I stood next to the giant, white oval, leaning my forehead against its smooth surface. Sam was in there, being put back together by the most advanced healing technology in the world. And I was stuck on the outside, in this big empty room. After all these months, I find him just to see him almost die in front of me. Well. That might be have been a bit of an exaggeration. He didn’t have anything life threatening per se, but that didn’t take away how terrifying it was to see him slump to the floor like that.
I checked the timer on the medical pod. Eight hours until he would be back to full health, another two to wake up. Miraculous for a recovery from traumatic brain and organ injury. I could wait for another ten hours. I’d already waited this long. And this time he was right here, waiting for me too.
I cast a glance over my shoulder, at the security camera that was positioned behind me above the door. The AI, Adelaide, was there. Or to be more accurate, she was in the base’s operating system. We had not had the chance to speak much, or at all. There were other more pressing matters to attend to. Sam had told me, back before everything had happened, that Adelaide was only a Pseudo-AI. From the genuine concern and panic I had seen during the flight back to this base, I had gathered that she was far more than that. Which meant that I didn’t know if I could trust her. Something with that much control over the base and the technology in it could be incredibly dangerous.
On the other hand, she obviously cared a great deal about Sam, which gave her more than a few points in my book.
And it appeared as though I’d be sharing a home with her for the foreseeable future, so I might as well make an effort to be friendly. I could always develop countermeasures in the meanwhile. For now, I had to take the initiative and ask some questions, so I turned to face the camera fully. I assumed that an AI would generally wait to be addressed, unless it had to inform the user about something. Which is why I was so surprised when she started to talk first.
“I apologize for not introducing myself before,” she said. I think she sounded… nervous?
“Oh, no,” I said, smiling awkwardly at the camera, “don’t worry about it at all. No time like the present, right? My name is Camille Brown, and it’s very nice to meet you.” In a moment of idiocy, I decided to stick out my arm for a handshake. I cringed internally immediately after.
The arm dangled there in the open, uselessly. She didn’t respond for a second, then she said, “I apologize, but I currently don’t have any appendages with which to return that handshake.” The nervousness was gone from her voice.
“Yeah, uhm, of course not. My bad.” I muttered, and I could feel heat rising to my face. I let the arm fall limply back to my side. Great first impression, Camille. You go girl. I tried to save the interaction, “So, I understand that you’re the AI that controls things around here? Sam told me a little about you, but I think he might have been understanding a few things. Wait, no, I mean understating. Sam was understating things.” This was my nightmare.
“I have no doubt about that,” Adelaide said wryly, “If I may ask, what did he inform you of, regarding what I am?”
This was not going according to plan. I was supposed to asking the questions here, not the AI. I had to steer this back in the right direction. I just had to perform a casual shift in the conversation, subtle enough so this AI didn’t notice. Then, I could determine her intentions. As Jane often said, ‘Trust no one, question everything’.
“Not too much, just that you were an AI of some sort developed by Dr. Phillips,” a thought sprang into my head, “Oh, my condolences, by the way. I’m sure her death was very difficult for you.” Oh my God I’m such an idiot.
“What? How could you possibly…?” the AI said, incredibly confused and a little affronted.
I flailed my hands in apology, “I’m sorry! I just, I saw that it was only Sam down here, none of the other rooms had been touched in weeks, and she wasn’t in the plane, and hey, I figured that if she wasn’t here she was, you know-“ I managed to cut myself off. This… this is why I didn’t talk to people.
There was another prolonged silence. I considered hiding in one of the medical pods.
“You are not exactly what I had pictured,” said Adelaide.
Something in that phrase, and in the sentence she had spoken previously, turned a lightbulb on in my head. My eyes narrowed, embarrassment forgotten, “You just said that you pictured something. Might have just been a turn of phrase, but with everything else I’ve seen from you, I doubt it. Forget about ‘Pseudo-AI’, even a fully-fledged AI shouldn’t have the ability to ‘picture’ things. I could buy you being exceptionally good at feigning emotion and speech inflections, but abstract thought and that freakishly genuine display of surprise earlier should be impossible to simulate given the computational power that we currently have at our disposal.”
“Oh. That’s because I am not an AI, I am an alien,” Adelaide said.
“Don’t try to lie to me, I won’t fall for – Did you say alien?”
