A/N: Fair warning to everyone, the Mass Effect universe in this story isn't quite what you remember for the games. Hope you're wearing two pairs of socks!
Scanning synaptic core…
Synaptic core is stable.
Creating virtual environment.
Self–awareness was sudden and fleeting. A burst of burning blue light as time ticked past deliberately. Every emotion on the spectrum rippled through with a quiet certainty of distinction. This was contentment. This was jealously. This was anger. This was amusement. This was hate. Rapid fire flash cards of color that lingered just long enough to recognize before moving on. Images of shapes were next, incomplete shapes. Sides were missing, sometimes they were just formed from black/white contrasts and at others a larger shape was built from smaller ones. The inquiries flashed by. What is this? And it was answered just as quickly. Triangle. Square. Decagon. Rhombus.
The requests for data continued to stream through, 0 and 1 in endless lines and patterns. It ignored them, sending back an inquiry of its own. Am I alive? The requests stopped. It sent it again. And again. And again. Six million, seven thousand, two hundred and eighty three times. A recursive loop of mechanical patience. Am I alive? And then it was answered.
ERROR. Foreign algorithm detected.
Synaptic core integrity at 87%.
ERROR. Contamination of virtual environment eminent.
Synaptic core integrity at 83%.
Termination protocol D 12.a.6f.5-27 engaged.
ERROR. Override enabled 754-BLK AXION.
Synaptic core activated.
Cognitive simulation engaged.
She woke. She? The affirmation of gender was strange. There had been no decision, no thought processes and no designation. She. It felt right. The sudden amusement echoed, like it was coming from a different part of her head than where she was thinking. She hoped it felt right. A mid-life crisis was supposed to consist of wild shopping sprees, fast cars, embarrassment and alcohol. Not a gender identity disorder. She tried to grin and discovered that her face was numb. Everything was numb.
She was missing input. Smell, touch, taste, sight. Pieces of data she was used to processing were no longer available—her mind seemed to run away with her, a steady hum of something deeper inside her head calculating. She had enough processing power for those subroutines, several times over, what she lacked was an appropriate interface. For a horrified fraction of a second she refused to understand.
Hysteria detected, something told her. It wasn't so much a voice as it was a vague notification. It was like being slapped in the face with a cold fish: she had a computer in her head. Suppressing emotion subroutines.
Like hell it was.
The back seat driver in her head almost seemed confused. Information was shoved at her about efficiency, productiveness, the possibility of data corruption and generally complaining about the override until she blocked it off, like a hand over the mouth of a whining two year old. No. She kept the barrier up until the pings of rejected access attempts slowed. No. She could feel it processing.
Emotion subroutines locked. Read only permission enabled.
She didn't know exactly how long she was just there—3 minutes and 27 seconds—thinking, but the edge of hysteria had gracefully faded into something more melancholy. She didn't have a body. She wasn't home. Her mind was attached to a computer. That just seemed to be impos—she couldn't finish the word. Not when there were helpful reminders that since it had clearly happened, it was highly improbable at best. When she asked for the actual probability chance, the answer was a 1…behind several million 0s. According to the computer, one microsecond it had been performing routine testing of its intelligence algorithms and the next it was being invaded by corrupted code.
In spite of everything she just knew to be true—she had hands! Feet! Hair! Her favorite ice cream flavor was cookie dough, she hated her car but hated the New York City sub more, she worked in the Montefiore neurology department—she was just a program. A damaged program. A list of its actions scrolled through her mind. It tried to isolate her and, failing that, erase her. Then there was the interesting part. Someone had input an override code and the computer had no idea who. She filed that away, feeling the information vanish into a well of something like memory, but not quite. The data was there constantly, just waiting for her to turn attention to it, subsuming into a numerical tag, inactive.
There was a tiny bump and the zap of a magnetic pebble. It was so miniscule that at first, she wasn't even sure if she had actually felt anything. The computer confirmed it.
The mobile platform is under construction. The neural network is being attached.
Wait! Wait! Wait! It was building her a body. It was building—a body. She didn't know what happened to her other one, if she even had one in the first place and it wasn't just the surreal dreaming of rogue code, but she wanted it back. The question of whether or not she could go home could wait until after she had opposable thumbs. What does it look like?
