Ava feels ill. And half awake. And not quite there. Like when you wake up to find yourself clammy, unbalanced, and on limited time to make it to the bathroom before you quite possibly throw up.
Oh, that’s probably what’s happening, isn’t it?
First problem: this isn’t her bed. Wait.
Correction: this isn’t a bed. Air is being circulated over her face, and on que, sound seemingly blooms into existence: the quiet drone of her suit’s systems. This is her suit.
Ava opens her eyes. And then blinks a few times, to double check that she has indeed just opened her eyes. It’s pitch black.
A distinct sense of detachment is inspiring the thought that this may actually be a dream, but a completely inexplicable taste on her tongue is currently dispelling the notion. Taste really isn’t a common sense for her dreams, and this one is reminiscent of when she inhaled fumes from a science experiment as a kid, and it smelt so violently, singularly chemical that it could be described in no other way. She had coughed and gasped a considerable lot, following.
Ava begins running down a mental checklist. You’re in your suit, you can’t see: open the face shield. She palms the front of her helmet to find it in place, and pulls the latch at the bottom. The face shield springs open, facing her with sight through her visor instead of a black screen.
Oh. Stars. Literal ones, not the swear. Or maybe both, since they’re currently spinning around her as fast streaks of light. She sets to work on reeling back memory of why they’re doing so.
Okay, said memory is now decidedly back. Especially of the Blackthorn’s Promise preparing to fire its warp drive, which apparently hadn’t quite atomized her when it did; and she’s presently tumbling through space due to that.
Ava had ought to be having an intense emotional event right about now, it occurs to her, but such thoughts and feelings are oddly absent. Apart from the very pressing thought that could be summarized as ‘checklist’. Right.
You have no overlay: turn it on. Ava brings up her left arm, looking to the screen and several buttons in-built. She holds down one such button until ‘BOOTING…’ is holographically projected top and centre of her visor, and the screen blinks on, displaying oxygen, RCS fuel, power, and coolant. She’s stocked up on everything, so it seems death isn’t quite imminent. Her visor’s overlay now switches back into ‘CAUTION’.
Start the distress signal. She presses another button on her arm, a symbol lighting up on her display to mark that she’s transmitting.
Find your bearings: stop spinning. Again, another button. The automated voice of her suit pipes to life in response. “RCS Errors: Gyroscope Saturation, Star-Tracking Failure, Data-Link Failure.” No matter. She holds down the button, and the suit’s thrusters burst to life, slowing her spin.. and cutting out again. She’s still spinning, if slower, and still can’t see any nearby ships for it. Alright, next on the checklist:
Call for help. Reaching to her helmet, she switches her radio to its emergency channel. She’s set to start speaking.
..The words don’t come. It feels like she hasn’t spoken words in weeks. It feels like she isn’t even present to speak them, in spite of the fact that she knows better.
Enough of that. Make the words, Ava. A word does come now, even if it feels awkward to make, and hearing her own voice proves odd. “Help?”
More. “Help. I’m on EVA. I’m untethered. I can’t see other ships, I’m spinning,” she forces out. They sound.. dull. Ava rarely ever talks aloud to herself, but this is a similar sensation of words due no answer. Whatever weapons the affini had used, they had detonated, so clearly nobody is left but her. Maybe they have some new form of radiation weapon. The specifics of it don’t really matter, currently.
Okay, next on the checklist:
There’s nothing left on the checklist.
A fizz is starting up her right leg. And setting into her arms. And it covers her like pins and needles turned static.
And she’s still spinning, and her every action feels methodically forced, and she feels ill, and numb, and blurry and distant and there’s still that horrid fucking taste piercing right through all of it-
Ava stops. Clears her thoughts, entirely. A wave of clear functionality blooms back into her, well-defined and uniform. She can keep an eye on it. Keep singularly focused. How distant she feels, and her body’s erroneous reports of illness, are wholly redundant right now.
Back to it, then.
For what this situation is worth, Ava has trained for it. Exercises and drills performed over and over, to hard-code into her brain the basic motions for if her tether is cut; hypoxia, concussion, and bodily trauma be damned. Said motions are by all means simple, even. And she’s done them. She should be being rescued now.