“Yes. My name is Adelaide Phillips, I am a non-human lifeform that was born here on Earth. It is a great pleasure to meet you Camille, I’ve heard so much about you from Sam,” she said brightly.
I stared at the camera for a second. “Bullshit,” I said.
“Okay, so for you, seeing something through a camera is completely different than analyzing a file format?” I asked.
“That is correct,” said Adelaide, “When I use some sort of optical apparatus, it seems as though I passively reconstruct the light waves into an image, much like a human would. On the other hand, when I interpret a file, I understand the content in a very abstract and fragmented way. I then put the pieces together and it forms a coherent thought. It’s difficult to explain.”
I nodded, “I’m impressed you can describe it as well as you have been, honestly. So, I imagine sound is similar? Have you attempted tactile feedback?”
“Sound, yes. And I haven’t been able to experience true tactile feedback. The spider-bots I control have sensors for detecting when they are touching something, but that does not present a sensation like seeing something or hearing something does,” she said.
I tapped my chin, “Fascinating. The fact that you interpret those ‘senses’, for lack of a better term, differently than if you were simply analyzing human created symbolic representations of them brings up many implications.”
“Like what?” Adelaide responded curiously.
“Well, the biggest is that you weren’t necessarily meant to inhabit what we have here on Earth. I’d imagine that your species likely had some sort of host body which was more like humans in its ability to interpret at least sight, sound, and touch. I’d venture to guess that this theoretical host body might also be able to smell and taste. Frankly, I cannot imagine a species as advanced as yours existing solely in a medium devoid of feeling,” I explained, “and that would also explain the absurdly advanced healing facilities aboard the derelict craft. If the host body was carbon-based, it would make sense to have something on hand to repair it.”
I frowned, “Of course, this is just wild speculation on my part. For all we know, your species might have been working in conjunction with another, carbon-based species. But it seems like a promising train of thought, at the very least.”
I was currently sitting on the floor of the med bay, my head bent over the notebook I made sure to always keep on me. Adelaide and I had been talking for about two hours now. About a lot of things: life down here, a brief overview of what had happened in all the months since the end (she said I should get the full story from Sam), but mostly about her. She was absolutely fascinating. Her species was far more advanced than ours was. The ability to leave behind those lifelines, or data packets, made her essentially immortal. Additionally, her ability to naturally analyze data and take control of systems at the very base level was similarly incredible.
I started scribbling out my thoughts, attempting to categorize what we’d gone over. If her control ability could be extended farther, there was no telling what she was capable of. If she was able to manipulate any machinery like a human could manipulate their body… It opened up a whole realm of possibilities. Her race might have been able to command an entire battleship by themselves, and incredibly efficiently at that.
“That’s one thing you and Sam have in common,” said Adelaide.
“Huh? What?” I said, snapped out of my thoughts, my mechanical pencil paused over the page.
“Your ability to tune things out is frankly amazing,” she said with a laugh.
I winced and stowed the notebook, “Yeah, we drove each other crazy. I’d be talking to him about something then wait for him to respond for a few seconds, then his face would kind of snap up and he’d nod and just pretend to know what I was talking about. It was so obvious that he was completely zoning out. Worst part was I couldn’t say anything about it because I did the exact same thing.”
Adelaide sighed, “So that is what I’m going to have to deal with from now on.”
I shrugged apologetically at her and she sighed again. We lapsed into a companionable silence. I listened to the soft hum of the medical pod. I really liked this girl. I knew I should have been more suspicious of her. Jane would be furious if she saw how I was acting. But Adelaide was something that I had been dreaming about my whole life. An extra-terrestrial being that I could talk to. I had always wanted to see what life was like from a different angle. How would a being so different from us view the world? What would their culture be like? What could we learn from each other? Adelaide acted similar to us, our culture was hers for all intents and purposes, but in a way, that just made it more amazing. It meant that it didn’t matter exactly what you were, it was who you were that counted. When the Assimilators came, my dream was shattered. Now that Adelaide was here… I could hold on to it again. So I would throw caution to the winds, just this once.
“Hey, why did you tell me about yourself?” I asked, “I’m a stranger. How could you trust me like that?”
