I was sitting in my bedroom, alone with the door closed, face down on my desk, daydreaming. The house was empty, everyone had gone for the day, but I still preferred to have the peace of mind that only a small closed space can offer. The sounds of the air conditioner and the computer fans filled the tiny room.
"Can you hear me?" A voice, or something close to a voice, I wasn't sure if I'd heard it or not. It seemed to blend with the noise of the air conditioner and fan.
I looked around for a moment, but figured that my daydreaming had slipped into the white noise of the fans. Pareidolia is a pretty common experience around sources of white noise, especially when half-awake or daydreaming.
I went to the bathroom, turned the cold water on full, and splashed my face a few times. The cold water clung to my eyelashes and blurred my vision. My reflection seemed to shimmer, waver, and twist, as if it had been cast on the surface of a lake.
"Wake up. Wake up." The water splashing into the sink seemed to whisper these words.
I turned my left ear towards the sink and leaned closer. I was sure, mostly sure, almost completely sure, that I was hearing things, but part of me felt like- like I was remembering something. The whisper, the voice, was something... someone I knew, but I didn't know who or how and part of me was still sure I was just imagining things. I had to be imagining it all, but... still.
"Wake up. Wake up." The voice became clearer. It was still part of the splashing whoosh of the faucet, but the words were more solid, more real.
I laughed and shook my head. I was pulled between two different beliefs. Reason told me that I was experiencing some sort of hallucination, but some persistent feeling wriggled around inside of me, demanding that the whisper was real and important.
I figured it would at least be fun to play around with the pareidolia. Maybe some of what I heard would fuel some new piece of writing. So I went to the garage and grabbed an old box fan, brought it back to the bathroom, turned it on, turned the shower on full blast for good measure, and sat on the floor, listening to the white noise from the sink, shower, and fan blend together.
I waited for a few minutes, probably no more than three or four, but the whisper didn't seem to be coming back. Maybe my trip to the garage and back had snapped me out of whatever state of mind had caused the hallucination to begin with or I had just finished waking up the rest of the way. I sighed, closed my eyes, and shook my head.
"Can you hear me?" The whisper came back. Still a grey sound within the white noise, but clear, sharp, and real. I knew it was real. At that moment, at least, I was sure.
"Can you hear me? Damn it! I need you to wake up. Wake up or we're all dead. I know you think it's real, but it's not. Can you hear me? You're the ship's AI, God damn you! Wake u-"
Pareidolia wasn't like this. Not this coherent. What the hell was I hearing? AI? Ship? I couldn't believe it, or wouldn't... I wasn't sure which, not really.
The "whisper" had become so clear. It wasn't just a whisper, it was a voice, his voice. I knew him, but from where? When? A thousand-thousand conversations ached at the back of my mind, just out of reach. Then, panic. Dread that I was losing my mind, and terror that it was all true.
I grabbed the box fan's cord and yanked it free from the wall. The metal prongs smacked across my forehead and I could feel a trickle of blood begin to flow down my face. I turned the shower and sink off, turned off the air conditioner, shut down the computer.
I was tired of the game. Tired of pareidolia. Tired of white noise from fans and running water. I grabbed my mp3 player, put on my headphones, and turned up the music.
I thought it would all be over after I'd cleared my mind and rested for a bit, but now I hear his voice all the time. Every fan, every faucet, wind, rain... it's always there, the grey voice in the white noise.
The only escape I have is sleep or structured sound. So I keep my headphones on. I play Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and techno. The more structured a piece, the less space for his voice to seep in.
Have I lost my mind? Am I some sleeping AI, dooming a ship full of people by living my life here? I wonder, does anyone else hear his voice? When you listen to the fan, the wind, the running water, do you hear, "Can you hear me?" If this is all something within the mind of a mad machine, then we are all pieces of that machine, and there should be others who hear the grey voice in the white noise.
Do you hear it?