Planet Quazi - Simulation.
Figaro felt a slight tingle as he passed through the wall of the dome. There was no resistance to speak of, no effort required on his part. He was allowed in.
There was no doubt it was a selective process but it wasn’t clear what he had been selected for. The only thing different between him and PT was that he had an organic the Antecessors wanted.
Which did give him some cause for concern but this was still a simulation. There wasn’t much they could do with the organic in here. They could only simulate the end of the universe.
Once he was on the other side of the dome wall, he immediately stopped to observe his surroundings.
This was not the first time he had entered a simulated environment without knowing what he was going to encounter. A large part of his training with his father had been in dealing with new and unexpected situations with little or no information.
He was adept at judging threats and dangers at a glance. Identifying issues and formulating countermeasures was second nature to him, although he usually had a range of technological solutions at his disposal.
Currently, all he had to rely on were his wits and a snug-fitting one-piece.
Inside the dome, he spotted no obvious threats or dangers. Just more sand.
Ahead of him was the base of the tower. It was around thirty metres in diameter, black as obsidian and with no doors or windows. And no signs pointing to the entrance.
He had been invited in, so he assumed there would be some indication of where he should go next.
He moved towards the tower, which was about a hundred metres away from him, keeping his eyes peeled for any sign of movement. Droids, laser turrets, a flashing neon arrow — he kept an open mind when it came to the Antecessors’ idea of a welcome wagon.
Figaro was about halfway there when his suit came online. He hadn’t done anything to try and reboot it, but there was a definite buzz of power up his legs and along his arms.
He instinctively looked down at the control panel. It was lit up and flashed numerous messages at him, one after another. All the messages were the same — error notifications.
There were maybe a dozen notifications in rapid succession and then the control panel went dark again. The suit returned to being inactive cloth.
Figaro gave his arm a shake and tapped the control panel a few times but it remained dead. He kept walking.
It was strange that this sim-U couldn’t replicate his suit’s functionality. It was even stranger that it was trying to find a way to fix it. That wasn’t how a simulation worked. It didn’t import in objects and then try to get them working once they were loaded. If it appeared in the simulation, it should act like the original.
He was inclined to put it down to this not being a regular sim-U, and that he was not familiar with how this one worked. Hopefully, he wouldn’t encounter any bigger discrepancies.
The sim-U machines designed by his father didn’t allow you to die, for example. They just kicked you out if you met with a lethal situation inside the machine. It was the sort of safety feature humans included when making something to be used by other humans.
This simulation, however, wasn’t built by humans and it wasn’t built for humans.
Figaro reached the base of the tower without any further interruptions. His plan was to find a way to lower the dome so PT would be able to enter. Whatever was in the tower, it would be easier to deal with if there were two of them. Especially now that PT had six organics in his body. Assuming they worked in here. And assuming PT didn’t suffer any side effects.
Of course, this being a simulation meant there would be no actual physical damage to PT’s body. His real body wasn’t here. But there could still be other forms of damage. What went through your mind here, went through your actual brain and left an impression. At a minimal level, memories. At a more invasive level, severe mental trauma.
Just as Figaro was starting to wonder what would be the quickest way to survey the tower, the bottom sections slid open.
A ring about three metres tall rotated and compressed into a sliver of material that then disappeared from sight so the tower appeared to be levitating.
The newly revealed area was empty. He could see through to the other side, which was yet more sand.
Figaro kept going until he had stepped over the line where the wall had been and looked up at the plain black ceiling. He was under a roof and no walls, which was disconcerting.
The wall reappeared, circling around him as it uncompressed itself from whatever hiding place it had slotted into.
Figaro had a choice. Stay where he was or dive back out. He took a further step in to avoid getting hit on the ass.
As soon as the last sliver of light from outside vanished, a deep blue light filled the space he was in. Then the floor began to descend.
He wasn’t sure if the whole tower was sinking into the sand or if it was just this section that was being lowered down a shaft, but Figaro had already decided to relinquish his fate to whatever was making these decisions.
If he wanted to find the place where the controls were kept, the easiest way was to find whoever was currently controlling them. He could decide how to proceed once he was in a position to affect some kind of change. Right now, he had no choice other than to rely on the goodwill of his host.
Figaro stood in silence, a little tense but mainly curious to see what would be waiting for him when his descent came to a stop.
