NSC – Be As Gods 8 – This Old War

Thank you for reading! Me and my coauthor Darinost are gradually combining forces and blogs, so the joint comment section for our stories is currently located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.

With a final heave, Eve lifted the heavy block into place, wedging it between two walls in the Ark’s mainframe room. While that was the end of the effort, it wasn’t the end of the work, however… the server room was in zero gravity, located in the middle column of their ship rather than in the one of the rings. Without that, she never would have been able to lift the large cube along with her as she moved from the airlock, but it also meant that the box of complex electronics wouldn’t exactly just stay in place. Instead, Eve tightened the straps around it, locking it down and keeping it still before she moved to begin connecting the cables that would hardwire it into their system. The cables weren’t the prettiest things… naturally, they didn’t have any cables that interfaced with the kinds of plugs the Arane used as their standards. Thankfully, it seemed like there really was only one realistic way to make fiber-optic cabling, and with a little bit of help from her new friend Eve had managed to spend the last few hours splicing together a working set of adapter cables that used her plugs on one side and the Arane’s on the other.

Once they were plugged in, a few indicator lights immediately turned on as the machine started to power up. Eve let herself float, holding onto the wall by one handle while she waited. That thing was heavy, and even with the Nostalgia For Infinity docked with the Ark it still took just about everything that Eve had in her in order to be able to move the advanced machinery onto her ship. Walking back onto that dark alien vessel a second time had been significantly less creepy in some ways but more so in others… now that she knew that people lived in the computer systems of the ship, it felt like walking through a tomb. Every block of circuitry she passed, every one of a hundred cubes like the ones she had brought over weren’t just random machinery… they were people. Shal-ra had mentioned backups that she had made just in case, but there seemed to be so many. The Arane had said that the rest of her crew were powered down to save on processing power, so that explained the many cubes that were drawing power but not in active use. Plenty of others, on the other hand, were completely offline, not even hooked up and not giving off the slightest bit of activity. Those were the backups, maybe? That would explain why Shal-ra wanted her to bring one of those over and hook it up before bringing her own matrix over. Eve decided that it wasn’t her place to pry into the ship’s business, but she noted it for later so that she could ask Shal-ra if the topic came up.

The effort of moving her over here was considerable but it had been necessary… with the NFI’s computer systems still disabled by the damage causing by the computer viruses and the escape from the war, the uploaded woman wasn’t able to control her machinery from within her own systems. In order to help, she needed to be plugged into the Ark’s instead. With that done, Shal-ra would have access to the controls she needed to reactivate her much more advanced and useful set of repair drones and maintenance systems.

With a crack and a pop the small headset Eve wore came to life. “I’m online,” Shal-ra’s now familiar voice said in flawless English. “The transfer was completed without issue, I see. Glad… going offline like that is always unnerving.”

“What’s it like for you?” Eve asked, morbidly curious.

The voice in her ear seemed to hesitate. “It’s like going to sleep, sort of,” she answered. “But no dreams. Never a dream. I shut down for about…’ There was an almost unnoticable pause while Shal-ra converted numbers she knew into ones Eve would be familiar with. “…20 minutes every day and a half or so the way you count, so that I can update backups. It’s kinda like that… but I know that if I’m not reconnected to power, this cube might never wake up.”

Eve clicked her tongue. “That’s what the backup is for, right?” she asked. “How would it know to turn on?”

Shal-ra sighed. “There’s no foolproof method to make sure a signal has been sent and received. There are safeguards, but for the primary system we just have to rely on one another. If the next custodian of the NFI came online and I wasn’t there, or wasn’t sane, he would activate the last backup. Other than that, my backups are supposed to activate if I go dark for a year with no checkins, under the assumption I’m gone.”

“Souls transfer from one place to another!” Eve said appreciatively.

“Yeah, something like that…” Shal-ra said, not entirely convinced. Whenever Eve started talking about the soul she usually got like that, but it made perfect sense to the Latina. Shal-ra had told her the process of uploading a mind was destructive, that it was impossible for the body to remain viable after the scan was completed. That, to her, was a clear sign of God’s will… allowing the soul to awaken in its new “body.” Shal-ra, evidently, didn’t agree, but some level of graciousness had to be given to the ignorance of an alien from another world… she could learn.

“Alright, I’ll let Adam know you’re on board and we can get started with maintenance,” Eve said, beginning to float her way back down the main column.

“Yeah…” Shal-ra said quietly. “Eve, I don’t mean to doubt you, but… are you sure your husband has your best interests in mind?” Her words were hesitant and Eve could understand why… she had poked at this subject more than once in the last few days as they prepared for this procedure. “I don’t like the way he treats you.”

“He’s fully within his rights,” Eve insisted. “It’s God’s will.”

The momentary silence spoke volumes. “I… have my doubts about that,” the Arane said cautiously.

Eve shook her head. “That’s because you don’t understand. How could you, when you haven’t learned better? God made Adam stronger than me… and if God didn’t want him to exercise his power, He wouldn’t have given it to him. Strength is God’s way of making His will known… and if God didn’t give me the strength to stop him from doing as he wishes, then His will is known.” Eve didn’t want to be insulting… but it seemed to her that Shal-ra should already understand this. After all, her own people had been unable to stop themselves from being conquered.

“If you’re sure…” Shal-ra agreed hesitantly. “I’m willing to work inside that paradigm, to get my ship back online… but I think you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for, Eve. You took action to save yourself, to come to my ship. You showed a great deal of capability and bravery. I don’t think you are half as weak as you think.”

Eve shook her head sadly, thinking about the needles still embedded in her body. He had only turned them on a few times in the last few days… but they still served as an unarguable reminder of her place. Shal-ra was wrong. “It’s good to have you back, anyway,” Eve said resolutely, not wanting to discuss it any further.

“It’s good to be back online as well, Eve.” She could hear the smile in the other woman’s voice… it was astounding how completely the digitized woman had assimilated her language. She wasn’t a true superintelligence the way a programming journal would refer to her, but she was a speed superintelligence… she couldn’t think or multitask on a better level than she could when alive but she could do it much, much faster. Evidently she had used more of that time to work on making her language as natural as possible. It was clear to Eve that Shal-ra had taken a liking to her… that she could be a sister beneath Adam with her. The thought of having someone to share her life with, an equal, made Eve’s heart flutter a little. Someone being kind to her was something she just plainly wasn’t accustomed to and it filled her with confusing feelings.

