A people that hear without listening, that talk without speaking, too stubborn and blind to be saved from their own dying planet. The ESS Sao Paulo has been sent to rescue the inhabitants of Eulysia, but what they find when they arrive is a darkness, one that seems to swallow their warnings in pools of silence.
SOUND OF SILENCE - CHAPTER FIVE
Vessel: ESS Sao Paulo
Records of: Tao Zihao
Rank (if app.): CDR
No one else seems to like shuttle camping, but I think it’s fun, actually. I was in the Academy Pathfinders program growing up, and whenever I go camping, I’m always reminded of all the fun places we would go. Beach camping in the Thailand Gulf, camping by a waterfall in Hubei. One summer, we went backpacking through the American Appalachians and got caught in the worst thunderstorm I’ve ever seen in my life. One of our younger members slipped on a mossy rock and snapped his ankle, so we all had to huddle inside a cave with our gear and equipment for a day and a half until the weather cleared enough for us to send out a distress call.
Ah, it was great though. Loads of fun, despite the situation.
There’s a particle storm in low orbit tonight, so we’ve been forced to stay on the surface until at least tomorrow morning. And with the shuttle already at its occupancy limit, we’ve decided to utilize the emergency inflatable tents. Three marines, four officers, one guest, and four individual tents on either side of the shuttle. Total of eight. It all kind of worked out perfectly. At least for those of us who like sleeping under the stars.
I admit, it’s a bit eerie tonight, though. It’s too quiet. We’re just outside one of the biggest metropolitan regions of this planet, and it sounds as if we’re in the middle of nowhere. Not a single sound, other than the occasional bird or the rustling of trees. It’s unsettling. An entire species that speaks entirely without talking. Hears without actually listening. That spends their entire existence in a world of their own making.
We tried hooking into the network ourselves. We got Ayeila to show us where we could find a temporary fyitt, like the ones they use for their youth, but our biology is just as incompatible as hers. Probably shouldn’t have just tried it without having the medical team do an analysis first. Not the safest idea. I guess the marines are rubbing off on us. But our plan is to get in contact with Bo and Doc to figure out some kind of workaround so that we can link ourselves into their global network.
As soon as the weather clears.
[END OF ENTRY]
"And then this sticky part goes here, like that," Commander Tao says, securing a jury-rigged neural connector to my temple. "There. Alright, I think we're good to test it out."
He moves over to a portable computer and taps in an entry on the screen.
It's a crude solution, but the best we could do considering our limited resources and available technical skills. Essentially, we've built our own human-compatible fyitt out of spare bits from the shuttle, then linked it to a router that directs the signal to the Eulysian fyitt and onward to the global network. I have one, Lieutenant Dairo has one, and we've made a comparable version for Ayeila, based on the scans we sent to Bo and Doc. In theory, this will be her first time inside the network.
"Okay, signal's good this time. Let's give it a go. Ready?"
I nod and move to the seats set up for us by the window with Lieutenant Dairo and Ayeila following right behind. The Data Processing Center looms outside the window before us like a watch tower, vigilantly shepherding its flock below.
We tried using our setup back at the shuttle, but we quickly discovered that the only place with a signal strong enough to support our weekend warrior engineering was back here at the network node. Luckily, the entire square is surrounded by shops that are almost entirely unused and unmonitored.
"Here we go. Executing link…now."
The transition is so jarring and harsh that I nearly throw up, like a boot. Who knows, maybe I actually do in real life.
It takes me a minute to realize that I'm on my knees, looking at the dirt beneath me. I look at my hands. They're longer, and I have one extra joint on each finger. And my skin. It's a darker shade and just the slightest bit rouged, almost like a bourbon.
"Captain, how's the signal coming through?"
I look up, but Z's words seem to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
"Good," I say, though my own voice seems entirely foreign to me. It's silvery and lower pitched, much like Ayeila's. "It feels so real."
"These are the default settings on their network, but I can adjust them so that your avatar looks more like your real self."
"No, this is good. Maybe they'll be more comfortable around me if I look more like them."