It was only after a few minutes that he noticed that the blue light, which was emitted from the ceiling, was not behaving in the way light was supposed to behave. While it filled the space in various shades of blue, as you would expect, it didn’t leave surfaces unaffected. The light settled and pooled, sinking into his suit like it was dye.
It didn’t have proper substance to it like a liquid, but that was the closest analogy. In the air, it was like regular photons bouncing around. On surfaces, it took on a more tactile form.
Figaro poked at the darker shadows on his arm and was able to pull and stretch them like he had touched something sticky with the end of his finger.
There was no other sensation, no indication that he was in danger. Even if he was, his body was a simulation, and his desire to find out what was happening was far greater than any desire to put a stop to it. He was intrigued, which he had always found to be a more powerful emotion than fear.
“Thank you for your assistance,” said a calm voice in his head. There were no words and no sounds, there was just a complete message fed directly into his brain.
“You’re welcome,” said Figaro, seeing no reason to not be polite. If he was in danger, the damage had probably already been done. “What did you do to me?”
“We have examined your internal structure and established a communication link. Even though you are obviously not from this place and time, we will be able to communicate freely.”
Figaro didn’t recognise the voice but there was something about the tone that felt familiar. It reminded him of M1F.
His guess was that he had made contact with M1F’s precursor. Whatever the Quazians had found and jerry-rigged into a compliant planetary supervisor, there had once been an original world-controlling construct left behind by the Antecessors.
“How do you know I’m not from this time and place?” asked Figaro.
“Initially, it was your suit. Its construction is not something possible at this time. Beyond that, your biological makeup is that of an evolved being. While the basic construction units are available, the projected evolution to convert them into something similar to you would take several millennia, if not longer. From this, it can only be theorised that you are from the future. But since time travel into the past is not possible in this iteration of the universe, the only possible conclusion to be made is that this is a simulation.”
Figaro was a little taken by surprise. They had deduced they were in a simulated reality and that they themselves were a simulation, with only a few clues.
“You are correct,” said Figaro. “This is a simulation, although it was not created by me, nor did I enter it willingly.”
So far, his host had been very forthcoming. Figaro wanted that to continue and felt being as honest as possible was the best way to keep the exchange of information flowing.
“We are interested in learning about your time and the result of our efforts.” The voice in his head, which had no tone or sound, still managed to come across as agreeable and pleasant.
“I am willing to answer your questions,” said Figaro. “I don’t think it will have any bearing on the present, but why do you wish to know? You can’t do anything with the information.”
“It is for no reason. It is in our nature to be curious. The pleasure of knowledge for its own sake is enough.”
Figaro had not expected something as prosaic as curiosity as an explanation. He had built up an idea of what the Antecessors were like as a species before they disappeared and this was not how he pictured them.
“You don’t think of me as your enemy or an obstacle?” Figaro knew he was pushing his luck — why point to himself as a threat when he had already been brought in without restraints? — but it struck him that this was a golden opportunity.
In his mind, he was following a certain line of logic. He was trying to think of a reasonable explanation for why he was being treated in such a benign manner, and if what he suspected was true, then it might be possible to get the first complete image of what the Antecessors were really after.
“Your status within your time is of no relevance to us. There is nothing we can do to your reality, so there is no need to consider your role. Our time has passed and the results of our work have either succeeded or failed. We wish to know which.”
Figaro felt a little surge of excitement. It appeared he was right. This was a pragmatic simulation that saw its role as purely anachronistic. It was unable to have an effect on the real world, so it didn’t care how things had turned out. Victory or defeat, it was all the same. What it wanted was to know what happened. It wanted a sense of closure.
“I can tell you what I know,” said Figaro, “but there is a lot that is unclear to me, and to my people. Your kind disappeared a long time ago, leaving behind only a few relics and some technology we barely understand.”
“Yes. It is our way to seed a universe and then withdraw so that the laws of unpredictability can do their work. We do not interfere with what is produced because we do not wish to taint the results.”
“Um, yes. I’m not sure that’s how I would classify it. There are quite a lot of representatives of your time present in this time. There are whole fleets of ships attempting to take over this galaxy even now.”
There was a pause. Figaro could sense the presence was still there, lingering in his mind, but not saying anything.