Before letting the feelings linger and letting the moment get awkward, Shal-ra pulled up a proximity monitor to show the location of the drones in relation to their ship, sending it to Eve’s tablet. “I’m activating my maintenance drones,” the Arane told her, lighting them up on the screen. “As we agreed, for you moving me over here and letting me borrow your computer system to bring ours back online, we’ll do your ship first. They should be arriving shortly. Then we can get to work doing a diagnostic.”

“Alright… I’m headed back to the airlock then.” Eve kicked off the wall, sending herself soaring through zero-g towards the main shaft connecting parts of their ship. “Keep me informed!” Eve was amazed just how big of an impacting finding the other woman had had on her in such a short time. They’d really only known each other for a little over three days now, but already Shal-ra’s existence and kindness was starting to redefine Eve’s ideas of what could be possible. Shal-ra was kind… and not just kind but smart, and she actually seemed selfless, wanting to help total strangers, even after Adam had been so rude to her, and after Eve herself had been so suspicious of her at first.

Eve arrived at the airlock, cycling the outer door so the drones could come on into the ship as soon as they arrived. She wasn’t too excited about seeing any of the spider-looking things, since they had creeped her out while exploring the NFI, but if they were half as capable as Shal-ra claimed then their ability to help repair and bring back up their life support system was far more important than a silly girl’s fear for their arachnid limbs.

It didn’t take too much longer until about half the blips were in the airlock. A quick cycle later and she was opening the door to admit a full half of the creepy little maintenance drones that were going to get to work on her ship. She felt a shiver run down her spine as she saw them move. They looked almost like the old human tales of flying saucers, except these saucers “flew” on a collection of six tentacular limbs with claws, tracks, and magnets for multi-surface movements. They varied from the size of a squirrel to that of a medium dog and their multitude of sensor eyes looked up at Eve expectantly, waiting for their next command. She led them aboard the Ark now that they were active, and once aboard looked back at them.

“Shal-ra, get them started running diagnostics on the ship, please. Our own maintenance drones can handle big stuff, but we don’t have anything capable of cleaning out the life support, so focus on that. Disinfect everything, and Adam wants to know of any shortages, leaks, or faulty wiring or plating that you can find. Once we assess the damage, I’ll provide the resources to fix everything up.” She spoke definitively, having made a list of the things that could be wrong with the ship that she wasn’t quite able to check out just yet. She was relieved at the sight of them, knowing that their problems should be washed away without too much more effort.

Shal-ra hummed a quick sound of agreement in her ear and the machines responded with a definitely affirmative-sounding beeping noise, their reflective red eyes lighting up to show a confirmation of their orders received. The skittering legs started to move across the halls, but before they could get to work, she quickly added: “Oh… and have them stay out of the medbay for now. Adam is resting in there, and I don’t want him being disturbed.” The drones didn’t react to the order, but Shal-ra made that humming noise again so Eve let them get to work, beginning to cycle the airlock again for the next half of the drones, and once that was done she headed back to the control center, to where she could look at Shal-ra’s face on the video screen while the drones worked.

The woman popped up immediately as soon as Eve was in line of sight, giving a small wave to her. “By my readings the drones look like they’re all online and functioning. Haven’t received any diagnostics yet, but they are taking readings.” She put up a display that matched the scans of the drones on the main computer console for Eve. It looked to her like things were going smoothly, so Eve settled down in her chair, sighing as she let the tension go.

“Those things are so creepy,” she said with a small shudder. “Why’d you have to give those things so many legs? They remind me of a creature we had back on Earth.” She shivered in response, her mind filling with many pictures of the creepy crawlies native to her planet.

Shal-ra shrugged. “They aren’t creepy to us, I’m afraid. They’re just designed for utility. The legs mean that more tools can be applied to each limb, and then having a circular design, it allows them the proper support to make sure that they can stay balanced even if one or two were faulty or broken,” she explained. Eve supposed that considering the Arane had six limbs like Shal-ra, it probably wasn’t anywhere near as uncanny to them as it was to her… but they had had humans living with them as well. It was hard to imagine they were that different from her that these things wouldn’t bother them.

“And the eyes?” she pressed. “Wouldn’t they only need one sensor to be effective?” Something that was again, aesthetically similar to the Arane. But robotics generally only needed one larger sensor to be effective from the drones that she was accustomed to.

“Multiple sensors for different readings. Some are purely binary scanners to check computer data, some are thermographic, etc. If there was only one sensor, it would have to share power that would make it less effective, even if it was more convenient.” Shal-ra nodded along to her own explanation.

“Well, at least they seem to be in working order, so even if they do look a little strange, that’s really the least of my issues.” Eve tried to put it to bed in her mind, but she knew that she was going to be thinking about it again the next time that she saw them.

“You people have some strange hangups,” Shal-ra chuckled, the filter over her voice making it sound almost like a song when she laughed. “It’s very entertaining if you don’t mind my saying.” Eve wanted to pout at her, but she couldn’t help but admit that it was kind of amusing how she took pleasure in a simple thing like her probing questions.

“No, I don’t think I’ll take offense this time,” she said instead, trying to maintain a serious look on her face that immediately devolved into a small smile. Shal-ra smiled back at Eve and rolled her eyes, but then her eyes went distant for a second… and then her face twisted into an expression of concentration, and then of confusion. She went silent as she started to look over something, and quickly the confusion on her face started to contort to something even worse – fear and worry.

“Eve… something’s going wrong. The drones were set to do a diagnostic… but that isn’t what they’re doing. You didn’t give them any sort of other orders, did you?” She kept looking at something, her eyes scanning for some kind of mistake that she was making, hoping that whatever it was that she saw was just a misunderstanding.

“How could I?” Eve asked. “I don’t have any control of them…” Her own voice started to become unsure, the worry of her new friend becoming contagious as it made her look over her shoulder, trying to listen to, or see what the drones were up to.

“It appears that the drones are in some kind of retrieval mode. It looks like they’re set to “collect resources”. They’re getting ready to quite literally mine your ship… and they aren’t responding to new orders. You need to go and tell them to stop, my orders aren’t registering in their systems right now, there’s something… something…” Her words stopped, trailing off into thought as her worry grew and grew until finally, there was a look of pure terror on her face, one filled with recognition of something awful from her past. “This shouldn’t be possible. This can’t be possible…”

Adam, almost as if on queue, stormed into the room with a look of panic and anger on his face as he looked between the two. “What the hell is going on here?” he roared. “One of your damned drones just walked into the medbay and started dismantling the auto-med machine! I tried to stop it, and it zapped me with some kind of cutting laser!” He started shaking his hand, trying to shake off the pain from the burn that was now visible there.

