An unexpected awakening
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.
My eyes are sharply prized open from a sudden screech for help. As the obtrusive note lingers an octave higher, I feel it course up my spine. A symphony of screams almost immediately follows; the encore harmonious with the sound of a slaughterhouse.
I’m blinded by a sea of red light, throbbing intermittently like a bad headache. As each pulse dims, I’m granted a second of clarity to observe my surroundings. I can barely tilt my head, let alone move my body. I strenuously torque my neck to the side, where I’m greeted by a wall, an inch or two shy of my nose. Tinted in red, an inscription glares back and I read in block capitals, POD 99.
My throat is dry, I swallow for what feels like the first time in years.
“Computer, diffuse emergency protocol”.
To my salvation, my weak voice is greeted with a response.
“Affirmative, Tanis Cooper, personnel number 99. Shutting down the emergency protocol procedure.”
The screams cut short and the crimson haze tempers dry. Darkness and silence enshroud the pod. As my eyes adjust, a small window, no bigger than my head, appears from the shadows. A faint glow encompasses my face and it is then that I realise my fate.
I’m marooned in space, in an escape pod the size of a coffin. With nothing but my thoughts and the stars as company. I wonder tirelessly, over and over again: what on earth happened to the A200?
The A200. A freighter for Nagoya Industries, carrying minerals to the C20 system. With 99 personnel onboard. 99 souls now destined to spend their last few hours of life in solitude, as they ebb into the void, counting down the minutes until their oxygen is depleted. The emergency protocol is triggered in the event of a ship threatening disaster, consequently jettisoning all escape pods. I imagine that my wake up call, courtesy of the comms system, was from the crew in their irrespective pods. 99 souls, with 99 problems. And yet, I’m only thinking of one. Murphy.
I recall my last memory. We’re in Earth's orbit, as the A200 is making her final preparations for the journey. I’m undressing in the locker room, on my way to the cryogenic capsule. The capsule, marketed by Nagoya industries as a seamless transition between stars, doubles as an escape pod. Hence my current predicament.
Opposite me is a man, with a welcoming grin as wide as his face. I’m held hostage by his eyes, I could get lost in them for days if I stare too long.
“Cooper, looking fresh. Ready for our big sleepover?” He addresses me.
His name is James Murphy, Flight Path Coordinator, personnel no. 98 onboard the A200.
“Am I ready for 134 days of nothing but my own unconscious thoughts to keep me company, only to wake up next to your bad morning breath? Hell no Murphy.”
“Well I be damned sleeping beauty, an engineer who's scared to get dirty. And here’s me thinking you’d love my bad breath.”
This was our thing. We’d bounce back and forth smart quips, finely tracing the line between innocent banter and suggestive flirtation. If only I knew my chances with him.
Actually, I do.
There’s a 92.7% chance that he’s interested in some form of intimate relation with me. How do I know this? Well technically speaking, I’m a cyborg.
My body is mostly human, and I was born just like anyone else. I’ve just had a few modifications; most notably in this situation, a left eye capable of capturing minute intricacies of human expression, linked to a chip in my brain for analysis. And yet despite this, for all intents and purposes, the human part of me still clings on to that 7.3% chance of doubt, for reasons I’m yet to comprehend.
I freeze. My smile now wilted. A woman, whose face is as stern as her voice, glares into my soul.
“I advise that you stick to your kind. Or maybe you’ll be sleeping beauty after all.”
Too scared to say anything, I nod in submission.
She turns to Murphy, her frown changes to a smile. “And how’s our flight path James?”
“She’s all set captain. Ready to go”.
“Good. I look forward to our rotation together.”
Before walking off, she pans back to me with a scowl. Murphy pats my back and gives me a cheeky wink.
“See you on the other side slick”, he reassures.
I shake off my trance, and can’t help but chuckle. Now with his back turned, he enters his pod next to mine. And that’s the last I saw of him. That’s the last I saw of anything.
If it weren’t for the crew's haunting screams over the comms, I’d have thought that the captain had actually stayed true to her word. Did she really hate cyborgs that much? I wonder, there must be a clearer explanation as to what has happened.
All is quiet now in the pod. My body inert, with my forehead leant against the window. At least I’ll die with a view, I think.
I suddenly jerk forward and bash my head. Before I can fathom what is happening, I stutter, “Computer, computer, open transmission!”
“Cannot comply. Neuron link required”.
For a moment I lose all hope. Until I remember what I am. I’m a cyborg. When you try hiding yourself for so long, you tend to forget who you are.
“Computer, detect open port.”
A wire un-curls from the wall, and inserts itself into my head via a small concealed hole. I’m in. I’m connected to the computer, it’s interface is as vivid as my thoughts. I locate the file. And just as I go to open it, I stop dead in my tracks. That’s odd, I think. No wonder an uplink was required. This isn’t your usual message. It’s not a transcript nor a video. This is something personal. This is someone’s memory file. I hesitate for only a second longer, before opening it.
I'm transported to another cortex. This must be their memory, recorded and written in ones and zeros. The data processed by my chip, creating a perfect simulation for me to relive.
Now stood onboard the bridge of a ship, amongst a couple dozen crew that I don’t seem to recognise. All heads are turned, ogling at a screen as wide as the room. I catch the reflection of a badge that is pinned to my uniform. There’s no name, just a number; a disparaging sign that this person too is also a cyborg. I’m personnel number 13 aboard the A200.
“Have they detected us?”
It’s the Captain. She's facing us, posed in front of the screen.
“No captain, I think we’re in the clear”, a voice from behind exclaims.
“Wait. I think. I think they’re altering course!”
Two flashing red dots enter the screen. Each subsequent flash is accompanied with a beep, and with every beep they get closer to the green dot.
