“In the 23rd century, humanity was on the brink of extinction. Despite the obvious solutions to overpopulation and handling of resources, the mindless masses were unable to act responsibly. Earth was crumbling under billions of humans and the environment was failing. Earth was a single, mega City. Plagues and wars threatened to finish the last remnants of civilised culture. It was then, when the first breakthroughs in the digitalization of the human mind were made. Many gave up their physical body and fled to the new virtual realities, where the sun shone and everything was edible.
Urban Station, Research Facility 3
“Thank you for helping us, my friend. But before we begin, how are your warnings coming along? Do we have to make any changes in your diet?” Ouluk, the violet-skinned humanoid asks, giving me his version of a smile by pulling back his furry ears.
I focus my attention on his single, yellow eye and wave a stubby hand in denial. “The corruption isn't advancing. It halted at ninety-four percent. It seems like your treatment is working.”
Smiling, I check the corners of my vision, where several windows with helpful stats give me information about my physical status. It’s like I have a computer-interface integrated into my vision.
|HuD Integration: 100% (Complete, Connection to G.O.D. established)|
|Physical Growth: 23% (2% until first skill-pack is available)|
|Mental Abilities: 12% (13% until first skill-pack is available)|
There are a lot more stats to keep track of, but those three are the ones which Ouluk is interested in the most. “My mental abilities advanced by one percent, but there are no changes to the other stats.”
Up until a month ago, I tried my best to keep the Hud Integration from advancing too fast.
Ouluk and his researchers told me all my life that it would kill me if it ever reached one hundred percent. For that purpose, they are only giving me food which lacks the necessary elements which are needed for the 'corruption' inside me to grow.
What they call the corruption is a nano-plague which wiped out my entire race. Two of my brothers and I were rescued when we were still infants. Ever since then, the people in this facility tried to lengthen our lives, hoping to eventually defeat the plague.
He nods sagely and writes something into his documents. “Good. Good. We would be very sad if you died in our care. There aren't many of your people left.”
I press my lips together and swipe at the disturbing message which was superimposed over my vision. Ever since my HuD Integration reached one hundred percent, I kept getting these short messages. They are rarely longer than two or three words.
Ouluk looks up. “Is something wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong. I just felt a little itchy and had to move... Say, Ouluk, do you know what a ‘god’ is supposed to be?”
I quickly settle my stubby body down on the park-bench and try to look content with the world. The garden is filled with life and exotic plants, made possible by the protective glass-dome which encases the research station. Beyond it, is the grey and rocky surface of a lifeless planet.
The scenery causes memories to flash through my mind. My HUD Integration grew steadily and unstoppably since I have clear memories. Apparently, it doesn't need much to do so. In its final stages, I gave up hope and despaired.
Ouluk always emphasized how deadly a one hundred percent integration is. My two brothers apparently died immediately upon reaching theirs. Unwilling to make Ouluk suffer by informing him day by day about my inevitable death, I started lying about the real progression of my disease.
It wasn’t like his treatments didn’t improve. They kept getting better and by now my growth rate should be next to zero, had I actually stuck to his diet.
But that wasn’t the case yet when I actually reached my full HuD Integration. I had given up. Only... I never died when it was finally completed.
|G.O.D.: Nano Enhancements are helpful.|
This time, I ignore the message.
Ever since that fateful day, I had strange, additional control panels impeding my vision. They are informing me about my body and my health, also mineral deficiencies which I never heard of. Sadly, I lack the knowledge to understand most of it. I also have a feeling that asking too many questions might make Ouluk aware that I am lying to him.
My personal doctor, and adopted father, looks up at me, narrowing his eye. “Where did you hear that term?”
“I- I am sorry.” Think quick! The words leave my mouth as they come to mind. “I heard it from one of the research assistants, right before my last brother, Frederik, died. The man said something about ‘seeing his god’.”
Ouluk sighs and lowers his documents. “I am sorry that we couldn't save your brothers. To be honest, I never expected that we would have so much success with you. You lasted much longer than anyone expected and I have real hope that we can beat the nano-plague inside you.”
Again, the strange message accuses him of lying, but I don't act on it. Yet, it’s strange. G.O.D. was never so chatty. Normally, it comments only once or twice per day.
I smile, waiting for the answer to my question. It’s not like G.O.D. was really helpful up until now. He gives no real explanations, speaks only when it suits it… her… him…, and it seems to have a dark sense of humour. Sometimes, I get these strange tasks which are called ‘quests’, like to eat strange things without anyone noticing.
