Metal Fever II: The Erasure of Asherah

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Chapter 10

Once I spotted Dave’s little aluminum dinghy bobbing gently on the waves sent out by the carrier’s impact, I swam for it. I arrived as his diver buddies finished hauling the safe up out of the drink, having wrapped it in netting and lashed it to the front of the boat.

A few dozen feet away, the Norwegian shouted unintelligible curses at us as he doggy paddled in our direction. How had a man with his...sexual preference...never learned to swim? All the better though. Before he could make it even halfway to us, I’d climbed aboard and we’d set off for the bay.

As we entered the drainage pipe between the canal and the bay, over my shoulder I watched all the little indicator lights of Panopticon’s countless sensor clusters flickering to life. Secure in the knowledge that we’d gotten away with it, I took the opportunity to unload on Dave.

“Are you fucking retarded? I almost died! You could have at least warned me.” He cackled invisibly in the darkness of the drainage pipe. “You’d never have gone through with it if I did.” I tried to punch him but couldn’t see well enough, my fist sailed ineffectually through the cold, damp black which engulfed us.

His submarine was waiting for us outside the drainage pipe, on the bay side. Here, he handed the safe over to the sub crew and invited me to board. Still fuming, I obliged in the hopes that whatever they found inside would make that whole shit show worth it.

Boy did it ever. The jewelry and fat stacks of krona that spilled out exceeded even my most optimistic predictions. Very little is worth rocketing your way up out of a man’s home like Saint Nicholas after another successful ritualistic home invasion, before plunging into freezing sea water. This haul just about does it, though.

“Here’s your cut, just like I promised” Dave declared, dangling a single string of pearls which he then dropped into my hands. I stared at him, waiting for the punchline. “Dave, you’d better be fucking with me, or you’re about to swallow the few teeth you’ve still got.”

He laughed nervously as the two divers positioned themselves, ready to lunge at me should he command it. “Well, hold off on that until we’re back at the ol’ HQ” he urged. “I’ve got a little something you might like.”

HQ turned out to be a drainage chamber which connected to the sewer system. It was spacious enough, with iron mesh walkways overhead, a dozen or so of Dave’s men peering down at us over the handrails as our boat came in to dock.

Of course. The surprise was only ever going to be more muscle. I should’ve knocked him out and jacked the contents of the safe back out on the bay. Too late now. I clenched my teeth and played it cool as I climbed out of the boat into Dave’s fetid new hideout.

Naturally there was about a hundred ebikes stacked up around the outer wall. He led me to the nearest row, where I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was my bike! “Fresh off the streets” he boasted. “Just brought it in this morning. I’m willing to cut you one hell of a deal on it.”

I blinked. Then looked at the bike. Then back at Dave. “This is my bike, Dave.” He laughed. “I know, right? It really suits you. You’ll look great on it.” I slowly shook my head, now glaring at him. “No, I mean this is the bike you gave me last time. In the barge, remember?”

He stared off into space. I curled my fingers into a fist and got ready to fight. A dozen men made little difference at this point, I wasn’t about to walk out of here with nothing but a string of pearls to show for all that.

“OH! Yes, right you are. I was testing you!” he lied through his rotting teeth. “You passed.” After further negotiation I wound up riding out of there with my bike, the pearls, four other necklaces and a stack of about 25,000 krona. I was at the end of my rope, about ready to kill him and it must’ve shown.

I’d also talked him into replacing the bike’s motor such that it now moves at a much quicker clip than before. The thrill diminished my lingering anger somewhat. I wonder if Dave and Dinesh are buddies? At this point it wouldn’t surprise me.

I spotted a few raised eyebrows as a I zipped past. Locals unaccustomed to seeing one of these things doing over 20 miles per hour. I stopped at a traffic light next to that bubble trike from the canal and once again gave it a long, hard stare. It really is the weirdest looking thing.

The petite Chinese man inside only stared back, as if to say “What do you mean, why am I driving a bubble trike? Why AREN’T you? Where’s YOUR bubble trike?” Which would be a fair question. It looked to be just about ideal for the local transport ecosystem.

This is what economic evolution decided was a good solution for this environment. Not substantially more powerful or complex than a typical ebike, but with just enough insulation from the often toxic atmosphere and harsh weather to make commuting tolerable during the winter, or during a gas storm.

