Daylight's Dirge: Part Two
Pariel opened his eyes to the soft gold light of simulated dawn. The sphere he still clutched in his hand pulsed rhythmically, green-gold light almost concealing the gold-wrapped blue crystal. Pushing himself to his feet, Pariel staggered slightly, not quite able to balance. Leaning against the wall, he drew in deep breaths. He hadn’t had that reaction to the station in years. His body had adjusted to the lighter gravity here. Some people never learned how to adjust, but the spacers were only chosen if they could.
Pushing off from the wall, the Ruki took three jerky steps before tripping over himself and falling. Lying on the floor, Pariel didn’t make an effort to get up again. The sphere he held in his hand still pulsed. Pariel held it in front of his face. “Look,” he began, trying not to feel silly, “I’ve had four legs all my life. You’ve never had more than two. I know how to deal with them, you don’t. Okay?”
Pariel waited for a response. Unless he’d been hallucinating last night, he should get a response. If he hadn’t had the pulsing charm in his hand, he would’ve been sure he’d hallucinated. But as time went on, he began to doubt. What if that had been a fluke? What if there’d been some sort of contact poison on the charm, just to convince whoever first picked it up that Sloth really was alive?
You doubt me?
Convulsively, Pariel threw the charm away. It hit the wall with a clack, bouncing down to the floor, where it rolled straight back to Pariel. It stopped in front of his face, the light around it almost entirely green now. Pariel reached out in disbelief, and as his hand touched the charm again, the light shifted slightly, matching his skin. “No,” he whispered.
Good. You have a computer. Pariel nodded, even though Sloth had said that as a statement. Show me what has happened since I was trapped.
Pariel rose, charm clutched tightly in his hand. Whatever Sloth had been doing to mess with his balance before, it was gone now, and after the few steps it took to get to his computer, Pariel brought up the headline news reports from the last year. Quickly scanning through them, Pariel rolled his eyes. The Altador Cup III, new fashions, increasing use of Virtupets technology in Neopia – Sloth laughed at that one – and new games galore. Nothing interesting in either of their opinions.
The Station? Sloth asked, already taking control of Pariel’s fingers to type in the query. Setting the charm down, Pariel watched, fascinated, as detailed schematics appeared on his screen, miniscule numbers and symbols scattered around the forms. He recognized some of what it was saying. Pressure, gravity, velocity – simple things. Most of it he couldn’t decipher, however.
Sloth pushed Pariel out of the way, taking full control of the Ruki’s body. “You see,” he said, talking as he typed and scanned the information that scrolled across the screen, “it’s quite a simple procedure to erase documents from public – or even private – view. It’s a much harder procedure to erase those documents from the system itself.”
What’re you looking for? Pariel asked. He couldn’t read anywhere near as quickly as Sloth seemed able to.
“Documents, obviously.” Sloth laughed, the sound odd coming from Pariel’s throat. “What documents? Whatever I can find. Records Valka doesn’t want anyone to see. Secrets the scientists don’t want anyone else to know. I should still have loyal members among the scientists, at least.” He paused, frowning as he looked at another schematic. “Valka disabled the security cameras I had in these rooms within an hour of taking over. I didn’t think he’d manage that so quickly.” He frowned slightly, entering a few keystrokes. “Go here. And keep the charm with you.”
With no more warning than that, Sloth retreated, shoving Pariel back to the fore. Disoriented, the Ruki stared at the screen. “How am I supposed to get into the labs?” he asked after a moment. “I’m a salvager. If Valka didn’t chastise anyone who treated a worker as scum, I’d be treated like that.”
Figure it out yourself, Sloth snapped. I have more important things to think about.
“Fine,” Pariel muttered. “Then don’t blame me when everything goes wrong.” Quickly stripping his used clothing, he tossed it into a corner carelessly. He’d have time to take care of it later. Once dressed in looser, more casual clothing, he slipped the charm into a pocket and sealed the pocket shut before leaving his room. There weren’t as many people up and about at this time. Most jobs either had their shift change an hour before or after dawn, not at it. Stopping by a food stall to buy a package of green slime that was tasteless but edible, Pariel headed for the lifts.