“Adam, Eve, you need to stop those drones, right now! I can’t override them from my systems… they’re not responding to commands anymore. I can’t get directly into their system; they’re using the firewalls in your computer system to hide from me. I can’t get through the encryption… you need to give me the key now!” Shal-ra’s voice was filled with desperation. Whatever this threat was, it was very real, and very terrifying to her.

Adam scoffed in disbelief. “Give you control?” he said incredulously. “After you just sent your little minions of Satan aboard my ship to try and destroy us? Are you kidding me? No… we’ll dismantle the things ourselves and cut you off for all of your scheming. I can’t believe I trusted a snake like you for even a single second. God must be punishing me for my naivete.” He slammed his fist on the wall, causing a loud thud that echoed throughout the room. The sudden noise and outburst made Eve wince. She was surely going to be suffering his wrath the moment that things were under control.

“Adam, no!” Shal-ra protested… exactly the wrong way. “It’s not like that! I didn’t send those things to hurt you… they’re controlled by the virus, somehow. I told you our ship came under attack by a Kthid computer virus. That’s what put my ship in the state that it’s in… we had to shut down the mainframe entirely to try to squash it. I thought we’d gotten it, but we couldn’t turn the mainframe back on because we’d lost access to the drones that would have let us do it. It must have made the jump into the drones without me noticing, corrupting parts of their software too! The Arane’s enemy, the Kthid… they’ll kill us all. We need to stop those drones!” She started looking back and forth between Eve and Adam, hoping that the Latina would be able to step in to help convince Adam. Eve, however, already knew she couldn’t. It wasn’t a question of whether Eve believed her… it was a question of how this looked to the already suspicious Adam.

“Lies! Deceptions! Fucking women. Why should I listen to a word you say? I’ve known you for one single conversation, where you come to me, offer your help, lie… then send drones to my ship that almost immediately start tearing it apart. And now you want me to give you access to the only thing that may protect our ship from your ways of evil?” He took a step towards the computer, pressing his hands onto the console. “I ought to find whatever fucking drive you were stuck on, and be rid of you for good!”

The Arane seemed to be visibly forcing herself to keep calm, and Eve wondered if the reaction was genuine or meant to be placating. Did an AI have reactions like that? “Please, sir… I know how this looks, but please: if you don’t listen to me now, there won’t be a ship to live on soon enough. As we speak, they’re dismantling the plates so they can attack critical systems!” Shal-ra tried desperately to explain just how dire the situation was to Adam, but his expression remained unfazed.

“You will look upon my victory today, and you will lament the moment you decided to betray me,” Adam declared. “With God as our champion, we will use what we have on hand in this ship, and I will dismantle your evil machines. Perhaps the lord will forgive you, but today, I will not.” Adam looked around the command center for something that he would be able to wield as a weapon, finally locking onto the toolkit that Eve had pulled out to get the straps she had used earlier. He rummaged through the container, pulling out a crowbar, weighing it in his hands, and tapping it against his palm until he was satisfied with the weight. A moment later, he placed a welding torch into Eve’s hand. “You don’t have the strength of a man, so this will have to do. You will help me cleanse this ship as a start to making up for your transgressions in bringing this evil on board.”

Eve took the torch in hand and grimaced. She wanted to simply listen to Shal-ra… maybe it was just instinctive but she trusted the alien. She felt sure that the Arane’s plan would work and lead to a better fix of the problem, but she knew even more just how stubborn that Adam was. Nodding at him, she clutched the torch with two hands and mouthed a quick “I’m sorry” to Shal-ra before Adam gripped her hand and pulled her out into the hallway.

The first drone they saw was trying to pry at the plating in the hallways, looking for any control panels that may have directed into the different rooms of the ship, completely ignoring the two humans until Adam approached it, drawing back the crowbar and smashing down with a swing as strong as he could muster in his weakened state. The plating on the drone was quite strong, deflecting the blow with a loud clashing sound. It almost forced the crowbar from his hand with how effortless the resistance against his attack was. While the attack was ineffective, however, it didn’t mean that the drone didn’t take notice. Immediately it spun, turning towards Adam, and its scarlet eyes pulsed with menacing power. That look even fazed Adam for a brief moment, but the man was far too proud to give up after a single swing. He wound up his arms for another strike, bringing it down on one of the sensors and smashing it, but the drone retaliated, one of its arms coming up with some kind of laser based welding torch. It flamed to life and he cried out as it cut at him, a straight line heat burn tearing right through the cloth of his medbay gown, baring his chest that now sported a bright red line where it had cut.

“Foul demon!” Adam roared indignantly, his adrenaline now pumping as he finished his windup and came down with another, very wild strike that was deflected again by the plating of the drone, only a slight scratch on the frame of the spider machine left behind as proof of his attempts. He smashed the crowbar against its side, going for one of the legs. That seemed to get its full attention… the drone whirled towards them, multiple arms rising to attack or defend as it moved. but it was too late… Adam flung the crowbar aside, grabbing the disk-like body as it came towards him. With a roar the huge man lifted it fully off the ground, letting the arms flail, and then drove it down into the ground like he was hammering a bolt into the steel. It spasmed, the metal making a horrible shrieking noise, and Adam lifted it back up, slamming it back down again and again until it was in multiple pieces.

Distracted as he was destroying the one in front of him, Adam didn’t see the other approaching. As it was about to jump forwards to attack him, Eve ignited the torch, the heat making the mechanical monster falter in its pounce, landing wide away from her husband. It didn’t seem to do any real damage outside of a darkened spot on the metal, but it at least stopped it from hurting him again.

“Give me that! Adam cursed. “Clearly you’re too incompetent to even wield this. You barely even damaged it!” he shouted at her, practically ripping the torch from her hands, leaving her disarmed. Completely ignoring the fact that Eve may have just saved him from a bad injury, he simply let loose the flames onto the drone, with no regard of what he may have hit in the crossfire. Eve made sure to back up, leaving plenty of space between her and the conflict, her nervous footsteps eventually bumping into the feeling of another solid drone.