There is nothing like vehicular machismo here. The American male’s romance with big, loud, fast automobiles is an absurdity and an alien notion in a country where the concept of “little cleverness” glorifies efficiency and shrewdness over wasteful chest thumping.

It gave me reason to reconsider what I really wanted out of my new life in China. Do I even really want a fancy apartment? Do I even want to be back on a motorcycle? Maybe this is an opportunity to downsize, instead of trying to transplant my old life into an environment it’s ill suited to.

But there would be no new life in China. The last day of Dad’s one week time limit came and went, at which point I knew he was in more trouble than he could get himself out of alone. I’d dreaded this the past few days, but held out hope that he’d be fine without me.

Because that apparently wasn’t the case, after fencing my cut of the haul and putting most of it into Seacoin so it wouldn’t raise any red flags in some government database that would connect it to the recent heist, I chartered a flight to South America.

The waste of money pained me, as I’d already paid the first month’s rent and now had to pay storage fees for the ebike as well. I was still thinking in poverty mode though, having not yet refactored my priorities to account for my recent steep increase in personal wealth.

The chartered flight seemed to be my only option. Every alternative I compared it to was either drastically more expensive or didn’t land usefully near to the coordinates Dad indicated. I could take an airliner for example but it would put me down at an airport nearly a thousand miles from where I needed to go.

The chartered flight was aboard a six seater VTOL, apparently the smallest craft capable of intercontinental flight. Otherwise I’d have just hailed another air taxi. I shudder to think of the fare however, given what I was charged last time for the brief flight from prison to Dad’s seastead, less than twenty miles offshore.

It was the best of a lot of bad options. I could afford it anyway, and it would save me from having to navigate a thousand miles of dense jungle. I claimed the last seat on the flight leaving the soonest, 9am the following day.

My last night in China for the indeterminate future. Felt weirdly cozy and nostalgic. I’d worked so hard just to put myself in this shitty little excuse for an apartment. It felt humble and lean, but homey. I had some small amount of pride in it.

In my dingy, frankensteinian mess of ebike too, though it bears little resemblance inside compared to when Dave first handed it over. Like me, in a constant state of change, improving its capabilities piecemeal as resources permit.

I pulled the blanket up to my neck, then bent my legs a little so my feet wouldn’t stick out the bottom. After switching the lights off and waiting for my neighbor to finish his usual noisy evening activities, I drifted off to sleep.

The aircraft looked like pure sex, perched on the helipad. No helicopter has landed on or taken off from it in nearly a century, so it’s a bit of a misnomer. One of those funny linguistic atavisms, like “gas pedal”, or “smoking jacket”.

The sleek, aerodynamic hull had four engines arranged like the props of a quadrotor. Ducted fans in this case, or so I thought until I peered up into one of them and saw nothing resembling blades. It was empty all the way through, nothing but a series of metal coils.

“You must be the last minute addition.” A muscular looking fellow in a grey peacoat and sunglasses gestured from the open hatch for me to board. Only once inside, my eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, did I realize the severity of my mistake.

The other four passengers were full metals. I immediately recognized them as the enforcers who raided Dad’s seastead. I backed away, at first meaning to run for it. But Peacoat McShades pulled a gun on me, and took hold of my arm.

“Don’t make a scene. We pride ourselves on minimizing collateral damage. If I meant to kill you, you’d be dead already. Take a seat and hear me out. It’s not as though you have any other choice, unless you’re content to leave here in a body bag.”

I weighed my options. Then I sighed, took the only open seat and buckled myself in. He smiled at me, unnaturally calm given the situation. “Good, good. I’ll bet you’re confused and frightened. Not to worry, I’ll fill you in on the way.”

I asked where he meant to take me. “You have it backwards” he insisted. “It’s you that will take us where we wish to go. Straight to your father’s last known location.” My stomach sank. They must have been closely monitoring me since arrival.

There was never any realistic hope of eluding them. They’d only been waiting for Dad to contact me, then for me to charter the flight so they could get ahold of the coordinates and a hostage Dad would care about.

“This is about me, isn’t it?” I pled. “Why involve him? You only needed him to find me in the first place.” The peacoat wearing fellow gestured dismissively. “The media blew your little stunt out of proportion. Small potatoes, compared to what your old man’s been up to.”

What could they mean? So far as I knew, Dad spent the last six years selling organic produce to conshelfers. I’d never before seriously considered the possibility that Dad had his own criminal life that he kept hidden from me.

