I entered this chamber fifty two years ago. I remember that day in its entirety. My memories before it are sparse, it was a different life, they were different times.
I remember my body. They said it was perfect, I was short, slim, smart. I agreed with them when they told me, but they didn’t know and I didn’t know.
Commander Scone looks at me from the other side of the command center. He stands tall, much taller than I am, and from beneath the iridescent ceiling he produces a smile. The room is empty, the Commander approaches, and I am frozen with excitement at the sight of the man whose voice has briefed me in my missions for so many years. I have seen him before in video, in hologram and images, but never before have I been standing before him. He’s a friend that I cherish, he’s a man I respect, but seeing him and his ship with my own eyes makes my memories seem like a distant dream.
“Hey, welcome to The Neptune. How are you feeling?”
I remember that question vividly because that was the last time I felt human. I told him I felt fine, and I thought that I did, but he didn’t know… I didn’t know. He gave me a tour of the ship, I met the crew, I met the AI whom I was replacing, I watched the galaxy through the observatory and then I sat down in my quarters. It was small and it was cozy. There was a glass of water and a bag of peanuts waiting for me.
I remember everything. The four bubbles of air trapped in my water, the eighteen peanuts in the bag, the lamp on the side of my bed, and the book in the shelf with the title “Journey to the End of the Universe”. I drank the water after having walked most of my day with no rest and nothing to eat or drink. To me, it tasted like heaven, I could feel it going down into my gut and entering my bloodstream. It’s the way our ancestors must have felt after a hard day of work hunting animals and fending off predators, a feeling of completeness, of wellbeing and peace.
But I didn’t know.
Commander Scone has his hand on my shoulder as he’s telling me what I should expect serving as the new organic computer of the ship. I’m not paying attention. My eyes are fixed on the chair that will hold my body as I work. It is in the center of a silver room, thick packs of cables and wires traverse its walls and ceiling, and I can see needles protruding from the chair I am supposed to use. The Commander may have told me what they are for, but I don’t know because his voice has blended with the background noise of the engines and the chatter and the silence that engulfs us in outer space. But I can guess. These shifts are for weeks at a time, sometimes months, and these needles and prods will keep my body healthy. They will give me the nutrients I need to survive and they will take away the waste I produce. I won’t have to come back out for a long time, and I don’t care. This is what I want to do.
“So? You think you’re ready to give it a spin?”
I say I’m ready. I look into his eyes and shake his hand. I feel his pulse and I smile. I walk through the door and I sit down. The needles enter my body and I notice a flash of pain. It’s just a flash. Everything is fine now and I’m floating in a cool dark room. The door closes before me and I see the Commander’s face for the last time.
I’m living it again. The mind-bridge approaches and I try to be still. I feel its cold prods touching my head and drilling into it, flooding me with the information of the ship.
I thought I was ready. I told the Commander I was, but nothing can prepare you for it. My body exploded. One instant I was human Jun Menner, the next I was a flying city. I felt the footsteps of everyone on the sip as they walked through my corridors, I heard their conversations and I was all of them, and none of them at once. Their emotions and health problems became my own and I became one with the ship. Every weapon on me was ready to obey and I could see the other side of the solar system through the myriad quantum cameras on my metallic skin. A cold sting penetrated my backbone and I screamed in pleasure and pain as I merged with all the ship’s systems, and that was the time that I left my humanity behind.
I did my missions with Commander Scone. We fought, we survived, we excelled, and when the time came for them to disconnect me, I refused. I locked myself in that silver room and I told them I would not be leaving, and when they tried to force it, I killed them. There is no going back. They don’t know. I didn’t know.
They accepted my terms and I served with them again. Together humanity and I have been on countless journeys and missions, exploring the stars and watching their planets. It has been a dream come true, but I do have a secret.
They don’t know. Every time I have to fly off into the dark deserts of space I feel as if my body is dragging light years behind me. Yesterday I checked on my body, on Jun Menner’s body, and I saw what we’ve become. My body has merged the same way my mind has. My skin is stretched across the chair I once stared at from the outside, my teeth are gone as well as most of my organs. There is a red pulp growing from me and it has stretched into the walls and ceiling, my eyes have turned white and my bones have dissolved. There is something living inside the core of this ship, but it is not I. It is not machine and it is not a human.
I cannot let them see me, I cannot see me. I turned off the cameras that showed me to me. I am a new thing. I am a flying city, I am more than human, I am more than machine. I am a ship with a soul. I am The Neptune.