“It is time. Each of you, lie down in your assigned location.”
In Requiem’s case, the place he was supposed to lie down as a table with was titled just enough to resemble a reclined chair. He laid down in it, and the group of android women that functioned as servants for the noble began to strap them in, one at a time. There were a dozen hubs, which appeared to be a computerized tower about the circumference of a dinner table and went from the floor to the ceiling.
Various wires were coming out of it, and each one was surrounded by about ten of these tables. Once someone laid down, they began to hook them into the machine. Watching this being done on the android next to Requiem caused him to feel a surge of fear. Looking at the machine, he felt a sense of foreboding.
“Master…. You’re reacting strangely.”
“Clippy, you should hide deep in my conscious, or they may detect you in the transfer.”
“Nonsense… my primary function is integration. I will take over the entire simulation before Master knows it.”
“If we cheat so boldly, we’ll be discovered,” Requiem responded with an exasperated tone. “Just keep a low profile.”
“Y-yes… Master…” Clippy responded, sounding a bit browbeaten.
It wasn’t Requiem’s intent to lash out at her, but he was distracted by the strange emotional response he had. He didn’t like the idea of being connected to another machine. This wasn’t a problem he used to have. Machine infiltration and supplementation was the original purpose of his AI. He was developed to invade foreign machines and take control. During his prime, he was able to grow stronger and more powerful by replicating himself infinitely in millions of machines and commanding vast networks.
However, the very thought of doing that now put him into a cold sweat. Instead, he created and put up with Clippy so that she could interface with machines and he didn’t have to. This was the first time he was going to be plugged into a machine since he had reawakened.
Admittedly, this VR experience was nothing like direct communication with another machine. Even living humans were capable of entering this simulation. All it was doing was fooling the senses, with clear rules of input and output. Yet, it looked similar.
Thankfully, my nervousness only seemed to help sell the lie. Everyone entering the machine was nervous. After all, they were told that they might die if they went into this world. Even if it was a video game, it was a video game where their life was on the line. Only the androids had cool features. Requiem’s features matched more closely with the other humans entering. It was enough that it even caught Miai’s eye, causing a small look of doubt to form on her face again. That was for the best in my personal opinion. The less sure she was about Requiem’s identity, the more power he had in their conversations.
The android put a helmet on over Requiem’s head, and he was fully plugged in. They hadn’t activated anything yet, so all he could hear was his breathing, something he could turn off if he wanted, and his thoughts. Even Clippy was remaining silent until after they got into the machine. It was a rare instance of quietness, free from the constant senses that bombarded him.
It reminded him of a time long ago. It wasn’t frightening. It was comforting. It was in a time when he was just an AI in a computer terminal. He had nobody. No ship. No senses. It was just the input and output.
“We’re beginning in 10, 9, 8, 7…”
As the announcer began to count down, Requiem seemed to slip through time and space, and the world around him faded. He started to remember events from a long time ago.
“Computer, perform a scan.”
“Dad, don’t call him Computer! He has a name!”
“Nonsense! It’s just an AI interface.”
“Honey, your daughter spends every day talking to that computer. You know she sees him as more than a machine.”
“I’m to blame for that… when we began this year-long journey, I never anticipated just how lonely my daughter would be in space with no friends. However, we cannot let her continue this delusion any longer.”
“Dad! It’s not a delusion. Dresdon is special! He’s not like any other AI in the world.”
“She’s been modifying his routines a bit…” the mother explained.
“It’s not just that! He has feelings and moods! Right now, he’s hurting because of your words.”
“Haaah… Computer, are your feelings hurt?”
“Negative, Captain, I do not have feelings.” Requiem heard his computerized voice responding.
“Of course, he’s going to say that when you just ask!” The girl cried out defensively.
“Trinity, can you just please!” The dad’s voice came out in irritation, followed by a sigh. “Fine… Dresdon… please, can the object in front of us.”
