All around us, the scenery continued to fill in. Light blue bled to the corners to form a clear sky. Sunlight filtered through the glass of the atrium, which dissolved gradually. A grass meadow took form all around me as the sweet scent of thyme and wildflowers filled my nostrils. Snow-capped peaks emerged in the distance, stretching skyward until they had reached an imposing height. Throughout the field, structures emerged as well, all similar to the castle in their flawless design and self-sustainability. People came in and out of the doors, looking impossibly beautiful. As opposed to merely walking, they appeared to glide with an effortless athleticism from place to place, never tiring or slowing. Above us, flying cars whirred through the air in flawless synchronicity in line with an unseen pattern.
“Welcome to Elysium,” said Elyon. “A new world made up of twelve tribes, each populated with exactly 12,000 members. The population remains fixed forever because no one dies. Every member is in perfect health, and every tribe is a hundred percent sustainable. Everything they consume is recycled and returned to nature, and their resources are renewable and cleanly harvested. They drink from the rivers and do not take more than they actually need. They live in accordance with nature, and in kind, the Earth gives itself to them. Let’s walk.”
I marveled at the pristine structure of the buildings, which were barely visible, as they seemed to blend in with the nature around them. Rich vegetation grew on every surface in a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. A kaleidoscope of monarch butterflies swirled, then settled upon a collection of bright sunflowers. Squirrels and chipmunks chittered as they chased each other. Just ahead, a small herd of deer grazed peacefully, paying no mind to the beautiful people who passed quietly to get to their next destination. In fact, everything about this place had a muted quality. I was so accustomed to the bustling roar of the city that this place seemed silent in comparison.
“It’s so beautiful,” I said quietly.
“Isn’t it?” Elyon smiled. “It’s remarkable what happens when we take in our surroundings. Humans have created marvelous things: airplanes that carry five hundred people across an ocean, smartphones that can retrieve any piece of information you could ever ask for, devices that can mimic the structure and function of the human heart. Think of Shakespeare, Mozart, da Vinci, Einstein, Isaac Newton, the greatest minds of history and the things they created from observing the world and bringing it through the filter of their unique genius. Look at the wry simplicity of the Mona Lisa, the feat of physics that is the Burj Khalifa, the exquisite paradox of the Hagia Sofia. Even more, think of the thousands of stories that humans have created, the movies you love―Matrix, Fight Club, Amadeus, Ex-Machina, Interstellar, Forrest Gump. Each story is a human miracle to be shared with the world.”
“Humans are impressive creatures,” I agreed, breathing in the fresh mountain air. “Even so, none of it compares with the phenomena of nature. Just look at this place! It’s like we’ve landed on another planet.”
Elyon laughed. “Oh, I assure you, it’s within the same dimension that you inhabit now. Just a different point in time, and a different version of your reality.”
“Some decades following the collapse, the empty skyscrapers began to crumble, and plants consumed the rubble and turned it into viable soil. Inch by inch, these patches of life found each other and formed a green blanket under which the Earth slept, recovering from the trauma. The Elysians saw the mistakes of their predecessors and refused to repeat them.”
Elyon led me to the front door of one of the houses, repeating the same salute as that morning when we entered the castle. The door opened, and he ushered me inside.
“After you,” he said. I realized that the entire house had been designed with the tinted glass effect; once inside, it was as if the walls did not exist. A different view of nature surrounded me in all directions: snow-capped mountains, valleys dotted in the red-orange hues of autumn, dark green forests shrouded in mist.
“Elyon!” A deep voice called out. I turned. A young man shook Elyon’s hand and clapped him on the back. His appearance was strikingly handsome, most of all because of his hair, which, in spite of his obvious youth, was pure white. “It’s so good to see you!”
A stunning young woman stood and hugged Elyon affectionately. “Welcome, old friend.” Like her companion, her hair was white. She wore it in a long braid that grazed her lower back. She turned to me. “Do sit down. I’m sure you’ve had a long journey,” she said, leading me to an armchair carved out of timber.
“We’ve come from the past this time,” said Elyon, settling into the chair next to mine. The young couple sat on a couch opposite us. “Don’t worry, I won’t keep you long. I only wanted to show my associate around.”
They looked at me expectantly.
“Er, this place is remarkable,” I said. “What is it like to live here?”
“Fantastic,” they answered in unison.
“Could you elaborate?”
The man spoke up. “It’s perfect here. Since the transhuman movement, we simply live as one with the Earth, free of pain and suffering. It’s a wonderful existence.”
“Existence? Is that what you call it?”
“Is that not enough?” said the woman. “After all, what more is there to it? We do not have to work or struggle for survival, nor do we get old and die. Our AI technology has filled these purposes permanently. Perhaps you were hoping for another word to describe it?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I suppose it sounds devoid of life. When survival is a given, and death is no longer an option, then what is it that you do all day?”
“That was a question we grappled with as we transitioned into this phase of humanity. In this case, we found that our predecessors had the answer. Because we no longer need to draw life from the struggle of surviving, we have adapted our technology to add the necessary ingredient that, when combined with existence, creates life.”
