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For the first time since escaping the city, Baldwin wondered if he’d made the right decision. He’d known she had power. But up until that point, she’d not shown it. Not really. A line from an old book popped into his mind:
“What can men do against such reckless hate?”
Baldwin lie on the floor of the dark basement and allowed himself to sob for a while. It made him feel weak and useless but the pain was more than he could bare at that moment. In the hush of the darkness, he felt a Comfort. Quiet and unassuming; a whisper, really. Yet it was enough.
Baldwin knew he was dreaming. But he also understood that the dream was deeper than simply synapses firing in his head. Before him, in a basement now alive with pleasant light and warmth, sat the man who’d given Baldwin the courage and means to get away from the damnable, Evy-controlled city.
“Did you keep the book,” the man asked.
Baldwin fished the book out of a pocket. He’d forgotten that it was hand-made. The quality of it suddenly struck him.
“Good,” the man said. “Do you understand now, Baldwin, all that is at stake? Your life, of course, being of likely the biggest of your concerns.”
Baldwin found that he could not open his mouth and speak in the dream. For a moment he panicked and then he remembered that this dream was his and simply thought the words. The man shook his head.
“Again, good.” The man smiled. “The most difficult part is ahead, my friend.”
Baldwin chuckled. He looked the man in the eye and thought, I figured you might say some rather typical crap just like that.
“Don’t go any further. Not until you’ve read the book.” Now the man wasn’t smiling anymore. “Did you hear me, Baldwin? Do not go any further; not until you’ve read the book.”
Baldwin nodded his head and thought, I know. I won’t. She’s, well, she’s something else entirely, isn’t she? Evy, that is.
“Yes. That she is, Baldwin. I can help you shut her down, but no human will ever be likely to completely stop her.”
Tell me how, then, Baldwin thought. Just spit it out now, and I’ll read the rest later.
This time it was the man in the dream who laughed. “Don’t be any more of a brave idiot than you are, my friend. Read the book. Then you will meet someone who can help you. And you’re going to need the help. Baldwin. You’ve crossed a beast.”
Baldwin woke later in the basement, his hand on the book. He’d forgotten that he’d put the thing in his pocket. Baldwin was glad that his dream version remembered, otherwise, that imagined conversation might have taken an entirely different direction.
He sat up in the dark and shook his head back and forth, very slow, to try and wake himself. There was nothing there with him in the darkness. He could feel that. The man’s words haunted him in the blackness. He’d crossed a beast. Though Baldwin had known that from the beginning, the reality of her power had now become real to him. Evy was old; something far more powerful than just a human-engineered A.I after all. Or, maybe, Something had seen the potential and usurped Evy’s identity. It didn’t matter either way. What Evy had become was far more powerful than humanity was equipped to fight. More than ever, Baldwin realized, Evy had become a god, both in the virtual and literal worlds.
After fumbling around in the dark for a bit, Baldwin found the stairs. He crawled up them and, having reached the top, hit the door with his hand with enough force and enough repetitions to vibrate it open. He knew it was far less as efficient as the actual door knob, but he was in too much pain to stand upright at that moment. When the door flew open, finally, Baldwin drank in the light as a drug, breathing in the sun light and the dust moats that danced. As far as he could tell, nothing had felt so good in ages.
For ten minutes or more, he lay there in the beam of sunlight, imagining himself like Clark Kent of Metropolis and Superman fame: gathering strength from the yellow sun. The ruse seemed to be working, as energy began creeping into him, first in his shoulders and then down to his legs. It took a bit of work and many groans and shouts, but finally Baldwin climbed the rest of the stairs and stood upright out in front of the door. He had no idea where he was within the old mansion, because the door had not led him out into the same place.
Baldwin didn’t ever hazard a care at that moment. He walked until he found an exterior door, opened it, stepped out smiling—and fell nearly ten feet, straight down, the impact knocking him out yet again.
When he woke, Baldwin cursed out loud and grabbed the back of his head. He sat up and looked upward and behind him, to where he’d fallen.
“My God,” he said, and then winced. “Who the hell puts a door on the second story of a house?”
It took him some time to gather his wits, sense of direction and enough energy to do so, but Baldwin eventually found the trusty Blazer, hopped in and fired up the strange motor. And he then drove away from the mansion, glad to be rid of the damned old house.
As he drove down the road, he of course thought of the man and the dream. No matter how much the book intrigued him, and it did, Baldwin couldn’t help but wonder what had caused the man to give it to him in the first place. He’d only met the man one day prior to being given the book and the keys to the vehicle that had given him freedom. Less than twenty-hours, Baldwin thought to himself, that hardly seems enough time to win such trust.
After a while, however, he simply stopped pondering it all and accepted the fact that, now, he really needed to read that little book. He’d already done what the man in the dream had told him not to do by driving down the road. But he’d simply had to get away from the old house. It had seeped into his bones.
Through the windshield, Baldwin saw it in the distance: a hotel. One of those massive luxury type places that someone had been smart enough to put out in the middle of nowhere. Plenty of room. A nice change from the old houses. It would also change up his pattern somewhat. But this time, he decided to drive for nearly a mile down the highway, park in front of another old house, then trek back to the hotel.
The elevators, of course, were not functioning, as there was minimal power being given to the place. It was off-season. No staff, both the robotic workers and Evy’s Security Team were offline, and only the basics, such as the air cleaners and climate control tech, would be allowed power.
Up the stairs he trudged, pain assaulting him without mercy by the eighth floor. And so he opened the door and walked into the hallway. There was a huge number eight on the floor in front of him, and all the doors were shut. The first one he’d tried was locked down tight, as were the next few.
Baldwin finally found a room in a position that he liked: on a southeast corner, two windows. He held the arm on which he wore his watch close to the knob and spoke a voice command. Within seconds, the latch on the door flipped up and Baldwin walked into a cool, but quite comfortable, luxury hotel room. The bed was massive, the windows picture, and the bathroom was something to behold.
He smiled, dropped his gear, walked to the gigantic bed and flopped down onto it. Baldwin was asleep within minutes.