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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 peace..."

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.

It seemed 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 our opportunity.

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 Mother Brain.

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 just fine.

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?

The 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 my story.

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.

I have 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.

You see, 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.

I 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.

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