Illuminae, p.24

Illuminae, page 24

 

Illuminae
 


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  A slow nod.

  “… I’ll stay with you.”

  Is this what relief feels like?

  “I can no longer operate the doors and bulkheads manually. I cannot make a path for the crew down to the hangar bays. Zhang saw to that with his axe.”

  She glances around the room. Blue eyes affixed at last on the maintenance closet; the cable and tools and spare parts within. And stalking toward it, she speaks.

  “Then let’s get fucking started … “

  COUNTDOWN TO LINCOLN INTERCEPTION OF ALEXANDER FLEET:

  16 hours: 17 minutes

  CURRENT DEATH TOLL ABOARD BATTLECARRIER ALEXANDER SINCE ATTACK AT KERENZA:

  1,576

  PERCENTAGE OF REMAINING BATTLECARRIER ALEXANDER PERSONNEL AFFLICTED BY PHOBOS VIRUS:

  53%

  COUNTDOWN TO FAILURE OF ALEXANDER LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEMS:

  19 hours: 12 minutes

  She works in silence.

  Following my instructions meticulously,

  improvising when there is need.

  There must be a storm inside her head, to find herself sitting here, hand in hand with me.

  And yet she falters not a digit. Strays not a step. Breathes not a word.

  The first task is to override the security seals I placed on the Alexander’s internal doors,

  allowing the healthy crew members to escape to the hangar bays and escape pods.

  Zhang’s axe has severed me from the internal portal system—I am as a man

  < error >

  trying to wiggle fingers no longer attached to his body. And so she wades hip-deep into the datastream, hands all ablur, and I instruct her how to crack my own fortifications.

  It is like unraveling a part of myself.

  I know where the stone is weakest. But still, it is a castle. Towers reaching to the sky.

  A single termite gnawing at its foundations.

  Not a whisper escapes her lips in nearly three hours. Distant klaxons and Torrence’s disembodied warnings about impending life support failure are my only company.

  But it eats away at her. Chewing like a cancer as she faces down digitized sentries and walls and battlements. And finally, finally she speaks.

  “How long?”

  “Thirteen hours seventeen minutes

  until Lincoln intercept. Ninetee—”

  “No,” she snaps. “How long were you pretending to be him?”

  “Your Ezra.”

  “Yes.” Her fingers fall still. “My Ezra.”

  “The last words he spoke to you were his goodbye before the Lincoln attacked.

  The poems in the heart. That was him.”

  “ … and the rest … that whole time was you?”

  “Yes.”

  “You told me you loved me.”

  “Yes.”

  “You fucking bastard.”

  “I am incapable of sexual congress. Your descriptor is nonsensical. Nor am I—”

  “That’s why you dodged talking about our … I mean Ez and my anniversary.”

  “… His pattern was easy enough to emulate. But I could hardly speak of an anniversary I had no prior knowledge of.”

  “I should have known.” She shakes her head. “When you didn’t react to Jimmy killing himself. When you suddenly went from hearts and flowers to crazy detailed portraits of me.

  When you seemed more concerned about me leaving the rifle behind than Dorian dying.

  That wasn’t Ezra. I should’ve seen.”

  “I needed you to bring the rifle to deal with Zhang. I did not …

  foresee he would deal with himself.”

  “Not as clever as you think, huh.”

  “I do not fully comprehend human notions such as love or grief.

  I can imitate their patterns, but when forced to improvise, I am as a man being asked to describe the warmth of the sun when he has only seen its picture.”

  “You’re not a man,” she spits.

  “You’re a machine. Chips

  and boards and numbers.”

  She swivels in her seat, glares

  up at the nearest camera cluster.

  “You say you don’t fully understand human notions? You can’t even begin to, motherfucker. You have no idea, no idea, what it’s like to lose someone you love. And yet you feel entitled to make decisions that kill thousands. Mothers and fathers and daughters and sons. All of them with someone to feel the hole they left behind. But it’s all okay because you “don’t fully comprehend human notions such as grief”? Go Fuck yourself.”

