The Pod: Part 3

3.

The Bear

Arriving home the other night, I found myself face to face with a swarm of my own conjuring. It was wildly appropriate at the time I began using The Pod, to imagine myself in a battle of wills against a beast of outstanding proportions; A great, grizzly-bear. I am a realist who enjoys the fruits of a realistic imagination. This realism led me to the bear in my dreams. I wished to conquer something of this Earth, not a fantastical creature whose power was mythical and could easily conquer any other living thing. I wanted a challenge– an honorable one. One of man against his better, his maker; nature. So, I dreamed of the bear.

It happened in a clearing on the outskirts of a giant forest. The world, returned to former glory with nary a man nor civilization to exist. From the trees it lumbered, gargantuan, and with a sheen of thick fur whose earthen tones rivaled the most fertile of soil. My own, conscious mind had scarcely realized the proportions of my prey. My ego must be kept in check from now on, for the beast surely could not exist, nor be slain, by any man armed as I had been; with only a large, ceremonial, hunting-knife.

As it met the center of the clearing, it saw me. It reared on its hind legs with a bellowing roar, dropped to all fours, and charged with a ferocity I’ve never seen. I was quick to act. My blade drew, adorned in a virulent poison. The beast neared me. I dodged, rolled away to safety. My feet moved with an agility I have never possessed. This, after all, was my dreamland.

It reared up once more with an anger that it had missed. My mind fought for the quickness to keep pace. I slashed three times at the belly. Blood seeped from the wounds at a pained yelp. It swatted feebly at me, growling. Its mouth dripped blood, its body already encumbered by the debilitating poison.

It was then that I felt my greatest satisfaction with this impossible scenario. Even then, I felt this brute must be released from its misery. It swiped at me, caught me loosely in the belly to leave deep gashes. My adrenaline flared. The wounds stung, angered me with pain. I dodged the next few attempts to catch me, got ’round it. Before it could turn, I lunged. My feet bounded, body lunged through the air. I landed on its back with a precarious motion, clung for dear life as it whipped in all directions with attempts to buck me.

My reserve was strong, its movements more lumbered with each moment the poison coursed through its veins. In a cunning movement, I lunged my blade into the shoulder of the bear, and drew backward to sever the tendon. Such vile hostility; something I’d never thought myself possible of. But even in my dreams, neither blood-lust nor adrenaline could be controlled. I became an animal of my own.

It was felled, one arm disabled. It cried, lashed out in pain. I must finish it now, I thought. I leapt off, spun around to face it once more. It lie in a heap. An angered look upon its face told me it knew it had been bested. I too knew this. With an onerous, but understanding look, it seemed to grant me the permission necessary to end its suffering.

I did.

One never knows their true identity until they confront their primal nature. In my dreamland I had done just that, or so I had believed. In lowering myself to the level of an animal, engaging another for a simple matter of survival, I had gained a confidence in my own cunning. Unfortunately, I had also given myself an unwitting advantage in the battle; I could not die, no matter the risk. It was however, the aforementioned cunning that paid off most when I returned home, and was confronted by the bear.

My mind raced, though time around me stilled: This would be different. The beast could kill me here. Cunning was the only skill I might rely upon, the others of agility and strength non-existant in this realm. I did however, happen to be working on a plan that might destroy these apparitions; a weapon, far from ready. Based on the simple principle of electricity, it was to be the counter-attack of the battle humanity appeared to be facing.

It is a fact that the swarms of miniature robots comprising the apparitions are electrical in nature. They require electricity, generated by the body, in order to form and function within it. This is why the Pods would smoke and explode as the swarms would form. The extra surge of current was required to reform themselves appropriately and in such large numbers. It is a supplementary theory of mine that these creatures kill not solely out of malice, but as a result of the attraction to the electrical charge from our bodies combined the directives of fatal errors in programming. By interacting with us in certain ways, they are able to drain the body of its remaining electrical current. Though it has yet to be proven, it is the best theory any of yet heard. The shapes these beasts take are only a result of memory leaks in programming from the dream-land. In essence, they take the form of our dreams because of imprecise lines of code that tell them to present the challenges and shapes we’ve asked of them. We did create them, after all, and it was usually to fulfill some challenge to our primal, or in some cases, carnal natures. In short, we want to best them and they’re told to allow us to attempt it.

