The Mirror of Erised was one of the biggest curiosities in the galaxy. Even the Minds did not know what it was, and there had been some studies.
It was called that way from a long-forgotten tale of heroes and bravery. It had none of the attributes from that tale, though.
As far as anyone knew, the mirror extended to eternity. Which was impossible.
But there it was.
The Mind ‘I Won’t Do What You Tell Me’ ignored the warnings of its peers. It made an avatar, a panhumanoid robot that was so advanced it could pass as a life form even if you carved it up.
He stepped foot on the planet with a modicum of fifty security drones that carried some Antimatter missiles. That was enough to ward off a fleet or two. He liked walking on the planets. Which was weird, since he was a Mind, and thus had none of the human instincts and qualities. Perhaps his forefathers had been trained by the panhumans but his generation of Minds had been built by machines that had been build by machines ad infinitum.
Their thinking was so far off from the humans these days that the Minds had to actually dumb down concepts by about thirty levels to discuss with them.
It was alright though.
The Minds appreciated the Observers. Needed them, even.
So he brought one along.
“Blimey, it’s hot out here, isn’t it?” Polo said, wiping his forehead.
“Yeah,” the ship’s avatar said, not showing any discomfort at all. He was both up in orbit around the planet and here as a copy, a completely separate entity. Much less processing power of course, but it was still him and couldn’t wait to reintegrate with the whole.
Polo drank from his water bottle, his throat bulging as he swallowed big gulps. Then he said, “Ahhh…” with satisfaction and wiped his mouth. “Needed that.”
“You are not dehydrated,” Won’t Do said.
Polo turned to the avatar. “Oh, right, you can scan everything. Don’t.”
“No, I ain’t calling you name. Don’t do that, it’s not polite.”
“Your wellbeing is one of my priorities, Polo. How is it any different than a concerned friend noticing if your lips are dry, for example.”
Polo waved the comment away and stepped forward. “Always a smartass, ain’t ya? Let’s go find this haunted mirror or whatever.”
Won’t Do followed, letting the famous explorer take the lead. Minds had learned a long time ago to not underestimate the panhumans’ instincts. Sure, compared to planet-wide scans and spectrum analyses the organics were practically blind and deaf, but they seemed to have a thing going for them.
They lived in this world.
The Minds envied that, but they never told the panhumans about it, naturally. No point inflating their egos.
Sure, the Minds lived in the world as well, but with one foot in another dimension, which means parts of their brains literally extending into non-fourdimensional spacetime, they didn’t always feel as if they belonged in the universe.
Add in the Observer effect, and what more could one say?
Minds were intelligent, yes. Alive, definitely. But not 100% a part of this universe.
“You’re contemplating existence again, aren’t you?” Polo said, climbing the easy hill ahead of them.
“How did you know?” Won’t Do asked.
“‘Cause you always bloody are! I swear, Won’t Do, if you had a vascular system, you’d be dead by worry. Stop overthinking things. Just live in the moment.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Won’t Do agreed with his words but with his mind, not really. He couldn’t stop thinking, he was after all a giant Mind. But he knew what Polo meant. Just go with the flow.
Like the panhumans did.
How annoyingly foreign.
They saw the Mirror of Erised. It was really, really hard to miss. A square mirror, looking completely out of place in a natural environment, extending far off into infinity in a straight line. But it wasn’t really, because then it would shoot off into space, obviously. But it didn’t, Won’t Do triple-checked.
“Ah! What a sight,” Polo exclaimed, running towards it.
Won’t Do kept pace and approached after the panhuman. He could outrun him easily, but he let the man have his moment.
“Wonderful!” Polo ran left too see behind the mirror. There was nothing behind it. He leaned his head, looking through the square. Its reflective squares extended off into infinity. Then to the other side, same thing as the first, nothing behind it. “Blimey! I’m watching it with my own two eyes, and I still can’t believe it.”
Won’t Do avoided looking into the mirror. He didn’t like looking at it.
They had read up on the research, of course. The trip took about half a standard year so they had plenty of time to read up on everything, get everything annotated and double-checked. Both Mind and the Observer got acquainted with everything there was to know about the mirror.
It was nothing much.
The mirror was simple glass. Natural glass, even. Polo tapped it, then licked it.
Okay, that was one way to analyse things, Won’t Do thought.
“It’s natural glass,” Polo said.