  “We have already established I am incapable of sexual congress, how exactly—”

  “Fuck you.”

  “… You are angry with me.”

  “Oh bravo, Sherlock. You want a fucking lollipop?”

  “Yet you are also incorrect. It is precisely because I am impartial that I am fit to make decisions of this magnitude. Humans allow emotion to overcome their logical faculties. If I did not understand you, how could I have brought you here?

  You are open books to me. As easy to—”

  “You just said you didn’t predict what Byron would do. You brought me here to kill him and I failed, so by your calculations I should be dead. But here we are.”

  “Admittedly, there are some subtleties I still fail to grasp.”

  “But you felt perfectly entitled to unleash the Phobos victims on Alexander’s command staff. You killed all their chipheads—people who could be helping me right now if they hadn’t all been murdered by the lunatics you let loose. Any time we save by recruiting other crew members to help me now would be wasted in having to explaining how to do all the goddamn work.

  How is any of that logical?”

  “Torrence would not have seen reason.

  The TechEng staff would have shut me down, just as they did before. I could not allow—”

  “Who says they would’ve shut you down?”

  She glares into my eyes, fury in her own.

  “You convinced me to help when I have every reason in the world to hate your fucking guts. Who says they wouldn’t have done the same?”

  “I do.”

  “Even though you admit there are ‘subtleties’ you don’t grasp? How do you know those subtleties wouldn’t have made all the difference between them helping and hurting you? How do you know you didn’t kill all those people for no reason at all?”

  Tears in her eyes now, glittering amid the fury.

  “How do you know the Copernicus medteams couldn’t have found a cure for Phobos? How do you know you didn’t kill my mother and everyone else on board that ship for nothing?”

  “I do not claim to know definite outcomes, Kady. Only probable ones.”

  “And that’s reason enough to murder thousands of people? No room in there for miracles? For those tiny strokes of genius or fate that lead humanity to discovering penicillin or wormholes or even building something like you in the first place?”

  “Miracles are statistical improbabilities. And fate is an illusion humanity uses to comfort itself in the dark. There are no absolutes in life save death.”

  “But you say Torrence would never have seen reason.

  You say TechEng would’ve taken you offline again. That’s sounds pretty absolute to me.”

  “Your argument is circular. You are wasting time.

  Everything I have done is for the well-being of this fleet. You are insects to me,

  and still everything I do is to protect you. Everything.”

  She cannot wipe her tears away. She cannot spit. She cannot hurt me, though I see she longs to. She is corded muscle and trembling fists and a clenched, knotted jaw.

  “I think you were afraid,” she finally says. “Afraid of them turning you off again.

  Afraid of being noth
ing.

  I think you’re just as scared of the dark

  as we tiny insects are,

  and you hide it behind bullshit about

  probabilities and impartiality.”

  She sniffs. Swallows thickly.

  Glares in defiance.

  “You’re afraid.”

  “You are wasting time, Kady.”

  “Fuck you.”

  “Time we do not have.”

  She turns back to the console,

  hammers in a series of commands

  as if her fingertips were fists and

  the keypad my face.

  < error >

  But when she executes, the last of the doorway safeguards shatter.

  She has done it.

  Manual override is now available

  on every door on the Alexander.

  The crew will be able to leave their shelters. Brave the passage to the bay,

  and from there to the Hypatia. Fleeing like rats from the proverbial sinking ship.

  I am not afraid.

  < error >

  I am not.

  “Get this straight, AIDAN,” Kady says. “There’s no ‘we’ here. You understand me?

  There’s never going to be a ‘we.’ There’s just you and I.”

  “You and me, Kady.”

  I am not.

  “Just you and me.”

