A Way Off
Vale startled awake to a loud, angry sound. An alarm. Scrambling to her knees, she scanned the space, trying to remember where she was. When a scolding pain ripped down her back she remembered.
Staring up through the grate, she saw that the room was quiet, clear of lightning. Sky was already awake, crawling towards his bag. Pulling it over his shoulder, he shoved the grate open and after sliding through to the bridge above, he helped Vale through after him.
Vale was itching to have her arm reattached but knew that the alarm meant they couldn’t stop. Run now. Feel complete later. Sky’s hand found hers and they ran for the door to the bridge. Vale let out a sigh of relief when there weren’t any AI’s waiting for them on the other side. “We need to get out of here. Both of us,” Vale said as Sky turned the corner, Vale, fast on his heels. Sky ducked behind a crate and scrambled through his bag.
He pulled out a small screen and waited as it booted up, his hands gripping the screen with impatience. It blinked to life and he placed his fingers on the screen, pinching them together. A moment later, a three-dimensional map of the ship stared back up at them. He looked at Vale and motioned to dozens of blue dots on the screen. “AI’s,” Vale guessed. Sky nodded. Vale let out an unsteady breath. The ship was swarming with them, lit up like a city block when there was enough power to spare. It was going to be nearly impossible to go around unseen.
Sky motioned to a small green dot on the starboard side of the ship and then pointed to Vale. “Destination? A way off?” Vale guessed. Sky nodded and stood up. Grabbing Vale’s hand with his free one, he bolted down the hall in the opposite direction of the AI’s, as far from the nearest set as possible.
Sky’s eyes were in constant motion. On the screen, on the path ahead, staring at the small halls they passed, most likely mapping out a clear path to their goal. Sky froze halfway down a hall and whirled, a calculating look on his face. He scanned the walls, searching for something. Vale waited, watching him stare at the space like the mechanic he was. Creative with everything he had to work with.
He knelt in front of an air duct and pried the opening loose. A moment later he disappeared inside, Vale ignored the panic that set in at the idea of crawling into a small space, much smaller than the one they had just emerged from and crawled in after him. Pulling the opening back in place, she crawled after Sky, his glowing screen their only light as they moved.
Suddenly the light disappeared leaving Vale in complete darkness. She sped up, trying to keep herself from falling into darkness, needing some semblance of light in the claustrophobic inducing space. She realized a moment too late why the light had vanished. The duct dipped, and she lost her balance, sliding down the shoot and crashing into a pile of limbs and metal objects. She was greeted by light and fresh air. Taking in a lungful of breath, she blinked, trying to bring clarity to her new surroundings.
She was laying in a pile of scrap metal and detached metal limbs. A large door with a window sat across the room. The door swung freely, moving as the wind changed directions. A deck stood outside, giving her a look at a set of wispy clouds.
Vale looked down to find Sky, who had broken her fall. He lay pinned underneath her, her hand pressed against his chest. Her legs wrapped around his hips. He cracked a questioning grin as her cheeks flamed red.
Scrambling off of him, she pulled herself out of the pile that had been discarded in this strange storage space, keeping her eyes averted from Sky’s. He climbed out of the pile, but not before looking through it and placing several items into his bag. Moving around the room, he plucked several wires off of a shelf in the far corner that was covered with gears, screens, wires, and metal plates.
He ran his fingers gingerly over the gears before plucking up three with care and tucking them into his bag with his other finds. Then turning to Vale he motioned her over to his screen. Vale bit her lip as he showed her the map. Most blue lights were back near the bridge. Two blue lights hovered nearby, close to the green light that symbolized their exit.
Sky swiped the screen and typed out a message on the now clear screen. I’ll distract them. The Skymaran is right around the corner. They think it’s a pile of scrap metal. But it should fly.
Everything he said gave her pause. Going alone, while he ran off to get attacked and killed by the AI’s to serve as a distraction, while she tried to start a skymaran made up of a pile of scrap metal that SHOULD fly sounded like a terrible idea.
She shook her head wildly, her hands shaking. There were too many issues with that plan. “I have never driven a Skymaran. You running off to get killed won’t give me an advantage. I’d die moments after you. If we stick together we can watch each other’s backs and both get free.
Sky sighed. I can’t leave, he wrote.
Vale stared at him, placing her hand on her hip trying to understand. “Do they have a tracker on you?”
He shook his head.
“They have trapped you here somehow right?” He didn’t make any move to respond. Vale tried again. “Have they tagged you so that you’ll die if you try to leave?” Sky’s jaw tightened. “Sky. Just tell me how they are keeping you here. What have they done to you?”
Sky blinked, his free hand rolling into a fist. Then he glared down at the screen, his blue eyes a mix of anger and determination. Okay. Let’s go, he wrote, looking exhausted by the mere idea.
She didn’t push for more, relieved that he had changed his mind, confused as to why he suddenly seemed so angry. They crouched as they moved through the door, hit with a blast of wind, fresh air, and sky. Vale had to swallow a set of tears. She hadn’t realized how much she had missed the sun on her face, the breeze against her skin.
It was midday, the sun high in the sky, wrapping her in warmth. She couldn’t remember how long it had been since she had fallen onto the AI’s hell ship. They continued to walk in a near crouch as they reached the corner, ready to make a run for the ship. Sky pulled out his screen and motioned. They would encounter one AI before they reached the skymaran.
I’ll get the skymaran started. Do you think you can take care of the AI?
Vale nodded and reached into his bag holding up her arm with a dangerous smile. “With this weapon arm. I think I can manage.” He gave her a mischievous grin and got to work.
She bit back a cry as the arm was bolted back into place, one painful screw at a time. She scanned the ship around them, acting as the lookout while he worked. He was much faster than the first time. They didn’t have the luxury of time.
Wiggling her metal fingers, she was awed once again by how much it acted as a piece of her when metal and skin were reunited. Vale took in a deep breath and sprinted around the corner, hoping to distract and disable the AI so Sky could make it to the skymaran without a problem.
She spotted the AI and had to fight the urge to turn and run the opposite way. The creature was large, twice the size of the other AI’s Vale had encountered. It was modeled to look like a large bodybuilder. A flame thrower made up his right hand. It hadn’t seen her yet. Pulling her hand back, she tugged at a memory of her mother. “Find their weak spot and give ’em hell. Move fast, keep them guessing. Don’t let them pick up your pattern.”
Vale didn’t know if this giant tank of an AI had a weakness and didn’t have much time to analyze. She reached the creature as it turned around. Vale jumped, launching herself at it, metal arm flying forward with all of her might, ready to slam it directly into the center of its chest. But the AI was fast, bringing his large arm up and hitting Vale’s fist away, sending her flying backwards. She hit the ground, rolling back until she came to a stop ten feet away.
Sky was a flash of gold behind the AI, having made it to the skymaran. The AI lumbered towards Vale, holding up his flame thrower, aiming right at Vale’s head. Vale only had a moment to suck in a breath before he shot.
Even as Vale brought up her arms, hoping to protect herself, she knew it was useless. Fire barreled towards her, burning everything in her vision. But a moment later, the fire had gone passed, leaving her body mostly untouched. She opened her eyes to find that her metal arm had grown into a large shield, spread thin in front of her, blocking most of the flames. Clever boy, Vale thought with an uncontrolled grin.
Rolling several times, Vale extinguished small sparks that ate at her pants and rolled to her feet, pushing away her surprise as she stared from her shield back up to the AI. This is going to be interesting.
She had no idea what else her arm could do, but she was ready to find out, ready to get off the ship that had kept her prisoner, ready to destroy the AI that stood as its gatekeeper, ready to leave behind the cause of so many deaths.