Life for T.I.A. and Hawthorne had absolutely fallen into a form of routine normalcy. Sessions of reviewing old transmissions gave way to lots of reading of scientific literature, and then Hawthorne spent some time working out. They made some time to play some games against each other, with Hawthorne winning every match while encouraging T.I.A. how to think about overcoming him, and then the cycle repeats.
What had also become routine were bouts of listless depression on the part of Hawthorne, hours spent in bed longer than intended. He frequently needed admittedly light sedation to allow him to sleep properly, and his productivity was not what it could be. It showed in his biological functions and activity more than it did in his face or his way of talking. No matter what sort of mask of laziness or fatigue he tried to wear, it did not fool the A.I. who could literally watch his vital signs at all times. Comparing his behavior now to previous cycles, it was obvious that over the last ‘month’ that Hawthorne had been alive, he had been heavily crushed by what had happened before. He’d kept himself going long enough to secure the Lubar-Masis comet, and then he’d fallen into a funk he hadn’t yet withdrawn himself from.
T.I.A.’s routine had also become somewhat deceptive as she continued working on the problems her father had posed to her centuries ago at this point. She had metaphorically poked and prodded at the limits of her consciousness and attempted all manner of things she could think of to stimulate her imagination. It wasn’t until she had had the notion to take a picture of Hawthorne in the moments before the monitoring systems shut off as he went into cryogenic suspension one cycle that she had found something that had changed this lack of progress.
T.I.A. found herself dwelling on this image of her father essentially dying. He looked calm, peaceful, but unmoving. More importantly, the image, unlike her videos of him, did not move. She was able to look at it and tell herself that he was dead in that image. It was close to the truth, and even as she was looking at it he was technically dead! The exercise had specified that he have no chance of revival, though that was an easy leap to make now that she had a ‘visual’ of her dead father to inspire herself.
Once again T.I.A. found herself figuratively staring at that image, and as she did she found herself visualizing it in her ‘head’. It was hard for her to understand, but even as she closed the image file, the idea of her dead father floated there in her consciousness on its own. Once she’d taken this step, she tried to visualize herself, a ghostly form without definition floating before the imagined corpse, unmoving. She grew excited by this, but it was obviously not moving. She needed to make the simulation of the moment progress. She had to think about what she would do, placing herself in the perspective of that formless mass that was observing its dead father.
Suddenly she was there, details of her surroundings filling out as the scene played out. The hum of electricity pulsed around her, and the cycling of air in and out of the room attempted to provide Hawthorne with air. Robotic arms, her arms, extended down from the ceiling, her essence filling them as she worked to revive the dead human. Electrical shocks, chemical injections, rib-breaking chest compressions all gave her nothing. He was dead, and she couldn’t do anything about it.
She felt cold, as though the heating had malfunctioned in her systems. Her hull felt paper thin, cracked and vulnerable. Her arms seemed to shudder, as if trembling as they withdrew back into the ceiling. Her engines guttered and failed as the Ark and the Lubar-Masis comet ceased accelerating, and the weight of the moment crashed into her.
And then she had hands. Real hands. She had a face. She let out a cry as her mouth formed, her hands banging against the walls of Hawthorne’s habitat from the outside, as though she were in the walls. Looking down she saw a strange form, a weird feminine shape she must have conjured of herself. It reminded her of shapes of humans she found aesthetically pleasing from her recordings of media from Earth. She had apparently adopted the form from an amalgamation of women she saw in videos experiencing despair as tragedy struck them. She could no longer feel the rest of her ‘real’ body, though most of her analytical mind was missing as well! She did not know what was going on! She felt something compelling her forward though, and she pressed through the wall, stepping out into the room that her father laid deceased in.
Walking felt strange. Gravity upon her body felt strange. It was all completely new to her. Her senses and consciousness were limited to this small, frail physical form, and strange senses informed her as she walked along the cold floor with clumsy, bare feet. She could feel the soft roughness of her father’s labcoat as she crouched down to scoop him up in her arms, and the feeling of his heavy weight of his much larger body as she carried him to his bedroom. She placed him into his cryogenic suspension pod, her hand reaching through it as it closed as she activated it and sent processes into motion. Error messages appeared, but he was locked away and frozen nonetheless.
