Day 108. 121 pages, 52,150 words.
“…and that’s why I think I first accepted your application. It was perfectly sound, and all else being equal, I gave in to sentiment and accepted the applicant who was named after the Building in which I was born.”
Predericon lay and took internal stock for a moment while the familiar voice burbled on. She appeared to be unhurt, and while she couldn’t remember much beyond an increasingly fragmented and jumbled series of memories in and around the Destarion’s Segment Thirteen gastroclave room, she didn’t think she was suffering from emotional trauma.
Of course, how would she know?
She opened her eyes, and grimaced in the glare.
“Look who’s awake,” a second voice, also familiar, said in amusement. “Maybe now we can all stop telling facile stories and get on with the job at hand.”
Predericon pushed herself up on her lower elbows, and rubbed delicately at her eyes to help clear the fog. Then she lay and stared at her hands in blank incomprehension.
“Try not to freak out,” Lelhmak’s voice said wryly. “Gyden did.”
“Well let’s be fair, I had a bit further to fall than Akmet,” Gyden remarked.
Predericon looked up from her long, pallid grey fingers, and the faces of her two companions swam into focus.
Lelhmak was unchanged, although he was no longer bedecked in filters and hygiene fields and the other trappings of his culture. Gyden, who had defied her father’s phobe nature with aggressively colourful and decorative flair, was now equally grey and pale. Their family resemblance was all the more striking for the fact that Gyden had apparently been transformed into a phobe.
As had Predericon herself. She looked back down at her hands.
“What,” she said.
“Steady,” Lelhmak said, and put a hand on her arm. Although he wasn’t sheathed, she noted he wasn’t entirely free of neuroses. His touch was fleeting, and his hand curled a little as though trying to wipe itself as he withdrew it. Phobes were usually completely comfortable with one another in their chosen environments – but Lelhmak clearly remembered his two researchers hadn’t been phobes not long ago. “You’re alright. It’s … the Destarion extracted us from Segment Thirteen. We’re fine.”
“There was just a bit of a mix-up along the way,” Gyden added.
Predericon looked around. They were sitting – and she was lying – in the familiar cramped quarters of the Speed’s medical quarters. “How?”
“According to the Godfang herself, she reconstituted us,” Lelhmak said with a grimace. “Apparently my physiological profile was the purest and most uncontaminated of the three of us – something I find not at all surprising, by the way – and so she was forced to use it as a template for all three of us. And here you are. A pair of perfect, if slightly grubby phobes.”
“It takes a bit of getting used to,” Gyden confided.
“Uncontaminated?” Predericon repeated.
“Apparently one of us had been utterly riddled with Worm Cult byproduct,” Gyden said, “necessitating a molecular-level cleansing that left pretty much nothing to work with. I don’t know how she managed to salvage as much as she did, to be honest.”
“Let’s not be too hasty with the assumptions of salvaging,” Lelhmak growled. “Let’s hear you rattle off your introductions, Akmet.”
Predericon stifled a laugh of disbelief as she remembered the mental-faculty checklist they’d established for Lelhmak’s medical storage. “Predericon Ti Akmet, researcher,” she said, and nodded at her companions. “Kedane Lelhmak, research overseer. Gyden Lazeen, researcher. Speed’s Virtues (Curiosity) research vessel. Manatrikti Academy of Firstmade and Elder Theology and Megaengineering, Third Echelon. Cursèd outer envelope, Void Dimension – or some stellar-vacuum planetary system poor-man’s equivalent thereof. Podnak’s number is 3,223,347 by 11,776.2 by 19 by 10 by 10. Bartiqa’s Founding Principle is the conservation-”
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Gyden asked.
“You getting ripped to pieces by a snake-hand-vine creature that dropped from the ceiling,” Predericon replied flatly, making the other two phobes wince, “and leaving me in the gastroclave room with a misprint that kept bleating about not wanting to be put in there. Then … I don’t really remember. I recall being angry, and afraid, and just fed up with it all. I – yes, the platform detected my bag of … rations … as a biohazard, and destroyed them. Then I think I must have turned my lamp on, and made something angry. I assume I got killed, and rebuilt, like you two.”
“Sounds about right,” Gyden said.
“So how did we get back here?”
“We carried you,” Lelhmak said. “Well, dragged you.”
“Along with a bunch of old parts the Destarion was able to salvage from some gallery or other,” Gyden added. “Lelhmak reckons it will be enough to get the Speed flying again.”
“Really,” Gyden said, and glanced at Lelhmak. He returned her unreadable look, and then patted Predericon’s arm again. This time the effort wasn’t quite so hesitant and uncomfortable.
“The Destarion is sort of using us as a last resort,” he said. “It was a lot of effort to get us all pulled out of Segment Thirteen and put back together again. But she’s in full shutdown now and no help has come. No word. And it’s been a long time.”
“We’re not entirely sure,” Gyden replied, “but to get us as close to good-as-new as possible, she had to compile us and recompile us really painstakingly. From what I’ve been able to figure out from the systems on board the Speed – which were all completely dead by the time we hooked up new cells to them a few days ago, by the way – and from the movement of the planets we’re orbiting with…”
“Close to two thousand years by the Firstmade calendar,” Lelhmak said abruptly. “We’ve been stuck on this frozen little moon for almost two thousand years.”
“Most of which time we were completely scrambled anyway,” Gyden added, “like protein strings in a food processor.”
“And here we are,” Predericon murmured, holding up a grey hand. “A bunch of misprints.”
“Speak for yourself. I think she did a pretty good job, considering that she was in full shutdown,” Lelhmak said, admiring his own fingernails. “You know, even if I do say so myself.”
Predericon shook her head. There was little point in immersing herself in this problem. Not until she was back up to speed, anyway.
“Alright,” she said, “so what are we supposed to do next? If we’re the Godfang’s last-ditch effort at solving this, what’s her plan?”
“Her plan,” Gyden leaned forward, “is the inner planets.”
Lelhmak nodded as Predericon turned to him. “That’s right,” he confirmed. “The Destarion swears there’s still life on at least one of them.”
Predericon pushed herself up into a sitting position.
“Right then,” she said. “I can work with that.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while picking up the kids.