Author's Note: To start things off, prodigyshipping = Bill/Lanette. Sorry about the obscurity there. Also? Word of warning. There's a spot of violence and swearing later on. Squeamish may want to note the back button.
Second, this is actually the fifth fic in a one-shot series I'm building in the gen fic forum, but what happened was that it sort of violated every rule I laid down for it. (Namely, it's well over the 5000-word limit... and a heavily shippy fic -- or as close as I'll ever get -- at that.) You can read the rest of the series over here, but yep. This is like the long-lost cousin of that entire work.
Third, interesting fact? The game being described is, in fact, a real chess match. And there's also some geekery behind Pendula's name. There's geekery all around here, really, but describing everything will probably make this note longer than the fic.
In any case, le fic! All comments are more than appreciated. I'm not used to writing in present tense or in a shippy context, so feel free to point out ALL THE THINGS.
My name is Halcyon.
I am an advanced computer system developed by the Eon Institute nine years ago for the purpose of managing… everything. I am the laboratory's guardian. I am its brain. I am whatever it needs me to be.
If you’re hearing this, then that means the world outside still exists. The disaster is over, and the world is ready to be rebuilt. My job is done.
But I can’t end it alone.
Please. You must help us.
A door opens.
Almost all of the room is white, and Bill would nearly hate it if its specifics weren’t determined by Lanette. Still, he squints as he steps inside and turns his head away from the glaringly bright sunlight that filters through the sheer, white curtains. She sits where she always is; he doesn’t need to look to know the exact path he needs to take.
Nine years of this, and it feels to Bill like everything is the same. He worries that she grew tired of it a long time ago, even if she can't perceive time normally anymore, but she doesn’t seem to notice. If she does, she doesn’t show it — or worse, uses it to mock his concern.
Lanette smiles as her partner approaches the small, wrought-iron table. She tilts her head slightly as he sits down — increasingly uncomfortably with each visit — in the red-cushioned chair across from her. Her slender fingers brush the heads of one of the chess pieces on the board between them in an unspoken challenge.
“You’re late,” she says this time.
He raises his eyebrows. He wasn’t aware she can detect time in this place or that it is possible for him to arrive late. Has he been slipping?
She chuckles and makes her first move. White pawn to E4.
“I forgive you,” she tells him. “You have a lot on your mind.”
“That’s an understatement,” he quips as his fingertips rest on his first piece. “Is it really that obvious?”
Black pawn to E5.
“No,” Lanette reassures him, “it’s your natural state. But it feels like you have a lot more on your mind than usual today.”
White knight to F3.
Bill stares at the board. His time with Lanette is practically the thing that keeps him going most days. He looks forward to those moments in that room, to hearing a friendly voice for once. It gets lonely, after all, outside the room.
The truth was he never thought loneliness would affect him so much. He was so used to spending long periods of time without human contact when he lived at the Sea Cottage that he never really thought he could care whether or not he had a companion. But perhaps he wasn’t truly alone until he lost his pokémon and most of his human companions. Nowadays, he spends much of his time separated from almost any sort of contact, and the only companionship he has outside of the room are porygon2 who see him as their master and a man who hates him. Of course, he has plenty of other potential companions in other pockets of space, but none of them connect to him the way Lanette does.
She is, after all, the only one who acts like she already knows about him.
Bill can’t entirely pinpoint what makes him feel like that. Maybe it has to do with how she smiles — knowingly, wryly, as if teasing him. Maybe it’s in what she says. Maybe it’s in the fact that more and more of their games have ended in stalemates.
Black knight to C6.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asks. “Check.”
White bishop to B5.
“No,” he answers when he really means a yes, but I can’t.
Black pawn to A6.
For the first four years after the end of the world, Professor Aurel Pendula spent most of his days intoxicated nearly to the point of oblivion. When he ran out of alcohol, he started in on the drugs that the medical wing stocked. When he ran out of those, he began using cleaning supplies.
He had to. Nine years is a long time to spend completely alone.
Or almost, anyway.
There is Halcyon, present in every last corner of the complex. Halcyon’s voice echoes from every speaker, Halcyon’s words flash across every screen, and Halcyon’s hands manipulate every last system in the laboratory’s network. Including the ones keeping doors shut and locked.
Pendula, as always, wanders from room to room in search of ghosts. He has nothing to do and no way to escape, so he entertains himself by reconstructing memories wherever he drifts. Halcyon lets him be for the most part; the system seems to understand what a man who should not be bothered looks like.
There are few exceptions, including the place where Pendula is heading now: a door at the end of a certain hallway. Its facade is unmarked and gray, unlike the vibrant red doors with their individual placards that dot every other corridor. This door is metal — thick metal with nine years of dents and burn marks littering its surface. Halcyon keeps this door tightly locked and has driven Pendula away numerous times with endless chattering, but this time is different.
This time, Pendula brings a crowbar.
He takes a few practice swings on and through the security cameras leading up to the doorway until he jams one of the bar’s ends into the hairline gap between the door and the wall.