It was my rushing mind, and the perceptive stillness around, that allowed me to deduce a massive amount of electricity was needed to kill this wisp-beast. I searched my memories for a suitable voltage source. The only one within reason, the power-box in my kitchen. If I could make it there, I could surely destroy this beast. But I needed rubber-gloves to insulate my hands; a rubber suit for the rest of me. I would have to be fast. My armors would be in my study where I had last worked with the new weapon.

Only one other thing was certain about this lumbering swarm-beast; it was easily out-maneuvered. So long as I could move fast enough to snatch the suit and dress in it I would stay alive. I would need somewhere to hide while I dressed. The crawlspace, another easy spot, would be sufficient enough.

I moved fast, getting ’round on the beast for a doorway it attempted to block. My feet angled left, legs pumped hard. I snatched my suit and gloves from the desk, dove for the closet beside it, and threw up the hatch. I plunged into darkness, yanked down the hatch behind me. The crawlspace was cramped, but afforded the momentary solace I sought before the swarm could resolve to shape-shift.

I wasted no time, thrust myself into the suit. It was then that I heard the swarm curiously buzzing at the hatch. Slowly but surely, a thick mist of microscopic origins form around the the hatch. It seeped through the minute cracks, pouring in from above. I acted fast. The swarm was preoccupied with its transference between levels.

I sprang up through the hatch, clambered out, rolled away to my feet, and sprinted out for the the kitchen. The swarm reassembled in a flash, barreling after me with reckless abandon. I made my way to the power box as it came within reach. Pure adrenaline fueled me to rip hot power-lines from atop the box. It arced all around me, myself unaffected. The beast lunged. I turned, thrust hot, metal cabling forward and struck it dead-center. Sparks and smoke flew outward in droves. The swarm was stunned mid-lunge, held in place by the current that coursed through it. Flames spit alone arches through the air. Then, little-by-little, the nano-bots burned to dust.

Armed with this new knowledge, and my protective suit, I gathered my things for a colleague’s home. He would have everything needed to end this madness.

 

The Pod: Part 2

2.

The Pod’s Emergence

The Pod, aptly named for its appearance, was first mentioned ten or so years ago, roughly the same time Nano-Particulars had its first legal trouble regarding the face-mask. As the mask was solely an entertainment product, it was obviously lowest on the list of the company’s priorities, but the most anticipated of its products. The Pod emerged fully into consciousness once the funding for the face-mask required reallocation. This new invention boasted masses of promises to the public. In time, it fulfilled more than a few of them.

The Pod, an oblong device raised a bed’s height from the ground on a heavy pedestal, is a three dimensional oval that splits at the middle. One half, connected to its base, is stationary. The other half separates upward on heavy hinges to allow its user entry. There are two sizes; a single, and a double. A single is an economy Pod built for use by one person; the double, built for a couple, or size allowing, up to three.

The patented purpose of this invention was to make home diagnoses and administer treatments for certain high-powered clientele who wished not to visit doctors. The idea however, was protested heavily by the American Medical Association whom felt, that without the aide of a trained medical professional, any diagnostic results could easily be misinterpreted. It was also possible, they decided, that the machines could be too easily tampered, and so the technology was re-purposed.

It was in this re-purposing that the young CEO questioned what an endearing public might want and desire most. The answer; their dreams. It was a genius, elegant, simple, and not at all far-fetched– at least, not anymore. The new nano-tech allowed frequent, easy, and painless installation and extraction, of specific wireless receivers and transmitters in the brain. The wireless nanites would stimulate the body to sleep while keeping a component conscious in a land where anything was possible. And so it went that The Pod became the first technology in history to allow one to harness and control their own dreams.

In the time of man, a recurring theme to capture one’s dreams has emerged. This notion was now real. Hailed as a step-forward in our own personal understanding of desire, the experiences the Pod could provide were limited only by the user’s imagination. Many men, women, even some children, gained a greater insight into things that they otherwise would never have known. Other uses for The Pod appeared.

