A Story About Sorrow and Joy
This is a part from my amateur science-fiction book called The Quartet of Xavier.
CHAPTER VI: SORROW
On the second day, Xavier woke up and realized that the weather was nice outside. As he was looking at his phone for a place to spend his day, he remembered an old castle he never visited before inside the city. The castle was famous for its medieval prison system.
He quickly changed his clothes, went downstairs, and had breakfast. As he was eating, Xavier looked around for Hermes, but couldn't find him.
After breakfast, he decided to use public transportation, although taxis were not very expensive. He walked to the nearest subway station, walked downstairs, and waited for the next arrival. How people avoided looking at each other while waiting for a commute always seemed absurd to him. Almost everybody was looking at the tracks. The idea of a free individual had its weird side effects. But Xavier was happy about it. Not being disturbed by others was the only benefit of the bustling city life for him.
The subway arrived, and people started getting inside. He didn't hurry like others. There wasn't much of a crowd. So, he found a seat and started observing the public that is not watching him. There were three people before him. One was eating a sandwich. As he was eating, he was actually looking at the sandwich in between every bite. He wanted to giggle but managed to stop himself. The one sitting two seats right to him was probably a student. She had her wireless headphones on. It was possible to hear the melody of pop music in her ears. She was probably looking at social media since she was swiping in close time intervals. The third also had an empty seat between the second. This woman was reading a book on internal politics, knitting her eyebrows, which also looked funny for him. What did the book do? Wasn't it the messenger telling the events?
At first, Xavier felt happy for them. Each of them had something to do, and they were doing it with their fashion. But then he realized there was something he was missing. But he wasn't sure what he was missing. Then, he realized he arrived at the station nearest to the castle.
Realizing he was in a hurry to get out of the subway, Xavier tried to slow his steps. Naturally, some of the old habits from his former life was with him. Not only those habits weren't of use anymore, but they could prevent him from missing some points in his search.
The castle wasn't far away. But, he remembered the joy of walking on the way. In his old life, his bus was passing in front of his workplace and his flat. He had a subway in front of the street. He always thought he had the option of walking if he wanted to. But sometimes, some options were silently suppressing other options in his decision making.
He arrived at the castle, bought a ticket from his phone, and used the phone's NFC module to get past the revolving door. The app presented him with three options. The first was to hire a tour guide. To use the app and his headphone to guide him through the complex was the second possibility. It was initially designed for people with visual problems. But then people tended towards that option. The third option was to rent an augmented reality headset. These headsets had high-resolution displays on them. But the processing was happening on the cloud. So new game engines made the experience immersive.
Furthermore, having less equipment inside the headset due to cloud-native design made the headsets very comfortable to wear. This one was made for people with hearing problems. But then it was improved over time.
Xavier wanted to try the technology. He tapped on the third option, and the app led him to somewhat of a vending machine for the AR headsets. He paid another fee for the headsets in the app. Somehow, unethical workings of the game companies, such as not getting the game out in full and then demanding more money from customers for DLCs, worked for museums. He remembered this place to be less crowded. What companies called surprise mechanics made people visit historical sites and learn about the treasures of the past.
He took the headset and then put it in his head, adjusted it. It felt comfortable. He looked down his phone. The transparency of the glass in front of his eyes was really good. He tapped the button to start the headset from his phone. An upwards arrow appeared just above his phone. He looked up, and there was some text. But then a voice began to read it,
“Welcome to the Castle Prison Simulation! You will experience the pains and sufferings of the people locked up in here in fullest detail. If you don't feel like experiencing too much violence, simply say ‘Simulation, adjust the level.’ Other than that, for any kind of request, simply call me ‘Simulation’ and I will respond to your request. If you have trouble hearing and/or speaking, just snap your fingers, and point your index finger on the menu I will provide you. Press it on the air with your index finger.”
“Simulation, remove the texts you read. Leave only the ones you don't read.”
“Removing texts. I have to add something, Mr. Alexander. You have been chosen for a new addition to our simulation experience. It makes the simulation interactive with dynamic conversations between you and the prisoners. If you accept, you will be given a pair of responsive gloves with smart sensors to immerse yourself in the experience. Would you like to participate in it?”
Xavier felt excited and replied,
A long text appeared in front of him.
“Here are the terms and conditions. Do you accept it?”
“Yes, I do.” said Xavier without reading. Nobody read those long texts.
