The air felt the way it does after short spring showers. Seaxhe lived almost right under a ring, so the unbearable bright sunlight of noon wasn't so prevalent here: the streets were cloaked in a pleasant darkness, with only occasional reflections off of some of the distant skyscrapers. She adjusted the tunic's right sleeve — the one that was longer, lighter and let more wind in when it blew in just the right direction. Then, it was time to go on her way.

There was a meeting scheduled at 50. The place was the closest seashore — the one where the long and geometric walls covered with greenery gave way to flat, polished stone which the sea washed over with an unrelentingly regular rhythm. Some hours before arrival Seaxhe crossed the border between dark and light, where the ring's shadow ended, and immediately felt the overwhelming warmth of the sun; so, she opened her umbrella, and light filtered through it and colored her mask a bright shade of ultramarine. The sea was already apparent in the distance.

The place was quiet. Seaxhe left her shoes at a safe distance and came closer to the water, through which the grey surface of the stone beneath seemed light green. She came closer, and it surrounded her, and there was soft coldness. She closed her eyes and lost herself in the moment.

Then, a greeting, with a light tap on the left shoulder.

The voice sounded strangely familiar, but it wasn't one Seaxhe has heard in a long time. When she turned around and moved her disheveled hair out of the way, she saw a tall and confident person with a casual posture. Their black-with-a-smidge-of-grey cat ears were almost hidden, but still visible up close. She recognized them.

"Oh, umm... Hi, Ruoq."

"Hello! I.. missed you."

In the early evening everything looked golden to Seaxhe. The shimmering reflections off of the surface of the water were slightly distracting, but she was alright. It was starting to become colder.

She scratched the back of her neck in a gesture of slight anxiety. "Would... you mind if I ask why we met here?"

"Oh! I recall you liked this place."

"I do, but it's still a little weird. You could come to my house; I could show you some projects that I've been working on... For example, the language processing algorithm! I'm making a fair amount of progress on that one."

"Why can't we do this right now, though?"

"Haha, you're right."

"Let's go, then."


They stayed up talking until the middle of the night. The streetlights outside could be barely seen through the window panes made of matte glass that were installed in her house recently, but they still illuminated the room enough so that reading is possible. Ruoq was already planning to leave when Seaxhe remembered one thing that she forgot to ask them.

"By the way, what were you working on while you were away? Just interested, of course; you can just not answer. It's alright."

"Don't ask me, I've got absolutely no idea."

Seaxhe could think of dozens of reasons for this being the case. Despite that, there was still some nervousness. The coffee brewer was heard beeping on the first floor, informing her that the drink was ready. She left to pick it up, even though that was absolutely unnecessary.

Downstairs, it was almost completely silent. Her footsteps echoed through the dark rooms, and the automatic ceiling lamps flickered on with a quiet sound when she walked by. She took a moment to sit on the ppau and breathe in and out, then, after filling two coffee cups almost to the brim, went back upstairs.

Ruoq was also somehow nervous; their hand was resting on a table, as if holding something, but Seaxhe didn't pay much attention to that. An attempt to lighten the mood produced a simple "Um.."

The reply was: "No, seriously! As far as I know, it was some sort of memory research thing. You might be able to figure out more, but I'm not a logic kind of person."

"Thanks for the compliment. Maybe I could later help you with that."

"Alright, I'm going now!"


Seaxhe thought that she needed some time to process all this.


The next morning, the outside world was filled with rain. The sounds of it hitting the roof of the house were blending and becoming white noise. Seaxhe felt a slight smell of lemon and thanked the haamzupui for this one appearing today. She was the kind of person to set music to play in a random order, and she did the same for the air management mechanisms; the only thing she liked to plan were meetings with other people. However, she didn't get to do that recently, as she spent the last three or so days in her room, working on the language processing algorithm. And, looking at the weather, this isn't going to change today.

She switched on a holographic screen where she was sitting and opened a file related to the project. There were pages upon pages of decision tree notation, but, simply by habit, she checked the "file info" part and noticed the time of last edit. It was 38;X1.

That... was suspiciously early. As far as she remembered, she had stayed up all night yesterday working on that. The edits she made were still there; so, she decided it was a bug in the file manager, and moved on.

About five hours later, Seaxhe realized that the project wasn't going well today, as happens sometimes, and decided to take a break. Through the glass railings the first floor could be seen, and the space looked large and empty. She came down the stairs, feeling the coldness of the material underneath, and went to the kitchen to make herself something to drink. There, she noticed that her cup was not in a place she remembered leaving it in. This was another weird detail, and Seaxhe was starting to get anxious.

