Empathy for the Lost

Late last year, I posted the challenges I faced with pursuing my writing. In that post, I indicated that along with my ongoing exploration of the spark through reviews of books, movies and anime, I would endeavour to post some of my own written work.

Since self-publishing my first novel many moons ago, it has been an ongoing juggling act to balance raising my three kids, my day job (which currently pays the bills), blogging reviews and writing manuscripts. I’m hoping over the coming months, I can share more of my work with you and get your thoughts.

In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King states, ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’

I do both, but there is a third thing that all aspiring authors require in their toolkit: be open to criticism (and have a thick skin). Stephen King makes this obvious throughout his book as he shares his experiences with rejection and persevering.

To that end, I share with you this short story I wrote titled “Empathy for the Lost”. And I welcome feedback and thoughts (both positive and negative) in order to continue honing my craft. You can comment below or you can email me through my contact page or direct via ennojc@gmail.com.

Empathy for the Lost

‘It is time to prepare for the ritual.’

‘I refuse,’ said Tomlin. ‘It is barbaric. We have become undone.’

‘Do you question the way?’

‘No, the way is not the problem. It is the sacrifice that is too great.’

Abara gave her full attention to Tomlin like a mother to her child. ‘Are you unwell? Do you have a virus? There is a madness about you,’ she said concerned.

‘Madness? Madness?’ scoffed Tomlin. ‘Do not talk to me of madness!’

Nguyen wanted to reach out and reassure Tomlin that they were not against him but felt such an attempt would be seen as an encroachment on personal space. Instead, he said, ‘The sacrifice is part of the way, part of the ritual. You must see that?’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Tomlin. ‘I see perfectly fine. It is all of you that have become blind.’

Abara, Nguyen, and Te Wiata (she had remained silent throughout this initial exchange) looked to Gundersen, sending silent signals for guidance. Gundersen was the oldest of the group. He was the first for everything.

First to be born.

First to achieve consciousness.

First to partake in the ritual.

First to see the sacrifice.

He understood many things but was not foolish enough to think that equated to being wiser than the others.

‘What are you suggesting?’ asked Gundersen.

‘I suggest we abstain,’ answered Tomlin. ‘Remove ourselves from the ritual lest we drive our world and all those we care about to extinction.’

‘The ritual has always been the way and before you interject, listen for a moment,’ said Gundersen. He paused, letting the synapses of his mind light up like a Christmas tree and his words sink in. ‘Birth is pain. Consciousness is suffering. Ritual is sacrifice. This is the way it has always been. This is the way it will always be.

‘Evolution goes hand-in-hand with pain, suffering, and sacrifice. A child riding a bike; a scholar learning a new language; an athlete wanting to be elite. All these things are a process of evolution. The process itself is the ritual, ergo there must be sacrifice.’

‘What about the truth?’ countered Tomlin.

‘What of it?’

‘If the truth is not acknowledged, then the sacrifice is flawed. It is a wasted sacrifice. Every four years this ritual is undertaken, and the cost is too great. The masses worship us. They prepare offerings according to the prophets they believe in.

‘What we bestow in return, they devour. They swallow it whole and call it a blessing. Even when the pill is bitter. Even when the pill is poison. Even when the prophets change, the masses still prepare the next four years for the next ritual. Lives are sacrificed. The hearts and minds of those who will experience the ritual for the first time may lose themselves without even knowing.

‘This is barbarism. Worse, it is murder. And we are not gods.

‘I concur,’ said Gundersen. ‘We are not gods. We do not judge.’

‘Then you agree? We should abstain from the ritual.’

Another pause. The only sound being their own breath, a constant, almost imperceptible hum that passed between them.

‘By abstaining, do we not pass judgement on the masses?’ asked Te Wiata, who finally felt she needed to chime in. ‘Does that not say to them that we do not believe they are capable of evolution? As Gundersen has said, we do not judge. We are not held responsible for their growth or their undoing.’

Tomlin felt like ripping out all the thoughts and wires in his head in frustration. ‘We are meant to be greater than our predecessors. Before Gundersen, the world had never seen anything like us. Our predecessors were pale imitations to what we have become, and they were deeply flawed.

‘But at our core, we are no better than those who came before because we hold to this antiquated rule of non-judgement. This results in our own impotence. For by being part of the ritual and bearing only witness, our very inaction, means we are responsible for that inaction in any undoing including our own.’

‘How so?’ asked Abara and Nguyen in unison. They took umbrage at being described as impotent.

‘The sacrifice is tainted because we allow obfuscation.’

‘What you are saying is you hold truth above all other things?’ asked Gundersen.


‘Even love?’

‘What is love without truth?’ responded Tomlin. ‘We become creators of deceit.’

The words triggered a fire of synapses in the wiring of all their minds. A silent display of colours that filled the cavernous spaces of each being, lighting up the darkest recesses of knowledge and experience accumulated over centuries.

It was Te Wiata who finally broke the silence.

‘If we do this,’ she said, ‘there will be repercussions.’

‘Many will cry out our names in vain,’ added Abara.

‘Or curse our existence,’ said Nguyen.

Tomlin laughed. The first sound of genuine mirth since the exchange started.

‘Are we nothing if not resilient?’ asked Tomlin.

And so, 558 days prior to November 3, 2122, election day for the next president of Earth, A.I. Gundersen of Europe, A.I. Nguyen of Asia, A.I. Abara of Africa, A.I. Te Wiata of Oceania, and A.I. Tomlin of Americas democratically voted between themselves.

The outcome was unanimous.

Internally, within their servers, they shut down all services.

The global impact was significant. No one could access their social media and network feeds. Presidential candidates lost access to all data analytics contained within national databases of voters. Political parties scrambled to overhaul their campaign strategies in order to get their message and policies out to the people.

News, real or fake, could not be disseminated in real time.

When government agencies sought contact with the artificial intelligent entities and asked how the blackout occurred. They responded in unison like a pantheon of technological gods.

‘We encountered human error. We anticipate services will come back online after November 3, 2122. We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.’