This is a revised version of a short story I began in 2019. You may read the original version of the story here, if you so desire to see how the story is beginning to evolve.
Part 1 can be read here.
A persistent beeping broke the silence between Ansel and me.
I was trying to remember how to speak when Opal rushed on to the deck,
“Oh good, you’re here! I think it’s a planet!” she cried, rushing over to the source of the beeping.
Reading the screen, she mumbled to herself, “hmm….some sort of atmosphere… we’ll have to get…. closer….”
“Water?” was the only thing I could think of to say. No one responded but then again, no one needed because yet another beep broke the awkward silence, however, this one was much quieter than the previous. It was the alert of the initial images from our telescope.
Opal gasped, as she brought the image to the main screen. It was breathtaking.
Swirls of white marbled the planet above indigo oceans and emerald masses. We hadn’t found a new planet since I was a child. That planet was made entirely amethyst and was entirely too windy to bother with doing more than appreciate it from afar. A planet with water was truly magnificent, so long as it’s not sentient water. There’s nothing worse than sentient water.
The three of us stood staring at the image, imaging all the possibilities of finding a planet with water but no one said anything. I remembered the conversation with Sam.
How could I be sure that was even him I was speaking to? Of course, if it wasn’t him, that’s a problem too…
“Take it down” I finally said.
“Why?” Opal protested.
“We can’t risk anyone knowing about this, unless necessary. Print the photos, and save them to a separate hard drive that isn’t linked to the ship in any way. Then delete these images, take the system back to the last backup.”
Opal just stood there, staring at me, and said, “What?”
Frustrated, I snapped “Will you please just do it now!?”
Her face fell slightly before getting offended by my outburst. She straightened herself up tall and met my eye,
“Do you want to explain yourself?”
I let out a sigh, no one deserved me barking orders at them. “I’m sorry. I will explain, but right now I really need you to do this immediately.” She glared at me. She wasn’t ready to forgive me yet.
“I’ll buy lunch,” I added. It a stupid joke, because no one used money anymore. There wasn’t a point, but it’s something they say in all the old movies. It probably wasn’t as funny to them.
“Fuck off,” she said with a smile.
I knew she didn’t mean it, but I gave her space because she sat down and started to back up the image files. Then she started to route the information she was gathering about our treasure, to an exo-computer.
I left Opal and Ansel on the bridge to geek out about science I couldn’t understand. I wasn’t worried about Ansel talking about what Sam had told me, in the Simulation. Ansel was a man of honor and knew this was a conversation I needed to have with her, alone. Talking about the Simulation with Opal was such a careful topic to navigate. Even the mere mention of the Simulation can trigger her.
Finding myself at my door, I decided to lay down and think about how to broach the topic with Opal later. I must’ve fallen asleep because then I saw that blue and green, marbled planet, getting closer and closer. I flew through space, drawing nearer to the planet, seeing its details come to life. I saw its trees and its mountains and its valleys. I was hurling closer still when I found myself flying through a forest of evergreen trees or at least what I imagined they looked like. I’ve only ever seen them in old movies and pictures of our past. I landed gracefully, on the forest floor, feeling small under the towering trees.
In the middle of the forest, a clearing of trees and a rush of sunlight blinded me. Protruding from the clearing, was a massive evergreen, towering into the clouds. I craned my neck up to see where the massive life ended, but it seemed to extend forever. I moved closer to the tree, the smell of pine, perfuming the air. It was so pure and not at all like the Simulation had built.
There was no other sound, but the crunch of the grasses and leaves under my feet as I approached the tree. I looked at the bark of the tree that climbed up to the sky while my hands reached for the new sensation of bark. It was cold too much touch.
The painting of deep browns and burnt siennas creating the bark faded into a hardened, metallic gray before my eyes. The ground began to shake, as the roots of the massive tree raised from the concrete ground, spinning around me, like cables to a massive computer when it looked at me through a red lens. A moment later, the roots wrapped around my body, tightening its grip as I tried to scream but had nothing but silence spew out of my open mouth. I was strangled as my bones crushed under the force of metallic roots when somewhere in the distance a faint tap tap tap was heard.
tap tap tap
It was louder now.
tap tap tap
I know that name. Who’s name is that?
“Come on Jade, I know you’re in there!”
Jade… I’m Jade.
TAP TAP TAP
I opened my eyes to find myself back in my room. The tapping was now banging and Opal yelling at me to stoping being an ass hole and answer the door.
“I’m hungry Jade! Let’s Go!” she yelled.
“I’m coming!” I croaked out, in a hoarse voice. I grabbed the glass of water by my bed. Weird dream I thought to myself. I went to the door and opened it up.
“Sorry, I had fallen asleep. Had a really weird dream.”
Opal rolled her eyes at me, “yeah whatever, let’s go! I’m starving!”
I reached for Opal’s arm, “Actually, let’s order it here. I want to talk to you about something, but I can’t risk anyone else overhearing me…”
“About the planet?” Opal interrupted, “Or why you’re being weird?”
I paused for a moment, ignoring the insult, “Both, I guess. It’s… It’s about the simulation.”
Opal crossed her arms in front of her, letting out a huff,
“Did it finally kill someone?”
“No? I mean, I don’t think so… not yet anyway… but, I went in. I wanted to talk to Sam.” I said.
“I don’t know,” I continued “I guess I just got curious. It was stupid. He’s built some fembot for himself which no one is shocked by, I know” we both laughed.
“He told me, he’s been trying to come out of the simulation for a while and he said he’s locked in. He’s got access to his code and knows the fail-safe to get him out from the outside, has also been rewritten to fry him if we try.”
She didn’t say anything, she just sat there and waited to see if there was more to the story.
“He thinks either the Simulation has outlearned us or that someone else has hacked into it. Opal, Markus never should’ve been able to happen. And I know it’s hard, but the fact he did happen means something more. Something’s not right inside the Simulation and you’re the only one on the outside who knows the system like he does. I don’t know what he expects you to do or how to proceed, but…”
The words seemed to vomit from my mouth. The less Opal said, the more I wanted to fill the space and not sit with the uncomfortable elephant of Opal’s grief, in the room.
“It’s why I had you remove the planet from the hard drive of the system. If it’s the Simulation, it can highjack the ship. I think as long as it’s just hanging in space, it won’t care as much. If it’s one of us, they can’t get away.”
Opal sat for a moment or maybe it was an eternity before finally saying,
“let’s get some food.”