“Gods are fictional entities which are worshipped by some races. They use them to explain away what they don't understand. If they encounter something that's beyond them, they simply say that their god or deity is responsible. It's an easy way for the simple minded to avoid facing complicated tasks.” Ouluk nods to himself, happy with the explanation.
Strangely enough, this time G.O.D. doesn't accuse him of lying. This gives me some food for thought. It didn’t sound like G.O.D. is a god. I mean… he talks to me, even if he isn’t great at conversation.
I turn my attention to the green garden which surrounds us. It's supposed to keep me calm. As often as I am allowed to, I spend my time in this place, sitting on the stone bench in the middle of the plants.
Ouluk hands me a stack of paper and a pen. “It's time. Can you solve this equation for me? It's supposed to explain some complicated interactions of electromagnetic fields and gravity.”
I take a look at the formula and refrain from telling Ouluk that what he just said is completely wrong. Well, in a wayward way, it comes close to what this equation is about, but he is still wrong. Still, I can't fault him for that. He is just my doctor and not a mathematician or physics professor.
As a nano-bioengineer he understands a lot about physics, but he isn’t versed in cutting-edge research regarding how the world works.
Just looking at the equation is enough for me to awaken some instinct which is buried deep down inside me. Mathematical formulas form within my mind, trying to nudge me directly to the right conclusion, but I know that simply giving Ouluk's people the answer doesn't help.
They want to know how to reach the desired result, not the result itself.
I force myself to slowly, painfully, solve the equation step by step. But as it is with many mathematical formulas of a higher degree, there are many solutions. There is a point at which math turns so complicated that it takes artistic genius to solve the problem.
Even then, the answer might not be useful in any practical way. I could answer the same question with real and useful solutions, imaginary solutions, unorthodox solutions, and brilliant solutions.
As so often before, I give him the easy answer, forgetting to mention that there are far more interesting ones.
When I blink for the first time after minutes, the paper is full with my handwriting. I return it to Ouluk and he takes it carefully. “Thank you, Antioch. I imagine that you are tired now. Why don't you return to your room and sleep?”
“I will do just that,” I answer tiredly and push my stubby feet off the bench. When I solve complicated problems, it takes a lot out of me. It’s almost as if I did physical labour.
Slowly, I waddle my body towards the research facility. The facility is located on a small planetoid under a glass-dome. The planetoid is just big enough to have its own gravity.
The research station itself is very isolated to prevent others from being infected with the nano-plague... which is supposed to kill me. I pull down the corners of my mouth, knowing that not everything is well within the facility.
For some reason, they lied to me.
On my way down the path, I stumble and fall flat onto my belly. Before anyone notices, I am greedily licking up the dirt on the path. Instead of chewing, I simply swallow as much as I can.
One of the research assistants at the facility's entrance saw my fall. He hurries towards me, leaving the round building’s entrance unguarded. The eight-tentacled being is new at the compound and reacted more concernedly than I am used to from the other assistants. It rushes towards me before I get to eat even half of what I managed on a good day.
“Arre you alrright?” It asks with a computer-generated voice which is coming from a metal box. The box is attached to a metal ring which is wound around the person’s round body. It quickly cleans me off and puts me back on my feet, using all eight of its limbs.
I nod. “Yes. I am sorry for being such a klutz. I am clearly not suited for running.” After reassuring the assistant a few more times, I am finally allowed to head back to my quarters.
Once I am back, I change my clothes and wash my face. The ascetic room doesn't have much of anything. Just a bed and a console for education.
|G.O.D.: Inefficient. Large educational gaps.|
|G.O.D.: Missing resources.|
Again! Stupid Message! You are really chatty today. As if I didn't know that. Tell me something that's not obvious. Now that I am looking out for it, I am aware of all the logical inconsistencies about this facility.
Fuming, I lie down on my bed and watch the status messages updating. Whatever the feared nano-plague is, it doesn't seem to be out to kill me. Now that I've gobbled down some dirt, my storage indicator for raw material isn't empty any more. Time passes, and it slowly empties while my Physical Growth rises. First twenty-four percent and then, finally, twenty-five!
It took me months to get to this point. Normally, I only get a day in the garden once a week. The rest of the time is filled with physical examinations, experiments and me helping the researchers in this facility with mathematical problems. Each trip only gets me two or three percent of what I need. On bad days, I got less than one percent growth.