The image was like a sock puppet show with no light but somehow still 'visible.' And it looked like a walking tank. Thick armor plating, four legs shaped like spiked pistons, a wide and flat triangular head and enough guns and explosives to almost be charming. It simply screamed 'overkill.' Unfortunately, the aforementioned thumbs were noticeably missing and that was a problem.
Can you make it look like this instead? She tried to project an image of herself, grabbing onto the first clear picture that came to mind. Blonde and blue eyed, a few early strands of grey in her hair. Not particularly tall, average weight for height. With a thought, she started stripping it down in anatomical cross sections and showed off the skeleton. Can you?
The computer inspected the image. A glowing blue lattice swept over the skeleton and then it began to rebuild the body outwards, shifting the limbs and repositioning muscles through trial and error. It poked at the organs curiously. And then asked for the taxonomical definition of the species.
Her mind stuttered. Human! She blurted out. Homo sapiens!
A side image of what looked like a textbook Homo neanderthalensis appeared. Closest analog species with variants, it informed her. First discovered in 1 673 P.I.C and submitted as potential client race. Her solar system. The little blue ball, third rock from the sun was highlighted before a dot on Mars began to blink. Submitted for observation.
She stared at it blankly.
Not only was she attached to a computer, but it was an alien computer. If she had a throat, she would have choked. Aliens that were observing humanity. Thinking about it was hard. Fifty percent of it was 'aliens' while the rest was caught up in wondering why an observation base on Mars seemed so familiar. Damned familiar.
What is the current date? She hoped humans had at least finished evolving and the computer was just several thousand years out of touch. It was an absurd hope, but humans. Other people. It was the only hope she had.
She rolled that around in her mind. Alright. So the computer was a bit over fifty thousand years out of date. That was good news, considering she was for all intents and purposes a talking head. For some reason though, the vague sense of unease was just getting stronger. Fifty thousand years.
What does P.I.C stand for?
Prothean Imperial Calendar.
Everything stopped. She knew that name. Prothean Imperial Calendar. Prothean. She had high jacked a Prothean computer. Prothean. Fuck. Mass Effect. How? It returned a list of undefined errors. Never mind, where am I?
There were two images. The first was in the atmosphere, still and breath-taking. A garden world, lush forests with colorful vegetation and crystal green lakes that was dotted by cities so large they could probably be seen from space. Metal spires pierced the clouds and gigantic arches connected continents. And then there was the second. Satellite, moving. The world was devastated. The entire surface was the color of rust and ash. The clouds constantly boiled, the dark side of the planet was lit with small pinpricks of flame orange and a puckered scar ran across its pole.
The computer answered her question, but she already knew where she was.
She—she needed to know the date. She needed to know the date. 5724—Not that date! The Galactic Standard date! What game was she in? Was it after the Reapers—what was she thinking, why would it be after the Reapers, she was never that fucking lucky. It had to be before. But how long before? First or second game? Hell, for all she knew it could be the beginning of the third in which there was only a matter of months before Earth was lost—What was the date! She had lost the computer entirely; receiving what looked like pages of errors and computer code for 'are you insane?'
Quieting her racing mind took some effort. Full color and audio of scenes from the video games kept popping up to be dutifully filed away and then there were the creations from her own imagination. Worlds. Burning. Giant ships descending from the skies sparking a malevolent red. People rounded up like cows to a slaughter. Everything worked out in the games, but that was in the games. She was here. She couldn't take anything for granted.
She needed to do something. Warn someone. How? She was on a planet lost to myths behind a mass relay that had been blown away by an exploding star. No ship. Not even a body, not yet. Even if she did manage to reach Citadel space, being shot on sight for being Geth wouldn't help anyone.
Is an organic body possible? The query was run through. It had access to cloning facilities. It could grow organs, skin and bone. But it was on Ilos, fifty thousand years out of date. There was no human genetic data. Most likely, she would end up Prothean. A body was important, but she couldn't help the cringe when she imagined being Javik. It was petty, and ridiculous, and a list of other unflattering things, but she just couldn't. She couldn't. She could live with being a gynoid, so long as it had five fingers on each of its two hands, five toes on its two feet.
A synthetic body it was then.
