Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Fantastic short stories, and the occasional unrelated digression.

This is the sixth installment of my SOS story. Unless you've read the previous parts, I suggest you start at part 1.

While Val organizes a rescue operation from aboard the Tin Locust, Sam has returned inside the wreck of the Scintillating to help Flora — with mixed results so far.

I ran back into the airlock and pulled the manual lever on the corridor-facing door — now it went smoothly, that jerk — to keep the door open. Then I punched the emergency vent mushroom button. I had just enough time to jump back into the room, grab Flora, and hold on to the closest handrail I could find before the cyclone came down on us.

I clung on as we got tossed around for about twenty seconds and then the inside door closed to cut the air loss. As the room pressure rose back to normal, I ran to check the gauge on the door. Zero atmo on the other side. Door control flashing red. The airlock was closed for good, that is, until someone on the outside turned the pressure back on for the whole exterior hallway.

And that wasn’t going to happen any time soon as there was no one on the other side — in fact, there probably wasn’t any other side any more. Chances were our friendly Proteus was very happy with dropping the whole exterior simulation in order to save on its precious computing power.

I sent a prayer to all the gods that I knew — probably about time, all things considered — and turned to check on Flora.

It had worked! She wasn’t bleeding anymore!

Val had said something about the shock that had caused the bleeding, but since it was the damn door that had caused the shock, I’d figured that by sealing it shut for good, I’d remove the conflict. No more conflict, no more trauma, no more hemorrhage…

Okay, I’d basically hoped it would work because we were in a simulation, and Proteus would not distinguish different sorts of causes and effects. Guess there are some advantages to being digital — even if I didn’t want to remain in this state for longer than necessary.

Flora's eyes opened.

How do you go about smiling, again? Right.

“Hey Flora. It’s Sam. Remember me?”

“Yes… How come you're here?”

“Didn’t I say I’d find you eventually?”

“What happened? I think I got hit by something…”

“Yeah, well, this f...lying comp—control, airlock control, wasn’t responding so I had to force my way in and I didn’t know you were right behind the door, so… Well, I hope you don’t mind a little company because I did damage the control, and I think you and I are going to be stuck in here for some time.”

Some time during which I would have to hold my tongue with both hands to make sure I didn’t let on our actual situation. We were both digital projections of our minds. Flora had to remain ignorant for a while. I had to remain aware for the both of us.

All I was hoping for, now, was that in some of the virtual rations Proteus had conjured up for us, I’d find some aspirin.

And that it would have any sort of effect on my growing headache.

“Right. Mind if I use your coms console to call my shipmate?”


“This is Valerie, acting pilot of the Tin Locust, hailing the wreck of the Scintillating, over.”

“This is Samuel Foster, acting commander of the wreck of the Scintillating. How’s it flying, Val? I don’t like it much that I’m leaving you alone at the helm.”

“Somebody needs to go get help. Plus, despite the damage, at least on the Scintillating you’ve got access to better supplies than you'd have on the Locust. How’s Flora?”

“I guess ‘terrific’ would be a bit of a stretch, but she’s alright. She’s got a bump, but that’s all.”

“Glad to hear it. I’m going to cut communications now. Stay safe. Over and out.”

I felt horribly uneasy. It was one of the weirdest feelings I’d ever had. Like all I’d hear for the rest of my life would be my own voice spouting nonsense I’d never even actually said.

It took me a moment to realize Val was speaking to me.

“I’m sorry, Val, I was zoning out. Say that again?”

“I was just saying everything seems okay now. The Scintillating's safe on its new orbit, and your copy is now fully integrated into Flora’s environment. From her perspective, you’re in the same room she's in.”

I mulled over that thought as I was attempting to dislodge an identification tag from an angular statue that had once been one of the Scintillating’s engineers — you can’t have an FTL engine blow up in your face without getting a few scars.

“I still can’t believe that’s actually me in there. I mean, I’m here, in the engine room, and there’s no one here with me. Can’t wrap my head around it.”

“If it's any solace, that Sam doesn’t enjoy it any more than you do. He knows he’s a digital projection, and he knows his objective is to make sure another digital projection doesn’t lose her mind.”

