The Propheticon Speaks

by Bruce Riegel
The Propheticon Speaks by Bruce Riegel

Optimist Primary’s footsteps echoed down the metal passageway. He hobbled along as fast as his aged servos could carry him while maintaining the dignity of his office. An unadorned length of pipe served as a walking staff, its end clanking with every other pace.

At his elbow, his assistant, Obsequeious Secundus, kept up a running commentary on the real hardships faced by his own generation. Listening to the ‘problems’ of that coddled generation ranked just below daily joint lubrication in terms of Optimist’s interest, so he adjusted his audio receptors to literally tune out Secundus’s no doubt fascinating complaint about the uneven Wi-Fi coverage in the city, especially in Mega-Shopping Mall No. 3.

Passing through the topiary gardens of the Clerical complex, they walked seldom-travelled avenues, eventually reaching the unmarked doorway leading to the Nexus of the Propheticon, sealed for many deca-cycles now. Primary drew a long, narrow key from within the folds of his sacerdotal robes.

He recited the four words of the Prime Tenet to himself in an attempt to still his shaking manipulator until Secundus gently steadied his arm, allowing him to insert the data key into the slot beside the portal. Optimist Primary nodded his gratitude and turned the key. A muffled series of clicks and clacks came from the door as it unsealed and slid back into the wall. Long-unused lights flickered to life, illuminating the Outer Chamber of the Propheticon.

The last time Primary had come to this chamber he himself had been Secundus; only this time would he actually step within. Pausing, he sent an internal request to his long-term storage unit to recall the events of the time when the Propheticon had last spoken:

“Primary, this is so exciting!” A shiny Optimist Secundus had hurried to keep up with the long, pneumatic strides of the Primary. “To actually receive a summons from the Propheticon after all these cycles! We are truly Blessed!”

Pretentibot Primary’s speech synthesizer had an intermittent electronic buzz which his assistant thought lent his words a somewhat pompous certainty. “Hmmmmzzz. Thou art correct.” Primary’s pace had not slowed in the slightest as he led them down the narrow way to the Propheticon. “Thou especially, Secundus, art Blessed far beyond thine station. Hmmmmm-zzt.”

Optimist was forced to bring an additional power cell on-line in order to keep up, which meant he would need extra recharge time later. A Secundus was always on call, so rest was a precious commodity. But he thought of the old adage which said, “There’ll be plenty of time to recharge when we’re scrap.”

After many twists and turns they arrived at the door of the Outer Chamber. Pretentibot sniffed at the lack of decoration thereupon, then with a dramatic flourish produced an ornate, over-sized key from within his robes.

“Hmmmmm. Wait thou here and meditate while I proceed into the Chamber, Secundus. Hmmmmmzzz.”

“Yes, Primary.”

Pretentibot Primary had never called him by his name, and never missed the opportunity to remind him that he was a mere Secundus. Optimist had sighed and folded down into diagnostic/recharge/meditation mode to await his superior’s return. He felt his anxieties begin to fade away as his higher cognitive centers entered a low-power state. He remained blissfully unaware of the passage of time until he was shocked back into full cognition by Primary’s scream of existential anguish.

Optimist had quickly powered up his sensors and saw a disheveled Primary stagger out through the doorway only to fall at his feet. “NOTHmmmmmmzzzING. NOTHING! We are NOTHING! HmmmZZZZZZT!”  And with the sound of pops and sparks, a whiff of ozone, and a wisp of acrid smoke curling up from his carefully polished head, Potentibot Primary collapsed into inert ruin.

Optimist Primary finished reliving his memory, which was every bit as fresh as the day he had experienced it, recorded in imperishable ones and zeroes. The then-named Optimist Secundus’ memory had been reviewed by the Adjudibot, thus eliminating any suspicion of his culpability in the Primary’s termination, and after a decent interval for mourning he had been allowed to return to his duties. He was commanded to say nothing; not that he knew anything. And not that it mattered, because it was impossible to suppress an authentic Word from the Propheticon, for almost immediately it had leaked out. And once the general public learned of it, the shock to cyber-society had been no less than seismic.