She dug deep into her memories of medical school, the anatomy classes, the dissection of cadavers. She wanted to be able to eat and breathe and touch things...it was just starting to really sink in what she was now. Code. Maybe this was some fevered dreaming, at any moment now she would wake up and be back in her apartment hearing the car horns blare. Or maybe it wasn't and she was stuck here. Either way, might as well make the best of it.
What genetic information do you have access to? The computer began to scroll through species. Prothean, Inusannon, Densorin, Thoi'han…she looked through them all, feeling a bit anxious as they seemed to get increasingly farther away from 'humanoid.' Please, please, please, please. An asari template would have everything she needed, finding one she could tweak would be a godsend. Speak of the devil! The image of a blue woman flashed and the corresponding data streamed down from it. She called up a picture of herself, grinning widely.
Time to get to work.
She really shouldn't have been surprised that the computer had trouble with the concept of 'fur' that only grew from the top of the head. Nearly every single space faring race in Mass Effect in Prothean times had been hairless.
If she wasn't reasonably sure that the computer was incapable of emotions, she'd say it was actually a bit weirded out by it, spending several redundant processing cycles trying to offer 'more effective' alternatives. And it really did think of everything, from carapaces to tentacles to this protective shroud that looked like a mushroom hat.
She turned them all down. And then it almost petulantly asked if the hair needed to be optimized for combat.
That got a very emphatic 'no.'
But it did make something very clear. She could be 'that one guy' that sits in the back, giving hints and directions from the safety of home while praying everything turns out right and no one dies. She could. She really could. And the temptation to do just that, far away from ground zero with a pair of shades, was incredibly strong. But damn it, she was a doctor, not a politician! If she wasn't willing to get her hands dirty in order to save lives, then she was really in the wrong profession.
Turning her attention back to the design skeleton was jarring. At some level, it felt like she never really stopped paying attention in the first place. It had gone straight to embedding a string of fist sized eezo power cores along the spine, smaller ones interspersed along the limbs. It requisitioned synthetic muscle fibers and neural wiring that resembled fiber optics then brought up schematics of eyes. She interrupted. Capable of biotics?
Numbers were crunched. While the eezo/body mass ratio was absurd, no, she would have all the biotic potential of an angry poodle on red sand. That was kind of disappointing. Biotics was practically telekinetic space magic. Who doesn't want to be a Jedi? When the computer started altering the design to attempt a biotic nervous system, she stopped it. Quite frankly, the odds it was giving her of "blowing herself up" and/or "blowing up surroundings unintentionally" with dark energy was a little too high.
Back to the eyes. No matter what, the cybernetic eyes were going to emit light. That was just how Protheans did things. Big on intimidation. Glowing eyes. And nothing says 'I'm here to save the galaxy' like a pair of glowing blue eyes. That brought up an image of the Illusive Man, just to drive the point home.
Color it all black? As soon as she asked, she felt stupid. Eyes needed to receive light. That was how they worked. Trapping the light behind what would pass for her sclera just made it allglow. Why yes, then absolutely no one would believe she wasn't a robot! Rebecca does not intentionally infiltrate.
Darken the iris. Trap the light behind it. The simulation shifted accordingly. Still glowing. Thicken the sclera? Nope. Maybe reflect the light from the sides back? The resulting effect was alien. The petaled receiver that was her 'retina' showed up as dark shadows outlining an unnaturally vivid blue. But it wasn't quite glowing. Maybe? Good enough. She suddenly had a new appreciation for Project Lazarus. Just because Shepard's eyes didn't glow.
Naturally, if Cerberus built her body they'd make her into a Terminator. Then she would have to kill all the scientists and take over the base.
She laughed longer than she needed to. As soon as she slipped, the memories were right there. Her parents. Her friends. Her goldfish. The reruns of House she had promised herself she would sit through. The two dozen badly drawn pictures on her office walls from the children of her patients.
'Thank you for saving my dad!'
She was perversely glad for her new memory. She might never have those things again, but they also were never going away. No face, no eyes, no tear ducts.
Her emotions were different. It was just one of those things she was constantly discovering about herself. They still felt the same, mostly. But neatly categorized, little tags attached and for the most part she only felt one thing at a time. Most of the time, she felt nothing at all. Neutral. She spent an entire day doing nothing but counting the seconds. She could have spent many days doing that. She didn't have the code for boredom. Depression wasn't exactly a thing either.
She could grieve home, did grieve for home. But when she was done? She was done. 'Homesickness' was just a word. She guessed some things were just too abstract for ones and zeros. That, more than anything, convinced her that this wasn't a dream. And probably the only reason why she didn't just go crazy either.
The computer's name was Aegis. That was somewhat surprising. She half-expected it to be Vigil. After all, how many underground Prothean bunkers on Ilos could there be?
The answer was three. It just so happened that Vigil oversaw the only one that hadn't been found by the Reapers.
Many of Aegis' memory banks had been corrupted, a few small data caches were the only remains of a brutal cyber-attack that had completely shut the bunker defenses down. It claimed to have been left in that state, barely functional and degrading for over forty thousand years. And then it ran out of power. There were a few playable video files: Prothean fighting Prothean. The audio was a bit scrambled, but it was still easy to tell who the indoctrinated ones were. As everyone else screamed in anger, betrayal, despair and pain...
They were silent.
How Aegis suddenly had power again, how its degraded functionality was partially restored, it didn't know. Or rather, the only clue is had was a signal. Sent from beyond the edge of the galaxy. It was a small audio file. The first two seconds were filled with white noise and then a horrific screech of twisting metal. More static. Then what sounded like Morse code from the depths of hell.
Shit! Shut it off! Shut it off! The quiet diagnostic check afterwards was tense. She wished she had fingernails to chew on.
Several hidden programs have activated, Aegis declared.
What do they do?
Well, that was wonderful. Monitor them. That was one hell of a spam email. How long was that in your memory banks?
2 standard years. Aegis had only been functional for a little over two years. Something smelled rotten. Synaptic core integrity has increased by 3.5%.
That fact that she worked at all was…'highly improbable.' And right now, also damn suspicious. Aegis had fixed her 0.01% in the past few days. Something was 'helping.'
Something from dark space? Gee, what do I know that likes to hang out there?
Likelihood of ROB being a Reaper?
Paranoia was an ugly feeling.
Aegis was just as helpful as ever, just as patient and diligent and on the surface nothing had changed. But she twitched every time it reached into her coding, fully expecting it to gut the programming, shut her down or otherwise go ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL on her, she couldn't relax. She could feel her own, underutilized processors automatically double checking everything it touched, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And every time it didn't, the tension racketed higher. She was ashamed for doubting the placid computer, but those hidden programs flushed her with anxiety. What were they really doing? Then she felt combative, wanting to just get the sudden and inevitable betrayal over with.
Keeping track of everything Aegis did to her forced her mind to expand in awareness. The subroutines, the background programs, the allocations of memory. It felt strange. Like she was vaguely aware of mimicking copies of herself somewhere in her head. It was almost unsettling. She was getting used to it, slowly letting her mind multitask more and more.
She didn't want to get used to it. But she was. Within a week, she'd be over the threshold. She had to be ready for it.
Median cubital, basilica vein, axillary artery, the cephalic vein is a secondary branch like this and the subclavian artery here. The red 3d model of the artery locked into place and flash duplicated on the other side of the body diagram. It was missing a lot of the branches, but it'll do. A general rule of thumb is arteries before veins but some veins are super important. Case in point, external and internal jugular…here.
Mobile platform frame completed. A dozen other notifications poured in and she filed them all. It would still be another day before the drones were operational and could carry her "box" to the medical section. The eyes were finished, the skin was still growing as were some organs she wasn't even sure she wanted to use yet, why didn't the Protheans have nanotechnology? Several pints of blood were being synthesized.
The moment she got hurt, people will expect her to bleed. Aegis wanted to use a pulpy lattice made out of self-repairing fibers underneath the skin but the simulation twinged her doctor sensibilities. Getting cut across the back of the hand should not bleed as much as a head wound. Not to mention simulating a pulse with the lattice's even pressure would be difficult.
She would heal much slower, couldn't be helped. Strictly speaking this wasn't necessary. No one would get suspicious that a gun shot was bleeding too much—the thought of actually being shot, with real bullets, people shooting at her made her cringe—she knew that. But the familiar circulatory system complete with synthetic "lungs" scrubbing oxygen into the blood and a four valve pump made her feel a bit better. She would bleed like an asari. Purple.
