A Ghost in the Machine
The end of the day rolled around slower than Haven's orbit around Odessa. A dull throb rapped its way across the back of Vera's head. She stumbled towards hers and Lori's bunker. Her arms and legs felt as though they were still floating and not fully attached to her body. As much as she loved the freedom of Zero-G, her body clearly didn't. Lori pushed ahead seemingly unaffected and used her Chip to open the door.Vera collapsed sideways onto my bunk instantly and groaned. 'I swear these days just get longer and longer.'Lori pulled the sliding door shut and swiped the keypad to the side. A bang sounded as the deadlock hit home.'With so much to cram in, I think they need more hours in the day.' Lori said as she steered round Vera's bed. She threw her wool jumper onto her bed.Vera grabbed her pillow and started to smother herself with it. 'What we need is a time machine so I can spend one day in class and then go back and spend it in bed instead.'Lori chuckled. 'You can't spend all your life in bed, Pink.''Life seems pretty good when you're in it though.' Lori's mouth curved into a smile and she turned her head shyly, the blush of her cheeks radiating across her face. She perched on the edge of her bunk and started to undress.Vera grumbled and rolled onto her front, bunching the pillow up under her chin. She stared up into Lori's round face as she struggled with the knots on her boots. She scraped her feet together trying to get her military grade boots off while reaching down to untie the laces of Lori's.Lori stroked Vera's hair. Vera closed her eyes and sighed contentedly.'Lets get you to bed sleepy head. You had a big dinner.'Lori stood and moved to the wardrobe panel and placed her boots in their assigned slots, leaving Vera's at the base of the bed.She pushed up on her elbows, glanced at her Chip and at the pitiful twenty credits remaining. She hissed like she'd been stung. 'Good thing we get an allowance. Otherwise you would have starved a long time ago.' Vera mumbled into the edge of the duvet and rubbed her stomach. 'It was people like me who innovated the system, Lor. Can't have 'Eve to be''s collapsing left right and center. You should be thankful.' Lori stuck her tongue out.Vera scrunched up her face and reciprocated. She got up on her knees and threw her pillow against Lori's bare back.'Now get over here you big Skunk.'Lori's top hit Vera squarely in the face. She spluttered and almost fell backwards off the bed. A hand grabbed her lightly by the shoulder and pulled her upright. Vera pulled the grubby white vest from her face to find Lori looking up at her with her seductive blue eyes. They still reminded her of the distant blue galaxies, beautiful, entrancing and increasingly out of her league.'Yes?' Lori asked, her arms flushing her chest, her hair falling lightly around her face not unlike a renaissance painting.Vera's face warmed.Lori leaned forward and pressed her lips against Vera's, softly tugging her bottom lip with her teeth. Vera shuddered, breathed heavily and cupped her lips around Lori's, wrapping her hand in her hair.Lori slowly pushed Vera backwards, pulling her flat against the bed, straddling her with her bare thighs. She slid Vera's top up to expose her midriff. Vera's hands glided across Lori's skin. Smooth silk marred by streaks of oil and grime and dirt. Imperfect yet everything Vera needed. Everything she ever wanted. *
Vera's silent alarm roused her from her sleep at midnight. Lori was snuggled tightly against her arms, snoring away. She kissed her on the shoulder and slowly unwound herself before carefully sliding off the bed. Lori mumbled and rolled over, her hair fanning across the bed like a starburst.Vera smiled and waited, watching as her chest rose and fell until her features grew soft again and she drifted back to sleep. She pulled on a bra over her head, moved it into place and wrestled with her trousers. She jammed her feet in her boots and forced them on, leaving them untied, hastily shoving the laces uncomfortably down the sides.Grabbing her Walkman from the bedside table she made for the door, scooping her hoodie off the floor as she went. The bunker door flew open and Vera stepped out. She fed her arms into her hoodie and hastily pulled the rest over her head, she pulled the hood down over her face out of habit and shoved the Walkman in her pocket.The led lighting running the length of the corridor was an eerie blue, making shadows where there were none. Door jams, crevices and pipes all seemed to creep along the walls beside her, following her down the hallway. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Slipping through the airlock, she headed towards the lower east side of the station. Haven had been built as a series of concentric circles. They rotated continuously to give the illusion of gravity yet Vera always felt like she was floating on air. Especially through the older parts of the ship. As if she was floating back to a time when things were a lot different. All the circles were connected by a series of tunnels or 'pipelines' as Vera grew to know them and even though she felt like a rat as she navigated the dark and dingy back passages she felt...right. As though these tunnels, these foundations were made just for her. The corridors were empty, full of nothing but Vera's footsteps and the faint hum of the emergency lighting as it flickered every couple of meters.The heat grew more intense the deeper she traveled and she found herself acclimating to the constant rhythmic turning of the rotor engines, the station's heart beating away to keep everyone else alive.Vera approached the Falmouth Airlock, her hand gliding across the faded F-III spray painted on the silica