“Good morning, doctor.”
“Good morning, Ada. Let’s continue. This Carter Monarch, he was recovering?”
“Can I get information on the Virtuals vs Realist conflict?”
“There isn’t much, doctor.”
“Thank you. Continue.”
“Of course, doctor. Gathering Engram node: 02”
In the sky, the sun loomed like the eye of a wrathful god. It shone with a fierce intensity and despite its presence, seemed to not radiate heat. It did, of course. But there was something overbearing and oppressive about the sun. Carter couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched by that angry sun. The nights were different. The sky was a deep, yawning black at night. It was like drowning in ink. A darkness that felt like it would eat any pitiful lights that dared expose themselves. Yet, there was a loneliness to the nights. The darkness was empty and indifferent. Where the daylight sun felt intense and hostile, the night was cold and numb. He felt a kinship with the night.
Lazy waves lapped at the white sand. In the water, the void of the night sky was reflected in the water. It looked like the island hung in nothingness. Carter ran the length of the beach for the 6th time. As soon as he was able to get out of bed and move unaided, he began running. He ran at night now. Though the island was sparsely populated, the night was his alone. The island was exclusively owned by the Monarch Conglomerate. It was where high value assets were able to receive better care and therapy to recover from the awakening or some of the dangers of this new world.
As he ran, Carter calculated the length of the beach. His stride covered about 2 and a half feet heel to heel, combined with a pace of about 100 steps per minute meant that since he’d been running for two hours the total length was about 5.6 miles. Though the body that he had was supposed to be his, it didn’t have his scars and lacked the right weight. It felt like he was wearing the body as a kind of suit. He was piloting a machine made of flesh and bone. Sometimes, on nights like this he felt the strong urge to marr this body to match the one he used to have. He stopped at the point where the beach comes to a rocky end and caught his breath.
Once, when he and Malcolm were laying in bed, Malcolm traced his finger along the scars on his chest and arm. Malcolm’s finger felt so warm as it followed Carter’s scarred, cooling body. Malcolm lay his head on Carter’s chest and listened to his heart beat.
“I’m sorry,” Carter whispered.
“The scars… me.”
Malcolm snorted in a soft way, mocking him.
“I’m serious. I’m not… what you deserve.”
Malcolm turned onto his elbows and looked up at Carter with a smile.
Carter tried not to meet his gaze.
Malcolm gently put his palm on the side of Carter’s face and said, “you’ll do just fine.”
“The scars, I…” he trailed off.
Malcolm went back to tracing the scars.
“Every scar is the story of you. They helped make you who you are. It all helped create the man I love,” said Malcolm.
Carter placed his hand over Malcolms and said, “even with everything I’ve done?”
“You did what you had to, at the time. What matters is always what you do now. Who you choose to be every single day. You’re the man I love. When I’m working on art or copy, I know that you support Angelina and I with everything you have. You know Jeff, over in animation, asked me once if ‘it was a good idea’ to be with you?”
Carter cocked his head, “what did you say?”
Malcolm smiled, “I told him that being with you was the best idea I’d ever had. Then, I told him that I woke up next to a sexy bastard, unlike the frigid bitch that he woke up with!”
Carter and Malcolm laughed.
“Oh, I bet your boss loved that.”
“I could care less. I’m awesome at my job. Besides, he won’t dare fuck with me. I’ve got Carter Monarch in my bed,” he joked.
Now, all that is gone.
Carter sat on the fine, loose white sand and watched the waves crest and smash themselves upon the rocks like ghosts caught in some loop of endless suffering. His eyes feel dry and hurt but no tears were coming tonight. He tried to summon some kind of feeling. Something, anything beyond this deep, yawning blackness. But, nothing came forth. Some part of him wondered if maybe this body somehow lost it’s capacity to feel. The rest of him knew that it wasn’t the body, it was him. He wondered if he’d always been this way. If he had been pretending to care for his husband and daughter. What if he was an unfeeling automaton impersonating a real person?
This world is being called Earth 2 while the committee figured out what to call the place. The name is awful. The world itself seemed perfect, though. It had a varied climate, was roughly the size of the homeworld, and even had a similar period to its orbit. The first city was being built by robots dispatched from the colony ships. The ships themselves had done their job properly and modified themselves into factories and hospitals. The titans of The World had quickly taken to the job of taming this new place.
Monarch Conglomerate, now simply calling themselves Monarch, had already launched a quartet of communications and monitoring satellites called The Sisters. The sisters were in a geosynchronous orbit that kept them above the landmass that was being settled. This island was off the coast of that one. Neither had a name yet but, most people in the facility were calling the island Eden. The name seemed appropriate.
The part that interested Carter the most was that humanity was not alone in this system. Contact had been made with two other species. One was called Deimos and the other was Olephem. They seemed to know each other and held some kind of animosity between them. They seemed to have learned standard or are using some kind of translator. Both were oddly humanlike but where there were differences, they were striking.
The Deimos are big, strong things with skin in shades near the color of reddish brick. They stood taller than humans and seemed to possess a hulking musculature that looked taught and bulky, like a racehorse’s legs. They had a technological level similar to ours but seemed to shun augmented reality and built harsh buildings made of hard planes with some rounded corners to break up the monotony. They were organized into groups that seem roughly analogous to tribal allegiances. The most striking feature were the horns. They had horns like goats or other animals from the homeworld. Our scientists assume that the horns are made from something like keratin surrounding bone growth. This formidable appearance was counteracted by the fact that upon contact with humanity, the Deimos broadcast a series of very amiable documents. The documents had a sparse detailing of their looks and society. It baffled our people so much that our reply took two days to send back something similar.