“Well I sure hope he doesn’t go nuts himself, seeing as we’re supposed to reintegrate our minds after all this, like you said. I wouldn’t want to merge back a looney.”

Under my fingers, I felt something crack. “All right, here comes the ID tag. Log it? Lescryn, mechanic, second-class. Crystallization. That’s the last one.”

“Copy that, Sam. On your way back, unhook the fuel ducts, we’re at full charge for electrical and propulsion. And if you can, bring back some rations. We can stock up another dozen or so. Then we'll cast off right after the periastron.”

“Got you.”


I returned exhausted. I’d spent over fifteen hours cataloguing two hundred and seventeen bodies, and that didn't include those still floating about around the Scintillating.

The first thing I saw in the empty cabin inside the Locust was the dashboard, and on its screen, Val’s face. I stowed my pressurized suit in heavy silence. Val had nothing to say; I had a lot, but no idea where to even begin.

“So, er, Val…”

“Yes, Sam?”

“I wanted to… I just want to say I’m sorry. I think I said some hurtful stuff.”

“I won’t tell you I’ve let it go : I can’t forget anything. Let’s just say it’s behind us.”

I climbed back into the pilot’s chair.

“Um, Val, tell me...”


“If you can put a mind inside a computer…”

“A Shabasch computer.”

“Right, a Shabasch computer, and if you can also take that mind out to put it in a body… Could that be done for you?”

“Of course.”

“And, I mean, have you ever thought about it?”

Val looked at me a long time, half-serious, half-smiling.

“I sometimes do. We’re starting the run-up for the hypervelocity jump in one minute. You'd better buckle in, unless you intend to end up spread over the cabin walls.”



This is the fifth installment of my SOS story. Unless you've read the previous parts, I suggest you start at part 1.

As Val and Sam are unable to bring Flora, the only survivor of the Scintillating, to safety in the Locust, Sam is tasked with keeping her company aboard the wreck.

The problem with Val is, you can never win an argument. She never forgets even the smallest point, she never ignores a blunder, she always has the last word, and to make it worse, she’s always right.

And that’s why I was standing again in the corridor of the Scintillating, in front of that same damn airlock.

It was better than my first visit, mind. Now there was pressure in the hallway, and with full lighting I could see where I was stepping.

And at least this time, I didn’t have to worry about where to go.

I opened the first airlock. Got in. Closed the outer door. Turned to face the inner door. Pressed on the controls.

Nothing happened.

Right, that would have been too easy.

I flung open the casing over the emergency lock and pulled on the lever. Well, tried to, because the lever didn’t move even a fraction of an inch, and neither did the door.


No reply. The cherry on my Sunday… I lifted my arm to inspect my coms bracelet. But it wasn’t there.

Sorry, what?

You put on your suit, you check the seals, you test the gauges, you test the coms, it’s all reflexes! So how come when I left the Locust

And then it came back to me.

I hadn’t actually left the Locust. Not the usual way, anyway. I had gone to lie down in my own survival pod, closed my eyes… and found myself back on the Scintillating, in the corridor.

Well, my digital self, anyway. The other one, once the copy was done, was supposed to get back up and actually come on board to collect samples on Flora's corpse and resume counting the dead. Except that other one was also me.

This was what Val had in mind: send a digital copy of my personality to keep Flora company inside Proteus, aboard the Scintillating, and wait together for Val, well, us, to go and bring back help.

Except of course, I couldn't pop up inside Flora's room out of nowhere, not from Flora's viewpoint anyway. Val had managed to get me on the other side of the room's airlock, but I had to take it from there.

So there I was. Of course, Proteus simulated only what it knew, and it didn't know about the Locust's coms, relays or tools; and only what was needed, and who needs a helmet when there's air, right? There I stood, empty-handed. More useless than a tourist.

What was I supposed to do now with that blasted door?

Out of frustration, I nearly smashed the door controls with my fist. I held myself back, though, because on the control display something had caught my eye.

Usually, these things show a message such as OPEN or CLOSED or O2 19.3. But right then, it was displaying SAM.


“Uh… That you Val?”


“Why d'you talk through this thing?”


A few seconds went by.


Another few seconds.


It was bloody frustrating that the display could only show twenty-four characters at a time.



