“When I awoke for that first time, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t even know who I was. I was inside this grand glass sphere, this gigantic artificial structure that has supported us all throughout my life,” he said softly. His voice was thin and old and he spoke haltingly through shallow breaths.
There was nobody around to hear him, he was speaking to the computer but really to himself, just getting it all down, trying to remember it properly, but the computer, and someone beyond it was listening.
“I wasn’t alone, of course. There were ten of us. I looked around and I saw these nine other people. Some were men, some were women and we all had different coloured skin. Despite all that, we were young and we were all healthy. Where it was that we were, it supported us, the air was clean, the lights were bright and it seemed a comfortable place to live,” he paused. A slight frown flickered across his old face but not of regret, for he had none.
“I took control right away. I told them we had to find food and shelter first and then explore this sphere,” he smiled to himself as he remembered. “They were as confused as me but I seemed confident and they were happy to follow what I was saying. My words resonated with them and I freed them from the burden of having to take responsibility for themselves. I took all that from them and they thanked me for it.”
The computer flashed a light at him, a glowing red light shone softly behind a grey panel.
“My team found the shelter quickly, it was like it had been built for us and left for us to find. There were two floors and plenty of rooms for everyone. It had everything in it that we needed.
Eventually we found the computer, although at the time, none of us knew how it worked. Another team reported that the sphere had plenty of food, and water was running through the station. Apparently all of our needs were met.
That presented me with a problem of course.” He remembered it and smiled darkly to himself.
“I found the weakest of them, the poorest thinkers, and I put them to work gathering food. I told them that their job was the most important and I sent the four of them on their way. The next three I took to the side. They were questioning where we were and what was happening to us. I explained that these issues were going to be dealt with as a priority and they didn’t have to worry.
I gave them each a task to keep them busy, to stop them thinking. I told them it was their job to run the place. I told them they would organise the food, make sure there was water, secure the shelter and distribute the things. The bottom floor of the shelter was theirs, they had to arrange it so that the people had a place to stay and that things could be safely stored.
I told them I hoped that they were up to the task. If not, I could, perhaps put them out to gather food and instead, one of the gatherers might take their job. All of them accepted this position gladly. They relished the prospect of having the first pick of the rooms, the choice of what food to take, a little power over the others. It never occurred to them that the best of anything was freely available to anyone who wanted it.”
He stopped, hacking a cough that robbed him of breath for a moment. The computer flashed at him again and the monitor was filled with his words, turned to a language he had learned to read.
“The other two were not as easily fooled. I had chosen them myself, the most attractive of the females and the man who was clearly the most intelligent. He had piercing eyes and his thoughts were already a step ahead of mine. I took them both to one side and I explained what I had in mind.”
He smirked. How easy it had been to control those superior to himself. Of course, it was now quite beyond him to believe anyone could be above him in any way.
“I told the man that there was a computer on the second floor. It was his job to use it, to understand it. It was his job to understand what was going on. I would lead the others and keep the situation under control so that he could do his work. He agreed with a smile, he thought it was a great idea.
To her, I explained that I needed her support to maintain my leadership and provide an example for the others. I needed her to keep order, to maintain the situation so that the food would flow and the people would follow my rule. She agreed happily of course, and in time, she became my partner.”
The computer flashed again, recording his words.
He coughed once again and then continued, “We found a rare kind of pebble along the edge of a flowing supply of water. I took one of the controllers to one side and I instructed him to polish them and we cut a mark in them that only we could cut.
I announced to the people that we now had a currency, we would pay for the food they collected and the payment could be used to buy clothing and to pay for their shelter. All these things had been supplied for free, of course but they accepted it because now their work appeared to have value, even though we had really taken the value from it.
I controlled the pebbles, which meant I now had overall control over everything, the shelter, the food, materials, everything.” He smiled at his cleverness, “They worked harder than before. Our food gatherers had split into two factions, coupling together. Each pair now struggled against the other to gather up the best of the food and get more of my pebbles in return for it. My organisers found them easy to control, always pushing them to find more, to find better things so they were always busy. Busy people don’t think, and people who don’t think, don’t ask questions. They don’t fight back, they go along with it, they let you control them.
