Mountain Retreat

Bill Tewlast prided himself on his do-it-all workshop.

He had inherited his grandfather’s tools when Bill was a boy and spend most hours, when kids were playing outside, apprenticing himself on the intricacies of turning any kind of metal into useful items such as kitchenware, fireplace pokers, rakes, shovels and frames for racing go-karts.

By the time Bill graduated from secondary school, he had the smell of metal in his skin and on his breath.

For graduation, Bill’s parents bought the young, strong man a small place on the edge of town, a former full service petrol station complete with the latest in industrial-scale 3D model making equipment.

For the first few years, Bill worked on restoring antique automobiles, an easy craft for someone with his skill but also very lucrative.

When he couldn’t find a part he needed, or didn’t want to pay the price being asked, he simply forged his own.

As he became more familiar with the CNC functions, he realised his limitations and hired a couple of kids to create an automated, computer-controlled mind reader that could turn Bill’s thoughts directly into workable reality.

The kids had gotten their start in the DIY home modeling business, picking up some used 3D cutters from a Maker Faire.

Bored with their desktop versions of live chess pieces, they turned to the Internet and advertised their services.

Bill brought them on-board, promising to make them millionaires before they were 15.

They informed him they were already millionaires but couldn’t touch their money so they wanted to become billionaires and have that much more money they couldn’t touch, keeping them hungry and creative.

The kids, a twin brother and sister (but not twins to each other), Trynce and Gwythreun, were familiar with the feeling that someone was feeling what you were feeling, usually when you had an odd feeling, so they often dismissed Bill’s comments about feeling someone was reading his thoughts when he was feeling odd.

They explained that after you hook up to a human-machine interface, there is no going back — the more connected you are, the more integrated you feel, and thus it was perfectly normal to feel someone, not the actual machine that reads your thoughts, was reading your thoughts.

Anthropomorphism is as old as our species, and probably older, they explained, having received their PhDs in Anthropological Molecular Studies in Pathological Psychosis from an online university in Tajikistan when they were 12.

Bill nodded and went on to his work, rarely noticing that before he thought he needed a special tool, the tool would appear next to him and then disappear when its unique use was no longer necessary.

One night, Bill fell asleep on the old leather sofa in the office area of the workshop.  Despite his best efforts, he had never created a machine that could fabricate the perfect cup of artificial coffee.  The price of real coffee had shot up so high he decided he’d quit caffeine and try adrenaline for a while.

While he slept, he dreamt.

His dreams were run-of-the-mill fantasies that mixed snippets of reality with imaginary landscapes tied to Bill’s emotional states.  He rarely remembered his dreams and concentrated on his waking thoughts, instead, as profitable as they had been.

But this night, a creature walked into his dream that he had never imagined before, followed by one after another of flying creatures, some big and some small, some harmless and some worse than his worst childhood nightmares.

They congregated around an enormous building that resembled an architect’s version of a kid’s half-cathedral, half-castle cardboard cutout in the backyard.

Some of the flying creatures flapped their hairy wings and caught updrafts, perching on the lookout points and entranceways when they landed.

The creature that walked looked like nothing Bill had ever seen.

It was like a squid but not like a squid.

Its eyes stared at him and they stared at nothing.

Its flesh pulsed in iridescent waves.

It had arms that turned into tentacles, then spikes, next hooks and variations in-between.

It had a shape but then it didn’t have a shape.


It was real.

In his dream, he watched as the creature read the thoughts of his about operating the CNC equipment and the conversations he had with the kids about even better ways to use the CNC equipment to create a thinking, autonomous being that they nicknamed Golem of the Gorge.  The creature intrepreted Bill’s memory of the conversation and heard “Gorging Golem.”

Bill tried to wake up but he was held in a subconscious trance.  He wanted to warn the kids.

The creature had figured out that a lot of these CNC machines, both industrial-scale versions like Bill’s and the used MakerBot Thing-O-Matic like the kids had, were connected to the Internet.

The creature was now connected to the Internet.

The creature was upset about something and had one thing on its mind — mischief.

While Bill slept, gargoyles disguised as mailboxes, jewelery, castle/cathedral guardians and temple protectors awoke from the deep sleep of eternity.

They, too, found susceptible people asleep nearby and tapped into their dreams.

They, too, connected to the Internet or slipped past human-based security systems — motion detectors, eye/finger scanners, typewritten passwords — and turned on cutting machines around the world.

Over the next 24 hours, a new army of autonomous creatures entered the lives of Homo sapiens, opening the dawn of the age of {^#!*&”>, the unpronounceable name of the creature from another planet.

{^#!*&”> did not declare itself emperour or dictate new rules.  It simply went about the business of building itself a world focused solely on getting it off this world eventually.

As people woke up from their new nightmares, they scrambled to see what their machines had made.