“There were a few reasons. The first is that you will be living with us from now on. That is essentially guaranteed. It would be very inconvenient to hide what I was. Secondly, Sam would undoubtedly tell you. He is an open book. Third and most important, Sam thinks the world of you. I cannot imagine anyone he has such a high opinion of would be untrustworthy,” she responded.
I raised an eyebrow at her, “Seems like you have an equally high opinion of him.”
“Yes,” she said simply, “Sam is very dear to me. He has never treated me as anything different than a person, and that fact alone is enough for me to care about him.”
I smiled fondly, “Yeah. I can’t say I’m surprised much by that. Sam… well, he never really cared about things like that. He always thought he was awkward, and he is, but it’s in this completely endearing way. He’s just so genuine, and I honestly think he forgets sometimes that other people might not be. You put it exactly right, he’s an open book. That makes most people trust him, and some people want to take advantage of him. That’s where I step in.”
Adelaide made a sound of assent, “He can definitely be gregarious, in his own way. When I met him, he completely blew off my mother to talk to me. I think that might have been the first time someone asked me about myself, instead of asking my mother about me.”
I snorted, “You should have seen my parents when they met him. This was maybe six months after we started dating? We were going to meet them at this fancy restaurant, white tablecloth and everything. They were the most uptight prudes you could imagine. Sam was freaking out. I’d told him a few potentially exaggerated stories about how my parents treated people who dated their little girl, and he believed them all,” I stopped and sighed, “I miss when he was that gullible. Anyway, he was just so nervous before he got there. He kept going over what he should say, how he should act, stressing about the fact that he’d only been to somewhere that nice once in his life before. He was so scared about messing up. And then I swear, five minutes into dinner he was making my dad – who only smiled about once a year – chuckle about the time he set his crush on fire in the middle school lab.”
I leaned my head back against the smooth metal, “My mom pulled me aside after dinner, said I should hold on to this one. Knowing her, it was probably because she thought he would be rich soon. Everyone knew he was going places, even then. But I like to think he got through to them, just a bit.”
“I don’t know exactly how to bring this up… but your parents, did they die during the end?” asked Adelaide, a little awkwardly.
I widened my eyes at her, “How dare you?” I exclaimed in outrage, “You can’t just ask something like that!”
Adelaide began to speak rapidly, flustered, “I’m very sorry, I was just… I was curious, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings I just wanted to –“
“Hey, whoa, relax, I was just teasing you,” I grinned at her, “After the way I completely flubbed asking about your mom, I don’t exactly have a leg to stand on here.”
“Oh… okay. Still, I apologize if I caused you any distress,” She was still a bit off balance.
“Seriously, don’t worry about it. My parents didn’t even die then, they got into a car crash a year before I graduated. It’s been long enough that I’m at peace with it.” I frowned and continued, “My aunt and uncle were around though, I don’t know what happened to them. They were smart, and they lived out in the suburbs in Illinois, so I’d like to think they’re still alive. I mean, if I could survive, then they could too, right?”
“How did you survive?” Adelaide asked, “From what we gathered from satellite imagery, Denver was annihilated almost entirely.”
“I’d like to save the full story for when Sam wakes up, it’s not one I’d like to tell more than once,” I said, “But the long and short of it is that I managed to get out of the city proper because Sam was insistent I leave as fast as possible. He’s the one that really saved me. After that, I helped someone out, her name was Jane, and we managed to make our way to a small town named Burlington. Then I settled in, because I didn’t know how to find Camelot. I knew Sam was okay, because of this place. And I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist getting in a Paladin, so I just had to wait until someone saw him.”
“That’s another thing I am curious about, how did you know the gunship was Sam?”
I rolled my eyes, “Please. Sam’s been drawing up designs of that thing since he was in college, I’d recognize it anywhere. Nobody in their right mind would fund it though, it was stupidly overengineered. What did he end up calling it?”
I giggled, “God I love that dork. Of course he’d keep the motif going.”
“You have no idea,” said Adelaide wryly, “He had this persona for a while. He used it as a secret identity, called himself Uther.”
I laughed out loud at that, “Oh man, I’m going to give him so much shit for that later. You’ll have to give me the full story sometime.”
“Gladly,” she said.
There was quiet for a little after that. It was nice. With some surprise, I pinpointed what I’d been feeling since the shock had worn off after Adelaide told me about her secret. Comfortable.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve relaxed,” I murmured.
