Sam spent the rest of that night pondering over what Isaac had said. Warning him about choking on certain foods seemed miles away from the horror that filled his head when Isaac had told Sam he couldn’t begin to imagine the things he would be facing in the days to come.
Although Sam was comforted that Isaac had been so up front, there were parts of him that had wished he wouldn’t have told him anything at all. During each pause of Ali’s voice during a ‘searching’ moment, or when he’d hear a song that had a slow melodic tune, holding his attention to a dull strain, he would start to see things in his mind.
Later in the evening, Sam asked Ali , “What’s a—monster?”
Sam’s earpiece was still hooked onto his head, silent. He was starting to picture things in his mind, awful things. Large contortions, fractured images, and spiny hazes all took his mind over for a moment while Ali’s voice remained silent. “Aha,” Ali’s voice said, “I have found your answer, Sam.” Ali was trying to sound more like a human but the courtly tone still didn’t do his attempts any justice.
Sam’s eyes lit up with excitement. Of all the things that had been so interesting to him, this was the first abstract question, thus far, and that Ali might actually answer. He waited patiently, sitting on his bed with the nail of his thumb between his teeth.
“A monster,” Ali said, “is a term used to describe something that is otherwise indescribable, undefinable, or grotesque beyond the recognition of modern explanation. Dr. Isaac has many files on the research of such creatures; however, he has locked access to them. Certain criteria must be met before the files are fully available.”
“Of course,” Sam said. Everything of any real interest seemed to be locked away. Although it was Sam’s first whole day within the confines of the pod, he was starting to come to terms with the possibility that Isaac had jotted down everything that was really important and had programmed Ali to never tell him anything about it. ‘What is he trying to accomplish doing this,’ he thought.
“Sam,” Ali said softly, “I understand you’re upset, but there are many things that must be learned before you continue.”
“I know that,” Sam said a little louder than he had wished. “I just want to know why.” Sam wasn’t so much angry as he was frustrated with the whole situation.
As the moments past, he suddenly felt a strange urge and let out a grunt.
When Ali’s voice had left the microphone in the past, Sam heard nothing but silence. Now, just as before, there was a faint hum. Ali was searching again. Sam waited a few moments, pain began to well in his stomach and he felt his mouth water.
“Sam, this is a bathroom,” Ali said as one of the wall panels along the slim walkway slid open to reveal a small room. “You need to purge the antibodies from your system. Use the basin of the toilet.”
Instinctively, Sam strode over to it, poking his head in, and began to retch. Watery gray muck filled the basin and began to move and swish on its own. it nearly filled the basin of what Sam had stuck his face into. Isaac’s voice came back into the microphone.
“Sam, these are the antibodies I was telling you not to get used to. They have healing properties and went to work as you woke woke up, feeding any dead cells to your waste tube to be flushed out. After your tubes were removed, there’s really no use for them; in fact, they could be deadly,” Isaac said.
“These little guys give off a microscopic discharge and will only last a few days in someone’s system before that person develops certain—-ailments. We gave you something to purge them in your nutrient tube before it was disconnected, so don’t use them again unless you know how to get rid of them in time. They won’t leave the discharge in hyper-stasis because they stay dormant, much like yourself. They can’t ‘work their magic’ so to speak,”
Sam didn’t think it was magical at all. What he was seeing was more like what he imagined a nightmare would look like. The swishing was only the beginning. It looked like a sea of microscopic gray beads were assembling, trying to form small tidal wave in the toilet, and disassembling into themselves. Sam watched them in awe. ‘Their cleaning themselves,’ he thought. ‘But why?’
Sam shook the question and wiped his mouth, flicking more of the mucous to the floor. He watched as the mucous began to slither forward and into the bowl, leaving a thin layer of gray film along the curve of the bowl. ‘Gross,’ he thought.
“Now,” Ali voice spoke, “Time to fix you up with a trim.”
Sam pictured a grinning face when he heard Isaac’s voice again, “Luckily, you won’t be shaving. That’s something that could never be kept as an efficient grooming method, at least not in this world. It was a much easier process to develop replacement trimmer blades that lasted a couple of years. Although I can’t say you’ll have baby-bottom face, I can assure you that if your environment outside isn’t permitting, you won’t want your face more susceptible than it has to be anyway.”