“Ahh! Adam, h-help!” She screamed in realization, running back to his side as she was helpless to be able to defend herself now that he’d taken her only weapon. She didn’t realize her mistake in the moment, but it was made clear as soon as she pressed up against Adam. She looked at his face while he was igniting the drone with fire, only managing to push the drone away, but not harm it in any meaningful manner… and she saw when it dawned on him. Apparently the chaos of the fight was less distraction to him than his lust because he just realized that Eve had spoken, and he certainly hadn’t given her permission or spoken to her first. His head slowly rotated to look at her, and the flames reflected in his eyes, granting him the chilling image of a man possessed, a man filled with holy fury.

“You… SNAKE!” He growled at her, only to have his exposed back cut by the sharp end of a knife-like pry attachment from the end of one of the second drone’s limbs. He growled in response, not letting the pain take over him in the moment. Surrounded as he was, the situation was dire… his eyes were sullen with rage, but he didn’t have time to properly punish Eve for her disobedience.

Adam was distracted even further as soon as he heard the sounds of the flame begin to dim, the fuel in the canister having been depleted from its non-stop usage to push back the drone. “I am surrounded by evil and treachery!” he snarled, furious as the large man barely sidestepped another swing of the knife-like arm. Then Adam demonstrated exactly how large and strong and manly he was, managing to grab onto the limb as it swung at him again. The muscles in his arms bulged and his hews looked like iron for a moment and he roared in fury. The power gushing through his veins in the moment granted him enough strength to break the limb, snapping the metal arm at a weak point and prying the knife loose as a weapon. Just as he thought he’d attained a victory in the fight, however, yet another small laser-cutter came around and the shot hit him in the back of his knee, bringing him down low.

He staggered, almost falling against Eve, and she had to strain to keep him up. It didn’t matter if she was going to be punished after this… if they didn’t succeed then they both were going to die. Even if the punishment that she would have to live with would be severe, she couldn’t bring herself to simply let him fall like that and potentially face a death that was in some way her fault. “Eve, please!” Shal-ra said into her earpiece, not speaking to Adam anymore but addressing Eve directly. “I need you to get the computer’s decryption key! If he won’t give it to me, maybe you can get him to give it to you… we can put you in control, I can walk you through the process. We can undo what is done as soon as you’re safe, but if you want to live you have to trust me!” The frantic struggle continued around them as additional drones pressed in on them, and elsewhere in the ship damage alarms started playing as other drones began to breach critical systems.

Adam threw the tank at the drone that had been stabbing him with all the force that he could muster, staggering it for only a second as he gripped onto Eve hard enough to cause her pain. With Adam injured he needed Eve’s help to stagger along, and she abruptly realized that meant that she could help control where they went. She pulled him back towards the command room, staggering just ahead of four drones pursuing them with murder glinting in their optical sensors. She shoved him forward and slammed the door shut behind them, spinning the manual airlock on the door and sealing it. Only a few seconds later there was a hiss vibrating through the door, and one of the drones began the process of cutting through it. Eve backed away frantically, turned to where Adam was pushing his way back up. “Please, Adam!” she pleaded. “We can’t hold them off! We need to use the computer to shut them down!”

“I’m not working with that demon!” he snarled, pushing against the wall and struggling up. “How do I know she isn’t going to destroy us?”

A jet of fire broke through the door and Adam gasped, staring at it. “Then I’ll do it!” Eve swore. “I’ll take control of the drones and go out there, I just need your authority to take over!”

Adam stared with a moment of sheer panic at the door where one of the drones was beginning to pry its way into the door while the other kept cutting, the two of them more than ready to continue their attack, and she could see the moment the pressure got to him. She saw him sag. “You may be traitors to our Lord, both of you. But it seems that I have little choice but to put my faith in a traitor, so help me God. Computer!” he yelled, addressing the room rather than Eve herself. His words were hesitant, but he knew when he was beaten. It was either allow this stranger to potentially fix the problem or kill them, or they would die anyways either by the drones, or from their dismantling the ship. “Authorize Maria Keye for activity and command.”

“I promise you won’t regret this,” Shal-ra said into her ear as Adam sagged back down to a sitting position, catching his breath and waiting for whatever it was to happen to happen. “Eve, I need your eyes while we override the drones. I don’t have access to your full system, just the communication arrays, so I need you to input some commands for me.”

Eve walked towards the collapsed Adam, intending to make sure that her husband was okay where he was, but was immediately shrugged off… clearly wanting nothing to do with her for the time being. Filled with feelings of scorn, she approached the seat and pulled up the ship’s cameras. “I’m doing inventory,” Shal-ra said, bringing up displays for Eve. “I can only override settings on these four.” Four of the indicators lights on her screen went from red to green. “The virus has turned off communications entirely for the rest so we can’t override them… we’re going to be rather outnumbered.”

“Ready when you are.” Eve nodded in confirmation as Shal-ra’s eyes turned to a bright white coloration, with thousands if not tens of thousands of numbers filled with data passed through them as she started to fight against the virus to take control of whichever drones she was able to. Each request that came up for system access on the terminal Eve approved, allowing system resources to assist Shal-ra in her attempts to hack through and override the virus. One of the ones in the hallway that was about to try to break into the cockpit had stopped in its tracks, followed by the one in the medbay that had attacked Adam earlier.

“Access acquired! Time to disable them… Eve, grant me eyes in the hallway first,” Shal-ra commanded in a much lighter tone than Eve was used to with Adam’s orders. She pulled the camera from the hallway up and sent access to Shal-ra’s terminal. As soon as she had full vision of the situation, her manual controls started to take over, and the idle drone began to move towards the one that returned to dismantling the interior of the ship. Thankfully with an element of surprise, the drone was able to activate a drill and cut a hole right into the chassis of the bot.

The drone, realizing that it had just been turned on, directed its attention to its former “brother” and was about to wind up and do the same exact thing, activating a drill to retaliate. Fortunately, the surprise was enough to give Shal-ra’s drone the opportunity to fire a laser into the exposed hole with a lucky shot, causing sparks to fly out of the drone as it fell limply to the floor, its limbs retracted into its body as it became totally inactive.

“One down, a dozen more to go. Where are the remaining drones, Eve?” Shal-ra asked, while the medbay drone joined its new companion in the hallway, waiting for their next direct orders to hunt down the rest of the hostiles.

“There’s a bunch of them in storage, and another one is searching the sleeping quarters. One is in life support, and one is in… the engines…” Eve grimaced. “At least it doesn’t look like that one has done irreparable damage yet, but the drone in storage has ripped into the walls already… it could destroy our food supplies.”