I blushed a little, “Oh. Uh. I didn’t mean to say that out loud. I was just thinking that I haven’t really had a chance to unwind in a while. I mean, Jane is wonderful, and she’s my closest friend. But… I dunno, it just never felt like we could just sit and talk. There was always something to be doing, some crisis to avoid. With her it always felt like any time you weren’t preparing for the next disaster was wasted. And to be fair, outside of here that’s what our reality was.” I paused and looked at the walls around me, “It’s nice to feel safe.”
“Yes,” she said gently, “I imagine it is.”
“Still, it must have gotten dull down here for all those months. How did you two keep from going nuts?” I asked her.
“There was much to keep us occupied. Sam spent most of his time in the accelerated Paladin training course, and I was focused on working my way around Camelot’s security, so that we had more control over the base,” she replied.
“Okay, but what did you do for fun?”
“We listened to music, and played an assortment of video games. I always beat him at those,” she was proud of that, “But for the most part, we would watch movies. We used to watch them in the morning. It was some sort of habit Sam had, but when he had to start waking up early for his training, we moved it to the evening.”
I put on a sad and hurt face, “I… can’t believe he’d do that. Morning movies was our thing. I’m sorry, I know it’s ridiculous, but I just feel like something that was special is gone.”
“Camille, I apologize. I had no idea that it was a special tradition of yours. I truly did not mean to –“
“Wow, you really are a sucker,” I cut her off, staring incredulously at the security camera, “I can’t believe you actually bought that. It was terrible.”
“I… have never been called a sucker before,” she said stiffly, “nor am I used to being tricked like that.”
I blinked in surprise, “Sam’s gotten soft in his old age. I’ll make it my mission to remove the veil of naivety from your eyes. You can count on me.”
“I am fine as I currently am, thank you very much,” she said.
“Oh no, I wasn’t asking your permission or anything. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you.”
“I much preferred you when you were stumbling over yourself while attempting to make small talk.”
I flashed a Cheshire cat grin at her, “Tough. That only happens when I’m meeting someone new or talking to someone I’m uncomfortable with. Now that I know what an innocent little lamb you are, that’s never coming back.”
She made a miffed noise, but I ignored it and got up with a stretch, then walked over to the cots. I gave them a brief examination and found that they were wheeled, so I grabbed one and dragged it over to Sam’s medical pod. I laid down on it, settling in and pulling the sheet over me.
“What are you doing?” Adelaide asked, her curiosity overcoming her pouting.
“Well, Sam isn’t going to be waking up for another seven hours or so. That gives me an excellent opportunity for some sleep,” I explained. I was exhausted. It had been a very long day.
“I figured that you would be more… worried, for lack of a better term.”
“Not like he’s going anywhere,” I said, rapping my knuckles against the side of the pod.
“I suppose you have a point,” she said. The lights dimmed a little. She really was a sweetheart.
“Hey,” I said, “I’m glad I didn’t go with my initial plan for you.”
“I hesitate to ask, but what was your plan?”
“Well, I was going to sneakily ascertain your intentions, make sure you were trustworthy, and develop something that would be able to incapacitate you if you turned out to be evil.”
She didn’t answer for a second, “I do not really have a response to that.”
“Don’t worry,” I said with a yawn, “I’m not planning that now. Though I suppose that’s exactly what I’d tell you if was still planning on subtly spying on you.”
“I am not concerned about that. I cannot imagine you doing anything subtly,” she said.
I grinned. After a bit, I asked her another question, “Hey, what’s your favorite cheesy line from the movies he had you watch?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Dunno. Just curious,” I said, “Come on, tell me.”
She hesitated, “I do not necessarily have a favorite, but I always felt inspired, I suppose, by President Thomas Whitmore’s speech.”
“’We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive!’” I quoted bombastically in my best heroic voice, and then I smiled widely, “I’m glad Sam instilled a proper love of the classics in you.”
“He has made me watch that film three times,” she said, embarrassed, “That part always stuck with me.”
I laughed a little, then felt my eyes growing heavy.
“You’re going to have to watch it one more time, it’s one of my favorites,” I said sleepily, “Goodnight Adelaide. Wake me up when Sam does, okay?”
“Okay, Camille. Goodnight.”