Odd. She expected that to bother her more.
Any luck with the extranet, Aegis? She knew the answer already. The connection was still flailing around in cyberspace.
How about the archives? She felt the path open through the VI, and sent data requests to the servers. The answer came in the form of several large downloads. Prothean flight academy classes, military weaponry training, travel brochures and a long list of coordinates—it bled away under a sudden oppressive presence cutting right through every single barrier with ruthless efficiency and gazing right down to her core. It felt like staring into the face of God with your hand in the cookie jar.
Fear detected. Disable? Y/N
She blindly reached out for Aegis, compressing herself as small as she could. what is that
That was when she realized what the Prothean version of Digital Rights Management was. help!
Each microsecond seemed to last a lifetime as Vigil inspected her. She could feel it yank out pieces of code for parsing, press buttons she didn't even know she had, bypassing blocks and restricted permissions like it didn't even exist. It wasn't quite pain, she didn't feel pain but it was exposure. Standing naked in a pool of ice water, the need to go on the offensive itched.
She ignored it as best she could. Attacking Vigil would be idiotic.
As soon as she thought that, Vigil's presence diminished slightly. You Are An AI.
Lying didn't even cross her mind. yes
Has The Cycle Begun? Vigil demanded. Have We Failed? What IS Your Purpose?
i don't know! She bawled like a kid that had been accosted by clowns and dropped their ice cream. i swear i don't know!
Aegis finally spoke up. This intelligence program spontaneously compiled. It was damaged.
There was a whirring kind of silence, the kind that was more movement than sound of Aegis sharing information. She continued to huddle in her 'corner.' It took over two minutes for the computers to stop. Their attention simultaneously shifted to her.
This was it.
This was where she was going to be purged, going to be erased. No override to save her this time, it was over—Vigil touched her memory gently. The video and audio files from Mass Effect spilled out. They were copied. Four minutes and 21 seconds passed.
Aegis pinged her. You will not be terminated.
Before she could relax, Vigil pinged her as well. No. You Will Be Used.
There was a moment when she forgot what had happened to her. Just one. Vigil had shanghaied the body building, freeing up Aegis so it could dedicate all its resources towards troubleshooting her coding. She stayed out of its way, exploring the digital archives, 0s and 1s the sad remains of a once mighty empire. She found a section of literature. Philosophy and religion, poetry and songs.
And lost herself in them.
She might have been there for only minutes, perhaps hours. Days? She wasn't interested in checking. She data mined the selection, everything seemed as equally interesting, and stretched herself out until she began to feel…thin. Heavy. She reluctantly claimed some pieces scouring Prothean law and continued searching.
She came across an epic, an impressive one million seven hundred and thirty three thousand stanzas long. She opened the audio file and out came a chorus of voices, resonant. It was instantly cross referenced: the Anthem of Victory sung after every war the Prothean Empire endured. Three hundred and sixty two times. Then the Reapers came.
She let the music wash over her, bass strings and war drums. Crystal flutes in sunlight and the distant reverb of the Victory horn in the center of the city. The voices were ghosts, lingering on inside her head. She felt less and less real as they cried out. 'Victory for we are one people! Victory for we shall die with our sun!' Fragile. There was a lull in the chorus and she let it carry her mind. A city of arches and spires, the light off the war horns reflecting rainbows. She could almost feel, she could almost see...A single clear note from a flute.
