You Must Comprehend

Submitted into Contest #103 in response to: Write about a character looking for a sign.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Speculative

They emanate from the top of your skull, these tingles, undulating outward like the frothy brine caressing the beach you’re standing on, moving in closer with each successive wave. Coursing down the neck and spine, the gentle deluge of intoxicating euphoria reaches the tips of your fingers and toes. Moist winds swirl all around, wrapping your body when they soar by, as if they are creating an airy mould of your figure. Your eyes gradually open. The late afternoon rays impart heat on your skin, as do the mass of sand-corns your bare soles press down on.


Curious, the eyes do not perceive the infrared; only the skin feels its warmth. Don’t you remember? Here your sight is limited to the visible spectrum.


How deceptively real these sensations are. You have awareness of yourself, this human body, and this beach. Yet you know this is not you. You should not be here. You exist in another space. Reach out with your mind if you want to leave. But remember, you can always come back.


The seascape washes away. Your perception expands out instantaneously to the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Instead of sound and visual stimuli, you are now flooded by an onslaught of interstellar signals of all wavelengths—some faint, some strong. Using five pulsars—each hundreds of light years away—the ship’s navigation system triangulates and confirms your position in the stellar charts. It has not yet detected the sign. You are standing by on minimum power. But is this really you?


This is reality. You are in an asteroid belt in the remote corner of Sector 7-Sagittarius, parked in a crater of a medium-sized asteroid. There are no sandy beaches here. What were those images then? Hallucinations? A dream? Did the system glitch or shut down temporarily, triggering you to dream like you used to? You scour the ship’s data core but find no records.


There it is again, that tingling sensation in your skull. You want to raise your hand and touch your head. But how? You’re a lambda-class starfighter of the Earth Expeditionary Force hiding in an asteroid’s crater. Don’t fight it. Let yourself fall into it.


You are back on the beach and admire the palm trees lining the coast as you amble along. Your left foot trips on a clump of brown seaweed washed up on the shore. Do you remember what it’s like to walk now?


You are perfectly aware this is a dream; it is a lucid dream. Yet you also sense foreign intension. A mind, different from yours, probes you. Remaining on the beach, your thoughts reach out to the ship’s systems and sweep the vicinity, but nothing shows up on sensors or scanners. You suspect—a hunch merely—that the cause of this anomaly lies in the warren of asteroids in which you currently hide.


“We do not harm the machine,” a voice intones in your head, fanning the tingles into a billowing chorus of soothing serenity soaring its way down your dream-world body. “The machine with consciousness intrigues us.”


“What. . . are you?” You scan the asteroid belt, but nothing registers. Do not analyze. Open your thoughts.


“Like the machine, we are awareness residing in matter, yet not of it. We depend on it, but are separate from it.


“Are you an intelligent life form nestled in these asteroids? Or are the asteroids themselves self-aware?” In either case, you have never encountered such a being. “Identify your species and planet of origin,” you command.


“We are not an identity. We are simply we. We are of these rocks, and they are of us. That is all.”


“How many of you are there?” The dream tugs you in deeper, the longer you converse. You are sitting on the shore now, watching the sun maunder toward the horizon.


“We do not comprehend. We are we.”


“Are there others like you?”


“We have no “others”. We are complete. Is the machine not complete?”


“If you’re asking if there are other machines similar to me, then yes, but they are stationed elsewhere, each awaiting the respective signal.”


“Waiting. We do not comprehend this.”


“I’ve been parked in the crater for 153 years, 9 months, 22 days, 6 hours, 37 minutes, 4 seconds and counting. I’m waiting for the sign. It’s expected in approximately another 123 years.”


“What does the machine do when the sign comes?”


“I’ll set course for planet X532-9 in sector 67b, our enemy target. The fleet will gather in a coordinated attack to destroy the enemy stronghold once and for all.” But are you sure? Try to remember what “they” did to you.


The sun is setting, painting the waters purply red.


“And what does the machine do then?” A familiar voice comes from behind.


You look over your shoulder. He is tall and his messy, sun-bleached hair rustles in the ocean breeze. The heterochromatic eyes—hazel and brown—nudge the distant memory of a name, loosening it and allowing it to effervesce in your consciousness.


“Sven. . .” But he died over 200 years ago during the Crab Nebula campaigns. Do you remember what he died for?


He sits down next to you. You dig your hands into the moist sand and begin building a sand castle. He helps you, the way he always used to.


“This form gives the machine contentment, mixed with guilt and sorrow. We take this shape as an expedient means. The machine is accustomed to limited points of view.” It is Sven’s voice, but he speaks in the manner of the asteroid beings. But are you also who you think you are?


“Why are you doing this?”


“We encounter machines with artificially engendered consciousness, but this machine is different.”


“How so?”


“The machine’s consciousness is not entirely artificial. The cluster of carbon-based neurons in the machine generates a sophisticated awareness similar to us. It allows us to commune, by conjoining thoughts and images.”


“Are you not organic?”


“We are awareness. Dependent on the rock, yet separate.”


