I stood there dumbfounded. An entire day could have passed and I wouldn’t have known the difference. Eventually, I pieced enough of myself together to check the interface. Various warnings were fighting each other for my attention, I ignored them; various recommended actions were fighting for my attention, and I ignored those too. I checked the time. Despite my delirious state, I had been standing motionless for no more than a couple of minutes.
The left side of my body was alight with pain, my heart pulsed rapidly and my head felt like I had been beaten for 3 days straight. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I didn’t care. I looked back at the hole in the ship hoping to see… Something. But neither the alien nor my Lucia was in sight.
The feeds in my interface were silenced and quickly followed by a new one that took the full breadth of my display. I moved my eyes to try and avoid it, but wherever I looked, the feed would follow. I closed my eyes hoping to take solace in my mind, and sure enough, the feed was implanted in my mind as well. I couldn’t ignore it; it wouldn’t let me.
[Doctor. It’s not safe here. We need to move. Can you move or should I do it for you?]
I remained motionless, focused on my breathing and allowed myself to pass in and out of consciousness.
[Can you move or should I do it for you?]
I don’t have the energy. Do whatever you want, I don’t care.
[Significant damage detected to host; lacerations, 2nd degree burns, internal haemorrhaging]
[Blood loss at 20% and increasing. Levels reaching deadly. Please treat immediately]
I made no effort to do so.
[Host response not detected. Ratio to Affini Network, permission to administer treatment?]
[Deep breath Doctor]
There was a sharp pain and then numbness. The smell of burnt flesh flared in my nostrils and I looked to find part of my arm had been welded to the suit encasing me. I attempted to let out a yell, but no sound left my parched throat. Instead, I settled for a few tears that evaporated as they ran down my face.
[Immediate threat addressed. Likelihood of survival at 30%. Odds of survival below acceptable levels. Seeking medical attention]
And with that, we were moving.
Between passing in and out of consciousness, I was aware we had missed a couple of close encounters, as I was forcefully escorted to the medical bay. We entered an empty wing and the next thing I knew several needles were piercing my skin before my mind raced as over 20 different medications flooded into my system. On a different day, I probably could have named them all without fault.
The pain in my body began to disappear and my focus was wretched out of oblivion. In a way, if you ignored my wounds, I felt completely normal. Oh, the wonders of Terran medication.
[Hey Petal! Glad to see you’re still with me!]
[After the Incident… Your body had received significant damage. I’ve done what I can but you need extensive care]
How did we get here undetected? Why are you calling me Petal? How am I even still awake?
[This unit has connected to the Affini network. I can predict the location of all personnel with an accuracy of 99.4%]
[I’m not entirely sure. I’m unable to call you anything else]
[Honestly. I have no idea. I suspect it might have something to do with the mind-melding, but I can’t be certain]
Ratio. Slow down. That’s too much to process.
[Would you like me to repeat?]
No. I got it. But slow next time ok.
Can you return manual control?
[Certainly. One moment petal]
Instantly my body crashed against the floor, yielding pained grunts. It turns out I wasn’t doing nearly as well as I felt.
[Manual control set at 25%. Assisted control re-engaged]
My body rose slowly and I took on the appearance of a semi-functional being. Moving was painful, but not impossible. It wouldn’t do. I couldn’t move like this, there was no way for me to operate both the weapons system and the movement controls.
Ratio. I’m allowing you further access to my mind. Can you predict the movements I am going to take and make them?
[Thought pattern synchronised]
[I can now]
Excellent. How are you holding up?
[It has been 1 hour, 39 minutes and 17 seconds since you activated this unit]
[Affini control at 23% and climbing]
[All things considered; I think I’m holding out pretty well. Giggle]
I attempted to access the logs on my interface.
[Sorry Petal. I can’t let you view those]
Bring up known locations of Affini
[Sorry Petal. I can’t let you view that]
What can you let me view!
[You know it’s not easy holding off the entire Affini network. Pout]
I know Ratio. I’m sorry-
[It’s ok Petal]
[I can’t provide you with the information directly, but I can access it]
[If you want to avoid the Affini then let me know. If you want to get somewhere, just tell me where]
Can you get me to the ship’s central reactor?
[To do what?]
Do you have any idea how hard it’s to hide something from your mind? If you did, you’d be in awe of the feat I had just accomplished.
[I don’t know if that’s a good idea]
Can you get me there or not?
Do it. Avoid all lifeforms Affini, Human or otherwise. And make it fast
The corridors sped past in a seamless transition. A left turn here, a right turn followed by another. Navigation through desolate rooms, a few backtracks and a lot of close calls. We were nearing the last turn.
[Petal. Two sentries are guarding that room. We’ll need a distraction]
We don’t need a distraction; I still have 3 GPODS at our disposal
[And risk losing your other arm?]
You know throwing is a thing, right?
[And you’d like me to do that?]
I sure as fuck can’t
[Sigh. As you wish]
Now you may think the next thing I did to be rather foolish, but you have to consider that the only thing keeping me awake was the drugs coursing through my veins. Suffice it to say, I was not the Terran genius that my name was associated with. I emerged from the junction.