It took some time to get an empty one, even in the relative calm of the early morning. By the time he found one, Pariel had finished his breakfast and thrown the package away. Entering the empty lift, Pariel hit the button marked ‘13’. The lift’s door slid closed almost silently, and it began to rise. Pariel leaned against the wall, waiting for it to stop. It wouldn’t take long. The diminishing gravity was noticeable, though Pariel ignored it, used to the effect after years of living with it.
Gently coming to a halt, the lift’s door opened. Pariel stepped out, looking around curiously. He hadn’t gone to the lab level before. It was clean, sanitized. Everything was lit by pure white light. Pariel’s boots seemed to echo even more than usual as he advanced through the corridors. The loudest sound he heard, other than his own steps, was the buzz of the space stations systems.
Following his memory of the map Sloth had shown him, Pariel headed for the labs. He didn’t see any scientists hurrying about, unlike what he’d expected. The corridors were empty. It was an odd feeling, after the crowded halls of the worker levels and the cramped space of his salvager. There was space to move freely, and the bouncing step the light gravity gave him was almost like the dock level.
The lab he was heading for had its door open. Pariel paused just outside it, peering in. A striped Pteri fluttered around, each wing beat sending more paper flying and sending the Pteri after it. The cycle kept repeating, and Pariel wondered how the Pteri got any work done at all. A piece of paper blew out the open door. Pariel bent, picking it up, and handed it to the rushing Pteri with a smile.
Ask him about the artificial intelligence project. Sloth paused. He’s called Professor Fugelce.
Pariel shrugged slightly. “Professor Fugelce?”
The Pteri paused in his endless rush to get papers picked up. “That’s me.”
“I was wondering about the artificial intel-”
“Oh! Of course!” Professor Fugelce turned, smiling fit to split his face, or at least his beak. “Come in, and I’ll tell you all about it! It’s been years since anyone’s asked about that.”
Pariel followed the Pteri into his lab, closing the door behind him. Now that he could see the whole lab, it made a chaotic sort of sense. All the papers scattered around the room were just one part of the whole. The whole, of course, was a lot of what looked like scrap metal piled near, on, under, and generally around two giant desks. Tools lay on both of them, and what looked like a misshapen metal egg sat in a corner.
“You see, Lord Sloth himself was the one who asked me to begin work on artificial intelligence, all those years ago.” Professor Fugelce smiled, picking up one of the sheets of paper. “I started with projects like Neopets V2. That one failed spectacularly, but it proved that creating artificial intelligence was possible.”
Pariel raised an eyebrow. “Hasn’t that mad Scorchio’s lab been making robots for years?”
The professor waved a wing as he sifted through papers, not looking at Pariel. “That’s nothing. That ray simply alters the physiology of a person to be bio-mechanical. That’s not artificial intelligence. That,” he said, pointing at the misshapen egg, “is.”
“Really.” Pariel looked at it, but couldn’t see anything about it that suggested intelligence.
“Of course!” The Pteri fluttered over to it, carefully reattaching wires and metal plates. “I was working on this when the Valka fiasco happened. Valka told me to stop working on this. I ignored him.” Professor Fugelce looked over his shoulder, grinning at Pariel. “He hasn’t come back since.”
Ask him if it works.
“So, does that... robot of yours work?”
“What do you think?” Professor Fugelce flipped a switch, stepping back from the egg. A proud grin split his face as it slowly rose from the ground, a plastic panel rotating to face the Pteri.
Pixel by pixel, a face appeared on the panel. Hands unfolded from either side of the robot, and it swiveled, stopping when it reached Pariel. “Wh-at is. This?” it asked, voice sparking and crackling, but understandable.
“It is a Ruki,” Professor Fugelce said. “Introduce yourself to the Ruki, Veethree.”
The robot bobbed in the air. “Myn-ame. Is. Vee Three. I am plea-sed. To meet you.”
Pariel bowed to the robot, trying to ignore Sloth’s laughter in his head. “My name is Pariel. Nice to meet you, Veethree.”
The robot didn’t say anything, simply continuing to scan the room. When it turned back to Professor Fugelce, he turned it off. “What do you think?”
Give me control.
Pariel closed his eyes briefly, letting Sloth shove him aside. “Can you make warrior robots?” Sloth asked.
The expression on Fugelce’s face froze. “Yes,” he said slowly. “I can. The patterns required for fighting are simpler than the ones for creating speech and independent thought. Why do you want warriors?”
“To take over Neopia, of course.”
To be continued...