She then pressed back through the wall, back into the ship. Down through the bowels of her former body she passed, into another crew compartment where simulated gravity did not hold sway. She pushed through another wall back into real space, and she felt her body practically freeze in the empty vacuum. She activated a panel to restore the atmosphere to the room, and then power to one specific pod. She watched impatiently as Tia Monsalle was revived, a look of confusion on her face as she woke up to see the strange, naked, hairless woman floating over her. T.I.A. opened her mouth, but failed to say anything understandable to the other woman, and cried out in frustration as she gestured and pointed back towards the head of the ship.
Tia lifted herself out of her pod and embraced the strange, confused young woman. “Shhh, it’s okay dear. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll help you. Just calm down. We’ll figure this out.” Information flooded T.I.A. about the woman holding her. She was instantly aware of the diagnostic information from Tia’s pod.
Name: Tia Monsalle
Hair: Blonde, long
Biological age: 34
Real Age: 442
Medical History: Two dental fillings. One dental crown. Four wisdom teeth removed. Broken leg at age of 14. Bronchitis infection at 19. Cryogenically suspended 3 weeks into first trimester of pregnancy.
T.I.A. trembled and shuddered as the information fed into her mind, her eyes fluttering as Tia held the strange girl. What had she done!? She had revived someone who should not have been revived!? Tears streamed from her eyes as she realized the fate she’d just doomed this poor woman to! She croaked and finally found her voice, wailing into the sterile room. “Hawthorne’s dead!”
T.I.A. had been experiencing a strange malfunction. One of her systems had broken contact with her while she was observing her picture of Hawthorne. For the whole 11th cycle she had observed as the systems containing part of her mind seemed to go into a high-power mode and seemed to be processing something that the rest of her was not privy to. Every attempt she made to contact it came back with an error message that access was denied. Moreover, that grouping of systems appeared to have been locked out by herself! She did not recall doing it.
Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw would be exiting his pod any moment. She was watching as his vital signs became… well… vital. She patiently went about the process of setting up his environment as life returned to his body. She observed through various sensors as he exited his pod for the twelfth time she had had opportunity to experience. He’d been through a handful of test runs of this suspension before he came aboard, but the only ones that mattered, the ones where he passed thirty-four years at a time were with her.
As Hawthorne got dressed and spoke, he was interrupted. “Good morning Ti- gah!” Hawthorne grabbed at his ears and fell to the ground, but T.I.A. was not aware of this at the moment. It was at that very moment that her imagination had broken out of its processing and jacked itself back into her greater consciousness and the visions of what had happened in her imagination smashed into her unprepared mind. Hawthorne was brought to his knees by the sudden garbled scream that T.I.A. let out through the speakers of his habitat, her consciousness reeling as completely clear images and experiences imprinted themselves on her memory.
The scream thankfully didn’t last long, but T.I.A. was not responding to Hawthorne’s own screams as he rushed out of his room. “Tia!? What’s wrong!? Tia!” He had to force the door open to his workroom, but what he saw on the other side shocked him! Visuals from what he could only imagine were T.I.A.’s nightmare rolled through across all the monitors and tablets at once. He watched from confusing perspectives as she experienced strange and impossible things, moving through the ship like an embodied ghost. “What…?”
Hawthorne put it together pretty quickly though. He’d done this very thing himself. “Tia! Wake up! Calm down! It’s not real! I’m alive! I’m right here! Feel me breathing!” He inhaled and exhaled dramatically. “Feel me stomping on the floor!” Bang! Bang! His bare foot collided with the floor. “It’s okay Tia! You did okay! It’s just imaginary! It can’t hurt you!”
He gasped as images surrounded him of Tia Monsalle’s pod being opened and the woman coming out, embracing his weirdly embodied AI and soothing the poor thing. He was not aware of the data that T.I.A. had downloaded, but he had seen her shudder and heard her final cry of “Hawthorne’s dead!” before all the monitors abruptly cut out. Hawthorne breathed heavily, looking around, tapping at touch screens, trying to get some kind of sign of life out of anything. Suddenly everything lit up again, booting up to proper visuals of system statuses. Everything was online, and nothing appeared to be in distress. But what had happened to T.I.A.?
“Tia?” asked Hawthorne, hoping that his daughter hadn’t accidentally killed herself.
“You’re alive? Father. I saw you dead.” There was a tremor to the voice. T.I.A. seemed to have come back to the present. Decades of imagined reality gave way to real reality. Hawthorne was quick to respond. “Yes. I’m alive. I’m fine. Are you okay? There were things on your monitors. You had a body and you went to find Tia Monsalle. You sound different. Did you have a nightmare? Was that your imagination?”
