Thursday, 26 January 2017

Icarus (part 4)

She felt herself thrown off her feet but she didn't black out. Flowers didn't; they had no consciousness to lose. Clio was a BioAssistant, colloquially known as Flowers, a subspecies of genetically engineered slaves each with a different specialty. Demeters were farmers, Thalias were councillors and entertainers and Clios were usually archivists or historians. Her speciality was memory and so the fact that someone had slapped an Antimnem patch on her violated her to her core. She was filing the shivering, quaking emotions she received every time she contemplated this under 'Deal With Later,' in order to concentrate on the situation in hand.
Avksenity was unconscious; the lack of Whizzer on his back was making it difficult for him to live conventionally, never mind having half smashed his head against the wall. Luna was out cold next to him and the sounds of scuttling from above had silenced. She was all alone and, according to the view through the end window, she didn't have long left.
Clambering to her feet, Clio pulled herself up the ladder and stuck her head into the technician's duct. "Can you hear me?" She shouted, as loud as she could. The duct snaked away from the opening quite rapidly so even with the amber sprinkle of server bulbs, it was difficult to make Po out. The lack of reply didn't calm her at all but she remembered the old mantra she'd taught herself long ago. Control what you can and allow fate to take its path.
Climbing down from the ladder, she hurried over to Luna and Avksenity on the floor. There was no hope, or point, waking Avksenity, so she instead grabbed Luna's shoulders and shook her until she woke. It didn't take very long; Lourdauds tended to be quite headstrong.
"Huh?" Luna groaned, slightly groggy. "What's going on?"
"We've been hit, some sort of gravitational wave." Clio replied. "I recognise the signs from when I worked on a photon miner."
"You're remembering too!" Luna grinned, her snout wrinkling as she did.
"It doesn't matter what I'm remembering. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Now we've been pushed away from the sun something must be pushing us back, quicker. We're running out of time."
"I'll wake Avksenity." Luna decided, kneeling down but Clio shook her head.
"We haven't time. We need to wake Po and get her to pilot the ship away."
"If she could do that, she already would have. There's got to be another plan."
The sun grew bigger, a crimson sphere of furious energy looming over them, ready to digest them.
The solution was in Clio's mind before she could even begin to comprehend it. Besides the milky white obscurity of the last few days, Clio could remember everything she'd ever experienced. Every conversation, every scent, every pair of smiling eyes, every subconscious tick. She knew every single fact she'd ever been told and she could remember her entire service aboard that photon miner, trying to capture the elementary particles from the grasp of blackholes in the hope of powering special types of cells. She was the ship's clerk and close friends with a lot of the crew, most crucially the ship's Psychic Pilot.
Now, don't get ahead of yourself. A Psychic Pilot wasn't a superhero who could fly a ship with just the power of their mind. They were the metal interface between man and machine, back in the days before the creation of complex TTCs. The idea was that such a person would be hooked up to the computers and would control the ship with just their mind. It was well paid but lonely, and dangerous, work. Clio liked to keep the photon miners' PP company and, through their friendship, she'd learnt an awful lot about it.
"I need to plug myself into the server. Act as a psychic pilot." Clio said.
Luna laughed, almost arrogantly. "Psychic pilots? I frown on them! If it can't be done by hand, what's the point?" Her grin widened still. "I remember! I'm a pilot. I'm a ship pilot."
"That's brilliant, Luna, but it doesn't help us." Clio said. "This ship is automated. It can't have a real pilot, it needs a psychic one."
"Then hook me up." Luna said. "I've got qualifications and everything."
"No." Clio said. "Psychic piloting carries massive brain damage risks. It needs someone dispensable to do it. Let me."
"None of us are indispensable." Luna said. "We're meant to be a crew. That's the point."
"Luna, you're a young pilot. You've got your life ahead of you. If Avksenity dies now, he'll never deal with his grief. Po, well, she's selfless enough as it is. I need to contribute something, and if it's saving all your lives, then that's that."
"No, Luna." She said. "This is my duty."
Luna sighed. "I'll help you do but only if you let me help you pilot too, which means you think what I tell you to think. Understand?"
She nodded. There was no stopping a Lourdaud with good intentions. She'd learnt over the years that too. "Okay. Let's do this. We're going to need cables plugged into the TTC server upstairs. That means we need Po."
