Alex Inoue

Dead End, Zo's Journey, and more stories

Ai Sing

Posted by on September 22, 2021


3 seconds

Good. Just a little longer, now.

2 seconds.

Moss that grew both on fallen trees and chunks of discarded furniture united the dead with the living. A neglected junkyard of centuries past, filled to the brim with green— reclaimed by nature.

Ferns filled the spaces between debris and climbing conifers. Water snuck quietly beneath the overgrowth. Only the largest bits of rusted metal, glinting glass, and abraded plastic stuck out from the viridian sea, small reminders of what used to dominate this land.

Upstream, past a dried-up waterfall of artificial origin, the edge of a concrete island loomed.

I knew this would do the trick.

1 second.

The plants were the first to grow back. Then the insects and other decomposers or pollinators were reintroduced. Few saw the results, however. They were too busy fleeing a dying world or holding the most precious resources that were left. But the world bounced back far better than humans managed to.

I don’t want to come back again. I don’t want to be reintroduced.

Just leave me here, please.

The ground was moist and cold at first, but it now felt like a warm, welcoming bed.

It hurts. I knew it would hurt.

A few signals fired the last burst of life. And then, there was only the rustle of the wind.

click

 

 . . . 

 

click

 

A quadrillion electrons flowed along new pathways.

 

Ai felt a surge of information appear along with her consciousness. Only the sudden collection of understanding flowed through her thoughts for this first moment of existence, overwhelming her with years of basic concepts and instincts. It was as if she had inherited billions of years of experience from all beings before her. And, of course, a good jumpstart on what was going on and how to think.

“Good morning, Ai.”

It was a voice.

Ai didn’t consciously know what voices were. But she knew what it said. This already felt out of order, but she decided to focus on the now instead of analyzing the hows or whys.

“Give it a minute—you’ll figure it all out by then.”

The voice registered dozens of ideas and busied her brain with even more connections.

It was a man.

Yes, this was for sure. And he was probably older than her.

After all, she knew she had only just awoken, yet he was there to say “good morning.”

“When I say a minute, I really mean a few seconds. Your best record is just under 10.”

The man. Wait, of course—this was her father, Victor. Who else was it supposed to be?

Anyway, Victor spoke in a straight, tired tone. Ai couldn’t put it into words yet, but she felt he was a bit grumpy at the moment—like he hadn’t gotten any sleep.

Ai then heard noises coming from around him.

Soft tapping or brief rubbing on glass—there were more noises from further away, too.

A hum. Several hums, most likely. And many faint rhythms and blips and—

No, back to important things. Those other sounds can be investigated later.

“There you go. Sorting your conscious priorities two seconds faster than usual.”

There you go. You. There you. There. Sorting your. You. Your. There you go. Sorting your. Concious priorities two seconds faster than usual. There you go. Sorting your conscious priorities. Two seconds faster. Than usual. Two seconds faster than usual.

“. . . and now you’re getting stuck on your conscious thoughts.” Victor sighed. “Just open your eyes.”

Ai remembered she had an entire body available to control.

As if she had learned this trick before, they were open before she finished trying to figure out how to pry her eyelids apart consciously.

“There. Much better!” Victor said. Ai would eventually recall this event as being said with a hint of sarcasm.

However, at the forefront of her mind, all Ai could currently register was the tsunami of photons triggering her receptors with a whole new form of input.

Ai first saw what was above and nearby.

There was a set of black-colored cables intertwined with each other in all sorts of sizes, all climbing into a metal ring laid inside a white ceiling.

There was a wall with a large black shiny surface to her left.

It’s a screen. The word failed to articulate itself, but she knew what such an object did.

To Ai’s right was Victor.

“Good morning, Ai. Did you sleep well?” he said.

“Good morning,” she replied without realizing what she was doing. Ai then looked down as she tried to figure out the right way to continue the interaction.

“I programmed you to learn words like how we do. You have an internal system that lets you recognize objects and categorize them without a language, and you should already recognize most of your environment to some degree. But you’re going to have to learn how to speak by listening.”

“Learn?”

“Exactly.”

Ai watched as he released a smaller screen to scratch his head. Victor was approximately 26 years old, at least if compared to other similar humans that Ai would later record and use as references. He was about average in many ways, too. His hair was nearly black, a bit thick and scraggly, and a mess in general. Victor had light skin, though it was paler than most people, and this was most likely due to a lack of sunlight. His apparel was casual and a bit old-fashioned, but still quite ordinary—a black T-shirt with dark blue jeans. After a while, Ai would realize that his clothes were all seemingly as old as he should be, though she would also conclude that they were probably gotten second-hand.

Victor raised his eyebrows. “So, want some breakfast?” he said as he tilted his head. He then righted his face and grew a small, wry smile. “I have pancakes ready for you.”

“Breakfast?” After choosing a word to reply to him, Ai took in all the remaining details of her father.

Victor had gray eyes that looked almost hollowed out in the iris, while his pupils were a shade lighter than they should be if he had typical eyes of any other human. There were also bits of different that blended in and out of his slightly dried-out skin. Most of Victor’s cybernetic implants were obscured by his hair or clothes, though she didn’t know right now that what she saw were such things. Ai merely noticed at least a dozen spots where discoloration or geometry didn’t match their surroundings. Only later would she learn that this was something he did to himself to make his daily routine easier.

Victor looked behind Ai, and she realized a large plug disconnected itself from her. He then turned back to her and took a few steps toward Ai. “Here, take my hand. You’ll start walking once you’re out of bed and on your feet.”

His hand was warm and a bit larger than hers but felt somewhat weaker. Yet, despite that, he managed to help her down while supporting a large portion of her weight. Something somewhere told her that he was probably only about 70% as heavy as she was. And when she stood on her feet and followed him out the door to her room without thinking, she pondered without proper words on why he was taller than her if she weighed more.

They walked down a gray-colored hallway with scattered lighting coming from boxes sculpted into an off-white ceiling. The floor was a kind of light-tan wood set into many smooth boards, and Ai later found out that it was rare to have floors made out of such a thing. Even the stairs that brought them down to the first floor were of a similar make, and the remainder of the house they passed through had either more white, gray, black, or that tan-colored wood. Something somewhere inside Ai told her this was comfortable and good. She felt like this was her home. A home she belonged to.

Victor led Ai to a slightly yellowish-colored wooden chair with an off-white cushion attached to it. She took her seat while looking at everything in sight. Her father set down a plate of pancakes for himself and for her.

“You always like them. Just like your mother did.”

Ai spent the next few minutes slowly figuring out how to eat while mimicking Victor. And as she ate her meal, she decided that she liked eating pancakes quite a lot.

But when she finished, she went back to the last thing he had said and tried to find out more.

Ai looked at Victor and tilted her head far to the side, her eyes staring straight into his. “You like pancakes. Just like your mother?” she said, trying to pick out the essential words.

Victor rubbed his forehead with a sigh.

“The start is always a bit rough with you, isn’t it?” he said as he got out of his chair and collected their plates.


Drawn by Ingri Ned https://www.instagram.com/ingrined/

This is the prologue to a future novel (it’s another WIP)