Apart from entertainment, it could be used as a therapeutic device in mental health facilities, giving families the chance to speak and otherwise visit with those ostensibly disconnected from the world. In fact, because of The Pod’s unique abilities psychotherapists thought it ground-breaking. Many people, incapable of communication for decades or more, began to speak through the dream lands The Pod connected them to. It afforded their family, friends, and doctors insights into their states. Many of them even managed to cope with their deepest fears and most wicked desires in a controlled manner. Some eventually lifted the curses placed upon themselves unwittingly.

Conversely, the technology was not perfect– or perhaps in the last vein, was built on a loose, moral ground that said each man or woman’s dreams would bring them peace. It is untrue, of course, for there will always be those whose dreams, desires even, are the very definition of nightmares. True as it is that many of these dream-demons were slain with the aide of family and friends, those whose minds had been haggard, worn far too long, are even in their dreams, the victims of phantoms. They are unresponsive, catatonic, emotionless. Even after their dream-demons, whatever they were for each, were slain in proverbial battles, they remained uncured.

And so history deviates to modernity.

For a span of time all of these things came to pass. Unfortunately, so too has that time passed. In the depths of the Pod’s programming, there was a fatal error. As alluded, there is in fact a rhyme and reason to the Pods’ function: One whom wishes to enter the dreamland must enter the Pod. Once inside, it closes you in. A matter of mechanical noises will sound before a bright light moves over your body. It stops on the head, flares for a moment, then shuts off. It is a medical scanning system, designed to tell specific nanites what to repair; this is the medical facet of the system. Indeed, there are massive health benefits to the Pod. (They were, after all, designed as medical devices.) The flare of bright-light is the release of the bots into the tissues of the brain.

There is no pain involved, and the flare has been suggested to be pleasantly associated with the experiences of the device. It hones one’s senses for the pleasure that awaits. However, I digress. The true purpose of this explanation is a deeper understanding of the terror that awaited us all. We overlooked it. Caught so boldly by the beauty and peace that dreams bring, we were asleep to unknowable horrors that lurked in shadow.

It was first reported a month ago; a machine had malfunctioned, and in the removal of the nano-bot phase, the light had flared much too brightly. An old man within the pod, slaying wild beasts (a fantasy lived out countless times through this technology) awoke abruptly. The machine smoked, sparked. The man ran for his life. What happened next was nothing less than a spectacle of terror.

The machine, shook and rumbled before the light flared once more. The Pod’s top flew open, shattered its steel hinges, and emitted a swarm of bots. They stood before the man with shifting shapes. Billions of particle-sized robots, for no apparent reason, took the appearance of the ghastly beast the man had done battle with. The massive, two-headed demon, hued in the ever-amalgamated opaqueness of the bots bared three sets of razor sharp nestled in each of its three heads. The bots, in defiance to their programming, presented this man with a perfect apparition of the beast he’d attempted to slain. It raised a long, flesh-torn arm with a hand of sharp claws. With a single swipe, it lopped the man in two.

This event, while the first, was not the last. Even after the demon mutilated the man, it continued out the door and into the street. It ravaged two passersby who jested at its odd, statuesque appearance, causing the street-walkers to flee in terror.

The demon still walks the Earth, though I have not personally seen it. Good that I haven’t! I would freeze in terror, slain by its absent, cold blood. However, it is not the only shape-shifting, plague-mass that walks the earth. At least a dozen more have been confirmed; everything from demons to lumbering dinosaurs. They are the machinations of valiant, terrified minds, created by those whom so wished to be masters of their own dreams as to slay dragons of myth, or hunt mighty beasts that could topple buildings, or even lead conquests of Spaniards against Mayan tribesmen. All of these apparitions have been confirmed, as well as others of more “refined” dreamers.