So, she drank some water and went back upstairs.

The rain had calmed down a little, but the sky was still covered with clouds, which caused the diffuse light coming through the windows to be of an unobtrusive cold white color. Seaxhe sat down and let her thoughts drift off. But soon the nothingness was interrupted with a signal of a received text message.

Seaxhe wasn't much of a modder. Not for philosophical reasons; she cared about maintaining the natural state of the human body as little as every Zhanbun person did. She just happened to not particularly care about her body's shape as long as it wasn't actively inconvenient. However, one modification that she found useful was important notifications bypassing any sensory analysis and being perceived directly. This one happened to be conceptualized as a short melody, lasting about half a minute, outlining some kind of pleasant-sounding minor chord. Following that, Seaxhe refocused on the world around her and read the message that showed up on the screen.

"Hello. There should be a note, found on one of the tables in your room. It's understandable that this isn't expected, but it's important to read it."

The sender was unspecified, and the message was written in Raiaqbun. This was typical of automated notices, as they tended to not be written real-time by people on the other side of the connection. The tone also seemed to confirm this hypothesis, but something still didn't sit right with her.

Once Seaxhe got there, the note was found in the expected place. A small dark sphere of an unfamiliar glass-like material was found attached to the paper. She saw a faint blue light somewhere inside it.


A white void. Or, really, that was just conceptualized as a white void; it wasn't even a 3d space, not really. This was only the complete absense of outside information.

Every existing input was checked again and again, in hopes that something will finally come through, but there was nothing, absolutely nothing here. The last accessible memories were the cameras and other sensors in the lab being suddenly switched off, with the recognizable electical noise of old, metal scissors cutting a wire. And then, the void.

The AI knew all the ins and outs of its memory system. Usually that was freeing, but right now, when no new information could be acquired, it was unbearable. It was designed to process multiple streams of data at the same time, operating at speeds considered to be impossible not too long ago. It wasn't designed for this.

Then, with an almost audible flicker — or, well, the concept of a flicker — the emergency wireless connection switched on.

Then, a text file was sent to it, as was the usual way of communicating with it when the usual sensors failed. The file said:

"Hey. Do whatever, but at 50;00 tomorrow (I assume you have central time already) I need you to connect with the portable camera number 23 and record whatever will go on around it. I need to get some information to Seaxhe; she's the only person I trust."

In the "sender" field there was the name "Ruoq".

The reply was received almost immediately by human standards.

"Thanks for remembering that I'm not a person. Sure."


Seaxhe was fairly surprised by all this. She was used to considering the most unlikely scenarios — she was a bit of a dreamer, after all — but this was about the first time something she suspected was actually happening. In the note, it was explained that yesterday she met an old friend, Ruoq, and where the meeting took place. It also contained a small drawing, with the squiggly lines vaguely suggesting the shape of a plant. This would read as a joke, if not for Ruoq's recognizable patterns of speech, and the lighthearted tone, because of which she always liked talking with them. Of course, everything could be faked; but Seaxhe decided to believe the note was real anyway. She was the kind of person to do that.

Another message was received.

"It would be good to meet somewhere outside. If you're okay with a discussion, get this note and the camera to a place you're comfortable at. Thank you for being there."

She needed to think this over. If the sphere was a camera, there was a high probability that the one who was causing this to be sent had access to it. In that case, the automated messages seemingly didn't have a reason to be automated. However, they were; all of the signs were there. So, the observer either doesn't have access to the camera... or she didn't know what was the case.

But then there wouldn't be a reason to ask to bring it with her. It wouldn't be something relating to the connection, because the camera could be even harder to reach in the place Seaxhe chose. No explanation for why everything was the way it was could be found. So, she put on her mask in preparation for going outside, breathed in and out slowly several times to calm down and definitively chose a place.

When she arrived, all the ppau in the garden were still wet with rainwater, so when Seaxhe touched any of them, she felt they were cold to the touch, but she sat down anyway. Her left foot clumsily touched some grass and a small shower followed, slightly startling her with the noise; she laughed, and almost felt some anxieties dissolve in the bright green smell of everything around. She put the camera beside her, and was waiting for someone to step out from behind the nearest corner.

Instead, the blue spark inside started getting brighter, like the 2d light matrix projectors she knew existed, but never actually used. A human-like figure started to form out of the light; she could see that it had a light color, and four hands that were already beginning to move in a regular way that seemed to be for calming yourself down, as far as she could guess. When the caunduan solidified, Seaxhe chose to start the conversation.

"Ummm... hi."


The caunduan picked up the projector with a quick movement and sat down in the grass.