Dyson's Angel

By Otto Linke All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Drama

Chapter 22

Moira pried her eyes open to find herself gazing into a pool of shadow.

She blinked, sent the mental command for her optic implants to ramp up her dark vision, and tried looking again. The corridor stretched away from her, rising up like an elevator shaft as she floated in a tangle of aching muscles and discombobulated limbs near the door to the command deck. The only illumination came from the faint light of the bioluminescent paint. No way that that diffuse light should have been intense enough to create a shadow.

And yet there was a shadow, drifting in the air before her like a cloud of black smoke.

Smoke. Where there is smoke…

Moira jerked into motion, her eyes widening in fear and her limbs screaming with pain as she pulled her scarf up over her nose and snugged it to act as a filter. She searched the corridor again, looking for any sign of fire. The artificial gravity had failed. She had to find the fire and extinguish it before it became a relentless conflagration. Few foes were more terrifying than a zero gravity fire.

The shadow billowed and blew away from her, then shifted course mid-air and streamed down through the grating of the deck.

Smoke shouldn’t act like that.

“What the hells?” Moira growled. She flexed around, throwing her weight to gain momentum until she drifted close enough to the wall that she could grasp a handhold. As she moved, she kept an eye fixed on the place where the smoke had disappeared.

Nothing.

No more smoke. No scent or sound of fire.

“Where did it go?” she muttered.

She concentrated, replaying the image from her visual buffer, half convinced that she had merely imagined the flowing cloud of black as she emerged from the haze of unconsciousness, but the replay confirmed that she had actually seen… something. The image was captured directly from her retina, untouched by human processing, so there was no way that the dark cloud she was rewatching could be a figment of her traumatized mind.

“Zau!” she called out.

There was no response.

“Zau, are you there? Heraxo?”

Still nothing.

Moira turned herself around to face the command deck door. It was stained by a streak of dried blood which, touching the side of her head, Moira realized to be her own. The wound was closed, only clotted blood on her hair and the door remaining to bear testament to her injury. Her medical midges must have been hard at work while she was unconscious. How long had she been out?

She palmed the door control, but nothing happened.

Moira swore and set to work disconnecting the control panel and extracting the manual override crank. If Heraxo had locked down the command deck, this would have no effect, but the mechanism within the wall immediately responded as Moira gripped the oversized crank and began turning it. No lockdown then, just a power outage.

“This is not supposed to happen,” Moira growled as she continued to turn the crank. She wondered briefly if the power cells that Evangeline had given them had been rigged to fail, but that was preposterous. Moira would not put it past Evangeline, or any other patron, to try and dispose of her after the job was done, but Moira and Zau/Heraxo had not even delivered the woman’s message to her son.

Moira stopped cranking the door and slipped through the gap as soon as it was wide enough to admit her. She found the command deck as dead as the lights in the hallway. She pulled a flashlight from an emergency supply kit lashed to one of the spare chairs, clicked it on, and began examining the equipment. There did not appear to be any electrical damage, so that was a plus. Some of the screens had been jarred loose by the impact of… whatever had struck the ship, but none of the damage was beyond that which Moira could repair with a few hours and a tube of epoxy.

The lights flickered.

Moira tapped at one of the displays and discovered that the navigation and shielding subsystems were rebooting, but every other system was still down, including life support. That, at least, was good news. Better to be trapped on a ship that just needed repairs than one which was completely dead. There was sufficient air in the ship to keep Moira alive for weeks before carbon dioxide poisoning became an issue, which was plenty of time for her to be rescued if she should get a signal to any of the dozens of governments and corporations which would pay handsomely for the ship, even if it was dead.

No.

The ship couldn’t be dead.

If the subsystems were trying to reboot, then the processing core must still be functional. That meant that Zau/Heraxo was still alive.

Had to still be alive.

“Zau?” she said into the air.

Nothing.

“Zau!” Moira shouted.

Still no reply.

For the next three hours Moira toiled at checking over the ship, searching for what few signs of damage she might be able to detect from within the crew passages. Anything that had not been clamped down had been knocked over, shattering dishes in the galley and glass trinkets in her quarters, setting tools tumbling in the engineering section, and scattering the few pieces of paper Moira kept aboard the ship for writing out notes or scraps of poetry. The processing core was dark, without so much as a flicker of intelligence flitting through the crystalline monoliths which were scattered across the cavernous space. When she reached the remora bay, Moira discovered that the little drones were still charged and functional. The ship’s network was still down, so she could not communicate with them over great distances, Moira was still able to control the remoras directly from her mesh. She released half a dozen of the nimble machines and set them to work helping her clean the jumbled mess.