“Well, your Proteus is starting to get on my last nerve. It’s blocking the door and I don’t even have a pocket knife to negotiate entry.”


I waited. Stay zen. Stay very zen.


I chuckled.

“Hold on, I’m going to solve its f...lying problem.”


Too late. I turned 18 during the war. As one of the few who did not get sick aboard the shuttle to the orbital assignment center, I was unceremoniously shoved into pilot training. Since it was wartime, I was taught not only how to take off without exploding and how to land without crashing, but also how to open a door that needs a key. Kind of an automatism, in the end.

So, automatically, I backed up a step and soundly kicked with all my strength at lock height. The door flew open with a loud bang, and then stopped still with another bang. Then a softer noise. The kind a body does when it falls down.

Oh uh.

Maybe not the smartest plan.

I walked inside, and saw a human form lying on the ground on her side. I turned her onto her back. She had long black hair, and was bleeding from her ears, nose, and mouth. Her eyes were closed, and around her neck was a chain with a gold tag that read: Flora Kesler.

Ah, shit.

“Val, I fucked up. I kicked the door open but I guess the girl was just on the other side and she got hit in the head! Can you ask Proteus to rollback and start over?”

No response. Then I remembered that I had to go read the display screen. I doubled back.


“What am I supposed to heal her with?


Easier said than done. How? Flora was bleeding, and I had nothing on me to stop the flow, let alone treat the trauma. And all this because of a divergence of opinion on whether a door is closed or open!

Wait. There was a possibility. I could treat the cause.

No. It was stupid. I would probably just make things worse.

Oh, whatever, wasn’t like I had any better option.

Continue to part six


This is the fourth installment of my SOS story, the first of which can be read here

While trying to locate the single survivor to the wreckage of the Scintillating, Sam Foster, from the Tin Locust, encounters fifteen corpses and a... ghost?

I spun some yarn about my O-two reserves to Flora — or to whoever or whatever was talking to me on band eighty — and I almost raced back to the Locust.

Once back inside and safe, I debriefed with Val.

“There’s no doubt — the ID badge is perfectly legible, not turned over or dirty. It shines like it's just been polished. KESLER, Flora. And it’s hard to get any deader than she is, Val. Blue veins, blue lips, blue fingers, glassy eyes, putrefaction, the whole book. Who the hell was I talking to on band eighty?”

“Apparently you were chatting with Proteus, the Scintillating’s onboard computer. Or more precisely, to a process it is running.”

“What? Are you blowing a fuse too?”

“Calm down. I’ve finished downloading the ship’s log while you were on your way back, and everything’s in there. I told you earlier that the Scintillating runs on a Shabasch computer just like the Locust, right? Well, after the accident, that computer ran an emergency backup on a survival pod.”

“Come again?”

“The ship's power started failing while passengers were in their pods, undergoing stasis, so most didn’t even make it. Consequently, their pods shut down, leaving just enough power to get Flora into stasis, but she was dying fast from severe internal hemorrhage. The pod signaled Proteus about it. As Proteus was already running a simulation of theScintillating anyway for staff training purposes, it chose to take a copy of Flora's mind and placed it in a simulated survival room. It's been running her mind in real time, much like its own.”

“Bleep me. Didn’t even know a computer could do that.”

“Shabasch ones can, because unlike terrestrial machines, their structure is similar to that of a human brain.”

“Shit. Well, I guess now I’ve got to get back over there and unplug the whole thing.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Well as long as the wreck is transmitting that signal, other pilots are going to pick up on it eventually and come check out this spot for nothing, since there are no survivors. So I’ve got to go pull the plug on the onboard computer.”

“What? Don't you dare do that! DON’T YOU DARE, YOU HEAR ME?”

That stopped me in my tracks. Val, angry?

“Come on, Val, it’s just a machine that screwed up.”

“This is not a machine! That is a human being! Do you think that’s a machine? All right then, get back on band eighty and tell her that, and on top of it, tell her that you’re going to unplug her. What are you waiting for?”

“Val, what’s up with you? It’s not a human, it’s a copy, you just said it yourself! It’s a copy of a mind stored in a computer!”

