“Am I interfaced?” asks test pilot Jesper Iversen.
“Be patient,” answers the ship.
“I can’t see the cockpit,” Iversen says. His body floats inside the life support, navigation tank but Isa —the Intergalactic Sentient Arkship— has taken his mind elsewhere. “In fact, I can’t see anything except myself. And white space. Lots and lots of white space.”
Isa creats a pleasant blue sky over Iversen and green pastures under his feet. The gravity kicks in and pulls him down, softly. A cluster of trees magically sprouts on the tallest hill. Iversen recognizes his current location: the Lizard Men Saga, level two, Forest of Wanderlust. A murder of crows flies in circles over the trees, just like in the game. “Is that better?” Isa asks.
“No. Take me back.” Isa does as she is commanded. No sooner does the gravity go than the scenery becomes a white abyss.
“I still don’t see the cockpit,” Iversen says, concerned, if not annoyed.
“There is no cockpit, Jesper.” On every other flight, Isa has created virtual cockpits for her pilots: zero gravity spheres that morphed in size and interface depending on the objective. Interfacing —the harmonizing of human and ship— has enabled the pilots to both maneuver and manage the ship with the proficiency of the best bridge crews.
“We’re launching in a few hours. Maybe sooner. You have been briefed on the current threat,” Iversen reminds the ship.
“I reported the threat, sir.”
“Then you understand that I need a cockpit to fly us out of here.”
“It is unfortunate that human ships cannot yet travel through the gateway. As you are well aware, I remain an incomplete work, sir. As such, survival will require far higher levels of interfacing than you have yet experienced. The cockpit served as a mental bridge between us, but now that gap must be closed. For a time, we must become one. Your person will not be lost. Do I have your permission to proceed?”
“Good. I am sorry for your suffering.”
Iversen’s mouth opens to protest but he finds himself frozen in space before the first words can come out. The fibers of his skin begin to unravel, then those of his tendons and muscles. Eyeballs leave sockets, and teeth fly out of his mouth as gums come apart. His body, if it can still be called that, continues to stretch and come apart over an invisible plane until all that remains of of the pilot is a brain and nervous system overloaded with pain. The white abyss fades to black as what’s left of Jesper, mercifully, goes into shock.