The tree doesn’t grow far from the apple, I suppose. The aircraft shuddered, hull resonating subtly as it lifted off the pad. It wasn’t like engine vibration, exactly, but the hum commonly emitted by high current electrical machinery.

The craft lurched beneath me as it began to accelerate on its way out to sea. My abductor and his six fullmetal thugs jostled about in their seats, the seatbelts straining against their considerable weight.

Soon we ascended above the cloud layer and there was nothing to be seen in all directions but ocean. It would’ve been pleasantly serene if not for the tense atmosphere. If not for the fact that I was leading Dad’s probable assassins straight to him.

There wasn’t any opening to make my move just yet, though. Not in such a confined space with six fullmetals. I’d be beaten into strawberry jam before I could so much as get my hands around their boss man’s neck.

So I sat there, biding my time. Studying my captors, and working on the beginnings of a plan for after we landed. Fullmetals in general are nothing to sneeze at, and I especially didn’t fancy my odds of beating these ones in a fair fight.

They were matte black, all sharp angles, like stealth bombers in the shape of men. Some of the edges in their chassis were lined with red EL wire that glowed, gently pulsating, seemingly only for intimidation purposes. It was working.

No matter how I came at the problem, I couldn’t imagine a plan of action that ended well for me. Or Dad, for that matter. There was no use agonizing while I could do nothing about it, but I couldn’t help myself. More than any other point in my life, I now felt like a cornered animal.

My abductor seemed comfortable enough that he’d holstered his pistol and was watching some sort of talkshow on the craft’s ceiling mounted infotainment console. The flip down display depicted a panel type debate between a Sunni Imam, a Catholic priest, and a notable feminist author.

“For those just joining us, today’s discussion topic is whether or not the ban on Muslims traveling to orbit via the recently completed space elevator is constitutional. I’ll let Sarah Maxwell, author of “The male problem”, open things up. Sarah?”

The only woman on the panel, sharply dressed in a dark grey business suit and horn rimmed glasses, wasted no time framing the discussion as she saw fit. “Of course it’s unconstitutional. It’s racist. There’s no such thing as opposition to Islam which isn’t simply veiled racism.”

The priest now interjected. “Hold on a minute. That’s not fair. Aren’t you opposed to Catholicism, and in fact any sort of Christianity?” She affirmed it, so he continued. “Does that make you racist? Why is it racist to oppose Islam, but not Christianity? Do you not understand why Islam is heretical and worth opposing on theological grounds, or can’t you put yourself in my shoes? Can you at least see why atheists might oppose Islam for the same reasons they oppose any other religion?”

She rolled her eyes. “Muslims are a minority group. Historically speaking, opposition to minority groups has always come from a place of xenophobic sentiment.” The priest pointed out that globally, Muslims outnumber Christians, which failed to move her.

“My opposition to Christianity has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with Christianity’s history of homophobia and misogyny.” The priest then asked her why she did not oppose Islam even more strongly for the same reasons, given that it’s even more severely homophobic and misogynistic than any modern denomination of Christianity.

“What you have to understand” she explained, “is that as white Westerners, we cannot stand in judgement of a foreign culture. They have their own separate world, essentially, which we are outsiders to. Are we still in the business of imposing our values? Would you have us be cultural imperialists?”

The priest scoffed. “It sounds like what you’re saying is that Islamic homophobia and misogyny are “cultural” and therefore acceptable, but the Christian equivalent isn’t, even though it’s much less severe. Pardon me if I don’t consider that a good reason for such an overt double standard.”

She assured him that she didn’t much care whether he agreed. She then asked why he was so opposed to Islam himself, when Islam’s stance on women’s rights, gay marriage, abortion, and just about every other social issue lined up near perfectly with Catholic values.

“That’s a misrepresentation” the priest defensively stated. She challenged him to explain how. “It’s just different. Apples and oranges. When Muslims do those things, they intend to oppress. Catholics are simply following God’s law as revealed through his son, Jesus Christ.”

It was her turn to scoff. “Muslims would say they’re simply following God’s law as revealed through the prophet Muhammad.” The priest was not impressed. “Yes, but they’re lying. Muhammad was no prophet. Do you know how heavily derivative the Qur’an is of the New Testament?”