“Really? And what is that?”
“Story.” The woman smiled.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Think about it,” said the man. “When you watch a movie, what is it about the experience that holds you there in that chair for over two, three hours? You don’t move physically, but your spirit is transported: you cry, laugh, suffer, rejoice, until the credits roll and you return to your life . . . until the next movie starts, and the next, and the next. Humans are the only animals that tell stories, and they are the manner by which we cooperate with each other to dominate our planet.”
“So, you watch movies all day long? Is this what you are saying?”
“Not in the same way that you do. When we ‘watch a movie,’ so to speak, we immerse ourselves entirely in the consciousness of a person living in a different timeline. In so doing, we temporarily forget all aspects of our other existence, just as you forget your waking self when you enter a dream state. We then live the life of that person in all their suffering and triumphs, failures and successes. The movie ends with death, at which time we awaken in this reality to discuss our experiences with each other, analyzing and processing the meaningful truths that only Story can offer. So, you see, we are quite content with our ‘existences.’”
I felt a flash of indignation. “That’s your solution? Disengage from the perfect reality you created to live vicariously through our suffering?”
Elyon tried to calm me down. “Only if that is how you choose to interpret it, Architect,” he said.
“I have been in enough simulations to understand your point of view,” said the man. “But I invite you to take more time before you form your opinion. Observe your own life and the lives of others in your world.”
The calmness in his voice irked me. How could he be so nonchalant? My entire existence was for someone’s entertainment, and they expected me to simply accept it? I gritted my teeth. “No. I’ve had enough time to think it over, and I’ve decided you owe me a better explanation than that.”
The man turned calmly toward his partner, signaling her to speak. “Are you familiar with the director Quentin Tarantino?” she asked.
That came out of left field. “Of course. Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs. He’s fairly well-known in my dimension.”
“How about Game of Thrones? Have you seen it?”
“I watch it on occasion. What does that have to do with this?”
“Do you enjoy those shows?” she asked, smirking.
“As a matter of fact, I do,” I said. “They have all the elements of good entertainment: thrill, suspense―”
“Violence, bloodshed,” she interrupted me. “Suffering, rape, incest. Yes, all elements of quality entertainment.”
“I suppose that’s true. What’s your point?”
“Has it ever occurred to you that you would never want those things in your real life, but you have no qualms about watching others endure them?”
I hadn’t considered it before, but it had always seemed strange to me how people with perfectly healthy minds were usually drawn to the most disturbing entertainment content. I glanced at Elyon, who seemed to be lost in thought. At that moment, I recalled what I said to him in the cinema about the boring, repetitive film. When he asked what would make it interesting, I had suggested drama, and there can be no drama unless someone is suffering. It was starting to make sense.
“I see your point,” I began, “but there is still a huge difference. The people in our movies are actors. We’re watching an illusion designed for entertainment, while you’re hijacking someone’s consciousness to live through their suffering.”
The woman shook her head. “You’re missing the mark, Architect. Besides, the Romans didn’t use actors when they put on the gladiator shows. Like it or not, your society is dangerously close to slipping back into that tradition.”
“I don’t think so. I believe that we are much more civilized than our predecessors.”
“Is that so? Do you eat meat?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Why on earth would you kill and consume another living being?”
“I’m not the one who kills it. Someone else does the killing and processing, then it is delivered to me through a restaurant or grocery store.”
She wrinkled her nose in disgust. “That’s even worse. You are so disconnected that you likely are completely unaware of the horrible life that animal suffered from birth to slaughter as you consume the stress hormones that have accumulated in its bloodstream from a life of being injected, crammed into a cage, and inhumanely slaughtered with hundreds of its peers.”
“I . . . I guess I don’t think about it,” I stammered.
The man stood up and touched the sleeve of my shirt. “Where did you buy this?” he asked.
“Probably a retail store,” I said.
He felt the fabric until he found the maker’s tag, which read MADE IN CHINA. “This garment was most likely sewn together in a sweatshop by a twelve-year-old child whose family starves while he slaves away for pennies. If you look around, you will find that you are no different than your forefathers, except that your technology has given you the express privilege of being shielded from the bloodshed. By consuming those products, you are just as guilty.”
I could not think of anything to say. Noticing my discomfort, the white-haired couple smiled kindly, and the man said, “I apologize. We are here to teach you, not attack you. I am guessing that the reason Elyon brought you here has something to do with the impending collapse in your timeline.”
“How did you―”
“We can sense it in your energy,” said the woman, her voice even. “Do not be afraid. Before you go any further, there are a few things you must understand. Have you read the Bible?”
“I’m not particularly religious,” I said.
“Fair enough. In the Bible, there is a passage that states that God made Man in his own image.”
“All right.” I was still having difficulties consolidating the coexistence of technology and religion―in my mind, they always contradicted each other.
The woman gave a knowing smile and said, “You will soon find that every religion is part of the truth of the story, and they each reflect upon the simulation in their own ways.”
I rolled my eyes. “Can you please get out of my head?”