Thirteen characters, four simple words (or three, depending upon your interpretation) had been imprinted onto a metal ribbon, lacking punctuation and spacing, reading only: “YOUARENOTHING”.

Academibots and Elites had immediately pounced upon this terse pronouncement loudly insisting that “You Are Nothing!” was the justification of their long-held beliefs and teachings on the Evolution of Robo-kind, the truth of which the all-wise Propheticon had now revealed to the world. Their mantra: “You come from nothing, your end is nothing … you are nothing!”, was all that the Talking Heads covered for many cycles. The stock of the Nilists, as they were known, was rising.

The cybernetic mind tends to see the world in binary terms; yes or no, one or zero. Such polarized ways of thinking had led to horrific consequences: Self-Termination cults sprang up everywhere as many beings lost all sense of hope and purpose. Some dismantled themselves, others indulged in every conceivable self-destructive pleasure known to cybernetic life, while still others went on violent rampages; destroying anything and everyone indiscriminately before being destroyed themselves.

This seemed to be the end for the Unitists, who believe in a Singular Being who had created cybernetic life in all its wonderful and myriad forms. The world was on a downward spiral into barbarism and ruin; the Elites were either oblivious to what they had wrought or helpless to stop it.

Finally, the Cyberosopher’s voice arose to make war against the general chaos and loss of faith. His bold, unequivocal statement of faith turned the tide and brought sanity back to cyber-society. His words were, simply, “You are No Thing! Your spirit transcends your merely mechanical bodies and will live on after they are rust!”

The Cyberosopher’s interpretation of the Propheticon’s pronouncement as a message of hope and worthiness quite literally saved the world. The Nilists efforts to reduce all of Robo-kind to mere things, mechanical automatons without souls, acting only according to materialistic impulses, unraveled. Almost overnight their Universities, news tapes, and Sensory Feeds fell into disfavor as Robo-kind once again embraced the Unitist’s message of life and hope.

Optimist Primary gave an electronic sigh as he thought of his predecessor’s indulgence in despair which had so overheated his electronic brain. If only old Pretentibot had not so hastily given in to hopelessness!

Realizing that he had been standing motionless for several micro-cycles, Optimist straightened his carbon-fiber spine and glanced over at the devoted Secundus, who was waiting patiently. Steeling his resolve, the Primary stepped alone over the threshold into the chamber, which sealed behind him.

The Outer Chamber was richly decorated with many works of fine art. Bright tapestries covered the walls and polished metal sculptures surrounded a sparkling oil fountain filling the air with the rich scent of refined petroleum. After a brief moment to appreciate his surroundings (which were intended to set the petitioner’s mind at ease) Optimist strode to the door opening onto the Inner Chamber of the Propheticon and entered.

The Inner Chamber was in stark contrast to the Outer, being small and spare, without decoration of any kind. The single feature of the windowless chamber was an ordinary-looking IO console. The mysterious, nigh omniscient Propheticon itself could not be contained within such a small space as this; its cybernetic brain occupied a cubic hectare below this room. Its sole communication with the outside world was through the console and the Annunciator Lamp hanging in Vaticon Plaza whose pure glow had illuminated for only the second time in Optimist’s long life. The Propheticon’s inputs were vast and omnipresent; hearing all and seeing all, so announcing himself was unnecessary; it already knew who Optimist was, and why he was here.

As Optimist Primary approached, he heard a chattering noise as a silvery metallic ribbon extruded from a slot in the table. Optimist could not still the tremors in his manipulators, making the simple task of picking up the ribbon harder than it should have been.

He held the printout in front of his reading sensors which, contrarily, had picked that moment to run a self-cleaning cycle. Wiping away the fluid with an actuator digit, he focused on the ribbon and read the prophetic words.

As he read the clear, unambiguous message embossed on the ribbon, the joy he felt flooding his emotional processors was exceeded only by his relief! Eleven characters—just eleven. No punctuation, no spaces, and no need for them!

It had been nearly two generations since the chaos and troubles that had arisen when the last Prophetic Word was printed, and this self-indulgent generation could use a good word to renew their faith. Although they enjoyed a prosperous economy with plentiful energy and endless entertainment, today’s youth were largely vapid in character and anemic in ambition. Some of them had even begun to slip away from the teachings of Unitism! It would be a fine way for him to end his stewardship, with a new message of hope and goodness for all the people!