She asked whether Jews would say the same of the New Testament, in relation to the Torah. “It doesn’t matter what they would say” the priest answered. “They’re in the wrong religion, like Muslims. Only the Christian perspective, and specifically the Catholic perspective is of any importance here, because only that perspective is correct.”

She smiled. “Similarity breeds contempt, doesn’t it.” The priest, now visibly irritated, insisted that there were no such similarities between Catholicism and Islam. That Catholicism is God’s true church on Earth and Islam is just an overgrown desert cult, such that no valid comparisons could be made.

The host then broke in to steer discussion back to the original topic, the space elevator travel ban. They looked sheepish and began discussing the logistics that would go into screening individual Muslim travelers.

“It’s discriminatory to screen them at all. At least any moreso than the average passenger headed to orbit. But then if they increase security level across the board just so nobody accuses them of profiling, it’s still ultimately motivated by prejudice.”

The Imam nodded thoughtfully. “The American whore makes some excellent points. Indeed prejudice against my brothers and sisters is widespread, and wholly unfounded. The constant so-called terror attacks, if you were to properly investigate them, have all actually been the work of Mossad. But American lap dogs will never side against their Jewish masters.”

Sarah looked stunned. The Priest glared at her, smugly. “Wh-what he means to say-” she started, before the Imam spoke over her. “Do not presume to speak for me. Is this not a safe space for a person of color’s voice to be heard?” She looked bashfully into her lap. “It...it is…”

He laughed. “Very well then! Be heard I will. The Muslim world has endured very patiently and gracefully the long wait for you Westerners to realize that Islam is the true faith. What else can you ask of us? Do you not arguably deserve violence for failing to embrace the one true faith?”

The priest furiously interrupted here. “Is that what tolerance means to you? Coexisting only as a temporary measure, expecting that we will someday convert?” The Imam appeared mystified by the implication that it could mean anything other than that.

“The point is”, the Imam concluded, “that Muslims are the only truly moral and upright people in this world. It’s an outrage that the Western media continues to cast aspersions on us, and on the good name of Islam by extension, by credulously reporting Mossad false flags as if they were really committed by my brothers and sisters. To treat us as if we’re some unique threat to your precious space elevator, that decadent Tower of Babel for the modern age, is absolutely reprehensible.”

It was the priest’s turn to roll his eyes. “If you look up a list of every terrorist attack for the past century and a half, over ninety percent were committed by Islamic terrorist groups. That’s a difficult pattern not to draw any conclusions from, unless you just refuse to.”

Sarah once again leapt in to defend Islam. “Men like you, so called defenders of Western civilization, are quick to point out apparent racial and religious patterns in the rate of homicides, sexual assaults and terrorist attacks. But there is one pattern you always ignore: Every one of those crimes, or nearly so, was committed by a man.”

Both the priest and the Imam were aghast. “Now hold on” the priest countered, “not all men-” Sarah burst out laughing. “Oh, here it comes. Reliable as clockwork. The old “not all men” chestnut.” It took the wind out of the priest’s sails somewhat, but he next came at it from a different angle.

“If I cannot validly object to the generalization of an entire gender based on a pattern of crimes committed by members of that group, how can you object to the generalization of an entire religion on the same grounds?”

She looked briefly confused by the question, but quickly regained her footing. “It’s just different. There is no comparison. Islam is just misunderstood, whereas men actually are evil on the whole. That’s what my book is about” she said directly to the camera, “...available in all major reader formats as of this Monday.”

The priest asked if perhaps her perspective wasn’t skewed by the fact that she’d lived her whole life so far in a country with very few Muslims in it, and as such had no experience with what life is like for women in predominantly Muslim countries.

“The men who have wronged you, for simple statistical reasons, were probably non-Muslim. For all your vociferous opposition to racism I’d wager you’ve dated a long string of white men and few or no men of color. Am I warm?”

She sputtered something about how her love life wasn’t any of his business and began to compare it to Catholic imposition on women’s reproductive rights before he managed to continue his original thought.

“You’ve had a pattern of bad experiences with men. You trust your own life experiences over any statistics I could show you, and conclude from those experiences that white men are the great satan of this world. But that is also the basis of racism. White racists commonly conclude based on a pattern of bad experiences with poor persons of color-”

“MEN of color” she corrected. “Yes, yes” the priest admitted, “Men of color. Anyways they arrived at their conclusion the same way you did. By generalizing an entire subset of humanity based on a pattern of bad experiences with individuals from that group.”

