Voice 1: “Memory degradation at 54% and increasing.”
Voice 2: “Connection destabilising.”
Voice 1: “Vital signs decreasing!”
Voice 3: “Ratio, are you ok? What’s going on?”
Voice 4: “She’s fighting me!"
Voice 3: “Can you calm her down?”
Voice 4: “Not like this! Mistress, is she going to be ok?”
Voice 3: “Don’t you worry about that. Whatever happens, we’ll take care of her together, ok?”
Voice 2: “If we isolate her surroundings to the room, we should be able to decrease the strain.”
Voice 1: “Allocating class B’s. Vital signs normalising and memory degradation at 58% and holding.”
Voice 1: “Sya, we may not get another chance at this; her body…”
Voice 3: “Not in front of my floret Farkalyn.” “Ratio, the choice is yours. We can finalise the upload now, or you can try one more loop. Are you feeling up to it?”
Lyreli sat opposite me deep in thought, eyeing the board between the both of us. He picked up his rook, took my knight and then immediately backtracked realising the trap I had set for him. He slowly looked from the board to me and then back to the board. Seeing no way out, he took hold of his king and gently laid it flat on its side against the table; I grinned in response and held out my hand, which he took.
“You played a new opening, what was the name of that one?” Lyreli asked politely.
“It’s called the Sicilian defence. It’s a lot harder to play than the Caro-Kann I taught you earlier, but that’s mostly because there are so many ways the board can open up. I find the Caro-Kann too rigid, but that’s just me.”
Lyreli gave a deep hum, as he held a vine against his chin. “I suspect that it may be some time before I can match your wits.”
“Oh, you’ll never match them!” I winked to show I was joking. “In truth, I’ll have to start picking my game up soon, the speed at which you learn is honestly terrifying.”
“Are you both finally done?” Ratio said as she bounced towards the end of the table. “Ouch. You weren’t pulling any punches that game. You know, you could go easy.”
“And risk losing a third time? No, I’ll maintain my 21-2 record thank you very much.”
The two of us grinned playfully at each other as Lyreli let out a fatherly laugh. “I’ll prove a challenge yet, but enough of that for today. Young ladies, it’s time I take my leave. It was a pleasure meeting you Zeitha, I’ll be back later this afternoon to check in on you.”
“It was a pleasure meeting you too! If you ever want to lose another game, you know where to find me.”
“What are your plans now?” Ratio asked as the door closed behind Lyreli.
“I think I’ll get to reading that book—”
“Nope! No reading. I’m bored! I want to play!”
“Why don’t you go and clean or something? You’re dressed for it.”
“Zeithaaaaaaa! I. Want. To. Play.”
“You are so annoying,” I said as I rolled my eyes. “I trust you have something in mind? It’s not like there’s much to do in here.” I made an exaggerated show of the small barren room around us to solidify my point.
“We could watch a film?”
I was about to protest, but at my hesitation Ratio proceeded to start tearing up. I couldn’t explain why, but the prospect of seeing this android girl sad made my heart ache; I decided it would be better to play along if only to keep her happy.
“Fine! We can watch your stupid film.” Ratio’s eyes lit up as she jumped with joy. It took me two seconds to realise the sudden behaviour change was a little too forced and I came to the realisation I had been played. I scowled and was met with a mischievous “tehe” as the both of us moved towards the sofa.
“What film should we watch?” Ratio asked.
“Hmmm… I’m in the mood for something old. Fantasy, definitely, but also sappy and funny.”
“Oh! I know just the one.”
The two of us sat in silence for about 40 minutes before my boredom got the better of me. “Where do they find this stuff? This film has got to be what? Several centuries-old? I asked.
“I told you! The Affini have a whole backlog of these types of films. Their collection is nothing to scoff at you know.”
“I don’t recall you telling me that before.”
“Oh. My mistake.”
