C H A P T E R 2
When Endra enters their mental landscape, it always begins as an empty white space—filled only with abstract waves and cubes of light, drifting aimlessly.
Entha opens their eyes to this sight, sitting on a featureless floor. Hydra? Entha calls.
Hydra appears immediately, manifesting as a form of dark blue outlined with a bright blue glow, expanding in size and solidifying as the avatar they usually present themself as: long-haired, a body like a robe lined with circuits, a bright glowing core within the center of their chest.
Hydra settles next to Entha, a smile on their face. Yes?
Arke is… afraid of becoming like us? Entha asks hesitantly. The human side of Endra has always been a bit lacking in reading emotions, and they can’t help but seek confirmation of the thought.
He does seem to be, Hydra answers. He is still too attached to his previous singular state, most likely.
Mmm. Entha looks up. I don’t understand. He agreed to this. Came to the HUMaiN to become one of us.
Hydra tilts their head. Humans have many doubts.
Well. That is true, Entha concedes.
Perhaps we’ll clear them today…
Endra opens their eyes as they hear approaching steps. They look up and to the right and see Arke waving at them with a nervous, almost sheepish expression. Their hair is less messy now, evidently having been brushed to the side such that their bangs fall over the right side of their face.
“Hey,” Arke greets, smiling awkwardly.
“Hello,” Endra returns. “Shall we, then?”
“Uh, yeah. Lead the way.”
So they set off, with Endra taking Arke-and-Leis through a brief tour of the city of Novis. Arke seems enamored with the tall buildings of elegant metal, glass, and polymer; Endra supposes it may be his first time seeing such things up close.
They soon end up in a spacious park district, consisting of pathways of solid white stone cutting through grassy areas abundant with various plants, trees, and the occasional abstract art structure. There is an indoor area as well, a glass-paned spherical structure with additional flora within. In the distance, the maglev track can be seen elevated high above the ground.
Observing the track, Arke asks, “How do you all get around?”
“Walking,” Endra answers, “if the distance is not too far. We do not tire as easily as humans do, with the enhanced homeostatic regulation our cybernetics give us. If we must traverse a significant distance in the city, we use the maglev railway.” They gesture towards the structure in the distance. “And of course, if we are traveling between different urban centers and other settlements, we use the public teleportation system.”
“Interesting,” Arke murmurs.
Endra glances back at them, raising an eyebrow. “You should already know this. Or, at the very least, Leis should be able to tell you.”
“Oh. Well.” Arke gives a sheepish laugh, lifting a hand to scratch at their cheek. “I asked them not to download big things, yet.”
“Ah, we see,” Endra says. “Are you concerned about neural overload? The human brain has notable plasticity and adjusts quickly. You may experience minor and brief headaches, but there should not be any severe effects.”
Arke shakes their head. “That’s not it—at least, that’s not the main reason. I just… I’d just like to take my time.”
Endra tilts their head, giving a thoughtful hum. “Fair enough.”
As they continue down the path, Arke asks, “So… how does the teleportation system work, anyway?”
Ah, this would mostly be a matter for Hydra. They pull the relevant information from the network instantaneously, and Endra contemplates the knowledge for a moment before answering. “There are teleportation centers in every independent city, with numerous small and large pads that we can make use of. Smaller pads are usually for personal use or small groups, and larger ones can be used for larger groups, items, vehicles, and structures.”
Arke nods. “That makes sense.”
“As for the science behind it,” Endra continues, “there is a significant aspect of quantum mechanics at work. In some sense, the matter of us is left behind while the information and essence of our ‘self’ are instantaneously transmitted to a new location, where matter is transformed to become ‘us’ via quantum entanglement. And then the matter we leave behind becomes another entity who uses the system.”
Arke stares, stopping in his tracks. “Wait, so your body isn’t actually maintained?”
Endra hums. “Yes and no. Everything that defines our physical form and mental self is transported, and the ‘us’ that comes out of the teleporter is identical in every way to the ‘us’ that entered across the world. The actual matter we are composed of is technically of a different physical location, though.”
“Isn’t that… terrifying?” Arke swallows. “What if you don’t make it through on the other side? What if the entanglement or whatever doesn’t go perfectly? There must be an accident every now and then…?”
Endra laughs lightly. “There are failsafes upon failsafes, of course. Additionally, consider the fact that half of our ‘self’ is a digital entity. One of the failsafes is that a backup of ourselves is made prior to the jump, and if worst comes to worst, that can be restored.”
“Oh… okay,” Arke murmurs.
His expression shifts in a way that suggests Leis is communicating with him, and Endra allows them a moment before gesturing towards the end of the pathway. “Come,” they say. “We can find you something to eat. A culinary district is just past the park.”
Arke blinks, looking up. “Oh, yeah,” he says. “Do you all eat?”
