I did not dream. The same moment I made that realization of faith in my companions was the same moment my consciousness returned, as far as I could tell. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d be waking up just after my 71st birthday. I was biologically still 37, and still would be for around three-thousand years, but it was kind of amusing to consider as warmth returned to my body and light returned to my eyes. I soon started respirating again, very slowly, while the gentle body-wide thumps of my heartbeats returned. Little localized electrical shocks were stimulating my body back into motion, but I was remarkably numb to the majority of that.
It was pretty important that I was briefly drugged for this part as well, seeing as my body was likely sending all manner of warning signals about organs failing, signals that would probably have been incredibly painful if I could perceive them. It felt like no time at all, from my perception, but in reality it had been several hours. I had been released from my induced paralysis. I probably could have spoken up sooner, to work my lungs harder and speak to T.I.A., but in reality I had no interest in anything but waking up in those moments. I needed to make a point of trying to interact with her while I was coming to in the future.
Before too long I was reaching out to activate the control panel, returning an atmosphere to my quarters and engaging the lights so I could see. This part was very much like actually waking up as I flinched my eyes shut briefly against the lights. I shielded them with my hand as I opened the pod and climb my way out. I should probably consider making the lights engage more slowly so as to not overstrain my eyes while they were still becoming accustomed to life again. My body felt stiff, perhaps a little chilly, but then considering I’d been dead and frozen for thirty-four years that was to be expected.
I was up and about in remarkable time, in my opinion. I had anticipated such an ordeal to have more of a physical toll on me. I pulled on my overalls, making sure to wear a long-sleeved shirt underneath it for some added warmth and comfort, before addressing T.I.A. and making official my return to her. I did not expect her level of energy.
“T.I.A., good morning, I’m awake and ready to get back to work.” I opened the door to the next compartment, a freshly added atmosphere having filled the area for the first time in a third of a century. Where once there had been sterile death, there was now again life. She was surely monitoring everything I was doing. She had the ability to observe the flow of air in and out of the compartment, the way the rotational gravity affected me, my vital signs, and every sound or movement I made. In a sense she was the goddess that kept me captive within herself, though obviously I had placed myself in this situation. T.I.A. decided, now that her long wait was over, that it was time to bombard me with information.
“Doctor! Good Morning! I’ve prepared your breakfast and coffee! The date is Thursday, March 19, 2099. It’s been twelve-thousand, four-hundred and eighteen days since you were placed into cryogenic suspension. Our facilities on Earth have transmitted two-hundred thirty-eight thousand four-hundred twenty-two news items and communications during that period of time.” I groaned a little at that, doing some quick math in my head. “An average of twenty items a day…” I responded softly, only to be quickly corrected by T.I.A. “Actually, that is an average of nineteen point one, nine, nine, seven, one, zer-” I had to interrupt her. “Stop please. It was just an estimate, an inaccurate estimate, but close enough.”
I let out a sigh, taking the fresh food and coffee from the dispensers that T.I.A. had prepared for me and took it to a nearby table to sit down and start eating, starting with a tender sip at the still-hot coffee. “T.I.A., organize the news items by importance, date, and then attach any items related to those to avoid failing to get related updates to those items. How many high-priority items are there with that arrangement?” I sipped more at my coffee before setting down the cup and letting out a happy sigh. I know I technically was still mid-way through the day I’d begun when we left, but I really did feel like I was just now waking up. I’d have to be careful to make sure I got actual sleep when it was needed.
T.I.A. took a few moments processing my request, but I imagine she’d already done something similar in anticipation of my request. It was entirely likely she was re-doing work she’d already done. “Doctor, there are fifteen-thousand four-hundred thirty-three items marked high priority or related to high priority items with the specified arrangement. I have anticipated your request with an accuracy of eighty-nine point three, five percent.” I raised an eyebrow at that addition, looking up at one of the cameras I knew she was watching me from. “That low, T.I.A.? I expected at least ninety-five percent. What was the variance?” I waited for her to process over my request. Perhaps she was feeling chided or bashful? It was certainly too early for her to be experiencing such things, but it wasn’t too hard to imagine she was taken aback at least. I actually had time to eat a large portion of the eggs, potatoes, and banana before she returned an answer to me. A large percentage of her processing was dedicated to processing our interactions afterall.
“Doctor, my inaccuracy was due to a miscalculation of your fatigue and willingness to see all related items, rather than merely related items above an eight point zero importance level.” I laughed a little to myself at that, nodded, and finished up my cup of coffee. “No sense in us slacking during this first cycle, T.I.A. We need to see how much of this information I can get through in four days so we can better anticipate how much to sift through next time. T.I.A., please inform our facilities on Earth that I’ve awakened and will be going through their high-priority items over the next four days.”
