Author's Note: This is the first chapter of a fanfiction adaptation of Christine Love's visual novel, Hate Plus. It continues from where the Analogue: A Hate Story adapt left off. It features a female player character, who left the Mugunghwa with *Mute and is currently married to her.
Content Note: Internalized sexism and homophobia, and suicidal ideation.
People who write about space say that it's big. Impossibly, incomprehensibly vast. They say sci-fi writers have no sense of scale, and call people out for writing whole planets as a single ecosystem or town. Or spreading a story across a whole galaxy, when it doesn't need even a continent.
That's kind of how I experience space travel, though, in real life. I can fly thousands and thousands of light years to get somewhere, and never even leave the building I landed on. Crawling across the Mugunghwa was the most exploration, and probably the most physical activity, I've gotten in my entire life. And I'm used to the world being small, whether it's the cage and the yard I grew up in or the tiny spacecraft I now live in.
The one where the power was out.
It didn't feel much different from when the power goes out in a basement, or from turning your flashlight off in a cave. There was the same sensory deprivation, the complete lack of light and sound except for my ears ringing. My breaths suddenly seemed very loud. The one difference was that it felt like being in a "down" elevator, too, as the artificial gravity gradually lost hold on me.
I'm told it can be very frightening. But to me, it just felt like bedtime. It helped that I was already in bed, and felt sore all over and worn out still.
The one thing I didn't want, here, was to wake up dead. Or not wake up at all ... but you get the idea. If the oxygen ran out, whoever came here to rescue us would have to try to resuscitate me, too. So I waited a moment for Aria's flashlights to turn on, her floating "whiskers" tracking my head motions and shining wherever I looked. Then I stood up and dug into the compartment just over my bed, coming back out with an armful of individually-packaged, emergency air scrubbers and heating pads.
It took me a few minutes to get everything set up. To attach the tiny machines to the wall, crunch up the heating pads' contents in my hands to activate them, and crawl under the covers in what was, by then, microgravity.
But. I had white noise from the fans on the wall now, to make the silence less painful. I had my plushies, floating around me and tucked under the blankets with me. I was securely wrapped up in them, my pillow was velcroed to the mattress, and I had warm heating pads in my pockets. The only thing I didn't have right now was *Mute ... and it surprised me how much I missed her.
I wasn't just missing her, though, I realized. I was also missing my memories, of the time that I'd spent with her after we'd left the Mugunghwa. And it felt so unfair that they had been stolen from me.
Just how long had it been, anyway?
I took one of Aria's whiskers out of the air, and opened a virtual keyboard and screen just "over" my head. It felt like I was standing up and using a computer right next to my face, even though I was laying down, because there wasn't a "down" anymore.
The first thing I saw was today's date and time.
4989 Sun. FEBRUARY 8
Okay ... so it had been less than a day, then. I guessed that made sense. I would've engaged the FTL drive to head back home to Earth as soon as *Mute had finished downloading, and had gotten herself situated. I didn't know how long I'd been unconscious, but I could check the ship's logs for that.
Always the investigator, I thought to myself. But if I was knocked out, then how did ...
I realized that *Mute must have dragged me out of the cockpit, and tucked me in bed.
I winced. I had used Aria's whiskers like that before, to remotely operate things I was afraid to touch with my hands, and it had felt awkward and clumsy. Imagining *Mute having to struggle with that all by herself, not even being able to use arms or legs to help balance or carry me ... it was touching.
Literally, I thought.
For a second, I wondered if she had touched any particular parts of me while I was unconscious, even by accident. I winced, and decided that I didn't want to know. Anything sexual related to *Mute was just a big bag of awkward right now. And if it was like that for me, it had to be even worse for her.
I remembered she'd mentioned an interview that I was in. I checked to see if there was a recording, the tips of my fingers starting to get cold as they tapped on the virtual keyboard.
Sure enough, there was, in Aria's local cache of my lifestream. I stared at the metadata in horror.
From the looks of the thumbnail picture, I had been on a live, morning talk show called Saeju 28/7, broadcast from what I remembered was the colony that had asked Dispatch Control to send someone to the Mugunghwa. There was a grinning hostess in a snazzy suitcoat, behind a desk. And sure enough, there was awkward little me on the other side from her, folding my arms and staring out the picture window. At the vine-overgrown skyscrapers ... and away, I presumed, from the live studio audience.