She presently isn’t being. Ah, because there’s nobody to do the rescuing, right. Her training certainly does assume tens of people running around to coordinate her recovery.
The Blackthorn’s Promise has thrown its crew.. not here. Everyone else is dead.
Making Ava the only living thing in, what? Hundreds, thousands of kilometres?
Millions of kilometres. A humanly incomprehensible distance- no, volume. Of nothing, and her.
It’s hard to think, now, much less see. It feels like the static has entirely washed her body elsewhere. One particular line of thought is persisting, however.
Ava is small, though saying that seems laughably off the mark. It takes effort for the word ‘infinitesimal’ to come to her, which sounds in the direction of being more apt.
It’s the scale of it. She didn’t grasp it before, and knows she still doesn’t – cannot – now, but.. space is still absurd. She must be comprehending less than a hundred thousandth of a fraction now of the full size of it all, a mere glimpse, and yet this new perspective feels to be a thousand times larger in scope than what she had known previous. Planets are less than dust by comparison, and she in turn to them. It’s absurd, the amount of physical space that she’s in.
She is infinitely less than small.
She’s nothing. She is completely nothing. No word or sentence or book could describe how comparatively lacking in scale she is to it all, her quantity obviously rounding down to nothing. The realization feels so visceral, so-
“Can you hear me?” bursts from her helmet’s speakers with concurrent static. Ava’s line of thought is entirely halted.
Her helmet. Her helmet is attached to her suit, which she’s currently in. She’s in her suit. She is in her suit.
Ava winces at the sound; not for literal loudness, but for lack of the silence that had seemed to overpower her heavy breathing and the steady thrum of her suit’s systems. Though feeling plenty equivalent.
“Can you hear me? Please respond,” the voice repeats. Ava is pressed to speak back, not because salvation has arrived, but because the subconscious need to get this person and adjoining static to stop blaring into her ears during her time of psychological strife has beat conscious thought to the punch.
“Yes!?” Ava snaps into the radio, before immediately cringing at the fact that she just actually snapped at someone. Ah, she’s talking to someone.
“Good! We have your signal; there’s a vessel inbound to recover you.” She’s talking to someone! No, she’s being rescued, even! “Can- can you tell me your name?”
“Thank you,” Ava rapidly returns. “Stars thank you.” There isn’t much else to say.
With a pause, the voice carries on. “Tell me, are you injured?” Right, answer their questions!
“N- Ah, I was knocked out so a um, concussion?” Though Ava is more so reeling from being dragged from whatever.. crisis, that just was. She seems to have gained some momentum in making words, at least.
“And any other injuries?”
“I don’t think so, no. A-and I’m good on oxygen and all.” And at the thought that this person might soon stop speaking to her, it rapidly occurs that she could collapse back into nothing as a result. “-And keep talking to me please?” she quickly amends.
“O-of course,” they stutter in fast reply. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, I’m staying right with you until you’ve been picked up, petal.”
“Thank you,” Ava replies with full sincerity.
“I’m Em- I'm Emmy. And you?” she asks.
“I’m Ava.” She lets out a chuckle, as further feelings of relief catch up. “Hi, Emmy.”
There’s another short pause, for which Emmy’s transmission shows as muted on the overlay. “Which um, ship are you from, Ava?”
“Blackthorn’s Promise. The fuel tanker.”
“Oh.. you were on EVA when the missiles arrived?” Ava's sure she hears some commotion pick up in the background, there.
“Yeah.” Speaking of. “..How’re you lot doing? I think I saw quite a lot make it through.”
“They were EMPs, so it was just electronics damage.” Good. Everyone’s alive. That’s good news. Emmy shows as muted again for another moment, before she continues. “Ava, we’re here already! Can you see us?”
Oh Emmy, please don’t remind Ava that she’s spinning. Because she is. And now that she’s been snapped out of her prior headspace, she’s starting to find the spinning disconcerting. At least the taste is gone.
Ava turns her head to the side and- oh, that really upsets her vestibular system. Nothing of note that way, but for a new pattern of spinning stars. She turns back in the opposite direction, this time trying to school the mild headache and much-less-than-mild falling, tumbling sensation as she does so.
