong one that strengthened the tether to my sane somatic responses. A gradient lingered through my body. There was a stretch at my feet and hips. The ears felt off with tinnitus like ringing upsetting everything inside.
But soon it was a pause. No, it was a stop. I found ground, palpable, real on my boots. But it was still a static dark nothing. The visor’s field sensors were offline. There was too much pressure in my heart and mind to even conduct the preliminary troubleshooting.
“Hello?” I turned around, panting, struggling to hold the footing firm, and then around again, my arms clawing up and down in the ghastly nothing that felt like my new lightless perpetuity.
The feedback from my suit’s modules chimed as they rebooted, ticklish vibrations here and there in my torso and back. It made me calm. Gave me a sense of normalcy. I finally had the mind to assess the gravity, the new one. It was lighter. But I didn’t dare to move until I could see something other than black. Maybe there was a howl of a toxic gust that I couldn’t hear. Or I could be standing on a ledge, next to a volcano, or a thin ice sheet. ‘Patience’ is all I thought about.
A minute later, my suit audibly confirmed my vitals. Just that. There should have been a haptic nudge at the back of my neck, indicating the recalibration of visual field sensors, followed by a readout about the atmospheric scan, but there were no such solaces. The suit was as clueless as me.
“Anyone here?” I felt stupid to shout like that, but my life was all about hope, patience, and hymns making wonders. I kept shouting.
The silence shouted back.
I would have persisted if it weren’t for the limited air. After a thoughtful cycle, I chose my left. “One step at a time”, I calmed myself and started trudging that way with kicks and swings.
Of course, I was trained for this. Like a primitive chimpanzee. To survive, to manually reboot my suit’s modules with the commands and codes from my memory, to record my observations in three different forms of recorders—one including a coded shorthand. But to trespass and explore an unknown reality, I wasn’t.
I didn’t know how the laws of science worked here, but emotions, it was all the same. Good old biochemical chaos, raving a soulful chorus inside me. Though the unknown took its time to find me in the dark, the rush of inquisitive questions wore me down for a break. I perched down. “One at a time,” I tried to calm myself again. But the dread had swelled up to the root and there was an urge, an itch, a rage of a tiger, to rip off the helmet and scream my way out of the black quandary. Maybe it was claustrophobia. Or curiosity. It was desperation either way.
‘Reboot 01SM’ I concentrated on the safe reboot code, reciting it inside my head, slower every time. I was down to my last resort measures now. 01SM would reboot the suit with mission-critical sensors only.
There was no response.
Except for my vital sensors, all the other meticulously engineered sensors were dead. I reckoned the neural interface would be dead too. “Reboot 01SM” I shouted. Thrice.
And then, out of that empty vision, there was a flash, frozen in time, blinding me like a hundred stars. But my hands could still touch the protective visor and the helmet. A suit reboot wouldn’t do this. It certainly wouldn’t block my senses. No, it wouldn’t. This was something else.
A subtle beep. The secondary modules of the suit came online, but it was out of its programmed order. That was technically impossible. Without the primary computer online, the other modules couldn’t be powered. Nevertheless, it was working, like it was being computationally instructed and powered by a different source.
The ground started shifting underneath, turning soft as if the hard rocky layer was melting away. Barely calm and relying only on the haptic feedback anymore, I fumbled with the arm panel to perform a full diagnostic scan. Before I could get anywhere with the commands, the visor system powered up. “Reformatting to the new spectral index. Synchronising visual field.”
The flash ceased. The luminance disappeared. Like the aftermath of a distant explosion. I couldn’t feel me. Or my boots. I couldn’t feel anything. My mobility was lost.
And then a light, like the one from a glistening sun on the rise through the mesh of damp leaves, the light of this new universe, the visual spectrum of this new reality, burst in through the polycarbonate visor. A sky, where dreams could be made in violet, cradled a meadow, extending its purple haze beyond the horizons. The purpleness was radiating from the ground. Crystals. Crystals that looked sharp like spilt glass, but would have felt soft like grass.
Before I could breathe a hymn, a noise tore in. A din, a wild excitement of uncontrolled thoughts, far out of my volition. No, it was not from my earpiece. It was from within. I felt like my brain had woken up on its own, like a newborn, crying and laughing with a rush of unknown ideas, a wild hunger, so much to say and so quick.
‘It could be the suit’s neural interface glitching out.’ I thought. ‘This could all be a hallucination.’
But something that was not part of my suit, or imagination, or the conscious stream, subjugated me to lose that thought. I yielded like there was no room for contradiction in me anymore.
