Friday, May 29, 2009

Safe, Part VIII

Zoe knew that at some point during the day, whatever was left of her mind had to rest; all creatures (no matter where they rank in the food chain) had to give the brain some time off. It was one of nature’s immutable rules. So, Zoe made sure she meditated for a few hours while Celia was in control of their body, and made sure she was "awake" before Celia turned in for the night. It was difficult to coordinate at first, almost like getting used to working the night shift, but in someone else’s body.

Finally, deck by deck, the ship’s lights began dimming. Zoe knew it would be a matter of time before Celia would go to bed; then the body she resided in would become hers for a few hours. She’d been up to the weapons deck a few times to have a look at its layout and take inventory of what the ship had to offer. She was amazed. What didn’t the ship have to offer? Guns of all kinds (both traditional and beamers), bladed weapons, mines, grenades – they even had huge turrets that could be mounted on the colony’s walls if necessary. Tonight she would make her choice. Celia’s eyes closed and soon her essence was silent and floating on the periphery of the group mind they shared. Celia was asleep. Time to go.

From her recent recon trips she knew that someone (who wasn’t Celia) had gained partial control of the ship’s security programs. This unknown variable controlled which decks were available and which were locked down, and probably was monitoring her on the ship’s cameras as well. She knew swiftness would be her best option, so she set a goal of one minute for this entire trip. After all, the way things were going, it wouldn’t be long until the weapons deck was locked down completely.

The lift’s doors opened and Zoe started counting one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand as she sprinted onto the weapons deck. By eleven-one-thousand she was through the door and past the rifle lockers. Finally, she reached the small arms section and found what she came for – a traditional pistol, similar to one her father used to own. She also nabbed some plastic rounds and a hunting knife for good measure.

At fifty-two-one-thousand, Zoe was back on the lift and headed for her body’s quarters. Eight seconds early, she said to herself. Way to go Zo’. All she needed now was a hiding place.

Suddenly, a thousand tiny hammers were attacking her forehead. Zoe had never had a migraine before, but she immediately knew that’s what it was. The dimmed white light in the lift became overwhelmingly painful and bright; it hurt to keep her eyes open, even just a little. She sat down on the floor just as the lift arrived at its destination and couldn’t do anything for a few seconds except hold her aching head in trembling hands. Zoe finally managed to crawl out into the corridor, her head throbbing. Mercifully, the pain started to ebb. As the hammers stopped their pounding, Zoe had the distinct impression that there were two sets of hands holding her head – hers and Celia’s. Eventually that feeling left her, along with the rest of the pain, and she found herself in a fetal position in the hallway. She composed herself, stood up, and staggered home.

Her new weapons would need to be well-hidden in Celia’s quarters, yet easily retrievable should the need arise. But how? And what if Celia found them? Would she be completely puzzled as to how they got into her cabin, or would she vaguely remember taking them? The questions raced through Zoe’s mind as she scanned the room. Maybe Celia wouldn’t find them and think she had simply dreamt taking the weapons. Or maybe she’d find them and just chalk it up to sleepwalking. Hell, that’s not too far off, Zoe thought. This almost is like sleepwalking. Schizophrenic sleepwalking.

Ultimately, Zoe decided on the top shelf in the closet. She couldn’t remember Celia ever going in there, so it seemed like the perfect spot. Celia’s arms couldn’t reach the top shelf, so Zoe had to stand on the edge of the bed to manage it. Behind a shut closet door, nestled at the back of the closet’s top shelf, both gun and knife would be out of sight – and hopefully out of Celia’s mind.

* * * * *

Aside from a small rumbling headache, Celia woke and felt wonderful. In the course of the past week she had finished reading every passage available in the ship’s library that had anything to do with computers or computer programming. In the last journal she'd read, the author was tossing around phrases like “When your university students ask about this concept….” It was clearly an instructor’s curriculum, written for someone who would be teaching at a Master’s level. And she had completed it! The thought of how far she’d progressed made her extremely proud; one short year ago, she would have been too stupid to realize what a university course was, let alone be able to teach one at a Master’s level.

A cup of coffee later she was up and moving around the deck, making her daily check of essential systems. “Daily report, please” she said to the computer.

“Life support nominal – no change. Propulsion – no change. Hydroponics reports crop selections G through R will be ready for harvest and replanting today. Inbound comm reports no transmissions received. Would you like to hear your itinerary for today?”

“No thanks,” she told the computer. “The Master will be ignoring her itinerary and taking the day off.”

“The term 'Master' does not apply to anyone currently active. Please rephrase your request,” replied the computer.

I’ll have to teach it some humor, thought Celia as she finished her coffee.

A few hours later, Celia was almost done with her morning swim when the computer’s voice put an end to her day off. The words echoed through the natatorium: “ATTENTION. Sparrow Class vessel detected at zero-point-five AU. Docking procedures initiated, final dock sequence in 18 minutes.” Celia quickly got out of the pool and began to dry off. “COMPUTER REPEAT!” spat Celia.

"ATTENTION. Sparrow Class--"

“Nevermind my last command," she said, dripping water. "Why wasn’t I informed of this? How can any ship be matching our speed?”

“Cornucopia’s engines have been slowing slightly, albeit exponentially, for the last week,” replied the computer. “In three weeks the ship will exit space-prime and re-enter normal space. All other security codes and clearances for the Sparrow class ship have been scrambled and reassembled by Hub command. In addition, this Sparrow appears to be augmented with an engine design that is not in the most recent database update.”

The Hub was sending new tech at her. “How long until we drop out of prime?”

“In three weeks the ship will exit space-prime and re-enter normal space,” replied the computer.

“WHEN DID ALL THIS HAPPEN?!” she yelled, still not believing it.

“The order to slow the ship was issued by Chairman Sollart just over a week ago. The order to reassemble security clearances was issued and approved by Hub Command two minutes, thirteen seconds ago,” replied the computer. “Your clearance level has been demoted to Green.”

It was obvious that Hub Command knew nothing of her recent course in computer programming. And now they were locking her out? “We’ll see about that,” said Celia. All she needed was 10 minutes alone in the ship’s brain, and all the blockades that Huffold and his men had thrown up would be moot. This was her ship now, along with everything and everyone inside it; they weren’t getting it back.

She’d have to hurry, though – the computer’s primary nexus was located directly below the bridge. She knew that whoever was on that shuttle was no doubt after her. They’d check the Stasis Chamber first (which would buy her a little time) but after that, they’d be heading to the bridge. She’d have to make sure she was long gone by the time they got there.

“Computer, have I been deemed noble enough to know anything else about this ship?”

The computer, trained to ignore both sarcasm and disdain, responded: “Sparrow class vessel, designated Freya. Two occupants, Lieutenant Samir Asad and Specialist Daniela Hawley. All other information is classified.”

A crew of just two? Celia figured that since their precious Safe had developed a mind of her own, Hub Command would have sent a legion of scientists to get a handle on the situation. But only two? It seemed logical that Huffold would send someone with some sort of connection to her, but try as she might, she couldn't place either Asad nor Hawley's name. So much for protocol.