“Then we’ll start with that one,” the Arane said, and two of the green blips started moving for it. Following Eve and Shal-ra’s instructions, the pair of drones skittered through the hallways and into storage in zero-G, creating quite the tight squeeze for the pair of them as they entered together. They had barely arrived before the enemy drones came straight in… no finesse, no feints, and no hesitation. That made sense… they did outnumber Eve’s forces and straight numerical advantage was a strategy all its own. “Use the choke point,” Eve said, giving direct instructions to drones as quickly as she could. Shal-ra, for her part, did the same… only considerably faster. The pair of drones formed almost a phalanx at the entry way, forcing the drones to come at them one at a time, fighting them.

The battle lasted almost two minutes. The drones were fairly tough devices, and it seemed like they were specifically designed to be able to operate with up to half their legs missing or multiple systems offline, filled with redundancies. The laser-cutter torches and plasma welders were the weapon of choice on both sides. The battle resembled nothing so much as a robot’s version of one of those medieval battle movies, a shield wall being held against an advancing army, only being done by giant mechanical spiders rather than human actors. They attacked, parried, and countered in zero gravity, bits of their bodies and errant legs flying around.

 The battle was going surprisingly well; it seemed like Shal-ra was very experienced in directing the drones to her will. Throughout the process, the Arane AI independently controlled the other drones, taking them down one at a time in other rooms for as long as she could. Eventually, though, three of their drones had fallen… the last when it got its cutter arm pinned down and disabled before being ripped to pieces. Its “brother,” however, made up for it… using multiple limbs as makeshift weapons at once and holding its arms away just long enough to drill down into the center of the other’s body, causing sparks to fly before it hit something vital and completely decimated both the plate and whatever internal wiring kept it running.

That only left one drone to go… the one in the engines. Eve thrilled in their victory and fighting… she felt a little guilt about Adam, but the adrenaline rushing through her veins had vastly overpowered that feeling. With the destination clear, she guided the sole remaining drone into life support, chasing after the last hostile one. It readied two laser cutters on its limbs as it moved towards the other, attacking immediately in violent combat as they tried to rip each other apart. Without realizing it, Eve started holding her breath… but her drone disabled the hostile one first, just barely. The infected drone stopped moving, its system shutting down, leaving two damaged drones behind of their own as the only functional ones. They would be in need of major repairs, but the enemy was destroyed.

With the threat having been squashed, Shal-ra deactivated the two remaining drones just in case, so that they had a moment to breathe and evaluate damages. Several of their vital systems had been damaged, and while none of them were critically failing thanks to the fast action of Shal-ra’s control, and thanks to Adam swallowing his pride so that Eve was able to intervene, many of them were going to require major repairs before long if they were going to stay functional.

“I thought I was done with the Kthid,” Shal-ra said quietly. “I didn’t want to have to deal with anything like this ever again… I really am sorry that this happened. The virus must’ve latched onto them a long time ago, they haven’t even been active in years, I never even thought it’d be possible that it would be hiding in them with our computer systems offline.” Shal-ra’s voice lowered into an apologetic tone. Adam was still resting against the door, scoffing at the apology, but not having the energy to say anything. The entire thing had exerted what little energy that he had in his weakened system.

“Thank you for the help… I believe that it wasn’t your fault. From what it sounds like, these Kthid are vicious people.” Eve said, trying to comfort her friend. “This whole thing has been a mess… I’m starting to wonder if every part of it has just been doomed from the start.” Eve sighed as she glanced over towards Adam, while he took deep breaths to try and regulate himself again.

“Of course you… of course you would doubt our mission, Eve. You’re always the one to cast doubts on God’s will. And despite that, I keep giving you chances. The Lord may have infinite patience, but I do not…” His voice was strained, but despite that, there was still a lingering fear that Eve felt from his words.

Eve could practically see Shal-ra looking between the two of them, could practically sense her disdain for Adam. “Perhaps not all is lost. You’ve made contact with me after all. Maybe this is an opportunity for the both of you?” Shal-ra clearly meant it more for Eve, but didn’t want to directly exclude Adam from her proposition.

Though words piqued Eve’s curiosity. She raised a brow and looked at the video screen. “What kind of opportunity do you have in mind?” She asked, leaning forwards in her seat. “If we can bring the ship back online, that would be amazing… We might be able to salvage this entire thing!”

“Help from these devilish aliens…” Adam growled. “As if I would ever agree to something like that again, after what you just did to us. I’ve learned my lesson twice over now not to trust any of you demons.” He spit out a glob of blood onto the floor. It wasn’t dense, but his breathing was starting to get quite raspy. The cuts were thankfully mostly shallow, but he clearly needed some rest before he would be able to make a full recovery. Still, he pushed himself to his feet and managed to stabilize himself against the door. “Spit it out then, demon. Make your final peace offering and then I’ll be disconnecting you from our computers for good.”

“I…” Shal-ra started, but her eyes locked on Adam for several seconds before continuing. She knew that whatever she was about to say was going to be a long shot, but wanted to try anyway. “We could scan your brains and upload you. That could give more longevity to your mission. The process is designed to work for the humans we knew… I’m sure any adjustments to you should be easy enough. Perhaps you won’t be the progenitors of a new generation, but you can discover new worlds for your people and neither age nor food will limit you. It would let yo-”

“You know nothing of what you speak, demon!” Adam spat again, his voice filled with disrespect. The very notion that he would go for something like becoming an AI was blasphemy to his ears. “The holy mission will forgive and alleviate any problems that will arrive. We have but one job, and we intend to do it. Even if it’s with a deceitful whore like Eve. I will have my benediction!”

“I know that it must be a lot for you to take in, Adam. It was for me at first as well, but there is nothing wrong with it. You’ll still be you, it will just be in a different form.” Shal-ra tried to calm him down, noticing that he was getting ready to move towards the console again, likely to disconnect the communications.

“You are spitting in the face of our Lord, The Lord. His will would not have us become a slave to some machine. He wouldn’t have our next generation cut off because of the suggestion of some kind of monstrosity! I will be taking my fuel and my supplies, and you will be thankful that I do not destroy you and your soulless form.” His wobbling footsteps made it up to the console, one hand gripping tightly on Eve’s shoulder and the other on the computer.

“But as long as we’re ourselves… wouldn’t the lord see this as a new mission? Moving humanity’s soul onward to a new frontier?” Eve tried to reason, immediately regretting the decision as she felt his hand tighten even further on her.

