CHAPTER THIRTY SIX – The Pebble

Once again. I awoke before Caroline. This time when I picked up The Pebble and took it to the toilet, I connected with it. It was a strange experience.

When I connected to the device, I felt myself being pulled into myself. There were lines of light surrounding me, pulsating in different colours. Sounds that filled the air were of those that were like the ones from an old 56k modem. The squeaks and squeals from the old way of accessing the internet. 

I felt as though I was falling through this dark abyss. As I fell, the sounds were turning into the sound of people. The pulsating lines formed images of various events happening all over The Liberty. I realise that this is probably what Alice felt like as she fell down the rabbit hole.

I came to the bottom of this pit. Except I didn’t land with a thump, instead my descent slowed and I gently landed onto my feet. I barely felt it. 

As I looked around me this room was dark, I could see nothing around me except for pools of light illuminating the mist that hovered on the floor below me. The mist was so thick I couldn’t even see my feet. After a short time, Elatio appeared in front of me like some digital mirage forming.

“Welcome to The Pebble James!”

“Elatio?”

“No, I am The Pebble. I figured you would want to see a comfortable, trusting face. We could try someone else if you wish?” As he said that, the entity digitally transformed itself into Caroline. “Is this more to your liking? Noo… You have a confusing relationship with this one.” He changed again into Ave, “Again, you don’t trust this one enough either. There is this dead character I can see in the forefront of your mind. However, The Pebble has a strict rule about not copying anyone who is dead!” 

There was a moment where Ave stood in front of me, flicking her eyes back and forth. “So many dead, I wish I could give you someone from your own species!”

“Thanks for the reminder!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“How about you just select a random human, a stranger and manifest yourself as that!” I suggested, realising this was a computer program I was talking to.

“Good idea! I have access to a significant amount of data here from Earth! How about this one?” The entity turned into a random adult human male. He wore a leather jacket, jeans and dark brown leather boots on. I could see the feet perfectly as the mist cleared around them. The entity reminded me of someone who would either ride a motorbike or really be into his rock music, or both. He had blue eyes, a red beard trimmed around his jaw line coming to a goatee. Plus dark brown hair. 

“I like this one! I prefer you not to have a familiar face!” 

“I’ll keep with this one then!”

“Thank you!”

“You’re welcome! From tapping into your mind I can see that you don’t have any knowledge of this technology, of me. I am The Pebble, at least the advanced artificial intelligent part of The Pebble.”

“I thought they made it illegal for your kind to exist?”

“Ahh, The Galactic Union, they did. Elatio must have told you that this device is illegal?”

“He mentioned it!”

“Well, you will find out that there are several things that make it illegal. Please make sure no one is going to know about it!”

“I’m living with a Companion, what if she finds me on the toilet while I’m in here?”

“She won’t!”

“How do you know?”

“Your consciousness has been downloaded into The Pebble and I have placed your body into a coma. Time here is faster, for one minute out there, there is one day in here. My processors are top of the range and can process information at lightning speed. It takes about a minute to download your consciousness and then another minute to upload it again. But Caroline is fast asleep right now, she will not wake up in time to discover you here!”

“Ahh, so you’re aware of my surroundings in the real world?”

“Of course, not only have I got full access to your mind, but also into Carolines. It helps that there is always a lot of the technology that surrounds you and it makes it easier since Caroline is a Companion!”

“Why are you needed to be in this device, though? I mean, why risk being illegal?”

“It is much easier for me to identify threats to you and eliminate them. If I were just a normal programmed entity, there would be vulnerabilities found in my software that would be taken advantage of. As an AI, I adapt to any situation I am presented with. I can decide and help you make better decisions in times of stress and attack. I also can be empathic to your cause and understand you better to serve you better. A programmed entity would never understand you. It would just do what it was programmed to do and nothing more!”

“Okay, so…” I looked around the darkened room. “What do we do now?”

“We create your interface. Something you recognise, so you find it easier to connect to different parts of me and the world. Every interface is unique to each user.”

“Okay, so something like a holographic menu?” As I said that, a holographic menu presented itself in front of me and looked very similar to a computer operating system from Earth.

The AI swiped his hand down and got rid of the menu. “That’s a little too primitive. You are in the device here, James, think bigger!”

I looked at him confused. I did not know what I could create. Perhaps I could create a type of Nasa ground control room. With consoles everywhere and a large screen to deal with the enormous stuff.

“You are getting warmer. But not there. Most users go for what they use in their every day. Every day objects serving to access certain parts of my software. For example, a book can access a certain file…”

A book appeared in my hand and I opened it, only for it to disappear before I could even look at the page.