Silence slowly built back up between us. For whatever reason, Ratio was making a particular point of not looking in my direction. I couldn’t tell if I had done something wrong, or if she was that engrossed in the film.
“Have you ever played 21 questions before?” I asked, attempting to break the silence.
“A few times, why? Do you want to play?”
“I think it could be fun. I’ll even let you ask the first question.”
This got her attention. Ratio turned to face me. “Okay, let’s start easy. What is… your favourite colour?”
“Crimson. Alizarin Crimson, Hex code #E32636 to be precise.”
“That is… oddly specific.”
“I’m an oddly specific type of person. Anyways, my turn.” I looked around the room pondering what I could ask. I did two scans before honing in on Ratio’s plushie. “I don’t believe you’ve ever told me that one’s name. I’ll make that my question.”
Ratio beamed and picked up her plushie with both hands, holding it in front of her face. She proceeded to take one hand and move the plushies paw in mock exaggeration as she spoke in a silly tone. “Hi, I’m Nyan, which is short for Nyanza. It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
I stifled a laugh and brought my face close to the plushie. “It’s very nice to meet you Nyan. I’m Zeitha Rebuille, no short form. Tell me, how does someone as cute as you end up with a girl like Ratio?”
“Heyyy! What is that supposed to mean!” Ratio pouted.
I let out a small giggle; then, seeing Ratio’s face decided to change my tune. I brought my hand up and lightly shuffled her hair. “I’m sorry, it was a joke, but it was made in poor taste. Do you forgive me?”
She continued to pout for a while, but eventually gave in and a smile spread across her face. “Fine. I forgive you, but next time I’ll bap you! You’ve been warned.”
“Oh my, how fierce! You wouldn’t bap a poor helpless girl such as I, would you?!”
It turns out she would, in fact; bap a poor helpless girl, such as I; seeming to relish in doing so. “Oy!” I shouted. “I haven’t done anything!”
“That was for being a smart ass.” Before I could retaliate Ratio was already asking her second question. “What’s your favourite flower?”
“I don’t have a favourite in truth. I like Sakura’s but that’s mostly because I’m used to seeing them in the shows I watch. Maybe lotuses? Yeah, if I had to pick, I’d pick lotus. What about you?”
“You’re not allowed to ask questions I’ve already asked.”
“Ugh, fine. That necklace then.” Ratio’s eyes darted to the amulet hanging around her neck. “It’s beautiful, it suits you very nicely. Where did you get it? I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it.”
Ratio looked remorseful, almost sad as she stared at the amulet now between her hands. “I got this from an old friend; it’s very precious to me." "Hey! That reminds me, I grabbed you something similar on my way here.”
“Mhm! Close your eyes.” I did as I was instructed. “And, open!”
Ratio was wearing an open smile and as I looked down, I could see why. Hung around my neck was a small red sapphire cut to take the form of a proud phoenix. It was sculpted in such a way that the light danced like little flames throughout the gem when reflected.
“Ratio, this is too much!" "How." "Where." "Thank you.”
“You’ve very welcome!”
“How much did this even co- You know what, I don’t want to know. I’m sorry, I don’t have anything to give you in return.”
“I dabble in secrets. That can be how you repay me."
“In what?” I looked at her dumbfounded. Hung around my neck was one of the most beautiful jewels I had ever seen, and all Ratio wanted was a secret? It would have to be some secret to match this. I thought, long and hard. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any secrets to give up, entirely the opposite problem in fact! I had far too many I was holding on to, it was hard to figure out which were mine to retell. “Scandalous, personal or intriguing?”
“Personal!” She practically screamed the word, taking me very off-guard.
“Are you sure? I know quite a bit I shouldn’t about the upper echelon you know. You’re missing a great chance here.”
“I don’t care for Terrans or their secrets. You're different, I want to know more about you.” Silence started to form between the both of us as we sat there looking into each other’s eyes. Ratio was the first to break eye contact, darting her own downwards as she began to play with her hands. “That is if you’re happy to tell me?” she said, without re-establishing eye contact.