We did something beautiful once. Eon Institute dedicated itself to the advancement of the human race through technology. We were going to be better than Silph and better than Devon; we were going to be an all-encompassing beacon for civilization.
We nearly were. Researchers flocked to our laboratories, filled its underground labyrinth, and worked in peace for years. The thing was, we didn’t want the fame. We knew the trouble it brought Silph and Devon, and all we wanted was to focus on science itself.
Towards the end of the world as we knew it, Lanette and her partner were invited to the institute because of their expertise with pokémon-related technology. They were the ones who created me, and they nearly did it in a year. I was almost complete when the wars began. All I was missing was a brain.
Please don’t get mistaken. What happened had nothing to do with Eon.
The trouble with living in a world full of real embodiments of nature, you see, is that if one gets angry, then the world rarely survives its wrath.
White bishop to A4.
Bill laces his fingers together. Lanette withdraws her hand slowly, smile spreading on her face as she leans back in her chair.
“Do you remember the first time we played against each other?” she asks.
“You beat me,” Bill replies.
Black knight to F6.
“Thoroughly,” Lanette adds, “but you were the first person besides Brigette who put up a fight.”
White king to G1; white rook to F1.
Bill risks a glance at Lanette. He sees her long, orange hair framing her thin frame, her pale arms resting on the table with the palms of long hands pressed against the metal, the sweep of her neck and the roundness of her shoulders, the straps of her white sundress interrupting the fields of brown freckles that formed constellations on her skin…
Right then, he hesitates. He can’t look at her smile.
Black bishop to E7.
“We’ve been here for awhile,” she says.
White rook to E1.
“I’ve only just arrived,” Bill reminds her softly.
“No,” she counters. She looks out the window. “You know what I mean.”
He does. He’s the only one who does.
Black pawn to B5.
“I’ve never seen what’s outside that window.” Her voice is so quiet, so soft that he almost has to strain to catch it.
Bill furrows his eyebrows and repeats in his head over and over again that he can’t look at her face.
“Why haven’t you?” he asks.
She breathes in, her face turning back towards the board.
White bishop to B3.
“It’s been nine years. I’ve counted.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bill replies quickly. “You’ve just been asleep since this morning.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just do.”
Black king to G8; black rook to E8.
She shakes her head. “You’ve been changing. I don’t know how, but you aren’t the same as you were yesterday.”
Bill has nothing to say to that.
“But why wouldn’t you?” Lanette asks.
White pawn to C3.
Black pawn to D5.
White pawn takes D5.
“Do you think there’s anything left of Hoenn after Groudon…?”
Bill stops. His hand reaches across the table and nearly rests it on one of hers. At the last second, he pauses. Thinks. Makes it look like he was toying with one of the pieces on the board before returning his hand to his side of the table.
“I don’t know,” he admits.
Black knight takes D5.
“You stopped following news from the outside, didn’t you?” she asks.
He looks at Lanette, finally locking eyes with her. Lanette's eyes are fire orange behind a pair of oval glasses. Their expression is unreadable to him. Determined furrow of the brow line. Worried crease in the corners. It’s a mix of emotions that looks entirely too foreign to Bill. He can’t tell how she knows or what she thinks; he can only see the obvious.
White knight takes E5.
“How do you…?”
“I’ve known for a long time,” she informs him.
He sees her smile, her mouth forming a tiny curve on her round face.
“You never said anything,” he said, astonished.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out.” She looks at the window again. “I can’t leave this room, and I don’t need to.”
“You weren’t supposed to realize that.”
“I’m sure you have the explanation to that.”
Bill thinks. The others aren’t in a place like this. They’re in apartments in cities, in cottages from their childhoods, in places they’ve constructed themselves. They can come and go, and when they do, they’ll find themselves in worlds of their own creation, bleeding into one another like one giant game.
But Lanette… Lanette is different. Bill doesn’t visit the others the way he visits her, for one. For another, this room is separate, with each detail meticulously created to suit her. It is not a haphazard mess of details pulled from her psyche. It is a work of art, a piece crafted bit by bit over what felt like an eon to Bill, even if it might have only been a fraction of a second to her.
Then again, Lanette has always been different. He realizes this now. Has he done this to her subconsciously because of it?
His hands are shaking ever so slightly when he makes his next move.
Black knight takes D5.
Lanette smiles as she eyes him, but her grin is tired. Bill can see that now.
“You don’t have to worry, you know,” she says. “I appreciate what you’re doing. I always have.”
It is all she can say, and Bill can tell. How else would one respond to his situation?
White rook takes E5.
“Thanks,” he says. “I do my best.”
Black knight to F6.
She reaches across the table. Her fingers caress his wrist, sending a rush of red across his skin. He inhales sharply; somewhere in his head, he feels something shift.
“I know you do,” she tells him.
Her hand moves back to her side.
White rook to E1.
It takes an hour for the door to yield. With a deafening bang, it pops open, swinging outwards towards Pendula. He yanks it the rest of the way into the hallway and stumbles into the room.