Reports of Einstein walking about spouting nonsensical equations have been confirmed in the triplet. (No doubt, his ignorance is drawn from the limits of not only his programming, but the mind of his dreamer.) There are sirens who, in defiance to reason, lure people over only to have their songs never end. New harlots seek out patrons, but having been dreamed by the Rippers of the world, wish not to engage in intercourse, instead rob and murder.

It is a dreadful, terrifying time, but there is a plan in the works. I can say little until it is finished, or else fall to the demons I attempt to slay.

The Pod: Part 1

1.

Prologue

In the early twenty-first century, scientific research turned heavily to minute, molecular machines visible only through electron-microscopes. With them came hopes for everything from micro-manufacturing to bio-regulation. This latter thought alone made the public fearful, and only after the research and development moved into its application phase did the populous began to see its obvious benefits.

The programmable technology, so minute and inexpensive to manufacture, was soon loaded with various directives and deposited into laboratory mice. The mice in turn, were implanted with varying types of cancer cells, and the technology unleashed against the cancer. With a ninety-eight percent success rate in the first clinical trial subjects, the new technology was hailed as the most noble discovery since Penicillin more than a century before.

The technology, hitherto referred as nano-tech, was soon adapted to millions of new uses. It’s applications appeared limitless. Everything from automotive fluids to beauty soaps contained the microscopic robotic contraptions, each type programmed to ease man’s burden or enhance his vanity. The applications were so varied, in fact, that nano-tech soon became an under-thought in the consciousness of man. Much like electricity, it was so abundant and ingrained in the collective consciousness, that the “common man” thought nothing of it in day-to-day life, no matter its risks or widespread benefits.

Bureaucratically speaking, concerns were audible. State-houses heard rising notions and concerns of apocalyptic leanings from both learned and worrisome alike. These notions, said the tech’s inventors, scientists, and manufacturers, were outlandish. Even still, whole scores of compliance parameters were dreamed up and implemented to soothe the naysayers. Beyond any red tape however, people and corporations invested in the nano-tech and its components stood to make vast fortunes. Metaphorically speaking, the local purveyor of electricity could charge rates at thousand of times more for the electrical current and conduit flowing through every facet of the home in the developed world. Only after multiplying such a sum several thousands of times could one begin to grasp the immense, financial gains that lay beyond the tape-line. While many companies did manage to successfully wrestle the red tape, equally as many failed or succumbed to corporate sabotage.

The leader in this new, iconic field, began small but grew exponentially. Over the course of a single, fiscal year, it multiplied in size and profit by a tenfold. By the end of the second year, it had grown a hundredfold, and so on in this vein for nigh-on a decade before it plateaued as an industry leader.

Nano-Particulars, the aforementioned, sought to incorporate nano-technology into every facet of life. In that, they very well might have succeeded. From motor-oils to shampoo, food to medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and everything in between. Nano-Particulars’ manufacturing prowess was second to none. After a time, each new innovation sprinted through approval processes to be released and daunt its competitors. Each product, in turn, incorporated nano-tech to increase its effectiveness.

In the advent of a new golden age, there was little backlash for the exorbitant prices and outrageous claims of the products, that were rather hard to prove or disprove. One such example was the conditioner Nano-Cream, said to contain nanites programmed to eat away weakened strands of hair so that new ones might grow faster, healthier.

Despite the heat Nano-Particulars took from all angles, their first class R-and-D department, reputable PR staff, and lightning-witted, young CEO bounced back with greater impunity. In the midst of this hyped era, the CEO imagined new ways to apply this technology, patented the ideas, then set his company to work– for good or ill. One, particularly controversial idea was the Nano-Mask. The idea was that one would install the software, design a new face within it, and hookup the mask into a computer. In turn, the mask would download the new data, rearrange itself over a period of a few hours, then afterward could conform to the face. The nano-tech bots would attach lightly to the skin, becoming opaque so to appear as though no mask existed. It effectively rendered identity fluid, obsolete.

Of course the novelty to the idea soon gave way to far too many terrifying possibilities. The most glaring example; the ease with which it could be employed to frame others for crimes. The idea was quietly put to rest. Unhindered, the young CEO turned his sights to other projects, the foremost of which began a cataclysm of events whose effects exist to this day, The Pod.