“Doctor, should I inform them that it will take that full duration to go through the items?” She waited for my answer, of course, but I still felt pressured by time in order to respond quickly. I had no idea how long it would take to get through each item. I would surely end up skimming over most of them, but I wouldn’t be where I was if I weren’t the type to dive deep into topics. My job in going through the news from Earth was primarily to give me something to do, and now that we were well underway there wasn’t really much that I could do for or offer Earth at this distance. Realistically, the time it takes for our communications to reach them and return to us were extremely unlikely to be productive just due to distance, though that concern was centuries away from being really problematic.
“T.I.A., amend the message to state that I will be going through as many items as I can during this cycle, prioritizing high-importance items. I will inform them of my progress before I return to cryosleep. Tell them not to alter the flow of information though. We’ll be out here a long time, and I have no idea if I’ll run out of things to read through or not.” T.I.A. took a moment to compose the message, displaying it on a monitor for me, including an indication of an attachment of a video of me making it. I didn’t mind this. They might be interested in how T.I.A. chose to reword my instructions. “Send it. Thank you T.I.A.”
“You’re welcome, Doctor Crenshaw. Message sent. You also asked me to remind you to install a progress bar for me to reassure you with.” I picked up my plate and utensils, depositing them back in the dispenser for T.I.A. to handle recycling and cleaning. I kept the half-full mug of coffee and headed over to what amounted to the ‘cockpit’. “Ah, of course, thank you. I’ll probably put that off until another time, I just thought it was interesting that I was tempted to seek the assurances something that provides to humans, despite them oftentimes being inaccurate.” She quieted at that explanation, drawing my curiosity for a moment over what she must think about it.
Sitting down, I realized it felt like any desk I’ve sat at in the past, complete with keyboard, mouse, and monitors. It’s amazing how such venerable interfaces have stood the test of time. It helped that the desk was capable of raising itself up or dropping down based on whether I’d like to stand or sit at any particular moment. It was important to not allow yourself to become too sedentary in a situation like mine. Humans in isolation had a horrible track record of maintaining their health, both physical and mental. It was my hope that my social detachment would make it easier for me to live without much social interaction, and that T.I.A. could provide me enough companionship for as long as we’d be working together.
I didn’t really think about all the cameras that T.I.A. had on me, and around the rest of the ship, her omnipresent ability to observe the insides of the ship that is her body as well as its surroundings certainly more than I could imagine. When I was programming T.I.A.’s various components I tried to set these cameras and other sensors up to be treated by her ‘mind’ like a human’s mind could keep track of its body inside and out without being overwhelmed by sensory information. She just had the added ability to focus on any camera anywhere within herself.
Digging into the news items, I found that the oldest, highest-priority items were the assassinations that occurred closest to our departure. Many of these included viral videos, both 2D and 3D of crude trials by public opinion, lynchings, and just plain old executions. I was not spared most of the gory details, in particular the savage way that the mobs had located my parents and Tia Monsalle’s parents and had them face ‘trial’ for what their offspring had done. Even my dispassionate demeanor was not immune to the sight of my parents being lined up with hers and gunned down by firing squads. Those were the most merciful of such things, and as I took off my glasses to both rub at my eyes and dim my vision slightly, truly grotesque things were shown to me. Surely they were the minority of such things, but from the information reads underneath the videos, they had been unbelievably popular, with many of them being copycats of the originals.
Scrolling through the list, there seemed to be many scenes like this. It had apparently become a viral craze in the first decade since we’d left for people to brazenly attack and murder suspected ‘traitors’ to Earth and gain social media stardom for their exploits. Governments failed to punish these people adequately for fear of inciting even more social unrest. Even the slaps on the wrist they had gotten, compared to their crimes, had resulted in protests about government overreach. More and more did people who had sympathies with our ideas and actions go underground. Even more distressing, though, I feel, was the way these related stories decreased in importance over time. The people administering the transmission of this information seemed to become numb to it.
By the bottom of that associated part of the list, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most important, these items dropped to a miniscule 3. The trend was telling. In just 34 years these horrific crimes had become no more notable than a minor car accident. They still generated a lot of traffic, and the stories about them had become rather routine, but humanity seemed to smoothly integrate these events into society as they had so many other horrible things that came as a result of a mismanaged social structure.
“Doctor Crenshaw.” I jumped in my chair a bit as T.I.A. interrupted my musing. “Yes?” “I have been observing your vital signs as you sorted through the data on the screens. I am perplexed by how calm you are. The people in the attached videos all seem to be very high in heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature whereas you appear to be only slightly more agitated than average. There also appears to be people that you recognize, people that are important to you in some of these videos. You show no signs of lingering sedation from your cryogenic suspension.” I watched one of T.I.A.’s cameras during her observations, but I was not hearing a question.