“And what do you think I am? Follow through with your actions! Underneath this dashboard, there is a lever. The manual says that pulling it deactivates the high-level functions of the onboard computer. I say if you pull that lever, you kill me. Do you get that? So, since you’re in the mood to unplug computers, go ahead, look me in the eyes and murder your onboard computer!

So shouted Val, with her blond bob and her grey eyes throwing daggers at me from inside her display screen.

I was glued to the spot, eyes wide open and mouth agape, with no idea what to say. No idea what to think, either.

“Is that your so-called humanity? If you can show no remorse for deleting the mind of a woman who is human like you, then what should I possibly hope from you? The day you decide you’re done with the sound of my voice, will you unplug me without hesitation? Is that what I have to look forward to? That my last sight will be your remorseless hand pulling a circuit breaker?”

It was dawning on me that since we’d started flying together, I’d completely forgotten that Val was not made of flesh. Despite only seeing her on the ship’s screens and only hearing her through its speakers, and despite eating all my meals alone, in my own mind I’d always imagined her somewhere else in the Locust, at her own dashboard. We’d been friends for a long time. I mean, I'd considered her my friend—ah, shit. What a mess all of a sudden.

“B—but, Val, what else can we do? We can’t bring her aboard, can we?”

“No, we can't. My memory banks are barely sufficient for my own personality.”

“... I meant bring her physically on board. I didn’t even know you could transfer minds like that from computer to computer.”

“With Shabasch computers, you can. But the Locust isn’t the Scintillating. I have less than a tenth of Proteus’ computing capacity.”

“Er, OK. So... what can we do?”

“We can go back to your plan of thrusting the wreck into a slingshot orbit around Hawkins. This would buy enough time for a reconstruction team to fly over here. If you go back stat and take tissue samples on her corpse, they'll be able to grow a body from her own DNA, and transfer her mind back into it, which should reduce rejection risks. It'll take weeks, but the elliptic orbit decay should be longer.”

“But I can’t tell her I'll leave her there for weeks to go find reincarnation people. I don’t think she can handle it.”

“She’s in shock. If you leave her without assistance, she will break down. If you tell her what’s really going on, she will break down. In both cases, it will void any chances of transferring the mess of her mind anywhere.”

“So we can’t do squat.”

“Oh, there is something we can do, but I don’t think you’ll like it. You could stay there and keep her company while I would go get help.”

My ears flattened and every single hair on my body stood up. That isn’t as contradictory as it sounds.

Continue to part five


This is the third installment of my SOS story, the first of which can be read here (and the second there but who in their right mind would start reading a story in its middle?)

Aboard the spaceship Locust, Val and Sam have picked up a distress call. On site, Sam has gone looking for survivors inside the wreck of the Scintillating. He's just actually heard one.

I switched back to Val’s band. “Val, you there? We’ve got a survivor. She’s the one talking on band eighty. She’s completely tripping. I'm switching over for three minutes tops, to try and locate her.”


I switched back again. And again, the terrified voice.

“… here, if you don’t come and get me! Listen to me! Don’t leave! I don’t know—”

“This is Sam Foster, of the Tin Locust. Can you hear me?”

The voice stopped completely. For a time I thought I might have lost the signal, so I tried again:

“Can you hear me?”

“Y-yes! I hear you! Great gods, I hear you! Come get me! Get me out of here!”

“Getting you out of here is the plan, uh, what’s your name?”

“Flora. Flora Kesler.”

“Hi, Flora. I'm Sam. Do you know where you are? In your cabin?”

“No. They took us somewhere after the first explosion. The officers really wanted us out of there. And then there was a second explosion. I lost consciousness and when I came to, I was alone in this room...”

“In which direction did they take you? Towards the bow? “The what?”

“... towards the front of the ship?”

“I don’t know… they... they took us to the bridge! Near where the captain’s quarters were!”

The bow it was, then. I kept walking, placing my relays at each intersection, continuing my little chat with the chick. From her description, they had left her in a life support room, probably because they were out of suspension pods. The door out was locked. She’d found the survival rations, and the blankets, and she’d discovered the sanitaries, as they dare call that.

