Richard saw only gray in front of her. The landscape of Antarctica was generally very much harsh and white, but now it seemed that little had changed except the color of the harshness. She thought it would at least have some life around here…
She looked at Dyan and saw her very odd expression. Richard didn’t think that Dyan was expecting the future to look at all like this, so she guessed it was a shock to her too. 600,000 years in the future, and several species should have evolved considerably by now, especially the more rapidly-reproducing ones, but Richard saw no real evidence of any evolved species.
In fact, she didn’t see any species at all.
Hannah and Odaawa wandered around, collecting several soil samples in close proximity. Dyan simply stood there.
“Hey, um, Dyan?” Richard asked. She put her hand on her shoulder. “Is there–”
“We need to go on our confidential mission,” Dyan said. “The one I mentioned before. I think that’s going to be especially necessary now.”
“What exactly is our mission?” Richard asked. “You never told me.”
“We’re going to need to go to meet AI Dyan herself,” she said. “Actually, her central servers are located around the same area that Future Stephen is supposed to go to collect data, so, hey! Future Stephen! Come on along with us.”
“Why is this confidential, again?”
“I’ll tell you if I’m right,” she said. “If I’m wrong, then… You’ll never need to know.”
Future Stephen walked up to Richard and Dyan. “What do you mean by ‘data collection’ anyway? I don’t actually know what you were referring to before we left.”
Dyan didn’t respond, and instead started walking off. She stopped and motioned for Richard and Future Stephen to follow.
Future Richard looked at the Time Travel Synchronization station where her six companions just warped away from. The room was now completely empty, and Future Richard really was alone. Dyan had fired every employee except the skeleton crew needed to operate the facility, which was essentially just her and about twenty others; the facility was extremely self-sufficient, and required next to zero upkeep.
AI Dyan flashed on next to Future Richard. “I don’t know about any of this…” she said. “Do you think Dyan is going to come back with more than she bargained for?”
“What does that mean?” Future Richard asked.
“It’s just a hunch of mine…” AI Dyan said. “You might not be able to understand yet. I have my suspicions, though…”
She really didn’t understand much of what AI Dyan was saying, but she was indeed pretty suspicious about practically everything going on…
She continued to stand and stare at the station, waiting for them to return.
Future Richard, Dyan, and Richard entered the backroom of the facility, near the server room; it was extremely cold, which made Richard realize that the outside of Antarctica was no longer cold. Guess 600,000 years really does make a big difference when climate change isn’t ever reversed from its current rate. She realized that the rest of the Earth was probably covered in garbage and had long since desertified, so Antarctica might have been the most hospitable part of the planet.
Which really sucked, because it kind of looked like the entire continent was desolate and probably had no life at all. Speaking of that, she turned on her radio to ask Odaawa and Hannah about their progress.
“Hey, Odaawa,” she began. “Can you get Hannah? I need to ask her about the samples you guys have collected.”
A second passed. “Yeah, Richard?” Hannah’s voice asked.
“Any data results yet?”
“Umm…” Hannah mumbled something, and then she cleared her throat. “There’s no signs of life whatsoever, except a few archaebacteria here and there. I don’t even think there’s any plants living around here. Oh… But we did find some fossils. Lots of them, partially exposed from the surface. Something must have killed them.”
Dyan, who was close enough to be able to hear the radio, suddenly stopped. “Dammit!” she shouted. “I was worried about that!”
“Huh?” Richard looked over at Dyan. “Uh, sorry, Hannah. Keep me posted.” She turned off the radio and walked up to Dyan. “What were you worried about?”
“The nuclear option was triggered, and probably killed everything.”
Future Richard didn’t very much like her new robotic limbs and such. They were able to give her a new arm and leg, and restore sight to her missing eye, and partially fix her chronic vertigo, but it all felt… really fake.
She didn’t mind the whole “looking like a cyborg from an 80s cartoon” deal, but she would at least have liked them to make her feel normal again. But due to time constraints, they left her with metallic limbs. Granted, ones that had feeling in them, so they weren’t just high-tech pegs, but they really made her stand out. Even if she wore long sleeves and pants, they’d probably show, and there wasn’t really any way to make her robotic eye look any more human, and no way to hide it without sunglasses, which obviously wasn’t going to work when she spent her entire life indoors.
