Isaac hadn’t been lying about how extensive the readiness lessons of the pod were. He had recorded hundreds of hours of logs as well as procured countless simulations of any tutorial imaginable, all of which trailed their way across the screen when Sam had incompletely asked Ali ‘how’.
Apart from finding out that Sam had been a junior lab technician where, and when, Isaac had worked, most of that first morning’s refresher course had been nothing more than the simplest of things he needed to pick back up on. Isaac told him that he needed to remember the lesser things before getting into the more complicated ones, or ‘good stuff’ as Isaac had sometimes referred to them.
“If you don’t,” Isaac had said after breakfast, “You won’t have solid foundation to build upon. That’s the most important thing: a solid foundation. Now, let’s get you some clothes.”
Sam didn’t understand the meaning of the word. What did a clothes do? He was still lying bare in his seat when a compartment opened from his left. It contained things that felt like what had covered him during his first night sleeping again. ‘A blanket,’ he thought, running his fingers across them.
These were smaller, and Sam didn’t quite understand exactly what he should be doing with them.
“These are called pajamas, Sam.” Isaac was back in his office as the monitor had shown, eating something round out of one hand and holding a shiny white cup in the other. “They’re from the clothing or style family. You wear them on yourself because it’s often thought of as rude to run around in the buff.”
After watching another training video, and some degree of difficulty, Sam had slipped on the white shirt, black socks, the navy blue pajama bottoms. Although making him feel a little confined and nervous at first, Sam quickly grew to like them. They hugged and warmed him in the pod’s cool air.
Ali came onto the screen, “Are you ready to begin, Sam Higgins?”
Sam was comfortable, eager to remember everything he could about his old world. Rushing emotions flooded his mind. “I’m—ready, Ali,” he said, low and steady.
After a few dozen training logs, and some videos that made up for what Isaac hadn’t recorded himself, Sam was getting the hang of asking questions and speaking more fluently. After every dozen or so explanations of the simple things he needed to know, he was given the option to ask his own questions to ‘resolve any curiosity,’ as Ali had explained the first time he had been given such an option.
Ali helped him with structuring his sentences correctly and his speech to correctly pronounce during this process so he could start speaking again. After a few of the questions he was given the option to listen to something Isaac had called ‘music’.
What he had heard his first night from waking up was music. Sometimes the sounds were slow and the voices resonating with it made him feel warm and happy while others would be faster, making him feel more determined, if not a little more aggressive when Ali told him it was time to start the lessons again.
Since breakfast, he was slowly warming himself to his surroundings. Piece by piece, his mind became a little less foggy as the hours passed. Isaac spent the first half of the morning refreshing Sam on basic school subjects, social interaction, mannerisms, and at times would go on about what life was like before.
Once his brain felt a bit sharper, Sam began wondering why he had been in the pod for such a long time, or at all to begin with for that matter. He wanted to know what had happened before, but, as badly as he wanted to know, Sam felt it would be a bit rude to ask such questions. Keeping in mind what Isaac had told him earlier that day about a solid foundation and the mannerism of not interrupting people at one point, he thought, ‘I’ll ask him later.’
The conclusion he eventually came to was to keep the question to himself. He started thinking it would only be a matter of time before Isaac started talking about it himself. It already seemed like every question Sam had was answer by fifty explanations.
The more he waited, the less the question beckoned in his mind, if only for all the new things he was learning at the time. It was still there at noon, fractioned several times over, but still there. He continued to wait patiently, but Isaac never spoke of it.
It wasn’t long after this small disappointment that Sam’s mind steadily produced other questions. He still couldn’t speak more than half the time without stuttering, but Ali’s speech lessons were working their way into his mind.
Sam gained enough courage from them, and from hearing Isaac speak so much, to asked Ali early on in the afternoon, “Have—any —friends, Ali?”
Ali, with his rosy pale skin, gave the first expression Sam had felt even remotely comfortable with. It was almost as if Ali felt sorrow from the question. It was an odd sight, considering he was a robot. Still, Sam welcomed such a look of kindness. Ali had almost always said everything with the straightest face and monotone voice, but this time he spoke with more tact, like Isaac explaining something important.
“Sam Higgins, you and Dr. Isaac are my friends,” he said. He had spoken less like a robot and shifted into a more courtly tone. His face wriggled a bit more as he spoke, too. Sam remembered Isaac telling him that Ali was, in fact, a ‘learning’ robot.
“Do I have—any friends—Ali,” Sam asked, thinking Ali may give him another comforting, if not, more human-like expression.
Ali had returned to a blank expression, but, as if searching for the answer and finally finding it, he gave another expressive look. “Sam Higgins, you have Dr. Isaac and I as friends. When you explore the new world outside of the Larhp, you may find new people to call friend. I may want to call them a friend as well,” he said.