“You don’t get to speak, rodent. In fact, I have a punishment for you that I think will be very beneficial to both of us. Do not stop me when I come to claim my dues, and you will not hear from me, or my wife, ever again, is that understood?” Without waiting for an answer, he disconnected the communications link, shutting Shal-ra out of the main computer’s display and leaving the two of them alone again. Shal-ra’s voice vanished from her earpiece as well, replaced by silence. Eve wanted to stop him, but it seemed like she’d caused enough trouble today, and she didn’t want to suffer even more punishment than he already had planned. She was terrified of what was to come next, and already missed the presence of Shal-ra’s comforting words.

Adam spat. “Blasphemous whore,” he growled, furious. “I’ll show her what the Lord teaches us to do to demons. I am going to claim my fuel from her ship, I am going to assure that those mechanical monsters are nowhere to be seen again, condemned to the void of space, I am going to smash the console that you brought aboard, and then I am going to thrust our engines so hard that whatever data remains on that ship will be nothing more than a burnt crisp, like the Hell that she so desperately needs to return to.” The grip on Eve’s shoulder was so tight that it was starting to cut off circulation of any blood. She felt her body quivering with each of his passing words, devoid of rage and now a dead seriousness that made her body absolutely chilled to the bone. “Do you understand me, wife?”

Eve’s mind was racing. Was Adam serious? She wanted to believe that this was just posturing, some kind of rage to make her fearful of him so that she would never disobey him again. But she knew Adam more than that. He was completely honest when it came to his threats. He wanted Shal-ra destroyed, he must have really believed that it was her intent to attack the ship, blinded by her efforts to defend it. “…what?” she whispered, shocked.

This was suicide. He couldn’t do this. God couldn’t possibly want them to destroy themselves like this. Nothing was adding up in her mind: there was no justice about this, there was no reason other than to fuel Adam’s selfish revenge story in his own head. Eve wasn’t under his control anymore, the only thing controlling her now was fear. Fear of what he would do to her, and fear of what he was going to do to the Nostalgia.

It wasn’t time for Eve to question herself now. It was time for her to make a decision. And with each passing second in her head, she could feel Adam’s rage growing more and more, but she needed to stop him. This wasn’t right, and she was going to stand against it. She felt the quivering in her body stop for one second, calming herself enough to gather her words. She looked up into Adam’s eyes and found them soulless now. There was no humanity left inside of him.

When he decided that he wasn’t going to get an answer, he finally let go of her shoulder and turned around, moving to leave the room, floating down the path to the computer room.

Eve wasn’t sure how long she sat there, stunned and trembling, watching on the cameras in front of her as Adam moved from the ship. She sat there, numb, before she was spurred to action. They couldn’t let this happen. If Adam did what he wanted it would be the death of them. She had the computer system control panel just in front of her, and with only a moment’s further hesitation she used it to seal the door. Adam reached it and started tugging at it, holding the crowbar in his other hand. “Eve, what are you doing?” he snarled, looking towards the camera. “Open this door at once!”

 “Adam, we can’t…” she said weakly. “The ship is damaged, our life support, our generators… even if we repair everything we don’t have enough food.”

“Open this door immediately!” he screamed at the camera, and Eve flinched… but she didn’t open the door. He banged on the door a few times with the crowbar before flinging it to the side in frustration and heading back up to the ring she was on. “Eve, you fucking cunt!” he yelled, voice floating down the hallway towards her. He stormed up the ladder and into the ring and she could see him digging into his pants, pulling out the small box that controlled the needles. The thought of what she was about to do practically paralyzed her, but what else could she do… anything less was death. “Eve!” he snarled, opening the door. “I swear, you little blasphemous whore I am going to…”

Eve jumped him.

She was weak… pathetically weak, really. Thankfully, injured as he was, she had a chance… and she didn’t need to win. She swung the broken drone arm like a bat, striking the box and sending it careening away from his hand to smash against the wall with a few sparks and a burst of static. She paid for it a moment later when Adam drove a fist into her face, sending her sprawling backwards hard. “You filthy fucking slut,” he growled at her, advancing on her. “I’ve had it with you, demon. You’re just like your mother!”

Eve pushed herself to her feet, spreading out her arms as she stood between him and the control console as he advanced on her. “Adam, I can’t let you just kill h-” Her voice was cut off, but instead of a slap, or him forcing her to choke like usual, this time it was far more intense of a pain. It was sharp, it was cold, and it was sinking into her stomach as she felt hot blood begin to run down her skin. She looked down to see the knife sticking out of her… lodged to the hilt in her belly. Her eyes widened with shock and her legs trembled.

“Can’t let me? You can’t let me?” Adam let out a totally mirthless laugh. “I don’t think you really ever understood your place, you fucking whore! You don’t let me do anything… you are simply unable to stop me. Too weak, too pathetic, too stupid… and you have disobeyed me far too many times to allow me to let it stand.” He spat at her. “This, all of this, is your fault. You’re useless… I was going to give you one final opportunity to prove that you were worthy to at least be a broodmare. Take your hands, maybe, or rip out your vocal chords… stop you from defiling my ears and glorious destiny with your blasphemy and treachery. I thought that maybe that would’ve taught you a lesson, but it’s clear to me now…” He retracted the knife from her stomach and started to tap it against his face, the crimson liquid staining his chin. “The only lesson that will truly make you learn, is to rot in Hell for all of eternity.”

Eve’s body felt limp already. She was still clinging to life, but the shock of what she’d just endured was beyond belief for her. Sure, she’d imagined dying eventually thanks to his stubborn pride, or maybe some kind of threat beyond their control, but she never thought it would be Adam that would deliver the killing blow. She fell to the ground, drops of her blood starting to decorate the floor beneath her. “You… can’t…” she whispered.

“This is the way the universe works, whore…” Adam said as he loomed over her. “I can do what I am strong enough to do… and that strength gives me God’s blessing. I can do as I am able… and you will suffer what you must.”

The door to the command chamber had slid closed behind Adam as he entered. She needed to escape… to get away from him. Even though her brain was trying desperately to tell her that there was no survival, that submitting would suffer her the least amount of pain, her survival instinct was in overdrive. She needed to get somewhere else, somewhere that she would be safe, or that she could at least fight back. So she started to crawl, leaving a small trail of blood beneath her as she pulled her body away.