‘Outside,’ Sam thought. He had been too focused on the mere idea of monsters and purging the antibodies that he had almost forgotten that he had limited time. After the power to the pod had been dropped the first time, Ali had told him that they were running on backup power from three batteries, each lasting two days.
‘Two plus two plus two is—six,’ Sam thought. Six days until he left seemed like an awful long time, but after giving some thought, ‘three-hundred-sixty five times two-hundred. What number is that?’ Sam tried to calculate it but his brain began to throb.
“Sam,” Isaac said, “This is a mirror, you’ll need it to see what you’re about to do.” As Isaac was speaking, a piece of the wall began to turn a rotation. As it finished, Sam saw another person, a very thin person, come into frame. The person in the mirror had sunken face with eyes that were reddened, streaked with veins. This person’s body looked sullen and meek, pale and meager.
“Sam, you’re looking at yourself right now, but this isn’t how you left the world. Hyper-stasis results in muscle degradation, potential memory loss, and other side-effects that could not be tested in the long term before its proper use was fulfilled. This,” Isaac said as a picture of different young man appeared in a small portion of the mirror, “is you from before.” This boy was different. His hair was not matted to his head, nor was his face covered in hair twanging hair. This person looked whole, giving a humble smile to the taker of the photo. His skin had color and his eyes had only mere shades of darkness rather than pits from which hardly any light reflected.
Sam had lost track of his time while staring at the picture. “Sam,” Ali’s voice said abruptly, “We are limited on time. What you’ll see to your right is called a trimmer.” Another compartment pushed effortlessly out of the wall and revealed something odd-looking. “I’ll give you some options to choose from; however, I do recommend sticking to something rather simple.”
After Ali had spoken, Sam’s photo from before stayed in place and eleven other slots, all equal sizes, filled up the mirror with more people. They were all Sam, and they all were his current reflection, but each had different lengths of hair on their faces. “Please,” Ali’s voice said, “Pick one.”
Sam went with the one closest to the way he originally looked and began work. After a few minutes, he felt a bit better than he had before. “Back to the lessons,” Ali said. Sam’s smile had fade; he rolled his eyes instinctively.
The rest of that night, Ali’s voice was guiding him through cooking, personal hygiene, and how to use the bathroom (Which he couldn’t particularly make up his mind over whether he liked or not). Before heading off to bed, Ali explained what a shower was, and offered one, telling Sam it was highly unlikely that he would ever have the chance to experience one again. Sam accepted the offer.
During, Sam asked for more music, and for the first time since waking up, he felt at peace with the situation, and at one point had even felt at home. His mind wandered as the music filled his head. He started seeing more figures. These weren’t spiny, contorted masses that made him feel weak in his legs. The images he saw were of people, or at least he thought they were like people by the way they looked.
Each one looked a bit different than the last. Each looked as if they could be a friend or foe. Sam didn’t quite understand why he had felt this was until after his was lying in bed. He asked, “Ali, is it safe— in this world?”
Silence again, humming breaking through for a moment before the answer finally came, “Dr. Isaac has a video log he’d like to show you. It’s programming dictates not showing all of it until you’re ready to leave the pod; however, the first part can be shown in accordance with a mixture of your question and vocal patterns.”
Sam, waiting for response, had a moment’s thought. ‘What if there’s no one else. No danger, not even people. What if it’s simply— nothing.’ The thought was curling into something when Isaac’s voice interrupted.
“Sam, I—I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense now,” He said slowly. “You need to understand that there are so many things I want to tell you, that I wish I could, but they simply wouldn’t make any sense and if they did, it would do more harm than good.
“Right now, what you need to know is that our world in my time isn’t going to be saved. Your time may be different. It may be something horrid and dangerous, but it has the potential to be different than what’s happening now. . That’s why the event happened in the first place. In all likelihood, your world will be chaotic, but it will be an opportunity to live past what could have happened in my time,” He said.
