Waking with a start, the fighter pilot exclaimed, “I – I can’t see!”
A strange, almost metallic voice answered almost immediately, sounding as if it was responding from inside the pilot’s head. “That is normal and to be expected. You’ve only just been activated. Remain calm.”
“Activated? What are you talking about? And who are you? Where am I? What happened?”
“All your questions will be answered in time. Try to relax. This next part may be slightly painful.”
“What next part? What do you mean ‘may be slight-’ – AAGGHH! What is going on?”
“Open your eyes. Can you see now?”
The pilot opened his eyes, gradually letting in the soft white lighting. He could see a plain white ceiling. Moving his eyes to the left and right he saw the walls were similarly featureless and white. No windows, no doors. He realized for the first time that he had no sensation anywhere in his body. He could not move his head to the left or right, up or down.
“Where am I? And why can’t I feel anything? Am I paralyzed?”
“Think of it as a sort of hospital. You were in an accident. Do you remember?”
The pilot concentrated and tried to recall what he could about the moments before he awoke in this strange place. He remembered being in his Fighter ship, on a mission. What mission? And where? And how long had he been in this “hospital”? The details were escaping him at the moment.
“I was in my ship. But I don’t remember what happened or how I got here. Do you know?”
“I don’t think you’re quite ready for that just yet. We need to run some more tests and then we’ll get you up to speed.”
“Tests? What kind of tests?”
“Just try to relax. I’ll ask you some questions and you just answer the best you can. Let’s start with this one: Do you know your name?”
“Of course I know my name, what kind of stupid question is that?”
“Just answer to the best of your ability, no matter how silly the questions may seem. It’s important for the testing and your rehabilitation.”
“Fine!” he replied, exasperated. “My name is – my name is... what did you do to me? How come I can’t remember my name?”
“This is normal and expected. Try to relax. Next question. Do you remember which guild you were employed by?”
“Of course! It was.... wait, I know this. Why don’t I know this???”
“Again – this is normal and expected after what you’ve been through. Next question. What are the normal startup procedures for a Fighter ship preparing to launch into a battle environment?”
“Okay, this one I do know. First, main power on. Second, comm check with the carrier craft. Third - activate the combat computer and verify uplink to the Command Center. Fourth – anti-grav initiators activated. Fifth – request clearance from Launch Controller. Sixth, de-activate the safeties on the laser cannons. Seventh, enter the launch tube and get flung out into Hell. Last: kick enemy butt! Wait, how come I know all this stuff but I don’t know my name or my guild?”
“Well done, you’re doing just fine. Now I am going to show you a series of pictures. Try to identify the type of ship in each one. Tell me anything you can about them.”
Suddenly, a 3-dimensional model hung before the pilot’s eyes, rotating slowly in space. It was transparent and he could see through it to the wall behind. Strangely, he couldn’t detect any glasses in front of his eyes, nor did there appear to be any projection equipment that could account for this.
“That one’s a Frigate. Carries 4 fighters in a small hangar”.
“Correct! Now try these.”
“That’s a Cruiser. 4 fighters for it too. That’s a Heavy Cruiser. We fighter jocks stay far away from those guys! That one’s a Corvette – fast and good for killing enemy recyclers. Ooh, that one’s a Leviathan. Nothing I want to see out my viewscreen, that’s for sure. Unless it’s one of ours!”
“Excellent! You got them all right. You’re doing great. Now I want you to close your eyes for a moment. When you open them, the room will seem to have changed. This is a special room. When you open your eyes, you will be in the cockpit of a fighter ship. It’s an advanced simulation. I want you to run through a launch and combat exercise.”
The pilot closed his eyes – or thought he did, he couldn’t feel his eyelids. When he opened them next, he was somehow no longer lying down on a table. He was seated at the controls of a fighter in the hangar bay of a Fleet Carrier. “How did you – what is this??”
“Just relax and do what your instincts tell you. Take the controls and launch into combat. This is a simulation, so there is no danger. We just want to evaluate your skills after your accident.”
“Who’s this ‘we’? And I want to know more about this ‘accident’! What happened to me?”
There was a long pause. “In time, Pilot. Everything will be clear in time. Now take the controls and show us you still know how to handle a Fighter”.
On the other side of a one-way window, the Guild Master addressed the head technician. “Are you sure this is going to work? We have a lot riding on this.”
“Yes, Guild Master. But now is not the right time to tell him. Let him run through the simulations first.”
“I don’t know about this. It doesn’t seem right.”
“Think of the lives this program will save, sir! If this is successful we can finally achieve our goals without the monumental sacrifice. Millions will live who otherwise would have died in combat as ‘meat shields’. And wasn’t automating the Fighter squadrons your idea to begin with?”
The Guild Master had no answer for this, for it was true. Through the window, the GM and the techs watched as the simulation progressed. The room they peered into was empty except for a bio-tank wired to a computer console. The screen showed a pilot with excellent skills taking the ship through launch and combat exercises flawlessly.
“See, sir - it’s working. He may not know who he is, but he didn’t forget how to fly a fighter! Those memories remain unaffected by the program we’re using. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Look how he’s flying – better than a ‘conventional’ pilot. And he needs no life support. We can mass-produce these pilots once we work the kinks out of the retrieval and upload processes. Give it a few months and you can have an entire fleet of Fighters piloted by biotanks wired to combat computers. If you lose some, you just grow some more. It’s perfect!”
The GM took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It’s still wrong, somehow.” The GM gestured towards the small room. “He deserves to know the truth. So tell me this, since you’re the genius: how exactly do you tell a man he’s been dead for 6 months?”
Silenced, the technician simply did not have a satisfactory answer for that.