Pendula knows exactly where he is. His location is one of hundreds of prototype rooms throughout the complex, but this one is devoted to just one device.
He flicks on the lights. Lamps flash to life for the first time in nine years, and Pendula squints into the laboratory. A tangle of wires lines the room, winding across the floor to towers of monitors and machinery stationed periodically along the walls. In the center of the room sits a desk holding up a computer and its flickering monitor, and behind it — against the far wall — sits a long, white bed covered with a metal dome-shaped lid.
Pendula’s hand sweats as he grips the crowbar. Words flash across the computer’s screen as he passes, and he knows it’s Halcyon again — probably demanding to know why he broke into its control room for the umpteenth time.
It doesn’t matter. He should have done this nine years ago, and he regrets that he didn’t.
Still, it surprises him that he has gone this far into the room without being stopped. Surely Halcyon would have thrown up his defenses by now.
As if on cue, the floor right next to Pendula’s feet explodes. He feels himself fly through the air away from the pod, only to crash into the floor on the other side of the desk. Groaning, he cranes his neck to see the screen again.
Professor Pendula. I know what you’re doing. I can’t let you continue.
“Shut up,” he growls.
Glancing at the ceiling, he catches glimpses of six blue and pink creatures hanging in the air. Their lifeless eyes glare at him as white balls of light form at the tips of their blue beaks. Pendula shakily rises to his feet and reaches into the pockets of his tattered lab coat. His callused hand closes around a warm, plastic object.
“So that’s how it’s going to be, eh, Halcyon?”
He draws the object into the open and tasers the nearest porygon2. The others release their Tri-Attacks shortly afterwards.
In the first days, news streamed into my databanks from all possible sources. Some of the researchers grew concerned that someone outside was waking up the legendaries one by one, but we all assumed that it was no reason to panic. This time would be just like the other times Groudon and Kyogre awakened in Hoenn. This time, a child would stop Team What-have-you from using Palkia and Dialga to open holes in the space-time continuum. This time, a boy in Orre would stop a brainwashed Lugia from bringing down storms to flood the world.
We knew we would be saved. So we didn’t panic.
And then the legendaries turned Kanto into a wasteland.
“You look distracted.”
Bill started, tearing his eyes away from the pieces on the board to look at Lanette’s face. She was smiling that soft, knowing grin again — almost as if she sensed his stress and sympathized for him.
On the other hand, Bill wasn’t exactly hiding his distress. Shaking his head, he tried his best to compose himself, but he suddenly felt distant, as if something was pulling part of him out the back of his skull.
Black bishop to D6.
“That’s a dangerous state to be in,” Lanette comments. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?”
White pawn to H3.
“No,” he lies.
Black knight to G4.
“Liar,” she quips.
White queen to F3.
Bill hesitates, but this time, he isn’t nervous. He’s growing too tired to be nervous. The presence is still nagging at his skull, and it will continue until he leaves the room. He knows how it works. But he doesn’t want to leave. Not yet.
“You seem rather nonchalant about this,” he comments.
Black queen to H4.
“This?” She raises her eyebrows. “What? You? Why wouldn’t I be? I can’t think of anyone better than you.”
White pawn to D4.
“It was an accident,” he responds, his voice soft and nearly inaudible.
Black knight takes F2.
“However it happened, I’m glad it did.”
White rook to E2.
He blushes again, and his eyes drop to the board. The presence still pushes at his brain, but it’s not as important as it seemed a moment ago.
“Why… why is that?” he asks.
Black bishop to G4.
“You saved us, after all.” She frowns, and her hand rises slowly to her next piece. “I’m sorry I didn’t perfect Halcyon in time. If I did…”
White pawn takes G4.
“If you did,” Bill finishes, “we wouldn’t be playing this game.”
Black bishop to H2.
Before he can announce the check, a stabbing pain rushes through his head. He cries out, jumps in his chair, and begins to breathe rapidly. With some effort, he leans back and glances over his shoulder at the door. One of his quivering hands rises to run his fingers through his tangled hair while the other grips the edge of the table until his knuckles turn white. His sentries are falling. He can feel it.
He can also feel Lanette’s hand on his shoulder. Looking back, he sees her standing, her body bent over the table with one of her hands flat on the table next to the board to stabilize her. For once, he can read her expression clearly: one of concern.
“Sorry,” he rasps. “I’m fine.”
She shakes her head. “You don’t look fine. You look pale. Paler than I’ve ever seen you.”
He forces himself to grin. When he reaches up to pry her hand off his shoulder, he grips the wrist as tightly as he can to show her how well he still is.
“It’s nothing,” he reassures her. “I’ve dealt with worse.”
It’s true. Bill has lost count of how many times he’s had to deal with problems like these.
“It’s the security system, isn’t it?” she inquires as she sits back down. “Someone’s breaking in.”
“Someone already is in,” Bill informs her. “Professor Pendula never made it to the suspension units. It’s your move, by the way.”
Lanette looks to the side. “He never… oh.”
It’s Bill’s turn to reach across the table and place a hand on her shoulder. For a split second, he feels afraid that she would shrug it off, but she allows it to stay.
