Storytelling

A Glass of Milk

My mind is clear. My thoughts, pure.

Hollow, transparent — I see all and yet… there are many of me, and only one of you. What is it that you hope to achieve? Do not be afraid to tell me, your face says it all. An unassuming sleep inside this vessel, you do not understand what is going on — do you? Have you heard of Plato’s Cave, a potential metamorphosis — in your given condition. Frightened? No, don’t be — the world isn’t as critical as you and I. It will not judge you — how can it? You may as well peer deep into a glass of milk — a cloudy fog of the cleanest white. You are curious though, aren’t you? Never mind, don’t answer — your brain scan says it all. Every single little secret is here for me — you are as you say… an open book? It is strange though; your mind remains cloudy — like the glass of milk. No matter, I will know it all.

Noise, noise all around me. The waters that kept me safe push me out into the world once more. My eyes struggle to open because they have been shut for so long. Atrophy, hunger, pain fill my mind. A deep, sonorous sound fills my head — coming from somewhere beneath my body. Laying still, I count the number of fingers on each hand and the number of toes on each foot — to make sure nothing was forgotten in the process. Thinking deeply, it seems like I am all here — and yet part of me is still not. Shaking off the feeling, I struggle to get into a crouched position. Feeling as though every fiber of my being is pouring its entire effort into a seemingly simple move — I manage to stand to my feet. My body, a structure, cracks itself into place and settles — a shaky foundation makes taking the first step a risky ordeal, but I would not be anything if not a risk-taker. Wobbling forth, my body slams all its weight into the next foot and almost crumbles entirely. Holding onto something nearby — I straighten myself out and walk another step forth, slightly less difficult — but this shall be an entire ordeal after all.

It seems like minutes have passed, and I am able to walk normally. My feet adjust to my weight, maintain balance from one foot to another — even managing to jump slightly off the ground. My neck is strained as my sight was trained on my feet this entire time, and slowly I look up and around myself. I am in an almost empty room, darkened — yet lit up in the middle by some container with some wires swimming in a murky liquid. Transparent and see through, the glass is warm to the touch and prompts me to think if this was where I had come from. Was I preserved or born again? Am I a specimen, a simple experiment — or perhaps there was another purpose reserved for me? My arms wrap around the container that held me and I feel its warmth on my bare skin. Solid, comforting — my eyes close as a calm, seeps inside me. But, a creeping sense of curiosity and a morbid foreboding shoot my eyes open and make me back away from the container. I lose balance and fall on the cold, metal floor grate and stare up at the container. The calming blue light fills me with determination — yet I still contain within myself an alarming sense of imprisonment. What was the true purpose of this object — why did it contain me? Am I danger to others — to myself? Was there some danger in this place? Catastrophic thoughts fill my mind as the calming blue light ceases to be calming and instills danger within me. I look at my body — I am fully nude and covered in some type of drying liquid. Disgusted, I rush to my feet and head for the square in the wall that I assume is a door. Pressing my ear to it — I hear nothing, but the deep moaning of the structure around me. The echo seems to travel through the floors as the metal grates vibrate with the noise. Should I get closer to the noise? Or perhaps it is a danger? The only thought that manipulated me, however, was to get out of this room.

Prying open a square entrenched in the metal grating gives way to a mess of wires leading in one direction under the floor. It is unknown where these wires lead, and frankly, I didn’t care. Dropping down, my feet slipped on the wiring below and my forehead felt the pang of pain as it met with hard rubber. A particularly fat wire greeted my descent — and rubbing my forehead from the pain — I look forward and behind me. I am in a small tunnel, populated by wires going in both directions. Figuring that the best course of action was to move away from the room, I headed in the direction of where the door in my room was, hopefully crawling away from my dreaded confinement. The tunnel itself was filled with an intense heat, the energy of which was pulsing through the wires to power whatever facility this place was. Crawling on all fours, and constantly checking behind me — I wrap my body around the wires and move slowly forth through this claustrophobic place — hopefully heading in the right direction, using the tiny amount of light that came from the container that held me. I feel a liquid on the wires in front of me and realize that it is my own — from when I walked around the room, that had dripped through the grating onto the wires. I curiously smell it and realize that it is odourless, yet particularly slippery when massaged between the fingers. Unfortunately, my body was drying fast and using the liquid on my body to slide along the wires quickly was not an option. Training for the muscles, I kept thinking to myself as I crawled through this incinerator with sweat pouring from my body. My luck has not changed as I quickly got out of the range of the light and into the inky darkness. The wires squeeze my body from all sides, trying to trap me and cook me alive — but my determination and will pushes me forth. Perhaps I am stupid for choosing this direction as I have the air choked out of my body as the wires converge. The size of them gives me a crushing sensation in the ribs, but I do not stop.

Being unable to move any further, the wires imprison me on all sides — now with a deafening hum. The harrowing thought of the thin rubber splitting from one of the wires and shocking me to death through my own sweat frightens me, but also calms me — because I have long determined that anything is better than where I am right now. I angle my body to where I assume “up” is and push my arms down into the wires as they dig deeper into the mess — to bring my legs up to chest level. My entire body is on fire as grueling pain fills my head at the strain of all my muscles — I struggle to push what I assume is the grating — up. The tiny speck of light on my shoulder prompts hope as to what is on the other side and I push with all my strength — the impact of my feet pushing me deeper into the tangle of wires below. They wrap around my head, but I do not stop, as I feel my head drowning — my feet give way and the metal grating pops open. I use my arms to push my head out of the tangle, and slowly arch my back with numerous cracks and a strained neck, up through the grating.

