Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Safe, Part VII

Huffold watched the screen intently, mind racing, knowing that his techs in the other room were viewing it, too, and that everything was being recorded for later review by himself and his superiors. He was exhausted. As the goings-on aboard the Cornucopia were his only assignment now, he was expected to be an expert on all things involving the ship and its workings, not to mention stasis sleep, galactic colonization, Safe handling and training, female psychology, and every system aboard the massive colony ship hurtling through the universe with the psychotic girl at the helm. At least they had managed to discreetly slow the ship down some, thus allowing the Freya to shorten their ETA for boarding, and his hopes were high that this situation would be resolved sooner than originally expected.

Since gaining control of some of the systems aboard Cornucopia, Huffold and his staff had taken great pains to be unnoticed during their remote access, especially since it seemed that Celia was a regular peruser of the ship’s data files and systems. There was much already built into the design of the ship that the passengers had no access to, and they were working on extending this lockout--particularly to applications that had not been visited by the Safe. The more they could control and restrict, the more they could sway the outcome of this impossible situation. Any changes they made were done subtly, as if things had been that way in the first place.

Huffold shook his head and retreated from his reverie back to the present, focusing on his duties while keeping an eye on his view screen to monitor the Safe’s odd behavior. He quickly organized the pertinent video surveillance of the Safe’s experiments in the ship’s lab and sent it to his forensic scientists for examination. He had little idea what to make of what she had been doing there, and hoped for some enlightenment. Huffold was keenly aware of Celia’s hunger for knowledge, and hoped that her time in the lab had been spent on idle experiments that probed her newfound curiousity and not in something more sinister or devious. She seemed guileless in the video feeds, but Huffold reminded himself that the woman had killed in cold blood and without provocation, would likely kill again, and was currently headed to weapon storage where several racks of a vast manner of munitions were organized.

Huffold rapidly finished a few more tasks, encoding and sending information to be analyzed to a few different departments, then swiveled his chair to face the blank wall to the left of his desk. At the push of a button, the wall flickered to life and revealed itself to be a large vid screen, and Huffold shifted the view from the Cornucopia to this screen, then leaned forward to watch Celia’s odd behavior at a life-sized resolution and in exceptional detail.

What in blazes is she up to?

Zoe was, by any standard one cared to apply, an extremely patient individual. As a stalker--and sometimes killer--of nearly every major predator and prey on Earth, Zoe had learned the value of waiting, watching, and moving quickly when the opportunity arose to avoid missing an opening. Zoe, however, was becoming restless. Not only was her novel situation a psychological hardship, (and one that was baffling in a multitude of ways), the complete inability to control the body she was in was maddening, and tested every fiber of her considerable composure.

Finally, however, an opening had come.

Time was difficult to measure in her current state, but Zoe felt that it had been many days since she had been thrust into this odd condition of consciousness without control. Much observation had revealed some rather startling facts. First and foremost is that Zoe was no longer in her own body. This wasn’t too surprising, as it was the way she expected to travel to the new colony. All colonists knew about the Safe, it was the Safe who was kept ignorant of their role in things. The second was that she was no longer with the ‘general population’ that included every ego of the pioneers in stasis--she had been removed and isolated with only two other minds, one rather bookish but enthusiastic, and one that quite obviously belonged to the body Zoe was in. She concluded that the stronger personality was the Safe, and that the quiet one was a starfaring homesteader like herself.

Details of the transition and processes of filling and emptying a Safe were far beyond her areas of expertise, but the huntress was fairly certain that she was not, at any time, supposed to have been isolated from the rest of the travelers. If the current state of affairs were not normal, she reasoned, then it must be abnormal--and something had gone wrong. If things had gone wrong, she needed intel and action, and that required control. So, she waited.

Zoe had discovered something else quite interesting. In her state of detachment from her physical body, she realized that she did not need sleep any more. Not ‘sleep’ as she knew it, anyway. The huntress found that by entering a meditative-like state for a short period of time she was able to fulfill the functions that normal sleep and dreaming do, and was therefore able to stay ‘awake’ for much longer periods without deficits or changes in mental function or acuity.

