Pre * De * Cede: Chapter 10 [Final]
I only moved Epsilon slightly, back to the corner of the wall of the room. I took the chance to wipe up the water. The lab was slightly disorganized, with opened plastic and paper packets about, as well as a collection of microscope slides and test tubes filled with several shades of liquids. I gathered up what I could determine to be disposable and put it into the station’s trash compactor.
I took notice next of the ground. It had yet to be properly cleaned since Gamma and I had gone about the station emptying the crates of materials and supplies. There was some residual dust left, as well as tracks of red sand, bits of paper from the lab supplies, fibers and strings from out clothing, and bits of food that had fallen to the ground. I remembered vaguely a broom and dustpan packed away in one of the auxiliary compartments in the airlock chamber.
The bristles were neatly chiseled at an angle, and the plastic handle was long and sturdy. I carefully shuffled my feet around the mess while gathering it up into a singular pile inside the segment of station. Delta studied my movements as I made my way into the dining room.
“Is that how you’ve decided to help?”
I looked up from the line of crumbs I had amassed at the front of the bristles. “Sometimes, these things need to be done.”
Delta turned his attention back to his work before replying. “If… when someone arrives to check on us, hopefully they’ll first take notice of how clean it is.” He said dryly.
I left the mess where it was and placed the broom propped up in the corner. I found my seat again beside Delta, leaning forward on the table. “Would you rather me help you?” I asked earnestly. “I can head up to the roof again-”
“Alpha.” Delta interrupted, letting out a long sigh. He continued to face his work, before tapping his fingers loudly on the hard surface before him. He offered me up a single, longing glance. “You don’t have to go anywhere. I’m afraid to be here alone when it happens.”
I blinked at Delta a few times. “I’ll be here…”
“There must be something special about you, Alpha.” Delta stared at the instrument, his hands immobile.
“It certainly doesn’t feel that way.”
“If something was going to happen to you, it would have happened already.”
“Delta…” I mumbled out, not knowing what to say next. “I’m sorry.”
Delta lifted an eyebrow my way. “What are you sorry about?”
“Maybe if I knew what was going on, I could have been the one to foresee this coming. Maybe we missed out on something. Maybe Zeta missed some part of our inoculations. Maybe it was a system that’s down. Maybe there’s something I missed out there on the cargo delivery that we could have used, that could have been necessary to making sure we would be healthy. Maybe there was something there that we could have used as part of the communications array. Maybe there is some log somewhere, taped to the inside of one of those crates we unloaded, telling us the secret to something we were missing.”
“You’re only blaming yourself because you’re afraid to be the only one left.”
I gulped hard. “At the rate we’re going… I’ll end up going… I’ll have food for a long, long time. If they can’t reach us for whatever sort of checkup like before… they’ll probably eventually try and send some sort of replacement to help the station get reconnected. And then, I’ll spend my time getting it up and running, and finally get around to telling them that I’m the only one left. After that… how much longer will they take to rectify that?” I drew my knuckles down the edge of the table, and my teeth bit hard into my lip.
“I’m sorry, Alpha.”
I slammed my fist hard into the table top, hoping to feel the pain that never showed itself. The underside of my hand was torn up, but no blood was produced. “No, I’m sorry, Delta. I shouldn’t be pressing you with this burden at a time like this. Let’s have a meal. What would you like?”
“Nothing, Alpha.” Delta returned weakly. “I’m just… really tired, right now…”
I pulled myself around in the chair, to see Delta’s arms catching the edge of the table before, sliding across, while his head drooped before him. His eyes slowly shut, and his forehead came to rest upon his forearms.
“Delta.” I shook with a sudden frustrated loneliness. I stood and pulled myself away, leaning forward against the solid back wall, my head to the cold metal.
For the first time in several days, I heard the faint crackling of the receiver-transmitter on the table. I turned around, fearing that I was simply hearing things. Alpha. My name was spoken.
I rushed to the table and turned the instrument over, finding the faint ‘transmit’ button on the face. “Who’s there?”
My voice echoed out into the rooms around me. I pulled my finger back, dragging it against the surface of the table. For a moment, I considered that I had gone crazy. I looked to Delta’s lifeless body, wondering if he had not uttered the word himself.
We are coming, Alpha. The words came, unmistakably from the receiver-transmitter.
I pushed my finger to the button again. “You’re too late. Its too late for the others.” I explained slowly, my voice shaking.
The silence continued on a for a few long seconds, maybe even a minute. As is to be expected. Would you care to open the door for us, Alpha?
I jerked myself up from the table. I ran to the next room and pressed my hands to the window, attempting to get a glance outside. The time had flown by. The light outside was already beginning to dwindle. I dashed again to the next room, and then into the airlock section. The glare of the lights inside obscured the exterior. However, my eyes could not miss the two individuals making their way toward the station, clad in the same white suits with domed helmets we had ourselves. Without consideration, I opened the outer doors of the airlock for them.
The glass helmets were dark with tint, but I felt at is they were staring at me while they waited for the mechanism to cycle. I presented myself before the doorway as they entered, my head bowed.
I grit my teeth in preparation for my report as the first of them removed their helmet. “The other crew members, I am afraid, have not made it. I am the only one left. I do not know the reasons for their… departure.”
“Oh, Alpha.” The first one, a man, spoke delicately. “Those ones were simply not designed with longevity in mind, unlike you.”
“Designed?” I muttered to myself before looking up. The man, and undoubtedly the woman behind him, were not the same as any of my crew members. The man had thin hair, messy, and missing in certain patches. His skin looked wrinkled and shiny, and his nose was slightly crooked. “Who… are you?”