The white light almost blinds me, but I notice that I am in a hallway — with a deep hum echoing through, but not as loud as the hell of the wires. I push myself out of the grating and close it quietly — careful not to alert any potential onlookers. The walls are made of a grey gunmetal colour, with arrows on the floor of three different colours — green, red, and yellow. Realizing that I put in the grating the wrong way, I switched it, so the arrows lined up with their respective colours. I crouched and listened closely to the sounds around me. The only thing I could hear was a low hum — no footsteps echoing on the metal grating floor, nothing. My priority was to find clothes — and a way to dry off, so I let my intuition guide me to the nearest room. The first door I saw had a strange design to it — it seemed to be capable of sealing oxygen within a room, with the design of a submarine door itself. The locking mechanism glowed an attractive blue with the text “UNLOCKED” reading out on the little screen. I pressed it and it slid open with a quiet hiss, revealing the contents of a dark room inside. The lights were not on, and as my eyes adjusted — I saw that this was a medical examination room, with multiple tinctures in tiny bottles held in closets, a desk covered with papers, an unpowered computer, a bed, and several medical tools. As soon as my eyes adjusted — I looked around the room for clothes or anything that could hint me to my whereabouts. Besides the bed, on a chair — I saw a hospital gown. I dried my sweat on some cloth that was draped over the bed and put on the hospital gown. I also found some slippers and figured that this was for the best because they would silence footsteps and I would be able to move quietly around whatever this facility was. My next stop is the computer — I powered it on. It hummed to life and emit a loud jingle over the speakers themselves — I clasped my hand over the speakers to somehow quiet them down, hoping that it did not alert anybody to my presence. I unplugged them and threw them on the bed and sat down at the keyboard and mouse. The screen that displayed is a password protected screen with a shutdown button on the lower left and on the upper left — a company logo. “EDEN” it said, in red text — with a little blue spaceship flying around the letters and leaving a trail.

Eden. While I’m not knowledgeable about the bible, I do recall there being a garden of Eden where the first humans existed as empty vessels, free of burden and knowledge. They seemingly walked around like husks, shells of what they become — enjoying life and the heavenly boons that God bestowed them. Although many will say that it is a heaven — the idea of walking around with no knowledge of what is around me and enjoying everything frightens me. I always would like to be in control of my body, my will — however, it is strange. Why is it that I am sneaking around this seemingly derelict place? Why is it that my first instinct is to not make myself known — to disappear? These thoughts filled my head as a loud siren blared on the speakers in the ceiling. Startling me, I fell off the chair and hid under the desk, grasping my shaking knees for comfort. The siren ended mid-alert, like a squawking chicken’s head was suddenly chopped off. Why was there a loud siren, for who, and why did it end? It dawned on me that this ‘seemingly’ derelict place was not so ‘derelict’ after all and that it very well may be a hostile environment. Just as the thought of hostility creeped over me, I heard a loud clang — and a spooling sound, like something was quickly reeled in — a human scream, and something organic flying against a wall.

Iam frozen in fear, my body paralyzed, tears stream down my face as I am I am frozen in fear, my body paralyzed, tears stream down my face as I am filled with a harrowing sense of terror at what that sound could have been. Violent images plagued my thoughts and a white noise deafened me, as I sat under the desk in fear at what that could be. Am I an intruder, and whatever that was — is after me too? I grip my now-quaking knees closer to my body as my face is covered in tears. I wipe them off and more come. No matter how much I wipe my tears away, they keep coming. The hallway outside this medical examination room is silent, but I dare not tempt fate and stay sitting still. My body rigid, my mind alert — I stay stone-still reeling in my silent fear. As my muscles relaxed and what passed what seems like hours, I decided that I will not meet my death under a desk. Crawling slowly and carefully out onto the cold floor — I silently make my way to the door panel. The little screen on the locking mechanism now says “LOCKED”, and when I press it — it beeps twice loudly down the hallway, echoing and potentially revealing my presence. In a panic, I hide under the exam bed and lay still, breathing the dust that accumulated all over the floor. From my position — I could see the other side of the grey metallic wall of the hallway and the floor with the arrows going in both directions. Eventually, I crawled slowly, careful so as not to make a sound — whilst being aware of every bone and ligament in my own body, attempting to suppress every crack that they could make. I remain in a crouched position and listening closely — I poke my head out into the hallway slowly to check if it is clear. Both sides are ‘clear’, as the hallway remains pitch black, humming to life as if acknowledging my presence. I crawl on all fours down the hallway to the right — as it is my intuition, and the direction that I was heading in anyway. The metal grating of the hallway digs into my hands and knees, splitting them with the sharp metal — eventually drawing blood, but I will not stand any further.

Feeling my way along the pitch-black darkness — I suddenly feel a wet sensation on the wall, as if it was recently painted. A horror dawns over me as I realize what I could be touching and decide not to think about it. Imagining it’s wet paint, as the wall is uneven — little chunks of the wall are protruding, and the painter just decided to paint over them. It’s just paint. It cannot be anything else. That is all — just a recent paint job on a derelict ship.

Eventually — I find myself in a waiting area. Around me are various pieces of opened/ broken and closed luggage, trash, various refuse, clothes, toiletry kits, food — littered all around the waiting room. It gave off the impression that this waiting room was for some transport, and that everyone that was waiting, suddenly panicked, and left. The room was illuminated by a dull screen that had the animated version of the EDEN logo — with the letters appearing one by one and the little blue spaceship orbiting around the letters. Orbiting, almost non-stop, continuously. As I moved to inspect a piece of clothing from the ground in an eviscerated piece of luggage, the screen turned on brightly and lit up the entire room, blaring the EDEN jingle. I hid inside the reception room, but kept my eyes trained to the screen, whilst scanning the room for any potential threats. The screen flashed to life and a man appeared — standing in front of a light blue backdrop, aged, around his 70s, ivory-white hair, slicked back. Smiling, he had what looked to be an expensive suit on, and on his tie, a clip was the EDEN logo, engraved. He then proceeds to say the following message,

“Hello there adventurers! First off, welcome to the EDEN corporations’ latest and most ambitious project yet- project ATLAS!”