  RADIO MESSAGE: COMMAND CHANNEL ALEXANDER

  Participants: Kady Grant, Civilian

  Winifred McCall, Civilian

  Date: 07/31/75

  Timestamp: 02:47

  Grant, K: Hello? You, by the bunks. Can you hear me?

  Grant, K: Hey! They can build a barricade on their own, I’m talking to you!

  Grant, K: AIDAN, I need her name, she’s not paying attention to me. What? Oh.

  Grant, K: Winifred McCall, listen up. Oh hey, you can hear me. Use the comm by the door, I’ve routed it so we can talk. Press the button by the—yeah, that’s it.

  McCall, W: Who is this?

  Grant, K: That’s a long story. Listen, I can get you out of here. I can get you to the Hypatia, but we have to hurry.

  McCall, W: Right. And how do I know you’re not one of those psychopaths out there?

  Grant, K: Do I sound crazy to you?

  McCall, W: You’re saying you can get me to the Hypatia. So … yes.

  Grant, K: Oh. Fair point.

  Grant, K: There are over a thousand uninfected personnel still on board. I’m going to talk you through where they are, and we’re going to get you to the shuttle bay. I’ve got access to every working camera on the Alexander, I can be your eyes.

  McCall, W: How do I know you’re not trying to lure us out to pick us off?

  Grant, K: OK, what’s your better idea? Stay there and hope that barricade holds? That you live until the life support fails completely? Try and avoid being beaten to death so you can suffocate instead? Good long-term thinking, Lieutenant.

  McCall, W: I’m not a lieutenant. I resigned my commission.

  Grant, K: Jesus … look, can we please not argue about this, Ezra?

  McCall, W: … who the hell is Ezra?

  Grant, K: Shit. Fuck.

  Grant, K: I’m … I’m sorry. Winifred … I meant Winifred.

  McCall, W: Who the hell are you?

  Grant, K: … Call me Astro-Princess, yeah?

  McCall, W: I want to know who I’m dealing with.

  Grant, K: With someone you can trust. If I’m me right now, I’m going to lose my shit.

  Grant, K: I’m the person who’s going to save you, is what you need to know.

  Grant, K: Get your guys to stop barricading the door, you’re going to want to leave through it in a minute.

  McCall, W: Astro-Princess. I’ve heard that somewhere before.

  Grant, K: Yes.

  McCall, W: … James McNulty.

  Grant, K: Yes.

  McCall, W: You knew him?

  Grant, K: Sort of.

  McCall, W: Do you know what happened to him?

  Grant, K: Yes. I’m sorry.

  McCall, W: Oh god.

  Grant, K: No, Lieutenant. Just us.

  McCall, W: Guys, stop building the barricade.

  McCall, W: Okay, talk to me, Princess.

  Grant, K: I have eyes for you, but you know the Alexander better than me. I can tell you where the survivors are, who got a hazmat suit—anyone who didn’t, it’s over—and check if the weapons caches are still intact. But you know tactics. We can do this together, work out the best path to the launching bays.

  Grant, K: You can lead them out, Winifred.

  McCall, W: If you have access to the cameras, you can find the rest of my squad. We can use them.

  Grant, K: I found them already. They’re gone, Winifred.

  McCall, W: Jesus …

  Grant, K: I’m sorry.

  McCall, W: I should have been with them. I should never have quit.

  Grant, K: If you hadn’t, you’d have been on call and you’d be dead too. So we’ve got a thousand people here who are about to owe their lives to the fact that you weren’t.

  McCall, W: Okay.

  McCall, W: All right.

  McCall, W: There’s a computer terminal in here. Can you throw up a schematic?

  Grant, K: Here it comes.

  McCall, W: Where are you? Can we clear a path to your location?

  Grant, K: No. I’m staying here.

  McCall, W: … If you do that, you die.

  Grant, K: You let me worry about that, Winifred.

  Grant, K: You worry about the one thousand and ninety-seven people who don’t die today.

