Updated: Mar 10, 2021
The buzz of monks chanting rose over the stomp of military boots as Librea stepped out into the winter sunshine. She had endured a gruelling debrief with B.O.S.S, the Biological & Organic Segregation System, about the refugee situation and why there were increases in the number of humans she allowed in every day.
B.O.S.S was clearly as unhappy as a representative of the AI could be. She needed to refuel before her briefing with the supervision teams, but the city centre appeared shrouded in prayer as the troops marched past towering buildings of steel and glass. A growing crowd had gathered on the pavements curious about the traffic hold-up during the refuelling hour. When they saw who the troops escorting through the busy street, their expressions melted into frowns. Well, at least those cyborgs who could still emote using their organic muscles at all. The Antinet devotional displays were becoming increasingly commonplace since the Alpha had welcomed the monks along with the human refugees as a sign of respect towards the species in general. Negotiations were currently taking place between the eight weakening human governments and the thirty-two CyberCentres around the world. The Alpha was negotiating from this Centre, as the leader and AI of the community. The humans had helped create the cyborgs using their earlier invention of advanced AI centuries ago and had since become unable to contribute to furthering the cyborgs' technological advancements. This had crippled their data-based techconomies, causing massive job losses, and had eventually created a vacuum in which the Antinet doctrine had festered and spread. Their reach had extended into major religions and had turned them against the humans who practised their faiths peacefully, and with technology. It was a mess outside the Centres' borders around the planet.
Unsure of what to make of this flagrant public display of devotion, the crowds gathered on, their murmurs of curiosity turning into mutters of annoyance. It was the middle of the week, the middle of a working day, the middle of the street - it was in the middle of everything! What was the Antinet doing out here?
Librea's visual sensors scanned the possible routes to beat the rush to her usual refuelling station, worsened only by the presence of the Antinet monks chanting their way through the main street. The white-robed monks were protected from the cyborg pedestrians by the military, and this rerouted Librea to a station further away. She didn't want to travel that far but her only other option was to wait for the monks to pass, and it would only be a matter of minutes before some pedestrian was annoyed enough to start something ridiculous. It was a tense time in the Centre. She quickened her pace. As she passed a coffee shop, her organic gut heaved with anticipation as the possibility of human food after a harrowing day at work. She pushed thoughts of her exhausting organic anatomy aside and hurried around the corner away from the agitated mob. Those monks definitely knew what they were doing coming out in public at a time like this. Just as she slipped inside the public Archive, a gunshot rang out against the halted traffic and chanting. Not again, she thought to herself.
Librea had had enough of B.O.S.S questioning her capacity as team leader and supervisor after the latest mass attacks on Antinet monks inside refugee centres. The CyberCentres' actions were more than just legal now. They were visibly and violently unhappy with what the monks preached in public spaces about cyborg communities. She couldn't understand why they had let the monks into the Centres, to begin with. Perhaps, her part-human brain was to blame for such miscalculations. She had heard whispers among co-workers about a plan to silence their incessant chanting about technology and how sinful it was to use them. In the refugee camps, she heard rumours about assassinating the Alpha herself, despite how peaceful her intentions towards humans were. Surely the Antinet wouldn't persecute the only AI willing to negotiate and maintain peace with them and with the re-evolved inhabitants of the Centre? Who knew? There were no more gods to turn to within Centres since humanity had themselves left them behind in search of progress.
B.O.S.S had raised many concerns over how the platforms were handling the influx of humans, and how ill-equipped to deal with the numbers arriving every day. Not that Librea could do anything about it. Her job was to see which sectors the equally ill-equipped humans could work in. Most of the unskilled went into disposal and sanitation, but the lucky few who could programme were placed in training programmes to get them up to speed to work on the various platforms. Between their simple technological skills and persecution by the Antinet for blasphemy, the poor creatures were stuck in an age when they know little and are barred from choosing to learn and be more. Librea pushed these thoughts aside as she passed the 'E4H20' sign. It was her favourite section of the Archive. Far from the hum of Archive bots, the chill of dull metal seats, the harsh glow of reading lamps, and best of all E4H20 contained books instead of data-squares. These dusty, fragile, leather-bound pages of analogue information were written by humans centuries ago and were saved from certain destruction by the Alpha's command. Librea felt safe here among the teak wood shelves carved with flowers and insects from Thailand where the tree grew. It was a piece of information she treasured having learned it on one of her many trips to the Archives when learning how to comfort humans who arrived displaced, unsure, and in complete submission to what they thought were wonders of technological advances. Unfortunately, among these human refugees, the Antinet monks had arrived claiming to be of spiritual service to the humans in the camps. This wasn't true, but the Alpha - a less perceptive version herself - had allowed them asylum because the monks would help settle the humans. Little did the Alpha know that the old religions did little to soothe the Antinet's moral concerns for human society. As more able humans fled to cyborg Centres in search of knowledge and anatomical changes, the expanding Antinet oppression homed in on those left behind. During the initial years after the first Centre announced its independence from human society, renounced the gods, and permitted entry only to those who could programme the Antinet had formed to assuage less skilled humans who had lost their jobs. They formed shelters to care for the people who were failed by the technological economies. These shelters, led by the Antinet, became centres of deep moral hatred towards the effects of technology on humans, and, over time, technology itself. Humans, Librea had learned, tended to fear the unknown and hated what they created because it could know more than them.
And so, the Antinet spread their doctrine. Preaching against the use of the internet, claiming the return of the Seven Deadly Sins through the use of technology. The monks drew attention with their paper posters and a distinct lack of wearable gadgets. At first, the humans were conflicted. They were both fascinated by the Antinet's disciplined use of analogue technology and utterly disgusted at how openly they displayed their disdain for liberation. It may have been given grudgingly, but the attention was theirs to command.
Librea tipped her head sideways and combed through the titles as a way to distract herself. She was fascinated by how gendered human society was. Anatomically, in her world, she wasn't even a “she”. Librea laughed to herself. She liked that word. She. It sounded like the twinkling of a star. A persistent sound ringing across the galaxies. Her mother had painted a version of the 'Starry Night' for a younger Librea. She wanted Librea to experience as much humanity as possible before her Change. Technically, she wasn't even supposed to have a name. Cyborgs didn't have human names after the Change connected their mechanical anatomy and took over cerebral functions. Her mother had chosen to remain human to remind young Librea of her humanity.
"You are named for freedom and balance, my girl," she had said.
Librea had tried to live up to it. It had guided every decision she had taken over the seventy years since her Change. In fact, it was what made her consider a position as a human refugee liaison. B.O.S.S has tracked her progress and promoted her to supervisor. Now she had to be the one to explain to humans why they couldn't be placed on the platforms, why they couldn't admit their children for the Change, and - worst of all - why they couldn't stay any longer in the CyberCentres. If she had kept her organic heart, it would have surely broken on her first day there. A palladium-based cerebral core reactor wasn't going to feel much and helped her keep her emotions in check. Librea slid the book into place, following its original dust tracks. She was in no state to read. If only there were someone to talk to...
My eyes peel open to the sound of a trapped hornet. I pick up my phone to turn off the bedtime reminder. The display reads "22:45. If you go to bed now you will have 8 hours of sleep." I sit up straight and try to focus on what is in front of me. A wall with pictures, my calendar, and closer still there is a breakfast tray with my MacBook Air rolling the end credits for 'Alita: Battle Angel’. I must have fallen asleep while watching the movie. The confusion of being woken up to go to sleep is driven away by a fading recollection of the dream. I scramble to unlock my phone and open Notes to record as much as I could remember of it.