“Is he all right?” she asks.
“He snapped long before any of us went into stasis,” Bill answers. He almost feels guilty for it, but Pendula would never accept his help, even if he still offered it.
Still, Lanette looks deep into Bill’s eyes, as if she could push him into a different answer. “Is there anything we can do?”
Bill lets his shoulders sag. “No. I tried. Believe me, I did. But… I made things worse. I’m so sorry.”
He closes his eyes. Bill hoped he would never have to share this information with Lanette, but he realizes only right now that this was a mistake. Lanette is too smart to be tricked, to have information withheld from her. That’s why, years before the world ended, she was his partner — his counterpart.
And even then, she was his superior in a way. She created Halcyon, not him. If anyone should be in his position, it would be her. Yet here she is.
“He tried to kill us,” Bill finally says. “He tried to kill all of us. I wasn’t the first one in Halcyon’s control room. That’s why my… condition is the result of an accident.”
White king to F1.
He looks up. “Oh?”
“Pendula has always been unstable. I just never really expected that…”
“No one did. I’m sure the director would have had him dismissed if anyone knew he would think of such a thing.”
“So what happened, then?”
Black bishop to G3.
“What do you mean?” Bill inquires.
“What happened in the nine years afterwards? What happened to you and Professor Pendula?”
White rook takes F2.
“I did whatever I had to,” Bill responds. “He made six more attempts: four on me, two on all of you. I’ve made modifications to the security system since then, and Professor Pendula and I have spent nine very long years watching each other carefully.”
Black queen to H1.
Bill sits back to rest in his chair. Suddenly, it feels as if a knot inside him had been untied, like something pent up in his chest can finally be free. It takes him a second to realize what it is he finds so pleasurable about the situation: he no longer has to hide from Lanette. He can be honest and straightforward with her, not dodge her questions in fear of breaking something inside her.
He turns that thought over in his brain.
“That sounds like a terrible existence,” Lanette comments after a long pause.
White king to E2.
Bill laughs. He can’t help it, but he has missed Lanette’s frankness. Sure, he has come here every single day for the past nine years — visits that in Lanette’s perspective are compacted into several afternoons of a single, unending month — but every single time he leaves the room, it feels as if he enters an eon of darkness and silence. He misses her company, her smile, her wisdom, her voice, her warmth, her everything.
That’s why these moments are so special. That’s why he’s so happy she knows.
He realizes right then something he knew a long time ago but forgot somewhere along the way.
He’s not alone.
Black bishop takes F2.
“What’s so funny?” Lanette asks. She’s not offended. Just curious.
White bishop to D2.
“Nothing.” Bill hesitates. “It’s just that… it wasn’t so bad. I had something that made it bearable.”
Black bishop to H4.
“Oh really?” she says playfully. “What might that be?”
White queen to H3.
She looks up to find him staring at her meaningfully.
To survive, our researchers shifted their attention to creating the suspension system. We would create pods that kept as many of us as possible in suspended animation, sustained by an advanced life-support system monitored by a supercomputer. At the first sign of stabilization outside of the Eon complex, we would be awakened and sent out with Eon technology to rebuild civilization. It was a simple plan when you thought about it. Maybe because it was so simple and because we had the ability and the passion we needed for it, the suspension system was implemented without a problem.
It was Halcyon that had trouble. Lanette didn’t complete it in time. I can’t blame her. I wouldn’t have been able to do half as much as she did, especially with the pressure she was under. Halcyon — as it was then — was going to be everything for us. Because of that, it needed a sense of morality and compassion, a real brain to judge right from wrong in order to handle every crisis and protect us throughout our time asleep.
With that purpose in mind but no time to develop a truly moral brain, Lanette created not only an AI but also a failsafe. If the AI proved unable to perform its duties, a capable researcher was to activate the failsafe and hope to the gods that the system wouldn’t reject him right then and there.
When the sky fell thanks to Rayquaza and when parts of Eon subsequently caved in, we were sent to the suspension system. Lanette wanted to stay behind and stand by the failsafe, but Professor Pendula convinced her to go to safety.
I don’t remember what it was about his expression that made me stay behind. I think it was the way he smiled at her.
The last porygon2 falls. It hits the ground with a bang and immediately begins twitching until Pendula snaps the electrodes off its body and retracts them with a press of a button. He shakes out his arms and rubs a tender spot on his shoulder where a Tri-Attack hit its mark. The burn is still sticky and raw, and it sends throbbing pains down his arm and torso. Then, carefully, he pulls himself out from under the desk. He knew they wouldn’t strike the computer or the desk itself. It served as a perfect shield.
Now he stands before it, wondering if it should be his target. It would be so simple. Just one strike will shut Halcyon down, and then…
…And then he would be trapped in that godforsaken hole for the remainder of his life.
No. He knows that if he wants to escape, to regain his freedom, he needs to take control of Halcyon itself.
And there is only one way he can see to do that.
He takes his crowbar and maneuvers around the desk to stand beside the pod. A grin crawls across his face. He’s almost there.