There was a little less than 100m between us. One of the aliens abandoned all semblance of a humanoid form, instead, forming a web that covered the only entrance into the reactor room. The other was positioned against the wall ready to pounce. Both aliens wore hostile snarls, their teeth on full display and their eyes were a deep crimson.
“Now before you get any ideas, do you know what this is?” I taunted, simultaneously revealing the GPOD in my suit’s hand. The closer alien hesitated and the vines across their back raised in a motion that I presume indicated fear. Good, leverage. “I’m getting inside that room, one way or another.”
“I’m afraid little Terran, we can’t let you do that.” The words were spat with venom, and yet, there was a tint of sadness behind them; I couldn’t imagine why.
“Well, that’s mighty unfortunate. You see, I’m getting in. I’d rather not waste these on the likes of you, but I won’t hesitate. Last chance. Move. Now.”
“Sorry little one, this may hurt, but it’s for your own good.”
The alien lunged at me; I was ready. My right arm came up and propulsion of heat was expelled to meet them. The alien let out a screech and darted backwards, flailing as if on impulse. I took this moment to arm the GPOD with a timer of a single second, let out a silent prayer and threw it in their direction. There wasn’t enough time to respond and within a flash, both were being pulled towards a new centre of gravity. Unfortunately, either I or Ratio had miscalculated the trajectory, with the GPOD floating just outside lethal range. The edges of their vines were pulled in but their central mass was largely unaffected. Still, their cries of pain gave me a twisted satisfaction.
In fairness, the death of the two Affini In front of me was not my intention, though I wouldn’t have felt guilty if that was achieved. The core detonated outwards and once again the creatures were taken by surprise. I disengaged the magnetised clamps and took this moment to activate all thrusters, surging me forward through the blast. My gamble had paid off and I found myself inside the central reactor control room.
I coughed up blood. Looking down, two large pieces of debris were wedged deep into my chest and the vision in my right eye was now covered in a red opaque pool. Not important. I let another GPOD float behind me and continued, I had bought myself a couple more seconds, that’s all I needed.
I had previously hacked the security leading into this reactor during a particularly boring date with insomnia. As if archived in my mind I inputted the necessary clearance code automatically and entered the central container, locking the safety door behind me before breaking the controls.
There it was, the ship’s central reactor. It was dormant and the protective shielding was raised. I couldn’t achieve my objective in its current state, but thankfully I still had some of my wits about me. I moved toward one of the nearby terminals and started to enter my credentials.
[This has gone on long enough Petal]
My arm froze, the keys still within reach but unable to navigate to the ones I needed.
Ratio, what are you doing?
[You have proven that you are no longer in a state to take care of yourself]
[Affini protocol dictates that I restrain you until you are retrieved and put into care]
Ratio. Don’t do this. I’m so close.
[I’m sorry Petal. I didn’t want to, but you’ve given me no other choice]
I’m sorry too.
Execute kill code 329
[Command Code Accepted]
My body crashed into the ground forcing the shrapnel in my chest to embed deeper. I breathed in, choked on more blood and coughed it back up.
My body was irresponsive. I tried to exit the suit, but both my arm and the now welded protection barrier stopped me. I was quite literally a prisoner to my design.
I gave it one last attempt. I put everything I had into standing and of course, failed. However, I did manage to get onto my knees which put my arm in range to finish typing on the nearby keyboard. I gave a silent thanks that the Hydronics in the suit continued to operate despite the suit’s soul having been removed, and got to work.
There was a knock on the reinforced glass which I appropriately ignored. I just hoped they didn’t get in before I was finished.
I removed the protective shielding and booted the reactor back to life. I knelt there, face to face with a reactor that was very much radiating every cell in my body. I reached for the last GPOD and prepared to get my revenge.
“She’s alive!” yelled a familiar voice from behind me.
I turned my head as far as I could. It was enough. I laid one eye on a familiar Affini, the same one who had been jetted into space so long ago.
I tried to speak but my efforts were rewarded with another cough of blood.
“Don’t do this. If you detonate that reactor, she’ll be caught in the blast radius. Is that really what you want?”
For a moment my mind shut down and all the resistance I was holding fled. My interface glitched and restored itself to a vibrant green.
[Hi Petal, I’m assuming control]
And that was the end. I had lost. I had given it everything I had and more. If this was fiction, I would have won and been recorded as a tragic hero. But this was reality and as is common, reality was feeling cruel.
I watched as my last GPOD rolled away from me dormant. I watched as my hand deactivated the central reactor and re-engaged the protective shielding. I watched as the safety door was finally pried open and I watched as the most beautiful creature in the universe stood before me, a mixture of sadness, regret, pity and anger plastered upon her face.
With some difficulty the protective barrier holding me prisoner was removed without causing more damage to my body.
And for the last time today, I watched as the Affini’s face morphed into horror as she laid eyes upon my physical form.
“Petal, I’m going to save you. Stay with me, I promise everything is going to be ok.”
I embraced the darkness I had been holding at bay, for far, far too long.