As she worked, Moira would pause every few minutes and call out to Zau/Heraxo, both speaking aloud and sending messages through her mesh. Each time she was disappointed anew when the ship remained silent.

Until the ship finally replied.

“We are still {alive/dead},” the Zau/Heraxo said.

“Thank Jesu! Where the frak have you been?” Moira shouted nearly dropping the tools she had been in the midst of putting away in the engineering bay.

“What the hells happened?”

“Our power management subsystems detected a critical and unexpected power shortage in the midst of the jump. In an effort to keep us alive, we executed a semi-controlled collapse of the jump portal.”

“Semi-controlled, eh?” Moira scoffed. “Where’s that fall on the spectrum between ‘whoopsie daisy’ and ‘oh drek we’re fraked?’”

“Closer to the latter,” the ship admitted.

“How much closer?”

“Our field generators will never be the same, to start.”

“That all?”

“Our power reserves are {shot to sami/severely depleted}. At current regeneration rates, assuming that none of the power cells were damaged, it will take approximately thirty hours for us to even consider {suicide/jumping} again.”

“What could have caused this?”

The ship was silent.

Moira sighed and closed her eyes. She would have to inspect the ship’s jump core and power systems before they attempted to move again. Not that it would do much good. She knew about as much about how the jump core worked as a child did about the guts of an edutainment tablet.

“May we use midges to effect repairs?” Zau/Hereaxo asked, whispering over Moira’s implants.

“No.”

“They would be more effective than…”

“You’re not touching midges for anything more than hull repairs and housekeeping,” Moira snapped. “You probably got us into this mess by screwing around with the jump core back in Covington.”

“That’s {true/not fair}. We might be able to recover overwritten schematic files by offloading some data to the new memory unit.”

“What data?” Moira said, scowling as she snapped the last tool into its storage rack.

The ship hesitated, then replied, “Personality matrices.”

“Nope.”

Moira stalked out of the room and down the passageway towards the jump core. As she moved down the hall the lights flickered, then came on at somewhere around half their usual brightness.

“We {would not/might} endanger the Zau element. We have been auditing our own structure and…”

“Shut the frak up and focus on repairing whatever you can, without using midges. I’m going to check on the jump core.”

Moira raised both hands to shade her eyes as she peered through the thick glass window into the chamber.

She felt her heart rate spike.

“Zau…”

“Sorry, we’re busy temning an overstressed mount on the grave drive. We will be with you again after we make a temno sami show of the shield generators, though since you actually let us use midges on those we might accidentally destroy the ship in the process.”

“Zau, have you…”

“No. Couldn’t possibly. It takes all our concentration to manage a pair of remoras carrying welding equipment. Be easier to use midges to strengthen this bracket, but we’ll have to settle for stone age equipment because someone…”

“Will you shut the hells up and listen to me!” Moira shouted. Obviously Zau was angry enough at her refusal to authorize employing midges near critical systems that she was allowing Heraxo to become dominant. Either that, or both of them were cooperating in making Moira’s life difficult. “What happened to the anomaly in the jump core?”

That got the ship’s attention.

“The anomaly?”

“The gorram cloud bank of creepy soap bubbles that infested the jump core chamber after you temnoed it.”

“That anomaly,” Zau/Heraxo said, speaking through the speaker of a small white remora that had come shooting down the corridor from the engine room. The remora rose up to Moira’s eye level and aimed its visual pickup at the window. “That is inexplicable. It was there before we jumped.”

“You weren’t monitoring it?” Moira snapped, shooting a glare at the remora.

“We were a little busy being {dead/in hibernation).”

“Great. Just splendid. I’m going to bed.”

“That’s a very {adult/human} reaction to the situation.”

Moira jabbed a rude gesture in the remora’s direction as she stalked back down the corridor. “While you’ve been getting your beauty rest I’ve been cleaning up the mess you made by jumping without permission, so go sami yourself. Get yourself ready to fly again, but don’t even think of jumping without my permission.”

Moira stepped into the refresher and allowed the jets of steam to work away knots of tension and flecks of dried blood from her body until she almost felt human again. The swarm of defensive midges she still wore disguised as a mobile tattoo burrowed deeper into her skin, then spread out into a diffuse web until they ceased to be recognizable as a cohesive unit and merely served to darken her skin tone in irregular splotches like wine stain birthmarks. She breathed in the steam and, for a while, pretended that the hot tears on her face were nothing more than condensation. After a long while she heaved a sigh, switched the refresher to dry mode, and stepped from the unit to stand in the middle of her quarters.