Endra snorts, moving down the path; Arke follows them. “Of course we do,” Endra says. “The human body is very efficient, and there is no reason not to make use of such a system. Besides, there are many culinary artists who would be eager for us to try their ventures. There are automated options for simple meals, but we find that very boring.”
The pathway of the park transitions to a wider area with glass buildings on either side, some with single floors, some multiple, and some much taller buildings further down. They approach one of the restaurants in the area, a single-story building with glass storefront and seating options both indoors and outdoors. The glass is emblazoned with glowing text: Vian’s Crepes.
“This is one of our favorite places,” Endra says. “Leis can provide you the menu if you wish to peruse first. Would you find this to be an acceptable breakfast?”
Arke looks at the storefront—their eyes flicker briefly before they nod. “Yeah, this will work.”
They enter. The inside is fairly quiet, with only a few other HUMaiN around at the moment. Endra makes their way to the counter and the HUMaiN standing at it: they are wearing a long white shirt reminiscent of a chef uniform, with the sleeves rolled up to their elbows. The trim of the outfit is black, as are their pants and their nanosuit. Their skin is dark and their eyes are a dark red reminiscent of raspberries. Their hair is short and a pale blonde, save for the black color of the shaved section of their hair on the right.
Their eyes brighten as soon as they lay their eyes on Endra. “Endra, hey there!”
“Vian,” Endra greets. “It’s good to see you.”
Vian leans over the counter, grinning. “Same, same. Is that the new HUMaiN with you?”
Endra nods. “Arke and Leis,” they say, gesturing to them.
“Oh, uh, hi,” Arke says, giving a wave. “Nice to meet you… Vian?”
“Correct,” Vian says, straightening from the counter and then giving a bow, one arm bent over their torso. “Victor and Kian, at your service.” They straighten. “Do you not have a joint name yet?”
“We don’t,” they answer, and Endra recognizes Leis’s tone. “I’ve suggested a few, though. Arke hasn’t decided which one he likes most, even though I did say it’s easy enough to change.” Leis gives a light chuckle. “For someone who came all the way here, he’s very indecisive.”
Their expression shifts into a pout. “I resent that,” Arke says.
Vian exchanges a look with Endra. It’s… strange to see such lack of unity, they note, using their internal communication.
Agreed. We’re curious to see how it progresses, however, Endra answers.
We are, too! But not curious enough to volunteer to be the babysitter, heh. Vian hums, tapping their chin. “Well, no matter. We hope you figure it out soon! For now…” they step back opening their arms to gesture to the crepe samples on display, “what would you like?”
Endra decides to try another of Vian’s mysterious new flavors—olive oil blueberry, as it turns out—while Arke-and-Leis take longer to decide. Eventually, they go with a basic chocolate hazelnut option.
They go take a seat by the window while Vian—Kian, rather, controlling the robotic equipment—moves to the kitchen and prepares the crepes.
Endra folds their hands in their lap while Arke-and-Leis fidget. Eventually, Arke asks, “So, uh… not all HUMaiN speak as formally as you?”
“Of course not,” Endra says. “This is simply how we choose to present ourselves.”
Arke raises their eyebrow. “Why?”
Endra shrugs. “We enjoy control. Entha, mostly. It may surprise you that Hydra, our AI, is the more expressive of the two of us.”
“Huh…” Arke looks down at their hands. “I guess I thought that the AI would just be your ‘opposite’ and then everyone’s personality melds into the same neutral thing.”
Endra shakes their head. “No, not at all. The AIs are not our ‘opposite,’ only our ‘match.’ Everything we need to be in order to become who we can be.”
“Become who you can be,” Arke echoes. Their attention is drawn to the side as the soft warbling of the floating server drones enters the room. Two smooth white constructs with black seams, each holding a fork and a wireframe containing a crepe in a levitation beam. They set down the items in front of Endra and Arke-and-Leis with the beam before floating back towards the kitchen.
Endra immediately picks up the fork and starts eating. The flavor is… rather interesting. A curious smoothness to the olive oil ice cream. They flick their gaze up to Arke-and-Leis, who are still looking back in the direction of the server drones. They catch Endra’s gaze and flush slightly before picking up the fork and taking part of the ice cream in their crepe. As they close their mouth around it, their eyes widen.
“This is… this is so good,” they say.
Endra smiles. “We’re glad to hear it. We suppose you haven’t had anything like this before?”
Arke shakes their head. “No, we… I never had anything like this back home. And uh, Leis is new, obviously.”
Endra nods. Of course.
They continue eating in silence for a bit before Arke speaks up again. “So, um. What do you all do, anyways? How do you spend your time?”
