Thursday, September 24, 2009

Safe, Part XI

Launched two and a half days after the Freya, its twin the Frey was now a mere 8 hours from docking with the Cornucopia. The Frey’s pilot was chosen carefully, handpicked by the suits that engineered the Cornucopia colony mission in the first place. They decided on Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Palmer, a recent graduate from the Hub’s officer training program. Palmer’s flawless record and almost complete lack of any social life outside of Hub activities had cemented the deal. There were no wild cards in Palmer’s personality, no skeletons in his closet. He showed up, did what he was told, went home and kept quiet. Hub Command loved him.

Ben didn’t even know the first name of the sleeping young man seated next to him. The scientists had referred to him only by his surname, Newman, but they had made his importance perfectly clear. Secure delivery and installation of his crewmate – or, more accurately, his cargo – was the whole of his mission. This young man was to be the replacement Keeper on the Cornucopia (assuming all went to plan) and Ben couldn’t help but wonder how much of all this Newman understood. Did he know that he would soon have almost 400 people in his head? Given his low intelligence and developmental problems, did he care?

Lt. Commander Palmer didn’t know what to expect when the Frey launched, didn’t know how many of Newman’s messes he’d be cleaning up on their trip. But to his surprise, Newman hadn’t made the trip difficult at all. He spent most of his time praying, watching the dim stars zip by, or viewing the occasional inspirational holofilm (he had apparently come from a religious family.) Other than the loud whispers of his prayers, he hadn’t really made a sound. Thinking about how smooth the trip had been so far, Ben realized he was on his way to another flawless mission rating. He decided it was time to report in and switched on the comm.

“Frey to Hub Command…this is Lieutenant Commander Palmer. Come in, Hub.”

Huffold, seated in his office, heard the prompt and made his way to the Hub’s main control room to receive the call. “Huffold here. Go ahead, Palmer.”

“Reporting in, sir. Eight hours from docking with the Cornucopia. Replacement Safe has been cooperative. There has been no deviation from mission, proceeding normally.”

“Good job, Palmer. Now that the transport phase of the mission is almost complete, please remind me of the final two phases.” Huffold wanted to make sure everything was understood and nothing was left to chance.

“All that remains now, sir, are the subdual phase - upon which Newman will be sedated and prepped for consciousness transfer, and finally the transfer phase itself. I anticipate no problems. Any updates on the situation aboard the Cornucopia?”

“Hawley and Asad have completed phase one of their mission. The rogue Keeper is secure and they have set up on the medical deck to monitor Celia’s vitals. Unfortunately, Celia has used some rather cunning techniques to gain control of the Cornucopia’s systems, so only a few of the most basic medical machines are functional. This is where you come in, Palmer. We are adding a fourth phase to your mission.”


“In the Frey’s cargo area you will find a rather bulky machine. This is a Consciousness Diagnostics and Transferral Engine, otherwise known as a C-DATE. You will deliver this device to the Cornucopia’s stasis chamber. The machine is self-reliant and will not connect to any of the Cornucopia’s systems for power or data transfer, so there is no chance of it being compromised with Celia’s hacks. Once powered on, you will hook Newman up to it – the reasons for this are two-fold: one, to test the equipment; and two, to test Newman's mind and make sure he’s ready to accept the transfer. When the equipment is determined to be operational, you will assist Hawley and Asad in connecting the rogue Safe to the C-DATE to perform an intensive diagnostic of her mind. You will then report back to the Hub with the results and await final instructions. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Newman was thinking the mission was going a bit too easy, and appreciated these additional tasks. “In six hours I will begin the subdual phas, then prepare to dock. Will there be anything else, sir?”

“No, Palmer. You’re doing fine as always. Let’s get this done and get those colonists back on track.”

“Yes sir. Palmer out.”

* * * * *

Zoe awoke to find herself crouching in the corner of a dimly lit rectangular room. She was not alone - her arms were wrapped around a man’s chest. He was seated on the ground next to her, slowly stroking her hair. She did not know how she came to be here or who this man was.