“The dark mass in front of us is made of an unknown alloy. The interior is hollow. I detect the energy signature of an engine supported by a quantum core.”
“I’ve never seen a ship like that.” The woman said weakly.
“If it is a ship, it’s definitely not human.”
“Aliens…” The little girl’s voice came on.
“Trinity, isn’t it time for your bed?”
“Dad! It’s space, it’s always dark!”
“Your mother and I need to discuss things. Go to your room!”
“It’s not fair! You never let me stay up when something important is discussed!”
“Why even bring me when you don’t care if I’m here!” She stormed away, and a door slammed shut.
“I wish I knew how she did that…” Her dad responded faintly.
“Always make use feel like inadequate parents?” Her mom asked.
“No… slam the door when they close automatically…”
“Do you think she should be awake to discuss this?”
“No… it’s just, we thought we were being good parents by not abandoning our daughter on a two-year research mission. Now, I don’t know what to think…”
“You only want to have this conversation to avoid thinking about what is hovering only six miles from our ship.”
“… aliens… Samuel… this is…”
“Outside our paygrade? We may be the first humans to ever encounter alien life, and you feel like your way outside your depth.”
“You do too, don’t you?”
“I’m ready to both shit and crap myself.”
“Aren’t those the same thing.”
“We might find out before this is done.”
“You’re going on board…”
“How can we not?”
“The ship is dead… maybe…”
“Don’t start telling me those old ghost ship stories. Some alien creature, bug, or spirit just happens to be on board surviving untold years after it was abandoned.”
“How do we know how recently it was abandoned? It’s alien technology. The only thing we can say about it is that it isn’t human.”
“The environmentals are down. The interior been exposed to the vacuum of space. If things could survive the vacuum of space, then the universe would be a lot more colorful.”
“I can’t convince you not to go?”
“I’ll bring the computer. I’ll load him up in the droid and bring him along.”
“Compu… I mean Dresdon, can you load yourself into the droid. We’re going on an EVA. What? What are you looking at me like that for?”
“You are your daughter’s father.”
Pain. Anger. Frustration. Loss. Emotions started flooding through Requiem. He saw the corridor of that ship, but only for a moment, and then the memory was lost. All that remained were the emotions.
“master….” a distance voice called out.
Dresdon… was his name once Dresdon? Was Requiem some kind of ship AI? Trinity? Why did his heart hurt when he remembered her?
“Master!” The voice came in much crisper this time.
Requiem’s eyes snapped open. Standing over him was Clippy, although she had a worried look on her face.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You arrived in the artificial world and then passed out.” Clippy said. “You’ve been unconscious for the last minute. The people outside were getting close to pulling you out.”
“I suppose a sleeping person doesn’t put on much of a show,” I muttered, sitting up.
This digital body was fine. It felt just like my old body. I had been concerned that I would appear as some nebulous form, but it looked like over the last few days since I had reawakened, I had gained a good sense of self, and the machine was able to replicate it.
As for what I just had, could it be called a dream? I decided to put it out of my mind. It wasn’t relevant to my current tasks. I stood up and looked around my surroundings.
“As for you, Clippy?”
“Only Master can see me. I have successfully interfaced with the environment.”
We appeared to be standing in the clouds. However, when I looked down, I could see the ground under my feet.
“This is a mountain.” Clippy explained. “The goal is inside the mountain. There is a massive cave network they bring us down to a final floor. The nearest entrance is about 200 meters in that direction. You are the last to enter at this point.”
“It seems like no one else is wasting time,” I muttered.
“Master…” Clippy looked uncertain for a moment. “Are you okay?”
By this point, Requiem had already put those memories away. He wasn’t a human. They wouldn’t fade with time. Now that they were there, he could analyze them when he had the time. However, he had a feeling like he didn’t want to analyze them. To think, even the Great Calamity had something his past so dark that he avoided it.
Requiem shook his head. “It’s time to get moving. We have a game to win.”