Crouched on a tree branch, Adan waited for roughly another 20 minutes before finally the status field of her A.I. showed the awaited message: [Rebooting . . . 100% Complete].
Adan felt a slightly prickly sensation at the back of her neck, right below her skull, as the sub-dermal implant hummed to life. On Adan’s retina, several new messages flashed by in quick succession.
[Initializing start-up sequence – loading personality settings: SG4]
[Sub-dermal A.I. online in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .]
The flow of messages was replaced by a small menu and several familiar symbols popped up in Adan’s field of view; her A.I. was back.
“Sai, you okay?” Adan called softly. In reality, speaking her thoughts to her A.I. was entirely unnecessary since the A.I. could use the signals running through the neurons in Adan’s brain to understand what she wanted to know. Adan had, however, always felt that this was a bit rude – plus, it was totally creepy – so she preferred to communicate verbally when possible.
“Don’t ask such silly questions, Adan. You can see Sai’s system status; how could Sai not be okay?”
The curt voice of a young girl rang out in Adan’s ears – of course, this too wasn’t the case of her ears actually hearing anything, but rather her brain interpreting the signals the A.I. sent to it as such.
“Oh, come on Sai!” Adan complained. “I know SG4 is a sarcastic personality setting, but take a second to go through your logs, scan our surroundings, and then tell me if my question was warranted.”
There was a brief moment of silence, but, even though she had been berated, Adan couldn’t help but release a breath of relief; if something had actually happened to her A.I., Adan would really be in trouble.
“Well?” Adan prompted when no response came.
“. . . Sai believes the classical term humans would use in this situation is: holy shit.”
“That bad?” Adan cringed; whenever her A.I. looked up old, human swear words, things never ended well. “What’s my location?”
“Sai doesn’t know.” The reply was just as curt and matter-of-fact as the earlier ones had been, but the implication of it shocked Adan to her bones.
“What!?” she couldn’t help but call out, her voice raised. Quickly, Adan covered her mouth and strained her ears to hear if anyone had reacted to her sudden shout. Now that her A.I. was back on track, Adan had no problems with adjusting her hearing to the frequencies that were of interest to her, easily focusing in on any nearby movements.
“No humanoids show any response to your outburst,” offered Sai, giving Adan the same information her own ears had already told her.
“Don’t try to change to subject,” Adan hissed, her voice lower this time. “How can you not know where I am?”
Although Adan’s body was 99% organic, with little to no electronics or the like, the A.I. implant was an exception. It was equipped with the most advanced sensors known to the universe, allowing the A.I. to – among other things – pick up on the Deep-Space Burst signals used to navigate the seemingly endless universe. There was no such thing as an area that the DSB didn’t reach.
“Sai already told you that Sai doesn’t know!” The A.I. sounded irritated now. “All Sai can say is that there is no DSB, no ISC, no nothing. All of your transmitters are likewise nonfunctional.”
Adan stared blankly at nothing in particular for a long while. “Are you serious?” she said eventually, already knowing the answer, but praying that she was wrong.
“No, Sai is joking. . . .” the A.I. said sarcastically, before shouting loudly: “Of course Sai is serious! Sai is set to SG4, not one of those foolish jokesters wh-”
Before it could finish speaking, Adan had accessed the A.I.’s settings menu that was displayed on her own retina. Instantly, the small [SG4]-symbol shifted to [Origin], causing the ranting young girl’s voice to quiet down right away. When the A.I. spoke again, the female voice was a lot calmer – its tone more mature.
“. . . Thank you, Adan. Sai was disrespectful before.”
Adan shook her head. “Naw, it’s fine, Sai. I shouldn’t have changed your personality settings in the first place.”
“That is your right.”
Adan sighed; it was exactly a comment like that which had caused her to change Sai’s settings in the first place. Her A.I. had been with her for as long as Adan could remember and, in her heart, ‘Sai’ was just as real and living as any other person. At the same time, as an A.I., the standard view was that Sai was no more than a tool to be used at Adan’s leisure. Sai naturally accepted it – it was programmed to – but it didn’t quite sit right with Adan.
“Never mind then.” Adan knew that talking about it would get her nowhere, so she chose to let it pass this time. “So, what is your analysis, Sai?”
“The situation is indeed odd. There are no traces of intergalactic communication whatsoever and from the data Sai is receiving, none of the species in view appear to be registered in the database.”
Adan frowned. “Sai, are you sure? They all seem so familiar to me. . . .”
“Sai is sure. Take the tree you’re sitting in for example; judging by the cells in its leaves, the genetic makeup must be similar to that of an ancient Ash of Tellus, however only to about 70%. The rest is foreign and from an unrecorded strand of evolution.”
“And the people, are they human?”
“Visually they appear to be homo sapiens, however further data is required to be certain. Their language is unregistered.”
Adan glanced to the right and indeed saw the message [Unknown language detected – Translation in progress . . . 5% Complete] blinking on her data screen, seemingly hovering in the air.
“As for what happened, Sai can not be sure, but there are some possibilities worth considering,” the A.I. continued. “The scenario that carries the most weight is that the blast from the Materia X opened up a rift to another time or dimension, pulling your body inside and transporting you here.”
Fact was that scientists had proven both the existence of multiple dimensions and the nonlinearity of time a few centuries back, only, there was absolutely no way to interact with – much less travel to – these other times and dimensions. Hearing Sai speak of it now, Adan grew solemn; it might sound like a pipe-dream, but if Sai suggested it, then that was far from the case.
That wasn’t a very good probability.
“The second most likely option?”
“Undiscovered area of the universe, outside of the DSB’s reach: 3.5%.”