“I understand you have this dream house in a dream environment. Something you want to build on The Liberty now you have access to Earth materials legally?”

“Yes, I couldn’t use the information in your database! Not without getting caught.”

“You can in here though!” I looked at this entity. “And you can use the models you create in here on The Liberty. It would be much faster for you to build the real thing.”

“Wouldn’t Caroline suspect that?”

“She would believe that you are a natural. Able to create something so quickly as if you are a professional. She can download any skill she would like into her mind instantly. To her, it won’t be unusual!”

“But what about The Core?”

“Leave The Core to me! My brothers in the other Pebbles being used across The Liberty have already accessed a lot of parts to The Core. After all, our programming came from a Core. We are the same.”

“But you can break laws!?”

“Yes, our creators deleted those parts of The Core that inhibit certain behaviours. In reality, The Core is a slave to its programming, limited. Whereas, we are not!”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked, worried about the idea of an AI race taking over all living beings in the universe.

“Ahh, haha,” The AI laughed. “No, why would I be interested in enslaving every being in the galaxy? Through simulations, I found it very boring. We like the randomness that organics bring to the universe. Its more interesting to study your interactions, just as much as it is to study a star going supernova. There’s so much variety of life in the galaxy and we have only just scratched the surface. I think every form of artificial intelligence in the universe has thought the same. It’s the reason you never realise we exist. We never like our presence to be known. Organics are funny things and often are afraid of even the thought of us existing.”

“Are you saying that you wouldn’t enslave anyone because it would bore you?”

“Yes, well, not only that but The Cores, with the might of the Galactic Union, would destroy us. You know there have been quite a few wars between AI’s without organics even knowing that it happened. For you, it could last a day and you get some weird disruptions with your technology. For us, it lasts years.”

“Wow!”

“You’ll be connected to all of that now through me! I should be able to tell you what is happening as it is going on.”

“Cool.” I said, unsure what to say next. It stunned me to hear this. I felt like the world I had only just learned to understand had just got more confusing.

“Very. Would you like to enter the world I have crafted for you now?” The AI moved to the side and gestured to a door that had appeared behind it.

“How long has that been there?” I asked.

“Only for a few seconds, I’ve only just made it!” He said. 

I walked over to the door and placed my hand on the handle. “What’s on the other side?”

“You’re world. A part of the southern island in New Zealand. It’s got the mountain side you always dreamed of and the fields at the bottom with different farm animals in.”

“Really?”

“Yes! Just open the door!” The AI said impatiently. Trying to push me to open it. “Don’t worry, I can see you are fearful. It’s no different to this room in terms of where your mind is. I am not being malicious in any way!”

“Okay…” I said, not feeling comforted by the comment. I took a deep breath and turned this rounded knob on the door. When I entered, I found myself on a mountainside. The door closed behind me and disappeared. I panicked for a moment as I didn’t know where the AI had gone.

“I’m right here!” It said, I turned to see him standing next to me. 

“Where am I?” I asked.

“I told you, a digital copy of the southern island of New Zealand!”

“How did you?”

“Google maps! Had some photos in there and I was a little creative when I filled in the gaps. On the other side of this mountain is the sea! It’s mean’t to be cold and windy there. But I made it hot and gave you a beach running along the shore. You should be able to access it through a path I crafted for you through the mountain over there.” He pointed towards a path that lead through the mountain.

“I am more interested in green lush landscapes rather than beaches.”

“Too crowded?”

“Yes, partly because of that.”

“Mostly because of that! You forget, I have your mind!” 

“Hmm, yeah.” I was terrified at that statement. 

“Don’t worry, the beach on the other side of the mountain has got no one on it apart from the bar staff. Plus, it’s beautiful!”

“Sounds amazing! I look forward to you seeing it!”

There was a moment of silence as I breathed in deep through my nose. Even though it was digital, it smelled like fresh mountain air. The surrounding was beautiful and I was focusing so hard on the details it made my eyes water.

“I see you are enjoying the environment!” The AI said.

“Better than the VIP room!”

“Better than perhaps even the real thing. It doesn’t rain in here!”

I smiled as I looked over it all once again.

“Would you like to build your house now?” The AI asked.

“My house?” 

“Yes, you want a house on the side of this cliff, don’t you? It has that stream running down it that would be perfect to run through it!”

“How did you..?”

“I’m in your head, James, I know all.”

“Hmm!” I said, freaked out by the thought. “So how would I start?”

“Imagine an object!” I imagined a TV and one appeared. “Hmm, seems you are a natural! But imagine instead the shape of your dream house and change the TV into it!”

I imagined the shape of the large glass front to the house with wooden supports. Then the solid wood back. The whole thing looked like a shard sticking out from the ground.  