Adam chuckled, almost giddy as he saw her beginning to move. He stepped towards her, delivering a kick to her stomach, causing blood to spit out of her mouth as she groaned in pain. She was starting to already see white in the corners of her eyes from how much agony she was in. Adam looked at where she was starting to go, and walked over her body, opening the door and giving an overdramatic bow, gesturing for her to go through it if she could muster the strength. “Going somewhere?” he asked, chuckling. “What is that shitty saying back on Earth where the heathens rule? Ladies first? What a laugh… the only thing that you’re first in is bearing children, and complaining about everything that doesn’t go your fucking way. But I’ll be a gentleman for you one last time. Consider it your dying wish granted.” He ran his finger along the blade of the knife, even going so far as to prick the tip of his pointer finger without even noticing the small cut he made.

Eve didn’t care if he was playing with her, it was an opportunity to take, and she was desperate. With all of her strength, she tried to crawl through the door and collapsed for a moment, right outside in the hallway. The disabled drone appeared in the corner of her vision, with Adam right behind her.

“So, Eve. Was this how you imagined it would all end? Your heresy leading to your very demise? Maybe you planned this betrayal for much longer than I thought. Or maybe the demon has corrupted you inside and out… Honestly at this point I don’t care. I’m going to enjoy you for as long as I want. These next few moments are going to be lovely. For me, of course.” He started to move through the door to follow her, but a surge of energy rushed through Eve’s body, enough to kick him away with as much force as she needed to make him stagger.

Taking the small window of opportunity she had, she pulled herself around, and pounded the emergency shutdown button for the hatch. She needed to buy herself time so that she could get somewhere else, but where? As the door slammed behind her and she heard the loud knocking on the door, she tried to force her mind to come up with some kind of idea. Consciousness was draining with every second so she didn’t have time to spare… and while each door had an emergency lock in case of depressurization, Adam would be able to override it from the other side, once he thought about it. She had to move, she had to make it to… The kitchen. There was no hiding anymore, there was no safety, all she could do was rely on her body to fight back. She had no plan, no grand idea for how to survive… she just needed to get away, find a way to live.

Eve slowly started to push herself back onto her feet, standing on incredibly uneasy footing. She figured she might have had thirty seconds left until the emergency lock would disengage after Adam would override it on the computer. Using one hand to try to stop the flow of blood from her stomach, and the other to keep herself steady against the wall, she took each step as fast as she could, barely moving at a fraction of the speed she normally would. The menacing sounds of Adam’s pacing footsteps in the next room were terrifying, it felt like she was truly locked inside of a ship with a monster. He wasn’t a person anymore; whatever humanity was left inside of him was gone after he thrust the blade inside of her stomach.

Stumbling with each step, and almost tripping over the destroyed drone, Eve finally made it to the end of the hallway, opening the door to the kitchen. She didn’t have even a second to celebrate her success, as just when she opened the kitchen door, the door to the cockpit opened as well, and Adam stood at the opposite end of the hallway, bloody knife in hand, with drops trickling off of the tip. He started to move towards Eve again, shrugging his shoulders in faux questioning.

“Now why would you do something like that?” he chuckled as he confidently, slowly walked behind her, confident as a lion stalking a gazelle. “Don’t you want to be watching your precious husband when you finish bleeding out? Wouldn’t that be a nice final memory for you to have?” He spoke the words without an ounce of irony. It seemed like even though his words were taunting, there was a fucked up kind of sincerity to them as well. Eve knew his ego enough to know that he really thought seeing him for the last time would give her some kind of peace, some kind of spiritual closure, like it was her destiny to be killed by her husband. “I know I want you to see my face for all of eternity.”

He kicked the broken drone aside, the metallic clattering of the machine lifelessly lying on the ground looking exactly like what was about to happen to her if she didn’t move. Stepping into the kitchen, she looked around to see what she could use, hoping for another knife, a bigger one preferably so that she could have every bit of reach advantage possible over Adam. She didn’t have strength, but after the last fight, Adam barely did either. Both of them were weakened, but she was the one losing blood quickly.

Scrambling to find a weapon, she had to settle with the first one that she was able to grab… a wedge-shaped blade, clean and pristinely sharpened. It would have to do. She touched the tip of the knife with her finger just hard enough until she felt the pricking sensation, and decided that it would work. Adam finally appeared in the doorway, smiling as his eyes saw the knife. He shook his head and couldn’t help but laugh to himself.

“You really think you’re in any position to even try anything like that?” The knife in his hand dropped to the floor and he stepped forward without a single fear about the fact that Eve was armed. He was a man, he was strong, he could overpower her, even with a knife in hand without any problems. She was nothing, a rodent that was able to pick up a needle. “That’s adorable, honestly this might be the best you’ve looked since I met you. I kind of like the bloody look. It’s almost purifying to your image.”

Eve dared not even take a step towards him, simply holding the knife out in front of her to try and ward him from coming any closer, though it clearly wasn’t working.

“I may not have the new generation that I wanted,” Adam admitted, shaking his head, “but at least I’ll be doing a favor to God by ridding him of a traitor in His court. Any child of your loins would have been poison, anyhow. You were given the opportunity to be someone important. Someone better than you actually are, and you threw it away. You scorned your blessing like a true demon. I loved you, you know? Even for as pathetic and worthless as you were, I felt bad for you, like a kicked puppy who never learns their lesson.” As he spoke, he stopped for a moment several feet in front of Eve. He let out a deep breath and shook his head.

His words still had some kind of influence on Eve. She could feel her knees weakening even further with his monologuing. She knew they were awful, but hearing him say the word love threw her off. Her lip quivered, she wanted to cry. She didn’t want to feel this way, she didn’t want to feel even an ounce of hesitation about what she had to do, but years of trauma had been beaten into her head so much that she internalized all of it. And unfortunately for her, Adam knew that.

He lunged forwards, smacking the knife out of her hand, causing the metal to clang against the floor as he tackled her to the ground with little effort. He held her hands down, pinning her to the floor so that she wasn’t able to move.

“So what do you think we should do with our last moments together?” he said as he settled on her bleeding body, letting her feel his hardness in his pants. “Do you think that we should have some fun, one last time? To commemorate the only thing that you were ever worth? Or maybe I should choke you slowly, so you can feel both blood and oxygen leaving your body at the same time? I bet someone as deviant as you would get some kind of sick thrill from that.” Eve strained against him but she made no progress. “So when was it? When did you and the demon conspire to free you from your bondage? Your collar clearly isn’t doing its intended job. Not that it really matters anymore.”