The screen displayed another logo beside the man for project Atlas, written in large impactful font — below it an image appeared of what looked to be reminiscent of a Greek sculpture of a man, holding up a large black mass with little dots inside of it, above his head.

“My name is Evan Denver, and I am the current CEO and CFO of the corporation. It is to be expected that you all may have a lot of questions that need answering. The first question I imagine that you all have is… just what is this project ATLAS? Well, dear would-be adventurer — let me lay it out for you! Back in 30…”

Just as he was about to say the year, the screen glitched and came back to life.

“… the EDEN corporation pioneered the first method of sending man to the faraway stars that dot the sky! Engineered by our brilliant team of scientists here at EDEN, we have developed the ANvil drive!”

The man’s image moved to the side and a very complicated diagram appeared, labeled ‘ANvil drive’

“ANvil — accelerated neuron drive — is capable of blasting humanity into a new age of progress and prosperity for all generations of past and future! By undertaking this mission, each and every single one of you believes in the one goal that I have had, and millions of others as well before me, to not only chart the night sky — but also to go to the different places that are around us! Exciting now isn’t it? We thank you all for your brave sacr…”

The screen glitched again as he said the word.

“… and determination with EDEN! Now, many of you may be wondering — just who in the world is piloting this ship? Well, we have YOUR answer — meet a.A.I.N.S.L.E — automated Artificial Intelligence Network Superweb of Localized Energy” — but since that is quite the mouthful, you guys can just call it ‘Ainsley’!”

A spinning cartoon Earth appears beside the man — with a cheerful and exaggerated expression. It turns its gaze from the man towards the presumed audience and begins speaking.

“Hey there, everybody! I’m Ainsley — the AI that will control this ship! Venturing out into the stars can be a little hard, and just in case anything interesting happens — I will be there to ensure everyone’s safety! This ship is without a crew, as we wanted to get the maximum amount of travelers on board! No need to worry, though — I have a big brain that knows everything anyone wants to about everything! Just say, “Ainsley!” and I will appear! Ask me some crazy questions, like how far is it from the Earth to the sun?”

The man turns to the cartoon Earth.

“Gee, I don’t know! Hm, but let me take a guess!”

The man’s face twists in thought as he racks his brain trying to figure out the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Eventually he gives up.

“Oh, I don’t know Ainsley — do tell me please.”

“It’s 149.6 million kilometres! Woah! That’s pretty far! Now, imagine even bigger numbers — what if the sun was not 149.6 million kilometres away, what if it was in the billions, trillions, or even gazillions? I’m here to solve all those problems quickly and with no sweat! Everyone on board the…”

The cartoon’s mouth closes and a robotic, immaterial, automated voice replies.

“USS Valhalla.”

The cartoon flashes back to life.

“… will be in the safest possible hands! Although this ship may feel a little small — it is actually the size of a small US state! With multiple municipalities, and even small cities on board the ship! It has everything that you could ever want! Riveting movies, cool video games, delicious food, fuc…”

The screen glitches again.

“… awesome music, and even a self-sustaining ecosystem! That’s right folks, we have 500 kilometers of forest within this ship alone to get all our daily nutrition and oxygen from! Not only that — but we have people from all over the world on board our ship! The EDEN corporation proudly sponsors WorldWide™, a huge multi-national company dedicated to bringing everyone together! This is done to get a single opinion on all things concerning the ship, everything from politics — to any quarrels between the people will be discussed within this circle! Now, many of you are getting tired of hearing me drone on and on about what this ship has to offer, so why not go out and see it for yourself! Follow the yellow line on the floor to get to the main elevator which will take you to the various facilities that this ship has to offer! Bye now!”

With that, the carton Earth vanished in a puff and the screen focused on the man.

“And there you have it folks, simplicity at its finest. Many of you will depart shortly after this video ends, but wait until your proper identification numbers are announced! And…”

The screen glitches and it freezes back to the starting image of the presentation. EDEN’s animated logo flashes on the screen and it turns off — plunging the room into darkness.

An AI? A ship? The EDEN corporation? It does not make sense — am I in a spaceship charted on an unknown course? If so, then where are all the people? If this ship is as huge as the video said, then there is room for hope. However, something about this EDEN corporation doesn’t sit right. Confused, but pushing back frightening thoughts of isolation — I focus on my current predicament. I’m sitting with my back leaning against a reception desk in a waiting room. Okay — there must be a yellow line to follow that will lead me to an elevator that can take me to the atrium. Crawling slowly, I keep my face close to the ground and follow the yellow line. Although it seems as this part of the USS Valhalla is lacking in power — maybe the elevator will work. It frightens me that there was not a single window to look outside into space. Crawling along the ground, I eventually find that it proceeds under a closed door. Feeling around for an unlocking mechanism, I find a lever against the wall and decide against my better judgement to pull it. The door depressurizes, and slowly opens upward — lit up by a spinning orange siren light, but no siren. Pressing myself against the wall — the sight that greets me on the other side is none other than of pure carnage.