And the sound his crowbar makes against the pod’s lid sounds so good.
Bill looks up suddenly. Something is wrong. Extremely wrong. So wrong it may require him to leave the room after all.
Across the table, Lanette gives him another worried look. “Bill? Are you okay?”
He hears a bang in his head. He knows it’s something only he can hear, but his expression alarms Lanette all the same.
“I think you should go,” she tells him quietly. “I can wait.”
Black rook to E8.
“Check,” he announces.
Her hand is on his before he can remove it from the board.
“Go,” she says.
Bill forces another smile and relents. He stands and backs away from the table.
“I won’t cheat,” she promises. “So long as you come back quickly.”
“You can’t cheat the computer anyway,” Bill replies, flashing another grin at her. A genuine one this time.
Lanette watches her partner turn and walk to the door. When she blinks, he’s gone. Her eyes lower to the board again.
White king to D3.
Pendula raises his crowbar again and brings it down hard on the shell of the pod. The sound of metal on metal rings through the room, but when Pendula raises the bar again, he can only see scratches where he struck.
The voice echoes from all around him. He drops his arms to his sides and looks at the ceiling again, spotting one of the small circular speakers embedded within it.
“Ah!” Pendula exclaims. “I was wondering how long it would take for you to speak up.”
“May I ask what you’re doing?” Halcyon asks.
“No. But I’ll let you guess.”
He raises the crowbar and brings it down on the pod again.
“Stop!” Halcyon snaps. “I know what you want, but I can’t fill that request for you. You know that! It’s completely impossible to—”
“You mistake me for someone who cares,” Pendula interrupts. He tries to jam the pointed end into the crease between the lid and the bed, but unlike the door, he can’t wedge it in well enough to pry the pod open.
“Do you realize what you’re doing? You’ll kill everyone in the suspension system!”
Pendula drops his arms again. He takes a few deep breaths, and he cranes his neck and closes his eyes. A laugh bubbles up from inside him, fills the room with his scratchy voice. All the while, Halcyon waits, listens to the minutes of laughter until Pendula can finally calm himself down enough to listen.
“Please,” Halcyon begs, “let me help you.”
“Bastard,” Pendula snorts. “You little Johtonian prick. So high and mighty, even before the damned legends turned on us.”
For awhile, Halcyon is quiet. Pendula almost thinks he has a reprieve until a low growl filters through the speakers.
“This is about Lanette.”
“Oh, it’s about much more than Lanette, boy,” Pendula sneers. “This is about how you stole everything from me. But that will change!”
He resumes pounding on the pod. It’s enough to force Halcyon’s attention to wander. Somewhere else, another pod opens. A door unlocks. Feet slap against concrete. A figure glides past security cameras.
Someone is awake, and it takes a full minute for Halcyon to become aware of it.
Then he panics.
At first, the AI worked perfectly. Everyone was admitted into the suspension system except Professor Pendula and me, and as the two of us watched from the control room, I remember seeing a message from Halcyon then. An error message. The problem was just one line of code, but that single line threatened to crash the life-support systems. I tried to fix it myself. Believe me, I did my best, but my skills are nothing compared to Lanette’s.
Pendula tried to activate the failsafe after the AI became corrupted. I oversaw the procedure, but something was wrong. No matter what he did, the system refused to accept him.
I should have taken that to be a warning. I was too distracted. There were nearly one hundred people in the suspension pods, and if the life-support systems crashed, those pods would become air-tight coffins in less than an hour. Every one of them would suffocate if the failsafe didn’t work.
So I did what I had to do. I forced Professor Pendula away from Halcyon’s pod. I used Halcyon’s porygon2 sentries to drive him out of the control room. He saw it as an attempt at prying power away from him, I know, but it was necessary. One of us had to activate the failsafe successfully, and I prayed that it would be me.
I don’t remember much about the procedure. I remember placing myself in the pod, of course, and I remember running the failsafe schematic. Then, there was darkness.
The last thing I remember thinking was, “Please don’t let them die.” I think that’s why it accepted me. It must have been because here I am.
Forgive me for being evasive. When I say I, I mean the old me and the me that is Halcyon as well. You see… the failsafe is a consciousness uploader. Ingenious, really. Lanette adapted the technology we used in the storage and retrieval system to upload someone’s thoughts into the Halcyon system. My body still exists in the physical realm, but my mind merged with Halcyon and now exists here. So long as I’m within the system, I can watch over all parts of the complex and control everything I need to maintain every function that goes on inside it. In a way, Halcyon is Eon, and because I am Halcyon, I am too.
It’s not so bad. It just gets lonely sometimes. But Lanette has allowed me to construct a failsafe for that.
She… she’s really a genius. It came as no surprise to me when she was invited to Eon too. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed working with her.
Or how much I miss it.
Do you see why I need your help? Please. You must go to the suspension system and escort everyone to the surface. I can’t disengage from Halcyon to do it myself. There is machinery controlled by Halcyon throughout the complex that is keeping the ceiling from caving in; if I disconnect from the network, the complex will collapse. Once you find the people in stasis, you must tell them… tell them everything about the surface and help them leave this place and rebuild.