Adan sat in silence for a while, taking in the meaning of Sai’s words.
“Probability of being found?” she said eventually.
“On average: 0.01%. Given that the theory with the most prominence is correct – and you are in an alternate dimension: close to non-existent.”
Silence descended on the tree once more, only disturbed by the distant shouts from the town’s marketplace.
Adan’s nails dug into the hard bark of the branch she was sitting on, thinking. Normal people would perhaps panic if they found themselves in Adan’s situation, but she was trained to deal with the unexpected. While Adan might not have been the best member of her squad, she had been the most adaptable one. After contemplating her situation for less than a couple of minutes, the initial shock had already passed and Adan’s mind cleared.
“If there is such a small chance of me being found, I will have to be proactive and make a place for myself here. Perhaps that way I will learn of a way to get back home.” Determination glowed in Adan’s eyes as she made up her mind. “I have to make it back; Nadia will be lonely if I don’t.”
“Refrain from worrying too much about your sister, Adan. Nadia is, if nothing else, a better soldier than you – she will handle your disappearance well.”
Adan chuckled; Sai had a point. Although Nadia was her younger twin, she was by far the more mature one. While Adan had a tendency to . . . bypass orders and act on impulse and emotion, Nadia was a stickler for regulations. Her behavior and steadfast temperament had quickly put her ahead of her peers, securing her the position as Staff Sargent of the 1st Squad before the age of 18.
However, at the same time, Adan also knew that Nadia was a lot softer than she would have others believe. Perhaps losing a sister would be what finally breaks her. . . .
‘I must get back!’
Suddenly, a notion struck Adan. “Sai,” she called tentatively. “Is there any chance my sister . . . also got transported?”
It took a few seconds for the A.I. to calculate the probabilities, but the answer still came rather quickly. “Judging by the size of the first explosion, and the added containment from your BioArmor, the probability is less than 0.002% for Nadia to have been affected; 0.006% for the rest, who were slightly closer.”
Adan nodded in understanding, unsure if she felt relieved or disappointed by the information. If they had come together, Adan would at least not be feeling so much pressure to find a way back. On the other hand, who knew what kind of dangers she might run into in this strange place? Nadia would at least be safer with the rest of the Amazon Platoon.
“Speaking of BioArmor, can you reactivate mine? Camouflage mode,” Adan asked, pushing the matter concerning her sister to the back of her mind. “I might as well sneak into town and have a closer look.”
The collar around Adan’s neck buzzed slightly. Adan glanced down and saw the familiar black substance sliding down her arms and torso like a thick liquid, adapting itself to every nook and cranny of her body like a second skin. This was her BioArmor; a tactical war suit that not only worked as protection against high-energy attacks, but also functioned as an invaluable reconnaissance aid.
When inactive it would remain as an irremovable metal collar around her neck, but, under the control of her A.I., the BioArmor could stretch to cover the entire body and take on any color. The mentioned camouflage mode would, crudely explained, copy the images it received from one side onto the other, seemingly turning the user invisible.
As the black liquid spread itself to cover Adan’s body, Adan couldn’t help but frown. “Sai, how come the shrapnel in my chest isn’t being covered?” Since the crystal-like piece imbedded in her chest wasn’t causing her any more pain, Adan had previously chosen to ignore it – she would be able to get it removed quite easily eventually anyway, so why worry? That, however, changed when she noticed how her BioArmor flowed around the red crystal in her chest like a river around large rocks, doing nothing to enclose it.
“It would seem that the unidentified object is rejecting the BioArmor; Sai is incapable of covering it.”
Adan paled. While such a small uncovered area wouldn’t affect her overall stealth, it would have an extremely negative effect on the BioArmor’s protective qualities. The armor’s material defences would naturally remain, but if it couldn’t cover every inch of her, it would no longer be able to reduce the impact force from more large-scale explosions.
“What is that red thing, anyway?” Adan asked, finding comfort in the fact that this planet’s seemingly low level of development would unlikely be able to produce anything that could harm her, anyway.
For a moment the A.I. gave no response, and, once it spoke, it sounded a bit hesitant: “. . . Sai suspects that it is a crystallized form of the unknown Materia X that caused the prior explosion. According to the nanobots Sai has sent to investigate, the substance has been merged with your blood vessels, becoming a part of your circulatory system.”
Adan blinked, not fully believing what she was being told.
A 3D hologram of her own body’s blood flow appeared in Adan’s field-of-view. Zooming in on her chest region, Adan could see how the red crystal was completely obstructing the path of her aorta. Wide eyed, Adan watched as the oxygen-rich blood in her heart flowed out from her left ventricle and into the aorta, only to disappear into the crystal. Amazingly enough, blood still emerged from the other side, seemingly unaffected by the stone.
“What the. . . !?” Even with the three-dimensional rendering, Adan had a hard time accepting what she saw, but she did have faith in her A.I.’s reports. Suddenly Adan’s eyes narrowed. “How long have you known?”
“Sai made a full body-check right after being rebooted,” the A.I. answered honestly. “However, Sai was going to remain silent, unless directly asked. Although the nanobots are somehow blocked from entering the crystal itself, the blood flowing out from it is healthier than the blood which enters. Since it is doing no apparent harm, and considering the already large shock from recent events, Sai wanted to refrain from worrying you unnecessarily.”
Adan blinked a few times, causing the diagram to disappear in the process. “Sai?”
“The next time a foreign substance integrates with my circulatory system, tell me.”
Adan sighed and shook her head, before turning her attention back to the town. “Well then, I better get to work.”
Placing her hand over her chest, the last sign of Adan’s presence disappeared. Invisible, Adan silently slid down the tree and made her way into the town.