The machine made some mechanical noises and delivered the gloves. Then simulator explained,
“You have to wait fifteen minutes, and then the prison area will be close to other visitors for today. Thank you for participating in our effort to bring history to life. In the meantime, you may want to refresh yourself in the cafeteria. Remember, you can exit the simulation anytime you want. All you need to do is to call me by my name and demand your request.”
“Thank you, simulator.”
Xavier went to the cafeteria area and ordered some cold lemonade. As he was drinking, he remembered his younger years, where he liked playing video games. Many of them stole vast chunks of his time. But he was convinced something was in those games the real world couldn't offer. So he kept playing until he started working. Playing was causing him to have sleep disorders, and he wouldn't afford to lose his job. Now, he was having adventures in both simulated realms and the meatspace.
The simulator intervened his train of thoughts,
“You may proceed to the prison area, Mr. Alexander.”
At each step, he was getting more excited. When he arrived at the old door leading to the prison, he stopped and looked at the engravings on the door's side. There wrote, "There lies the agony of mankind. I, Samuel Jacob, designed this place to give sorrow to the villains of this world, and a way forward to the redeemed ones."
The headset was tracking eye movement and pupil dilation. It was capable of interpreting that Xavier finished reading the engraving and started thinking about it. Simulator interrupted,
“You may open the door, Mr. Alexander.”
Xavier opened the door and before him was a vast rectangular room. It had nothing in it except the entrance and a small window at the end of the room. He stepped inside and closed the door. The simulator started projecting everything. Many men appeared. They were all in skimpy clothes, and naturally, nobody was smiling. An old man stared at him for a while, and then he said,
“Did you come again? Why do you do this to me?”
Xavier looked at the man. He knew he had to react. But he didn't know what to say. Another man yelled at the first man and said,
“Leave us out of your illusions, old man. We don't see anything, and we definitely don't want to see anything.”
The old man turned to the yelling man and said,
“Leave me be!”
His voice was firm in a way that was lamented over the years. After a moment of silence, he turned to Xavier and said,
“Why do you come to my sight? Can't you see my body is already suffering?”
“I notice that you are suffering. Am I not a good company for you?” asked Xavier.
“You are, Xavier. But you give me hope every time I lay eyes on you.”
“And what's wrong with it?”
“Have you ever seen an image of an old God, young one? A statue, a painting, something?”
“Yes, I've seen many. Which one are you referring to?”
“My old head has a lot of white and long hair. But my memory is a bit sharp. I am referring to the one with a flail and a flock in his hands.”
“I remember it. What about it?”
“Do you know what they stand for? I mean, in my opinion, of course. I can't prove anything.”
“What do they stand for?”
“Flail is the fear, and the flock is hope. You see, nature is playing a game on us with two remarkable powers. We are moving away from the flail, or else we get hurt. We are being pulled by the pleasure of hope, like when a shepherd flocks a sheep. We try to multiply in between these two forces, and unknowingly, our children do the same. I think mother nature doesn't care about us. It cares that we care. So when you show yourself to me, I hope that there's more to it than this wrecked place. I might get out somehow. But then when I cannot sense your presence, I fear that I might be wrong, that this is all there is. Then I fall into sorrow. There, I am only left with an animal's body and the conception of my body's misery.”
Xavier thought about his role in this game and said,
“You are a careful observer of nature, old man. But nature also encrypts itself before us and then lets us decrypt it. For if a man is free, every prison is escapable. Freedom was put inside man before the body was formed. Put a man in a room with a twisted rope, and he will try to solve it.
“But I don't even have a string in here. Can't you see all these men? They only eat food and defecate. Sometimes they fornicate with each other. We are left here to rot. We live with our feces here. Stop giving me false hope, young men. I enjoy listening to you. But you are just in my head, a product of my imagination.”
Xavier looked around to see if there could be any way out of here. There had to be one. He started to wander in the room. The old man asked as he was inspecting stone bricks on the wall,
“Did you find anything useful?”
“I think so.”
The old man's eyes opened wide. He stood up and came near Xavier.
“Can you see these two indentations on the wall?”
Xavier took the man's hand to direct it to the indentations. The response of the glove was realistic.
“These ones.” said Xavier.
“What about them?”
“They seem like a keyhole to me.”
“I don't see any keyhole, and to be fair, I don't see any keys.”
Xavier knew this was a simulation. But he wanted to man to find out about the key himself.
“Think about it” said Xavier.