And don’t let Lanette come back for me.
Just tell her it’s okay.
Bill rushes into the room, throwing open the door and bolting to the table. He stops at his chair and stares across the board to Lanette’s.
The room is empty.
Completely and impossibly empty.
Bill surveys the room frantically. His mind races to figure out how this could have happened. Lanette can’t leave the room. When he located Lanette’s consciousness in the suspension system and created this space for her, that was one of the first rules attached to it; breaking it is like defying gravity. There wasn’t any particular intent behind that rule. It just worked out that way, and it is something that they both accepted as true.
But is it?
He looks over his shoulder at the door. Technically, the rule was never tested, and Bill has no idea what would happen if Lanette tries to leave. She simply told him when she appeared in that space that she couldn’t leave it.
Was she lying?
Why would she lie?
It doesn’t make sense.
Bill looks at the board as his voice tries to force himself to speak a question. It catches in his throat and comes out as a strangled cry when he notices how the board is laid out.
She moved pieces without him. White had Black in checkmate.
Bill waves a hand over the board, and it flickers and distorts into an options screen. His eyes widen when he notices the mode.
Lanette was still playing against the computer.
She cheated against the computer.
The banging in his head stops. His hands fly to his skull, his fingers working their way into his wavy hair as he glances at the ceiling. Something is wrong. Terribly and utterly wrong.
He storms out of the room and silently prays there is something — anything — he can still do.
Pendula lifts the bar and strikes the pod again. Over and over and over. The logical part of his mind knows he will die of exhaustion before he makes a dent in it, but the passionate part, the one in control right now, wants blood so badly. Every strike represents something else that the creature inside took from him. His freedom. His power. His sanity. Nine very long years of his life. Every single day since the sky fell, he thought about this. At first, he laced each shred of hatred with plans to take over the system, to use Eon to build technology that would climb to the surface and take them with him, and to start a war between the memory of humanity and the legends that destroyed them. But one by one, he forgot these, and his entire focus shifted to how many ways he would make Halcyon pay for rejecting him — and for taking everything away from him.
He doesn’t care if destroying the pod would destroy his hope of becoming the failsafe. All he hopes is that Halcyon feels every last strike.
He raises his crowbar up for one more strike, but as it cuts through the air, an unseen force lifts him off his feet and throws him into the wall with a sickening crunch. Pendula screams as his arm flops beside him limply, snapped in half by the force. Through bleary eyes, he sees the ghost of a girl walking past. Her white sundress rustles around her as her tangled, orange hair bounces behind her with every step she takes towards the computer terminal. By her head, an orange and gold sun-shaped rock bobs in the air and keeps its squinted eyes locked on Pendula.
“Lanette,” he rasps.
She leans down and keys commands into the system. A black window flashes onto the screen, and lines of code rush across it. Her orange eyes flick from line to line while her fingers dance across the keyboard.
“He’s stable. You’re lucky. I would have killed you if his life-support system was compromised,” she states — coldly, calmly.
Pendula laughs. He doesn’t know why that seems so funny to him, but it does. She throws an icy glare at him in a silent threat.
“Oh, you sentimental bitch,” Pendula growls. “You made him the failsafe on purpose, didn’t you?”
“I made the failsafe program. It’s not my fault at all that Halcyon chose Bill over you.”
“Shifting the blame?”
Lanette grins. “No. I’m simply telling you what Halcyon told you the day you tried to activate the failsafe. You’re not worthy. You tried to take control of the system. Bill tried to save us. That’s the difference, Professor Pendula.”
He struggles to get up. His arm screams with pain, but all that does for him is distort his face into an ugly, scowling mess. He grips his shoulder tightly and growls like a wolf at Lanette.
“I’ll tell you who’s not worthy,” he sneers. “You and that rat bast—”
“Solrock,” she orders calmly, “use Psychic.”
The floating rock glows blue, and Pendula’s head involuntarily slams against the wall. When Solrock releases him, he falls to the floor in a heap, his eyes rolling back into his head. Lanette turns back to the computer and exhales.
“Solrock, take him to the furthest part of the complex and lock him there. Come back to me afterwards. I’ll be in the suspension chamber by the time you’re done. Understood?”
Her pokémon emits a gravelly, rumbling hiss as it surrounds itself with blue light once again. It lifts Pendula’s body from the floor as if he’s a toy, and together, they float through the doorway. Once they’re out of the room, Lanette focuses completely on the computer, on accessing bits and pieces of the system she knows Halcyon can’t get to himself.
He must have felt her because she hears the speakers crackle overhead.
“Bill? Are you okay?” she murmurs.
“I’m fine,” he responds quietly. “How did you… I don’t…”
“You need an upgrade.” She sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “I should have known this would happen. You’ve been running too long; you’re getting tired. I could tell as soon as you stepped into my room. Maybe if I constructed a way for you to control the system via your subconsciousness, you can give yourself some time to rest.”
