CladeA Post-Self Anthology

The Big O

Evan Drake

Walter — 2291

The sun’s red light peeked over the horizon at 5:58 AM. Walter knew that because it rose at that exact time every time without fail this time of year. Never a minute too early or too late. Every day until the season changed. Its violent red glow illuminated the city below. As always, traffic flowed between the buildings like a river between rocks, the sun’s light reflecting off the moving surfaces.

Walter turned his gaze back to the horizon. He knew when the sun would rise but he had never seen a sunrise before. He never had the time. None of the instances did. Or maybe they chose to keep that memory to themselves. He couldn’t tell anymore. They didn’t talk or reminisce. All he knew was anyone who had to get up at the crack of dawn typically had something more important to do at the time.

His thoughts hesitated at that notion. Something more important than witnessing such a rare and beautiful event. The sun rose every day but the ability to witness its arrival was a feat within itself. The window was tight and it required optimal conditions, weather, location, and season all played a factor and colored the experience.

He suddenly recalled a distant memory of a picture depicting a sunrise phys-side. The sky had been painted in an explosion of color as if the sky had been set on fire. It was beautiful and quite a sight to see. The sunrise now looked nothing like that. It was calmer, smoother.

Because the atmosphere here isn’t tainted, he thought. This is what it’s supposed to look like. He felt a sudden pang of anger at that thought. “What it’s supposed to be like.” He had heard that term and its variations so many times, it haunted his sleep. Every thought, every task, every action had to produce the desired result. It all had to lead to the necessary outcome.

It was how it should be done.

He glanced at the pocketwatch in his hand. It read 6:20 AM.

At that moment, the sound of the rooftop door opening reached his ears. Right on time as expected. Without even looking back, he knew who it was. No one came to the roof at this time of the day given they were “busy” with other things. But his instances were never late. “On time, every time,” they would say. Being late—even once—harmed productivity. That couldn’t be allowed.

“You’re early?” Will asked.

Walter nodded. “I got up early to see the sunrise.”

“You shouldn’t have done that. Getting the optimal amount of sleep—”

“Save the speech. We have it memorized. I know full well the ‘optimal’ amount of sleep is required for maximum productivity and reduces dependency on energy supplements.” He indicated the rising orb of light in the distance. “But it’s funny how no one actually needs sleep around here.”

“Following the routines ingrained in us from our lives phys-side keeps us sane.”

He chose to change the subject. They’d be there for hours talking in circles otherwise. “Well, you can’t tell me that shaving off a few minutes of sleep isn’t worth that view.”

“It is beautiful, but we should get to the point. We have to be going about our tasks by seven or else—”

“Or else we’ll be late and that will harm productivity. I know,” Walter finished, nettled. “But don’t you just get tired of it all?”

“Tired of what?”

“Never having any free time.”

“Why would we need free time? With the current schedule, we’ve maximized reputation acquisition and—”

“You sound like a robot.”

He felt the angry stare on the back of his head. Several seconds of silence passed. He feared Will had walked off and the conversation was a bigger waste of time than it would have been.

But then Will spoke again, his voice dry and mechanical. “That was rude.”

“I know, but I meant what I said. We’ve become robots. We don’t want for anything—”

“Because we’ve maximized productivity which ensures a steady income of reputation—”

“And we’re not doing anything with it. Hell, we don’t even really need it, do we? The whole system is more of a formality than anything.”

“What is there to do with it?”

Walter shrugged. “Something. Anything. The problem is we’re self-sufficient, so we have no need for anything. I want to go on vacation. I want to see mountains, go hiking, go fishing, watch a movie, something besides the same monotonous tasks day after day.” A strange mixture of euphoria and anger rose within him. His voice rose with it as he continued to rant. “I want to think for myself. I want to make mistakes. I want to branch out. Explore and try different things, not always follow the same one-two, paint-by-numbers bullshit that everyone tells me to do.”

Will didn’t respond. Not that Walter expected it. They may have forked from the same root, but it was clear that their developing thoughts had gone in two very different directions.

He wasn’t sure when it first started, his thoughts diverging from the host. They warned him of this at his creation. Eventually, his thoughts and feelings would differ from the root. But when that happened, they couldn’t say.

Or wouldn’t, he thought. Thinking back on Wallace’s memories, it all made sense. Everything was about control and perfection. Even if they couldn’t pinpoint it exactly, they had an estimate. They knew exactly when his individuality would kick in, assuming it ever did.

Because it all was measured, recorded, and controlled.

The sun had fully emerged from the horizon. Its once red light had now turned to its signature yellow. The traffic below had increased, going from a steady trickle to a raging rapid. Even from the perch, Walter knew they had at best another 15 minutes before the streets became clogged. Still, his eyes traced the optimal route through the back streets that avoided most of the crowds.

“Is there anything else?” Will asked, breaking the silence. “I really need to get back to my tasks.”

“You ever wonder why they lied to us?” Walter asked.


“They lied. Remember all the advice growing up? Sorry, when Wallace was growing up? All the tips on how to do things quickly? How to succeed at life? Everyone was so quick to offer advice and give tips on ‘rising to the top’. Now look at us. We’ve reached the peak of the mountain and there’s nothing here. Worse, you realize that you didn’t even want to be here.”