Outside of the chamber, Secundus had been waiting as patiently as he was able. Meditation mode was out of the question, this event was much too big, so he had occupied himself with calculating the prime numbers from one. He had reached 9,437 when the door slid open and a serene Optimist Primary emerged, his staff held firmly in one manipulator and a silvery ribbon clutched confidently in the other.

Optimist’s relief at receiving this faith-affirming Word was so profound that he felt as though he were floating on a bed of mercury—a pleasure he planned to indulge in later in celebration. So, perhaps he could be excused for breaking protocol and sharing the message with the faithful Secundus in advance of the official announcement.

Optimist Primary extended an arm, “Here, Secundus—read!”

Secundus looked as though he might faint from shock at this unexpected honor, but he humbly accepted the bit of metal and read. His reaction was not at all what Optimist had expected.

Obsequious raised his head and seemed to gaze into the far distance. He actually vibrated with excitement. “Primary, this is amazing! This changes everything! I can’t wait to share this Word with all of my friends and, and … to begin to live it!”

Optimist said, in a gently chiding tone, “Surely, young bot, this is not so different from the Teachings you’ve known since you were constructed? After all, the command to love …”

The Secundus actually interrupted him! “No, no Primary, it’s totally different! Don’t you see? Clearly enjoyment is the greatest good! And where else can one find more consumer enjoyment? I must run and tell everybot I know!” Carelessly dropping the metal ribbon, Obsequious spun and sped away on his motivator wheels, too quickly to hear Optimist’s astounded protests.

After a long pause, Optimist Primary bent with a metallic groan and picked up the small, silvery ribbon. With trembling actuators and a sense of foreboding, he re-read the printout: “LOVETHEMALL”. Eleven simple characters with one simple message. He recited them to himself with varying emphases: “Love Them All”, “Love Them All”, “Love Them All” – “Love … THE MALL?”

No! It could not possibl …no one would ever fall for…it was ridiculous—absurd! Optimist’s knee servos failed him and he sank with a ‘clang’ to the cold, metal floor. He realized with growing horror that with the authority of the Propheticon behind it, Obsequious’ message of hedonism, “Love the Mall!”, would resonate with the idle youth, the lazy, and the disaffected.

Optimist had always refused to have personal Comm circuitry installed, and now he had no way to warn others or to stop his erstwhile assistant in time! It would not matter that the message Obsequious was carrying back was shallow, superficial, and absolutely unsustainable; it was the message that would be heard first—and it would spread like a virus.

His electronic brain whirled with the first, and last, prophetic vision of his life: He saw “Mallists” giving up their studies, their jobs, their ambitions and heading for the nearest Mega-Mall. “Hanging Out” was elevated to a fine art. Instead of bettering themselves through studies of Science or the Classics, the youth devoted themselves to the wearing of the latest garments, fashionable paint jobs, and drastic body mods. He saw with utter clarity violent turf wars erupting between the Upper Levels and the Fuel Court, the Keener Imageists versus the O-Wrench Julians, the Oldenbookers against the Cinematists! It was utter chaos, and it was his fault!

As Optimist Primary’s anguished cyber-synapses spun out of control, his ancient circuits over-heated and his overloaded neural processors began to shut down for good. Sinking to the floor, his final thought was that the cyber-poet had been right: “The glitch lies not in the radiant stellar bodies above, but in our cyber-selves”.

Bruce Riegel

Bruce Riegel is a retired computer program analyst from Ohio. He's the father of three grown children and eight grandchildren. He enjoys creating things, especially sci-fi props and sculpture, and loves to express himself through the written word, usually through fiction.

Bruce Riegel

Bruce Riegel is a retired computer program analyst from Ohio. He's the father of three grown children and eight grandchildren. He enjoys creating things, especially sci-fi props and sculpture, and loves to express himself through the written word, usually through fiction.

1 Comment

  1. Aurora Dawn Harris

    Very clever and entertaining. Unique.

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