HAM0101032019-04-11T06:30:03+00:00

01.01.03

Anya woke to the sounds of birds tweeting and car horns blaring outside. No menu floated in front of her and she sighed with relief. She sat up without the usual stiffness that had started to plague her mornings ever since her mid-twenties and glanced down.

The burned hole was still in the center of her sweater, and she was still built like an Olympian.

“Damn,” Anya muttered. It hadn’t been a dream. She touched the center of her chest and the menu reappeared. She swore again and dismissed the menu. It was impossible to dismiss anything else though. The bright light of day refused to let her indulge the idea that she was hallucinating or still asleep. Everything had the stark weight of reality, especially her new body. She flexed and arms in a classic bodybuilder pose, lifted up her sweater to get a better look at her abs and shook her head. Seeing her face on this body was surreal. She was reminded of those wooden cutouts at carnivals that had the painted figures of muscle men and super models with holes for heads that people could put their faces through for a cute photo.

“How?” Anya asked herself as she looked in the mirror nearby again. It was physically impossible. How would she explain this to her friends? Her co-workers? Her family?

“Yeah I just downed a whole tub of protein before bed last night and did a few push-ups, bada-bing,” she said and laughed at her reflection.

Maybe she could reverse it. Anya brought up the menu again and this time pressed the down arrow next to the “BRAWN” statistic. A message popped up that said “YOU DO NOT HAVE ANY AVAILABLE RESPECIFICATION TOKENS,” and then vanished.

“What the fuck is that?” Anya demanded and pressed the down arrow again. And again. And again. The same message flashed up each time and she cursed at the menu. She gave up with a growl and focused on the right side of the menu. She was reluctant to adjust the “STATISTICS,” side of the menu any more for the moment, but she still had the other half to look at. Looking couldn’t hurt any, she reasoned.

The right half of the menu, the “SKILLS,” had three sub-menus: “PHYSICAL,” MENTAL,” and “OTHER.” She tapped “PHYSICAL” and jumped back as the menu expanded to fill up one entire side of her apartment. The limited options of the main menu were replaced by hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of options.

A daunting list of physical abilities both familiar and bizarre glowed in front of Anya. She scanned the list, eyes darting from one skill to another, face twisting in wonder and confusion as she took it all in.

Akido. Fidget Spinning. Archery. Weaving. Stunt Driving. Finger Guns. Acrobatics. Heavy Weapons. Sneaking. Cliff Diving. Shadow Puppetry. Disco. Dismemberment. Baseball. Fencing (swords). Fencing (construction). Marksmanship. Jump-Rope. Boxing. Skateboarding.

Anya was at a loss for words as she continued to scan the list. It looked like every single physical pursuit somebody could imagine, including several that were impossible, like dinosaur riding and Atlantean wrestling.

She tapped a button on the side of the menu that shrunk the “PHYSICAL” section back down to its more modest size. She took a deep breath and then tapped the “MENTAL” section and wasn’t the least surprised when the menu expanded into another enormous selection of options.

Physics. Japanese. Mahjong. Architecture. Polka Trivia. Naval Strategy. Dowsing. Business. Surgery. Wine. Astronomy. Pig Latin. Aura Reading. Board Games. Persuasion. Saxophone. Painting. Robotics. Psychology. Deduction. Guerilla Tactics. Rocketry. Daemonic Speech.

“Huh,” Anya said and frowned. She pulled up the “PHYSICAL” Menu again and resumed scrolling, then stopped when she saw a category for Yoga. Unlike all the other categories she had seen which had no numbers beside them, this one had a number “3” next to it. She had taken Yoga off-and-on when she had been in college, and still occasionally did some of the stretches. She tapped on the Yoga button and a smaller menu appeared.

It showed a small progress bar at the bottom that was currently less than half full. The number three was on the left of the progress bar and the number four on the right. A list of numbers at intervals of ten, up to 100, was below the progress bar, and a dull orange padlock icon glowed next to each number.

Anya frowned in thought. She dismissed the Yoga menu. Like the statistics menu, each skill had an up and a down arrow next to it. She glanced up at the corner of the menu and saw the glowing number twenty-eight. That made her pause. She had started with twenty-eight points, and spent six on strength. She had twenty-two when she last checked. She returned to the main menu and confirmed that she had twenty-two points.

“Oooooh,” she said. The big number twenty-two was over the left side of the menu, directly above her statistics. She entered the “MENTAL,” skill menu and saw another twenty-eight. She looked for skills she would have. Her English skill was an eight. She frowned and wondered why it wasn’t higher. A thought occurred to her and she flicked back to the “PHYSICAL,” menu and looked until she found the Sex skill.

“A three?” she said and frowned. “Shit, that’s probably fair.” She’d been a bit of a late-bloomer, and only been in two semi-serious relationships that each lasted less than a year, and a few hook-ups in college.

“Whatever,” she said and then tapped on the “OTHER” category. A third exhaustive list of skills appeared before Anya. While the other categories had had their own bizarre entries, this one was nothing but.

Flame Dominion. Flesh Shaping. Teleportation. Ectoplasmic Materialization. Prophecy. Elemental Summoning. Void Walking. Ki Mastery. Shapeshifting. Evocation. Faith. Pheromone Secretion. Necromancy. Transvection. Pact-Making. Energy Manipulation. Density Control.

This list was slightly different than the others. Each skill had a small gray padlock icon next to it. When she tapped on one (the Flame Dominion skill), a message popped up that said “LOCKED UNTIL LEVEL 30.” She tapped a number of other skills but the same message kept popping up for each one.

