The simulated sunshine peeked shyly through the simulated blinds. The recorded, gentle tweeting of birds filled my ears. They sang to each other in beautiful lilting melodies. There was a smell in the air, of delicate dew in freshly cut grass.
“Jesus Christ,” I groaned and rolled over in the bed, “You’re such an asshole Adelaide.”
“Good morning, Sam!” She said, bright and chipper, “it’s now 8:45 AM, one hour and forty-five minutes past when you usually get up, so I took it upon myself to provide a gentle wakeup call for you.”
I grumbled something incoherent at her about sticking her gentle wakeup call up her ass and put my head under the pillow. In response, the gentle tweeting of birds turned into something more like foghorns having rigorous sex over the intercom.
“Holy shit fine, fine! I’m up!” I yelled as I sat upright like a bolt of lightning had hit me. I tried tossing a pillow at her, then remembered she didn’t have a physical body as the pillow flew in a sad ark and hit the ground with a soft whump. I swear I heard her giggling. Stupid computer… AI… person? Well whatever she was, she was being goddamn annoying right now.
I stood up, stretching lightly. I was used to sleeping in the buff, but once I realized that Adelaide was sentient, I started wearing boxers to bed. I mean, yeah, she’s seen it all before, but it was a matter of politeness.
“I figured,” I growled at her, shoving my feet into the bizarrely soft legs of my simulator uniform’s pants, “That after my stirring and inspiring victory over the evil simulator yesterday, I would get a chance to sleep in for once. You know, to recover from my recent psychological break. But apparently,” I continued, voice muffled by the grey long-sleeved shirt I was pulling over my head, “that’s not an option with you around, is it?”
“No Sam, it isn’t. Now get moving, you don’t want to be late for your next simulator course.”
Cheeky little bint.
One habit I picked back up was my morning jog around the facility, though it was abbreviated now. I did not do it for the exercise; by this point I was at the limit of a normal human’s physical fitness thanks to the GIDS procedure and my hellish training. The exo-suits were the only thing that could give me a challenge due to their resistance settings, so I ran in those instead. I did my morning run because it was a good routine, a nice visual inspection of Camelot, and it made me feel closer to the base I was calling home. The big empty rooms felt a lot less lonely with the quiet noise of foot falls echoing through them.
I wasn’t even winded by the time I had finished my tour and reached the gym in the second facility. I was about to go into it, planning my routine, when Adelaide interrupted me.
“Sam, might I make a suggestion?”
“Sure Adelaide, what’s up?” I said, leaning against the doorframe.
“For the next two days, I think you should forego your usual exercise routine in exchange for extended time in the simulator.” She suggested.
“I mean, I’ll never pass up the opportunity to skip out on exercise, but why do you suggest that?”
“Given your talent for mental control, your claimed abilities with drones in particular coming to mind, you should have very little issue completing the next portion of the simulator course. Given ten hours, rather than the usual eight, I’d estimate that you could complete it today,” she explained, “and the same holds true for the portion after this one.”
I considered that for about two seconds before I gave a nod of agreement and turned around, heading to Simulator 001. This was actually perfect for me. As much as I needed to keep my physical strength up, I had fallen far behind in my Paladin training due my recent safari into depression and self-doubt. I was impatient to finish the training. I felt very vulnerable knowing that I couldn’t use the most powerful weapon I had at my disposal. That, and I really wanted to pilot one of the things already. They’ve been taunting me for months now, just hanging there unused in the Armory. Years, if you considered all the time I’d fantasized about making one.
So yes, I jumped at the chance to shorten my training.
The doors slid open and I entered the room. After I had completed the last course, and Allen was mercilessly purged from the database, I wasn’t as afraid of this place anymore. The symbol of my fears was dead and gone, and now the simulator looked like every other one in Camelot, a lonely ring and an exo-suit.
As I got into the lowered machine, I realized that the restraints didn’t even bother me anymore. But it was still a little nerve racking when the metal shell closed around me and cut off all the light. I think that would freak anyone out though. I wondered who the new instructor would be as the simulator booted up, the world around me turning white. Would it be another hard-ass drill instructor? A quiet, unassuming, brown-haired devil? Maybe an intellectual woman, the type with sexy glasses and brown hair pulled into a bun? Granted, that last one was a long-held fantasy of mine, but hey, a guy can dream.