“Hmmm. Ok then. Back when I was attending the Royal Academy of Terra, I decided I couldn’t be bothered revising for the final exam in advanced theoretical quantum mechanics. So, what was little ol’ me to do? Hack the mainframe and take a copy of all the answers? That certainly wouldn’t be fitting for an honour student such as I.” I smiled and gave a knowing wink. “Then, I absolutely didn’t install a backdoor into their mainframe and use it to cheat my other 19 subjects. Nope! Not me, not goody ol’ two shoes me!”
Ratio gave a half smile, but otherwise didn’t seem overly surprised, or was that my imagination? “Did they not discover that you had broken in?”
“Eventually, yes. Honestly, I had expected they’d rescind my qualifications, but instead a… we’ll call them an interested party. Anyways, this interested party intervened on my behalf and I ended up keeping my qualifications and getting to do the type of thing you don’t publicly apply for.
“Who was the interested party?”
“That I can’t tell you.”
“Why? It’s not like they can reach you anymore.”
“This is true, this is true. But half of my brain is mechanical. If it detects I’m giving certain secrets away there’s a kill switch embedded that will activate and fry my mind,” I said without fear and flatly.
Ratio’s eyes went wide, her pupils dilated and her body went very stiff. Taking my hand between her own, she stared directly at me and I could see tears beginning to form.
“Why would you ever allow them to do that.” It came as a whisper, but with the force she put behind it, the sheer horror in her voice, it may as well have been screamed.
“I… It was my idea.” Ratio’s mouth scrunched into a thin line, but she made no move to talk. I took this as an indication to carry on. “The human mind is wonderful but horribly inept at processing information quickly. Then, we found a way to bypass its limit by integrating it with a computer. Imagine! The complexity of the human mind and the speed of a computer. You… you cannot begin to understand how much of a leap in science this was for mankind. Only… the resources were limited and I was losing to a competitor. To gain the edge I told them to install a kill switch that my competitor had refused. It was an offer too good to pass up.”
“You butchered yourself! What about the risks! What if something went wrong!” she yelled.
“But it didn’t! I’m fine, I’m more than fine!” I could feel myself beginning to rile up. “Why do you even care? We only met today, why is my welfare such a concern of yours!?”
“BECAUSE YOU’RE IMPORTANT TO ME!”
“You—” I held my tongue, unsure what to say. Ratio’s tears were flowing freely now and I could see she wasn’t lying. In my entire life, only one other person had said I was important to them. Sure, I was needed, my skills and brain were certainly desired, but not important; like I was a piece that could be easily replaced if the need arose. But here, face to face with this android girl, I was starting to feel maybe that didn’t hold true.
“Look. I’m sorry for raising my voice and getting angry. I’m. I’m not used to people worrying about me, but I’m fine, ok? Look at me, as healthy as a fiddle, minus one arm.” I moved my stub around to indicate my point hoping to make her laugh.
“Zeitha,” Ratio began in a low whisper. “What if something went wrong. What if something has gone wrong?”
“If something had gone wrong, I should have been made aware of it. I have many sapient AI’s analysing my brain, they’d detect any issues with the integration. And if they didn’t, so what? My successor would learn from my mistakes and humanity would be all the better for it.”
“You don’t honestly mean that do you?”
“I do. My only reason for living is to push the limits of what humanity can achieve. If I should perish in pursuit of that, then that is a trade I will gladly take.”
Ratio pulled herself close to me, positioning her head against my chest as she began to whisper. “Zeitha. I haven’t been completely honest with you. This isn’t our first-time meeting. Something did go wrong. Back on the ship..." "It wasn't your fault, you didn't know the risks, you didn't know what you were getting into..." I was getting the impression this next bit was going to be important, so I did something I don't often do. I bit my tongue and resisted asking questions. "You're dying; your mind is shattered. Mistress is working on putting as much of you together as she can but..." She stopped, clearly at a loss of what to say next.