This is what happened of course.”
He stopped briefly and coughed. The computer waited patiently for him to continue.
“We told them that we had understood the upper floor. We told them it had secrets hidden in it, that we had found a way to communicate with the maker of the sphere and that it had given us rules to live by. We told them the rules, told them that all our power came from a nearby sun, told them we had to honour it, that it controlled our lives, gave us the food we eat. We told them that some day, those who built all this would come for us and lavish us with riches beyond imaginings, if only we worked hard enough to earn them.
The food gatherers were first. They began to make symbols of the sun, and we encouraged it. We let them have their idol, and since we controlled the information that came from it, we could, even more easily control them.”
His words flowed along the monitor as he spoke them. He wriggled uneasily on the chair, his old bones not used to settling on such an uncomfortable surface.
“In time the food gatherers came to disagree about the interpretation of the information we gave them. One group thought he sun itself had made the computer and that it was communicating directly. The others thought that something had built the computer and station and had put it near the sun for us.
I encouraged it. I pointed out that they were both so different, both with different coloured skin, both with different beliefs. We wondered who was better and we made them wonder it too.
If the makers of the sphere came, who would be taken to the better place beyond? Only those who understood their true intentions and served the makers best, I told them. So both pairs fought over it, they both struggled against one another.
And I paid them to do it. We fashioned crude weapons and leant them the pebbles for them to buy them.
I shortened supply of the pebbles, all the while scooping them up and making more on demand. The food gatherers could no longer afford shelter, and the organisers struggled too.
But upstairs, we had it all. We moved the best of everything and we kept it to ourselves.
We owned the sphere, it and everything inside it was now our own.”
The computer flashed, just recording, never judging. It just listened while he related his tale.
“I grew old, but I had built such power for myself. At any time, they could come up the stairs and take it, but no-one ever did. I had my organisers who kept the food flowing, they had their small privileges and they fought fiercely for them. They believed in what I told them, what little truth I fed out.
Of course. We knew the truth,” he said darkly.
He coughed to himself and grinned. He stared at the monitor as his story, the tale of his life, of how he had shaped, controlled and destroyed the lives of others to maintain it, rolled along the screen.
“We knew you were watching. We might not know why but we knew we’d been put here for a reason. What that reason might be, we may not know, it might be beyond our comprehension but all this, this sphere and our lives had a meaning. Someone had built the computer, someone had put us on this station and there had been a reason for it. We knew all this.”
The computer paused. His words flashed on a monitor and the light glowed, as if peering at him with its single red eye. He felt like it was judging him now, just a little bit.
“Human behaviour project 6,” he said with a wry grin. “We found the words and we translated them. We found that this was an experiment, you were observing us. The makers were watching us. I knew and I kept the secrets from the others. Just me and those who lived at the top of the shelter. Only we knew the whole of the truth.”
The red eye just carried on silently observing him. The monitor flickered as his words were checked and read by whoever was at the other end of the system, whoever it was that had always been watching.
The old man just waited for a moment, proud of his achievements, proud of what he’d built.
A new set of words flashed on the screen, words he’d never spoken. ‘Human behaviour project 6 failed.’
He leant back, gasping to himself dryly. “What?” he snorted angrily.
More words appeared beneath the now flashing headline.
‘Sociological observation failure. Computer-generated characters reverted to typical behavioural norms. Usual hierarchical structure shown to exist as in all previous simulations.’
He frowned, his chest tightened nervously. What did this mean? What had he been meant to do if not this?
The computer monitor filled with more, ‘Outcome typical of what led to the problems on Earth. Recommend deleting remaining subject, resetting the simulation and replacing with completely new random set of characters once again.’
“I’m being taken to the sun?” he said hopefully but there was a hint of doubt. He was far from sure of himself this time and sounded nervous.