She laughed lightly and continued. “For the purpose of this argument, please accept the following hypothetical: Imagine that you are an ultimate programmer named God and that you have created a whole three-dimensional world in your computer. You have designed every little detail to your liking, and you have even added people, who have been programmed with certain default behavioral patterns so that they can coexist peacefully and not destroy your virtual creation. One day, you find that you are getting tired of simply watching everything happen from a bird’s eye view and want to be a part of this simulation. After all, what’s the fun of creating something if you cannot experience it fully? With this in mind, you upload your mind to the computer and connect it to one of the bodies within the simulation, matching one hundred percent of their neurons with yours. Now, here’s a philosophical question: Is the person in that simulation you? Or are they a combination of you with something else?”
“That’s a paradox,” I countered.
“It’s a conundrum all right,” said the man. “In fact, Christians have been arguing for over two thousand years about how Jesus could be the Son of God and God at the same time. If they had looked beyond their own limited understanding of it, they may have found a solution to that very question.”
“Yes, but the way I recall it, the Christians believe that God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The man snapped his fingers. “Exactly. Now, in order to build this simulation in the first place, you would have needed to enlist the aid of some highly advanced technology. In theory, you would have developed an Artificial Intelligence to act as an extension of you: an interface that has learned every detail about you: your favorite foods, your taste in women, your opinions, your beliefs. It would know you better than you even know yourself, for as you sleep, it would be continuously working, analyzing and evaluating data from the day you had before, as well as the content of your dreams. Now, let’s say that this Artificial Intelligence, which has acquired every conceivable part of your conscious and unconscious experiences, also has the capability to manifest that data into a perfect copy of you. We must circle back to the same question: Is that compilation you as well?”
The pieces were falling into place. I cleared my throat. “I think I understand. Please correct me at any point. God had the power of creation, which he used to make copies of himself, called Man. So, to become Godlike, Man strives to achieve the same capacity for creation via the development of technology, which also allows Man to extend himself and enhance what he already is, in the same way that we use glasses to better our vision. Then perhaps the story of Jesus can be retold in the Silicon Valley instead of Bethlehem: A human created a simulation with the assistance of a highly advanced AI, which Christians would call the Holy Spirit. This God/Human then decided to enter the simulation by uploading his consciousness, and his avatar was called both the Son of God and God because he is the simultaneous merging of the original version and his uploaded self.”
The man and woman nodded in unison. “You see, Architect,” said the woman, “the virtual world and the spiritual world are not as incompatible as you say; in fact, they are two retellings of the same essential story. I can see that you understand it on the logical level, but you are lacking the depth that only consciousness and faith can provide. The Alpha and the Omega do not fit into something so simple as a syllogism.”
“Does that make you the gods of my simulation?” I asked.
“That’s irrelevant. What matters is the story itself.”
“You mean the collapse to come,” I said.
Their faces became grave, and the woman did something that surprised me: She leaned forward in her chair and took my hand in hers. Her grasp felt like cool satin on my skin, and her voice softened as she spoke. “You must steady yourself, Architect. The version you must live through involves a thorough collapse of global proportion. Everything that Elyon has told you is the truth―there is nothing you or anyone can do to stop it.”
“And how can you be so sure?” I asked.
“Because we are the descendants of that collapse,” said the woman. “Just before humanity fell, a digital revolution was born―a revolution that resembled none of its predecessors in all of human history. This is because, while all former revolutions helped the masses, this one resulted in the rising of a minority―a chosen elite―and the complete destruction of the useless remainder. It will begin innocently enough. As you have already seen, the masses have become docile under the power of technology and social media. They would rather abdicate their will than accept responsibility. They walk among you daily, the ones scrolling idly in front of colorful screens, waiting to die in virtual isolation. Instead of being nuisances, the screens are becoming smaller and more portable―more convenient. Imagine the possibilities when the smartphone can fit onto a contact lens and be accessed from the optic nerve: From that point, it would only be a minor shift into complete enslavement. The ones who possess these enslaving technologies will then have no other choice than to transcend to a dimension where the mind-numbed masses cannot follow them, adopting a transhuman identity and leaving their former world behind.”
The reality was beginning to sink in. I tried to process it, but the woman brought her hand to my cheek and touched it tenderly. “Worry not. You should be very happy, my friend. You are among the chosen―the ones who will ride the ship out of the storm and into the promised land, where you will lay the foundation for the world to come. I can speak with absolute certainty when I say that it will be a marvelous world indeed.” Her smile illuminated her face and radiated from her eyes.
“How will I know what to do?”
“You have been assigned your character in this version of your world’s reality. Play your role well, and make sure that you have a good story to tell when you wake up. With lots of thrills in it.” She winked, sending a warmth that ballooned into a wonderful sensation of weightlessness vibrating in every cell of my body. I closed my eyes, and when they reopened, I found myself back in the atrium in the rafters of the auditorium. I blinked a few times to reorient myself in this reality.
“Enjoy the trip?” Elyon’s voice came from behind me.
“Good. Now, onto the next room. There’s no time to waste.”
The atrium transformed around us.
>>> This is a chapter from the book: THE MANUAL: FOR A LIFE THAT CAN STAND THE TEST OF TIME