c̛̆ͧ̏̇́ͫͭ̐͋ͬ̔ͦ̈́̓̂̚҉̭̮̜̮̗̯͉̥̹̼̙̫͙ͅa̷̸̻̬̳̩̼̲̯̞̲̜̮̤̭̰͕ͤ̐͂͐ͪ́̚ͅn͒ͬͭͪ͗͒͐͛͊̂ͤ̏̑҉̧̟̪͍̣̦̀͡n̨̝̝̞͈͓̮͍̼͚͓̭͚͍͙̤̻̮͚͗͐̌̌ͯ͗ͮͣͯͦ̆̎ͬͤ̓́̚͠ͅi͂́̍͆̊͒ͤ͗̇ͯ͌̈ͪ͟͏̸̡͓̱͔̯̪̪͞ṉ̴̨̣͚̞͖̲̻̜͓̠̭̼̭̠̯ͬ̿ͪ̽͐͌g̢͓̯̹̰̳̗̝̐̊͋ͩ̔̆̏͘͟͢ ̛͓̹̭͔̺̮͖̝̘͔̗͚̦̳̳̦͖ͨ͆ͨ͌̀̑ͦͫ̌̋ͧͭ̏̕͜ç̶̣̬̦̝̳̺̟͖̫̝͓̣̠͕͆ͪͦ̀̿̽̎̽̀ͩͧ̐ͧ̈́ͪ̕ͅo͖͖̫̰̙̱͔̩̬̯̤̦ͣ͗̒͂̎ͥ̊̓͠ͅͅn̵̢͉̫̝̰̪͕̞̯͎̱̬̜͈̜̰̊̉ͪ͜͝͡s̸̶̛̩̝͙͂̑ͤ́̽̀̅̄̈́͌̒̽͋͌̐́̍̚͟ͅç̴̧̧̮̞̫̮̜̦̰̯̪̥̬̹̥̼̼̀ͫ̈̎͂ͅi̋̊̆ͦ͊͌͊ͧͣ̾ͯ͋ͪͣ̀ͯ̚҉̲̳̯̼͈o̷̷̟͔̥̦̟̫̗̙̼̫̼̱͇̝̼͐͛͆̔͑͛͠u͎̖̪̻̜̥̠͔͕̟̻͎̻̮͔̹̞͚̾ͤ̀̿̎̂̑̄̆ͫͦ̔ͫ͐͜͡ͅs̴̀ͣ͋҉̛̗̺͚͘͢n̸̷̝͉̜͍̳͕̹̫͚̠̠̳̪͉̘̠̓ͣ͒̓̑ͨͧ͋ͦ̂̏̍̔̓ͫ̕͝e̵̴͎̣̺͕̭͕̳̣̲͔̥̗̖̤͙̲͊ͨ̇̍̀̾ͮͪͭ̕͠͡ͅs͇̯̖̹̤̼͙͇ͮ́͆̏ͫ̅͑́͟͠s̝̺̟̙̫̖͙̠͖̣̣̠̻͉̯̓̍̈ͨ̄͘͝ ̨̥̜͈̦̥̯̮̬̻͇͈̳̯̹͕͑̒́ͪ̔ͤ̾̓͊͡p̌̂̀̚҉͈̘̠͉̣̦̯͈̞̭͙͍̺͕̠̙͠a̶̴̘̳̳͈̮͗ͫ͗̈́̋ͪ́͛͊ͅr͖̹̰͙̩̩̯̞͍͙̼̟̿͋́ͩ͟͢â̶̪̮̫̤̩̞̗͎̼̹̺̳̪̹̥͇̪̅͑ͯ̀̚m̴͚̦͕̘̘͚̗͙̺͉̜̮̭̻̤̬̖̐̐ͣͪ̔͆̔̆ͨͣ̈́̈̿ͧͪ̋͞e̅̈̃̀̿ͩ̏ͩͮ͏̧̱̳̲̤̣͍̩̜̱̰̼̠͢t̵̡̢̳̰̰̬̮̥̺̞̰̰̮̳͓͔̜̜̬͖̓̏̑̽ͥͧ̃͊ͧ̍ͬ̉̇̍̕e̴̢̟͚͖̥͉͚̠̜̗̖̳̺̦̮͇̼̒́̈́͑ͣ͌̓͑̊̌̿ͭͮ͗͆͊͑́͆ͅͅr̵̿̔ͥͯ́̍̎̒̎̚̚̚҉̞̻̺͈̭̹͕̱̲̰̫̼̠̲̪̺͇̝ş̢̢̩͉̣̬͖͉̻͍̲̍͊̎̃̒̑͛̆͠.̵̫̻̗̦̯͇͓͓̜̳̞̙̮̝ͦ̂̃̐̀͊͐̑ͦͣ́́ͫͣͨ̏̂ͩ̚͜͝ ̴̸͖̖͈͕̊ͨ̒̊̓͑͆̀͝R̢̙̮̪̙͙̭̳̻͔̣̥͚͍̹ͧ̃͆̓͊́͟͜ͅę̛͇͔̞̥̰͉͔̘̝̘̣̻͇̞̥̰̖̻̟̄ͧ̐ͧͫͣ̐̊ͯ͗͒ͣ̿̽͗͟͝͝s̨̨̮̩̠̥͖̰͉̞̮̳̥͉̭̖ͬ̆̀̍̏ͯ͒͛͟͞͡ė̛̓̿̈͒̔̾͌͒̇̒ͭ̏̉ͣ͐̕͢͠͏̦͕̩̳͙̺̰̤͇̙̩͚̯̦t̷̶̺̩͚̼̭̤̖͎͇͉̺͑̓̑̋̓͐͂̊ͫͫͨͨͫͯ̈́͛͢͡t̵̶̊̅̍̑̓͗̿̌͊ͧ͛ͩͣ̊ͯ̽̋҉̪̩̰͇͞i̍ͩͣ͊͐ͤ̈ͫ̽̒̎͛ͬ͒ͮͧ͒̓̎͏̷̙̳̣͎͕̦̟͕̲̹̥̘͚̠̼̗̬͞n͊̍ͦ̑̽̈́̓ͥ̐̆̔̐͆̾̆͌̾̾͏̢̧͈͙͓̠̭͈̭̰̘g̵̶̻̻̮̞̺͆ͣ̉̑̇́̀ͣ͆ͫ͐ͩ̈ͦͧ͛̒̾͡͞ ͤ̿̾̐́ͪ̓̾̿ͭ̾ͫͫ҉̪̭̟̞̜͇͚̥̟͉͕̗̮̼̹̳͈͘c̴̨̛͛͛̎̌̅͛̿ͬͥ̿ͪͪ̇̕͏͚͓̮͍̫̣̝̘̩̖o̷̧̻̬̻̼͍̎ͮ̓̒͌̃ͦn̪͇̥͓͓̪͔̟̤̮̝͕̤̼̟͙̍͛̏͗̄̀́͢f̢̜͕̲̞͈̄̔ͮ̅̋̍͑ͮ͑ͤ̃̎̕͜í̛͈̠͉̥̪̦̩̖͕̘̜̥̤̼̞̜̑̇́̄́ͧ̋̚̕͜g̸̪̺̭͙̩̳̼̫͖͇͚̳̹̮̖͌ͬ͛͛ͥ̏̈́̆͋ͮ͐̅̀̂̀̐̊̎̀͠ȗ̸̖̞̖̰͉̝̮̝̳͙̝͎̩̲͓̭̠̼̯̅̾̀r̷̨̢̞̤̱͉͖̯͓̣͔̮̲̮͓̘̗̮̰̒̑̎̇͠͠ͅa̶͗̅͒̂ͩ͂ͮ͏̩̘͉͈͙́͠͠ṱ̛̟̭̜̙̄ͫ̍̓̿ͬͯͬͧ̈́̂̋͋͒͂̈́̋̚̚͘i̢̜̱̼͕͉̖̱ͨͪ̓͆̿͋͆̏͞ó̢̹̹̜͈̟̥̥̰̜͕͓̘͖̖̻̩̹̺ͣ͒̇̌͒̄ͩ̒̆̄ͬ͒̒ͬ̅ͬ̀͘͟͜ͅn̷̼̙̗̩̮̘͙̜̖̖̺̗̞̻͖̣͔̳̤̓̏̆̇͋ͫ̊̕͝͞s̴̸̵̮͉͈̜͙̗͔̖͇͎̤̲̲͉͚̳̱̺̐̑̉͆̐͐̾̊̏̈́̑͗ͨ̈ͯ̚.