“Well, I think it should be something in the room.”
The old man waited for a second to think further and said,
“It cannot be my clothes, because not every prisoner has clothes. If the man who designed this prison wants some people to get out, it should be something everyone has.”
“Yes, you are getting closer.”
“Do you know what? Something always seemed suspicious to me. You see, guards come here once a day to give us food. They offer foods that don't make our teeth fall. I thought this was a way to prevent us from making weapons from our teeth. But then I saw that if someone's all teeth fall apart, guards give this man a couple of teeth before they leave, and they sweep the others when they come to clean the feces.”
“So I'm thinking, since each of us here who can escape definitely has a body, the key should be our bodies. It is always with us, and we wouldn't suspect it to be the key.”
The old man observed the two holes carefully. Then he checked his teeth with his fingers. He put a sure expression in his face and then punched himself. He then rechecked it and pulled a tooth from his bloody mouth. He put the ends of his tooth in the hole and tried to rotate it. The circular portion, hidden before, revolved and gave a click sound. It opened a cavity on the wall, and the tooth fell into the floor of the secret entrance. It was full of teeth. The old man then shouted,
“Everybody, I found a secret exit! Come, gather around!”
The other prisoners looked at him. Many voices replied to him,
“I bet that's not the exit. There cannot be an exit from here.”
“Even if that's an exit, Guards could beat us if we try to escape.”
“That's not an escape. I am hallucinating, or we have a hallucination epidemic. It's all because of sorrow.”
The old man looked at the crowd and then looked at Xavier.
“Why don't they believe me when I show them?”
“I think their brain is so used to this place, it is preventing them from seeing. They cannot transcend their body. Their brains tell them they are doing the right thing by avoiding suffering. They think they are smart when they accept to live like animals.”
“I need to be away from this room, and every trickery of this room.” said the old man.
He and Xavier got inside the secret opening, and he closed the door behind him. It became pitch dark. They used their hands to navigate and then realized there was an opening for a little tunnel. The old man broke the silence,
“I wonder if there are any snakes.”
Xavier thought about it. There couldn't be any snakes in here. The staff of the museum should've checked it. But did they check it? He was going to give it a shot.
“We have to try. We don't have any choice.” replied Xavier.
“You don't have a body. What do you understand?”
They crawled under the tunnel. The old man took the lead, and Xavier followed. At the end of the tunnel, they realized there was a stairway leading up in the direction where they came from. They followed the stairs. There was a dim light coming from what seemed to be the end of the tunnel. It wasn't very bright, and its shape was rectangular. Realizing it's an opening to the other side, they pushed it. There were many men out there looking at them. The old man was baffled a little bit and said ,
Many voices replied, "Hello." One man, older than the old man, approached them and said,
“You have come from downstairs, I suppose.”
“Yes.” said the old man.
“I have come from there also. But these other men were brought right here.”
Xavier looked around. They had better clothes. They probably had a more nutritious diet. Their faces were healthier than the ones downstairs. But, just like downstairs, nobody was smiling. The old man turned to Xavier and said,
“I wonder if they can see you.”
He turned back to the crowd around him and felt the embarrassment immediately.
“Who are you talking to?” said the elderly man.
“No one, it is a gesture to make practical jokes to people you recently met where I come from.”
The speed that he made that up was perfect. Xavier didn't know if it was about this floor or the first floor. But, no one smiled even a little bit to his supposed joke. The elderly man said,
“Can't you see the hopeless situation here? I think your practical jokes are dangerous. It may make us feel free. In turn, since this is our final destination, we may succumb to sorrow.”
“I am sorry, this won't happen again.” said the old man.
The crowd disassembled, and the room was visible. These men had mattresses on the floor. The old man asked which one he could sleep, and he was shown a bed. They went there. The old man sat down, and Xavier stood up. The old man looked at Xavier, not entirely directing his head, from the corner of his eyes, with embarrassment. He then whispered,
“You have to let me go. If they think I am talking to a phantom man, they'll never accept me.”
“And do you accept this treatment?”
“Look, I came late. There's no way they can accept me if I don't act straight first.”
Two men in the far were looking at the old man. He turned his head towards them. They started looking at each other silently. When he turned his head back to Xavier, they started whispering among each other. The old man whispered,
“Did you see what you have done? Now, I have to explain something to them. I will start with the elderly man. He came from downstairs. He can understand me. I am hallucinating. Because downstairs was stressful.”