Sam accepted this answer as the only truth and the question drifted back into his mind. Isaac reappeared on the screen after Ali had answered the question and asked if he wanted to hear more music. Sam accepted with a smile on his face.
During one of them, Isaac began explaining how they had become friends. “This one was one of the many we had in common,” he said as the melody continued. “It’s from the seventies era of before.”
Isaac explained that he had overheard Sam listening to it rather loudly one day in one of the complex labs as he was passing by. “Apparently, you did this when you were really wanting to stay focused. When I finally got your attention you went white as a ghost, then as red as a firetruck because I disturbed you.
“I started doing sign language to you as a quick joke so you wouldn’t be so angry with me,” said Isaac, laughing at the matter. “You took me for a turn when you started signing back.” Isaac chuckled at himself.
“It wasn’t until after two months of us signing back and forth that you told me you could actually speak and weren’t deaf, too. You told me you could sign because of my A—,” Isaac, wanting to explain, choked back his words.
“Well, you had thrown me for a laugh,” he said. “I thought it was very cunning on your part; such an elaborate prank, it was. You’d think after earning half a dozen degrees I would have been able to pick up on a matter of mere common sense.
“Either way,” he said with a content smile, “I always thought you were a joy to have around after that. I never doubted your intentions” Isaac’s eyes were starting to get red again, almost glistening. Sam didn’t understand this, but this beckoning thought quickly left him, just as most did. They all were piled into a mental mess, but Isaac explained that they could all be answered in due time.
After having liquid lunch as well, Sam remembered something he had thought of the day before that hadn’t made sense to him.
“Ali, what’s,” Sam started, trying to remember. “What’s coffee?”
Sam remembered using this word in the place of coughing for some reason. Isaac had also explained his brain may be mixed up a bit at times as well, but it would return to normal after he learned his foundational skill and was more comfortable with his environment.
“Coffee,” Ali said briskly, “Is what’s known as a drink or beverage. It is typically served hot and with a few condiments such as creamer, sugar, caramel, whip cream, and other various ingredients. Coffee’s main ingredient of caffeine, which is classified as a stimulant, meaning it can give its consumer a burst of energy for a set amount of time depending on the variables of their health, the strength of the caffeine within the coffee, the amount consumed, and the type of work needing to be done. Do you want to know more?”
“No– but thank you,” Sam answered, remembering his manners. All of the questions Sam had asked so far were answered like this. He thought the monotone voice was a bit creepy at first, wanting the face from Ali that was more friendly, but he figured at the very least he still had Isaac.
After a while, still chipping away at his lessons, he realized that everything he was learning was connected like the web of an arachnid, which was some sort of small, eight-legged creature from before that Ali had told him about. He thought this was a most fascinating comparison.
Isaac had mentioned earlier in the day that Ali would be able to answer any simple questions Sam might have. He said it was in his programming, a word Sam still didn’t fully understand yet, but any questions that Isaac had recorded logs for would be answered by the log itself, and so on and so forth.
Sam spent the better part of that day practicing his speech, asking simple questions, listening to beautiful sounds, and eagerly soaking back in the knowledge he had once known. He had been enjoying himself to an extent, but then remembered the question he had wanted to ask earlier. It was an important question that his brain couldn’t quite seem to differentiate between the nonsensical things and the really important ones.
Ali was in the middle of explaining what a teapot was used for when Sam couldn’t stand not knowing any longer.
“What happened—before,” he interrupted. Ali gave a searching look again. For a moment Sam thought that Ali may never answer, A clicking sound ensued.
“You do not have access to this video log. Please try again at a later date,” he said mechanically.
Ali’s voice sounded more robotic than ever, his face blank. Sam had thought he would never speak again until his face blipped away and Dr. Isaac began speaking again. He looked very different from any other time Sam had seen him. His face was unkept and his hair looked as if he had run his hand through it several times.
Sam’s eyes were transfixed as Isaac cleared his throat. He began speaking in a low and composed voice. “Sam,” he said, running his hand through his hair, “There are some things that I won’t be able to tell you when the time comes; I wouldn’t even know the kinds of things you’re going to have to face. This is why I spent as much time developing Ali as I did the hyper-stasis pod. Where I am…when I am, I cannot be sure of anything that will happen, but what I do know is that I have to try. It’s not a race against who will make the next breakthrough anymore. When the time comes, you’ll know more about the event that’s going to take place. Until then, keep the lessons in mind when you venture out into the new world.”
Isaac looked directly into the camera, carrying a look of absolution and a tone that was nothing short of foreboding. “I know I’m doing the right thing. If—when you make it to the other side, you’ll need all the help you can get to do what needs to be done.”
A mechanical sound ensued as Isaac’s eyes left the monitor. Sam heard a faint voice in the background. “Field simulation’s about to start Isaac—what’re you—?”
“Nothing,” Isaac said casually. “Just checking the last rep—.”