The room fills with chatter, its volume increases by the moment. Amongst the jostled statements, I can hardly make out a thing. The one theme that binds them is fear.
The Captain tempers the crew's tongues.
“How long ‘till they reach us?”
“At the rate they’re slowing down, 5 minutes captain.”
Turning to the screen, she nods in disbelief. Her hands joined behind her back, twiddling her thumbs. Her mind at play, calculating her next move.
“We’re going to be boarded. Prepare for first contact.” She calmly orders.
“Ok listen up!”
A familiar voice addresses the room. Our heads now panned to the side. It’s Murphy.
“My team, we’ll split off into two, and jump whatever boards.”
He’s not his usual self. Dressed like a soldier, from his neck hangs a strapped rifle and his back is laden with ammo. Why is he here? We were supposed to be on rotation together. And he’s a flight path coordinator, not a soldier!
“Anyone with combat experience, grab a firearm from the armoury, then head back here and buckle up.”
For a brief moment the room is unmoved. Astonished faces gawp in shock.
“Ok! Move out!”
Beside Murphy, a herculean built man roars. His muscular physique and rugged face commands the entire room. Weapons are exchanged, barricades erected. And the once unruly crowd becomes organised. Murphy takes an exit; behind him, a trail of heavily armed soldiers follow.
And now we wait. Once again all eyes are fixed back onto the screen. The red flashing dots ever closer to the green.
Gravely anticipated, the ship's computer announces the countdown. It’s tone as cold as the captains.
“Contact in five, four, three, two, one.”
Two large thuds echo throughout the ship. The sound heavy with the forebode of the unknown. A droplet of sweat drips down my forehead, I dare not move to wipe it off. Mechanical screeches begin to clamour through the vents, and are soon confronted with the sound of distant gunfire.
“Taskforce one is down”, the computer announces.
As the gunfire grows closer, so does the unease of the room. Scientists distinguishable by their lab coats, huddle together, and begin to pray to ancient gods. A mother holds a tablet, leaving an audio message to her children. Those of us with guns, take cover, with our sights shakily aimed at the door.
“Taskforce two is down.”
Sooner than we can react, the Captain takes a stand and makes her presence known.
“This is not a time to be scared. We knew what we…”
The bridge door explosively blasts forward, and is flung across the room. I duck to the floor. Its jagged bottom stained red, as it slices over the heads of the crew. The lights cut out. A string of bullets rain down on the hole the door has now left. But they soon start to shoot in all directions. I see bodies move intermittently as the gunshots strobe the room. Perpetual cries for help reverberate everywhere, as the shots start to lose momentum. A metallic smell now fills the air, a concoction of blood and lead. It’s so profound I can taste it.
I lay on the floor as bodies drop with bloodied faces. Their mouths are still open with fear. A warning to those who stand up. Myself and another crawl forward, guided by a faint light from the other side of the room. Our path is now littered with torn flesh. They puss blood as we trudge through them. By the time we reach the end, all gunfire has now ceased. I’m not sure what’s more frightening, the victims' screams or their unseen devourer.
Upon closer inspection, the once faint light seems to stem from a small UI panel on the wall. The person beside me swipes a keycard over the panel, which reveals a secret door. We rush through and the door closes behind us.
We enter a corridor. The chaos now muffled.
I’d recognise that stern voice from anywhere. Now in the light, my shadowy companion from the floor is revealed to be the captain.
She continues, “You are a cyborg, correct?”
“Then am I right in thinking that you have a stored memory drive?”
“That’s correct captain.”
She pauses. Her eyes start to slowly pan upwards as mine follow. A gaping hole protrudes out of the ceiling, and from it dangles blood red vines that are organic in nature.
Our eyes in tandem pan down.
She whispers, “We need to transmit this memory from the computer. People need to know about this.”
I nod as confirmation but before we can set off my face is splattered in blood. A tentacle-like appendage has pierced through the captain's chest. Her body now held off the floor and slightly swaying.
“Run you fool!” she shrieks, as she’s dragged up into the hole.
My legs hurtle forward carrying my still awe stricken body. I meander through a set of corridors, knowing that each corner may be my last. Eventually a dead end approaches. There’s a closed blast door with another UI panel. I motion a keycard and enter. Just as I step through, my body still halfway in the door, something grabs my arm from the corridor. I quickly grasp the door frame with a foot forward, and smack a button on the inside wall of the room. The door slams shut and I lose my arm to the other side. And with it, my unknown assailant.
I glance at my now dismembered shoulder, and notice an entanglement of wires jutting out. I realise that my arm is mechanical.
A dent bulges out of the blast door.
The dent grows deeper.
With no time to waste I lay down on a chair at an upright angle.
“Computer, detect open port.”
Just like in the pod, a wire uncurls itself from the chair's headrest. As it's inserted into my head, with one last thud the blast doors prize open.
“End of transmission”, the computer announces.
My consciousness is pulled back to the pod. My mouth now wide open, I gasp a silent scream. Overridden with emotion, I take a few seconds to breathe. For a moment, I really thought I was Number 13 aboard that ship. As Number 13 hooked up to the computer, they must have uploaded and transmitted their memory file. I wonder if they also ejected the pods?
Still tapped into the computer's interface, I scan for a ship's log.
The only pod that was ejected was mine. Pod 99. What about the others? Where did all the cries for help come from? I continue to find the audio file, and identify its tag. It’s from the A200. It must have been a distress call. After replaying it from the start, I realise its origin; I can hear the mother from the bridge, leaving a message to her children. And soon after, the recording is invaded by the carnage that unfolded.
That’s enough, I think. As I disconnect from the computer.
Now I reside back in my own reality. Once again alone in the pod, with my body still pushed up against the window. It is then that I notice that the stars have seemingly disappeared. There’s nothing but black. I hold my breath. Something knocks on the door.