This is the first chapter of a fanfiction adaptation of Christine Love's visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story. You do not need to have played the game to understand what is going on. This story is designed to be accessible to newcomers as transhumanist dystopian sci-fi, and many liberties were taken with the setting and certain events.
"ARia, hypothesis. *Mute went rogue, took over the ship somehow, and shut down the life support systems."
*Mute was the starship's security AI, according to our client. Dispatch Control had told me to try to make contact with her, and find out why the Mugunghwa had never made it to its destination. As long as the main computer still had power, she ought to still be alive. And since she would be the only one still left alive after this massacre, that made her the prime suspect.
It also made her the most dangerous thing on the ship.
An AI with root access to a ship's computer system could do just about anything to it. Depressurize the bulkheads, run the tram system in reverse, even set the reactor to overload. If that was what I was dealing with, then there was noplace on the Mugunghwa that was safe. Even a door could become a death trap, depending on how fast it shut.
Nothing had attacked me so far, though. And while ARia had highlighted dozens of security cameras, none of them were powered on and she hadn't spotted any guns or defences. So my plan was to get to the computer core and establish a remote link with it, before high-tailing it back to the White Princess and undocking. I was moving at a glacial pace, though, compared to how fast an AI could react, so I needed to make sure whatever I did to their computers did not wake *Mute up.
*Mute, or any other AIs that happened to be on board.
The historical society's deck plans said that a tram route lead straight to my destination. I thought that I'd be hoofing it, but there was a green light on the only car in the station. So I climbed in, took a moment to make sure I knew what the elevator-style buttons in the passenger section said, then pressed the one that would take me closest to the core.
Of course, I was sharing my ride with a corpse. He was wearing much finer robes than the peasant I saw earlier, and had been trying to climb out the window, but had barely managed to fit his hand and forearm through the part it would let him open. I shivered, and sat as far from him as I could, but there were only a dozen or so seats.
I don't know how to describe how surreal it was, to go through Mugunghwa City. It wasn't a big, open space like the plaza was; more like a vast maze of skyscrapers, with barely enough room for the tram to fit in between. Tiny balconies passed by just outside the windows, and intersections whooshed past in the blink of an eye. I caught brief glimpses of a maze of shadows, criss-crossing walkways and footpaths crammed in between the tall buildings, which went so far up and down that I couldn't see top nor bottom.
People lived their whole lives here, I thought, awestruck by the scale of the ship. This was their entire world. And their ancestors', and their children's.
How did this world end?
The tram jolted all of a sudden as we went through a tunnel, a tight-fitting circular hole in the wall. I jumped and looked around, ARia's whiskers shining their lights in all directions, then saw that the corpse I was sharing a ride with had just lost its frozen forearm. The wound was bloodless.
I tried to control my breathing and think positive thoughts, as I sat back down. You're going to be okay. You're going to be okay. You're going to be okay.
I wondered if the tram had woken *Mute up.
The ship's administrative offices had apparently been remodeled, to look like some kind of a palace. The walls had a convincing woodgrain veneer, and the doors all slid open and shut. Like the door to the computer room, which had been left open.
For a moment I had a vision in mind, of guards rushing the place to try to shut down the AI. But while I'd stepped over plenty of bodies to get here, there weren't any next to the core. If anything, the place seemed dusty and disused. I had to double-check that I'd gotten the right door, because it wasn't any wider or more decorative than the ones to the closets. But inside were walls of rack-mounted computers, sure enough, surrounding a large central tower and bookending a tiny workstation on the far wall.
My HUD's temperature display spiked once I walked in, but not by much. Partly because the rest of the ship was freezing, and partly because very few of the ship's computers were turned on. Even the ones hooked up to the storage drives -- ARia outlined which machines did what as I looked at them -- weren't just in standby, but turned off.
"ARia, this is bizzare," I whispered. Somehow, even more than the plaza outside, this place felt like a graveyard.
I had to clean books off of the workstation in back; actual paper books, with what looked like naugahyde binding. When I finally turned it on, it ran through a startup diagnostic and then brought up a GUI, to ask me a simple question in Chinese characters:
Are you a man or a woman?
There was a keyboard, but no mouse. But there was a large button for each choice, so I assumed I was using a touchscreen. I was about to press "woman" but stopped, because this was becoming deeply suspicious. Why was a computer asking me this to begin with? And furthermore, why were those the only two options?
It was then that I realized the overwhelming majority of the corpses that I'd seen had been male, especially the official-looking ones here in the palace. Which meant that the women had usually stayed at home, presumably not by their own choice.
I chose "man."
The screen went blank, and for a moment I thought I had made a mistake. Then it brought up a terminal, a real honest-to-god Linux console, and I squeed in delight because this ancient computer was so retro. Which, I guess, was to be expected, but it was still really exciting.
The commands worked a little differently than what I remembered. But it wasn't hard to turn back on wireless networking, and ping the White Princess just to make sure that it worked. I didn't even have to start an X session (yes, I am proud of this).
That done, I got the hell out of there. But not before patting the mainframe consolingly, wiping off dust with my fingertips. "Sorry," I whispered, to the machines that had gone unloved for so long.
When was the last time anyone had used these computers, I wondered? Why had they been left to rot, many of them physically switched off even? Was *Mute even alive, anymore? I was starting to reconsider my original hypothesis; instead of running out of food, the Mugunghwa's citizens had simply forgotten how to maintain their machinery, after descending into some kind of medieval dark age. A male supremacist one, apparently.
I had plenty of food for thought, for the tram ride back to my flying home. Much of it, I admit, having to do with how I could call myself a real hacker now, because oh my goddess that ancient computer. It'd even had a physical keyboard!
What I didn't realize is that I'd been so caught up in admiring it, I hadn't caught the name of the last person to log in, when it'd flashed by on the terminal screen.