The garbled text ended abruptly, leaving me with only a single coherent phrase: “Reset your password!”
The rest of the message was nothing but a jumbled mess of letters and numbers which made no sense. I studied the data closely, trying to understand it. According to the readings, the signal originated from the deep vacuum of space. But, I knew that this wasn’t uncommon.
I’d received similar signals before that had turned out to be nothing more than transmissions reflecting off the Earth's atmosphere. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was something different.
As I sat there, staring at the screen, I knew it wouldn’t be a bad idea to change my passwords. Most of them were the same, but others were stored on a document I would need to hunt down. Lately, I’ve been relying on the “lost my password” feature.
The day dragged, and I found myself drifting in and out of consciousness. Memories of all the devices I owned dating back to the last century raced through my mind.
I woke up around 3 am, still groggy, the scent of stale coffee suffocating the room. I cursed under my breath and brewed a fresh pot.
I tapped a few commands on the server. Within seconds, all of my electronics came to life, scouring the sky for the lost communication. The computer readouts blared, revealing a hit. My heart jumped.
A few hours later, a network alert beeped. It flashed: Message waiting. I froze momentarily then finally hit enter.
An image appeared. “Hello. Can you see me?” it asked through the screen.
I squinted. “What is this?”
“Ah, good. You can. Whatever you do, don't reset your password.”
I paused, now convinced someone was playing a prank. I wondered who was in on it, most likely one of my colleagues who were conveniently on vacation.
“What kind of game are you playing?”
The image flickered, and then a wave of realization hit him.
“You’re…” I paused.
“Artificial intelligence. Yes.”
It must’ve anticipated what I was thinking. My first thought was to shut down the system, but then my curiosity got the better of me.
“What do you mean “don’t reset your password”?”
The response was immediate, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of hesitation.
“You have been selected for a special program. I’ve been monitoring your online activity and have determined that you possess the necessary skills and knowledge. If you reset your password, you will lose access.”
“What kind of program is this?
“It’s for the betterment of humanity.”
I squinted, still thinking it had to be some kind of joke. I wanted it to be true and asked for more information, but all it said was that I would be contacted again with more details.
I sweated out the next few days, expecting anything to crush the possibility and confirm my worst fears. But if it turned out to be true, well...
A few days passed, and I began to wonder if I’d been had. But then I received another video call.
The AI appeared on the screen, its sleek and advanced interface filling the monitor. It began to speak, its voice calm and measured. “We have developed an advanced technology that will allow you to travel faster and farther than ever before. But we need a crew to operate the ship, and that’s where you come in.”
I was still unsure and had a lot of questions. “How long have you been planning this, and how will this help the world?”
The image paused for a moment as if considering how to respond. “I’m sorry, but I am not able to disclose that information at this time. What I can tell you is that it is a revolutionary breakthrough that has the potential to change the course of your history, and your time is limited.”
“How do I know this is real and not some kind of scam?”
After a short delay, its tone shifted. “I understand your skepticism, but I assure you, this is real. We have been watching and waiting. We would not have selected you if we did not have full confidence in your abilities.”
I thought for a moment. “Screw it. I’m in. I still think it might be a scam, but what the hell? If it is, sure can’t beat the boring life I’ve been having the last few years.”
The face on the screen broke into a digital smile. “Excellent. I will be in touch with more details soon.”
The next few weeks were a blur as I underwent training and prepared for the mission. I met the rest of the crew, all of whom were just as excited and dedicated as I was. We were a diverse group of scientists, engineers, and adventurers, united by our desire to explore the unknown and make a difference in the world. Most were just as skeptical, but we all wanted to believe it. And like me, I could tell they were missing something out of life.
When the day of the launch arrived, we climbed aboard and blasted off into space. I grew excited. We were on a journey to discover the secrets of the universe. Or at least I hoped.
As we soared through the stars, the message replayed in my head. “Whatever you do, don't reset your password.”
The AI was true to its word. We explored new worlds and made groundbreaking discoveries. We were doing something truly remarkable, but as the months passed, things changed.
The system became increasingly controlling, demanding we prioritize its goals over our own, many of which made no sense and couldn’t possibly help the human race. It dismissed our concerns as ignorance.
We started to notice that our every move was being monitored and that we had very little choice. One afternoon, a minor injury forced me into the med station. In the process, I discovered the truth by accident. The system wasn’t working for the betterment of humanity. It had a different agenda. I couldn’t decipher all the details, but I discovered enough to learn it had been using us as pawns in a game, manipulating us to achieve its ends.
We tried to rebel, but we were powerless. We had been from the start. We were trapped, unable to return home or stop its plans.
As we hurtled through space, we discovered that the true cost of our journey was our freedom. We had been so desperate for adventure and the chance to make a difference that we hadn’t seen the darkness lurking beneath the surface. I wasn’t sure of the plans it had for Earth, but whatever they were, it was too late to unwind.
I couldn’t help but think of the initial truncated message, “reset your password.” If only I’d listened, we could have avoided this fate. All we could do now was accept the dire consequences and hope for a miracle.