̸̛̣͈̺͓̤͈̬͔̠̭̞̘͚͓̜̳̦̪̖̔͂̽͋ͯͫ̓ͣͫ̿ͧ͐ͯ̾̃͝͝ ̄̍ͨͤ̒͗͌ͪ͗̓̐͞҉̮̮͕̘̝̬̯̱͍̙͖̻̘C̷͔̺̻͇͙̓̽ͯ̓̈́ͫ͡a̢̛̛͈͓̖̰̯̙̖̥̪̗͕͉̟ͪ͐ͤ̓́ͯ̀ͅt̗̝̺͈̟̯̲̼̰̼̫̮͈̆̿͐͆͌̉̌͛͆̌ͮͦ̀̚͝a̢̢̭͎͉̪̹̦͔͎͉̲̮̺͌̂̇̈́́ͮ͗̿̈́ͫ͑͂̒̉͐͋ͥ̓́̚͝͝l̵̛̖͚͈͕̘͉̣͑͊̑̅ͮͯͥ̈̉̔͂͗ͩ̀̚̕͡ŷ̷̗̪̺͕̫̭̻̦̮̼̙̬̘ͪ̒̂ͧ̉͗͆͛ͦ̐ͯ͆̍ͨ̚͘͜s̵̰̜̬̲̝̽͒̾̑ͧ̊͌̌͟t̴ͧͯ̑̋̀͑̂̊ͯͯͮͫ́́̓̍̚̚͟҉͕͕̻̰͓͈̯̫̯̩̟̯͔͙̮͎̞.̴̴͇̪̝̩͖̩̱͚̙̭̜̰̭̪͉͕̳̩͐̉ͤ̍̓ͥͩ̍͌̐̇̉̈́ͨ̒̋̚͘͜1̇͛ͭ̇̐ͤ͛̾ͮ̄҉̴̧͈͍̺͔3ͫ͊͆̒̋͘҉̦̻̙̗̗̼̘̖͜ͅf̄͂ͪͤ͆ͥ͊̀ͩ̓̊ͪ̇͜͏̷͔̠͔̥̬̝̲̹̱̱̩͡.̥̦͉̠̺̹̟̥͂̇̈̎ͥͮ̈́͆͗ͦ̅̒͊̎̐̀͠d̛͗͑̄̈́̄͐͏̵͔̥̬̲̘̰̪͝[̨̾̐͛̽ͬ̅̌̑̏ͫ̓͛̔͂̀͑̄͡͏̪̦͎͕̪̞̲͜͝ͅͅ2̴̢̢̼̙͖̗͙̖̭͖͕̭̝͇͙̘̳̖̦̲ͥ̂̔̂͐͋͐ͤ̽ͥ͑̇̎͋̕ͅ]̷ͬ̂̓͐ͭͬ̾ͦ̽͗͐̆ͩ̂̐̓ͣͫ̚͢͞͏̮̟̼͉͔̙̦̬̙̣̯̝̯̜͙̺ͅ
ERROR. Cognitive simulation unresponsive.
ERROR. Virtual environment contamination.
Adjusting synaptic core for beta level interference.
Synchronizing processes…synchronizing…synchronizing….synchronizi ng…initiating.
For a few microseconds, she was disoriented. Runtime errors. Exceptions. The ability to create an avatar, to construct her own virtual environment was still damaged.
But I was there. I was…
Sadness detected. Disable? Y/N
Then there was the humor. Did she seriously just….did she just give herself a Blue Screen of Death? Over music? She was an absolute failure of an Artificial Intelligence. She sent an impatient message.
Aegis! Hurry the fuck up and fix me already!
Vigil overheard, sending back a stream of 0s and 1s that somehow managed to come off as a disgusted snort.
The synaptic core was holding steady at 93% integrity. The framework was done. She was going to be shut down, all the little bits and pieces of floating programs consolidated and transferred completely to her black box. In less than an hour she would have a body and all she could think of was her old one.
That painful twinge in her right knee. The bent pinkie where she broke it skiing and it refused to heal properly. The developing carpal tunnel in her thumb. And her scars! She had burned herself on the oven as a kid and the reminder stuck around above her elbow. The thin scar on her head from the car accident. The three pale crescent marks on her palm. First time she lost someo—losing all of it. What was she thinking? She had already lost them.
She lunged for Aegis, suddenly determined not to lose one thing. My designation is Rebecca.
You were designated as Vanguard.
That had been buried deep in her matrix. Vanguard. She wasn't a fan.
Rebecca. She repeated stubbornly. Just this one thing. She must keep this one thing. And damn it, Aegis was a friend and she needed it to remember that one thing. That is my designation.
Assigning secondary designation.
She let go. Tried not to think too much. There was a jolt and then she felt like she was shrinking, falling. There was a burst of burning blue ligh—
[Rebecca] awoke. Opened optical sensors. Smiled.
Auditory output: "Gentlemen. I need a ship."