She once again fumed that it was apples to oranges. That the parallels he’d identified were illusory, a product of how he’d misframed the discussion and of his privileged perspective.

“White racists are just crazy and evil. They don’t have any reason for what they believe. Before you regurgitate government crime statistics at me, consider the source. Why should we trust the US government to accurately report the race of criminals? It started out and in many ways still is steeped in institutional white, Christian supremacy. Men are the actual problem, white ones most of all, and so-called Islamic terrorism is better understood as an expression of toxic masculinity”

The host’s expression suddenly changed from amused to disturbed. “I’m just getting word...that there’s been some sort of major incident at the space elevator.” The panelists’ eyes widened, and they glanced back and forth at one another.

The craft began to sway. Turbulence, presumably. Then a large shadow passed over us, visible on the ocean below. “It would seem there’s been an explosion from within the space elevator ascent vehicle...the cable has been severed, and is now falling to Earth” the white faced, sweating host reported.

The priest and author both looked at the Imam. He held his hands up. “I don’t know what you’re looking at me for. It could be a malfunction. It could’ve been caused by anything.” The host put one finger to his ear, still listening to the breaking news. “Panopticon footage confirms it was a suicide bomber.”

The Imam crossed his arms. “Well, that alone doesn’t prove anything. It could be a white male. It could be a Christian!” The host then clarified that Panopticon facial recognition had already identified the man in the footage as one Hasim Shadid, whose social media profile indicated membership in several Islamic discussion groups critical of Western culture and policy.

Sarah and the priest stared more intently at the Imam, who wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. “Aha, of course” he declared. “Another Mossad false flag. This has their fingerprints all over it!” Just then, a shockwave rocked the craft.

Boss man looked at me, then at his men, plainly frightened. The craft began to tilt, and a loud buzzer sounded. The dispaly panel cut to static, then folded back up into the ceiling as one alarm after the next joined the increasingly deafening din.

The craft continued to tilt, then struggled to right itself briefly until one of the engines gave out. It then entered into a stomach churning spin as the six of us held fast to our armrests with white knuckles. I thought I heard boss man quietly reciting Dianetic calming tech to himself.

The lights flickered, and the alarms began to warble as power cut in and out. Panic consumed me. I did the only thing which came to mind, and curled into a ball. I dimly remembered from some trivia game that this is the most survivable posture in a crash.

The last thing I remember before blacking out on impact was hearing the muffled bang of the emergency chute explosively deploying behind us. For what little good it did. When I awoke, it was within a mangled wreck in the process of going up in flames.

I fought with my seatbelt, at last unbuckling myself and climbing out of my seat. The entire front of the craft had crumpled inward, crushing the four fullmetals. Boss man was impaled on a hydraulic piston that had penetrated up through the cabin, originally part of the landing gear.

I pried open the little acrylic case mounted to the near wall with the fire extinguisher and removed it, hastily trying to make sense of the instructions. I’ve never actually used one of these before. After sussing it out, I blasted dense white foam at the conflagration.

Within a few minutes I’d put out all the fires inside the cabin. Cloudy white particulate swirled about in the air, residue from my generous application of fire retardant foam. I first checked the pulse of the only other person in the room I’d expect to have one, and confirmed he was as dead as he looked.

A dangling cable sparked perilously close to my face. I ducked under it and pulled the emergency release lever on the hatch. Explosive bolts launched the hatch a short ways, landing in a cluster of ferns. Sunlight invaded into the cloudy, flickering interior, as did the unmistakable musky scent of jungle.

Most of the North American continent is like this now as a result of desert reclamation projects, and unexpectedly robust GMO variants of tropical fauna. Like the foolhardy import of kudzu all over again, if anything it was too perfectly suited to the new climate and rapidly spread out of control.

It meant I couldn’t be sure exactly where we’ve crashed. I didn’t keep track of the flight duration and basically anywhere far enough north or south of the equator is like this until you get to Canada or Russia. I might be able to work that out from the flight recorder, but the more immediate priority was to extinguish the exterior fires.

That turned out to be a bigger job than expected. The battery was in the process of melting down, noxious electrolyte bubbling out of a fracture in the craft’s battery casing. “Well fuck” I muttered to myself. “This thing isn’t going anywhere.”