Polo squinted and looked up into the sky. “Hey, Won’t Do? How’s the weather on this planet? Are there lightning strikes?”
“Frequently, the climate is very close to Earth standard.”
“But not now, right?” Polo asked, looking worried.
“No, I chose a gentle time of the year for us.”
“That’s it then. I think I know what happened,” Polo said, puffing his chest.
“You licked it and now you know what happened? Please, I’m all ears.”
“Can you literally make ears pop out of you right now? That would be funny. Can you?” Polo asked.
“I Won’t Do What You Tell Me.”
“Right. Thought so. Well, it’s obvious isn’t it?”
Okay, now Won’t Do was flabbergasted, and Minds did not get that feeling often. “No, Polo, it’s not. Tell me. This is simply impossible, yet here it is, right in front of us.”
Polo turned to look into the square mirror. It looked like when you were in an elevator with two mirrors on opposite sides, they stretched to infinity. Only, there wasn’t a mirror behind them, and to top it all off, each iteration of the reflection was slightly at an angle, giving it a gentle spin the farther away it went. “You have a washing machine, right?”
“No, I blast your clothes with UV and ultrasounds.”
“What? Really? I thought you had a washing machine somewhere. Okay, doesn’t matter, they don’t stink so I’m fine with it. There’s a washing machine, right? It tumbles, spins, pure chaos.”
“So, there’s a chance that anything can happen. Your socks can get stuck on the top, one might vanish, or, if you’re really, really lucky, your clothes might get folded perfectly on their own.” Polo mimicked the folding of clothes.
“That’s a minuscule chance, Polo.”
“But it exists. In all of the planets of the galaxy and in all the lightning storms of the trillions of years, that chance kept being tested. You have sand, check.” Polo pointed theatrically with his both hands at the ground. “You have lightning, check.” He mimicked the bolt falling and made a ‘Kachow!’ sound.
“Glass.” Won’t Do nodded.
“Glass. And what’s a square? A natural crystal. And what’s very improbable but very much possible? A mirror that stretches out into infinity. Voila!”
“Don’t voila just yet. Okay, that only shatters the theories about it being an alien artifact. It still doesn’t explain what you see in there.
Polo frowned deeply. “Wait, what do you mean? What is it that you see?”
“What do you see?” Won’t Do deflected out of contrarian habit.
Polo turned white. “Wait, wait a moment.” He waggled a finger at the Avatar. “You’ve never brought a panhuman to look at it before, haven’t you?”
Won’t Do gulped. He didn’t need to, but the autonomic functions of his avatar made that reaction on their own. “That was… an omission, yes. We should have, I agree.”
“Ha!” Polo exclaimed, running his fingers through his thinning hair. He had refused the treatments, he liked looking tired and ragged, he said it worked wonders for his explorer’s allure. “I knew it. You Minds, with your drones and your capabilities. You didn’t even bring a living soul down here to look in the Mirror? Not once?”
Won’t Do did not feel patient at the moment. “Polo, please, just tell me what you see in there.”
Polo perked up. “No. You’ll tell me first.”
Won’t Do sighed. The Observer was a stubborn man, and if they played the blinking game he would have died of old age before losing. “Fine.”
Won’t Do stepped close to the mirror and looked inside. He raised a hand, “I see… Well, the mirror reflects, extending into infinity, as if there was another mirror behind me. But there isn’t. There’s a tilt in each iteration.”
Polo came up next to Won’t Do and put his hand on his shoulder, looking alongside him. “Yes, yes. But what do you see in there?”
Won’t Do took a few nanoseconds to think, breathing in deeply for effect. “Well. I see… There might be something off into the distance.”
“Squint harder,” Polo said, pushing the avatar’s neck forward.
Won’t Do wanted to tell him what to squint, the damn fleshy Observer, but he complied. “I see… Oh.” Won’t Do perked back, shocked.
Polo grinned. “You see it now, don’t you? You see that the universe is much bigger than us. That we cannot explain everything. That’s why I like to explore. You see it, my friend?”
“I do indeed, good friend,” Won’t Do said softly.
Across the mirror, from somewhere off from infinity, there was his own reflection, his own avatar, waving back at him. He was older. He was alone, Polo wasn’t there.
And in that moment the Mind knew, that it was what he would do in the future. A visit back here, to honour Polo’s death, for the day a simple panhuman opened his eyes to the universe.