But when it came to me locating her, I was sh—ort on luck. I’d reached a junction at the end of the corridor: one door to the left, one to the right, one dead ahead, and a staircase. The girl didn’t remember which way they’d followed. Where she was, there wasn’t a single text or number on the walls or on the door to give us a hint. Total dark. I needed a map.

I told the chick that I needed to switch back shortly to Val for routine checks.

“Val, did you download the ship's blueprints, by any chance?”

“I haven't received them yet. Why?”

“I've zero lead to find the girl, and it's going to take a long time. Mind you, she said she's still got rations for two days, so there's no real hurry–”

“I'm afraid there is, Sam. With the Locust locked on the wreck's trajectory, I've been able to estimate that it's on course to cross Hawking' surface and in thirty hours, the wreck's overall inside temperature will have become unbearable for life.”


“Can we stray the wreck from its course?”

“We could try lighting up the remaining thruster and turning the fall into a slingshot around Hawkins. She might survive the lesser temperature rise, but she would literally run her water reserves dry too soon.”

“Ok, so the plan becomes: forget about ID-ing the dead, locate the girl and bring her aboard the Locust as soon as possible, then ferry her to the closest station. How long until we have to move the Locust away?”

“Twenty to twenty-five hours. Priority on finding the girl, but you can record identities for any bodies you find on your way, provided you don't need to search for too long. And don't tell her about the deadline.”


I resumed walking the corridor and switched back on eighty.

“Sam? Are you still there? I can’t hear you!”

“I’m here, Flora. Everything’s fine. Only hitch is, I can’t head straight toward you because I don’t have a map of the ship, and even if I had one, I still don’t know where you are.”

“Don’t leave me here!”

“I won’t. I’ll find you, it’s just going to take a bit of time.” The door ahead led into the rest of the corridor. The stairs led up to a maintenance shaft and the main corridor. Chances were that the doors on each side led to cabins or storage. On a hunch, I decided to open the door to the left.

It was another airlock, but this time, there was pressure on the other side. Good sign. I closed the exterior door and equalized.

“Val, I’m in the airlock of a pressurized area of the ship. I’m going to try to see if I can breathe it. Pressure... zero ninety-five, O-two twenty. Breathable. Let’s see what that gives.”

“Copy that.”

I put my hands over my helmet’s lock, took in a deep breath, and took off my helmet in one swift movement. No point hesitating.

To call the air breathable was overstating it. The undefinable smell that saturated the air could only mean one thing: death. When a spaceship depressurizes, bodies are ejected, and there’s no air to carry scents anymore. But in a part of a ship that’s still airtight, it’s awful.

I opened the interior door of the airlock and walked in. It was a vault. Sixteen suspended animation pods in two rows. All without power. Not a blip. Not a light. I closed in on the first pod and looked inside. Checked out, of course. I didn’t need to look at the others to know they were all dead cold. The stasis sequence had screwed up, probably from power loss.

I didn’t tell the girl what I’d found; instead I said that I had to renew contact with the Locust. I switched to Val’s frequency band.


“Here, Sam. Did you find her?”

“Not yet. But I found a stasis vault. I’ve got sixteen stiffs here.”

“Ready to record IDs.”

I inspected each pod, one by one. Thankfully, these deads were pretty conscientious, as they all wore their identification badges. I recited the first fifteen names, then stopped at the last pod. After a while, Val spoke:

“Sam, I’ve got fifteen names here. Weren’t there sixteen of them?”

I looked again at the pod. And its occupant’s badge. After another long moment, I answered:

“Val… Do you believe in ghosts?”

Continue to part four


This is the second installment of my SOS story, the first of which can be read here.

Aboard the spaceship Locust, Val and Sam have picked up what may be a distress call. Val has diverted course toward the source, and now Sam is about to go inspect the wreck.

Turned out the wreck was mostly intact, except its starboard engine had been torn off the hull and was trailing some ten thousand klicks behind. We’d missed it on the radar because it was hidden by the ship’s signature.

And the emergency broadcast? We traced it right back to the main antenna. Given the ship’s state, no wonder that blip was all it could put out.

I checked my gauges for the umpteenth time. I had enough for a couple hours of autonomy but that would probably be too short: this was a cruiser, with room for at least three hundred passengers and probably another fifty crew. The engine had ripped a fifth of the hull at the stern; enough that the chances of running into a surviving crew member were nil. But the bow, where the passengers usually were, looked pretty intact. Who knew, I might even find a dozen of them still alive.