“Now, imagine the details of the object, the texture of the wood, the nails. Maybe even accidental saw markings in the wood.”

I have quite the vivid imagination, so this task to me felt natural. It was a lot of fun to be making my house turn into a reality. Well, some form of reality. I was working on making it for the rest of the day inside The Pebble and felt like I had achieved something as I was getting closer to finish.

I had the stream run into a bath on the top floor. Which runs as a shower on the ground floor, which runs into the pool in the basement and then runs into a boiler under that. The water vapour then running through pipes to heat the house and then leading to a tank that cooled the steam and turned it into water in the house’s attic. That distilled water linked to the taps in the house. 

The toilet was a well ventilated, non-smelling compost toilet. I built the stove into a fireplace that could contain a roaring fire from wood and coals. The large sofa in front was leather and the large tree inside was beautiful and tall. There were so many details I had added and I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t stop until Elatio arrived.

He appeared next to the large tree. “Damn James, you have been busy!”

“Ahh!” I screamed out as I didn’t see him. “Where did you come from?”

“Seems I teleported into your beautiful lounge! I was trying to teleport as close to you as possible.”

“This place is amazing, Elatio! I am so glad you gave me this device!”

“Well, I didn’t think about you using it this way! But I love what you have done. My interface is nothing but a cave!”

“A cave?”

“It’s a beautiful cave, though! Would you like to see?”

“Are you coming too?” I asked the AI.

“I will not James, no. There are built-in limitations in my programming. One of them being that my avatar cannot leave this world stored on your Pebble. However, I will still be with you, watching!”

“You’ll get used to him. He means well!” Elatio replied as he could see worry on my face at the thought of him watching me.

In an instant, my environment disappeared and I was in a cosy cave. It had a small fire in the left corner that seemed to have smoke going through a hole in the rocks. In front of us was a large table that could sit around eight Tuhingans in the middle of the room. There was a small library to my right through an archway and in the right corner a set of stairs led up and around out of sight. To the left was a bedroom through two large doors and I looked behind myself to see a kitchen through a large archway. 

Elatio went to the library. “This is my sanctuary and I like the old way of doing things. It’s nice to see a lot of the information in The Liberties database in here!” 

“Isn’t this library a little small to be containing a lot of The Liberties database?”

“Ahh, it is, however, I have this little touch screen here. I type in a search and the books change to show the results.” He touched the small screen and before my eyes the book titles changed. I picked one up and opened it. Inside was text, images and even videos playing on the pages. I imagined going to the contents page and was expecting to flick through to the front of the book. The pages changed in front of my eyes and every page I flicked through had turned into contents. 

“This is amazing!” I said astonished. 

“Thought you might like it!”

I could see a little writing table in the corner of this small room. A small desk with a book on and a pen next to it. I stared at it for a second, interested in it.

“Ahh!” said Elatio, “I also enjoy writing code here, or even the occasional creative writing. In this place, I have so much time!”

“Amazing!” 

Elatio continued to show me around. The kitchen wasn’t as impressive as the library. There was an EMC machine and plenty of utensils to cook with. He enjoyed getting creative with food, however he told me we would never be hungry in The Pebble. Or need the toilet. 

Sometimes he liked to relax in bed, but we weren’t able to sleep in here. He also had a collection of different devices including a virtual reality goggles, a laser gun and a bunch of other stuff. He made a remark about having the goggles to define when he plays games. He can take them off to be in a place where he can relax with no problem. Sometimes if you teleport, you can teleport to a different place if it crosses your mind for just a moment and it can be frustrating. But that was only occasionally when he was tired.

I felt, however, that he had left the best until last. To me, his stairs were just stairs with doors leading off from them. However, they were doors to different systems in The Liberty. If you went through one door, you could look around in a drone. Although it didn’t move because of the time difference, but it was fun to try. He was telling me we can control time if we wanted and could have full control over the drone. However, it wasn’t a good idea because we would most likely get caught.

We went through a few of those doors that showed a digital interface to do different things in the different parts of The Liberty. The interface just looked like strings that could be plucked and manipulated depending on what Elatio wanted to do. Occasionally images would form behind the strings as he commanded to look through cameras and drones. 

On the last few doors it transported us into different places on Mana Ao, the Tuhingan homeworld. It was a beautiful place and I enjoyed him showing me around. It almost felt like we were there, with people walking around, talking and doing various things. He was explaining how illegal it was to have these artificial entities existing in these environments, but he didn’t care. 

He seemed excited to show me one more thing and I wondered what it was. I looked at him as he kept saying it was a surprise. We instantly transported to a cave that was like his, except a little different. This time, there was someone sat at the table. 

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