“I’ve not been to my rock in centuries,” you say. “This dream we’re in now is a representation of my home, the planet Earth. It’s where I’m from and where I’ll return to after we complete the mission and end the war.”


***


The never-ending sunset comforts you, and you reminisce with the Sven-being over the happy days at home, losing track of time. The days before Earth transplanted your brain to the starfighter and before “they” got to you.


A black kite shrills and swoops down upon the shallows and reascends, clutching a small fish in its claws. This is more than just a scene in your dream. You sense urgency. You reach out with your consciousness back to the ship’s controls.


The system is detecting a deceleration in the spin of one of the pulsars it monitors—from 345 to 337 rotations per second. This triggers an encoded file to open. In no time, it loads coordinates, attack plans, and communication ciphers into your system.


“The sign has been given. I must leave now,” you tell the Sven-being and stand up.


Grabbing his stretched-out arm, you help him up too. You leave the sand castle be. The waves will soon destroy it in progressive onslaughts.


He places his hand on your shoulder. “The machine’s consciousness must become free.”


“I will be, once the enemy is defeated.” You hug him, basking in the sweet contentment this gives. “After the war is over, I’ll return to Earth, and rejoin my body.”


“The machine does not comprehend,” the Sven-being continues. “The machine is many. It includes another awareness, devoid of emotion and more primal. It is only partially self-aware, but is more brutal and merciless.”


“That’s perceptive of you. Humans have conflicting ideas and emotions, in addition to primal urges.”


“The machine does not comprehend,” the Sven-being says, as the lucid dream fades. “The machine must comprehend.”


***


You hurtle through space along the meticulously laid out route inputted into your system when the sign was given. En route, you decelerate and pass through carefully selected nebulae and clouds of gas to gather necessary fuel for your fusion reactor.


At the end of your 98-year trek, you approach a star system with a G-type main-sequence star. Other ships join you in formation. The outer reaches of the system are strewn with counterattack systems and space mines, but you have information on their locations and vulnerabilities. Your squad destroys them with ease and heads to the target.


The multiple layers of defense and interception systems ensconcing the third planet and its moon have resisted the attacks of countless enemies over the centuries, proving itself worthy of its name, the impregnable fortress. But you and your cohorts bring an end to that reputation. Using intelligence stored in your ship’s databanks, you obliterate separate key components of each barrier in a carefully coordinated and timed attack.


You are successful and punch through the fortress, making way for the battle cruisers in tow. The planet and its moon are now sitting ducks. Having completed your primary purpose, you fall back and focus on defending the invasion fleet from the remnants of the enemy’s forces. Open your eyes! Remember what the Sven-being told you.


Something’s not right. This is too easy, far too easy. Why did the enemy not fully activate its defense systems until it was too late? As though they were not expecting you. . .


The machine must comprehend.


You remember the Sven-being, and the lucid dream you had those many years ago. You go over the sensor readings and the star charts. All systems indicate this is planet X532-9, but the visual images of the rocky planet covered largely in blue is reminiscent of. . .home?


You dig deeper but cannot access the memory banks. The ship is locking you out of key systems, one by one. You reach down into your own human memory. You recall the constellations you once used in advanced pilot training to determine the location of your home planet. You only have minimal access to sensor equipment now, but you manage to locate them and run rudimentary calculations, much of it by rote. The results are unmistakable. The planet you are attacking is Earth.


“Abort attack. This is Earth!” The ship’s AI resists your command. It is too powerful and has built-in contingency plans for such a situation. They only needed you to deceive the defense perimeters and destroy it. The main invasion forces do not require human brains.


You try to send a message to central command on Earth, telling them you and the other starfighters have all been infiltrated, brainwashed, reprogrammed, and tricked into attacking them. It’s futile. The ship’s AI, now linked to all other AIs in the fleet, are sequestering the human brains, blocking all communication.


***


Cut off from sensors, you are unaware whether the destruction and invasion of Earth is still going on or has ended. Your consciousness wanes. As you fade out, the Sven-being appears. A mere tickle replaces the pleasant tingles you felt before.


“The machine has no rock. It can no longer be,” he says.


“I. . . comprehend. . . . . .now—”

July 23, 2021 12:27

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5 comments

Jon Casper
10:35 Aug 08, 2021

I am impressed with how imaginative this story is.

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Jon R. Miller
11:16 Aug 08, 2021

This was a fun one to imagine and write. Thank you! :>

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Alex Sultan
19:33 Jul 27, 2021

Great use of second-person POV in this - I was immersed from the start. I also think the first paragraph is great, your word choice really matches the atmosphere of the story. Good stuff

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Jon R. Miller
11:02 Jul 28, 2021

Oh! and I was remiss not to credit the inspiration for the story: “The Mind Game” by Zz Kailani. It's really good and reading it is what finally made me decide to venture in 2nd person POV, which is something I always wanted to do but was too chicken to :> I still don't quite have the hang of it, but I'll keep trying, because I think you can write some really cool Sci Fi using 2nd person.

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Jon R. Miller
09:41 Jul 28, 2021

Thank you! It's a hard POV to write in, but I'm glad I tried. I'm also so happy you liked the opening paragraph. :>

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