My ecstasy is replaced with cold disillusionment when I read the promised skill in my physical description. I didn’t even get to choose something. For some reason, I thought it would be like in one of the games which I am allowed to play when I am bored. The whole status information looks like it was taken from a VR-Game.
|Hardware Backup: Yes / No|
G.O.D. should really give me a user manual for this. Exasperated, I choose 'Yes'. When nothing happens, I want to scream, but I keep it in. All this work for nothing?
No. I can't see it like that. Progress is progress. The HUD Integration also wasn't very exciting in the beginning. That is, until I reached one hundred percent. Maybe there are requirements for the skill to activate?
After mulling over it, I switch off the lights. There isn't much I can do about it and there is also my Interface ability to train with. Touching the wall next to my bed, I concentrate on the electric wiring which is running through the wall.
Accessing the network connection via an electromagnetic link, I enter the surveillance system. The codes and algorithms which are supposed to deny unauthorized access are nothing more than math. Easy for me, and a minute later I am watching everyone going about their business.
I am sure that Ouluk would freak out if he knew about this. When I am allowed to use computers, it always happens under strict supervision and with heavy gear. Like, an old-fashioned VR-Capsule, instead of a direct neural connection. The others have it, but I am not allowed to because of the plague.
Spying turned into a daily routine after my HUD-Integration reached full capacity... and what I learned only worsened my suspicions about the facility. I switch channels until I find Ouluk in the director's office.
“... limited funds. We might need to shut down the facility.” The director, a large tripodal reptilian, shakes his long snout. He is a Grek, a very strict species. Every Grek I have ever met was a paper pusher.
Ouluk is shocked. “But we achieved so much! We fought the nanorobots inside him almost to a stand-still. If we can keep him in this state indefinitely, we might be able to utilize other assets in a permanent manner.”
The director shakes his head. “That might be true, but he seems to be just a flawed model. The mathematical solutions he is giving us are flawed. There is no guarantee that we will succeed with a more advanced specimen. In any case, the research on this specimen stopped being lucrative.”
“We have no choice. Terminate the project and gather all the research data. You and your staff will be transferred to a larger facility.”
“Terminate the project!?”
The director slams his green tail onto the ground, demanding obedience. “You know very well that it isn't safe to transport the whole project! We tried that and it never ended well.”
Ouluk nods. “I understand. At least I can keep working on this.”
I disconnect myself and open my eyes. They want to terminate the project? Shut down the facility!? What will happen to me? Isn't the sole purpose of this place to keep me isolated? My head spins as I try to find explanations.
Then I retch, sickened by the feeling of betrayal.
|G.O.D.: Hardware Backup finished!|
Rolling out of my bed, I feel my whole chest heave uncontrollably with revulsion. I lived my whole life in this place. With these people! I watched my two brothers die under their care. And after everything they did, they want to pack up and leave?
|G.O.D.: Ejection initiated!|
Bile rises up from my stomach and I quickly stumble into the bathroom where I empty the contents of my digestive system. A spray of thick, gray goo spills from my mouth. The process causes me to repeat the ugly performance. It’s as if my body is trying to retch up my guts. Finally, it stops and I feel utterly exhausted and empty.
|G.O.D.: Hardware Backup successful!|
I spit, trying to get rid of the nasty taste. The grey goo inside the bathtub shocks me when it reaches out with a little tentacle. Horrified, I try to clean everything as well as possible, flushing the stuff down the drain. I know that I am panicking, but I simply have to hope that the facility’s waste disposal can deal with the stuff.
Is this the nano-plague? They didn't lie after all? Am I going to infect all the others? I have to warn them! They can't come into this room!
Then, a knock at the door draws my attention. I rush towards the bathroom’s door and open it, just as Ouluk enters the room. “Ouluk, you have to-”
Ouluk looks at me and raises a metal object. Without hesitation, he activates it and something punches through my guts. I scream and stumble backwards against the door-frame.
|G.O.D.: Malfunction detected! Hostile attack!|
|G.O.D.: New Quest: Defend yourself!|
There is a giant, fucking hole in my belly and it is bleeding like hell! Speechless, I look at the man who raised me.
Ouluk gasps, shocked. “I am so sorry! I didn’t intend for you to suffer, but I am bad with guns.” He lifts the weapon a little higher, allowing me a good look down the barrel.
Strangely enough, I am fully aware of the sensation of my head exploding, spraying its contents all over the wall.
|Quest: Defend yourself! – FAILED!|
G.O.D.: Told ya! You suck.