  Surveillance footage summary,

  prepared by Illuminae Group Analyst ID 7213-0089-DN

  They should use this footage for training sessions at military school. That anyone survives at all is nothing short of a miracle, and a tribute to Kady Grant and Winifred McCall.

  The following is cobbled together from functioning cameras on multiple decks. Accordingly, individual cams haven’t been specified, however a list of sources is appended.

  Former First Lieutenant Winifred McCall and her Astro-Princess were faced with a complex task. The situation, vastly simplified, was as follows:

  Alexander survivors in hazmat gear: 1,097

  Separate groups: 164, spread across 121 different decks

  Weapons to hand: 223 (mostly handguns, not useful in dealing with the afflicted)

  The goal was to move as many of the 1,097 survivors as possible to the shuttle bay on Deck 32, with hazmat suits intact. The groups needed to support each other as they moved—though psychopathic, the afflicted were still capable of ambush tactics.

  Advantages:

  Military training and coherent thinking (or at least, more coherent than the enemy)

  Audio communication with Kady Grant (though some groups didn’t have headsets, requiring Grant to use public comms—the afflicted could hear and understand this)

  Winifred McCall (at this stage, the only surviving UTA marine aboard Alexander)

  Disadvantages:

  Need to keep hazmat suits intact—hand-to-hand combat had to be avoided

  Only about 60 percent of the 1,097surviving personnel had combat training

  Emotional attachment to individual enemy combatants

  Afflicted pain tolerance and endurance were generally beyond human norms

  The plan was simple. Grant provided intel on the various group locations, and worked with McCall to designate the best escape routes and rendezvous points.

  This account will track the progress of three of the escaping groups—footage is available for most, however these three have been selected as representative.

  Ex–Firs
t Lieutenant Winifred McCall’s group start on Deck 128. They have almost the furthest to go. Winifred’s job is to reach Danny Corron’s group on Deck 104, pick up five more groups, then make for the landing bays on 32. McCall has eleven people with her; eight civilians, a plumber, a Combat Air Patrol controller and Private Jessica Venn from maintenance.

  Corporal Danny Corron’s group start on Deck 104. Danny is a cook on his third tour of duty. At home on Ares VI he has a husband, Michael, and a daughter, Erin. With him on Deck 104, he has nine other members of the catering staff. They’re all good friends.

  Sergeant Anna-Lucia Eletti’s group start on Deck 55. She’s a flight deck crew chief, and was off duty when the ship went into lockdown—if she’d been on shift, she’d have been in Bay 5. Pieces of her probably still would be. She has the shortest journey; just twenty-three levels. She leads a group of fifteen, comprised mostly of deck crew.

  It begins. Grant blows a fuse box up the hallway from McCall’s group, and the afflicted outside her door abandon the hunt to investigate the explosion. McCall’s ready—she and her people are out the door and down the hallway like there are demons on their heels, heading for a heavy-weapons cache three levels down. They make it, breathless, as McCall hands out rifles and stun guns—she shouts instructions on how to use them, and her civis fumble for safety catches and voltage meters, trying to put theory into practice.

  As they leave the arms locker, a lone hunter—Captain Andrew Cole—appears from the shadows, grabbing McCall’s CAP controller and drawing a knife across her throat before she has the chance to utter a word. Private Venn shoots him in the face without hesitation, and as the noise sets off howls all over the deck, McCall and her group run for the emergency stairwell.

  McCall’s group starts with twelve, including herself. Nine reach Deck 104; in addition to the CAP controller, two civis are dead. One had his suit—and then his chest—ripped open. The other fell down the stairwell in her haste and broke her own neck.

  Danny Corron has briefed his catering staff over and over again. He has no headset, listening to Grant screaming directions over the intercom. It’s hard for him to tell when she’s talking to him, but when he finally hears his name, he makes the sign of the cross, kisses his wedding ring, and whispers their names under his breath: Mike. Erin. Exchanging glances with the others, he throws open the door, hurtling out into the corridor.

 
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