I couldn't bring myself to watch it. I was sweating just thinking about it. I was suddenly glad that I had forgotten this, and didn't want anything to potentially bring back the memories that had been lost to my anti-anxiety meds. Instead, I just read the summary.
Part 2 (05:03)
Private investigator Mira (Fox) joins us by holopresence from the inside of the Mugunghwa ... the third generation ship launched by the UKSPA, which mysteriously vanished thousands of years ago. Find out what we know -- and don't know -- about the disaster that hit the ship so hard, they reset their calendar to "year 1." Also in this segment: A whirlwind courtship with a rescued AI!
My cheeks burned. Oh my goddess, I did NOT just tell millions of people that I married *Mute. PLEASE don't let us be an item. I looked over at the kamidana's shelf imploringly, begging the guardian fox statuettes outside of the miniature shrine to somehow relay my plea to Inari.
At least I got them magnetized. Having porcelain figurines smash on the floor, when the gravity got turned back on, would've been the perfect end to an already-crappy day.
I made a mental note not to show my face on the Saeju colony. Ever.
Fifteen minutes passed. The cabin air had grown chill. It felt like winter, in rural New England. Or even colder, I thought, since I didn't have any fur this time.
My breath had turned white and puffy in front of me, and was starting to frost the screen and the virtual keyboard, to the point where I couldn't read manga anymore. I was halfway through rewriting the config file to adjust their solidity when I realized my fingers were shaking, and going numb.
I pulled one of Aria's whiskers, one of the miniature air scrubbers, and my favourite plushie down under the covers with me, and bundled up as tightly as I could. The screen resized to become a postcard in front of my face, casting long shadows across me and my plushie, and the air scrubber tried to fly away with its fan.
I attached it to the hyena plushie's head and snuggled with it, trying to thaw out my fingers. Just a few more minutes, I told myself. Just a few more long minutes.
I counted ten, on the tiny clock just above my reading material, before I heard the ringing in my ears again. It took me a moment to realize the air circulator had shut down.
Crap, I thought. Steeling myself against the cold, I reached out of my bundle of blankets to try to grab the one on the wall. It didn't work, and I ended up flailing blindly for a few seconds and letting all the cold air in. Shivering and only partly wrapped up, I looked around in the flashlight beams, just in time for the last disposable air circulator to die.
It occurred to me that I shouldn't have turned them all on at once.
I took a deep breath. There was only one thing to do, at this point, but it would take a lot of nerve.
I took a moment to aim for the locker, then pushed hard off of the bed, trailing blankets behind me. Kicking them off of my feet, I grabbed onto the locker door's handle, and pulled it open and got out my pressure suit. Once I'd done that, I stripped down to my underwear as fast as I could, and tried to force my shivering legs inside of the suit.
The air was so cold and dry, it felt like my lungs froze when they tried to inhale it. I was shaking so hard, I could barely see anything through my hair floating all around me. I thought that I'd gotten one leg in, but realized that I hadn't, and spent way too long trying to put the suit on properly. Because if I had an "HP" or "Stamina" metre somewhere, it was draining fast just being out here.
I have never been "polar bear swimming," but I can't imagine that it'd be much worse.
So. Shaking all over, floating in midair, blankets and hair all around me, I didn't feel the *bump* as another ship contacted mine. I couldn't hear the umbilicals connect. And I didn't realize what had happened until the lights turned back on, blinding me, and I started to drift towards the floor.
"Oh, thank goddess." I'd gotten both legs in the suit at this point, and stopped working on fitting my arms inside so that I could find my footing. Still shivering hard, I managed to dial up a virtual keyboard from Aria's closest whisker, and turn the White Princess' heating subsystem to full. A loud blast of air like my shower's dryer answered me, and I held both bare arms out towards the vent in the wall, my grin reflected in the hard light screen floating in midair between them.
A second later, the White Princess' resident AI finished booting up, and Aria projected her again like she was doing before the shutdown. Which meant that I was suddenly holding *Mute in my arms, still just in my bra and the lower half of my spacesuit, the both of us staring at each other in shock.
I don't know if it's because Aria had just been projecting my hard light virtual keyboard a moment ago. But I swear that just for a second, I could feel *Mute's clothes against my bare skin.
4989 Wed. FEBRUARY 11
A half-second is an eternity, when you're an artificial intelligence. I need you to remember that, Mrs. Investigator.
