(( Mysterious doorstep, Abandoned city, Surface of Ring 42 ))
Stranger: Oh! Visitors! We so rarely get visitors!
The stranger, emphasis on 'strange', looked like someone had built a wire mesh mannequin out of hard light. And while their general conformation was familiar: bipedal, two upper limbs, a head and so on, something about the proportions seemed off. As if their creator had looked briefly at a blueprint for the average Federation species and tried to reconstruct one from memory.
Given that whatever device they had interacted with had the capacity to read minds, it was a real possibility too.
Kettick: Ensign Sera? Would you have a First Contact package ready at hand, just in case? Because I don't.
The Stranger superbly ignored him, chatting away with enthusiasm. Kettick noted that their voice spoke in perfect Federation Standard, far from the mangled mess they had heard only moments before, although with a lilting accent he couldn't place.
Stranger: And you both are so…different! This is fantastic. We are all so bored here – your added experiences will be well received. Come, come – please follow me. ::gesturing::
They had identified Sera and Kettick as "different", which suggested at least a quantum of awareness. Not a simple background character in the simulation, then... Was it the real appearance of the creators of this program, a simple, neutral placeholder, the way they depicted their gods?
Sera: You do not understand. This is...we do not desire to be here.
The Stranger scoffed, as if Sera had just told the most outrageous joke.
Stranger: What? Nonsense. This is the afterlife – all your dreams are now made reality! You will see – it is paradise. Come, come!
And, without waiting for a reply, they turned around and started walking through the meadows, their leisurely stride immaterial enough not to disturb the perfect grass.
Kettick: Should we?
Sera: I do not see any other viable option currently other than to follow them.
Kettick could have sighed, if book lungs were conductive to this kind of thing.
Kettick: Neither do I. But we should be watchful for any opportunity to leave.
Sera: Clearly, that is the most important objective. ::nodding in agreement with his statement::
Kettick: I have no talent for telepathy. Maybe try touching available surfaces to see if you can reach this place's code - or its analogue, if this is a simulation as we think of it at all.
Sera looked thoughtful. That was a most reasonable option, and she was in agreement.
Sera: That is a logical course of action.
They hastened their pace, catching up with the Stranger and following him towards what looked like a lake, surrounded by a crescent-shaped wood of some unknown, blue-leaved trees.
Kettick: My apologies, but... how should we address you?
Stranger: Oh, it's of no importance. I am simply here to greet you. What matters here is you. This is your afterlife, after all.
Kettick: In that case, Greeter, you mentioned Visitors before. Have people been here before us, and left since then?
The Greeter scoffed once again, apparently judging the notion ludicrous.
Greeter: Please, while I appreciate your humour, where would they have left to? The after-afterlife? You are here for your dreams come true, and to enjoy an eternity of bliss while you leave your tired bodies behind.
They were near the edge of the woods now, and the chirping of insects and the songs of birds mingled through the air.The place was agreeable, peaceful, and inviting... perhaps unnaturally so. Kettick felt a pang of concern at the idea that something that could pull information from minds might as well put things into it.
Kettick: Don't some people believe in reincarnation?
Greeter: You don't.
This time, Kettick offered him a genuine shrug in response. Neither did he believe in an afterlife, and yet there he was.
Sera half-listened to the gentle interrogation that Kettick was engaging in with the computer-generated interface. Thus far it had been less than helpful with its responses. It was unfortunate, but not unsurprising.
Sera: Greeter. Are there others like us? ::as there was nothing of note to try to interact with other than grass and sky – and thus far they had revealed nothing to her.::
Greeters: Of course, there are. I believe my prior statements clearly defined that there are others here in the afterlife.
Sera: When will we meet them?
Greeter: Meet them? Why would you want to do this? This is YOUR afterlife.
Sera was finding this tedious, frankly.
Sera:: This is not my afterlife. My people do not believe in such a place as this…and my comrade…Ensign Kettick, does not believe in a ‘life after death’ at all.
Greeter: ::nodding in a serious manner:: This is so. However, it was determined that if the setting was adjusted to your specific version of…Sha’ka’ri? Is it? That this reality would not be comfortable to your companion.
Well that explained why none of their surroundings seemed familiar.
Greeter: This place can be whatever you desire it to be. Would you care to be back on your home planet, in personal service to your Queens – hailed as a vital and necessary part of your societal whole? Or perhaps would you like to be in charge of it all; try something new?
Sera: Then I would like a different construct than this field.
Greeter: Yes! That is the mindset to have – No offense, but with your collective intellects, you two took long enough. What environment do you desire?
Sera: Starfleet Academy, San Francisco, Earth. ::Glancing towards Kettick:: It would be familiar, and there could potentially be more to engage with than what we have here.
The green fields and blue sky shimmered and morphed into something more familiar to the two officers. They stood in the quad of the Academy. Students and faculty bustled about their day, seemingly oblivious to the two new faces amongst the crowd. Regardless of this being a simulation, Sera was struck with a sense of déjà vu. This wasn’t a generic computer display pulled from a program database. This was a specific memory from her mind; the day she defended her thesis.
It took a moment for Sera to force the unbidden feelings of anxiety at the thought of going before the committee of Engineering professors. She had no intention of reliving this particular memory. Instead, she was going to try to find an adequate interface to see if Kettick’s idea was possible.
Sera: The library would be a logical starting point. They have public displays that perhaps will be useable to access. I am concerned at what might be discovered. Our greeter has used a particularly sophisticated self-awareness.
They walked across the green space towards the library building. She did notice that the greeter continued along with them, but now in a following mode. Within a few minutes they all had walked through the doors into the grand space, illuminated by numerous windows and soft lighting. It was always a welcoming space to Sera, and that feeling was effusive as they walked over to the public computer displays.
Sera: I am uncertain if this will work, Ensign Kettick. ::tapping on the touch panel and bringing up the coding interface for the screen::
She was uncertain of how to gain access to the core of this program but approached identifying and breaching the nucleus of this particular program with hesitant care. The greeter studied the two new additions with an expression of vague suspicion.
Greeter: What are you doing?
Sera: I am attempting to interface with the software core of this simulation.
Greeter: ::aghast:: Why would you desire to do this?!
Sera, meanwhile, attempted to ignore the overly ‘cheery’ program.
Sera: Unless this is a prison and not an entertainment program, I believe I have found the source coding for this simulation…however…this is…taxing.
She did not wish to display weakness, but it was illogical to withhold the truth from her colleague. As this wasn’t a physical simulation, it was her mind that was doing the heavy lifting in the attempt to get further answers. She was no adept of Gol – regardless, Sera would continue until she had exhausted her mental energy.
Then she realized something. They had the ability to create an environment of their desires…so she closed her eyes and thought very clearly and concisely about being in a control room that had all of the computing powers for the entire analogue.
The surroundings suddenly melted away and a new scene, one similar to a server room formed around them.
Sera: The computers in this room should work for you, if I have correctly understood the basic functioning of this simulation, Ensign Kettick. The program is quite detailed, and the scope is massive, quite unlike any of our holodeck interfaces.
USS Juneau - NX 99801