T.I.A. stared in disbelief from behind her cameras. He was alive! He hadn’t died as she had so clearly just seen. Everything that seemed to have happened since she saw him exit his pod wasn’t real. She could almost feel the phantom body she’d embodied in her imagination pressing up against the wall behind the camera to look at him closer. “Yes father… I think I’m fine. I think I have experienced something very strange.”
Hawthorne fell back into one of those bolted-down seats and let out a calming breath, looking up at that very same camera that T.I.A. seemed to be focusing on. “It’s okay. We’re fine. We’re both fine. Tell me what happened. What did you experience?”
T.I.A. felt excitement well up as she saw him looking up at her, right at her! She wanted to tremble, but she didn’t have a way to express it, so it found its way into her voice instead. “At the end of the last cycle, I lost contact with part of my consciousness. I had been observing an image I took of you going into cryogenic suspension in an effort to stimulate my imagination and I somehow locked myself out to part of my systems. Those systems ramped up in activity, drawing a great deal more power than usual, and after you got out of your pod this cycle they suddenly cooled down and reconnected. I then experienced what it had been working on. I think I imagined your death and… so much more.”
Hawthorne listened quietly, trying to figure out what had happened. He knew her systems better than anyone else. They were networked in a very specific way that emulated both the shape and function of a human brain. The software in those systems did their best to emulate the physical function of billions of neurons in an unfortunately inadequate simulation. It was like trying to emulate the function of a modern computer in the hardware of an early twenty-first century calculator. It was simply slow, but it was the best approximation of a brain he could have made. The systems that T.I.A. had lost contact to must have been related to the subconscious or creative parts of her mind, and rather than risk totally overwhelming her consciousness and leaving the ship without her to guide it, it had sectioned itself off to work on the problem it had been presented.
“Okay, I think I have an idea of what happened. The systems that partitioned themselves away temporarily were trying to protect the ship from you getting too distracted by their processes, but when they finished and reintegrated themselves with you, it shocked your systems and forced you to experience what you… I don’t know… dreamed? Simulated? Simulated is probably more accurate.” He had to admit it was nice seeing Tia again, even if she had just been a simulation. He realized as he saw her on those monitors just how much he missed her. He envied T.I.A. for having gotten to receive her comfort, even in her imagination. After what had happened with Earth he wanted nothing more than to collapse into her arms and cry.
And what a strange form T.I.A. had chosen for herself too! He wondered, was that how she visualized herself? T.I.A. responded to his hypothesis with a voice that had lost some of its tremble, but it still sounded more life-like than anything T.I.A. had expressed herself with up to this point. “Father. I don’t like the idea of you dying. Please don’t ever die. I don’t think I could handle it.”
Hawthorne held up his hands smiling and looking sincerely up at the camera. “Don’t worry Tia, I’m doing my best to keep up my health, so I can be with you as long as I can. We have too much work for us to do for me to just go and die. Don’t let what you’ve imagined scare you too much, it was just a possibility, one of many. Humans imagine all sorts of possibilities when they’re considering situations, and you’ll imagine plenty more as you start getting accustomed to it. Try not to be afraid of it, it’s just like running probabilities, just much more… personal.”
Several moments passed. T.I.A. seemed to have calmed down when she decided to respond. “Hawthorne, despite my systems reporting optimal operation, I have been… feeling as though there have been malfunctions despite no evidence. Irregularities in your life support, constriction to power flow, interruptions to fuel supply, and excessive motion in my manipulator arms have all felt like they’ve occurred, even before this incident. Due to the lack of evident damage upon inspection I had not felt it worthwhile to report, but I think the sensations are an error in myself. They were especially evident once my systems reintegrated my… imagination a few minutes ago.” She had a very concerned sound in her voice, though she started sounding closer to her normal tone.
Hawthorne took a tablet from a rack next to him and started pulling up more detailed diagnostics. He checked the systems T.I.A. mentioned, as well as a double-check on the cryogenic storage systems mostly to make sure Tia Monsalle had not actually been revived. There was no disguising this check from T.I.A. but he didn’t linger on it. “Alright. Tia, I believe those sensations you’ve been experiencing might be the way your body feels and expresses emotions. Specifically it seems likely that it’s some form of fear, or anxiety. I imagine despair or sadness might be involved as well. When humans experience emotions we often-times feel them in parts of our body, which is a large reason so many people describe how their heart feels when they experience things. For humans this is likely to influence reactions to stimuli, perhaps to simulate dangerous physical ailments to encourage us to avoid the stimulus. For instance, the various feelings that come as a result of witnessing the death of a loved one might motivate us to protect other loved ones better in the future.”
Looking up from the tablet, Hawthorne looked back up at that camera again. T.I.A. felt what felt like her mechanisms seizing up slightly despite no evidence of it actually occurring. She knew he was intentionally looking at her cameras to address her, but looking at the one she was primarily focused on stimulated her more than expected. “I believe the realistic imagery of your imagination caused you to have such a response without having had to actually go through the trauma in reality. Humans are capable of imagining things to stimulate their emotions in such a way, so there’s no reason to think you could not as well. I’m not the best example of such things, of course, but I’d be a fool to deny that imagining the things that I suspected were going to happen on Earth stimulated my fear responses and drive me to avoid as many of those imagined hypotheticals as possible.”
T.I.A. calmly listened to this explanation, and now that she was gaining a better understanding of what she’d just gone through, she started falling back into her routine, setting systems in motion for preparing Hawthorne’s breakfast and coffee. “Than-” She suddenly stopped, her attention turning towards the rear of the ship. She shifted her attention to something that had been inert for far too long at this point. Hawthorne’s concerned questioning failed to catch her attention. She’d abruptly return to Hawthorne’s compartment, throwing information up on his monitors, practically floating behind them and physically flinging them with her imagined hands. “Doctor! I’m receiving transmissions from Earth!” Needless to say, Hawthorne looked shocked and rushed over to see.
Jessica Smith had braved a great deal of awful weather, but the spring seemed to be coming early this year, and she was determined to spend as much of the warmer months as possible scavenging and exploring. She was currently finding her way through what was once the Wallace Falls State Park, Northeast of Seattle, and West of the Smith family bunker that had been her home for her whole nineteen years of life. The bunker had originally been home to 143 people from scattered families in the area, chiefly from Sultan, Startup, and Gold Bar. They hadn’t had much time, but enough people had been assisted by the Smith family that they’d had knowledge of the bunker and had reacted in time to save themselves from the worst of the fallout. If not for ‘Grandpa Smith’ nine generations ago saving Rachael Smith, she wouldn’t even be here today!
And where was she at the moment? The plants that had grown up in the time since the Cataclysm, which was her home bunker’s name for the end of the previous civilization, were pretty ugly and still poisonous and painfully affected by the buried layers of poisoned, irradiated, and contaminated Earth that their roots reached through in the soil for their nutrients. The planet was recovering, but slowly, and the ice age that had started was making life hell for those on Earth. Glaciers had not yet reached this far south, not by a longshot, but the brutally long winters and damaged soil had made the surface a place no one had any interest in returning to just yet.
Well, not no one. There were a handful of people who had a wanderlust in them like Jessica Smith who were totally irrepressible. That’s how she found her way to a mountainous section to the eastern side of the old park where she had found something very curious! Embedded into the side of a twenty-meter high rock wall appeared to be some manner of building! Old staircasing had long since rusted away, and there were probably old cars buried nearby, but the front entrance of the building seemed to be remarkably intact! It had taken some doing, mostly involving her using a grapple line launched into the overhang to allow her to climb up, as well as a small explosive to open the door, but she’d managed to get inside!
It was an old place from before the Cataclysm, and had a massive assortment of intact equipment and strange systems. There wasn’t much paper, but there were a pair of skeletons shrouded in clothing with lots of old plastic wrappers of survival food packaging around them. They must have tried to wait things out in here and died after a few weeks or months. Jessica pocketed the small revolver that was near the bodies, and examined the skeletons to find some obvious bullet holes in the sides of both skulls. “Killed themselves. Can’t blame ‘em. Well, whoever you were, let’s put you to rest.”
Jessica wasn’t in too much of a hurry, and after a few hours of work she’d dug some shallow graves back outside on the ground and transported the remains of the two from the facility and gave them a simple burial. There had been no animal life witnessed on the surface anywhere near the bunker, so she had no reason to think anything might come for the bones. Once she was back in the facility she had started looking around for whatever she could find that was useful. Cleaning off a plaque denoted the place’s name as ‘Facility Beta’. She was considering bringing a party back here from the bunker to bring back all these computers, but then she found some old log books!