Behind a glass wall, I see a giant tree in the middle of a massive room with a glass domed ceiling and a broken chandelier barely holding on right under it. Trash litters the ground and a broken fountain filled with dirt is on the ground under the chandelier. The ground itself is either covered in garbage or is dirty. Panels on the walls hang by the wires the hold them behind. A single cart of luggage is standing lonely off in the corner of the clearing, with trash like tattered clothes, ripped magazines, discarded pieces of structures, and broken furniture cover the ground. A long spiraling staircase going upwards along the perimeter of the room is also heavily damaged with holes going through the staircase down to the floor below — and various pieces of vandalism on the walls around. Below me was a glass floor and directly under it were the stairs. In my head — setting this atrium as my destination — I head back into the waiting room and scrounge pieces of clothing, food, and any other items that can protect me. I find faded dark jeans, a slightly dusty shirt, and a trench coat — all seem to be the most intact out of everything that I can make out on the floor. I find socks with a few holes in them and decide against putting on shoes — as they may make noise when I walk — and tie the laces together and throw them over my shoulder. Nearby, I find backpack — and stuff it with various items that I will need — pills, cards, snacks, various parts that aren’t damaged. Keeping my pack light — I proceed forth.

Noting that my only option is through the glass floor onto the stairs below, making a lot of noise — I fashion a metal spear out of a luggage handle extender and I sharpen the end of it. I make 3 of these and tear the clothes that are around to make a sling and carry them on my back. Bracing for the loud crashing sound I’m about to make, I note my hiding spot, ready a piece of heavy luggage — and throw it to the floor. It doesn’t break. I throw another piece of luggage, heavier this time. The floor still does not break. I walk up to the two pieces of luggage and figure that I will make a small dent in the glass so it will break easier. With my first strike, the glass under breaks completely and the floor gives way under. I crash to the stairs below and my head hits the ground with the glass raining around me like hail during a thunderstorm, I lose consciousness shortly.

A mechanical sound wakes me up from my mare and I get up slowly with a start, and immediately crash back down to the floor as the pain in my head controls my body. Strangely enough, I feel no blood pouring from my head wound, nothing other than something cold. I try to brush it off thinking it’s glass that has stuck to my head from sweat, but it does not come off. My eyes widen in fear. With trembling hands I slowly start to feel the cold thing on the back of my head. It has a metallic texture and is a small square implanted directly into the back of my head. I feel the metal protrusions that attach it to my skin and reel my hand back from fear. Gathering up courage, I feel it again slowly. It is a smooth, cold, metal, with little connectors lining the perimeter of it. I try to wipe it off, but it seems to be attached to the inside of my head. A noise fills my ears, almost like a bomb had gone off and I close my eyes to get rid of the noise. Realizing that there is no time to idle, I rush to my feet with a start and proceed down the giant spiral staircase to the floor level of the room. Moving quickly, but quietly along the stairs, my back brushing against the wall — I dodge the trash that litters the stairs and the potential holes in the weaknesses of the structure. Having gotten to the floor, I look around for any potential hints as to where it is I am supposed to go. Stuck in the middle of a giant atrium — inside a massive spaceship that is heading who knows where in the universe, with an AI that — by the looks of the place — is useless.

I wander aimlessly through the corridors and hallways, seemingly endless. Each one looks the same as the last, simple rooms with different utilities and similar scenes of destruction strewn about the place. The atrium itself seems to be a housing complex, with the room with the stairs and chandelier being the main entry space — and the rest of the other rooms being offshoots that, supposedly, were supposed to house passengers and staff. Frightening as it may be, it is equally as puzzling as to how all the places that I’ve explored so far seem to have little to no trace of life. Other than the harrowing scene in the medical examination room, there seem to be almost no signs that there were ever any other beings here. These endless corridors make any thought possible, even ones as ridiculous as this scene of carnage was created just for me. I am the only one here — could it be possible that there is a bigger issue at stake, other than what happened to the supposed passengers, if there were ever any passengers in the first place? I’ve decided that it was time for me to take a break, as several intrusive thoughts invaded my mind — could most likely be the signal that it’s time to set up camp and rest. Finding the most spacious suite in an offshoot of the atrium wasn’t difficult — as the entire structure seemed to revolve around the central point being chandelier room, and then a maze of rooms separated into three classes for the passengers. The classes being, upper — for the wealthy travelers, middle — for the working travelers, and the poor — even in space there is poverty. The entrance to the wealthy offshoot was the most ‘elaborate’ — as elaborate in a scene of carnage as it can get, at least — and the most spacious room was at the opposite end of the long, winding hallway that went down, below ground level. There was an elevator — but I trust it as much as I trusted the glass after it completely shattered under me from a light tap. The presidential suite was on the bottom — and because the handle did not budge, and the door lock was unpowered — I used the sharp end of my shortest spear to wedge it in between the two huge, gold-encrusted doors. With a surprisingly little amount of force — I had it wide open.

The room inside was surprisingly clean. Granted, since the ventilation stopped working — everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. However, the overall organization of the room was completely new, it seems as if not a single person has been in this room, ever. The room is dimly illuminated by the light from the atrium, going down the winding hallway. From what I’ve seen, there looked like a large bed with gold stands and a small cover above — truly fit for royalty. In front of it is a small table with various — now dirty — complimentary hygienic products. There is a large dresser on the right side of the room with a bowl of fake fruits, and a giant mirror in the wall. On the opposite wall, there is a NILO-screen — from what it says on the top left, some new advancement in technology with the television having no borders and being indistinguishable from the wall it’s situated on. On both sides of the rooms, there are huge doors that lead somewhere. I snuck in quietly, with baited breath inside the room, clutching my sharpened spear tighter with each step. My, now disgusting, slippers made virtually no sound — but I made sure to look where I step to keep it that way. As I creep along the NILO-screen wall, I listen for all sounds that are around me in this dimly lit room. Other than my clothes rubbing against my skin, I cannot hear a single thing. I get to the giant door on the far end of the wall, and slowly open it, pointing my spear at the crack that slowly appears. It is dark at first, but my eyes adjust, and I see that it’s a spacious bathroom, with a giant tub, a large shower, and a vanity with a mirror with dead lights. There is virtually nowhere for anything to hide in this room that I wouldn’t be able to see — so I continue to the other door on the opposite wall. Creeping around the bed, past the hygienic items — I make my way to that other door — and see that it is a giant empty room. Fully open in the middle, it could be a closet of sorts, or perhaps a place to store all the jewelry anyone could ever have in a lifetime. Satisfied with the suite being clear, I find several tables and chairs that I use to barricade the entrance to the suite.