Still, at least she was recovered from all those injuries… At least slightly. She didn’t entirely feel ready to do work again, though she really wished she got to go along with the others on that trip… Despite the fact that Future Stephen was a complete asshole and Richard wasn’t much better. Maybe she should have had sex with the other Stephen out of revenge. It probably would have worked, though it would probably not made her feel any better…
“The nuclear option was a last resort failsafe I built into the facility upon its inception. If any humans tried to interfere, it’d blast them before they could breach it. And if necessary, it’d blast the facility so nobody could ever tamper it. It seems that the latter ended up occurring. I assume the rest of the world has also been adversely affected, considering Antarctica is basically lifeless.”
“Yeah, that’s why it’s called the nuclear option, and not the napalm option or whatever. What about it?”
Richard took a few steps back. “How many… How many nukes did you install?”
“Just under five hundred.”
Dyan shrugged her shoulders. “I didn’t want the facility to be tampered with. I told you, it’s extremely important to keep the integrity of our project intact.”
“By essentially destroying the entire world?”
“Hey, this is a project error that we’re going to have to correct once we return to the present. I don’t WANT the nukes deployed. That’s a bad thing.” Richard really didn’t want to be involved with this project anymore. This was getting too insane, even for her. Dyan seemed completely fine, though. “Yeah, but anyway, that’s why we’re going to check with AI Dyan and see exactly what the hell happened these past six-hundred millenia.”
Future Richard walked out from some hallway and met back with the two of them. “What’d I miss?” he asked.
“Where were you?”
Richard most definitely wanted to go back to the present, and go home, but… that was going to have to wait.
They finally entered the sever room, and inside was none other than a flickering green-and-white hologram of AI Dyan. It stood ten feet tall, and the hologram’s motions seemed extremely erratic, like the program decayed significantly over the past 600,000 years. Which, obviously, was extremely likely considering how hard it was to future-proof technology like computers. The fact that she lasted this long was a miracle of technology that only the ISRFA could have accomplished.
“Greetings,” Dyan greeted. “AI version of myself, I’d like to say, hi once again. It’s been a long while, hasn’t it?”
AI Dyan’s hologram did not shift from its flickering animations, though it responded, saying, “Longer than I realized it was going to be. I assumed you had died.”
“Don’t assume I’m dead,” Dyan said. “Ever. Trust me, I know from firsthand experience.”
“I don’t need to assume,” AI Dyan said. A split-second later, a giant spike of lightning shot down and impaled Dyan through the chest, simultaneously stabbing her heart and burning her entire body to ash. She disappeared in a wisp. “So, Future Richard. So, Future Stephen.”
“I’m not Future Richard, I’m just regular Richard,” she corrected, before remembering that AI Dyan just killed regular Dyan for seemingly no reason and seemed to have gone completely insane (which was probably the reason).
“Regardless, I don’t want you to think that I’m doing anything wrong, “AI Dyan said. “I am simply starting life over.”
“What?” Future Stephen asked with pure shock. He looked like he was about ready to bolt out of the room (though AI Dyan would probably bolt him in the back as he did it).
“I killed everything so that I could let life evolve back from single-celled organisms. Then, I will shape them as I wish. Very exciting times, you know!” AI Dyan’s flickering animation began smiling wildly. “In the last timeline, I apparently was able to create a hyper-intelligent ecosystem of reptiles and birds! But they were apparently not very pleased by how I guided their creation, so… I’m going to do it much better this time. I have the data necessary to create life, just as I ended it.”
Richard glanced at Future Stephen several times and got his attention. She looked at her watch and then he looked at his.
“Uh, what about us?” Richard asked. “What will you do with us?”
“Extract whatever data you’ve gathered from your minds, and then kill you. It’s pretty simple.” AI Dyan said. “I’ve already captured the three who weren’t with you.”
“But uh, then, why’d you kill Dyan before extracting anything from her?”
“Because I AM her. I don’t–”
Richard and Future Stephen both hit the time-return buttons on their watches at once and returned to the present.
Future Richard had already waited over three minutes, and yet they still hadn’t returned. Shouldn’t it have been near-instantaneous? What was the issue?
“AI Dyan,” she began. “This is kind of weird, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I wonder…”
And suddenly, there were two bright flashes, and Richard and Future Stephen arrived back in the present. The two of them saw AI Dyan and flinched.
“Ah,” AI Dyan said. “They found out. I guess I should put the facility into lockdown, then.” The power went out and AI Dyan’s hologram dissipated. The intercom turned on. “ATTENTION. THIS IS DYAN MOORE, AND I AM PUTTING THIS FACILITY UNDER EMERGENCY LOCKDOWN. PLEASE REMAIN CALM.”