Tom sat in the sterile doctor's office, nervously flipping through an old magazine, his heartbeat echoing in his ears. The air conditioner was humming, its monotonous sound oscillating and imitating the chirping of cicadas in a quiet night.
The door opened, and Dr. Conrad entered. He carried an air of professional kindness and smiled warmly, though his eyes held a somber weight.
As the check-up proceeded, Tom felt a creeping sense of unease. Dr. Conrad moved mechanically, his hands cold and calculating. His eyes held a distant gaze as though he wasn't really seeing his patient. There were times when he'd freeze in the middle of a procedure, stuck in a daydream or memory. The fluorescent lights seemed to grow dimmer, casting unusual shadows, making Conrad's wrinkles look more like deep scars.
"Tom, I have something to share with you," Dr. Conrad finally said, his voice taking on an uncanny resonance. His gaze was steady now, fixing Tom in place.
"I died five years ago."
Tom blinked in disbelief. Dr. Conrad continued, "My body couldn't sustain itself. I was the only one who could continue my research. So the higher-ups injected my body with a massive dose of nanites. Now I don't eat, only inject myself with a combination of nutrients and new nanites. I don't have a heartbeat either; want to listen?", as he put his stethoscope over his chest and handed the earpiece to Tom.
Tom didn't want to get closer to Dr. Conrad "No. No, thank y--" Tom tried to stand, to protest, but he found himself paralyzed, unable to move or speak. Conrad's face distorted in the wavering light, becoming less human, more something out of a nightmarish painting.
"I need you, Tom," Conrad continued, his voice growing forceful, "You will assist me in my plan. We will use nanites to ascend humanity beyond the confines of biological vulnerability. We will control the world, improve it."
The room stretched and contorted. Conrad loomed larger, his form blurring and shifting, becoming monstrous, menacing. Shadows twisted and squirmed, wrapping around Tom's feet, crawling up his legs, gripping him in icy chains.
"No!" cried Tom, "Dr. Conrad has an accent! And he doesn't have a doctor's office either!"
Suddenly, a new voice filled the air. It grew louder. "Tom, wake up! Wake up!", until Tom couldn't bear it any longer. Then, in a rush, everything snapped back to reality.
"You looked like you were having a pretty bad dream, sir," said Ensign Josh Chapman, extending a hand to help Tom out of bed. Tom blinked at the outstretched hand for a moment before finally grasping it.
"Thanks," Tom murmured, his gaze drifting across his quarters, still on the USS Constant.
Tom's internal dialogue filled his thoughts.
What was with that dream? It seemed so real, and then ...
"Ever been on a Navy cruiser before?" Josh asked, trying to engage the person he was supposed to be assisting.
Could it be true? Is Dr. Conrad trying to tell me something?
Tom shook his head, not making eye contact. "Huh? N-no… first time." His voice was a faint echo amidst the sounds of the ducts and the distant engine.
But how? Dr. Conrad apparently had to send Dr. Farquharson the entire specs just for him to do diagnostics.
"Well, let's start with something a bit different then. I'm sure you're used to seeing all the standard naval artillery. Let's check out the diving gear instead," Josh suggested, turning to lead Tom to the lower decks.
And there was nothing even close to sending dreams in the developer's manual I got.
As they descended into the ship, Josh enthusiastically dove into a detailed explanation. "Here, we have some of the most advanced diving systems in the world. The submarine escape immersion equipment is particularly interesting," he said, pointing to a compact, carefully sealed suit hanging on the wall.
He continued, detailing the science behind the design. "The suit is thermally insulated, helps maintain positive buoyancy and keeps you visible in the water because of its high visibility color."
Maybe the nanites in me are gaining self-awareness and trying to communicate. But then why something so specific about Dr. Conrad?
Tom's gaze was far away, the words seeming to float past him, unheard. But Josh pushed on, trying to stoke his interest.
"The rebreather system is also a crucial piece of tech. It allows divers to stay submerged for longer periods by removing the carbon dioxide from the exhaled air and adding oxygen to be inhaled again."
And if he or the nanites were trying to communicate something, why would it be so creepy?
Josh cast a glance at Tom, whose attention seemed to be waning even further. He decided to try a different tactic. "Ever hear about the underwater demolition teams from World War II?"
Tom's brow furrowed slightly, "Not really," he said.
Maybe the message combined with my own anxieties. Or my subconscious was trying to protect me by rejecting the message.
Josh continued. "Our diving equipment and procedures have a lot of heritage from those early underwater demolition teams. Brave men who'd swim into enemy waters to take out obstacles. Now, we’ve got tech like advanced sonar and remotely operated vehicles to assist. Let's move on to the upper ..."
It seems counterproductive for Dr. Conrad or the nanites to reveal the plan before there's anything specific to do about it, when I may not even be on board with it.
"So, anything else you want to know? No?"
Or it's entirely my own anxieties. About what will happen to me when I'm back at the hotel.
"... and in this room we have ..."
What if it's a message from my own subconscious? It noticed that Dr Conrad had no heartbeat, and ... made up an entire story around it?
"... with a total capacity of over 5,000 ..."
I did get a specific way to test if the information is true or not, just listen if Dr. Conrad has a heartbeat.
"... and for the last bit of the tour, I'll show you the workshop, where they fix radios and any other portable electronics that break."
But that doesn't mean anything useful; he could be a ... nanite zombie, but not planning to take over the world, or vice versa.
"Well, here's your quarters. So any questions?" asked Ensign Chapman. "Anything at all?"
And what would I do with this information? If it's true, then the higher-ups made him this way. And they might also be planning to take over the world. If I try reporting this, I become a liability to them. Better to keep my head down for now. Enjoy myself. Learn things from Ensign Chapman and get to know him. He was specifically trying to engage by showing me something that he thought would catch my interest.
Tom looked around his empty quarters.