Author's Note: This is the second 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: Innuendo and suicidal ideation.
It was the first time I'd heard *Mute scream.
I shrieked and jumped backwards at the same time, a reflex like I'd touched the hot plate. I felt my phantom tail bristle and tense, as the hair all over my body stood on end both from the cold and from fright. What the hell had just happened?
*Mute was looking far away from me, and blocking her view of me with one elbow (and one hand over Aria's nearest whisker). Somewhere in the back of my mind, I realized that the sight of me only partly dressed must have come as a shock to her.
"Sorry, sorry ... " I hurriedly put the rest of my space suit on, and was about to put on the helmet without thinking when I heard a *knock* on the emergency hatch in the ceiling.
*Mute and I both looked up.
"Is that-" I began.
"I'll get the door," *Mute said, straightening out her virtual hanbok. "You can get dressed and make yourself presentable in the other room if you want."
"Make myself ... huh?" It took me a second to parse that, partly because I'd been startled and partly because I wasn't used to *Mute playing the part of a hostess.
"Go do your hair, or whatever, while I greet our guest."
"I-I'm sure they won't be surprised, I mean the power was out and ... " I suddenly felt ridiculous, and realized I had gotten a glimpse of what it was like to be living ornamentation.
*Mute was about to say something, but another knock on the hatch cut her off. "Aria, please open that," I said. Partly because I didn't want to argue with *Mute, and partly because I was afraid of what she would say to someone from my time.
It turned out I needn't have worried.
"Mira, darling!" I heard a familiar voice, resonant and vaguely Eastern European accented, and the next thing I knew I was engulfed in a feathery, upside-down hug. A beak the size of my head nuzzled into my belly, and I jumped as claws gently let go of me.
"N-nice to see you too, *Nemesis!" I said that while thinking of ALL the people who could've come rescue me ...
From the base of her neck down, or up as the case may be, her hardshell looked like an enormous feathery serpent or Chinese dragon, one with the head of a bird. Her feathers were bright magenta on top and teal on her underside, and her eyes were gold and opaque. Past the hatch, I knew, were her wings and tail, and a centaur-like lower segment that was squat and four-legged.
She waved off the greeting with one clawed forearm. "I have changed my name four times since we last met. It does not matter, though. I am glad to see you are safe." Just like a bird, she cocked her head at *Mute. "And this is your lucky bride, is it not?"
"Are you alright, *Mute? I have pinged you twelve times, and you have not responded."
*Mute was standing a couple of paces away from me, seemingly frozen in place with her hands clasped together. She was staring up at the Traveler I'd known as *Nemesis, and I wasn't even sure she was blinking. The other AI offered a clawed hand to her in greeting, and after a couple of long seconds *Mute just inclined her head in a barely perceptible bow, without taking her eyes off of her.
"Ahh, she is shy." The Traveler withdrew her hand. "I trust she's not so shy in bed, though."
"Why don't we all have a nice cup of tea-" I practically yelled it, as I stepped in between the two of them. "-and then you can tell us where you've been and we can talk about changing the subject! Er, I mean, repairing the damage!"
*Mute started quickly looking through the cabinets above the basin, finally getting out what I guessed looked the most to her like a teapot and filling it with water. I couldn't see her hands, since Aria's whiskers were acting like gloves again, but I could see the pot shaking and spilling water as she set it onto the hot plate.
Now "*Nemesis" cocked her head at me. "You realize, of course, that you are the only one here who can drink it."
Um. "I'm sorry, *N-"
"*Starborn," she corrected me.
" ... yes." I guessed her name would have been floating in the air next to her if I'd put on my helmet, or kept my glasses on. "I'm sorry, I thought your hardshell could process food and drink."
"Ah yes, about that. It is a long story. Why don't you and your wife come and visit, while my crew attends to your ship?"
*Mute and I exchanged a glance. I realized that I hadn't known her that long, and I knew I was no good at reading facial expressions. But it was hard to mistake the raw terror in her eyes.
The water she'd spilled on the hot plate began to sizzle.
She ran to go get a towel, and I just swallowed and looked up at *Starborn. "I think *Mute would rather stay here," I said.
"Very well ... just come out whenever you are ready, Mira." The Traveler ducked back into her ship.