It looks like there’s nothing, at first glance; until there decidedly isn’t. There’s a definite silhouette, presenting a straight line of star-less space, about ten times long as it is wide. There’s a ship there, pitch-black as space.
Ava’s fascination with warships has supplied the relevant knowledge for this colour. Which is that she’s being picked up by a stealth ship. Her subconscious would no-doubt be listing off a multi-paragraph monologue about active helium cooling, shuttered super-expansion nozzles, and blending into the microwave background with sub -260°C surfaces, if she had the mind for it right now.
“..I’m really getting the full tour today, aren’t I?” states Ava, instead. She’s tired, too much so to marvel – extensively, at least – at the pinnacle of Terran engineering that had apparently been escorting the fleet. At least this roughly marks the end of it; she’ll soon be able to curl up into a ball without fear of death through inaction, hopefully.
“Ah, I suppose you are, yes.” Emmy replies. “Sorry about that. Really.”
“..Hardly your fault, Emmy. So, you were escorting us?-“ she’s cut off as her spinning is brought to an abrupt stop. With the sickening tumbling sensation that re-emerges stronger than ever, she clamps her eyes shut, to find herself shaking.
Ava isn’t going to swear aloud. She’s not. It’s ugly when she swears; whereas other people can make their emotional curses sound exhausted or annoyed, whenever she swears it singularly comes out sounding pissed off. Combined with her height and broad shoulders, she’s absolutely terrified of the prospect that she might one day slip up and have someone flinch from her for it. While not applicable now, it’s somewhat ingrained.
She takes a second. “I’m really not doing well,” Ava opts for.
“A-Are you okay, Ava? We should’ve just caught you there; sorry if it was rough.”
She is not particularly okay. She’s finally coming back to her senses, yes, but also feels sick, from both the spinning and stress, and knows that the great wave of adrenaline that’s now withdrawing precedes yet more nausea. And she doesn’t want what kills her today to be choking to death on her own vomit, of all things.
“..I’m taking an antiemetic,” she decides on. There’s a compartment in-built on the suit’s thigh, holding three autoinjectors, one the antiemetic in question. Behind is a membrane for the needle to punch through.
Ava opens her eyes again. She’s been attached at the waist by a solid large-diameter tether, the culprit to the sudden halt of her angular momentum. There’s a large, open square hatch in the side of the ship, above which the tether originates.
Wait, no, this isn’t a tether. It’s moving, curling, to manoeuvre her towards the airlock.
Ava shuts down the thought that something is wrong immediately. It’s not a vine, Ava, it’s solid white and attached to the ship. After this lengthy ordeal, she really doesn’t need to be setting herself off, when in a few minutes she’s going to be aboard and safe. She isn’t expected to know the latest developments in bloody Terran manipulator arms.
“Still here, Ava! Um, are you sure you’re okay?” See? She has Emmy. She sincerely doubts the affini could fake Emmy, of all people, in some grand plot to capture specifically Ava. Nor would they even bother; they’d just let her tumble off to die in space as nothing, or grab her with no pretext of not being affini. It’s not like any amount of her knowing could hinder them.
Ava exhales a not-quite-laugh at how the curvy shape of a manipulator arm nearly sent her spiralling into some kind of paranoia. Atop her prior existential.. episode, and what in hindsight may have been something akin to dissociation, she’s starting to get the idea that she handles great stress rather poorly.
“Sorry, all good, Emmy. Just zoned out for a moment.” She reaches down, past the perfectly normal tether-come-manipulator-arm wrapped around her, and slides the toggle to open the suit’s medical compartment.
“Promise to say if you’re feeling drowsy, okay? You said you had a concussion?”
“Not drowsy, promise. Just.. emotionally, exhausted. Stressful day, some might call it.” A tug at the autoinjector loosens the small straps holding it down. Ava pulls it free, before pressing the end firmly to the membrane at the back of the compartment. “There was a bad taste after I woke up, but that’s gone now, and everything else can be put up to stress.”
“Good! Well not- you know,” Emmy fumbles. She’s kind of endearing. Ava’s feeling rather put out at how antithetical the war is to long-distance friendships.