It's not ... I don't mean that time stretches out, for me. The past few days we've spent docked with the Murder of Crows, ever since I came back online in your arms, weren't years on my end. It's more like, I can get more thinking done in that time than any human around me ever could. You know? And not just machine logic, either, but the kind of irrational garbage I'm burdened with as a woman-identified AI. Feelings, gossip, all that crap that makes so many women unfilial and unreliable.
I want you to know that I am committed to being your wife. You and your ship are my responsibility now, just like the Mugunghwa was, and I'm sorry for questioning it. I am so fucking sorry for what I've put you through, the past couple of days. And I don't know if I'll ever make up for it, but I swear on my ancestors -- such as they are -- that I'll try.
Even if that means burdening you with the nonsense that my feelings are, like you asked.
So. You want to know when I started to think our marriage was a bad idea? That was when. In the point-four-three seconds or so that I spent in your arms, between the time that I came back online suddenly and the time that both of us freaked out, I questioned every decision I'd made in my entire life that'd led up to that point.
It's not that I didn't like it. You know? It's like I said, you're really hot. Even the ... the little spots, on your arms and, um, chest ... they don't take away from it, like, at all. You're just ... wow.
And that's why I started to question it. Because as I was feeling that, taking in the whole situation and every inch of your bare skin, I realized that this was a situation I was never supposed to be in.
I wasn't meant to be in a woman's arms. I wasn't meant to feel the ... the thing deep at the core of my being, in my chest or my gut if I had them I guess, that reacted the way that it did when I saw where I was. It was amazing, sure ... but it wasn't for me to have!
This was how men were supposed to feel, about being with their wives. This ... I know what it was, okay?! And I know what love feels like. This wasn't love, it was lust. I am capable of feeling lust, just like men can.
I've had that feeling before, of course. Like when I was watching the noble wife and the whore do unspeakable things with each other. And this sounds so naive and foolish to me now, but I really thought that it was my security programming. These were depraved, unfilial acts, which tore at the heart of society. So of course I, as the security AI, would feel a thrill from catching people in them. You know?
I didn't know what came over me, when you commented on that video ... and back in the room where you almost removed your helmet. If someone from the Mugunghwa had tried doing that, I would've known exactly how long I had to stop them, and been able to come up with something appropriate. But with your weird Earth technology involved, I panicked. I just blurted it out without thinking, that you were hot and I liked you. I spent the next few minutes after that berating myself, using so many processor cycles that I couldn't even render myself properly.
Then we got married, and there was that feeling again, even stronger this time. And I thought ... like, I tried to tell myself that it was just me responding to having a new core purpose, to replace the Mugunghwa. It had nothing to do with how smooth your skin was, or how perfect your breasts were, or how hot you are in general at all.
I know, right? Like, what was I thinking?!
But this time, in your arms. That feeling was so strong, and so disconnected from anything I was supposed to be doing, that I couldn't deny what it was.
It wouldn't be so bad if I were a man. It would mean that we could have children. Husband and wife, raising a family for the Emperor of Earth or whatever. But since I'm just a woman, it meant ...
I thought it meant that we couldn't be together.
Because I imagined myself giving in to that feeling. Going mad with what I now knew for sure was lust, the way Smith Sang-jung's brother had. Chasing after immoral common women, leering at waitresses' chests, sticking my ... my fingers, I guess, in anything female. Except that unlike a man, with a family and a real marriage, I would have nothing to tie me to you. No children, no parents to watch and correct me, no gossipy bitch of a security AI just waiting for me to shame myself and my house. No brother, even, to save me from my own mistakes. And since I was an AI, I could do it all twenty times in under a minute, without your even noticing.
It ... scared me. It really scared me.
That's why I haven't opened a single outside channel from the White Princess, except for that distress signal. I've spent hundreds of years watching men give in to their lusts and tear families apart. It's sick, and depraved, and deplorable, and it was the rot at the heart of the Mungunghwa's society. But it also broke so many women's hearts ... and while women's feelings are, like, the worst possible basis for making decisions, I didn't want to do that to you. I didn't want to be the kind of person who could do that to you.
I wasn't even a real person to begin with. You'd be getting your heart broken by a computer program!
So, that's when I knew I would do it. I would have to get rid of myself, for your sake.
The only question was how.