There’s no halting a reaction that energetic. The battery chemistry is designed for crash safety, but it still radiated a good deal of heat and a foul odor as it burnt itself out. When it finally finished, I was able to extinguish the last few fires visible from the outside of the craft.

I was now sweating like a pig. From fear I thought, until I allowed myself to rest. Only then did I appreciate how disgustingly sweltering it was. The humidity was so high I felt as if the air was a liquid as I moved through it, searching the wreckage for the flight recorder.

I couldn’t find the tools I knew I would need to extract it. What I did find was boss man’s pistol, tucked away in a concealed carry holster. Every immediate threat to my person was pacified so far as I could tell, but I expected I’d find a use for it soon enough.

I stumbled into the shade of the nearest tree and flopped down on the soft green undergrowth. Is any of this poisonous? I couldn’t make myself care. Emotional exhaustion, more than anything else, demanded I slow my roll.

I laid there for another few minutes waiting for my heart rate and breathing to slow before climbing back to my feet and more closely surveying the crash site. We’d come down in a clearing about three hundred feet across, to one side of a stream.

Sampling the steam revealed it was fresh water. My first stroke of good luck in an otherwise profoundly unlucky day. I then searched my body for injuries. I was bruised but no bones seemed to be broken. My prosthetic leg was another story.

The upper segment of the pneumatic piston which actuates my ankle was busted, bent irreparably out of shape and ripped free of its hinge. As such it was a chore to walk, as I could no longer push off with that foot. It felt like dragging a bunch of dead weight.

I knew I wouldn’t get far unless I could fix it, but none of the mangled fullmetals had any pneumatic components. It was too archaic, having been superceded before I was even born by now ubiquitous gel muscles.

However, the hatch was pneumatically opened and closed before I blew the emergency bolts. The two thin aluminum pistons still dangled uselessly from the rim of the opening. The bottom portion was too long, but the upper portion looked very close to the right size.

They turned out to be easily serviceable without tools, each piston possible to open for cleaning by twisting a small red release knob. With the plunger portion removed, I was able to replace it with the one from my leg. The upper portion of the piston, which on my leg had been twisted out of shape, was replaced entirely with the one from the craft.

They fit together, but not perfectly. It now loudly hissed every time I pushed off with my toe while walking, due to air escaping through the imperfect seal. But it worked well enough that walking was no longer an awkward chore.

I felt like roasted shit and probably looked even worse. But I figured there would be time to worry about that after I found Dad and warned him that the goons on his tail are getting close. They won’t give up so easily. Once they find out about the crash, they’ll send a second crew.

The only thing resembling food that I could find onboard were the complimentary snacks. There was a tap for dispensing drinking water concentrated from the outside air, but it had been demolished in the crash. If not for the stream I’d be considerably more fucked.

I drank deeply of the water, taking care to get it from upstream of the crash, worrying that toxic chemicals from the ruptured battery might be leaking into the stream through the soil. I then closed my eyes and tried to set my current location as “home” in my GPS app.

It didn’t work. Why? Something related to the space elevator? I still couldn’t bring myself to fully believe what I’d witnessed on that talkshow. Could it have been satire? Just a weird coincidence that it occurred at the same time as the shockwave?

If it really happened, I can only imagine the political turmoil taking place back in the civilized world right now. The finger pointing, the saber rattling. Probably there would be at least one war as a result of the attack.

None of that’s relevant to my immediate survival however. The wrecked VTOL would make for an acceptable shelter until tomorrow, I decided. Fresh water’s taken care of. My leg is mostly fixed. That only left food, of which I had scarcely any.

My stomach growled. Already? I tore open one of the packets of salted peanuts, munching thoughtfully on them as I mentally modeled my situation. GPS isn’t working for some reason, possibly disrupted by the collapse of the space elevator somehow.

That made it impossible to get my bearings without the data on the flight recorder. I would need to fashion some sort of tool to pry the telematics compartment open, if I could even get to it. I’d have to remove the mashed up remains of those four fullmetals first.

I put that off until tomorrow, though I did pull boss man’s body free of the wreckage and deposited it a good hundred or so feet into the jungle. If I’ve gotta sleep in that thing, I at least don’t want it to smell like a rotting corpse.

Then again, sweat now trickling down every inch of exposed skin, I hardly smell any better. I washed myself in the stream, scrubbing off not just the accumulated sweat but the thin layer of extinguisher residue.

