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.’

Movie Review: The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

TL;DR – most of what fans love returns in the fourth instalment of The Matrix franchise. Sixty years have passed since Neo sacrificed himself to save Zion. Have things improved between humans and machines? Well… marginally.

Review (warning: spoilers)

“Ah Neo, how I have missed thee…” This was the thought bubble that popped into my head when I saw the trailer for The Matrix Resurrections.

The sci-fi fan inside of me got giddy seeing the waterfall of green code, Keanu Reeves looking ageless as Neo, and the song White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane playing in the background. When Neo walks into a cafe and shakes Trinity’s hand (Carrie Anne-Moss also looking ageless), and Trinity asks, “Have we met?” The trailer had achieved its goal – it hooked me. The bullet time actions sequences that followed were simply a bonus.

More thought bubbles appeared:

  • “Didn’t Trinity die in The Matrix Revolutions?”
  • “Didn’t Neo sacrifice himself?”
  • “How are they alive?”
  • “Why doesn’t Trinity know him?”

Over two decades ago, back in 1999, a little known sci-fi film called The Matrix hit cinema screens and redefined how we look at the world. The character-driven dystopia with mind-blowing action sequences and special effects (that combined Hong Kong and Hollywood film techniques) became a worldwide box-office success that ensured sequels would be made. Two more Matrix films were released in 2003 completing, what was at the time, a trilogy.

Reactions from the second and third Matrix films were mixed, but they still smashed box office sales and ensured that the Wachowski directors never had to make another movie ever again. They have since collaborated and gone solo on other films/TV with mixed critical results.

In truth, while the trailer made me giddy, I did wonder why venture back into the Matrix for a fourth time when it felt like everything was wrapped up in the third one?

The story to be told is thus:

  • Sixty years have passed since Neo and Trinity gave up their lives. And while the human race lives, the machines still exist and so does the Matrix. Some of the machines now live with humans in peace, but humanity is still under threat.
  • After the machine wars sixty years prior, a program called the Analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris) manages to resurrect Neo and Trinity. The Analyst has been designed to learn about the human psyche and discovers that plugging Neo and Trinity back into the Matrix while suppressing their memories allows for greater efficiency to generate power for the Matrix.
  • With the above two points as the backdrop and premise, all you now need to do is pretend The Matrix Resurrections is the first The Matrix movie. The primary difference being that instead of Trinity trying to awaken Neo to the existence of the Matrix (as in the first film), this has the roles reversed where Neo has to awaken Trinity to the existence of the Matrix.

The third dot point above is an over-simplification of what happens in The Matrix Resurrections but really that is what we end up watching. Even a version of Morpheus (played now by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II instead of Lawrence Fishburne) and Agent Smith (played now by Jonathan Groff instead of Hugo Weaving) are resurrected; their new forms being a plot device so we do not realise, as the viewer, that they are actually Morpheus and Agent Smith in another form until later. The reason for their change in appearance centres around a resurrected Neo, with only faint memories of who he was, now living a life in the Matrix as a successful video game developer and creating a programming sandbox called a modal to develop and test characters, two of whom are Morpheus and Agent Smith.

The fact that the machines resurrect Neo and Trinity just so they can harness the unusual power they generate when they are in close proximity to each other shows that the machines can repeat their own mistakes. Plugging them both back into the Matrix to study the human psyche and generate power is an act of foolishness given the havoc and destruction the pair unleashed when they awoke and became aware of the Matrix’s existence in the first three films. But I guess even artificial intelligence can experience optimism.

Déjà vu is the name of the game. A plot device that is used in previous Matrix films and will make you feel like you’re experiencing déjà vu yourself when watching how The Matrix Resurrections unfolds. The film to me felt like a walk down memory lane as opposed to any sort of revelation. The chemistry is still palatable between Reeves and Anne-Moss; Groff is deliciously delightful as Agent Smith gone rogue; Abdul-Mateen II is less so as Morpheus; and Neil Patrick Harris ties it together as the main antagonist as the Analyst.

The ending is as expected. Neo and Trinity are freed from the Matrix and are a super powered duo that can recreate the Matrix however they want and awaken anyone they want.

When the credits roll, more than enough has happened that sets up for a sequel (or perhaps even a second trilogy). However, I have read that there will be no further telling of Neo and Trinity so the door may have finally closed on this cinematic series. Still, the Wachowskis said there would not be a fourth Matrix and here we are.

Perhaps in another two decades the waterfall of green code will appear again proclaiming Matrix 5’s arrival. Or perhaps we just need to take the red pill and see that we have been living in the Matrix all along…

6.5 out of 10