“I know,” she affirms. Pressing the button atop the injector, its needle punches out with force to pierce the membrane and her mechanical pressure suit beneath. “Tch!”
“Ava!?” It’s.. actually becoming apparent that Emmy may have more nerves than Ava, right now. Then again, Ava isn’t much helping, is she?
“Just the antiemetic! Injected it. Hurt. Sorry for the scare.”
“Ah! Got it. Sorry, if I’m being a bit panicky.”
“No, the concern’s appreciated, honest. And thank you for picking me up, obviously.” Looking up, she sees the airlock soon approaching. Final stretch. She’s going to be inside, shortly, thankfully. Ava really needs to cuddle something soft; get out of this suit.
“Well o- Oh you’re already at the airlock, gosh this is going fast.” And so, Emmy gets no respite. Stars she deserves a hug. “I’ll um, need to be going soon. When you’re passed off to the team. Sorry.”
“No worries. We’ll talk when I’m all sorted out, yeah?”
Her stomach drops as the arm releases her into the airlock; she’s floating freely, with space still behind her, before the hatch promptly slides shut.
She’s inside. Safe. She’s done it. She’s lived!
Ava tilts her head back (if immediately apprehended by the helmet’s limit to her range of motion) and lets out a joyful, breathy chuckle. There’s definitely a proper grin plastered on her face, too; she can feel it. Now, to get this damnable helmet off.
“Ava, I’ll have to go now.” Emmy picks up again. “Stay strong for me just a short moment longer, okay? Everything will be fine, I promise.” A brief pause. “..Trust me?”
“I trust you.” She does. Emmy worrying over Ava, now that they have to stop talking for a moment, definitely sounds like her. She really deserves a hug.
The icon for Emmy’s transmission blinks out from the overlay, feeling a little abrupt. No matter: Ava takes a deep breath. Everything’s fine. She’s thoroughly ignoring the random spike of paranoid unease in her chest, and not not thinking about how big this airlock needlessly is, and how small this airlock really is.
It is a big airlock. She could fit head-to-toe twice over and only just bridge between the walls. And it’s still trivial, isn’t it, her included withi- Ava’s going to focus on the flashing yellow light bathing the room, instead. Ignore the paradoxical crushing, pulling feeling that turns her perception abstract.
The light promptly stops flashing, pressurization of the room presumably complete. She didn’t just nearly have a thing again in the mere ten or so seconds she’s been alone. She can’t be that badly affected. She isn’t. Not the type, whatever that is.
With a hiss, the airlock’s interior hatch slides open. And with the same kind of immediate, retroactive realization as when you notice you’ve been searching for something while holding it, she finds what’s on the other side blatantly obvious, if not anticipated.
Of course they’re affini. This is an unannounced stealth ship that showed up immediately following a missile strike; likely being the one to have loosed the missiles in the first place. And Emmy.. must’ve been a fabrication. Not only had she been deceived, Emmy wasn’t even real. The latter seems to hit considerably harder. She isn’t going to think further about it.
Ava feels- Ava feels bad. Things aren’t better at all. There’s a new pressure behind her eyes and she can hear her own blood rushing and there’s an emotional tearing mincing feeling roaring in her chest. Today is singularly fucking horrid.
No, she takes a second. Clears her thoughts again. Emergency still occurring, now isn’t the time for dwelling on emotions and discomfort. What matters are the motions she commits, unburdened, as to keep alive. She finishes forcing the noise back down into uniformity. She can – has to – be uncompromisingly functional.
Back to it, then. Back to it.
She has seen affini before, in their propaganda broadcasts. Humanoid, sentient plants, typically an amalgamation of vines, leaves, flowers, and bark. They’re tall, about twice so as the average human. They can vary greatly in appearance, but are usually capable of administering drugs via needles recessed inside their flowers.
Visceral unease blooms back into her, uninvited.
Ava knows enough of the general picture. Her eyes turn to the floor rather than take in the detail of the two affini before her, who’d been patiently waiting for her behind the hatch. All she had glanced was that they too are, predictably, very tall. With flowers.
It’s rapidly forming into distress. She closes her eyes, concentrating on putting a lid on it. She’s not shaking, don’t be absurd.