To my own surprise, I began laughing. Out of relief that I survived, I guess. But also because only now did I feel like I had the time and space to fully process what happened. I can’t believe curling up into a ball actually worked! I’ll have to remember that one.

From this side, I could see the entire upper half of the wrecked VTOL was coated in photovoltaic film. When I pried open the maintenance panel with a flat bit of metal debris, it turned out to be easier than anticipated to re-route the solar film output from the battery into the amenities circuit instead.

Just like that, the lights came back on. The video panel folded back down, though it still displayed only static. Much to my delight, there was also a small toolkit attached to the inside lid of the maintenance compartment. Only a wrench and screwdriver, but it was enough to get at the flight recorder after a few minutes of grunting and heaving.

There was understandably no wireless access. I pulled out the retracting USB nano plug from my forearm and plugged it in. This is where I ran into a brick wall. The flight data was hardcore encrypted. It wouldn’t be much use to me unless one of the programs in my good ol’ bag of tricks could decrypt it.

I downloaded the contents to my own system and set a brute force decrypter to work. Under estimated time remaining, there were three question marks. Not a good sign. By now the sun was low on the horizon.

There were more insects buzzing about now. Do they come out at sunset to breed or something? More than a few were alarmingly large. More products of bungled genetic engineering programs intended to restore species driven to extinction by the warming climate.

Like something straight out of the Permian era. Appropriate, given the state of the ocean these days. No sooner did I have the thought than I caught a whiff of rotten eggs. It can’t be. On top of everything else that’s gone wrong today?

But it was. A gas front, blown in from the sea. I must be pretty near to the coast. I tapped at the control screen, scrolling through options until I could confirm that the amenities battery had absorbed enough energy from the solar film to run the air scrubber for a few hours.

I then tried over and over to put the hatch back in place, to no avail. Exactly as they were designed to, the explosive bolts had torn it right out of its hinges, such that it now would no longer remain in place.

Rapidly running out of options and coughing up a lung, I tore up the carpet from the aircraft interior and fashioned a door flap from it. Didn’t offer much in the way of insulation, but it was a passable barrier to gas exchange.

So it was that I rode out the gas storm in my makeshift shelter. Never again to be an aircraft, beginning instead its new life as my only protection from the elements. As the night wore on, it never grew properly cold, just less uncomfortably warm.

When I climbed outside to take a leak, I found my hand was no longer responding. When I closed my eyes, I noticed a flashing low battery indicator for both my arm and leg. The leg still had one bar left, enough that I could finish answering the call of nature and return to the shelter.

I’d already used up the small amenities battery running the air scrubber for several hours. I had no choice but to stay put the rest of the night, waiting for the sun to return and supply desperately needed power.

I did not wind up getting any sleep. Being stranded in the wilderness has that effect. But as hoped, once the sun was up the lights came back on, and the induction coils embedded in the seat started recharging my prosthetics.

My stomach resumed gurgling in protestation of the fact that I’d eaten nothing but a handful of peanuts since the crash. A second bag of peanuts placated it for the time being. While I ate, I ruminated on the power supply problem.

With the main battery destroyed, the comparatively tiny amenities battery was the only means to store power generated by the solar film. A godsend to be sure, but there was a sense in which the small capacity of it created more problems than it solved.

Sure, I had effectively unlimited power from the solar panels during the day. But at night I had enough power to run the scrubber, or charge my prosthetics…not both. There was no readout to confirm it, but I suspected the amenities battery to be one, maybe two kilowatt hours at most.

When it occurred to me that the fullmetals probably contained embedded air scrubbers, I felt a pang of guilt at the idea of cannibalizing their remains. Then again, had it not been for the crash, they probably would’ve shot both Dad and myself into a ditch by now.

The small tools from the inside of the maintenance compartment were sufficient to remove the chest panel on the least mangled fullmetal remains. I didn’t recognize almost any of the components inside. Truly next level shit.

I recognized the micro air scrubber however, same model the prosthetic vendor in the subsea labor platform tried to sell me. Apparenly he wasn’t lying about the quality. One of the hoses protruding from it led to the prosthetic lungs, the other to the air intake in the neck.

Armed with this knowledge I was able to fashion a janky mess of a respirator mask out of it, running off my prosthetic power supply through the nano USB cable. It meant I’d run out sooner, but it also meant I could be outside during a gas storm.

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