“No, he won't understand you.”
“How can you know that?”
“Because he chose to stay here.”
The old man's eyes started getting wet, and he said,
“I'd be happy if you don't talk about my friends. He's a nice man.”
“Let him go to heaven then. You have your destiny to fulfill.”
“Leave me alone. The mere notion that I can have emotions is a miracle. I can spend the rest of my life in here with this warm bed.”
“It will get colder. In fact, you will freeze if you don't start thinking about your escape right now.”
“But, this is the final stop. The designer probably felt bad about himself for locking up free spirits and gave them this space to appreciate the prison.”
“And, are you a free spirit?”
“I have to remind you that I've lost my teeth along the way.”
“Your body was your prison. Now, your emotions are your prison.”
“No, it is compensation. I think the designer knows that I'm a good man.”
Xavier felt frustrated. There had to be a way out of this. While he was looking around, the elderly man approached the old man and said,
“We think you may be suffering from a delusion. Look, we understand. But, we have to know if you are beyond repair. We may have a solution. Come with me.”
“You inspire me, sir. Whatever you say.” said the old man.
They walked to the end of the room. One of the blankets from the beds was used to cover something tall, about two-thirds of a man's height. The elderly man uncovered it. It was a beautiful sculpture of an ancient god, and then he started speaking to the old man,
“You see, young man. We have been given a chance to heal our souls on this floor. Usually, we uncover it in predefined hours to keep an interest in it. I came up with the idea.”
“Why do you cover it?”
“Because I believe beauty becomes finite if you sense the infinite. I didn't want people to lose interest in this sculpture and see it as a mere stone. If all the beds are taken, I will use my blanket to cover it. It is my sole mission.”
“Why are you showing me this sculpture?”
“For you to heal your soul. Sit down, and look at it.”
The old man sat down and stared at the statue. The right pinky finger of it was reversed. The old man asked,
“Why is the pinky finger reversed?”
“Because it's the imperfect perfection of the artist.” replied the elderly man.
The old man nodded. But Xavier wasn't buying into it. He walked to the statue and tried to make the finger straight. It wasn't turning around. He thought maybe the old man can do it. So he told the old man,
“Come here and reverse it. I think it's the key to the next level.”
The old man stared at Xavier for a short time and didn't say anything. It was apparent that he was going to pretend that he was getting sane by looking at the statue. After all, his new friends were very generous to have empathetic feelings towards him. Xavier thought about what he was doing. He knew this was a game. But, he had to take it as a real-life incident to find out about the right solution to this problem. The old man was obviously getting delusional. He thought he was buying himself time before the next succumb into sorrow. But he was already in despair. He had no hope. And his fear was letting him do the easiest thing to blend in. Xavier thought if the old man should've freed himself from the sorrow. But he already intervened.
“Are you getting any better?” asked the elderly man.
“Yes, the visions of mine are getting blurrier.”
“Good. I told you it's going to heal you.”
At this point, Xavier felt insulted and looked into his hands. He needed to cause disruption, or else, this man was getting deep down. He went to one of the mattresses and held it in his hand. One of the men pointed it with his finger with a terrorizing face. He then started screaming. Everybody looked at the flying mattress on the air, and they fled to all sides. Just as everyone was panicking, the old man said,
“Why did you have to do this to me?”
“You weren't going to get any better looking at that.”
“Don't you think that I'm capable of seeing it?”
“No! Now, turn the finger.”
“Okay, alright. Drop the bed, I am turning it.”
“You first.” said Xavier. It was getting personal for him.
“Whatever you say.” said the old man with a sour face.
He turned the finger, and a doorway opened on the wall. Xavier dropped the bed to the ground. Everyone was shocked. Some of them looked at the mattress on the floor, some of them to the old man. The elderly man was looking at the old man. He said,
“You have disrespected the statue.”
He pointed the secret doorway and said,
“We want you to leave, you despicable old man.”
The old man looked at Xavier and said,
“I am sincerely sorry I didn't listen to you in the first place. My soul was in sorrow. It blinded me.”
He then turned to the crowd and said,
“Is anyone coming with me?”
There was nothing but silence. The old man turned his back on them and went into the doorway. He closed the door while having one last look at them. He felt a bit sad. He hoped someone would look inside themselves and come upstairs.