Val interrupted my thoughts.

“Good news, Sam. The wreck’s got a Shabasch onboard computer, just like the Locust.”

Gesundheit. What’s that mean?”

“... That we can communicate with it. I might even be able to download the ship’s log from here. But it will take quite a while. It's unusually sluggish.”

“Are you surprised? The ship took quite a hit.”

“I don’t know... The computer should be at the bow, far from the bulk of the damage. In any case, Hawking is close enough to power its solar panels. You should start by unlocking some of them.”

“Shouldn’t I take a peek inside first?”

“If they’ve survived so far, they can wait for another five minutes. Plus, it will be easier for you inside the ship if you can get some power back on. You should be able to reconnect at least two solar panels with rams. Not to mention, we’ll also be able to recharge faster from there.”

She was right — that’s the rule: the living feed on the dead. And the survivors, if there were any, probably didn’t give a shit if we diverted a few solar megawatts or tapped their propulsion fuel, seeing as there wasn’t a chance this wreck would ever fly again.

I exited through the Locust’s port maintenance hatch. Val had put two rams there for me. Fifteen seconds were enough for my suit’s thruster’s to bring me to the wreck; Val always did have a talent for tight manoeuvres. I found two solar panels, put the hydraulic rams in place and activated them. then I travelled along the hull till I found a usable airlock.

“OK Val, I found an access.” I forced open the casing of the airlock’s controls. “Everything’s green, but I’m reading an interior pressure of zero. I’m going to try to get inside. Also, the ship’s name is written on the airlock. The Scintillating. Cute, isn’t it?”

“Very. Place your relays evenly, I’d hate to lose you.”

“No problem. The door’s opening slowly… ah, shit.”

At first I tried to get out of the way, but then DuRes kicked in, so I grabbed the spacesuit by the collar, dragged it back into the airlock, and secured it against a wall. I checked around for the dogtag. I was having a hard time pulling it out from inside the suit and around the head, because I didn’t want to touch him. My visor got real foggy from the effort, but I finally pulled the tag free. I read the name.

“And here’s the first one, Val. Quartermaster Vogel. Found in airlock…uh, T21, in his suit, but no helmet. Apparent C oh D: depressurization.”


”Right, I’m placing the first relay and closing the outer door.”

I stuck a radio relay on the interior surface of the airlock, then I shut the external airlock door.


“I read you, Sam. The relay gets through. Once you get the inner airlock door open, don’t close it unless you need to.”

“Alright, mom. So where am I going?”

“I’m not seeing any activity from here.”

I checked my gauges once again. Then the airlock’s interior control panel. The hall inside was at zero pressure too. Bad news for anyone who was inside when that happened. I tapped on the controls, and the door slid open with no problem.

“Well, I guess if there is anyone left, they’re all at the bow. The airlocks will slow me down, but I think I can—”

An ear-splitting ringing in my helmet interrupted me. I slammed down the acknowledgement button on my collar to shut off the vibration/drift alarm, grabbed the closest handrail, and yelled:

“Val! The ship’s still warm! She’s moving!”

“Negative, Sam. One of the solar panels was resisting the ram and just gave in. Your suit caught the vibrations. There are now two active solar panels. Essential electrical systems should be going back online now.”

Right on cue, the dim emergency lights on floor flickered off, and a bright overhead lighting picked up. I waited another few seconds, but there were no new alarms.

“Okay, I was about to say I’m going up towards the bow. Null pressure, as before.”

“Sam, is there a console near you?”

“There are probably some in the cabins just off this hallway. Why?”

“Your relays are picking up a signal that’s not yours, on the interior communications band. Band eighty, to be precise.”

“Probably the big boss’ mike that he forgot to turn off before going on vacation. Switching to eighty and then right back to you.”

I switched. And in my helmet, I heard this:

“…lp me! Please! I know there’s someone out there! I’m in here! Answer me! Don’t leave me here! Please!”

It was a woman’s voice. On the edge of a panic attack. No, scratch that. Deep in a panic attack.

Continue to part three