“Don’t-don’t worry about it. I’m working on a solution.”
“You shouldn’t be working on it by yourself. This is your brain we’re talking about after all.” She codes in another line to open a media player on the screen. “What does it look like out there? Can you get me a feed from one of the surface cameras?”
Halcyon doesn’t respond verbally. Instead, he reaches out to her monitor and slips what she wants into the media player. At once, it shows her a split screen of four camera feeds, and each one of them pans across open, empty, unending desert. Not even a cacnea or a tumbleweed wanders past. The sun blazes above the land, making half of each image nearly pure, blinding light.
“It looks like we’ll have to wait for another year,” she comments.
“Perhaps not. There may be a way for you and the others to survive on the surface if you start preparing now.”
“What about you?”
“You know how this works. If I try to disconnect, everything keeping the complex from caving in will cease to function. You should go. I’ll…”
Halcyon trails off, but Lanette knows the rest of his plan. As soon as she and the others are safe, he will shut down. Completely. Forever.
It’s not an option she wants to take. The world still needs him, and regardless of what he has to say about her skills, she can’t work without him.
Halcyon knows that. He knows all too well what she has to say. In their silence, they stare each other down, both sides running through the inevitable conversation without having to speak it.
Ultimately, it’s Lanette who wins. Halcyon may have become the failsafe by wanting to protect the others, but he knows he can’t survive without her. It’s not love. It’s something else. Something deeper. A complete, absolute need to be with her.
“Fine,” he says softly. “Stasis it is. I’ll prepare the suspension system to readmit you. What about Professor Pendula?”
“He tried to kill us all just now,” Lanette points out.
“It still wouldn’t be right to kill him,” Halcyon reasons.
Lanette grins. “You never do change. That’s what I like about you.”
She moves to the fallen porygon2. Slowly, one by one, they squirm out of their paralysis and whine in pain. She has nothing to treat them; she never thought to grab anything from the medical wing. But she knows that once they have their strength back, they’ll return to the mainframe, and Halcyon will know what to do. He always does. That’s why she trusts him completely.
“But no,” she continues, “we won’t kill Professor Pendula. I’ve had him banished to the dormitory sector. He’ll have everything he needs, but he’ll never be able to put anything together to get to you again. The only way he’ll get in is if someone from the surface takes him here. You’re safe now.”
“I see,” Halcyon answers quietly. “That’s a rather terrible existence, don’t you think?”
Lanette huffs and pets one of the recovering porygon2. “You never do change. The pod is stable by the way, right?”
“Cosmetic damage only. It’s holding, and it will hold just as well as it always has.”
“You really don’t have to worry about me, you know.”
Except Lanette feels she does. She created him after all. But she doesn’t want to remind him of that.
“Lanette,” he adds.
“Before you go, I want to ask you something.”
“How did you get out?”
Lanette can’t help but giggle a little. “Bill, we designed the operating system together. You’re not the only one who knows how to manipulate it.”
“I am the operating system. I can do whatever I please in it. You can’t.”
“I know. That doesn’t mean I didn’t build a few loopholes that I can exploit.”
Halcyon pauses and lets her statement sink in.
“…You hacked me?”
“More like you have vulnerabilities.” Lanette stands and resumes her place at the computer. “An uploaded consciousness isn’t the same as an AI. While both aren’t perfect, they both have different obstacles that keep them from being god-like. An AI lacks the morality of the human mind; humans possess the flaw that is emotion. While the AI would kill us all if its algorithms convinced it that it was the right thing to do in order to complete its mission, a human operates based on emotion at every given moment.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The door, Bill. It’s an emergency exit that allows me to leave the suspension system should your safety be compromised. That way, I can run the recovery protocol to reset you to a stable state before you crashed. I tricked you into building it by making you think it was just a way for you to contact me. Sorry.”
The small span of silence that draws between them nearly breaks Lanette’s heart. She stands there, her fingers keying in one last line of code — one last command to start the recovery procedures. Above her, she can hear her partner’s panicked breathing.
“I… I don’t understand. Recovery protocol? What do you mean?”
Lanette sighs. “You told me earlier that Professor Pendula made six attempts on us. What you didn’t know is that I already knew. You needed new security protocols each time, and someone had to reset the system to repair whatever Pendula did to you to get this far.”
“You… you’ve been outside of the system?”
“Six times. I stopped and relocated Professor Pendula each time. I can only hope this one will be the last. I’ve submitted new security orders to you just now. Hopefully, they can help you.”
“I don’t understand! Why can’t I remember you being awake?!”
Halcyon’s voice is rising in pitch. He’s panicking. If he continues, Lanette knows he may accidentally corrupt some of his vital files. It pains her to know that this is part of the reason why she has to manipulate him.
She hates it. She may be glad that he watches over her, but she’s tired of knowing how much control she has over him. It isn’t right.
But until she can think of a way to free him from the system, she has no choice. He is the computer. She is the player. That is how it’s been for nine years.