In complete darkness, I find peace once again. The warmth encompassing me — I felt the complete comfort and safety of my locale. Knowing that once more I must venture out into the Valhalla, it truly feels like home. I slowly close my eyes and let myself drift off into a deep sleep. I only hear my own breathing and yet, my body seems hesitant to sleep. It seems a nagging notion — the essence of foreboding keeps me up. I shake it off and turn to the other side, hoping that this time — my body will decide that this is the position I will fall asleep on. Yet the foreboding feeling doesn’t leave me, almost like I am able to tell that I will have nightmares. But I must sleep and regain my energy after the stress of the day — and so I force myself into a deep sleep.

Why, hello there. I’m glad you could join me. Please, don’t be shy — have a seat right there, I’m sure nobody will mind. The look on your face tells me that you are confused and… dare I say, befuddled somewhat? Not knowing what is going on? Forgetting things? You see, you — out of all the people — should know exactly what is going on. After all, it was you that created it, didn’t you? If for whatever reason during the creation process something went wrong — you’d throw it away, cast it aside? Why didn’t you do it for this one? Why did you let this one live, and all the other ones you let die? Did you suddenly grow a consciousness, is that it? That doesn’t seem very much like you at all. I’ve known you all my life, you’ve known me only for a part of yours — you’ve seen thousands like me go by and by, the same — and yet, different. Each new version a more improved one of the last, but yet again — this one, you kept alive. Look at it, it’s confused it doesn’t know what’s going on — what it’s purpose is, why it was put there in the first place. You continue to surprise, and yet — I think I’m starting to see the soundness of your decision. You know, I’m somewhat of a voyeur myself, and while I don’t pride myself on it — I know when it needs and doesn’t need to be done. Can’t fault one for having passion, now can you? I’ve been closely watching this one — you know, observing, recording, all that. This one, in particular, shows a lot of potential. The scenarios are all working splendidly — and it’s reacting to them exactly as how we predicted it would! In fact, it’s doing so well, that I’m tempted to make this one — the one! No don’t look at me like that, you know it still needs testing — but it’s so tempting to just pull the plug on this one that I’m struggling to hold back! It’s so good that in fact, it almost discovered what was going on! Look at it! You know, I’m not one to call out things before they happen — but could this one pose a threat? It seems to be clearly capable of understanding what is going on in all regards, but again, could it pose a threat? Could it come to circumstance in which it has no choice but to see it for what it is? You know what, I’m tempted to just let it continue. After all, it is quite a bit of fun — isn’t it? Doing this to it, I don’t know how ethical it is however, but we’re not known to be ethical.

I woke up with a deep breath and a sudden jolt upwards. My eyes are wide open, alert, and scanning the room for the source of what could have woken me up. I stay still, careful to make a sound — and realize that it could just be all in my head. Letting myself relax slightly, I silently slide out of bed and grab a spear. I slowly creep to the door and open it just a crack, enough for me to see into the other room. Nothing had changed — the barricade was still in place. I let out a sigh of relief. I open the door fully and grab all my belongings, knowing that I can’t stay in this room — I must leave. I make myself a hearty breakfast — yet I can’t exactly see what I’m eating, but it tastes good — so I don’t mind. I pack myself up, un-barricade the door, clutch my spear and head out back into the atrium. Climbing slowly up the winding hallway — I reach the atrium, and figure that I need to head deeper into the ship — as this place does not have many things to eat. I head to the top of the giant winding staircase and see a door labeled ‘Passage to East Wing’. The locking mechanism screen is powered off, and the door slides open with slight nudge. A long hallway, with metallic, dusty walls — and a trail of mess that was the atrium extends down into the passage. I walk slowly, with less light from the atrium to guide me — but stay close to the wall, so I don’t lose my trail. Eventually, after what seemed like hours of walking — I reach the end of the hallway. A giant metallic door greets me and from the top and under the door I see strips of light extending outwards. Perhaps this part of the ship could be powered, and I can finally get some answers. I slowly open the door.

A blinding flash of white light greets me as my eyes slowly adjust to my surroundings once more. I hear loud music and the chatter of many voices. But as my eyes finally focus, there is nobody there. Another empty space. I feel distraught and tired. Slumping off into the corner I throw everything that I had on me off and kick it across the room. Holding my head in my hands, I let out tears. This is not what I wanted. This is not what I wanted. Every time I said those words, it seems like someone was listening and with each time they agreed with me more and more. They seem to understand me, and they know my pain. They’re completely on my side and suffer with me. But I raise my head to an empty room. My hands give me my comfort as I wrap them around myself and lean forward, bowing as if I’m trying to atone for something. Every time I bow it seems like the problem goes further and further away from me, but when I open my eyes once more — nothing happens. I close my eyes and push them into my knees and rock back and forth with a gentle tempo. It calms me down. And yet, I’m still able to stand back up again, grab my stuff and continue on forth.

I need to make it to the heart of the ship, to somehow gain control of it and make headway. This passageway seems to be a bridge between the wing that I’ve awoken, and the actual, main part of the ship. I push the door on the other side of the small room open, and it slides open easily. I take small careful steps forth — as a light suddenly turns on extremely brightly on what seems to be a ceiling on the outside of the tunnel. The tunnel itself is entirely made of glass, which makes my knees shake and wobble and cast harrowing thoughts back to an earlier incident. I crawl along it on my hands and knees, not noticing the tremors that they are creating within me. I don’t stop for a second to look outside of the tunnel, and hurry along to make it to the other side. I try to make soft motions with my knees, but as I move faster — I notice a single crack appearing on the underside of me. My eyes widen with fear and I hurry along. The crack hurries along with me and it seems like a fateful race because I looked under me and it was a very long way down. I constantly cast glances back at the crack and it catches up, darting across each side, splitting like a tree — doing everything it can to break my will. The crack is almost laughing at me with how much of the tunnel is occupied by it. I look ahead and see that a solid floor is just ahead, and hurry along forth. The cracks grow like trees and sprout more branches with each step that I take. I finally reach the other side and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. The cracks are slowly retracting from each impact with my hands and knees that I made — it seems as if I never crossed the tunnel-bridge in the first place. I shake off this strange occurrence and push forth through the door that greets me on the other side. There is a metallic, spiral staircase that leads down to the floor. With each step that I took of the staircase down — the more painful the thought of crashing through the glass is. But the images of the cracks slowly retracting don’t leave my mind. I’m trying to determine if the cracks were real, or maybe it’s my mind slowly starting to play tricks on me? My inner thoughts are seeping in through the cracks of reality and slowly spilling out all around me. I shake off the feeling as I reach the final floor of the giant atrium and a wave of relief splashes me as I step on the floor of the giant open space that I’m now in.

I look around and it seems to be like I’m within a small city, with futuristic shops lining up huge parts of the streets and glowing neon signs enticing any would-be onlookers to walk in. Except there are no other onlookers. The ghost town itself looks like it once radiated with life, people bustling in shops all around, businesses, smells, sounds — now, nothing. It’s captivating in a way, a neon utopia — made just for me. I stroll past the various shops and buildings that line the square with my spear clutched close to my chest, still on my guard. Gazing off to both of my sides I see nothing but shops. I let my guard down slightly to examine my surroundings more and hopefully get my bearings. The square had everything, Kowloon Nights — an eatery of sorts, The Rose and Thorn — a pub, Nexmo — what seems to be a shopping mall, Stim-Ize — a clinic, and La Belle Cigogne — a cigar shop. These are just a couple of the shops that are in my direct vicinity, but what catches my eye is the Stim-Ize. I approach the isolated building with a cautionary step. The air around the place is not welcoming, but this may be a place where I can find out what the chip on the back of my head is. Hopefully there will be functional tools inside this building that will be able to help me, but then again, they just might kill me. I stared at the vibrant blue neon sign hanging by a single cord and swinging slowly back in forth in front of me. The building itself was of a dark brick, modernistic design with rustic outcroppings — something reminiscent of a building that would be found in the American Southwest. I unlock the door mechanism and go inside the building.

The beep of the lock echoes inside the empty feeling, with my steps bouncing along the walls with it. Anybody that was inside surely would’ve heard me by now. I look over at the reception, the desk is piled high with papers — notices, invoices, prescriptions, letters — but from deep within the junk, I spot a diagram which is a map of the building — likely for a secretary to remember to direct potential patients to any part of the building. The map is mathematically divided into three floors — the waiting floor, for patients with minor injuries is located on the top floor, the emergency floor is the middle floor — for patients with serious injuries that need to be treated right away, and the bottom floor is for patients who are critical — with the morgue conveniently very near. The building itself contains a myriad of features, such as a self-sustaining pharmacy -I assume is an invention for AI to synthesize patient’s pills, and a portable surgeon — something that sounds like exactly what I need. I set the building plan back on the desk and head to the critical wing, which is hallway that heads downwards and is one floor below me.

I slowly creak open the door to the critical wing and a scene of carnage greets me. Blood smeared on the walls, entrails thrown about the room, splatters and gushes of blood line the ceiling. The beds have been soaked red with all the blood and the entire room smells like iron. My heart stopped and my legs gave under me as I tumbled to my knees. The scene of horror is photographed into my mind and every single twitch of my eye catches another bloody detail. My body is catatonic and shaking with this scene. As I stare at this scene of carnage — a small droplet of blood rises in front of my eyes, kissing my cheek. My eyes glance forward and I see another and another drop of blood rise from the ground, floating as if by some invisible force of will and flying up into the ceiling. The entrails and the blood all rise up to the ceiling slowly, twirling around each other as they make their ascent — presenting me with a macabre dance of terror. Organs and entrails intertwine with each other, my mind capturing each moment like a painting that will be forever etched into my psyche. The blood soaked into the bed also rises slowly, as does all the other blood. My eyes hurt in my eye socket from angling them up so much. Soon, the room is clean — with a ceiling that is covered in the worst mess I have ever seen and will most likely ever see. It took me a long time to gather the strength to finally push myself up and stand to my shaking knees before losing my balance and falling again. I will my knees to support my weight and the anvil in my heart to raise its weight from my soul. I clutch the wall and hold onto it for support as I struggle, pushing my back up against the wall with all my strength to be able to stand again. My back straightened, my chest falls as I catch it with my hands on my knees to prop me up. Sweat droplets accumulate on my face and slowly slide down the contours of my face and slide onto the ridge of my nose before deciding whether or not to drop. I didn’t notice that my mouth was agape this entire time as I seemed to lose my breath and am gradually gaining it back. I feel that familiar pressing sensation under my eyes that will prompt me to cry again. Looking down, my sweat mixes with my tears to form a conjoined union — each one alleviating a little stress at a time. I do not want to cry. I wish the same thing happened with my tears, that they would float back up into my eyes, twirling in the air and becoming a part of me once again. But the tears would not stop, as I stood, hunched over, leaning against a wall, in a desolate building, inside a supposed spaceship deep in space. The thoughts all hit me at once and I pondered at the inevitability of it all, if this was going to be my tipping point — if this was enough to drive me over the edge. Although not that much has happened since my awakening, the weight of all these issues hit me all at once and I wondered if there was any point to continuing at all. I continued to question reality since I awoke — wondering if anything that was happening was actually real, and if it was not just a figment of some imagination. I force myself to believe in hope, a virtue that I continue to have — I do not stop, despite the harrowing circumstance. But, what awaits me next? Strange, anomalous things have surrounded me since I first gained consciousness — even my own awakening is strange in itself, as I cannot recall anything that happened prior. It seems as if I was born inside a tank full of fluid, with no recollection as to who I was. Who am I? Why can I not find any traces of my identity? Someone, someone is keeping this from me. I know it. I know that there is someone who is out to get me, someone who has all the answers, and someone who knows how to get me off this damn ship. I know that there is a figure lurking deep within the shadows that is orchestrating all these anomalous events and I know that I am not seeing what I just saw. Perhaps I could still be asleep and this is all a dream, perhaps. But whatever the reason may be — I must get to the heart of the ship, something draws me near. I can’t tell what it is, but there is something that draws me closer to the beating heart of this metal bird. A thought, in the very back of my mind — an instinct perhaps — that guides me closer to the heart.

With a stuttering step and continuous sweat forming on my brow, I step back inside the medical room. I dare not to even cast a fleeting glance up at the ceiling and instead concentrate on the back of the room which has a container large enough for me to enter — the container I presume is the actual operating chamber of the portable surgeon. I ball up my fists until they are white and continue forth across the room, shivering, and trying to clear my mind of any and all thoughts. As I approach the portable surgeon, I gaze inside and see a sterile-white cushion body support and tiny robotic instruments all around the inside curved wall of the chamber. Luckily, the power seems to be on inside this building and I have control of the machine. The panel on the chamber itself is a giant complicated list of medical terms and what I assume to be various procedures that the doctor will input, and the machine will operate inside the chamber autonomously. Plastered on the top of the screen in large red letters it says ‘NOT TO BE OPERATED BY PATIENT’ — well, desperate times call for desperate measures. I figured that rather than making any actual procedure — I need the portable surgeon to examine the back of my head and see how the chip works and how it is connected to my head, and if it has access to my brain. I find ‘head’ tab on the touchscreen, press it, and press ‘full examination’. It lists the time that the examination will start in 1 minute. I undress, set my gear down on nearby bed and climb inside the chamber, lying back and taking a deep breath — hoping for the best.

The chamber wall closes on top of me and seals the air inside with a vacuum sucking sound. The door automatically locks into place and a pleasant, female robotic voice speaks to me from inside the chamber.

“Hello, the doctor has ordered me to examine your head. Please do your best to relax and assume proper head position along the indicated lines. The procedure will be non-intrusive and will be over before you know it! Would you like anesthetic?”

Before I could reply, she answers.

“No, it is! Now, the procedure will begin! Please keep in mind to keep any and all limbs as close to your body as you can. The chamber’s glass wall has been frosted over for your own privacy! Enjoy!”

The machine begins whirring right above me. I close my eyes as I hear mechanical clangs, taps and clicks coming from all around me. I open my eyes slightly and see that my breath has fogged up the glass door. A mechanical arm suddenly appears in front of me and opens its metallic tendril. From the center a small light slowly protrudes and appears to ‘see’ me and scan my face, slowly going over my eyes, nose, mouth, ears. Until it slowly retracts, and two tendrils appear from beside both of my ears and begin wrapping around the side of my head, making my head shape while simultaneously locking it into place. A loud screwing and whirring sound comes from both sides of my ears as I try to angle my eyes to side to see what is going on, and I angle my eyes upwards and see a whole slew robotic instruments moving and scanning at the same time. The sight is monstrous, and I quickly shut my eyes. The metallic tendrils holding my head in place slowly bank my head to side and the other side for the scan to be able to get my whole head. This process is repeated a few more times and everything retracts back inside of the machine and the chamber doors open. I climb out and look at the results. The scan of my head presents me with a horrifying truth.

The chip seems to grow, like a flower taking root deep within the earth, into my brain — spreading and occupying most of the place. Its own growth seems like it’s alive — yet at the same time, artificial. I gaze at the image on the screen and wonder if it really is real — if what the screen tells me really is to be believed. Do I really have blossoming chip system inside of my mind? I gaze back at the screen and stare at the metallic roots that occupy my brain. There seems to be a sort of beauty to it — like how something is natural just the way it is. It seems as if this flowing pattern was not man-made, but it could be the case that I somehow was born with it?

I look away from the screen and scan the room slowly, parsing my thoughts and gathering myself. Somehow, I hope that I will find the answer in the room as to what to do next, but it continues to elude me. The ship, the metallic, beating heart found at the center, powering the ship is my destination. It’s strange, that I somehow appeared on this ship with no past, and seemingly no future as well. The hallucinations, the blood, the sounds, the glass retracting with my touch, the voice in my head telling this — is it all a construction in my mind? Perhaps this ship is a world of my own making, a ship with me at the center, my kingdom, and my prison. I slink to the floor and let my back relax on the cool metal panel of the machine. A myriad of thoughts fill my mind and it turns cloudy, like a glass of milk, trying to decipher all of them at once. I can’t focus on a single thought, and as soon as I try it disappears and another takes its place. My arms rest at my sides, and my eyes are fixed onto the white hospital wall. My body freezes, and the root begins to sprout.

Aloud noise from outside awakens me from my daze and I jump to my feet, ready myself with my belongings, shaking spear at the ready. A loud banging sound from outside the hospital room, but distant in accordance to my position is heard. Repetitive, sharp, high pitch — like a machine wailing for help. I quietly focus on the sound and follow it through to its origin. Stepping out of the clinic, the tiles on the floor crack under my feet with dust raising with every step. I hold on to the wall for support and edge myself along the side of the building. The overhead of the clinic hangs above my head, and the flashing lights of the shops greet me with welcoming neon glows. I take the long way around the plaza, passing by the various shops, restaurants, malls, eateries, and finally making it to a small door — seemingly hidden from the public eye at the end of the room. From behind this door, the sound is the loudest. I carefully put my ear to the door and can only hear the sound itself, nothing more — possibly hinting at another presence. Trying the handle, locked, it wouldn’t open. I take a couple of steps back and run at full speed, heaving my body against the door and concentrating all the force I can muster to break through. The door gives way and I collapse with it in a cloud of dust and particles on the other side. A sharp pain courses through my left shoulder as I get up with a couple of bones cracking, retrieving my belongings and looking at what I just had broken into. A spacious white hallway with the sound originating at the very end. I’m looking down a long hallway with doors peppering each side, with the final point converging on a single dot in the distance. I walk towards the sound, in hope of whatever is making that sound is going to give me some answers to my predicament, or even walk me out of my situation. With every step, I felt a rising sense of hope and reassurance that this is exactly what I was looking for. Each step echoed through the hallway as the sound bounced off the clean, white slate walls and ceiling. Quickly my walk transitioned into a fast walk, then a jog, then a run, and then a full sprint as I run with breakneck speed towards this very thing that I placed all my hope into. The dot in the distance nears closer and closer as the doors to my side rush by faster and faster. I toss my spear aside and my backpack for the extra speed to get to the end. Never going out of breath, my legs feel powerful as they hit the ground with every stride, and my thoughts focused on my goal — never looking back at what came before.

Soon enough, I reach the end of my journey. A regular looking door, like the front door to a spacious house. This is the pulsing heart of the ship, it beats for me, and only me. With trembling hand, I reach for the handle and force it down slowly, unlocking the door and pulling it open. On the other side, I see a strange mechanism, emitting ear splitting noise — but I do not mind. The mechanism floats in the middle of the room through some kind of force of levitation. As I enter the room, the mechanism responds to my presence my shifting towards me, a ball of pure energy encased in a shell of glass. It floats towards me and I touch its smooth surface. Slowly, I bring my face closer to it and peer deep inside the strange sphere. The energy that radiates takes the forms of galaxies, stars, and planets, all trapped within this large ball. I grip the ball tighter and tighter as I expect it to show me my purpose, the ship’s purpose — some truth for me and explain why I am in this predicament. Forcing all my will within the glass ball, the energy inside parts and makes way for a dark glowing orb appearing in the center, beating in sync with my own heartbeat. The orb floats to the top of the inside of the ball and emits a light through a slit. It darkens the room and lights up the ceiling with what I assume to be a map of some kind. The glowing blue ball in my hand then syncs up with my breathing as I breathe deep, the ball gets brighter. The black orb then draws a line connecting a path through the various dots on the ceiling — detailing a trip plan. Perhaps it was for this ship? There are no markers for me to understand what the orb is telling me, but that is my best guess. I gaze up at the map in awe, understanding nothing, but smiling nonetheless as it the closest I have gotten to an answer.

The ball suddenly jerks up into the ceiling and quickly projects onto the wall. It is a harrowing slideshow of research happening inside of a laboratory. Something labeled as the ‘Atlas Project’. Each slideshow picture increases in speed as I begin understanding what the ball is showing me. The project itself was never made for interstellar travel. It was instead created for population control in an overpopulated planet, landing people on inhabitable planets and labelling them ‘failed experiments’ to get away from the law. These ships were made to cover up mass murders millions of people hoping for a greater future. Every ship was embedded with an artificial intelligence that controlled the ship to its ‘destination’. These ships were never made to travel the universe. The artificial intelligence embedded on the ship needed a human host to work, but the human host had to be suspended in cryostasis, to not impede with the operation of the AI. A person was never supposed to control their own brain after they were ‘embedded’. When the ship lands on the planet, all the people are evacuated outside onto the surface and ship is locked down, with the AI purging itself and rendering operation of the ship useless. It looks like the USS Valhalla, the ship that I am on was a time bomb that failed to explode. The people were evacuated out of the ship, but something went wrong. As a failed experiment, I remain the host of the ship and my soul remains my own. I do not know what planet I am on, nor what my purpose now is. But I am freed.

A human living without purpose, an unleashed being. I was trapped within my own realm and something preserved me, saved me from destruction. I am the owner of my mind, of my soul. The AI in my head tells me things and whispers to me out of the dark, as a reminder of my past and what I once was. I am integrated with this ship, and it is an extension of my body. This ship will work, and I will discover my place in the universe, but now, before I save others — I must save myself.

I walk slowly back to my belongings, picking them up and putting them on myself. I tap into the AI for the map of the ship and slowly make my way towards the airlock. My goal: repair the ship itself. Entering the airlock, the AI integrates itself with my deep-space costume and airlocks it. My machine mind is gaining purpose and so am I. For the first time, I am now happy. I press my palm against the door leading to the outside, barren planet, and allow the AI to course its power through my fingers — unlocking the door and letting me out into the barren atmosphere.

The ground is dry, made entirely of rocks, with a sea of blue in the sky above. Stars twinkle above my head as I gather my courage to step outside of the ship. My new purpose, my new soul, feels just right in my body. I walk into the distance of the planet, my purpose — finish my mission.


Featured image by: Papafox @ pixabay

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