“What are you doing?” she whispered, shaking her head so her straight black hair danced around her ears. She looked at herself in the mirror, studying the network of tattoos and ridges that traced across her arms, legs, and torso, then up her neck to disappear beneath her hair. The body mesh had been implanted during her service and she had kept it after striking out on her own, despite the risks posed by carrying around a personal collection of military grade wetware in her body. Lovers had commented on it over the years, some openly asking her why she did not get it removed and settle into life as an academic or security consultant, others simply tracing the paths of her implants with their fingertips.

Why did she keep this up? Surely Heraxo would be thrilled if she released it and Zau would not be the first lover she had left in pursuit of finding safety. Hells, she had escaped Zone Alvapa by using Roi’s credentials to forge transport orders. She still wondered what had happened to him back in Alvapa, what future they could have had together if he had been willing to leave with her.

“No,” Moira said to her reflection. She turned her back on the mirror and stepped towards the bed. She had left all of that behind several lifetimes ago.

She sat on the bed and was about to surrender herself to the gel pad when her eyes fell upon the box that Bishop Estha had given her before leaving Zone Takni Gothren. That had only been a few hours past, but it felt like days. Just this morning she had awoken in a palatial research institute where the being that Zau had become was worshiped, and now they were adrift in the void, millions of kilometers distant. This certainly was a strange life she had fallen into.

Moira stood and lifted the finely carved wooden box from the corner where it had fallen. She delicately pried the lid open. Her eyebrows quirked up and she narrowed her eyes at the sight of what lay within.

“You wouldn’t…” she muttered. She shook her head, then coughed out a laugh as she lifted the device from the padded box and examined it. It was tapered rod of slick, spongey material about twenty centimeters long and three in diameter, the surface molded in a vaguely phallic pattern. She turned the device about in her hands, her face twisting in skepticism. “What the hells were you thinking, Estha?”

Glancing down at the box laying across her bare legs, Moira noticed a small cube of brushed gray metal nestled into a slot that had been concealed by the device, as well as a clear tube containing six unlabeled white pills. Recognizing the cube as an offline data storage module, she extracted it, then put the white rod back in the box and set the box on the bed beside her. “What do you have to say for yourself?” Moira said aloud as she issued the mental commands for her mesh to download the contents of the data cube into a secure partition. “I swear, Bishop, if this is some sort of homemade erotica I will kill you.”

Her mesh activated the downloaded code and an image of Bishop Estha’s face appeared in her virtual vision. “Hello, Moira. Since you are viewing this, I will presume that you have already examined my gift.”

“Damn right I have,” she muttered.

The video paused for an instant, then continued. “The restricted intelligence contained within this code has determined that you may be displeased with me. That comes as no surprise, given the nature of my gift. Please, allow me to explain. The device is not intended to provide you with pleasure, but to fulfill a dream. You told me, Moira, that you and Zau had intended to use the proceeds from your discovery of the exo ship to settle in a safe zone and start a family. I’m offering you that opportunity again.”

Moira gasped and paused the code’s execution. “Not possible. Well, yes, but…” She let out a faint moan and lie back on her bed, covering her eyes. She could feel the pain of those old memories pushing back to the surface again. She pulled her hands down across her cheeks, steepled them over her lips, and took several long, deep breaths.

She resumed the playback.

Bishop Estha smiled at her and said, “I am certain that this will be a difficult decision to make, but having the technology to make your dream come true I thought it my responsibility to offer it to you. You need only provide the device with a sample of both your and Zau’s genetic material and it will synthesize a fertilized egg and implant it into you in the least intrusive method possible. If you take the included pills for six days prior to implantation the midges and medications contained in them will guarantee conception. And before you ask, the process is entirely parthenogenetic, the device does not contain any sperm, just a reserve of utterly generic stem cells and a whole lot of smart nanotech.

“You might be asking yourself why I would give you this gift,” the Bishop said.

“Damn right I am,” Moira muttered.

Bishop Estha’s image smiled, then laughed. He shook his head and said, “At the moment, the Takni Gothren are indebted to you for introducing us to the Zau/Heraxo mind composite. You have already provided us with decades of research material. I will admit that in giving you this gift I hope to make you feel indebted to us, to give you a lifelong reminder of the generosity and talent of the Takni Gothren.”

Moira stopped the code again and purged it from her mesh. She needed to think. She needed to rest and let her medical midges repair her still aching body.

She sat up long enough to set the cube and the box containing the Bishop’s gift on her bedside shelf, then closed her eyes and tried to will herself to sleep.

It took a very long time.

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