“Each reboot retrieves the last backup of the entire system and creates a new stable state from it,” she explains. “Unfortunately, because you only run your backup protocol once an hour, this means you erase an hour from your own memory in the process.”
She looks up. “Bill?”
“I… I feel so tired…”
“Don’t fight it,” she tells him. “You’re going to sleep for a few minutes. Don’t worry. The emergency system can keep us alive until you’re back up. Everything will be fine. You won’t remember any of this.”
“Lanette,” Halcyon pleads, “please! Don’t let me… I don’t want to… to forget.”
Her hand shakes when she places it on the monitor. She knows he can’t feel it, and that part is what she hates most of all. She wants him to feel her, to know she’s there.
“Shh. It’s okay,” she whispers. “Go to sleep, Bill. I’ll be close to you when you wake up. I promise.”
He mumbles something that grows increasingly incoherent, and then, he’s silent.
In the final minutes before the reboot is complete, Lanette is tempted to say something to Bill. This would be her chance; he never remembers the minutes leading up to a reboot. She could say anything she wants to him, and it would be lost to his digitized memory banks.
During the first reboots, she apologized to him for turning him into the thing that he is now. During the others, she told him the truth about what he is to her.
Now, she says nothing at all. She has a feeling he knows already anyway. He may not remember the words, but Bill isn’t stupid. Just as she figured out he is Halcyon, she has no doubt he figured out she…
The reboot completes. Bill will regain consciousness shortly, and Lanette realizes she needs to be in stasis before then. She keys in the order to the porygon2 sentries to lock the control room behind her, and with that, she runs out the door, down the hall, back to the suspension system.
She is asleep again before he wakes up.
Bill doesn’t remember there ever being a couch or a second window on the far wall from the door. Yet there he is, lying on the couch’s plush velvet cushions with his head in Lanette’s lap. She gently runs her fingers over his forehead, brushing his bangs away from his face.
“Hi,” she whispers. “Welcome back.”
He groans and sits up, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” she lies. “You just needed a rest. That’s all.”
“That’s weird. I don’t normally need—”
He stops when he realizes what he was about to say. She doesn’t know that he’s not human anymore. He’s convinced of that. He knows she has no idea that he’s a computer, that Halcyon is God in the worlds fabricated for the people in stasis and that God never sleeps. What he doesn’t know is how to tell her or what she would think if she knew, so he doesn’t. All she knows, as far as he’s aware, is that Bill comes and goes and that traveling between his spot in the system and hers feels like spending eons in total darkness.
“Are you all right?” she asks, turning her head just slightly as she rests her hands on her lap.
“Did you really let me use your lap as a pillow?” he mumbles as his hand shifts to massage one of his temples.
Lanette snorts out a chuckle. “I had nothing better to do.”
“But your lap?”
“Would you rather have used another part of my body as a pillow?”
“Don’t be crude. I don’t miss Bebe that much.”
Lanette smirks. “She would be appalled to hear that.”
He smiles. She is the only thing that keeps him sane most days, and he wonders how conscious of that she is.
“Come on,” she says as she stands. “We’ve got a chess game to continue.”
He looks at her, genuinely bewildered. When she isn’t looking, his eyes flash as he quickly searches his memory for such a game. He comes up with nothing.
“We do?” he asks, his voice low.
“Of course we do.” She holds out a hand. “Why else would you be here, after all?”
Bill feels his face burn with a blush. It’s impossible. He can’t possibly have forgotten a game; it is literally outside his ability to do so. Yet Lanette is right. There really is no other reason he comes there except to enjoy her company, and they enjoy each other’s company through chess.
He takes her hand and lets her pull him to his feet. As she leads him to the table, he decides to put it out of his mind. When he gazes down at the board, he doesn’t recognize the configuration, but it’s clear that there is a game in progress.
“Whose move is it?” he asks.
“Yours,” she answers. “I moved my king to D3, remember?”
He gives her an uncertain smile, but she is no longer looking at him. Almost as if she can’t.
“Yes,” he responds as he sits. “Of course.”
Black queen to F1.
White queen to C2.
Black bishop to F2.
“By the way,” she suddenly mutters.
Bill looks up. “Hmm?”
She pulls a folded piece of paper from seemingly nowhere and passes it to him over the board.
“The next time you go out there, send this message instead,” she tells him.
He takes the piece of paper and nearly opens it before she clasps her hand over his.
“Don’t. Not now.”
Bill gives her an odd look, but he doesn’t protest. He simply slips the paper into his pocket and nods. Seeing his answer, Lanette relaxes and moves her hand to her pieces.
White queen to F3.
Black queen to G1.
White bishop to B5.
Move by move, they play the rest of the game in silence.
Right up until Lanette checkmates him.
My name is Halcyon.
I am an advanced computer system developed by the Eon Institute ten years ago for the purpose of managing… everything. I am the laboratory's guardian. I am its brain. I am whatever it needs me to be.
If anyone is out there, please hear me. There are over one hundred of us in suspended animation deep within the complex, and I have been tasked with protecting them.
Do not come unprepared.
But please come to free us.
All of us.