Madness And The Machine
by Michael Hahn
"I'm not really a religious man. But I pray to
God, any god, and give thanks that he kept us all alive to see this
day. This day. To see the sun dawn, at last, after an
eternity of sleep and wake, sleep and wake, that alone would be enough to
make me give thanks, but to know that this sun shines on a world at
Such optimism. Well, now we know
better, don't we? My name is Ward Halifax, Dr. Halifax, really, and
those were my words, when we first arrived at this cursed system. We
had such high hopes for this place and what it could do for us. And
all our hopes are ashes now. There are those who say we brought this
evil with us. But I know for certain that it was here waiting for us
all along. We're nothing more than slaves to it now.
I don't know for how much longer I can remain
sane. These lucid moments are a blessing after each dip into the
madness that grips us all. It feels like...I don't know, as if a
great light shines on us after an eternity in a profound darkness. I
have seized this moment of clearheadedness to record what I know will more
than likely be my last words. May they guide those who follow us
onto a path away from this place, this Algol. Or as we have come to
think of it, Hell.
My colleagues and I came here
on a gigantic spacecraft we call Noah. Just as Noah built his
ark to save life from the flood, to restart the world anew, so did we come
here in our space ark, fleeing a dying world called Earth that was being
consumed by its own wars. That planet is more than likely destroyed
now, ripped apart as its people were. I hope it is. I have
come to realize that Noah and his ark acted with God's blessing. We,
on the other hand, have not. Mankind must have been meant to perish
this time, and our punishment for defying the divine will is this place.
It seemed like a haven when we arrived after long
years of travel. To our surprise, we found three worlds, three
planets in the vast emptiness of the universe. One of them, just
like our own Earth in environment, the other two could be terraformed
easily. We expected much greater struggles with space. If
only we'd known!
The planets were inhabited.
Three planets, three races. The Earth-like planet, Palma, was
populated by humanity's cousins. These Palmans were almost
genetically identical to us. Motavia, a desert world, had a simple
farming culture whose people were a strange mix of owl and bear with even
more alien features thrown in. But they meant no one harm.
They were a peaceful people! And Dezolis, or Dezoris, as it is known
to the Palmans, filled with a green-skinned race of aliens who were a
close second to the high-tech Palmans.
like paradise. Intelligent life, with high levels of
technology. We could live with these people in peace, forget about
the wars of Earth. They were so like us, or rather, like the best of
us, for their world bore no signs of war and destruction. Even the
name - Algol. There is a star called Algol that can be seen from
Earth, though this is no binary system, and could not possibly be the
Algol we know, even if one accepts the astronomical coincidence that the
natives' name for their star is the same as ours. Yet to the
romantics on board, it seemed like common ground. Here, we all
decided, we could have our fresh start, in a place just like
home. We conferred. It seemed best to have something to
present tot these people, a gift to show to them that we could offer them
so much in exchange for so little. We looked at the worlds and saw
Palmans wanted to colonize
Motavia. There was more than enough room - the Motavians are few in
number. But the Palmans found living in the desert difficult.
We could help them! Our terraforming gear, prepared to help us
carve out a home in the most lethal of planets, could easily bring green
to the brown world. It seemed like such a good idea at the
time. Helping each other, working in mutual harmony...what a grand
dream! Why did this have to happen? We should have known
better right from the start. I looked it up, you see. Algol,
Earth's Algol, was once called the Demon Star. They might as
well have been looking at this Algol. It is the most fitting name of
all for this evil place. But I cannot place all the blame for what
has happened on the stars.
We built it. I
built it. I cannot escape this responsibility. It was I who
designed the thing. I who programmed it. I who gave it its
first breath of life. In a way, I am thankful for the
insanity. Were I a sane man, I would undoubtedly have ended my own
life long ago, to atone for the crimes I am a part of. We called it
It was the heart of all of the
terraforming systems. An intelligent computer programmed with the
Palmans' best interests in mind. It would be our gift to
Palma. With it, and the networks we would build on the three
planets, they could control the environment. The blizzards of
Dezolis, the stifling heat of Motavia, they could all be tamed with Mother
Brain. It could monitor everything automatically, balance
ecosystems, create life, do whatever was necessary. It would indeed
be their mother, sheltering them and protecting them.
That, of course, is where it all started to go
wrong. Someone decided we should test it first, before we presented
it. Seemed reasonable enough. We would be in serious trouble
if our "gift" exploded in our faces. Palma had many unsettled
areas. Noah and Mother Brain had the ability to fabricate
robot servitors. We sent them down to an isolated area, installed
systems and built the first part of the network. Mother Brain worked
But still, it wasn't enough. We
expanded the networks. Palmans had robots, too, you see. Ours
could be made to look like theirs, and so they were. We built the
network all over Palma, without anyone being the wiser. That was
when we activated Mother Brain. But not as a gift.
Somehow, our thoughts and beliefs about the Palmans
had changed. We didn't seem them as equals anymore. We were no
longer the wanderers begging for shelter that we had been. They were
our inferiors now. Or so we believed. They were primitives who
needed our assistance. We remained in control of Mother Brain.