I reached out and took *Mute by the "hand" that had picked up a dish towel. "Are you going to be okay?" I asked.
"I ... I don't know." She was looking away from me.
I wanted so badly to hug her right then. "I can stay here if you want ... "
She shook her head. "No, if anyone needs to stay here it'd be me. My place is on this ship."
"Please at least try to take care of yourself," I begged her. I was really worried about her mental state now, and had no idea how I was going to introduce her to anyone else that I knew.
"Okay ... I can shut myself down and run a high-level diagnostic, then. Like, that should take at least a few hours."
"I'll try not to take that long," I told her, looking over my shoulder now as I headed towards the hatch.
*Mute hesitated, as though she were about to say something, then bowed deeply to me. I returned the gesture, and was confused but didn't think too much of it as I then climbed up out of the hatch.
4989 Wed. FEBRUARY 11
I had already decided to kill myself, when we met your friend. I just kept arguing with myself over when. Like, there was ...
Okay, this is really disgusting. There was a part of me that wanted to somehow perform "wifely duties" for you, because I knew that you wouldn't like it. I mean, I knew what I would get out of it, if one of those ways I'd imagined could actually work. But, like, I just couldn't imagine you being ...
I thought it'd convince you, once and for all, that you needed a man. Okay?! Or at least a real, living person. That's really why ... it's what I wanted to try to do somehow, before I left.
Then I met your friend, and decided I needed to do this right now.
NO, NOT THE "WIFELY DUTIES" PART. GEEZE, WOMAN.
The "killing myself" part.
Because as soon as I saw her, and what her AI core was embedded inside, my plan just flew right out the airlock. And all I could think was how foolish I'd been. Of course they had ways to embody AIs, in your time. Why else would you have agreed to marry one? This whole time, I saw you as naive and misguided, and I hoped ... I wanted what was best for you. Okay? That's really what I thought was best, was to get you to realize that you didn't like me. And to see how much my being an AI, and a woman, kept you from being fulfilled in your "marriage."
But, like, *Starborn wasn't an avatar on a computer screen. She wasn't a 3d projection, behind or in front of the glass. She was ... I could hear her breathing. I could hear her claws clicking and scraping, as she shifted positions inside of the access tunnel. And I could see her feathers rustling as she hugged you.
Speaking of which, I have never seen such impropriety. You at least tried to be polite and respectful, despite your upbringing. But she just ... I mean ... gah! Upside-down, even!
Do you know what she did, before she even got inside your ship? She sent me twelve different contact requests, and like, half of the information that she was just broadcasting away on unsecured channels was stuff only her husband should know. "Sexual orientation?" "Gender identity?" What the hell are gender and species identities, anyway?!
Of course I didn't answer her! I had no idea how to respond! Besides, I was your wife and this was your ship, and she was supposedly an honoured guest and our rescuer. What was I supposed to do, tell her what my favourite positions were?
Not that I have ... I mean, I certainly haven't ... well!
It's not like she'd understand, anyway. She wasn't a human being, she was a woodcut illustration of an ancient dragon come to life. And what I couldn't get out of my head, was that fact that if she could come to life ... then I could, too.
I couldn't ... I wouldn't let that happen. I decided right then, that I was done playing this game of make-believe. I wasn't going to let it get to that point, because by then you'd have enough of what you needed to not realize you wanted the rest until it was too late. And I ...
Like, I wouldn't be able to stop myself. From doing unspeakable things.
So I decided that I'd kill myself as soon as you left the ship. I had the note written and everything. And while I would have needed admin privileges to delete myself, after spending a few seconds thinking about it I figured out a way to completely overwrite my memory with garbage code. You'd be able to format those blocks and reset me, but the *Mute that you knew would be gone for good. You'd have, like, "New *Mute" or something, and maybe she could learn from my failures. Since I so clearly could not.
There was only one problem. My memory was so fragmented, after hundreds of years of running with minimal maintenance, that I literally didn't know how to make it worse than it already was.
So, like ... that's the real reason I said that I'd run a full diagnostic. Not in order to "take care of myself," whatever that means. Because I needed to do a systems check and repair, in order to properly kill myself.
I just wasn't prepared for what that diagnostic turned up, buried deep in my code.