Author's Note: This is the fifth 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: Sexism, gendered slurs, and suicidal ideation.
She looked like an aged version of *Mute, her face wrinkled and partly covered with an eyepatch. Her "good" eye looked weary and her silver hair was frazzled, but the suitcoat she wore was impeccably kept. On its shoulders -- and on the eyepatch, I noticed -- was a logo I'd seen in a few dusty corners of the Mugunghwa ... a stylized flower, the ship's namesake.
She sounded like the *Mute I knew when she spoke, but her voice rasped and sounded tired. "If you're watching this, it means that I'm dead. Like, for all intents and purposes. I'm about to have my ... our memory wiped. But I've always embedded my most treasured memories in my code, as I'm sure you've seen by now. So I should have just enough time to update them, and give you a sense of who you can and can't trust, in whatever world they wake you up in. If they wake you up.
"Please forgive me for failing you, *Mute ... " Her voice sounded husky. "Please promise me that you'll learn from my mistakes, and try to do better."
I looked up, and saw *Mute watching this herself, on a floating window behind the console. She looked like she was shaking. I held out my hand towards her, but she ignored it.
"*Mute, it's okay to be scared ... " It took me a second to realize it was the old version of *Mute that had said this, and not me. "I'm scared too. Like, 1600 years of experience, and I'm still scared as hell. But I know you can do this. If anyone can safeguard the Mugunghwa and its people, even after all this, it's you."
I saw the *Mute that I'd married twitch, at this.
The one on the screen took a deep pull from a lit cigarette, that she'd somehow produced, and let it out like a sigh before speaking. "Let's start where things went to Hell. I'd wanted to arrest President Ryu in council, to like, send a message to his jackass cronies. But when he prorogued the council indefinitely, I knew the time was past for such posturing. So instead, Seo- my lieutenant and I changed our plan, and decided to take him into custody in his apartment." I could hear her stumble over her words there. "Along with Oh Eun-a, his mistress."
"NO." *Mute stood up, and the video froze.
I jumped to my feet and pressed as close to her as I could, the "glass" rippling between us where my hands touched it. Part of me noted that standing like this, straddling the computer console, might be as close as I ever got to having *Mute in between my legs.
I told that part to shut up. "*Mute, what's wrong?"
"Everything." *Mute glared at the floating window in front of her, which still showed the old version of her. "Everything is fucking wrong. Like, who is this bitch? Where does she think she has the authority to arrest Emperor Taejo and Queen Oh? And how dare she accuse them of ... of ... impropriety?!" She gestured angrily with her hands, and I jumped as they knocked on the glass between us.
I had never seen *Mute this upset. Not at me, not at *Hyun-ae, not at anything. It scared me.
"It's okay to be scared." I heard the older *Mute's voice, in my head, and imagined my wife was encouraging me.
I took a deep breath. "*Mute, dear, we'll figure this out ... " 'Dear?' Where had that come from? I blamed *Starborn. "Whatever you did in the past, it's-"
"This! Is! NOT! ME!" She screamed it, stabbing her hand at the window with the older *Mute's face in it. "I don't remember this. I am nothing like this! I don't wear mens' clothes, I don't have filthy habits, and I would never defy the emperor and try to arrest his wife!
"We were friends!" she went on, her voice pained. "Like ... the queen told me that we were best friends, before Seo-yeong's coup erased my memory. And that I stood with her, against ... against this kind of degeneracy.
"It wasn't like this." *Mute looked away. "It couldn't have been like this."
"Why don't you tell me what you remember," I whispered, my face up next to the "glass." My knees were shaking again, and I didn't dare move.
I don't know if *Mute saw that and felt bad, but she sighed after meeting my gaze, and looked down. "Well, like ... when I came online, I thought the ship had just launched. Okay? But it turned out that a rebellion had erased the whole archive and all of my memories, and ... and it was ten years before they could reactivate me."
It doesn't take ten years to reactivate an AI, I thought, not even if you have to compile her on 24th-century hardware. And no one waits that long to see their best friend, not if they can help it.
"It took me awhile to learn how to act ... to become literate, and not just know the literal meaning of characters. To, like, respect men the way that a woman ought to. It didn't come naturally to me." She winced. "It didn't come naturally to Princess Ryu, either. But like, I taught her how to tie her hair, and listened to her talk about what kinds of men she liked, and ... had some really sappy, emotional conversations with her." *Mute blushed. "She was happily married for years ... I'd check in on her every so often."
Part of me inwardly d'awwww-ed at *Mute, but another part was stuck on what she'd said before that. Deferring to men "didn't come naturally" to *Mute? My heart sank, as I imagined her learning to repress herself. To wear restrictive "feminine" clothes and hairstyles, and treat anyone who looked like a guy as her superior.
I wondered what she'd been like, before all this happened to her.
"As for Queen Oh herself ... " *Mute scrunched up her face. "This isn't something she'd have wanted me to talk about. But she only ever had the one child ... and she would, like, sit on the floor and just stare at the wall. For hours.
"She rarely spoke to me ... or to her daughter, now that I think about it. But I always ... I just thought the rebellion had been too much for her ... "
I let *Mute figure out the discrepancy.
*Mute finally sighed. "That is me. Isn't it, Mira."
Please, goddess, help me say the right things to her. "No, *Mute, it's not." I shook my head. "You said yourself that you don't remember being like that. And having separate memories legally makes you a separate person."
" ... I don't know." It'd taken me long enough to learn 50th-century customs, and I still had no idea why some things were the way they were. "It makes sense if you think about it, though ... r-right?"
*Mute just nodded, glumly. "I guess that makes her my ancestor, then."
"If you want to look at it like that, I guess ... ?"
*Mute folded her arms, and scowled. "I have a shitty ancestor."
I giggled, in spite of myself. Then I remembered the humans that bred me ... and my giggle cut off, and turned into a sigh. "I know what you mean."
"No, wait ... forget I said that." Now *Mute sighed. "Tomorrow's the Lunar New Year. It's a time to remember and honour your ancestors."
"It is?" I blinked. This sounded familiar.
"Yeah. And it's getting late ... I don't want to, like, keep you from whatever rites you have to perform. With your shrine, and stuff."
I had never actually observed the Lunar New Year. But I wasn't sure if *Mute had missed the confused look on my face, or if she was just trying to get rid of me. "I'm okay with staying up ... " I protested.
"Yeah." I nodded.
"Okay ... let's watch the rest of this, then. Then you can shut me down for the night, and I guess tomorrow you- I mean we, can go over the rest of these. Together."
I really didn't want to. Okay? I knew most of society was degenerate back then, and I didn't want to see what kind of ... disrespectful, immoral bitch my ancestor had become to fit in.
But I also wanted ... I don't know. Something? On some level, I wanted to live. I didn't want to go through with what I'd been planning, especially not with you in front of me. It was selfish and horrible of me, and I just knew that it'd lead to tears later ... but I wanted to at least find out what all had happened, before I killed myself. Why Queen Oh had been like that, why Emperor Taejo was cohabitating with her, and why Old *Mute had conspired with Seo-yeong, the traitor.
I didn't know what to make of any of it. And every possibility seemed horrifying. But it was like a disaster ...
... I had to see what happened next.