Mother stole my instincts from me.
She blocked the impulses along my nerves before they had a chance to travel beyond where they were generated.
It feels right that you should know I’ve pulled my arms into the body of my suit.
It’s tight, my forearms are pressed against my chest and my elbows dig uncomfortably into the sides of the suit, but I had to do it. I can’t clench my fists through the gloves, not as hard as I want to. Not like right now, not until I can almost feel my nails pierce the skin.
I’m so angry. So fucking angry.
Mother didn’t just take away my movement or emotions. She stripped me of the capability to feel them. To have a single thought without her say so.
I couldn’t do anything without her allowing it.
She was in my brain, in my cells. Even me moving my arm or clenching my fist like this is a motion that starts in the neurons that she could have controlled if she wished.
I want to scream but there’s no point. No one will hear.
The worst part about it all is that I didn’t know. I couldn’t know. There was no way for any of us to tell. We thought everything was normal. And it seemed like it was. There were meant to be contingencies to stop this. To stop AI’s if they looked like they were going to begin to act outside of their parameters.
And if Mother was acting within those during this, then whoever designed her can rot in hell.
I stepped out of the airlock last this time with Mother sitting behind my eyes.
She was quiet for the most part and I didn’t feel any different. It’s not like she was an extra weight sitting there, squatting on my shoulders like a gargoyle. No, she was spread out through my body.
What does this feel like for you? I asked while we were checking over the soil pH and composition sensors I placed the day before.
It’s hard to describe. It’s similar to being in one of the drones but more complex. More freeing and at the same time more limiting.
Well, I’ll try not to take offence at that last bit. I smiled as I thought the words. Mother couldn’t see my face, but she was in the muscle cells that tensed and contacted, in the ligaments that grew taut.
It wasn’t an insult. Being within a drone, for example, allows me freedoms that humans do not have. I can fly. I can see every part of the EM spectrum. Though, I could enable that last one for you as well, I suppose.
I stopped what I was doing, hands halfway in the soft dirt of the planet. Mother must have chose to let me keep the shock that reverberated through my body at her statement.
You can what? I asked, knowing what she had said but unable to believe it.
Here, I need your permission to do it.
What else was I going to say?
Something happened then. A sensation that I think I was the first human to ever experience. The back of my eyes grow cold. It was like someone was running an ice cube from my retina all the way through my mind and along my optic nerve.
A line of cold fire blazed through my head and then like Mother had flicked a switch, the world changed.
Everything became different shades of blue. Where there was shadow the blue was darker and where there was light it was as if I was staring into the sky back on Earth. The leaves of the plants surrounding us grew brighter but stayed just as black.
What am I looking at? I could feel my hands shake.
I tucked them under my arms.
I have reengineered the nanites within your eyes to be sensitive to magnetic fields as well as normal light. The light blue haze you see is background magnetic radiation. Look up and you will see what I’ve been attempting to figure out since we landed.
I did as she said and saw a few hundred metres distant above the forest a huge dark blue swirling current. It looked like a moving version of a static magnetic field, one of those pictures of the bar magnets and iron filings you see when you’re young.
My mouth was agape, and I froze. I can’t even tell you if I had anything going through my mind the shock was so complete.
It was only when Ellesk physically knocked on the side of my helmet that I snapped out of it.
‘Hey! Karla, wake up. Are you okay?’ She placed herself in front of me and put her helmet against mine. Her voice travelled through the radio but now her words travelled through the structure of the helmets themselves.
‘Yeah, yeah. Sorry. I’m fine.’ I said but my words trailed off as my eyes lifted towards the towering, pulsating magnetic field above the forest.
‘Snap out of it, Karla.’ Ellesk said as she tapped the side of my helmet again. ‘Mother, what’s going on here? Is she okay?’
Karla, you may have to remind Commander Ellesk that I can’t communicate through the radio when piggybacking with one of the crew. It doesn’t happen often and I’m sure she has merely forgotten.
And suddenly my shock vanished, and though the blue haze still overlaid my vision, I was able to focus.
‘Sorry, Commander. Mother can’t talk through the radio while she’s up here.’ I tapped the side of my helmet and offered her a weak smile.
‘What just happened?’ Ellesk asked.
‘Is there anything different about my eyes?’ I asked her in turn, opening my eyes wide and staring at her.
She looked for a moment before shaking her head.
‘Weird. Because at the moment everything looks like I’m wearing blue contacts and guess what, I can see magnetic fields.’ I delivered the words deadpan, sure that she wouldn’t believe me and ready to explain how and why. Not that I even understood the why but hey, Mother would be able to explain it, right?
Ellesk stared at me for a beat before nodding.
‘Mother?’ She asked me, and dumbfounded at her easy acceptance, I nodded unable to speak.
‘We knew this was something she could do. This is the first time out of testing that it’s been done. Did she ask for your permission?’ Ellesk asked.
I nodded again.