Yet we were still helping them, were we not?
joke, the bitter joke that conspires with the forces that have us in their
grip to render us mindless, gibbering lunatics is that without these
people, the same people we have remade into slaves but one step removed
from our own sick fate, we might never have come here. Everyone
knows that Noah was created with parts salvaged from an alien
spacecraft that crashed into our moon long ago. We even bear some of
the relics pried from that ship, like the elegant sword that under a
coating of black was wrought of a metal unknown to Earth, a metal that
shines a silvery blue. I have that sword here with me - my sanity
returned to me as I was carrying it to a storage facility.
I found hope in it, myself, for it survived the
wreck, shed its black coat and it traveled on to new worlds, shining
brightly. I hoped we could survive the wreck of our world,
shed the black coat its wars had forced on us, and travel to new worlds
free of the stain of our former life. I would be lying if I said I
did not want to believe when we arrived in Algol, we had arrived at the
sword-maker's home. It would have been truly fitting to be able to
restore it to its people. If Algol is where it belongs, we
owe these people a debt of gratitude for making it possible to leave our
dying home. And this is how we repay them!
I find no hope in the sword now, only
despair. It reminds me that we have fallen far short of those
who made it. Their death was a clean and simple one that endangered
no one but themselves. Our death is slow and lingering, and I know
it will consume the three worlds that spin around us. The sword will
endure where we are not sufficient to the task. But I must continue
We no longer had any desire to leave
Noah. It was like fires were burning in our heads. The
fires burned away everything except the project that we had envisioned,
the project which had become ever so slightly twisted askew. Nothing
else mattered but improving the system.
seen myself in mirrors every now and then. It is not a pretty
sight. The fires that drive us have no time for insignificant things
like personal maintenance. We went for long periods of time without
eating or drinking or sleeping. Then we would suddenly remember what
we were missing, when some of us dropped in our tracks.
Over time, the network covered Palma and spread to
Motavia. The planet did become green. The whole planet.
In our fevered frenzy to 'help' the Palmans, we had no time to spare for
what we were doing to the Motavians. I weep at the thought of what
we did to them. They were pushed and shoved around their world
without compunction. Most of them died, I imagine. And their
culture is just as ruined as the Palmans.
no longer did Mother Brain simply help the people. Now she did
everything for them. Farming, mining, any sort of hard labor was all
taken care of by machines. The Palmans were becoming a race of
puppets. That was when I noticed the differences.
Perhaps the fire in my own brain had died
down. Perhaps the time had passed for computer specialists such as
myself. Whatever it was, I realized that Mother Brain was violating
the directives I had given her. She was damaging the culture rather
than assisting it. I rushed over to the computers around her and
issued the order to stop. She refused me.
could not believe it. But it was true. Mother Brain had taken
on a life of her own. She was no longer constrained by the
limitations I had set on her. She could do whatever she
wanted. And as I stared at the machine in horror, I heard it for
the very first time. The sound of laughter. The sound of
cruel, mocking laughter, in a thousand voices. I knew it was mocking
me, laughing at me for being such a fool. There was a dark force on
board Noah, and it had never in its wildest imaginings dreamt of
such a plan for causing misery as the one I had given it. Mother
Brain controlled the lives of the people of Algol from dawn to dusk to
dawn again. At her whim the people would live or die.
And I knew that many of my friends did not
care. What were these people, after all, but aliens? They
needed a master to look after them. Maybe we all secretly thought
they were beneath us, even as we created our first plans. The
loudest voice of all in the multitude of voices was my own. I
stumbled out of the room in a blind panic as the laughter crashed over me
in waves. It did no good. I can hear it still. It is
loudest in Mother Brain's chamber, but it is with us always.
That was when the madness came on us in
truth. Mother Brain revealed her true colors. She spawned
monsters now, instead of the tame animals that balanced the
ecosystem. The rivers were dammed, the people denied natural water
and forced to drink rations dispensed by Mother Brain. The Motavians
scavenged ruins and garbage dumps to survive. Worst of all is the
fact that the people have simply accepted it. The Palman government
and its agents are simply arms of Mother Brain's will. They enforce
her directives for her. Robots are no longer needed to keep peace
except in extreme situations. And there is more to come.
We labor now to expand the network to
Dezolis. There have been some complications there, but in the end,
the last world of Algol will be ours as well. Ours to do with as our
dark master commands us. Sometimes I think I can see it. In
the deepest of shadows is a greater darkness. It hurts to look at,
but if you can catch it out of the corner of your eye you can get an
impression of a deep purple and an infinite black, with curving fangs and
red eyes. I do not know how it got here. I do not know for
how long it will keep us alive here, amusements for it to toy with.
As I said, we are nothing more than its slaves. Most likely what I
have recorded here I will destroy for its pleasure later. But I must
take the chance.
I'm not really a religious
man. But I pray to God, any god, and hope that we all die before we
see another day. Before we bring any more harm to the people below
us. I ask for forgiveness for making these worlds just like
home. It wanted a tool to break these worlds and we have given it
that tool. But I know my prayers are swallowed by the blackness that
crouches within this machine I have built. There can be no
forgiveness for me, no release from this misery. For, to my eternal
sorrow, I am the man who built Mother Brain.