“Mm,” Endra hums, finishing their bite. “All of us pursue an activity, or a few, that creates something new. We desire individuality above all else. Our needs are fulfilled, so we can be anything we want.” They wave their fork in a circle. “There is no point to existing if we do not do something unique, something only we can. Everything in this society is meant to enable that.” They stab their fork into what’s left of the ice cream of their crepe, looking out towards the window beside them. “To that end, there are many artists, writers, designers, innovators… and of course, they are not mutually exclusive.”
Endra closes their eyes briefly, tilting their head to the side. “It is suggested for us to spend half our time creating our own work, and half our time consuming others’. Not enforced. But strongly suggested.”
As they look up again, Arke meets their gaze. “Huh,” Arke says. “That seems… nice.” They glance to the window before making eye contact again. “And what do you do?”
Endra allows a smile almost like a smirk, lifting one elbow onto the table and resting their chin on their hand. “Sensory art, among other things.”
In response, Arke furrows their brows. “What’s that?”
“Art that engages all the senses,” Endra says. They straighten, holding out the hand that was supporting them. “Would you like to experience it?”
Arke hesitates. Endra wonders if Leis is factoring into the decision-making. Still, only a few seconds pass before Arke slowly reaches forward and takes their hand.
Endra offers a smile before connecting to Arke’s system, requesting a sensory interface. Arke accepts after a pause, and then Endra activates the program for their most recent work.
Through the interface, Endra can observe Arke’s experience without being drawn into it. First, the fall into cyberspace, immersion in a synthetic experience. Digital stars fall around them, and Arke-and-Leis reach out to catch one.
It shatters in a flash of light, washing everything in white as they land on the surface of a reflective lake. The world forms around them: white geometric trees grow from the water where the stars fall upon the lake, and leaves sprout from the branches. The air is crisp and refreshing, and the soft sounds of rustling leaves fill the air.
Arke-and-Leis take in the experience with wide eyes, turning in a circle before looking at themselves—a light-outlined figure in this digital world.
“Do you like it?” Endra asks, tilting their head.
Arke-and-Leis blink, both in the physical world and in the digital landscape. Their brows furrow as they open their mouth. “Y… yes?” they say, speaking first in the digital world before their body echoes it. They blink rapidly a few times before Endra senses them close the interface, pulling their hand back.
“That’s definitely not like anything I’ve seen before. Felt?” They hold a hand to their face, closing their eyes. “I think we’d enjoy it more after I get used to all this,” they murmur.
Endra nods. “Fair enough.” They allow a moment of pause before folding their hands under their chin. “Now, we’re curious, Arke. You came all this way. Why? What do you want to do?”
Arke blinks at them in surprise before letting their gaze fall. “Me? I…” their eyes skate off to the side. “I don’t know what I want to do. I just know that I want to be more. More than I was. Back home… it was quiet. Peaceful. But every day was the same, and I knew it would stay like that until the day I died.”
“We see,” Endra says. That does sound incredibly boring. “Well. You certainly have the opportunity to ‘be more’ here.” They offer a small smile. “Not to mention that your time is as infinite as you desire.”
A pause. “So it’s true, huh.” Arke meets their eyes. “You’re all immortal.”
“We, Arke. You are one of us, now.” Endra sits back in their seat. “And yes, more or less. Until we choose to give up our existences to make way for new life.”
Arke looks at them with a stricken expression. “You just—decide to die?”
“Our consciousnesses are put to rest,” Endra explains. “Our AI would act as our grave and memoir—memories would be accessible externally under very special circumstances, but we would not awaken again.”
Arke looks down. “And people… choose that?”
“Yes,” Endra answers, “for a number of reasons. Perhaps they are satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. Perhaps they have become tired, and wish to enter the final rest. Perhaps they wish to give up their place in life for someone new.”
“Someone new,” Arke echoes, looking down at their hands.
Endra waits for them to continue, but they do not. “Would you like to meet one?” they offer.
Arke stares at them. “Meet one?”
“A nascent HUMaiN. There tend to only be a few in existence at a time, but there is one in the area if you wish to meet them.”
“Oh, uh…” Arke scratches their head. “Sure?”
“Very well,” Endra says. “We will let them know, and once we finish our breakfast, we can head over.” They smirk slightly, raising an eyebrow. “It’s going to melt if you don’t finish it soon.”
Arke’s eyes widen, and they immediately return their attention to their crepe. Endra allows a snicker before returning their attention to their own. They have the same problem, after all.
B O N U S
H Y D R A
A I C O M P O N E N T O F E N D R A
The AI component of Endra. They have a high level of cognitive empathy, easily able to understand the emotions of others.
They enjoy people-watching.
V I A N R A N K H
C O M P O N E N T S
Human: Victor| male, he/him
AI: Kian| demifemale, she/they
A HUMaiN who spends their time managing their crepe store, experimenting with all sorts of different flavors. They also enjoy trying out the culinary experiments of other HUMaiN.