“Damn,” she said. She had twenty-eight points to allocate in this section as well. She wondered if that was twenty-eight points just for the “OTHER,” category or if those points were shared by all three categories. She exited the “OTHER,” section and returned to the main menu and glanced down at the glowing “HELP” button. She certainly needed help with whatever the hell was going on, so she jabbed the button. It blinked once and a bright flash of orange light blinded her as she cried out and fell backwards onto the floor.

She blinked until she saw something floating in the air between her and the menu. It was made of translucent orange light and was about the size and shape of a very chubby baby with an over-large head. Its arms and legs were stumpy, and she saw it didn’t really have fingers or toes, but hands like mittens and feet that ended in rounded points. Its face was simplistic and almost cartoonish, featuring a wide mouth and huge eyes. It smiled at her and waved.

Anya screamed and threw a shoe at the creature. The shoe passed right through it, and the menu behind it, and hit the wall behind them hard enough to leave a dent.

“What the fuck!” Anya shouted.

“Hello!” the creature said in a sweet, childish voice. It didn’t seem bothered or even to notice that Anya had just tried to knock it out of the air with her shoe. “I’m your personalized assistant! What can I help you with?”

“Get out of my apartment!” Anya snapped and readied another shoe. She knew it wouldn’t do any good but it felt good to have something to threaten the creature with.

“Of course!” the creature said. It floated to the side and through her window. It hovered in the air just outside and smiled in at her. “Now what?”

Anya kept as far away from her window as she could and eyed the floating creature outside. It didn’t seem dangerous, and it had technically done as she asked. At worst, the impish creature was too literal. Anya tapped her chest and the menu vanished, but the creature remained.

“I see you’ve dismissed your menu,” the creature said, its voice still loud and clear despite the pane of glass separating them. “Would you like me to return to stand-by?”

Anya regarded the creature while it continued to smile placidly at her. It didn’t appear threatening, even after she had thrown a shoe at it. Hell, it didn’t even look like it was tangible, floating through the window like that and almost vanishing in direct sunlight.

“Come back inside,” Anya said but kept away from the window as the creature followed instructions and floated back into her apartment. “What are you? What’s going on? What the hell is all this?”

“I’m your personalized assistant!” it replied. This time it even gave her an awkward salute with one of its stubby arms. “What’s going on is I’m introducing myself! All of this appears to be your apartment!”

Anya glared at the chipper response. It really was entirely literal. She took a deep breath and she sat down in her second-hand armchair. It usually gave a familiar, mild squeak of springs but now the entire wooden frame of the chair groaned under her new impressive weight.

“I get that you’re my assistant but what are you? You’re not human, clearly,” Anya gestured at it.

“Oh! I see. I’m an Artificial Intelligence designated to you, Anya Sabrina Nowicki, for your use in determining how you wish to specify the use of your points for your personal statistics. I see you have already put several attribute points into brawn. Wow! What an amazing choice!”

“Okay. Artificial Intelligence,” Anya put her head between her knees and closed her eyes as a wave of dizziness swept over her. She wouldn’t pass out again. “But how the fuck did I mutate or whatever happened to my body last night? And why do I suddenly have an AI attached to me and a statistics menu?”

“Well, as for how your body changed, you selected to increase your brawn attribute by six points! That means you got stronger!”

“I swear to god,” Anya breathed.

“I do not,” the AI said. “I don’t know if I’m religious or not. That’s exciting!”

“I understand the correlation between this number,” Anya tapped her chest and pointed at the “BRAWN” attribute when it appeared, “and my new body. I want to know how the hell it was possible for me to go from short and chubby to tall and ripped in the span of a few seconds?”

“Did your body tear? That shouldn’t happen,” the AI said and looked Anya up and down as it floated in a circle around her. For a moment she didn’t understand what it was saying and she rolled her eyes.

“Not literally ripped! I mean strong. I grew over a foot and gained pounds and pounds of muscle mass in seconds. That’s impossible!”

“The menu system did a scan of your entire body down to your genetic code and integrated itself within it to allow for basic mental and physical modifications,” the AI said. “You look really great by the way!”

“This is basic?” Anya shouted and gestured at herself. “I look like Wonder Woman’s big sister! And I just asked to get stronger, not taller!”

“The menu system is set to maximize physical changes by default. Being taller allowed for more efficient dispersal of muscles for maximum benefit! Are you unhappy with the changes?”

“Yes! I mean, no…it feels amazing. But it’s unnatural. And weird. And talking to you is weird! This is all kind of making me freak the fuck out.” Anya looked at the menu and the other statistics and shook her head.

“So I’m stuck with this thing?” she asked after a long silence.

“Absolutely!” the AI chirped.

“And you?”

“One-hundred percent!”

“Ooookaaaaaay,” she sighed. “You still haven’t answered my other questions. About why you’re here, or why I have this menu thing.”

“All AIs come standard with the dispensation of the menu system you have been given,” the AI said. “You were given the menu system at random.”

“Excuse me?” Anya asked. “At random?”

“Yes, you know, like the lottery, or lightning.”

“Yeah I know what random means, I want to know why I was randomly given this thing and where it came from!”

“Hmm,” the AI dropped its smile for the first time as its eyes narrowed. “I seem to not be able to access certain caches of data within the menu system at this time. I cannot tell you why you have the menu system.”

“You’re locked out? I thought you were the menu system,” Anya said.

“Nope! I can see that there are multiple levels of locked data caches, but have no idea how to access them or what they could contain. Super sorry about that!”
Anya swore and rolled her eyes. “Fine. What about where this thing came from?”

“Looking at the internal system records, your menu system originated from somewhere outside the Triangulum Galaxy and was sent to this planet by a race of extra-terrestrial beings! I sure hope that answers your question!”

Anya felt herself going numb as the AI smiled at her.

“Aliens,” Anya said.

“You betcha!”

“Cool,” Anya said. She then rushed to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet.

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