The Sixth Floor
Dash lowered the hem of his pants, looking away, seeming embarrassed. “You didn’t get a choice did you?” Vale asked motioning to his legs.
“Nope. Takes one to know one I guess.” He crossed his left leg onto his right knee and tapped his foot loudly. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault though. I was unconscious and they had to make a judgment call. But this has its perks. Sky is to thank for that. He can’t help but add a few upgrades.”
Vale nodded. “That’s true,” she said, tapping her arm. “Do you think the same person made both of ours?”
Dash nodded. “Yeah. Made by tradesmen.” Vale could sense Dash was uncomfortable with her line of questioning. Does he know who the tradesmen are? She didn’t want to reveal anything that would put him in danger. But he was keeping secrets and she needed answers.
Vale nodded. “Do you know who?”
Dash shrugged and stood up. “Like I said, I was out.”
Vale stood up and blocked his path as he went to move past her. “That doesn’t mean you don’t know.”
Dash leaned back, staring down at her, his eyes narrowing. “Why do you care?”
“I want to know why I was picked,” she replied, her voice even.
“And that’s all?” he hedged. “You gave me a fake name when you got on my ship.” He took a step towards her. “You have had several run-ins with AI’s which is considered an oxymoron.” He took another step towards her. “Your entire crew vanished leaving you with an arm that can do more damage than should be possible.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Just who are you Vale? And why are you asking so many questions?”
“You don’t trust me,” Vale replied.
“You set the precedent when you got here,” Dash pointed out.
“Even though I came with Sky?”
“Especially because you came with Sky.” He tilted his head to the side, analyzing her. “When you start answering as many questions as you ask, then we can talk.”
Vale walked into Sky’s room, determined to get answers from him. Does Sky know what Dash is hiding? But the sight of him fast asleep changed her plans. He had already gotten into a fight with Dash and didn’t really need any other form of excitement.
Sneaking quietly back out of the room, she leaned her head against the door, feeling frustrated. “Mom! Is he going to be okay?” Vale heard a little girl cry from down the hall. Startled by the urgency, Vale followed the noise.
Two people in lab coats carried a man on a stretcher. A five-year-old little girl with brown hair held back in two tangled braids clung to a woman’s hand. The woman was covered in blood, most likely from the man on the stretcher. Her short hair was slicked back out of her face. “These doctors are going to help him Kip.”
The group rushed past Vale and towards the elevator, the woman holding the back end of the stretcher suddenly stopping, pulling the entire group to a halt. “He’s not breathing. I need to get his metal casing off. The armor is cutting off his air supply.” The man at the front of the stretcher didn’t turn around. “Keep moving. We can’t stop on this floor. All of our supplies are on the sixth!”
Vale’s feet were moving before she realized she was suddenly next to them as they began walking again, the little girl crying as she clung to her mother. “I can help,” Vale said glancing down at the armor. A large metal plate sat across the man’s chest, dented, encaving inwards. The rest of the armor that covered his arms and legs was covered in scorch marks and had pieces that looked like they were ripped by claws.
Before anyone could protest, Vale reached forward with her metal hand, found a loose section of his chest armor and began to peel it back like it was made of paper instead of thick steel as they reached the elevator and climbed inside. As she finished, the man on the stretcher suddenly leaned forward, gasping for air. “Daddy!” the little girl cried with relief as the elevator opened on a new floor.
Vale went to follow them out but was blocked by the man carrying the stretcher. “Restricted access. You can’t-.”
“Shove it, Ace. We need to get the rest of the armor off and with magic fingers here, it will move things along much after,” the woman responded appraising Vale’s hand as they adjusted the stretcher, taking it out of the elevator.
Ace glared at the woman. “Geo, she’s not allowed up here. We were given specific-.”
“Then he can hold me responsible,” Geo barked back, turning, she stared at Vale. “You coming?” Vale followed them out of the elevator and was met by instant chaos. Dozens of people in lab coats ran through the halls, each carrying, people, supplies, or clip boards as they darted from room to room.
The patients were in all states, from missing limbs to unconscious. Vale followed Geo and Ace as they carried the man to a room with several other patients. “Get the rest of the armor off,” Geo said, snapping Vale back to the present. She quickly got to work, stripping metal off of his body, revealing the damage below. As soon as he was free, doctors swarmed him, and Vale jumped back out of the way.
The little girl named Kip tugged on Vale’s pants to get her attention. Kip rubbed her eyes free of tears. “Thank you for helping him. He wasn’t breathing.” Vale didn’t have much experience with children and was unsure of how to respond. The girl continued, her eyes staring up at Vale’s arm with awe. “Your arm is cool.”
“Thank you,” Vale said with a smile.
“I’m Kip. That’s my mom,” she said motioning to the woman who stood nearby watching her husband with a look of deep concern, eyes full of unshed tears. “She doesn’t think I know how scared she is,” Kip said looking back at Vale.
“Well. Sometimes we feel like we have to be strong for people.”
“That’s silly. People should just cry when they feel like it. It doesn’t make them any less strong.”
“Hey, magic fingers!” Geo shouted. “We need you in another room.” Vale nodded at Geo who motioned for her to follow.
Vale smiled down at the girl. “I gotta go. It was nice meeting you, Kip. I’m Vale.”
“Bye Vale! Come visit soon!” Kip called after her as she turned and dashed off.
Vale became apart of the surprisingly organized chaos, stripping off metal, ripping off fabric, cleaning wounds, bandaging patients. She felt at home as she was given orders that brought her back to all those late nights of helping her own mother. But this was different. These people, children, and adults alike had been attacked. And as she moved from room to room, she began to piece the story together.
They all came from the same sea-bound ship that was attacked by a mysterious AI ship. No one had mentioned the name, but Vale knew it was Resistere Futilis, the ship she and Sky had escaped from. What are the AI’s after? Had the ship housed one of the people from the list? Or were they looking for me and Sky?
As she finished wrapping a bandage around a man’s head, she saw Dash in the corner of the room, clearly unhappy with her presence on the sixth floor. As the man was moved to a recovery room, Dash moved across the room, his eyes ablaze. “I made it very clear that you were not allowed onto the sixth floor.”
Suddenly, Geo the woman from the elevator stepped between them. “I gave her clearance. We took a detour past her floor when the other set of elevators were clogged. She saved a man’s life.”
Dash looked at Vale, his eyes narrowing slightly. “Is that so?”
“I just wanted to help, you know I can.”
Dash sighed. “Fine.” He looked at Geo. “But don’t let her out of your sight. And when everything is back under control, I want to see her in my office.” Dash turned and walked away before Geo could respond.
“Geeze. Who pissed him off today?” Geo said staring after him. Turning, she gave Vale a winning smile, her deep brown eyes bright. She had dark red hair pulled back into a long braid. “You good to keep going magic fingers?”
Vale nodded and moved to walk in step with Geo. “I’m Geo by the way. Thanks for helping us out.” Geo looked to be about twenty years old and had a bubbly, confident energy about her.
“I’m Vale. Happy to help.”
“What did you do to piss the doc off so bad?”
Vale sighed, finding herself relaxing at the open question. She had grown tired of Dash’s dodges and was relieved to find someone who got straight to the point. “Existing.” Geo laughed at the response, a light sound that was contagious, making Vale smile. “I’m not the most trusting person,” Vale admitted. “And that makes him not trust me.”
“Well trust should be earned not thrown around,” Geo shrugged as they walked into a new room. “He’ll get over it. Especially since I hear you are sticking around for a bit and this won’t be the last time I drag you up here,” she said with a mischievous grin.