walls. She went to grab the handle and froze. The handle wasn't fully locked. She took a step closer and instead nudged the door with her finger.A noise croaked from the door's hinges. The airlock was open. No one ever came down here besides her. Or so she thought. She took a step closer and strained to hear for any voices or signs of movement but all she heard was the faint creaking and tapping of old pipes and a whispering chill lingering at her back.'Hey Z.' Vera whispered.'Hello, Vera.' Z's electric voice buzzed back.Vera stood on her tip toes and sneaked a peak through the view port. The washed out white and grey of the old space station stretched out before her like a padded quilt. A stark contrast to the deep blue, black and silver shiny facade of the new. It was made for a purpose and not to show off.'They in your hidey hole?' Vera asked.'As a matter of fact, no. They're in yours.' Vera stiffened.'The pipeline?'The ghost nodded. 'They've been in their for 43 minutes. They've already found your JackPad.'Vera sank against the wall. They would check the pad for fingerprints first. That would set them back a day or two at least. She might be able to change her records before they-'And all your gum wrappers.' Vera let out a pained noise and slumped.'But- I- How' She stuttered, smothering her face with her hands. 'It was like the Texas chainsaw massacre in there!' She grumbled through her fingers. Z smiled at her reference. Then frowned.'But Blaine is Judge Dredd. Ruthless.'Vera looked up at the fizzy blue apparition hovering before her. He always looked young, no doubt modeled on the programmer that created him. People were so vain back then. Before everything went to hell. The faint beginnings of a beard flickered on his chin, on the verge of becoming a man but his scrawny frame gave him away. His white vest was creased and tucked into what looked like sweatpants. His body looked like the rain on the old archive videos she use to watch as a child, misty and constantly shifting in the breeze; even though there was none on Haven. His glasses were the most solid part of him.'You lead her straight to you after your stunt with the schematics. Especially after you humiliated her in front of the entire class.' He fizzed.'But how did she know it was me? It could have been anyone in that room.''She must have figured it out in order for it to lead her here.''Blaine's in there?''Affirmative.' 'Can she see you?''Not as far as I can tell.'Vera gripped the handle of the airlock door.'Can you access the mainframe from out here.'The ghost frowned at the sudden change of subject.'I'm afraid not. My reach is limited. I can only observe.''If she can't see you, can you work around her?'The ghost spread his hands and shrugged. 'I don't see why not.''Could you get a live feed of Odessa?' Vera pleaded. 'I need to be sure.'He cocked his head.'But you already are.'Vera stiffened.'You've known for a while, Vera.' He said softly, 'Stealing the schematics only served to confirm it for you.'Vera collapsed against the wall, the cold surface leeching the fight out of her. He was right. Of course he was right. Why was he always right?She slid down until she was sat on the floor and hugged her knees to her chest.'That doesn't make me feel any better.'Her breathing fastened and she forced herself to take slow breaths before it got any worse. She rested her forehead on her knees limiting herself to her safe space. She looked up accusingly at the fizzing blue apparition.He dipped his head and took two steps back. He fuzzed and faded out even more.'Sorry.' He blurted.'If the schematics are fakes...' Vera took a steadying breath and looked him straight in the eye, 'then what else is?'The ghost looked down presumably at this feet but he fizzed away to nothing past his ankles.'More than you could ever imagine...' Vera hesitated for a moment. His voice sounded almost human.'Are you going to tell me what they're hiding or are you going to-''I've already said too much, Miss Vera. If I tell you any more...' He crouched down in front of her and glanced at the door. He sighed and looked up into her tired eyes.'I fear you might get hurt.'Vera leaned her head back against the wall and stared down the hallway. The chill sharpened her thoughts.'That's my decision to make Z. You know that.'Z hovered over to the wall and attempted to slide down into a sitting position. Instead he ended up falling through it. Vera pressed her lips together and tried to hide her smile. The static buzzed louder as he shuffled forward out of the wall.'I think it would be wise to let things settle down first.' 'What happens if they don't settle down.'Z dropped his gaze and shrugged. 'Then...they don't.'Vera turned her head toward him. He was staring at her intently, his static eyes roving across her face, trying to see what she was thinking.'And that's when you have to make the first move.'Vera tilted her head forward questioningly. He stared back with a fierce intensity. The young boy from moments ago vanished, a hardened man sat in his place. His jaw was clenched tight and his eyes glinted with pale blue light.'What do you-'Z flickered.'Hang on.' He muttered before his eyes glazed over like he was staring through the wall. In some weird way, Vera knew that was exactly what he was doing.'She's speaking over Comms to someone. Give me a moment while I-''No doubt filling in the other Commanders on the trash talk I-'Z flickered, disappeared and reappeared in front of her on his feet. 'They've taken someone into custody.' Vera shot up, her hands balled into fists as she hung on for his words.His eyes widened and he stared into Vera's paling face. 'It's Lori. They've taken her.'She bolted back towards bunker without looking back.