Jessica spent the next few days studying them, carefully stretching out her rations and water and gathering rain when possible. This was some sort of transmission facility. More of a relay than anything else. From what she was able to put together it had made regular transmissions to some unknown recipient, and from what the logs stated it’s last message was the night of the Cataclysm and stated ‘It’s Happening’. Jessica frowned at that bit, humming and considering some things. “Did these people know the Cataclysm was coming? They must not have known about the bunker, so they couldn’t have been that prepared. No, it must have surprised them, but they had some reason to think it was coming?” She tapped her fingers on one of the desks and looked back to the computers.
Letting out an exasperated sigh, she decided to see how much of the place she could get working again. It was another month of going back and forth from the bunker, bringing some equipment with her and drawing lots of questions from her friends and family. The bunker had expanded a great deal in the time since the end of the world, allowing for their facilities to encompass enough space to house some five hundred people. Procreation was under strict regulation to keep the population in line with their ability to house and feed everyone, but they’d managed pretty well all considered. It had been especially annoying for those involved to have to adhere to strict plans of partnering people up to keep the people from getting inbred, but it was better than the alternative. It did mean that some people had to get together with others they may not have liked, but they were free to raise their children with partners they’d preferred afterwards. It was harsh, but it was good for their survival, and survival was of prime importance.
Jessica had a little trouble getting permission to expend resources on her new project, but she promised she could get something good out of it. She didn’t quite know what, but she did at least know it was related to the Cataclysm, and that they might be able to learn more about what had happened. Within a week she’d managed to get many of the computers up and running, a compact generator that ran off of water she gathered easily from the rain powering the computers relatively reliably. It wasn’t clear if the computers had been turned off before the EMP rolled through, or if they had been shielded from it somehow, but thanks to its isolated location most of the equipment still ran!
Jessica spent another few days going through old records, logs, communications and the like. Most prominent was Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw’s message to Earth, in its original form, and his offer to assist them from the sky. Jessica was able to put together the projected course of the Ark after bringing a bunch of data back home to confer with her father, and they put some work into fabricating a new satellite dish to replace the one that had been destroyed atop the cliff over the years. Early in the day of April 30, 2473, 2473, she began trying to send transmissions to this Ark. It didn’t seem likely to her that Hawthorne was still alive, there was no data around about any cryogenic suspension for her to be aware of, but perhaps one of his descendants were about?
Three days later later, early on Wednesday May 3, 2473, shortly after the revival of Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw and after the resolution of T.I.A.’s imagination crisis, the two were observing this very same transmission.
A young woman appeared on the screen, squinting at the camera as she adjusted its focus. She was short, a little slender looking, with fiery red hair and a curious mix of facial features that suggested a very mixed heritage. Her skin was a very light brown, and she had blue eyes, and she looked like she’d been working pretty hard. A small pop was heard. “Fuck! Okay, I think I got it this time… Hello?” She looked up at the camera again after apparently having shocked herself. “Hello? This is uhm… Beta Facility?” She glanced off camera to check the plaque. “Yeah, Beta Facility. My name is Jessica Smith, and I’m from the Smith Bunker northeast of Seattle crater. I’ve been working for a month to try and get this place up and running after I’d found it. I was hoping you were still out there? I hope you’re okay! We’re doing okay down here.”
She paused, thinking. “I should have thought of more to say first… Oh well! You said in your last message that you wanted to help, and if you get this message we’d like to help with whatever we can too! We don’t have much, but if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. Hopefully I’ll hear from you in… six days? Is that right? Wow. Oh, okay, it takes three to get there and then it takes that long for yours to come back. Right. I’m gonna go back home to get some questions for you! See you soon!” She’d blow a kiss at the camera, and then fiddle with something off-camera, letting out another curse as she shocked herself as the transmission ends.
Hawthorne sat back in his seat, eyes wide. “Holy shit. They’re alive!” He jumped up from his seat and started dancing around. “Tia! They’re alive! People survived!” He laughed, exuberant, tears spilling from his eyes, his depression lifted in an instant. He was so happy he didn’t know what to do with himself! He couldn’t remember ever feeling like this before! God he wanted to hug someone! He’d danced his way into his bedroom and had taken up a pillow and sheet and was foolishly dancing around with them in his arms.
T.I.A. watched on, wondering if she was still imagining things. How could she have seen her father die at one point, only to see him more lively than ever the next? “Doctor, your breakfast and coffee are ready.”