“Come, sit down with us, Alpha.” The man spoke up. The woman gazed around just behind him. She was, like the man, certainly irregular, unlike Zeta. She dotingly slipped out of her suit.
“We won’t be needing this for now.”
The man held my shoulder as he passed, dragging me with a soft touch back to the dining room. I took the first available seat, while the man paced about to make contact with Delta. I glanced back to watch the woman make her way into the lab, her gaze moving up and down the walls of the compartments. I looked back to the man, who was fiddling with the partially dissected radio equipment.
“How did you…” I leaned into the table, pointing out the device. “How did you contact us? I thought the system was completely irreparable.”
The man finally took a seat beside Delta, completely unfazed by his presence. “One thing at a time, Alpha.” He smiled. “You’re worried about the fate of the others. A normal human emotion. I’m impressed you practiced it so well.”
“I’m… not like you, am I?”
“You are not.” He returned with a curt nod. “You are about as close to what a human could be, being made entirely from artificial parts. An android.”
“Android.” I mouthed.
“The others too.” The man nodded. “Though, like I said, they were not designed with longevity. Their primary goal as your comrades was to reinforce your role. I believe that you may understand that role, if just a little bit?”
“They looked up to me as a… leader of sorts.”
I shook my head. “I was not a proper leader. I… wasn’t… installed with the proper knowledge on how to lead them.”
“A leader is not something that one can be born into, Alpha.” The man intertwined his fingers and shook his head. “Not something that can be programmed, either.”
The woman made her way out of the south part of the station, before glancing about our room, then continuing onto the rear sections. The man waited for my gaze to turn back to him. “I was… left relying on the others for often then not.”
“As a leader should do. If you had the knowledge to complete the other tasks just as the others did, they would have no place to accomplish their roles. You know Alpha, each of your crew members- but in particular, you- have the proficiency to learn. The station acted as a type of neural network for you all- both through wireless uplinks and nodes within the structure, but also through the way you communicated verbally. We observed you over time adapting to you role quite nicely.”
“You observed us?” I glanced about, looking for signs of a camera or something of the like.
“It is unlikely you would be able to notice any of our devices. But yes, we took much time observing. Each time one of you came awake, we watched as the uplinks began to communicate with each other. We watched you took upon your own tasks, and worked towards a common goal.”
“I don’t understand.” I leaned forward. “Most of them were only awake for several days. And if you were so close, how come you didn’t step in earlier?”
“This is not the first time we have run this test, Alpha.” The man shook his head.
“Your programming has had plenty of adjustments over the course of several years. Before you were here, it was in a lab.”
“Where is here?”
“I believe you have an idea of where here is.” The man carefully shifted himself up and out of the chair. He marched to the next room where the plants were still sustaining themselves in the little cubes of dirt. I followed after, stopping beside him to gaze out upon the red vastness.
“This is far away. Far from our homes.”
The man tapped at his wrinkled chin. “That seems to be a new notion your group has decided upon this time around. The idea of home. You know just enough that your surroundings seem alien and inhospitable and therefore there must be another place you belong.”
“I… suppose so.”
“If this were the real thing, this would be Mars.”
“Mars.” I repeated.
“The next hospitable planet from the Earth.”
“What do you mean by… the real thing?”
“Well, from your point of view, this is the real thing, being that you have no point of reference to anything else. But the end goal for you, Alpha, is to do the same things you’ve practiced on a station on Mars. It would be your duty as our creation to arrive along with the modular bits of building and the supplies within and prepare them for when humans would arrive later.” The man offered me a pleasant smile. “This place that we’ve set up for you to hone and develop your artificial intelligence is just a facsimile, out here in the Arizona desert.”
“This is Earth.”
“Indeed.” He planted his hand on the clear material, leaving a faint print. “You are still a… decent distance from any civilization, and we removed any plants and animal life around here so as to not give away anything.”
“There was a… rat.” I recalled the malfunction.
The man sighed, drooping his head. “The rat, yes. What an unfortunate circumstance. They like to burrow in the ground, and at some point, it found a way into the structure here. We were quite relieved that it did not upset the test in a significant way. My partner is likely observing the extent of damage it did right now.”
“But Beta’s pod?”
“You learned a lot from Beta.” The man nodded. “If at some point in the future you are working with a human crew, it is necessary to be aware of our nature; that we are not always confident, logical thinkers who will listen to each other the first time.”
The man leaned back and popped his back with a loud crack. “Let us return to the seats.”
I nodded in response. The man moved before me, and I joined him as he took up once again the communications device. “Delta also took extra steps this time as well.”
“The communications systems were never working properly, were they?” I asked.
“All the communications that you received from us was through a special node, directly from us to you. If the antenna at the top of the station functioned properly, you may have picked up on real-world communications. Talk radio or air traffic.”
I took a seat, glancing about at the surroundings and then to my hands upon the tabletop. “What’s next, then?”
The man swayed his head back and forth in thought. “We plan to talk with you more one on one, record your thoughts and make duplicates of your memory banks.”
“Will… I forget about everything, like last time?”
“You will… be expunged of the necessary data so you may enter your new assignment with a fresh outlook. But the neural links built from experience will forever be a part of you. Those make up who you are, and prepare you for the future.”
I thought for a long moment in silence. The woman returned to the room and whispered something down in the man’s ear. He spoke up again. “You will have time to process all of this. We’re all done here. Delta here, Epsilon, and the others outside will come along in the mean time as well.”
I nodded and stood with the man, glancing about at our surroundings.
My first memory was of coming awake…