“Oh Ava, it’s okay, it’s okay,” one of the affini say, in an attempted comforting tone. They’re using her name. That she gave to Emmy. She feels her shoulders hunch inwards with a new twist to her chest. “It’s all going to be okay. You’re safe, I swear.” They have a different intonation from Emmy, at very least.
Ava finishes wrestling the distress back down. Opens her eyes again, to find that the one talking has moved into the airlock with her, the other hanging back.
They keep speaking, and Ava zones it out. What happens next will happen regardless, and she really can’t stand to hear them keep emphasizing how mistaken she was about things. She knows that she’s a prisoner of war; or maybe they’ll force her to answer their questions here and now, before throwing her right back out the airlock. She’ll take it as it comes. She just needs to be present, for when it does.
She opts for focusing on their flowers – studiously avoiding looking up to their face, still – as they progress onto something regarding treaties. The flowers all seem to be unique; not just in colour, but what Ava would otherwise guess to be species. This affini has an abundance of them, forming great rows that spiral and curve around their body. From what she had glanced, the other’s were much fewer and less patterned.
Her attention moves onto the Affini’s other features. How their leaves and segments of bark join and layer to define their figure, some splaying outwards like decorative frills. Showing from beneath, she can see tightly packed vines, in some places akin to muscles, building the main body. She idly wonders if affini have conventional organs, within-
“Ava, can you answer a couple of questions for me?” the Affini interrupts. It seems they’ve caught on that she wasn’t listening.
Ava looks up in reflex, before she can catch herself. Her mind can’t quite parse the shapes of leaf, vine, and bark into a face before she rips her gaze back down.
“It’s alright if you’d like to just nod or shake your head, okay?” they carry on, still in the same gentle and melodic tone of voice as before. Ava forces a small nod. She can’t see herself managing words in this scenario. “Lovely.”
“You are Ava Victoria Hume, she/her, prior Terran Navy PIN 81805-64262, yes?” The affini must have everyone’s old records. She makes a nod. If this is the beginnings of an interrogation, there’s not anything to hold out for.
“Are you still on the same medication and doses as when your Terran Navy record was last updated?” Another nod.
“Have you received any new diagnoses since that record was last updated?” A shake of the head.
“Would you kindly take your helmet off for me, Ava?”
Rhetorical question. Her hands thoughtlessly reach up to her collar, pulling the relevant latches and toggles. “Perfect.” Ava tugs the helmet free, before clutching it to her chest. She’s exposed, now. Her eyes turn to the few small fragments of metal embedded in the side of it.
“Now, we’ll need you to sleep for a bit, while we get you sorted, alright?” they continue. “We’ll do a scan to make sure that bump to the head is nothing to worry about, too. You just need to rest for now, Ava.” Being sedated is suboptimal. That doesn’t matter, because it’s going to happen regardless. She’ll have to see if there are any options when she wakes up again.
A small nod. Not like acting out will yield anything. “You’re doing so well, Ava.” They flick their wrist, and it.. reforms, vines that made the body of a hand receding, and a flurry of petals flowing out from within their arm, spiralling into a tubular flower which opens to around the size of her palm. Well, that’s new to her.
She.. sincerely hopes that it doesn’t house a respectively large needle.
“I promise you’ll wake up all safe and comfy. Everything can be explained when you’re a bit more present.” Their hand(?) comes up to her face and- oh, it’s a mask. A corolla of soft petals is gently fit over her mouth and nose.
“Deep breaths, Ava.” Having subconsciously stopped breathing, she forces her lungs back into operation, with an uneven start. “There you go.” It smells sweet. More breaths.
Ava finds her muscles untensing, accompanied by solid ache from them in turn. A wave of genuine calmness drifts over her, as opposed to her prior enforced single-minded focus. Cautiously letting her strict mental grasp on her emotions weaken, she finds that they don’t urgently and viscerally resurge.
She thinks to glance up at the affini, but finds that she’s thoroughly too tired for that. It’s a comfortable, gentle tiredness. This feels pleasant.
The momentum for any further thoughts rapidly dwindles to none. Ava soon finds herself asleep.