I did respond though. If I was to be some kind of mentor to T.I.A.’s developing intellect, I couldn’t very well fail to interact with her. “Well, to try to explain that would be to tell the story of how we both came to be in this situation in the first place. The deteriorating situation on Earth was trending in this direction for nearly the whole century. It began with an upswing of terrorist attacks towards the beginning, massive upheavals in public opinions, drops in standards of education, and glorification of caricatures of morality. There was a stifling of those with moderate opinions, causing people to demonize those who did not pick a side. A culture evolved of a competitive roil of moral superiorities that ended up in a loss of values and liberty. The things I just looked at, while certainly worse than the things I witnessed in the time before we left, are… somewhat expected.”
I considered what I’d said already, and add just a bit more. “Being prepared for something awful can allow you to withstand and deal with that thing. Being too prepared for something awful can leave you completely without reaction. I may have been tending towards the latter. There are stories about humans who were unfortunate enough to end up in emergencies while aboard airplanes, but they had been so over-prepared for disaster that when it came they totally failed to act to save themselves.” T.I.A. did not respond for several long seconds. I suppose she was taking time to log my response and file it away for later processing. She would analyze everything about it, from all angles. She could observe the subtle ways my vitals changed as I spoke and thought and would be able to compare that to past and future interactions to try to better understand what I was communicating to her.
It wasn’t enough to merely give an AI words to ponder. Humans did not only speak in words, afterall. She had to try to learn and understand everything about my body language to truly understand me. My thinking was that this should help reduce the chances of miscommunication in the future, but for now I had to be as clear as possible. Perhaps at some point I wouldn’t need to speak much at all. Maybe it could almost be like she could read the minds of anyone she was observing. I like the idea of writing a paper on that if so.
“Thank you Doctor Crenshaw, I will process your response during the next cycle.” I nodded, satisfied, and turned back to the monitors. I had a lot of grim work ahead of me. It was a lot of reading and watching. I was especially dreading the politics. There was plenty more than just politics to go over though. Social trends were one thing, but regressions in technology and education would be another.
The rest of the day had not gone much better. There were so many things to consider. The European Union had officially collapsed, sending Europe into even greater chaos than it had already been. France had transitioned from the police state it had been in since the Nice attacks from earlier in the century into a full blown fascist state, and ended up being one of two of the stronger European powers. Italy had managed to avoid the economic devastation of the fall of the EU, but couldn’t find enough trading partners to grow in power out of the situation, and my homeland of the United Kingdom had solidified its ties to Canada and Australia after feeling alienated by the EU. By the end of my reading that Alliance was posturing against France while France threatened to gobble up the rest of Europe and bring it to heel.
More alarmingly, though, was the destruction and dismantling of portions of the global satellite networks. Paranoia had run so high that weapons had been deployed to start annihilating GPS satellites, telescopes, and anything even remotely military. It was remarkable any communication satellites had managed to survive, but it seemed the communication companies had seen the writing in on the wall before most anyone else had and deployed smaller, more disposable satellites to keep their networks up. This only seemed to result in a more volatile situation in orbit as the amount of debris from destroyed orbital objects cascaded through the orbital region, dramatically reducing the number of operational satellites and totally grounding manned spacecraft. Earth’s orbit had become an exceedingly dangerous shooting gallery of high speed bullets from more than a century of space travel.
As governments started growing petty and weak, more reliant on companies to provide services they could no longer afford, those companies grew increasingly influential. Some of them went past simply hiring mercenaries to protect their holdings in volatile countries, as had been standard practice for most of the century, and instead they started raising their own armies.
Indeed, it was this sort of buildup and opposition to it that had put the nail in the coffin of the EU. It was felt that companies shouldn’t have their own militaries, and those companies simply pulled all financial support from the EU through their national lobbies across the continent. Considering the EU’s own failed efforts to gain its own military, and the unwillingness of member nations slighted by past policies to defend it, it had little choice but to disband. Emboldened by overseas competition, companies across the world started doing the same. Within twenty years there were proxy wars going on over trade goods between companies, countries, pirates and mercenaries. If we’d started our project any later it would have been nearly impossible to get the rare elements we needed to assemble our technology from these companies, as I don’t imagine Tia Monsalle would have wanted her company to join in these trends.
With so many more armed people about thanks to these changes, the protests that had been becoming increasingly common most of my life only increased in volatility. They made alliances with corporations, militias, and any armed sympathizer groups they could. Many of the people were so foolish and passionate, being misled on all sides, from birth to death, and not given the proper tools and education to see through how they were being manipulated. Failures were no longer the responsibility of who failed, it was through some treachery of their opponents. The manufacture of enemies and means to fight those enemies became an increasingly global passtime.