It turned out none of those guesses were even remotely on the mark.
“Are you fucking kidding me.” I said, flabbergasted.
There was a fucking polar bear standing in front of me. Well, sitting, to be precise. It was enormous, as I’m sure polar bears tend to be. It had a bowtie on. And one of its dinner-plate sized paws was holding an old tobacco pipe. Welp, I thought to myself, that’s it for me. I’ve finally gone off the deep end. It was nice knowing you sanity, hopefully I’ll see you again in the next life.
And then the polar bear started talking and somehow it got even more weird, because its voice sounded exactly like Allen’s, except dialed down a few octaves.
“Hello,” it said to me, in an extremely disturbing baritone, “my name is Jackson”, what the actual hell was going on, “but you may call me Jack.”
He gave me a horrific smile that showed every one of his razor-sharp teeth. “I’d like to congratulate you on completing the previous portion of the mental training program. Not many can achieve the level you have reached in mental control. Now that you have done so, however, we will proceed past the brute force tactics, and into the finer points of your mental training. Please let me know when you’d like to continue.”
“Uhh,” I said eloquently, my brain short circuiting.
I didn’t know if this was a bizarre fever dream or an elaborate prank that Adelaide was pulling on me. I pinched myself very hard to test the first theory, and when I did not wake up, I started talking at the sky like a madman to test the second.
“Adelaide,” I choked out, “what the hell is happening. Why is there,” I checked just to make I didn’t hallucinate the thousand-pound mammal, “a polar bear in the simulator?”
She had figured out how hear me and speak to me while I was in the simulator, another one of those things she was probably always able to do.
“First of all, you should have seen your face, Sam, it was priceless,” she said, clearly enjoying my mental torment, “but to answer your question, after I deleted Allen from Camelot’s databases, I realized that the simulator program was never completed before the US Government was destroyed. The backup instructors were never coded, and their lines were not recorded. There was, however, an easter-egg left behind by one of the programmers who created a polar bear instructor, Sir Jackson of Bearington, complete with a modified version of Allen’s lines.”
“Yes,” Jack chimed in, “my creator, who chose to remain anonymous, inserted me into the latest test version of the Paladin Training Course shortly before it was pushed to the update server.”
I ignored him.
“Okay, fine. But why didn’t you just load in Sergeant McBitch face?” I asked Adelaide, refusing to accept my reality.
“That instructor was not coded with the lines for the mental training portion of the course. It would take me quite some time to match them to her, and even then, the voice would not fit the character. As we are pressed for time, I decided against that course of action.”
“In addition,” she added, “I thought introducing a touch of absurdity might give our current morose situation some much needed levity.”
This seemed like a bit more than just a touch of absurdity.
Ah fuck it.
“Okay,” I said slowly, “I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I guess the polar bear will have to do.”
The polar bear gave me a wide smile, nodding vigorously, “Have no fear, my teaching capabilities are quite excellent.”
Alright. Okay. This is fine. I took another second to get my mental bearings.
“Umm, okay Jack, I am ready for the next portion of the course,” I said with no small amount of trepidation.
“I am glad to hear it,” he said.
He continued, “This next portion of the Paladin Training Course will hone your ability to multi-task and give mental commands. The Paladin Mobile Infantry Suit is a highly-advanced piece of technology, with many subsystems that are directly controllable by the user. Though most of those systems may be handled autonomously, it is far more effective for the pilot to direct them manually. To that end, the ability to mentally multi-task is of extreme importance. You will be tasked with controlling an increasing number of computer generated drones. The end goal of this program is to be able to simultaneously control ten drones as they fly through ten unique obstacle courses. Do not be discouraged by the task ahead of you. Though it will be very difficult at first, your proficiency will only increase with practice.”
I processed that explanation for a bit, then said, “So basically you want me to fly a bunch of drones through some obstacle courses?”
“Yes, though it is more complicated than it sounds.” The polar bear said.
I gave a feral grin.
“Start me with ten.”