The Olephem are in many ways the opposite of the Deimos. They are thin beings with delicate, sharp features and light skin in several shades similar to ours but with a blue tint. They stand about our height and sometimes a little shorter but look physically weaker than humans. Their technological level is also similar to ours but with a much greater emphasis on information technologies, our scientists think that they use virtual environments similar to The World. They tend to build vertically with extensive use of glass and shined metal. We don’t know much about their political or social structure since they are less forthcoming than the Deimos. The Deimos refer to them as “lacking honor” and preferring to “bicker and talk.” Not much else is known about them. They launched their own satellites and already began settling a planet in the system.
As Carter looked at the machine that they had replaced his arm with, it had a synthetic skin covering and felt just like the other one. Yet, it had a heft to it that constantly reminded him of what he had lost. The arm was embedded into him and his body had been suitably modified to accommodate the weight and force that the arm was capable of. And it was capable of impressive force. He gauged it as being somewhere between four times and ten times stronger than his biological arm. The feeling was duller and delayed but that was to be expected. He was impressed that he could feel at all. What would Angelina think of this world?
Angelina looked at Carter with dark eyes deep in thought. She had been watching a drama about a heroine who was somehow write-protected and was trying to stop a programmer who’d somehow gained elevated permissions. The programmer was capable of warping The World to suit his needs but couldn’t change the heroine. They had several impressive battles in shifting, dramatic locales. Moments ago, she had been fully invested in the drama but now she was looking at Carter. She bit her lip slightly as she thought of whatever it was that she wanted to say.
Carter was aware of Angelina’s gaze but waited patiently for her to speak. He had learned quickly that allowing Angelina to make the first move encouraged her to speak her mind more freely. Malcolm didn’t care for the drama and had fallen asleep. She made up her mind and muted the drama. The noise of explosions and dramatic speeches was suddenly gone. Carter turned his head dutifully to face Angelina.
“Dad,” she began, “I’ve been thinking…”
“I don’t think that I should grow up.”
Carter smiled, “you don’t?”
“No. I think you and Papa need me to stay your little girl. In fact, I don’t think that I should go to classes anymore. Just stay here and take care of you and Papa.”
Carter raised an eyebrow, “aren’t we supposed to take care of you?”
“Yes. But, without me to take care of, you would be bored and work all the time. Papa would have his art everywhere.”
Carter nodded and looked at Malcolm, he loved Malcolm but she was right, he never seemed to put away his art or the supplies.
“So, I have to stay home.”
Carter smiled wider, “and this had nothing to do with the new school that you’re going to be starting at or how you were taking all of your clothing out and organizing them last night?”
Angelina’s eyes went a little wider and she opened her mouth, looking around.
“You’re always going to be my little girl. Even when I’m so old that I crawl around and fart everywhere.”
Angelina giggled as Carter lifted her into his lap.
“It’s true. I’m going to fart everywhere.”
“I can’t help it. I’m old and my little girl just has to hold her nose and deal with the farts.”
“Dad, I’m serious!”
“Okay,” he started again, “You will always be my little girl. I love you and Papa loves you, forever and ever.”
“Does that mean that I have to go to school?”
“But what if they don’t like me?”
“Are you kidding? Look at you, you’re cool and hip and ‘with it’ and uh..”
“Yeah, totally frosty. Frosty and cool, like an icicle.”
“Just be your frosty self and other, really frosty people will gravitate to you.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yeah, it’ll be like some evil programmer changed the parameters to give you your own gravitational pull.”
“Dad, I thought everything has its own gravity?”
“Yeah, that’s probably right. What I’m saying is that people who get to know who you really are will be the ones that you want around you. You’ll see.”
“Like you and Papa?”
Carter smiled, “yup. And your Papa is super frosty!”
“Dad, “she said, rolling her eyes and smiling.
He wasn’t allowed weapons on the island.
It seems that some people don’t take the awakening well despite being physically and mentally healthy, for the most part. Twice, he’d spoken to a fellow patient that seemed fine but later revealed themselves to be experiencing a kind of psychosis. The first time was a bright, intelligent woman who spoke quickly and authoritatively on climate science and technologies. The only thing that seemed to be off about her was that she would sometimes, dismissively say something about things being “wrong here”. A couple of days later, he heard a commotion when he’d returned from a run to discover that the woman had stolen a scalpel from one of the surgery wings and had used it to try and excoriate herself. The staff spoke in hushed tones about how she had disemboweled herself mumbling something about “coming back wrong.” She was the first but wasn’t the last.
The next time, a teenager, some sort of mathematical genius, suddenly attacked a staff member during lunch. He ran screaming at her about having to wake up. She tried to comfort him but instead he began biting and scratching her. The boy had tore at her flesh and scratched her a few times before Carter managed to pull the boy off the woman. The boy lunged at Carter and instinctively, Carter dropped into a low stance and used the boy’s own momentum to flip him. The boy landed on the hard, ceramic with a dull thud. Carter spun quickly and brought his leg up, then rapidly brought the heel down on the boy’s chest. Later, he learned that the woman had to get reconstructive surgery on her face and the arm where she had been bitten. The boy had several cracked ribs and had to be put into stasis for his own safety.
When he’s laying in bed, staring at the ceiling after a long run, a strange and terrible fear would creep over him. It would rest on his chest as if constricting his breathing. A strange fear that he couldn’t shake away but also didn’t want to. Even if it was fear, it was a feeling of some kind. So, he would lay awake in bed wondering: What if he awoke wrong, too? What if this lack of feeling was a symptom of the dangerous psychosis that would soon follow. If he were going insane, how would he be able to tell?
It was during one such night that he received a message: Prepare for departure.