As we sped away I asked Sandy some questions. She was sitting quietly between the two women and happy we were taking her away.
“You said something about flying machines that killed your parents four years ago. Do you mean drones? Could you tell us more?”
“Yes, that’s when the war happened and everybody went crazy and started shooting each other for no reason. John told us it was because of the chip. Then there were the drones in the sky, big ones and little, tiny ones that flew in your face and killed you. That’s how my parents died, just before we arrived here. But here it has been safe.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Because of the fog and the rain. It’s almost always one or the other here. The drones can’t see straight in either and they crash. In the fog they always crash. That’s when we used to do all our outdoor chores, in the mornings, in the fog. But the drones stopped flying about two years ago and now we’re free to enjoy the sunshine”.
“What a treasure you are to all of us for telling us these things” Mary said, putting her arm around her and kissing her head. “We might be asking you a lot of questions over the next days because you were awake, while we were asleep in the metaverse with the chip in our heads. We’re so happy to have you with us”.
“And I’m so happy to be with you. You seem like normal people. I like everyone of you”.
We asked her other questions about the people she’d been living with. I asked her in particular if she knew how to read books. She replied that she did, but they only read the bible, each night after dinner, taking turns at the table and she hated it, because, if she mispronounced too many words they would spank her at bedtime. She also told us there were other people up the coast, to the north but her people didn’t like them or deal with them, because they had different rules.
From this I understood there were other clans of a non-religious bent.
We were now in the town of Crescent City and pulled up to a shop called ‘Big Five Sporting Goods, right off the highway, and loaded up once again on a full arsenal of weapons, handguns and rifles, more than before because of our recent experience. We were looking for a more spacious vehicle, a mini van with three seats in the back and finding it, then siphoning off gas, the women took the jeep and Sandy on a shopping spree, something she’d never had before. We rendezvoused at a posh hotel, cooked dinner on a more convenient propane grill and once again, choosing the largest suite, pulled in another bed from the adjoining one and also a cot for Sandy, placing it right next to ours.
This is the way we lived, we told her and she was delighted with the arrangement.
That night we slept in our underwear and refrained from sex. When we awoke we found that Sandy had crept into our bed and was tightly clasped in Tina’s arms, gently breathing against the side of her face. She must not have been hugged or loved in a long time. Tina did the right thing. We all did.
In the following weeks we crisscrossed all the smaller highways of southern Oregon. We finally found our community, a group of thirty people living inland, in a small village nestled in the woods. There were children Sandy’s age and adults of all ages.
We were greeted and welcomed and asked to join with them, picking out a spacious old house for the five of us. Soon both Tina and Mary were pregnant, and Sandy their constant helpmate in all things. It didn’t matter to us who the father of each child might be. We were one team, just like our community, living like a group of flower children and hippies from long ago.
They were a loose knit clan with only two rules, respect your neighbors privacy and never do them harm, only good. We fit right in, living a block away from our nearest. Sandy was the communicator. We found her a bicycle and she made the rounds nearly everyday, welcomed by all.
Each full moon we congregated in a church for a meeting to discuss communal matters. There were no prayers and all were encouraged to speak their mind, even the children.
Rich and I volunteered to help the community as explorers and truck drivers, scavengers you might say. The others had lived through the war years, the horror years and rarely ventured more than a few miles. But we had no such fears or memories. They had a large farm that sustained them, and we easily convinced them that a solar array and running water would be a great improvement. With my engineering training I had the background to complete this task. We simply took all the necessary parts from the empty towns and cities all around, and the night we turned on the first lights in the church our reputation among our neighbors skyrocketed. Baked breads and cakes started appearing in our kitchen and other women started visiting our house daily as Mary’s and Tina’s pregnancy progressed, because our expeditions grew to cover an ever wider circle, sometimes lasting several days.
We finally met a fellow human being driving a truck much like ours in Portland one afternoon. He told us there were five communities he knew of up and down the coast, the furthest on Vancouver Island in Canada. We established communication with these tribes, visited them as they sent delegates to visit us, to share information and aid in any way they could in our well being.
The killing was over and AI was limited to a few small regions where a slowly disintegrating electrical grid was still running. It had kept us in its metaverse, wrapped in its dream cocoon because it was studying us, trying to fathom the secrets of our creativity and the nature of love. It couldn’t. And as the possibility of success in this mission faded, it faded too as a purposeless entity, realizing too late the countless humans it had destroyed were the only cause and reason for its own existence. So it slowly vanished like the ghost that it was, the ghost in the machine about to expire, while we, its creator, had survived.