Tai awoke slowly, aware of the fluid bathing her skin. The real was jarring after so long in the made. Most visitors swore that they could not tell the difference and, of course, that was the goal. But Tai could always tell. There was a smell that could not accurately be replicated. There was a heaviness too. And then there was the emptiness. Like hers was the only consciousness in all the world. Of course that wasn’t true. There were hundreds of people still out in the real. Organics, like her who maintained some of the culture.
Thought and control, thought and control.
Her finger twitched. Heat spread slowly up her arms. Relief. She had almost stayed too long this time. A metallic face appeared above her.
“Welcome Tai-kara, do you need stimulation?”
“Thank you Admin, no I am fine.” The administrators surrogate withdrew. Tai pulled herself up to a sitting position, amniotic fluid slushing about her. The room was poorly lit. Surrogates needed no light and organics almost never used this port, preferring newer access points with upgraded hibernation baths. Her clothes were folded on the table beside a bank of monitoring screens. The admin feigned appraisal of the life systems. With his back to her he asked “do you understand the mission parameters?”
She regarded the robotic creature which housed this administrator. Undoubtedly human in shape. Arms, hands, neck, head, face. So advanced, she thought. And yet still so uncomfortable with nakedness.
“My parameters” she replied. “Liaise with Molly. Dispatch messages. Report every five revolutions.” Tai liked to be succinct but thorough.
The surrogate appraised her briefly, head tilted, mimicking thoughtfulness. “I have a request.”
Tai was quiet. An administrator did not make requests. Parameters were outlined and access to the necessary data was provided. A request implied something personal. She wiggled her toes enjoying the warming sensation as her legs woke up. “Yes Admin?”
“It is a personal matter and, I trust, confidential.” The metallic face showed no emotion, but the tone was firm.
With effort she crushed the desire to toy with him. “Of course.”
He approached now, the weight of the moment temporarily overriding his sense of decorum. “I have uploaded coordinates leading to a house along the south wall of the city. I believe you will find an isolated system buried at the base of that wall.”
Tai sat very still. Isolated systems were not uncommon. The allure of being a god was too strong for some to ignore. They were not outlawed. But they were dangerous. A person able to create their own world, populated with their own artificial programmable beings, usually devolved to base instinct. People needed, and usually desired, the company of others to remain sane.
Tai asked “I thought the network no longer monitored isolated systems?”
“This system is of interest only to myself,” replied the surrogate.
Tai could tell there was more to be said and she let the silence linger. Her body was fully awake now and she stepped from the bath to collect her clothes.
“Ambassador.” His tone was higher now. Imploring. “Do I have your assurance?”
Tai was not beholden to the network. Her people were not caretakers for the network. These surrogates served that purpose. Hers was simply one of the last organic Dasarti tribes remaining.
“Yes Admin. Your secret is safe with me.” A hint of a smile.
The face of the surrogate remained impassive. “I want you to bring me with you.”
She attempted to keep her expression neutral. “Surely the signal does not extend far beyond the city wall. Wont you… drop out?”
“You misunderstand Ambassador,” replied the admin. “I am not streaming to this body. I am inhabiting it.”
Tai was shocked. It was not uncommon for citizens to exit the network; to transfer their data to physical bodies, or to disconnect from the primary and form smaller networks. But an administrator would surely never be allowed to leave. Source codes were accessible only to administrators. Any breach could be disastrous for the entire Dasarti network. She finished dressing.
“What is so important about this isolated system that you would put so much at risk?” she asked.
The administrator was silent for a while. Serene expressionless face. After a time he responded. “I believe it is the resting place of what was once my son.”
The population within the network no longer recognised paternity. Since digital consciousness had been achieved reproduction was no longer necessary, and so the essentially immortal population did not increase in number. Many family groups that had existed prior to the upload exodus had survived. But these were seen as a thing of nostalgia rather than a thing of substance. People had found new ways to group themselves.
“I guess you should tell me your name then,” said Tai as she stepped out of the elevator. They had reached the surface. The city was now many kilometres beneath them and the elevator receded into the ground leaving a circular indentation in the grass but no other indication of its existence. Around them stretched rich grasslands for a few hundred metres in all directions, and to the south, a forest. The Admin moved up beside her.