It was a long deep silence before the neural simulations started, it was a silence that was deafening, but simultaneously lulling. I felt like I could sleep for eternity, and it felt like I did. I floated in a warm darkness that caressed me and comforted me. But then I awoke to the false reality, to the Simulation. It was Alioth. It was bright, vibrant, teeming with the Alpha Team that got to work almost immediately, testing the waters of the world so to speak. I stood there for a long time, wishing I was back in the stillness and silence. The AI in my helmet piped up, a dim, robotic, feminine voice:
<\SAMUEL-14 YOU HAVE BEEN IDLE FOR 6 HOURS|PLEASE INITIATE MOTOR FUNCTIONS TO TEST ENVIRONMENT/>
I begrudgingly took a shallow step out of the pod, it was quiet, as most of the crowd had been out and about for a very long while. Some semblance of a town had already sprung up a short walk out of the Novark, and it was bustling with activity that could be seen from a distance. I stretched my aching legs as I'd been standing this whole time. The walk helped regain some feeling, but there was a slight limp as I stumbled towards the last vestiges of Humanity.
The town looked very much like an Old Western. What did an Old West town look like? Was it the one with columns and temples? My brain was suddenly unsure of itself, feeding me the wrong information and flooding me with what felt like the sum total of all human knowledge. I nearly collapsed in the middle of the crowd, my head reeling and dizzy, I grabbed my head to try and steady myself, but I couldn't feel my hair or my head, I just felt the fabric of my gloves against the hard composite plastic. It was so impossibly disorienting, I felt like my head was going to crack. Flowers. A woman crying. Grass. Fire. These memories of sound and flashes of things I couldn't remember. It all filled my head.
A hand suddenly slapped me upwards and standing straight, and then two hands grasped my shoulders and a mirrored reflection of myself was staring at me. "Look at me, center yourself here in this moment, and don't think about anything else", the reflection said to me. I quickly realized that I was staring into someone else's visor, and that someone had taken heed of my obvious plight and was trying to help. "Listen to the sound of my voice, you are on Alioth within the simulations, feel the solidness of the ground and use that." I nodded and thought about the ground I was standing on, it was firm, familiar, stable. In a few moments, the memories had cleared and I was lucid and present. 'Thank you...I was...lost' my voice sounded weird from within the helmet, meek and whimpering. "It's ok, the neural net wiped a good portion of our memories to try and make the transition into the simulations easier, but sometimes it doesn't do such a good job" the voice was a gruff and stoic man's voice, it centered me in that moment. "I'm Bill-22, you remember what happened?"
A sudden flash of memory came to mind, the terrifying pictures of the neutron star came to mind, the memories of the fear that followed tainted the terrifying beauty of the memory. 'Yes...Earth is gone...were all that's left...' I wasn't sad, I wasn't happy, I wasn't even confused any longer. I felt nothing. "Yeah...and if we had anyone their all gone...but that's beside the point right now, we're here and that's what matters. Now, do you know what it is you're doing right now?" He seemed concerned but also insistent. 'Testing the simulations of Alioth and building...uh- -' The words got lost and I struggled to retrieve them, they were there I just couldn't use them. "Build relations...you're here to make friends and build things...understand?" He put on a tone of a concerned parent, but we could've been the same age and my meek tone would have still mistaken me for decades his junior. I nodded understandingly, and stood up straight. He put his arm over my shoulder and guided me towards a blue and gold building where a line of people were standing. "We're gonna get you sorted, you look like you're suffering from Dreaming Sickness bad, but I'll help you get sorted." I walked cautiously with him so as to not lose myself in the memories again, pacing one foot in front of the other with deliberation.
The suited individuals in front of the blue building helped me inside once I got closer. It was sparsely decorated and the furniture was scarce, but they took me out of the office-like environment and led me upstairs to a large hall full of beds. One of these suited individuals in white and red took hold of me from there and started to look me over carefully. "Yeah...the neural net did a pretty shit job on this one, we'll keep him here until he's ready to decide for himself." I laid down on the bed, it was comfortable but it felt lumpy with the suit on. Bill took his helmet off and I could see his features in his face, he had this look of a wizened mentor like an old soldier, large bags under his eyes hinted at long sleepless nights before the Novark, and wrinkles in his eyes and on his cheeks, a pair of eyes that didn't look like they could ever be unhappy. The medic made sure that I was posted up in the bed, more memories came back in flashes. The dizziness has subsided, and I could now focus on some of them. The crying woman came back, but now it wasn't just a flash. She was crying in front of a bouquet of flowers atop a grassy hill. She was dressed in all black, as we all were. I picked her up away from the ground and brought her amongst her friends, the softness of her skin resonated and I could feel it from within the confines of my suit, like a soft peach. I shivered at the feeling in the bed, and Bill spoke to me again, "Remember Samuel, don;t get lost in the memories. We're building a new world one step at a time, so forget about the old one." He patted my gloved hand and started to work my helmet off my head. Another flash of memories to the procession, Katie wept so harshly that a tear came to my own face, the coffin that lay atop the bed of flowers was plain black wood, with no frills or fancy additions. Bill's wizened face looked peaceful in it, the bags under his eyes were covered in the makeup and his slight smile that he always wore was borne upon his face, as though he were proud to wear it. Another tear dropped from my eyes as I laid my medal on his UEF uniform, and closed the lid. The Priest gave me the large torch and I stepped a few feet from the coffin, lighting the funeral pyre upon which the ornate bundles of flowers and wood stood. As the flames rose higher, I suddenly couldn't feel any emotion...neither sadness nor grief nor anger...I felt nothing. The flames smelled strongly of a pleasant wood burning stove and the smell carried with me as I walked back to the shuttle port to depart.
As I removed the helmet from my own head, I was beset by sadness, by emotions that had been welling up for god knows how long. I was so exhausted, I almost didn't hear the voice of my AI in my helmet shift from it's thin robotic voice to a strong and gruff voice: <\PSYCHOLOGICAL REINTEGRATION PROTOCOL COMPLETE|COMPILING AS AUDIO FILE/>
<\MEMORY LIKELY REQUIRED FOR FURTHER PSYCHOLOGICAL CARE|STORING INTO NEURALNET PROFILE/>