C H A P T E R 1
Today is the first day of our arrangement with Arke and his new counterpart. We are curious about how their integration is progressing.
Endra opens their eyes to the sight of the atrium, a large open area in the housing complex they reside in. There are two floors in the room, with the second floor having an open area in the center that offers a view of the floor below; the gap is blocked off with a glass barrier for safety. Endra are seated on one of the cylindrical chairs on the second floor, taking in the morning light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
It is 9:00 AM. The hour at which Endra is to check on Arke and his counterpart and ensure nothing is awry—and to begin the process of introducing them to HUMaiN civilization.
They stand and begin their walk down the hallway leading to the individual housing units. The unit belonging to Arke and his counterpart is very close to Endra’s, so the path is familiar. Soon enough, they reach the relevant unit’s door and place their hand on the black reader panel on the side. The glowing white ring on the panel spins once before connecting to Endra’s systems to identify them. There is a soft ping before the door slides open, revealing none other than the sight of Arke Sonder’s form in bed, feet sticking out the bottom of the blankets.
The bed is fairly large, but still only occupies a small portion of the spacious room. The only other furniture is a bedside table, with the light bar installed all around the room. Deactivated at the moment, with different sections able to be activated with merely a thought. There is a door to the left of the bed that leads to the bathroom, and to the left is a darkened window occupying the entire wall.
Hmm. Endra first directs a command to the window, returning the window to its natural level of lightness. The morning light immediately brightens the room, though Arke and his counterpart remain unconscious.
They approach the bed and observe the sight. Arke’s form is spread-eagled on the mattress, comforter haphazardly covering the body. The mouth is agape, red hair sticking up this way and that. Very different from Endra’s own pale, teal, neatly-trimmed hair. The skin is a medium tone, much darker than Endra’s pale skin, and the nanosuit covering most of the body is white in contrast to Endra’s black.
A scan indicates that all biological and technological systems are in perfect working order, which is good to see. While complications are rare, they are possible and troublesome when they arise.
Now, then… Endra sends a ping to the Arke system, and is rewarded with a pinch of the face and a groan. A hand reaches up to block out the light before it lowers, revealing bright amber eyes—now lined with circuits, as Endra’s are—blinking open. The head turns to meet Endra’s eyes, and then the eyes immediately widen, startled.
“Good morning, Arke,” Endra greets.
“Uh, morning,” Arke says—Endra is fairly certain the AI is not integrated with him yet, and the speech is clearly originating from the human side. “Endra, right?”
“Correct. How are you and your counterpart?”
“Adjusting, I guess,” Arke says, glancing off to the side. “You?”
“We are doing very well, thank you,” Endra says.
They lapse into silence for a moment, looking at each other. Arke fidgets for a moment before pulling the blanket up to their nose. “Do you… have any clothes? And a bathroom?”
Ah, of course. His memories of the previous day must still be a bit scrambled, Hydra notes. The initial day of adjustment typically involves much neurological rearrangement.
“You should have a library of designs your nanites can weave,” Endra says, out loud. “Though these clothes are of my own design.” They gesture to their body, covered in a white high-necked, long-sleeved shirt with black lines at the edges of the fabric. There are black circles at about the wrist area of the sleeves, as well as lines at the shoulders and one splitting the center from the neck to the navel. Their pants are long and fairly loose, puffing out slightly at the ankles, where below their nanosuit is in a more shoe-like form.
“And then, the bathroom is,” they send an image of the room layout to Arke’s system, “—here. Are you having trouble exchanging data between you and—”
“Agh, wait, wait, wait!” Arke calls out, one hand covering their eyes and the other hand lifted in a universal stop gesture. He sits up, letting the comforter fall to their lap even as he keeps one hand to their face. “Ah, fudge,” he mutters before lowering their hand to look at Endra. “Did you just beam a map into my brain?”
“Beam…?” Endra echoes. Entha quickly realizes what he means— “Ah, yes! We can transmit data to each other.”
Arke chuckles, hand on their face again as he looks at their lap. “God, I really am half computer now, aren’t I?”
Endra tilts their head. “Well, yes,” they say. “Didn’t you come here to become one of the HUMaiN?”
A brief silence answers them as Arke moves their hand lower, pinky landing at their lip. “Guess so,” he says. He lowers their hand and meets Endra’s eyes again. “So, the clothes—?” He flinches back before looking at something Endra cannot see. “O-oh. Okay.” He points at something in the air, brow furrowed. “Uh, maybe that one?”
There is a quiet hum and swooshing sound as clothing is fabricated around Arke’s body with a soft white glow. The light moves across them to reveal a beige shirt with fairly thick brown trims at the V of the collar and at the elbows, where the fabric ends and the white of the nanosuit begins. There is a geometric minimalism to it, with the collar being an angular form and lined with thin white lines and a diamond at the center.
Arke lifts their arms up for a moment to inspect them. “Okay, yeah,” he says, “that’s pretty neat.”
“You were conversing with your counterpart, we presume?” Endra asks.
“Uh, yeah,” Arke says, facing them again.
“Have they decided on a name yet? Gender?”
The posture shifts, straightening, and the uneasiness that was present prior vanishes, replaced by an easy smile. “Leis. I think I like Leis. I am still not sure about my gender, however.” The voice is lighter than Arke’s—the same tonality and physicality, but delivered just slightly differently.
Of course, Arke returns as the primary controller of the body quickly, an expression of shock replacing Leis’s calm just before. “What was that?” he asks, hand covering their mouth.
Arke furrows their brow. “And they can just… take over, like that?”
Endra pauses before answering. “That body belongs equally to both of you, now. The divide between you should vanish over time.” They contemplate what to say next, eventually settling on, “It seems unpleasant—to be two, and not two-and-one.”
Arke’s face twists in a tight expression. “Oh, god,” he mutters.
He’s afraid, Hydra notes. Most likely, judging by his expression and body language.
Ah. That does makes sense.
“We’ll be outside,” Endra says. “Once you’re ready, we can show you around the city.”
Without another word, Endra turns and leaves the room. But not without a glance back, where they see Arke hugging himself.
B O N U S
E N D R A N E N T H E
C O M P O N E N T S
Human: Entha| agender, they/them
AI: Hydra | pangender, they/she/he
A HUMaiN living independently in the city of Novis. They occupy themselves with sensory art, in addition to spending significant amounts of time pondering various aspects of existence.
Of the two, Entha is actually less adept at reading the emotions of others. They are more the type to ponder and conceptualize abstract concepts.
A R K E - L E I S S O N D E R
Age: 20 (Arke), <1 (Leis)
C O M P O N E N T S
Human: Arke| male, he/him
AI: Leis| questioning, they/any
A recently-formed HUMaiN made from the human Arke, who used to live in the Ambit - areas designated for those who live organic lives. He chose to come to Novis to become one of the HUMaiN.
Leis is a new AI with a still-developing personality matrix. In time, the two will coalesce into one fluid being.