The movement downwards stopped. The walls slid open again and the blue light paled to almost white. It no longer felt like the photons were clinging to him. Now his surroundings felt fresh and light, like he was in an open field.
He walked out into a large open area bathed in the same pale blue light. It was clearly of Antecessor design — there were the same markings on the walls that were seen on every Antecessor ship and facility — but the familiar colouring of black walls and white streaks of light were not present. Everything was different hues of pale blue.
Figaro looked around. There were passages leading off in every direction, and there was a large cube in the middle of the room. It was the same dimensions as the cube he’d seen on Quazi, the habitat for M1F, and looked much the same apart from the colours.
Figaro walked towards it.
“There should have been no active interaction between your kind and those left behind.”
“I can only tell you what I’ve been able to piece together so far, which may not be accurate,” said Figaro. “It seems there was a rift between what we call the Antecessors — your kind — about ending this iteration of the universe and summoning the creator.”
“That is not possible. The process is not something that can be avoided.”
“I don’t think it was intended that it would be avoided, just delayed,” said Figaro. “I don’t know the reasons, but some wanted to follow the established protocols, and some didn’t. Those relics I mentioned, many of them showed signs of battle. We think there was a civil war. We don’t know the cause and we don’t know the results. Until very recently, we only had the vaguest of clues and no direct experience of actual Antecessors, just automated droids and organic augmentations we were able to integrate into our own biology, with varying results.”
“You have two such organic augmentations.”
“Yes,” said Figaro, speaking to the cube now. “I had only one for most of my life. One that I wasn’t able to control.”
“Organic beings compatible with our seeds. It is unexpected.”
“I assume it was more than coincidence,” said Figaro. “I would guess it was someone from your side who engineered it to happen.”
“Such interference is strictly forbidden.”
“Could you answer a few of my questions now?”
“This planet, your role here, what is it?”
“In simple terms, we were tasked with creating a suitable environment for our creator. Such an environment cannot be manufactured deliberately. It must grow from base constituents of its own volition. Such an environment takes a long time to gestate, and most attempts end in failure. Our role is to establish the groundwork and then withdraw. Once the results are known, either the environment is recycled and a new attempt is made, or the creator is summoned.”
“You don’t know what it is you are trying to create?”
“If it was possible to know beforehand, it would not be possible for it to exist at the required level. It must be beyond our understanding. It must be greater than anything we are capable of producing. It must evolve to a state through its own desires. Only such an existence is worthy of our creator.”
There was a lot of reverence when referring to the creator.
“And what about those who decided to intervene?”
“There have never been heretics before. It is interesting. This may provide a new variable that leads to the true iteration, or it may be an aberration that will be removed like the others. There is no way to know.”
“Then you accept the results for what they are?”
“Then you accept me as a variable?”
“You are an accepted variable. You are not created by us directly, which means you are the choice of this iteration. Other life forms have sprung up from time to time, but they have never been compatible with our seeds. Whether this was arranged by some entity or is purely natural selection, it is worthy of consideration. It should be allowed to run its course.”
“Good. I’m glad you think so. Then I would ask you for a favour.”
“A favour? We cannot interfere with—”
“You already have,” said Figaro. “This is an iteration where the universe has decided to give agency to its creations. I’d like you to honour that.”
“What is it you wish?”
“I want you to show me how to control this world.”
There was a pause that Figaro hoped was his request being given consideration.
“That is simple to do within this simulation but once you…” The voice drifted off before coming back having realised what Figaro was asking. “You will retain the necessary information in your mind.”
“Yes. I should be able to carry the knowledge back.”
“Then yes, we will impart the necessary information to your mind now.”
Without any further warning, Figaro felt a warm but forceful energy enter his mind. It felt like his brain was being cooked but it didn’t last very long, or it didn’t seem to.
Figaro didn’t feel any different.
“You now have control of this planet.”
Figaro looked at the wall and it turned transparent. Just by thinking about what he wanted, he could command Antecessor technology. And the whole planet was Antecessor technology.
He could see PT and Synthia in front of him as though he was looking at them through a window. They weren’t aware of him as they fought in the sand. PT had the upper hand but it wasn’t clear why he was attacking the robot.
Whatever the reason, he decided they both needed to cool off. With a thought he made it rain.
Chapters are two weeks (six chapters) ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino