Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Advancement of Leona Matic: August 17, 2163

Leona and Serif jumped out of bed and opened the door. Lights were blinking, along with the alarms, but in a recognizable pattern. Paige’s voice was echoing through the passageways, “please proceed to the atterberry pods. Please proceed to the atterberry pods.”
“Where are those again?” Serif asked.
“Follow the lights,” Leona said. She could remember exactly how to get to the pods, but lights on the walls were directing their path, just the same.
They climbed down the steps and hopped over to the wall of pods. Brooke and Dar’cy were in two of them, the third being empty. “Can both we fit in one?” Serif asked, her panic intensifying.
“There’s another empty one on the other other side,” Leona explained. “You get in this one.” She helped her love step into the alcove, and programmed it to release her at the same time as the others. She then went over to the other side of the ship where three more pods were waiting. Missy was in one, Paige in another, and Nerakali Preston was in the third. “Son of a bitch,” she exclaimed. There were only six pods total, and they were all taken, one by an evil psychopath. She closed her eyes for two seconds, and took a deep breath. The air was thin, though, which was a clue. “Computer, report!”
“Speed, nominal. Course correction, functioning. Hull integrity, eighty-three percent. Automated repair, damaged. Life support, near failure. Please enter atterberry pod,” the artificial intelligence responded in Paige’s voice.
“There are no more pods!”
The computer took a beat. “Please enter atterberry pod.”
“Computer, personality at a hundred percent!”
“Morning,” the computer now spoke with a far more casual tone. “How ya feelin’?”
“What happened?”
“You don’t remember?”
“I wasn’t in the timeline!”
“I’m a time traveler!”
“Oh, gotcha.”
“So, can you tell me what happened to the ship?”
“A micrometeoroid struck the forward viewport in the cockpit.”
“When was this?”
“Two-hundred and sixteen days ago.”
“Why wasn’t it patched up? That’s an easy fix!”
“Repair contingencies were damaged.”
“Well—” Christ, that’s annoying. “Computer, silence alarms!”
The alarms shut off. “Better?”
“What about repair redundancies, don’t we have those?”
“I don’t have that information.”
She tried to take another deep breath, but it was not easy. “Find me a maneuver suit,” she ordered.
“Follow the lights,” the computer replied, lighting up the walls once again to illustrate her path.
         Leona opened the equipment panel and removed a special kind of vacuum suit that provided her more maneuverability, so that she could repair the damage herself. She then commanded the computer to open the hatch to the cockpit. It closed immediately behind her, to protect the rest of the ship. Had the micrometeor struck the bulkhead itself, the material would have been able to heal itself. The polycarbonate window, however, was a different story. Viewports were few and far between, to lower the chances of something like this happening, but it was obviously not impossible. A robot should have been dispatched to correct the issue, resulting in maybe a day of the crew being in stasis, but that apparently failed too.
About an hour later, though, Leona had the problem corrected, with a little good old-fashioned human tenacity. She ran a complete diagnostic of the ship’s systems, ordered an environmental radiation scrub, replaced the air recyclers, and disengaged the atterberry pods. She wanted to be waiting for Serif, to comfort her immediately, since temporal bubbles could be disorienting, but she needed to do something else. As soon as Nerakali stepped out of her pod, Leona sucker punched her in the jaw, and bound her wrists with a zip cuff.
“I told you she’d be pissed,” Nerakali said, wiping the blood off her chin.
“You were meant to stay in your room,” Paige said.
“It’s not my fault the ship went haywire,” Nerakali complained.
“I know,” Paige said.
“What the hell is she doing here?” Leona demanded to know.
The other three crewmembers came around the corner.
“She’s our...” Paige began, at a loss for words.
“She’s like a psychologist,” Brooke jumped in. “This will only be eight days for you, but for us, it’s more like seven and a half years. We need something to keep us entertained. Nerakali creates virtual worlds in our minds for us.”
“Humans have that technology already,” Leona argued. “You didn’t need her!”
“The powers that be did not allow VR. We don’t know why, but they wanted her with us.”
Leona got all up in Nerakali’s face. “I suppose you know what happens to you in the past.”
“Of course I do. I also know that my killer was wearing the Hundemarke. I can’t stop it. But...I can put it off, and I can do some good before it happens.”
“Can you?” Leona asked rhetorically.
“Right now,” Nerakali started, “no one knows when in my personal timeline I go back to to 2107, and get myself killed. It could be in a century, or in a minute. If I try to harm you, fate will intervene, and send me right to that moment. You are perfectly safe around me.”
“I’m not worried about you hurting us,” Leona said, almost sinisterly. “I’m worried about creating paradox when you piss me off so much, I kill you before fate gets its chance.”
Nerakali tried to calm herself down with a deep breath. “It’s hard to breathe.”
“I had to replace the cardio brooms,” Leona informed her, rather professionally. “It’ll take some time to get LS back to full operation.”
“Thank you for fixing the ship,” Missy said graciously. “Had I realized how bad it was, I never would have entered my pod. I should have known.”
“It’s okay. “It’s fixed now, and we didn’t miss a beat. We’re still right on time.”
“I should have seen it coming anyway,” Brooke said in sadness. “What we didn’t realize is that Durus, as it moves away from Earth, is leaving behind tons of debris. We’ve had to adjust heading to avoid them, but one still got through.”
“I failed as well,” Dar’cy said. “I shouldn’t be here. I need to be able to help when we get to the planet, but I’m wasting resources by being on the vessel during its journey. You should have had your own stasis pod,” she apologized to Leona.
Leona approached her. “I would have had one, if that asshole weren’t here. But if that asshole has to be here, then I need a badass like you to protect everyone from her. No way am I letting you thread an object to the future.”
Dar’cy looked to Paige for guidance.
“You heard the lady,” Paige said in her captain voice. “This is my crew. It may not be the best, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Warren is lucky to have every single one of you—even Nerakali, in her own way—and even Leona and Serif, despite how little time they can spend with us. I want you all to understand that violence and animosity will not be tolerated here. While you are on the roster, you are under my care, and anyone who threatens that, threatens the mission. The Savior, as exceedingly unimportant as the role is becoming, is one of Earth’s greatest assets. We were given the honor, and the responsibility, to bring her home safely. Anyone who has a problem with that, can spend the rest of the journey in a pod.”
Of course, no one wanted that, they all wanted to contribute. Still, Leona intended to keep as much distance between her and her girlfriend, and a very dangerous Nerakali, while still being able to maintain vigilance over the others.
After a nap, Leona let Serif stay asleep, while she went down to grab a meal bar. Each pack—known as a brick—comes with three bars; one each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’re stuffed with every nutrient a human needs to function throughout the day, according to standard macro ratio. Since it’s composed of the chemicals themselves, it’s almost completely tasteless. Boxes come with little flavor strips to put on the tongue before eating, which can make the bar taste like literally anything. Without these strips, astronauts would suffer from space madness after having to eat bland nothingness day in, day out.
Missy must have seen her go into the mess hall, because she followed soon thereafter, somewhat ardently. “I need your help.”
“With what? Ship going okay?”
“It’s fine right now, but as you saw first hand, that’s not always the case. I’m worried this mission comes with danger we cannot predict. Something else you might have noticed is that we lack redundant systems. We have one bot to repair hull damage, and when that failed, we were SOL. We have one extra pod should something go wrong, as long as you or Serif don’t need one. And there’s only one engineer. If I’m incapacitated, and something else goes wrong, there will be no one there to help. I need you to be my backup.”
Leona wiped her mouth. “You’ve just brought up the fact that I can’t help. Honestly, we got lucky that the ship sealed off the damaged section, and kept going without a crew. One false move, and it’s flying in the wrong direction. If I’m your backup...what if that hypothetical crisis happens literally tomorrow? Do you think the ship will survive an extended period of time until I can return?”
“Maybe not,” Missy said. “But you’re our only hope. You were a scientist in another timeline, and you’re an artist in this one, so you have a rare gift of synthesis, and creativity. I know the odds of you being around at the right time are low, but they’re better than zero. Brooke dies, who’s gonna pilot the ship? Paige dies, who can lead us? You can do anything and everything. Even if it’s just one day, that’s better than no day.”
Leona finished her bar and scooted closer to Missy. “It sounds like you need some cross-training. What you’re looking for is an easy solution, and that doesn’t exist here. I am a terrible backup plan. If Brooke...if she can’t pilot, then you have to learn how to do it. If your special pods lose power, Dar’cy needs to be able to fix them. And if Nerakali goes crazy, and tries to kill everybody, Paige needs to slit her throat. There’s a reason Serif and I weren’t given jobs. Whatever they are, we can’t do them. You have to pretend like we don’t exist, because most of the time...we don’t.”
Missy nodded her head. She already knew all this, but didn’t know what they could do about it.
Leona got an idea. “Start a school. You want something to do everyday, because it’s bored without Nerakali’s virtual realities—which I didn’t know she could make—then spend that time educating each other.” She stood up and threw her bar wrapper into the material reclamator. Before she left, she turned back once more, like a wolf. “You’re women. Get it done.”

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