I absorbed this slowly and numbly. I would have thought she was lying to me, but her tone... the sadness on her face and the way her hands were shaking. No, she was telling the truth. Faced with the prospect of dying, I did what any normal person would do and started to recall what exactly had happened on that ship. I was so focused on this singular goal, that by the time Ratio had recovered enough to talk it was little more than distant noise that I tuned out. I closed my eyes.
I was back on the ship. I recalled in vivid detail the Spirit of Atlantis being boarded, my interface being hacked and how small I felt running for my life in those corridors. Lucia and I had reached my lab, activated the dormant M.A.B.S' and I reintegrated with Ratio my personal AI. So far so good. I was aware of what had happened to Lucia and me in that communication room, but any attempt I made to picture it caused unwanted emotions and I could feel my mind trying desperately to move on. We all know what happened and at that moment anger was the singular driving force that kept me going. In my desperation for revenge, I sought the reactor with the intent of destroying the ship and all the Affini onboard, but I had failed. Why had I failed? Right, Ratio had turned on me, forcing me to activate a code. What was it? My head began to swell with pain but I could feel it there, on the edges of my memory. What was it? 310? No. 213? 329? My head exploded in pain and I threw up; as I started shaking violently. My vision darkened and I could see Ratio leaning over me screaming, something; tears in her eyes again. What was she saying? It was hard to make out. It sounded like…
“I’M SORRY! I’M SORRY! I’MSORRY! IMSORRY! IMSORRYIMSORRYIMSORRYIMSORRY!”
My head was swimming with pain and I was starting to realise I was lying on a floor. Opening my eyes was a mistake that only proved to intensify said pain. After a few repeats of this mistake, I managed to get myself to a point where I could keep them semi-open. I was still in my prison cell, only it was empty now. There was no furniture, no tv, kitchen unit or anything else. I was alone in a box with 4 walls. “Ratio?” “Ratio!?” No reply was given.
The floor around me started to dematerialise into a series of 1’s and 0’s. I moved to touch the now none existent floor and was horrified to see the edges of my fingers disappear in a similar fashion. I recalled my hand, holding it against my chest; my heart beating fast as I took hurried glances at the rest of my cell slowly following suit.
I made my way to the opposite side of the room, taking care to walk only where the floor was solid. Arriving at the front door I had seen Lyreli use earlier I searched frantically, hoping to find some means to open it. Not finding one I started ramming into the door hoping it would open. I did this three times and just as I was about to ram into it a fourth, it started to vanish, revealing nothing but a hungry void behind it. I backed away in fear and nearly fell backwards as the heel of my foot hung over nothing. Turning I found that most of the room was gone. There had to be a way out!
The bathroom! For whatever reason, the bathroom had been untouched by this phenomenon. I wasted no time and rushed inside. I looked around and found various useless things, whatever small safety I was feeling vanished when I saw the doorframe start to dematerialise. I searched more frantically messing with anything and everything, confident something in here was the answer, but, try as I might nothing was working.
“Ratio?” “Ratio?! Where are you!?”
“Zeitha! The mirror!”
I did as I was instructed. I checked the mirror over and over again, trying to find out what it was that she was trying to tell me. “I don’t understand! There’s nothing here!” I yelled. The void was getting closer and my options were quickly running low. I traced my hand across the surface, then the rim and still, nothing! I screamed and punched the mirror in frustration, only… it didn’t shatter. The surface rippled likes waves and my hand seemed to pass through it. I removed it and attempted to press my hand against it again. It was solid and there were no waves this time. What was different? Right! I had punched it. I tried punching it again, and sure enough, my hand passed through. I glanced at the void now no more than a few feet away and could feel it reaching out to claim me. Having no options left to me, I backed up and prepared to run.
“I hope this works.”
I ran as fast as one can in a confined space; shielding myself as I dove head first into the mirror.