They found nothing out of the ordinary.

Everything was as normal as the day before.

A few people, those who kept meticulous records of their inventory, noted a shift in the quantity of raw material, but when they investigated, the total inventory was well within tolerance of counting errors.  “To err is human…” they thought to themselves, forgetting the second half of the quote in the rush to solve the mystery of why one night in their lives, their dreams seem to have a life of their own.

{^#!*&”> was satisfied.  If it had a plan, the plan was on schedule.  If the schedule had a milestone, the milestone was a launch date.  There were 13,824 days to go until launch.

After Bill woke up, he decided he had to sell a copy of this CNC interface.  With a machine like this, one could stop running to the store for a rarely-needed tool, saving time, and when one was finished with the tool, the person would throw it into the pile of raw material for the next time a new tool, part or unique gift for that special someone was needed with no time to spare.  He’d call the machine/interface device the R-Cubed, short for Reduce/Reuse/Recycle, just in time to take advantage of the latest craze in sustainable engineering products for the home, office and business.

Trynce and Gwythreun called to say that somehow their Makerbot had reproduced and replaced itself with hidden features they only dreamed possible.

Bill felt a tickle at the edge of one of his thoughts, as if…

{^#!*&”> was smiling, if you could call its skin colour changes the equivalent of a smile, sitting behind the wheel of a truck, simulating a human truck driver in case anyone bothered to pay attention to a person’s hidden under a large sombrero.

Bill wanted to get an R-Cubed into everyone’s hands.  To some, its interface would resemble a mobile phone.  To others, a game controller or TV remote control.  To many more, a computer keyboard.  An R-Cubed interface to suit every taste, reading people’s thoughts, controlling Internet-connected CNC machines and adding to the hidden army of {^#!*&”>.

People would not notice the subjects of their conversations changing as more and more of them connected to the autonomous bots loyal, if such a word will suffice to explain an unbreakable bond between created and creator, to {^#!*&”>.

{^#!*&”> drove on into the heat of the day and throughout the heat of the night — it was taking over this world more quickly than it thought possible.

But then it knew everything is possible when one has a defenseless planet like this to call one’s own.

{^#!*&”> wanted to enjoy this new pleasure of hot wind in its face and strange, rhythmic sounds pouring out of the round objects mounted in doors and other spots of this inedible motorised transportation device.

After a couple of days picking up these beings that beckoned {^#!*&”> to stop, eating them and discharging the hard-to-digest parts, it was getting hungry for something tastier.

With no need to waste energy as a hermaphrodite, laying fertilised eggs in town after town, plenty of its little babies growing up and feeding upon the local livestock, disguised as coyotes, vultures and other native scavenging beasts, {^#!*&”> decided it was time to go into hiding for a while.

Let the plan take its course, with {^#!*&”> checking in by reading thoughts when it wanted, but otherwise acting like whatever beast or flower it felt like at the moment, feeding when it needed.

Hidden in plain view, its genetic and artificial offspring reshaping the world without a single rebellious thought amongst them.

{^#!*&”> liked his creations doing his bidding.

Decisions by committee was for creatures when there were too many of them and not enough resources to share or dominate easily.

Beings like {^#!*&”> took off, disappeared, found worlds to call their own when the danger of committeeism threatened to infect their ways of life.

Even now, {^#!*&”> sensed that thoughts of the dominant species of this planet were making headway into its thoughts.

What is a “committee”?

Eat and be eaten, that is all.

{^#!*&”> drove the truck over a cliff, climbed out of the wreckage and rested in the shade of the crushed cab.

Time is irrelevant.  {^#!*&”> lay there for ten years, hibernating.

Meanwhile, its offspring fought for control of the world, “technological versus organic” the main theme.

Hybrids formed an underground revolutionary movement to eliminate both the sentient machines and the ravenous beings that claimed they were descendants of the Pure One.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, isn’t it?

We haven’t lived in that future yet, have we?

Have we?

Ringtonia set down the recent auction winnings of her uncle, who had bought this paper edition, “History of Earth, 2000-2999,” in exchange for a few scenic vistas he had inherited here on Mars from his great-great-great…well, his 10th great-grandparent, the first of the approved GMOs, genetically modified organisms specially designed for life on Mars.

“Uncle, did we win?”


“Yes, was the Uprising our victory or theirs?”

“Ringtonia, nobody wins a war.  However, people are always paid to write history favourable to their ways of life.”

“Was this book written for us, then?”

“That, my dear, is a question, isn’t it?  May I have the book back now?”

Her uncle had grown good at blocking Ringtonia’s thoughts a few years ago.  She had pretended, since “birth,” to be him when she read his thoughts, his not being used to genetically-related material having closer access to his well-guarded thoughts than the general population.

This time, he let slip a thought that the war went in favour of an entity no longer around.  What did that mean?


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