I stand up and take in my surroundings. I'm in a stone-walled station of some sort. Kind of like a train station. There are multiple platforms along the fringes with foreign-looking transports and thousands of people bustling about here and there. And in the center, there's a market humming with vendors of all kinds. Lights flashing out products, hovering speakers moving about the masses attempting to snare their prey with cunning promises of discounts and glamour and lives made easier with the press of a button.
As I stand watching it all, a man pops up out of thin air, right before my eyes. A Eulysian, about a foot taller than me, black hair with cardinal streaks running through it and yellow eyes. I call out in surprise and stumble backwards a few steps, bumping into the wall behind me.
The man turns around. With head tilted sideways, he gives me a funny look and then moves on. Though, not before twisting his fingers in the air, triggering a complete change in his entire outfit.
He saw me. I only realize this after he's already disappeared from view. He actually saw me. And he reacted to me. I wasn't just some invisible figure to him, as I was back in the square, and he wasn't just some mindless rock oblivious to everything around him.
This is the global network. The fyitts we crafted are working.
I turn around. There are another two Eulysians standing there, looking at me expectantly. One of them is about my height, pale, silver-haired, while the other is undeniably Ayeila.
"So, I guess it's working then?"
"No kidding," Lieutenant Dairo's avatar responds, her attention drawn to the fluorescent world around us. "Ma'am," she adds, attempting to recover a measure of the military bearing she's left behind in the real world.
Who can blame her, though? My mind has already wandered elsewhere, drawn to the vibrance and to the devotion to detail found in this digital world.
It's as if someone has taken the real world and stirred in a dash of fantasy, brushed a layer of exotic energy over it all, then let everyone loose to pursue their imaginations. No rules. No guides. And yet, everything somehow ends up along natural lines of order, with the most perfect imperfections satisfying some basal need for balance between chaos and order, between precision and organic harmony.
I look over at Ayeila and realize that her skin is glistening—Eulysians' equivalent of tearing up. For a moment, I wonder if something's wrong; maybe the connection is causing her pain, or maybe she's getting nauseous from the sensory overload.
But then I watch how she stares at the chattering market beyond, how she inhales sharply each time a passerby touches her arm, or when someone acknowledges her by making eye contact and giving a nod.
This is the first time she's ever been connected to a true community of her own species. This is the first time she's ever been noticed.
By someone other than the Regulators, that is.
"Come on," I say, gesturing to the other two. "We probably don't have a lot of time. Ayeila, how do we get the word out as quickly as possible?"
We told Ayeila the news last night. She actually took it surprisingly well. I guess the idea of living on an entirely different planet in a diaspora was preferable to living in an anfyitt camp, or running from the authorities for the rest of her existence.
Ayeila snaps out of her trance. "Right. Uh, pubs. We should find a pub."
"A pub?" Lieutenant Dairo chuckles. "I'm not sure now's the time for a drink. Though, on principle, I'm never opposed to the suggestion."
"No, you don't have to drink. A public house is for more than just that. It's a forum, more than anything else. There are millions of them, organized by general topic. All you have to do is query a database of available topics and select where you want to go."
"How do you do that?" I ask.
She holds up one hand, palm up, and a glowing menu appears before her. "Like this. The Adjutant carries out most commands that you give. Just hold your hand out and speak. Or select."
Lieutenant Dairo eyes her suspiciously. "You seem to know a lot about the network for someone who's never been here before."
Ayeila shrugs off the implied accusation and puts her palm down. "Everyone is taught about the network in school. Even us anfyitts. It's as common knowledge as numbers or colors."
I hold out my palm and smile in childlike wonder as a glowing menu appears with a globe spinning slowly off to the side. Despite the urgent situation, I'm tempted to dive into this virtual world and get lost in the various digital nooks and neighborhoods. We have a few virtual environments around the Alliance, but nothing like this. Nothing that could host an entire species at the same time.
"So," I say to Ayeila, shaking myself back to reality (of sorts), "what would you suggest we do? Which forum would be the most impactful?"
Ayeila looks thoughtful for a moment, then she pulls up a list on her palm. "PoliticsNow would be too broad—you'd get lost in the numbers there—but GeoDoomHub might be too specific with too small an audience. I'd suggest something moderate that's welcoming to outsiders. Maybe one of the popular fringe pubs like Apocalypse Cafe."
"Alright then," I say, clapping my hands together. "Let's make this happen."