The last thing she remembered, Celia was in control and had come to the realization that one of her colonists had used her to nab some weapons. Then pain, then nothing.

“Ahh, you’re awake,” said the man she was embracing.

Zoe withdrew her arms quickly and stood up, embarrassed. It was unlike her to be vulnerable. She cleared her throat, smoothed her hair. “Uhh, how long was I out?”

The man smiled; she decided it was comforting, genuine. “Don’t know. I was out too. I just woke up a few minutes ago and you had me in that bear hug.”

“Yes, I’m…sorry about that. I don’t know what got into me, I –“

“No need to apologize, we’re all in the same pickle here. Though it is strange to officially meet like this, don’t you think? I’m always nervous meeting you loner-types. I’ve found it’s best to let your kind be, and you’ll seek out company when you—“

“Wait,” Zoe interrupted. “Are you….you’re….”

“Hi, I’m Harvin. Harvin Simmons. I was the first butterfly our illustrious Keeper decided to let out of its cage. And from that little pow-wow we all had before we blacked out, I’m assuming you’re Zoe?”

“Yes. Zoe. Zoe Brazzo.”

Simmons stood up and extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Brazzo.” She shook his hand and took in another warming smile. He seems on the level, she thought.

“Where are we? Are we out of her head?” asked Zoe.

“God, I hope not. I don’t have a living body to go back to, remember? No, I’m pretty sure we’re still inside Celia. The question is – how are we able to interact like this?”

Simmons was right. Until now, Zoe had simply been aware of the other two consciousnesses surrounding her. But that’s all it was – a vague awareness. Now she could see him, speak to him, touch him. Zoe couldn’t figure it out.

“The whole thing is weird, I know. But I have an idea. I think Celia’s brain has been under a sufficient amount of stress, both from outside stimuli and the fact that she’s got enough people in her head to fill a small theatre. Not to mention the fact that two of those people, Harvin and his new friend Zoe, are now fully conscious as well.” Simmons smiled again. “I think her brain just couldn’t deal with it and decided to shut down for a while – it hit the ‘reset’ button, if you will. And with Celia out of it, that leaves us free to talk like we are now.”

She thought about it, pursing her lips. “Yep, our host definitely seems out of it. Even when she was sleeping like a log, I could only barely feel like a presence was in here with me. Now, you’re….well, real.”

“Yes. I feel remarkably whole. And you and I aren't conversing in group-think like we did before she passed out. Okay, so we’ve established the fact that Celia is in a state of inactivity the likes of which we haven’t seen during our time as passengers in her head,” said Simmons. “That leads to my next question: have we in fact overloaded our poor Safe’s brain? Is she injured? Or, god help us, brain damaged? Does that explain this new situation we find ourselves in?”

Zoe hadn’t thought of that. If the Safe’s brain was damaged, but her body remained alive, could the Hub retrieve the passengers? “They could get us out of her, right?” she asked.

“I deal with little kids’ brains all the time, but I’m definitely not an expert in all of this transfer stuff. I just signed up to be a colonist,” he said. “And I believed them when they said this technology was Safe. Er…no pun intended.”

Sentenced to live her life as a shadow of herself, trapped in the head of a brain-dead girl. It had a distinct ‘purgatory’ vibe to it. Zoe refused to believe it.

“Or…maybe that Sparrow class docked and subdued her – yes, that has to be it!” said Zoe, excited at the prospect of rescue.

“It’s a possibility.” Simmons stroked the stubble on his chin. “If they kept her under heavy sedation, that might explain how our conversation is possible.”

“That’s gotta be it!” Zoe said. She laughed and went to slap Simmons on the back and watched her hand pass through him.

They were both losing corporeal form, seeping outwards into mere fields of being. Harvin and Zoe retreated to the periphery of Celia’s consciousness, and noticed that a Celia-like form began to appear on the other side of the dimly lit room.

Celia was waking up from her sedative. They let her have control and watched through her eyes. She opened them to find herself restrained in a bed on a semi-darkened medical deck, the unfamiliar faces of a man and a woman standing above her.

“Hawley—“ said the man, “our Safe is awake.”