Every night, while the host mind slept, Zoe tested her boundaries. She pulled and prodded at her prison, eventually gaining a measure of freedom to basic body functions, but not able to access any deep psyche. No matter, as she didn’t need that now, anyway, and probings that invasive may have been noticed. She didn’t know what control the Safe had over them here, in her gray matter, but had no desire to learn how sever the Safe’s disciplinary actions could be on a rogue mind.

Over time she found she was able to attain limited dominance of this body’s motor functions, and exercised this freedom with increasing success every night, once she found it was possible. The bookish mind was of no help, seeming content to accept things the way the were. At least, she never noticed it doing anything but puttering about in the ‘corners’ of this mind. At last, Zoe decided the time was right to do some recon, and for that she needed full control of her host’s nervous and musculo-skeletal systems. She planned carefully, and decided that when she did gain function, the first thing she should bolster was her offensive capabilities. Although she was an effective hand-to-hand fighter, Zoe decided that having a gun at her hip would even some odds significantly.

For the first time in a long time, Zoe Brazzo grew impatient, and waited for the ship’s night protocols to cycle.

“You understand why you were passed over for the initial selection, correct?”

“Yes, sir, now as then.”

“Good. You also realize now that the very reason you were not allowed to muster for duty at that time is the basis of why you are being chosen for this mission?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you have any doubts about your ability to do anything reasonably necessary to secure the success of this foray, including the use of deadly force to attain the greater good?”

This briefing was important, she knew that, but she couldn’t help but unfocus for moment and remember the girl she had once knew and helped to raise. A young, mentally deficient girl, naive and genuine, who’s parents had both suffered terribly from the blight and perished, unwillingly leaving her to fend for herself. This trustful girl surely would have wasted away had it not been for the interventions of someone stronger, someone who had also lost their family to an indiscriminating sickness but had a determined will and a more capable intelligence. The older, more adept girl was able to forage for the pair of them but often arrived at their shelter worn out and with an increasingly bleak world view, one tainted by the unending exertion that survival demanded. She was still able to be surprised at times, however, by her ward’s sporadic flashes of clarity. Although it was often a mimic of her own jaded perspective, it still helped center her, helped to remember why she toiled. After a few years, an opportunity to give the foundling a secure and safe life, free from uncertainties, seemed to far outweigh the potential losses. To say she had never regretted that decision would be untrue, but she still thought it had been the best option for her young charge.

“....approximately 36 hours, and the selection for your partner has almost been finalized. Specialist Hawley, are you alright?”

Daniela came back to the present with a touch of irritation at herself for her lapse in concentration. “Yes, sir, just doing some planning.”

“Fine, but save it for after this meeting. Ship and gear have been arranged, all you need to secure are personal items. You will be able to inspect the Freya six hours prior to departure, and will meet the other half of the crew at that time to run through pre-flight tests and receive final directives. Any questions?”

“No, sir.”

“Very well, you are dismissed. If you do think of anything, or there is any gear you are finding it difficult to obtain, contact me and I will make it happen.”

“Yes, sir, and thank you, sir. I won’t let you down.” She stood slowly.

“It’s not me you’re fighting for, Specialist. There are 397 colonists depending on you. I know you’ll make the right decisions.”

Daniela saluted, waited for it to be returned, and left the Director’s office briskly, slowing once she had passed beyond his secretary. In the hallway she lost herself to memory again, going back to the day her self-imposed dependent had been taken and transported to where ever it was that Safes were evaluated and conditioned before deployment. Although it was not permitted, Daniela had tried to explain, briefly, what it was that would be expected of the young, imperfect woman in her new life. She hadn’t seem to understand at first, but as she was entering the vehicle the girl turned to Daniela, her dark eyes lucid and a small smile toying with the corners of her mouth.

“I guess, then, sometimes death doesn’t seem like too bad an option.”

With that as her only farewell, Celia had closed the door and the car accelerated, levitating and merging smoothly into the fareway above, leaving Daniela to follow her own path for the first time since they had met.