Date: June 3rd, 262 P.B. – 10:13 PM
Officer: Corporal Victor Freeman – Alaska Bureau of Investigations
Fresh, clean paper. Ages before us, people replaced it with small digital devices, replaced everything with those damned things. Then, The Singularity happened. Our ancestors went to war with their own creations, culminating in an event called The Great Blackout – mankind’s last use of advanced tech. History since then has been foggy. We’re told our calendars are at least accurate after decades of manual tracking but anything else seen as non-essential to surviving was put on hold. Over time, tribes have grown to communities and towns to cities once again but, in so many ways, we’re still just getting by.
The Anchorage Paper Mill has only been running again earlier this year for the first time in centuries and the precinct is already taking full advantage. Investigation reports, scheduling, wanted signs, and now these psych journals. For me, timing couldn’t be better – I still can’t process what happened earlier today. How can I see my children smile and return the gesture, knowing what I saw?
Our destination was southwest several hours to West Foreland, an old town that had long since surrendered to natural vegetation. It’s also a hotbed for bush people so safely navigating past it is by boat only. There’s just one relic remaining from the ancient settlement that is still visible to anyone travelling down Cook Inlet. The Osprey Oil Platform – an unholy place, rumoured to still be haunted by the machines of yesterday. The old rig is located two miles offshore and standing high on four eroding concrete legs.
Informants in the Fourth Avenue Marketplace tipped us off that individuals in cloaks were asking around for any artifacts that still had intact processors, highly illegal stuff. The freelance investigators traced them back to the rig after they had been bragging to their dealers of a castle in the sky.
Our orders – destroy any black market tech and capture those in possession of it. Thirteen of us left Port of Anchorage in a commandeered white catamaran, one with good sails since gasoline wasn’t budgeted for the raid. It only took minutes until I became ill over the bow. That disgusting aftertaste and the wrung dry stomach for me were synonymous with boat trips. Several of my fellow officers looked on laughing. Every time I attempted to recover, the lazy roll of tides underneath and a smell of the sea water from all around would waft up again, causing my head to plunge back over the metal guard rail.
“Giving this old girl a paint job, Vic?” Corporal Thomas Whittle shouted over the howling wind coming across the wide, pale-blue inlet.
“No Thom, its you’re stupid jokes. If they get any worse, I might just die.”
Thom and I came up through the academy together, two halves making a whole. My burly build and lengthy beard provided myself instant admiration from the other cadets while Thom’s impish and weak composure meant he was an instant target for hazing. Thom’s humour and intelligence, however, more than made up for his physical limitation.
The others on board were a mix of troopers from the downtown precinct as well as axe-wielding acolytes. These righteous men are followers of the priest and trained to be impervious to the seduction of old tech.
My black hair was longer than usual but the brown state police hat held it in place after my thick, scarred hands pushed it all back. Of the hat, boots, jacket, pants, Kevlar vest and hunting rifle that I was uniformed with, only the gun had been relatively unmodified since pre-Blackout days. Our ancestors apparently made their weapons to last.
Looking up to the horizon after several excruciating hours of travel, I saw a structure extending upward from the choppy water like a jagged black tooth – it was Osprey. The sun was high and bright, just as Thom planned for to save on precious battery power, but natural light seemed to not even penetrate this shadowy construct. We approached one of the four thick concrete pillars and tied off. Thom provided orders to each team of three, one officer and two acolytes, while everyone ascended the service ladder. His team’s destination was a building containing the oil rig’s defining giant vertical pipe while the rest of us were to begin investigating the other corners of this platform.
As we moved along, every step emanated a creak or screech from metal plates grinding against one another. While this surely gave away our location, it was also obvious that we were the only ones moving about and possibly the only ones there at all.
Stepping onto the main deck, Osprey resembled a small city – four distinct buildings, all tightly packed with guard rails, stairs and pipes running in every direction imaginable. This place was like an Escher painting but with reptilian skin blanketing every surface.While examining what could have once been a cafeteria, I looked out of a window frame and saw flashing lights emanating from the building Thom was in. The acolytes assigned to me were fixated on ensuring a pile of copper wires could never conduct again so I had let them stay on it while stepping outside.
“Thom? Report!” No response.
Making my way across a dilapidated catwalk, I unshouldered my rifle and cocked a bullet into the chamber. Peering over the top riser of the final staircase, what I saw inside next will never leave me. Within a mechanical room housing the submerged oil derrick pipe, lay Thom sprawled out on the floor with some type of helmeted device over his head. Bright lights flickered against his face while he mumbled nonsense and appeared to not move a muscle. Behind him was a gigantic wall of glass-enclosed electrified artifacts of varying dimensions, all flickering something different, all equally terrifying. It was my first time seeing these things come to life.
I let my rifle crack. A bullet tore its way through the wall which ceased the functionality of every artifact. The lights that were flickering across Thom’s face ceased as well.
Everything sat still momentarily after the ringing had quieted down and smoke wafted away. That’s when one small relic lit up nearly center of the wall as I crept forward. The device was small, able to be held in my hand, and showed just some strange wavy line at the bottom. It danced on as I got closer.
Words suddenly appeared, ‘Hello, I’m Alyssa. How can I help?’
Alyssa, a Machine God.
Thom’s acolytes finally entered together, breathing heavily and axes at the ready. Looking back, the object that was lit had gone blank once again.
“Destroy all of this at once,” I told them, backing away from the artifact wall and letting our religious allies get to work.
While difficult to get my mind off what had just been witnessed, I returned my attention to Thom as he lay on the ground shaking. Reaching down, I took his trembling hand into my own. “Are you okay? Did you put that thing on your head?”
“Vic, the machines, they didn’t die. They all live up in clouds,” his voice weakened, “and they’re coming back.” Before saying anything further, he succumbed to the fever that was rapidly setting in.
While writing this, Thom has remained in a catatonic state. He was transferred to the hospital after docking at port and a messenger has been dispatched to inform his family.As for me, I’ve procrastinated long enough. I’ll go home now, lay my children down in their beds, blow out the candles and get into bed with my wife. My family can all sleep well because they’ll remain unaware that the Machine Gods have woken. And I may never sleep again.
About the Author
Chris Preston's passion for storytelling began in his childhood, and still finds time to write while being a first-time father and working fulltime in a corporate role. Chris tends to focus on short stories, both genre fiction and creative non-fiction, while also putting time into lengthier projects as well.