Sam’s stayed fixated on what Isaac had called the event. He tried thinking hard about what it could have meant, thinking back to every refresher course he had as well as what his mind had unlocked naturally, but he was still drawing blanks. The thought fit so well, as if he knew exactly what it was, but all the details were missing.
Isaac came back for a moment. “Sam, just know that whatever happens—.“ He gave a long pause. Sam could hear an odd sound that he hadn’t heard before. Isaac’s voice came back, breaking, “Just remember that whatever happens is supposed to happen. All of the good, and the bad, are things that have to happen. Your father told me this, and I came to know it as the truth.”
Isaac sounded like he was going to continue, but a small click ended his voice entirely. “This is the end of part one for this message, Sam. Now, time to get some rest,” Ali’s voice explained.
Sam’s mind stayed fixated on a single word Isaac had used. Until he drifted off, his mind kept repeating it over and over again. ‘Father,’
That night, Sam had the same dream from his first night within the dwelling. Tidal fire was raging toward him as he whimpered in his sleep, becoming drenched in sweat. Screams and echoes of voices filled the air.The tidal fire broke through the large glass of the complex he was standing in.
Shattering, wailing, and then . . . silence. It was dark, but ,if only for a briefest moments, he began to see faces illuminate all around him. He recognized them, but couldn’t place them.
The faces flashed as if a pulsating lights illuminated each within portrait and vanished as soon as they had appeared. This was happening all around him. At one point he even saw Isaac, gruff but smiling with combed hair, and Ali, pale by comparison and holding a friendly but blank expression. An eerie hum was growing stronger and stronger until silence and darkness had stopped altogether.
The faces in the portraits, in a loud booming thunder, appeared all at once. The echoes held the illumination at first, then darkness fell over while the echoes still rang out.
All at once, the edges of the images ignited in flames, illuminated once more. Each was now deceased, as pale as Ali. Even Ali’s portrait had its robotic eyes charred black with soot, holding a loosened expression. Isaac’s face looked horribly mangled and tightened. All the other portraits were equally as horrific.
The portraits began to surround Sam, moving inward and forming a ring, echoing screams of the deceased growing louder and louder in his ear. As they formed, the air seemed to be sucked from Sam’s lungs as he collapsed onto the black floor, heaving for breath. The fire was starting to warm him past uncomfortable, feeling more and more present on his skin as the seconds passed. Boils formed and his eyes were searing.
The fire’s illumination caused the faces to flicker, over and over again as his vision went black; the crying echoes turning to a piercing ring, deafening beyond comprehension.
He felt a hard thudding on his chest. Just as his eyes dimmed and the thudding continued, but he heard a strange new voice. It wasn’t in his ear, and it wasn’t from a speaker. It sounded more electronic than Ali’s voice did, but it sounded even less courtly than Isaac’s, with his courtly English accent. He couldn’t tell whether it was coming from a robot or the high-pitched voice of a teenager. The voice was layered, but friendly at the same time.
“You gonna sleep all day princess, or you gonna get to work,” the voice said. “C’mon Sammy, we got a lot of work before Isaac lets us outta this garbage can.”
Sam’s eyes crept open, thinking he was still in the nightmare. To his astonishment, there was another person, or so he thought it was a person. The voice belonged to something that looked like a person and moved like one, too, but it looked strangely mechanical.
Atop its head. there was no skull. Instead, Sam saw a clear dome pulsating with blue light. Its head turned, light revealing a face that looked similar to Ali’s, but this face was deeper in its complexion, more vibrant, too. It wore cargo slacks and black combat shoes, a gray, sleeveless hoodie covered it’s torso. It had one regular hand and the other looked like a piece of machinery that had formed one.
“Who are you,” Sam asked.
The person, or thing, Sam couldn’t really tell, turned its head. “Timmy,” It said, “Timmy the A-L-I, or Timmy the Ali, Timmy Ali, Timali, Timmy, Timmy the Tin Can, Tiny Tim or just Tim. That’s what you called me before all this stuff went down. Now, let’s see,” it said.
This was the first person, or what looked like a person, Sam had met in his entire new life. The more he watched this person, the odder he felt. It wasn’t a bad feeling at all. In fact, the feeling was good. To see something, or someone, in person felt good.