Luna nodded and scampered over towards the ladder. She crammed herself as much as she could into the technician's duct. She had longer arms than Clio- a skill that made clothes shopping a nightmare but reaching for unconscious Zoradians as easy as imaginable- and so found the rough fur lying close to the TTC server. She gave a couple of shakes but her hand became damper and soggier with the soaking blood. There was no reply. Po seemed clean out.
There was a sudden electrical buzz in her hand. Luna leapt back, bumping her head on the cage and frowning. Tentatively, she reached out once more, feeling around blindly once more. There was another zap but it was softer this time, perhaps more like a buzz. She reached around and grabbed her electrocutioner. Pulling it closer, she realised. "Whizzer!"
The little red droid flashed at her idly.
"Whizzer, I need you to wake Po up. Give her a zap."
The droid flashed again.
Rolling her eyes, Luna said, "Come on. Help a sister out."
Whizzer flashed in such a way that a sigh was implied. It turned around and rolled back over to Po, reaching out a small prong and zapping the Zoradian. Whatever current touched that purple and grey fur seemed to reverberate through her, smashing her eyes open and dilating the pupils more than previously thought possible. She jolted up and bumped her head into the duct above her head. "Klick." She whispered, patting her head and in the process discovering the bloody welt at its rear. "Oh for gods' sake."
"PO!" Luna shouted. "You're alive. How's the ship? Can you fly us away?"
"How's the ship? How am I? My brain is bleeding."
"Po, we're being pulled into a sun."
"My day can't get anymore Klick, can it?"
"Can you pilot us out of here?"
"No." She said. "The TTC is frazzled. There's no saving us."
"Then we need to do Clio's plan. She wants to be a psychic pilot."
"That's too dangerous!"
"That's what I said but she won't listen. Come on. It's that or we die without a fight!"
Po sighed. "I'm going to have to take Whizzer apart if we're going to do this. I'll need some of his circuits."
Whizzer began to flash in alarm.
Clio heard the request and hurried over to Avksenity. She did her best to shake him awake but he was a big man and heavy for it. It took a lot of violent, vigorous shaking- the sun growing larger and larger all the still- but eventually she got him awake. His face was turning paler by the second, the tan fading.
"Can you hear me?" She asked.
The General frowned at her, his eyes woozy. "Just about. I can also hear a slow chimera's howl but I think I'm making that up."
"We need to take Whizzer apart to fly the ship away from the sun."
"Then do it. The droid won't care and, if he does, you can turn off the emotion chip."
"But what about you? We take out Whizzer, there's no saving you."
"I made my sacrifice." He said. "Now hurry up and save yourselves."
With that, he blacked out once more. Clio placed him lightly against the floor and hurried over towards the ladder, shouting up, "He says we can do it! Come on."
Whizzer seemed somewhat sedated by this, not resisting at all whilst Po pulled the droid apart with her bare hands. She took one of the ringed caskets and hooked it up to the droid's neural relay, which she plugged into the TTC server. She then scrabbled down the ladder and hurried over to Avksenity, pulling the neural transmitter from his forehead and clipping it onto the casket. The wire didn't go very far so Clio had to stand next to the ladder to use it. Luna looked at her. "Are you sure about this?"
She nodded. "Let's do it." And with that, she placed the casket crown upon her head and felt her mind connect with the machine.
The sun disappeared, replaced with the ringed planet emblazoned with 'F' that was the Federation logo. The lights flicked on, the walls move apart. A group of people wearing red jackets hurried in, some grabbing Avksenity and carrying him away, others removing the crown from Clio's head.
"Who the hell are you?" Po demanded, the only one who wasn't unconscious or shocked.
It transpired that they were cadets for the Interplanetary Federation of Cosmic Exploration. All had agreed, as part of their final exam, to undergo a mind wipe to then be placed into a training environment. The exam would assess their capability under pressure in conditions they couldn't possibly prepare for. It also assessed their aptitude for team work.
They all passed with flying colours and received their flying colours in turn, stripes to place on their shoulders to show their qualifications. Clio would go on to become the clerk of an exploratory vessel where Luna worked as its pilot. Avksenity and Po, alongside a reconstructed Whizzer, acted as astromechanics and technicians respectively aboard a merchant ship. The crew of the Icarus Exam flew once more.

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