Isaac vanished after he had pressed a button on his keyboard. Sam’s answer had brought forth even more questions, and, it seemed, he was no closer to figuring out why. The why of something he didn’t even understand.
As the next few hours came and went, Sam was starting to get very antsy staying solitary in his chair. He began asking Ali every question as fast as they had come to his mind, near the end of the day.
Ali logged them on a separate monitor as Sam spoke, and after he had asked everything he could think of, he’d lay back and listen to their explanations, trying always to get comfortable.
Letting his mind soak in the information was blissful. He could remember so many things, even recalling a few memories of his earlier days at the complex where Dr. Isaac had worked. The more and more Sam learned, the more comfortable he felt, even in such an odd predicament.
Isaac had shown up fewer times in the last few hours. In fact, unless he asked something very specific, Ali was the one to answer the questions, usually with videos or explanations, some of which were starting to make him sound even more human.
Ali was another thing Sam was getting more curious about. Even though he was a robot, Sam was finding it easier to talk to him if he asked basic human questions. It made him feel a little better to at least try and trick himself into believing another person was really there.
“What’s your favorite color, Ali,” He had asked in the late hours of that afternoon.
Ali’s response was a bit strange. “The human eye sees three separate colors: red, blue, and yellow. The combinations of percentages of each color when mixed together can form millions of different colors, all with varying degrees of clarity, from matte to gloss. I couldn’t possibly choose a color based from favoritism, but the videos you see do have a wide range of colors. According to them, the most favored color within the videos themselves is all color, or black.”
“Okay, Ali,” Sam said bemused, “can I assign you a favorite color?”
Ali had another long pause, processing the question most likely, and spoke up in another rare human-like tone, “I’d be honored to have a favorite color, Sam Higgins.”
Sam, his fingers interlaced behind his head in the chair with one of his legs coiled, pondered for a moment. “Let’s make it deep blue, like my pajamas, how’s that sound, Ali?”
There was no response.
Ali was dead still, and as each second passed, Sam began to wonder if something had gone wrong inside the pod. A loud hissing spewed from behind him on both sides as his bed began arch into a sitting position, turned in a semi-circle for the first time, and began a diagonal slide through what used to be the floor and rear wall.
The small opening he passed through quickly widened into a small room, compartments lining the walls and a singular walkway stretched through a long and narrow passage. It was all a deep blue as well.
Sam’s chair began to stand straight, edging him to slide forward. He hit the soft rubber flooring, taking a knee as he did, and let out a grunt. He straightened out his legs and arched his back, standing for the first time since he had been awoken.
The tubes that protruded out of his side since he was out into hyper-stasis were still holding him at a certain length, hindering his reach. Sam tried pulling them further so he could explore, but they wouldn’t budge. Dr. Isaac’s voice began to echo throughout the passageway.
“Sam, this will be your home until you exit the pod. You’ll be cleared to leve once the basics are covered. The parameters are easy to follow, but you’ve still got quite a few lessons to go. Ali will still be here to direct you, but there are complex functions and new skills you’ll need in order to make it out there.”
Sam, without hesitation, asked out loud, “How do I get these off.” He was tugging the tubing in his side. Everything was silent until Ali’s voice broke through.
“We’re about remove the waste disposal and nutrient deposit pumps, Sam Higgins,” Ali said, still more like a human, “this is going to hurt.”
Sam shuddered as the hoses slithered loose from his flesh and retracted back into the wall. His skin, bleeding at first, had almost instantly closed itself.
“Don’t get used to that,” Isaac said with a voice sounding as if a smirk was on his face. “Those antibodies will be out of your system as soon as we teach you to use the lavatories. For now, try walking over to that table.”
Sam, though slow at first, continued over to the table, slow and steady. Isaac’s voice came around again. “Now, see that earpiece? Ali will be able to talk to you through it while you’re training. You can’t stare at monitors all day if you want to start surviving. try it on,” he said.
Sam took the earpiece, unsure what to do, and watched as a hologram of Ali appeared in front of him. After showing him how the device worked, Sam was hearing Ali through it in no time.
Isaac’s voice took over the speaker after Ali had explained to him about the living quarters. “Sam, you know more now than you did before, but you still have one hell of a way to go. It’s almost time for you to get some rest, but just remember, it’ll be a dangerous world out there. Your time in the Larhp is limited. Keep that in mind over the next few days. All aside, I’ve given you everything you’d need for wherever it is you’re planning on going. Just remember to stay safe, there are others who may need you when the time comes. Take care of yourself.”
Sam didn’t understand what Isaac had meant by others, but the thought was lost when he heard Ali’s voice disrupt his train of thought. “Deep blue sounds like a wonderful color, Sam.”
Sam realized he hadn’t used his last name. ‘Perhaps he really is starting to learn a thing or two,’ He thought.