“Did you really call me up here to waste my time with your preaching? We have a schedule to keep.”

“No, you have a schedule to keep. I’m done.”

“You’re quitting?”

“No. I’m just through being Wallace’s puppet. The man has no dreams, no visions, no goals. He just does as he’s told. Just look at his memories.”

“Our memories.”

“No, his memories. The ones we got stuck with when he created us. Our thoughts, our actions up until now, aren’t even ours. Hell, they’re not even his! They were implanted by other people making empty promises!”

“Where is this coming from?” Will asked, fear creeping into his voice. “We became who we are today because of those memories.”

Walter didn’t have an answer. These weren’t memories, they were observations, visions of what lay through the cracks in the flawed logic they were implanted with. That Wallace was implanted with. At best he suspected it was a side-effect of his thoughts finally becoming his own. No longer simply an instance of Wallace, he had truly become Walter, his own individual.

At least, that was what he hoped for. Wallace could have come to the same conclusion for all he knew but chose to keep it from them in order to save them the stress of knowing they were nothing more than puppets created to serve his whims.

“I don’t understand, but no one forced obedience on us,” Will said. “You should know, you have the same memories. All of those ‘empty promises’ were lessons to help us grow. We were taught so we wouldn’t have to learn.”

Walter bit his tongue. He had a nasty retort primed and ready but there was no point. Will would never understand. He didn’t see it. They shared memories but saw different things. No one had to force anything on them because the system was self-sustaining. They had been imprinted since their creation, their minds groomed to follow the grain and blindly accept whatever was shown to them. Never question. Never deviate. It didn’t need to be said because they said it for them.

He turned back to the streets below. The river of cars had frozen over. Faintly, the honking of car horns could be heard. But the traffic did not ease forward any faster.

It became clearer than ever that he was alone in this. The others would not be persuaded.

He couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t do it. Not like this. He rose from his seat and stormed back inside. No more speculations, no more routines, and no more what-ifs. He was done.

Finding Wallace was incredibly easy. The man was in his office as always, right on time.

The root looked up from the computer screen, his sharp brown eyes studying him from behind his square glasses. For the first time, Walter hated looking at that face, his face. The only difference being Wallace was clean-shaven and preferred to wear glasses. Every instance had some form of facial hair for reasons that were not shared during forking.

“You’re behind schedule,” Wallace said. “Did something happen?”

“I’m done.”

Wallace pushed his glasses up on his nose. “You’re quitting?”

“No, I’m done being your puppet. I want to live an actual life! I spend all day doing the same boring tasks over and over because ‘deviance from the method is not perfection!’ "

Wallace didn’t react to having the mantra thrown up in his face. It was as if the man didn’t even waste energy on unnecessary emotions and it was infuriating. Walter wanted so badly to cross the room and smack that emotionless stare off his face. “Stop sitting there with that blank look on your face and act like a human for once!” he wanted to say.

But he stayed put and said nothing. Violence solved nothing. He was leaving and that was that. Wallace’s approval or reaction didn’t matter.

“If that’s how you feel, I’m not keeping you here,” Wallace answered, shrugging. He calmly turned back to the computer. “Feel free to leave at any time. If you require any help finding accommodations, let me know.”

Walter could only stand there, stunned. “What? That—That’s it?”

“You’re not the first instance to realize the truth. I’ve given you all the tools you need to live the perfect life, however, I can’t decide how you use them. I will say you figured it out faster than the others did.”

He continued to stand there, dumbstruck. Eventually, Wallace looked up from the computer again and frowned.

“Was something not clear?” Wallace asked. “Or have you changed your mind?”

“What are you planning? I don’t understand.”

Wallace sighed heavily then took off his glasses before cleaning them with the handkerchief in his pocket. “There is no plan. I only intend to do what no other human can—or won’t actually; break the algorithm. It’s incomplete and not ready for testing.”

“What algorithm?”

“The algorithm to better living, the one you’re obsessed with disobeying, the guide to all things practical and impractical. Think about it. We have created the ideal world where anyone can truly live as they want yet we have not created a utopia. Here, you can have whatever you wish except happiness. You have my memories after all. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.”

Walter didn’t know. He supposed he had forgotten or suppressed it. Even now nothing came to mind.

Wallace inspected the glasses in the light and then returned them to his face. “You seem lost so I’ll spell it out for you: This is my way of maintaining control in a world that prides itself on wrenching it from you. Despite its best attempts, I have risen to this level and my mind remains my own. Much like how nature ignores our laws of physics and biology and yet continues to thrive. Now if you’re done with your tantrum, can you please make a decision? Having you standing there gawking is distracting.”

Walter slowly went for the door, still not fully understanding what transpired or how he was supposed to feel about it all. He racked his brain for any hints or clues to what he missed and why he couldn’t see it. But nothing came to mind.

Before leaving, he paused to ask, “You said you were trying to break the algorithm. What will you do if you succeed?”

Without looking up from his computer, Wallace replied, “I already did, or rather, you did.”

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