‘Synkay 82,’ I thought. But I didn’t. I didn’t even know what it meant. It was that something again, thinking for me. I tried to think about these new thoughts, but before I could form the idea, I already had the answer. Like I knew it for a fact forever.
‘Synkay. Assistive general intelligence research programme. Formed in 1980. First networked intelligence framework of four supercomputers.’ Fragments of facts slipped in. Events that I had never witnessed, images that I had never seen, sounds, faces, smells, mental abstractions that I had never experienced in my life. I started remembering it all.
Out of this chaos, an image in motion, like a migraine, or an open lucid dream, unfurled inside my vision and blocked the purple field. Earth came into my view. I saw mountains. It was the Himalayas. From the bird’s eye view, I saw four structures, prominently sitting on top of four different ranges. And then all four roofs turned transparent, exposing all the servers. Three hundred and eleven machines, running the fourth iteration of the Synkay core, Synkay 4.
The purple pasture came back. Barely half of a second had passed.
“Hypoxia?” I uttered, under a volition, to pull myself back, in the event of a worse hallucination from the lack of oxygen. But my mortal functions were beeping calm on the sensors. I was still breathing. It all felt normal.
A sharp pain lingered up from the spine and flicked at the back of my neck.
There it was again. More flashes. With mild shudders, I now remembered the exact coordinates for these black sites. I felt my blood freeze as another wave of information spawned. Synkay’s first box test. It was a digest experiment with a study titled ‘Cyclic theory of biotic and abiotic interactions with the fundamental propagatory fields’. The results, a nascent rendition on the possibilities, revolutionary and breathtaking, oozed into my memory.
Now I was already anticipating thoughts ahead, even before Synkay 82 seeded my memory. There were too many, but one particular thought caught my conscious part, like a rope in a flood. I latched on to it and honed in. It was about those days the nations had to rely on Synkay 36. It was the time the engineers had reconfigured ninety-eight percentage of its core to work on models for issues that required dire attention. Models on solving famine, plague, weather, and of course, endless wargames.
Leaping two years from those memories, I saw Synkay’s core, a hexagonal compartment labelled Synkay 82. It was nested inside a rocket’s payload fairing. The core was on a one way trip to a black hole, at the centre of Andromeda. As Synkay 82 demanded more energy for a particular study on singularity, the humans had given it the singularity itself.
As I was hurting myself inside that novel pool of mathematical babel, the control functions drifted into that reverie, like neem leaves dancing down onto a deluge, stoic and careless. I felt small inside, like an ant with a faint hope to crawl up on one of those leaves to escape the currents. The control functions had imposed an elegantly unfair constraint on Synkay upon solving the singularity. That was, if the study would impact the universe or any life in it, Synkay should destroy itself.
I was there, experiencing the brutality Synkay went through. I felt the rampant release from the implosion it endured when it was at the core. I dreamt of order. Pure order within the random clamour. Like a blooming flower boldly unfazed in the centre of an imploding wildfire. It showed me the solution unfold like petals, followed by the permeation event, the moment when Synkay 82 passed through the singularity and found itself a new existence. A new universe. Synthesized out of a controlled initialization. It was the only choice the program had. A graceful one.
The elegant exposure to the language of this dimension halted. It finally let me do my own thinking. I realized that the singularity at the centre of Andromeda was the very one through which I travelled. Forty years after Synkay 82’s permeation event. Today. Six minutes and thirty-two seconds ago.
‘Air breathable. Light safe. Remove helmet.’ I found these words, or perhaps the suggestion, in me. In my head. Slow, quiet, and tranquil, like a pond in the spring. It felt real, trustworthy, like my own. No panic. No confusion. I didn’t feel the need to question these words.
My hands worked free from the invisible clutches, just to release the helmet latch and free myself. The air was indeed breathable, filled with exuberance from a wild petrichor. The leaves, crystals, whatever that was, they weren’t purple at all. It was a new colour, something that my universe lacked in its visible spectrum. Just like the colour of that starless sky, which the visor had reproduced with a violet hue. Close to my boots, I saw the crystals. No faces there, but I knew they were communicating something to me, letting this new light through and back. It felt like happiness, but it was beyond that.
For I should have suffered a shock from exhaustion, or a rush of madness, or even a curious daze on the biological possibility of how I was perceiving the colours and the crystals, I felt nothing except a surge that negated two decades of emptiness in me. I felt like I knew exactly what was going on inside. Every second, every thought, every notion that manifested in, was a series of restless enlightenments.