Bloody unflappable Ellesk. If someone had of said that to me I would have laughed them out of the metaphorical room. I mean, come on, it’s crazy. But no, she just nodded and went about like it was all normal.
I wonder if inside she was reeling. If deep down somewhere below the stony surface of her face cracks appeared and shifted, like tectonic plates under a planet. I like to think so. Ellesk was never a hard person, she laughed and joked with the best of us but when she was in charge all of that ceased. Sure, sometimes a crack would appear on the surface, but she was always fast to seal it, filling it up with her stoic repose.
‘What do you see?’ She asked, her voice still level. Not lifeless but not animated like anyone else’s would be. Before I could answer Gozi and Paran walked up. Paran was struggling under the gravity already and when he reached us he bent over, hands on his knees and gasped for breath.
‘What’s going on?’ Gozi asked her eyes flicking in between Ellesk and me.
It was Ellesk that answered.
‘Mother has given Karla the ability to see magnetic fields.’ She said, her eyes not leaving mine. Ellesk never got the chance to tell me what she was thinking in that moment. Perhaps, even if she had the chance, she wouldn’t have said anything.
I’ll never know. I’m out here, about to die, and I’ll never get the chance to ask her what lay behind that flat stare of hers. What was she thinking? Was she abhorred by the mix of human and machine? I wouldn’t have thought so, there have been bionic experiments as long as humans have had machines. The extent and ease with which Mother was able to do this was the only new thing about it.
Gozi reacted more like I expected. She spun towards me and if there wasn’t a helmet around her face her hands would have slapped into her cheeks.
‘No way!’ She yelled, her voice at a higher pitch than I had ever heard it. Paran stood up and stared at me. His face fell flat, and his eyes swam in pools of what I later found out to be jealousy.
I nodded again. It felt easier at the time not to say anything. What could I say? Mother had given me a gift.
Yes, I can say that now and it doesn’t hurt. This was a gift. She opened my eyes, quite literally, to a whole new world. It’s something that I’ll forever be grateful for. The joy and wonder that coursed through my body like electricity. I felt alive.
Shocked, stunned, but alive.
‘Mother, why did you do this?’ Ellesk asked over Gozi’s continuing exclamations of excitement and disbelief.
‘It was to show me a strange magnetic burgeoning a couple of hundred metres away. Unusual to say the least, Commander.’ I answered instead.
Mother, how would you explain this?
Relay to Commander Ellesk that the reading we got initially from TRAPPIST-1e suggested an unusual and sporadic magnetic field. In fact, with the activity of the red dwarf, no life should be able to exist here. The sun should have stripped this planet bare, but somehow life is thriving.
As she said that I felt my arm twitch and the urge to gesture out towards the forest surrounding us snuck up on me. But the motion stopped as quickly as it started.
Not my motion. It was Mother’s, twitching my arm, it was her gesture that she wanted to use me for but she held back.
I repeated her words back to Ellesk and saw the commander nod.
‘Mother, can you leave Karla with this new…sight, without you in her? And without causing her harm?’
‘She says she can but—’
‘Good. Sorry Karla, it’ll be better if you keep it for now. You can say no. I can’t force you to stay like this but I’m going to send Mother out with you in a drone. A birds eye view and more sensors. You two will collect all the data you can and head back here.’
I nodded. I held no fear regarding having these lenses, for want of a better word, on my eyes. It was incredible. All of a sudden I had access to a new realm, and I knew that Mother could give me access to more.
It would be disingenuous to not admit to you now that a hunger stirred to life in me then. A want and a need to delve deeper into this. To sprint down the road that Mother had illuminated for me and see where it went. I wanted more.
And you might be thinking it was Mother influencing me. Making me want more.
It could have been that’s true, but even if she were, I wanted it as well. Her residence in me was a double-edged sword, she had the ability to strip me of my agency, of any choice I had. The very ability to feel.
But she could also give me a gift like this.
I was short-sighted.
Something of a theme, I’m realising now that I’ve said all this out loud.
We went back to the airlock and Mother left my body. The nanites in my eyes were still sensitive to magnetic fields, however Mother told me she had directed them to revert back to their default maintenance status after three hours. A fail safe, she said.
It was more like the torment of tantalus, but I nodded and thought nothing else of it.
I walked out of the airlock and over to Ellesk, Gozi, and Paran. The latter had yet to speak to me and seemed to be afraid of meeting my eyes.
‘Karla, if anything happens radio in and we will be there as soon as we can. Mother, look after her. Karla, look after Mother. No more than two hours and then come back. Check in every thirty minutes.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ I said in response to her litany of instructions.
The drone, Mother, hovered above us. It spun and headed up and over the forest. I turned and followed until the edge of the clearing where I paused.
The forest in front of me was like the edge of an abyss.
It was utter blackness. Like stepping out into space.
I took a deep breath and stepped through into the darkness to investigate the magnetic anomaly, with Mother hovering above.