SOS (part 5)
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.
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.
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?”
PROTEUS ONLY SIMULATES
A few seconds went by.
THE ESSENTIAL SO NO
Another few seconds.
VOICE FOR ME SINCE I
It was bloody frustrating that the display could only show twenty-four characters at a time.
CAN MANAGE SPEAKING
TO YOU LIKE THIS.
“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.
CONFLICT WITH DOOR YOU WANT IT OPEN BUT FOR FLORA IT IS CLOSED PROTEUS DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM
“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.
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.
“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.
YOUR VISION IMPOSED ON FLORA TRANSLATES TO INJURY ERASING THIS IMPOSSIBLE INCOMPATIBLE WITH YOUR MEMORY HEAL FLORA QUICK.
“What am I supposed to heal her with?”
HEAL FLORA QUICK.
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