Tim stood, seeing the confused expressions on Sam’s face. He walked over and sat on the foot of the small bed Sam was sitting on and took a seat. Sam brought his knees closer to his chest to give the being room.
“Sorry, man. I almost forgot your circuits are probably as good as scrambled eggs right about now. That hyper-stasis was never a hundred percent on the old noggin,” it said, tinking on its clear head, “I’m Tim,” it said, holding out its mechanical hand.
Reluctant at first, Sam outstretched his own and gave a firm enough shake. “Way before Isaac started planning your great escape, you procured me from a lab and began running tests, building your very own Ali Robot. I was just a decommissioned third gen with no legs and one arm gone, but you helped me out when you upgraded my A-I to the A-L-I. That stands for Artificial Learning Intelligence. It’s an acronym; you still like acronyms don’t you,” he asked.
Sam gave and expression of pure surprise. Isaac had said the same thing when Sam had woken up on the first day. “Yeah, I like them,” Sam said slowly.
“Great,” Tim said, “Now, really quick, before I fall out, I need to recharge and find out where the hell we are and what software Isaac left you with.”
He pushed himself off the bed and onto the floor with a leap. “By the way,” Tim asked, “How much do you know so far?”
Sam looked down for a moment, thinking. He explained the bulk of what he’d seen and told Tim this was his third day, or so he thought.
“Hmm,” Tim pondered. “Typically with the cell degradation within the batteries over the hyper-stasis period, you’d have three days total to begin with. This is just a conclusion drawn from the research you and I had snuck out of the complex with, but that was months before the event, so it probably became outdated.
“Let me get up to speed,” Tim said. he walked over to one of the panels and ripped a door off its hinges. “Isaac probably locked this thing down tighter that a line of code, but I’m a robot, so who cares, right.” He shrugged his shoulders.
He held up a single finger and, as if on a hinge, its tip sprang off to the side, revealing a male plugin. He ripped open another panel that revealed a port and inserted. A strained whirring that Sam hadn’t heard before overtook the pod’s steady drone. “Easy, Bessy,” Tim said, patting the wall. “She’s shy,” he said, craning his head towards Sam.
He began mumbling under his breath, if he did breath, “running diagnostic, resetting clock, retrieving nanos, calibrating motion change, checking battery,— Oh!” it said. “You’ve got all kinds of new things man: music, movies, and books. Dang, looky here; I’ve even got a few upgrades myself.
“Isaac left you petabytes worth of information man, more than I’ve ever seen before, in all formats, too but–” he said pausing, “There’s all kinds of encryption on here as well. Criteria protocols are out the ass. Someone really didn’t want you knowing what happened before. At least not yet.”
“Tim,” Sam said. Tim turned, unplugging his finger, looking concerned. “What does your name stand for,” he asked timidly. Tim walked over to him, sitting closer this time.
“Sam, it’s okay to be scared, but, if you must know, my name doesn’t stand for anythin’,” he said, holding in a laugh. “You gave it to me because I didn’t have any legs when you found me. How messed up is that?” Tim broke out in a hysterical laughter. “I’m surprised you didn’t name me Dan, honestly.”
Sam, although not understanding why it was funny, began laughing, too. It was a great feeling, even if it did hurt just a bit.
“Why don’t you sound like Ali? Why don’t you sound like a—-robot,” Sam asked, not wanting to offend him.
“You found me three years before the event and worked with me every day up until. I did sound like Ali at first, but with a lot of time, I began to talk like you. I picked up on all your phrases and punch-lines. Hell, I even stole a few of your pickup lines,” he said, chuckling. “Sadly, they don’t break though firewalls and encryption.”
“So, you’re like me from before,” Sam asked.
“Yupp, nuts and everything,” he said.
“Are you going to train me,” Sam asked.
“I’m gonna do more than train you,” he said, a spark in his eye. He spread his hand over the open air of the pod facing away. “When I get done with you, your brain’s synapses will be firing off like roman candles.”
“What are those,” Sam asked.
Tim looked back at him, “that means we had lot of work to do,” Tim said.