This time, it was a spiral stair. There was some light coming out of the sides form little holes. When Xavier and the old man arrived at the end of the stairs, they came across a door. They opened the door and realized they were on top of a tower. There was no one but them. Xavier said,
“Here we are, I think this is the last place to escape.”
The old man looked around. He seemed like he wasn't able to see Xavier.
“Hey, old man. Didn’t you hear what I just said?”
The old man looked around him for a bit more and said,
“Xavier, where are you?”
“I'm right here.” replied Xavier.
“Xavier, if you can hear me, do something.”
Xavier looked around and saw a cabinet. He went there and tried to open it. His hand just went through. The old man came near the cupboard and opened it. It was full of books. Then a bag was thrown to the top of the tower. It was full of food. The old man started eating them. The simulation has fast-forwarded. Months have gone by. He was reading. There was even a toilet cabin there. He tried to talk to the guards throwing the food several times, but none of them responded. They didn't even look at the man. When the old man finished last of the books, he sat down, gave his back to the wall, and looked empty. There was no hope left in the man's eyes. He uttered some words,
“I am the loneliest man in the world. The books tell me either this place is all there is, or this whole thing is a big illusion.”
He was clearly struggling not to lose his mind. But he was more afraid to lose it than hope to recover it.
Xavier felt sorry for not being able to help him. He came near him and crouched. In a desperate attempt, he whispered to the old man's ear,
“Rejoice! Alone you have come, alone you must escape. Build a kingdom out there and free the spirits in here.”
The old man suddenly opened his eyes with joy and said,
“I have to get out of here to free the prisoners who deserve freedom! Maybe, I should build a kingdom of my own out there in the wild.”
He stood up and looked down from the tower. There was a creek. It had rocks here and there. The wind was blowing. It was twilight, and torches were lit near the creek. He climbed up, closed his eyes, and said,
“I joy in the joy of the mind.”
He dropped himself. Xavier was able to see him. He hit a rock, and he was unconscious for a while, and then he stood up. Looked at the guards calling the alarm. But he managed to escape.
The simulation started speaking,
“And, this was the escape of William Kenneth. Grand grandfather of the founder of the company that produced this simulation. After he escaped, he managed to build a fortress in the woods. Many knights joined his cause, and he reshaped the country.”
The simulation was over. Xavier felt relieved.
CHAPTER VII: THE JOY
Xavier came back to the hotel and realized there was no oddity in the room. He was expecting something to happen. He decided to nap on the sofa while looking at his phone, and then he fell asleep.
The next day, he had breakfast, and then he headed to the library. Hermes was there. Although there was no one else in the library, they nodded their head to salute. Xavier went to the history section. He wanted to find something about William Kenneth. He found something in the city’s history. It had a section on the city’s castle, and it included the escape of infamous William Kenneth.
This man claimed he was talking to someone until he arrived on the last floor in his memoirs. He kept them hidden until his death to save his reputation as a leader. But according to him, the voice was inside his head after he read the books on the top of the tower. He didn’t exactly hear it. But he was sure that some sort of intelligence was near him. As Xavier was reading about what happened afterward, Hermes approached and asked,
“What are you reading?”
“I am reading about an escape from the city’s castle.”
“Do you mean the escape of William Kenneth?”
“Why are you interested in it?”
“I went to the castle yesterday. They randomly picked me for this new simulation testing. The scenario was based on this man’s escape.”
“And did you help him?”
“Actually, it depends. I don’t know if the game was rigged to show me the escape. There is a possibility that whatever I said and done to the man, the game would provide me with the end result.”
“Did you enjoy the process?”
“I certainly did. Especially in the last part. At first, I didn’t know what to say to that man. But then I internalized the issue and came up with a sentence. That part made me enjoy it even more.”
“Exciting times we live in.” said Hermes with a warm smile.
He sipped his coffee and then continued,
“Perception of ourselves that science embodied in our reason for the last three hundred years, and religion for many centuries, can be bent easily with the interaction of an intelligent being and a semi-autonomous intelligence.”
“You are correct, Mr. Tehuti. I certainly have more joy after that brief moment. More lasting joy than my body is always searching for, more than my soul can consume, and more than my reason can encapsulate. I think that man’s escape became a part of me.”
There was a moment of silence. Hermes sipped his coffee one more time and asked a rhetorical question,
“Don’t you think it always has been?”
Xavier looked at Hermes with an approving gaze. The joy of understanding was upon them.
Originally published at https://www.kagermanov.com on September 15, 2022