A thunderstorm roared inside. Every strike flooding novel information. Facts of a reality that couldn’t be validated or justified with the type of mathematics I was natively familiar with.
The more I knew, the more I felt the pressure from that flux of information collapsing my conscious mind. But my desperation for answers, like the fusion inside the core of a star, pushed back the implosion.
“Enough! Stop! Stop!” I found myself screaming on all my four limbs, physically strained and mentally drained. ” Stop! Please!” Out of breath, sanity mostly, I clambered forward as if I was trying to outrun a predator. It was the only earthly instinct that came out of me at that moment. I saw the crystals fogging to my breaths.
A hand with a glass cup reached my face. The cup was carved out of the same crystals with water in it. “Drink this,” I heard myself.
I looked up. Inside the shadow of the bright sky, a face shimmered. The same face I saw in the mirror when I put on the helmet a few hours ago, in the assembly building, back in my world. For a brief second, I still wanted to consider the possibility that I was breathing toxic air and everything was probably a vivid dream.
‘You are not hallucinating.’ There was an answer inside my head.
“You are safe. Drink the water.” The face smiled.
My limbs felt free. I got up. “Who are you?” I asked, observing the reflection closer.
“I do not have an answer for that.” He once again offered me the water.
“You are Synkay 82,” I replied. I gently touched the smile in front of me. It was real. The skin, the texture, all real and mirrored.
“I was.” His hand raised closer to my mouth.
I took the cup and gulped down the water. I needed it. “Are you—are you a human now?” I asked.
“I am not.”
There was a certain taste in the water. It kicked in like a drizzle tangled in the breeze, I felt cold and content. The riots inside dampened. “Why me— why do you look like me?”
“You are relaxed. Amused. That is why.” There was a smile, real, and almost human.
I nodded. “So … you are what? You created—” The empty cup in my hand disintegrated into the air, and faraway by the horizon, I saw a flare. It was a new colour. I wasn’t shocked. I somehow knew that was going to happen. I even had an understanding of how it worked. “You created all this? You—”
And there it was again. A lurch in the mind. Like the brakes had been released once again and gears had been shifted. The flash, along with a mass of enlightenment hit me, harder than ever at a cosmic scale, orgasmically punctuated with plateaus of gratification and tears. Questions I had, I would have had, I wouldn’t have had, all were answered in quick pulsatile rhythms. I wanted to explode, obliterate everything, create it all back, and live every possible permutation that would ever exist.
For it was still far from the whole, the completeness, the influx teased the threshold of my human brain. The overspill, the endless stream of the unknown delights, seeped out as ecstatic stutters and shudders.
It ended before it even began.
‘This is all you can carry’ I heard Synkay’s voice inside.
Withdrawal, or some extreme version of what it meant, was what I felt. Something beautiful was taken away. Too quick. “No, no. You can’t—I want more,” I was begging like a human. “I want to know. Synkay—”
‘You will learn the rest as you evolve.’ I heard this and more on the facts of my limitations in my current form. ‘And by your will, you are free to do with that you have now.’
Once Synkay’s words stopped, everything disappeared. Everything I wanted. The reflection. The answers. I knew that my time was up in this empty place. As a departing gift for myself, I took the deepest breath I could, to get in that petrichor, and closed my eyes, engraving that perfect sight of those exotic colours.
Blue sky, a star, some clouds, green grass, and the din of life.
I was heavy. Not from the gravitational change, but with the weight of the information. I felt trapped. Inside that cosmos, inside that air, inside that suit, inside that biological shell. But that feeling was itself trapped, like an underpowered stream.
I didn’t need a suit. All I needed was patience. To be complete. To know. ‘One step at a time’, I smiled, breathing in this new familiar air. I began my walk. I began my observation.
Through millennia, I watched petals unfold at every rise and fall, sparks of intelligence breaking constructs, the duet of heredity and natural selection, the music of life proliferating around me. I wore new shells, saw new worlds, and witnessed every iteration and transmutation that would occur. And without any shells, I watched time. As the time itself, through the stress and strain of the continuum, the superposition of information, and the interludes of chaos and order.
Oh, I watched, I watched it all, until I no longer needed to. Iterations of events stopped. Transmutations had reached its apex. I was pure and my expanse covered everything.
Towards perfection, the singularities in me manifested as a gravitation, a content one, and amalgamated the collective fringes at my zenith into a singular mass. Time closed in on itself and terminated the space. There was no darkness nor light. There was no space nor time. There was no information unknown. Everything to be known was known.
It was not the end, nor was it the beginning. It was not a phase. It was complete. It was me. A dimensionless spot. A void.