Adam continued to taunt her, making every passing second feel like an eternity, the pain she was in hardly being dulled by her heart rate pumping adrenaline faster than it ever had before. There was a sick look of pleasure on his face during the entire time, like this was something that he’d been waiting for, hoping to do for far longer than just today. Adam was evil to the core, and there was no saving him anymore, if there ever was.

“I know what this is… You love her, don’t you? You take every single opportunity to defile the holy mission that you were honored with. You betray your very husband, and you fall in love with not even just an alien, not even a machine, but a woman. Does your wickedness know no bounds?” He found humor in it, the realization making him laugh even more, the maniacal cackling chilled Eve to her very core. “All in just a handful of days… I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised considering how weak willed you’ve always been.”

Eve’s mind was racing. There was too little time and too little she could do physically to stop Adam, with her strength draining from her fast, and she wasn’t stronger than him to begin with. Instead she had to rely on something else. Something that she’d been denied to use before, her wits. Her last hope was to muster up a few words to distract him. “I’m… sorry.” She coughed as blood started to rush to her throat again. “That I couldn’t be your Eve…” She felt something swelling in her mouth, a thick wad of spit in her mouth gathering.

“Finally she understands. In her last moments, but it is still something to be commended. Such a waste…” Adam shook his head as he brushed a hand across her cheek, looking into her eyes lovingly as he enjoyed watching the life drain from her eyes. His hand was in his pants, idly stroking his hardness… preparing it for use. “We could have been so much more, Eve, but you just had to ruin i- AHHH!!!” His voice howled in pain as Eve spit blood and saliva right into his eye, blinding him and staggering him.

She looked to her side where he’d lifted his hand off her cheek to caress it, only to see the knife right in her reach now. He was distracted for just long enough for her shaky grip to grab the handle, and with one swift motion that used up the rest of her strength, the sharp blade plunged into Adam’s neck, his scream of pain quickly turned into a gurgling sound as his lungs filled with blood and he fell to the side, off of her body.

“You- glkk – can’t do…” His words were filled with blood running out of his neck, trying to muster up any last bits of strength that he could.

Maria’s eyes narrowed as she shoved, pushing him off her and riding him down to the floor. She pulled the knife from his neck and raised it. “Then stop me, Adam!”

The knife sank into the center of his chest, and then again. His hands battered ineffectively at arms, trying to dislodge her. “E-Eeeeve…” was all he could say in response, there was little fight left in him, little more that he could do to stop what was happening to him.

“I…” She rolled on top of him, ripping the knife from his throat and plunging it once into his stomach, “am not…” She ripped the blade out one more time, lifting its position and holding it right above his chest as she looked into his eyes that were filled with hatred, but even more than that, a fear of dying. Finally the ego of Adam that had been stoked for so long was brought down to the level that he’d always believed her to be, just a rodent, abandoned by God in his final moments, “your Eve!” she shouted with a final stab into his quickly beating heart, leaving the blade lodged inside of him.

She fell to the side, the sight of breath finally draining from Adam’s body bringing the biggest sense of relief that she had felt in her entire life. She’d killed him, she’d ended her years of torture, the trauma that she’d been subjected to, the humiliation… but the pain would never leave. Even now, her revenge didn’t change the fact that there was a hole in her stomach, and she’d lost far too much blood by now to save herself. The drones had destroyed the auto-medic first thing. She pushed her hand down on her belly… he had stabbed her low, like he was going right for her womb. Like he wanted to kill her and their “poisonous” child at the same time. Maria sagged down against the wall and let the tears come to her eyes, trying to get comfortable as she waited for death to finally come and claim her.

He’d been wrong. She could see that now. Father Elias, and Adam… they had both been wrong. She wasn’t weak… and God didn’t want her to submit. If he did, then Adam would be standing over her right now, gloating, instead of lying dead on the floor. If he did, then she never would have been able to triumph. Strength was how God expressed His will, after all. At least she’d see her mother and father again in the afterlife and tell them what she’d learned.


Maria’s eyes, which had slipped closed, popped open. Shal-ra! Their ships were still docked. Maybe, just maybe… She didn’t want her last memory to be of Adam like he’d said it would. Her body feeling like it was on auto-pilot, she pushed herself up. It was as if there was no strength left in any of her limbs, but her mind knew what Maria wanted to do, and it was going to fulfill that one last wish. Pushing herself up, using Adam’s dead body as leverage gave her just enough strength to stand up again, one final time.

She walked out into the hall again, dizzy, everything feeling like it was in constant motion. With each step, the next one had become more and more difficult. Making it up the ladder to the zero gravity tunnel that connected her ship to the Nostalgia for Infinity seemed like it was going to be impossible, but once she was halfway up it got much easier. From there she could awkwardly kick her way toward the airlock, her blood forming floating globules of crimson liquid hovering in the air. She crashed into walls more than once from sloppy movement but she forced herself to keep going… Her mind wasn’t willing to give up, not just yet… but as she crashed a final time she just couldn’t bring herself to get up again.

The drones.

Maria touched the comm unit in her ear. “Activate… drones…” she choked out. “Return to the Nostalgia for Infinity.” She hovered there numbly, barely holding onto the wall, until she saw the two remaining drones march into sight past her, heading for the airlock. With a final bit of effort, she grabbed onto one as it passed, letting it drag her onward, carrying her almost deadweight body into the airlock. The sounds of hissing air was comforting in a way. It was the sound that she’d heard when she disobeyed Adam to leave the ship. It was the sound she’d heard right before meeting Shal-ra, and it was the sound she’d heard when she finally decided that she was going to take destiny into her own hands when she returned. Adam would be proud… she wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Finally the door opened, and the drone carried her into the Nostalgia for Infinity. Maria’s vision was starting to fade, making it difficult for her to focus with each passing moment. She didn’t have a sense of self as her body was carried on board, finding the communicator array at the airlock and turning it on and-

“Eve!” Shal-ra yelled in her ear the moment she reconnected the communications systems. She might not be able to use the Ark’s computer system to speak, but now that communications were reestablished between their ships she could link in and use the Nostalgia’s comms. “Eve! I saw what happened! Turn over control of the drones to me!”

That sounded great to Eve at the moment. “You can… listen to commands… from the Arane,” she said to the drones, and the beep they made in response hurt her ears with how sharp it was. The movements, the sound of voices, and the pain, all started to fade as she let her eyes close again.

“Eve! Eve please wake up! EVE!” The final mention of her old name jostled her from her final drift into eternal sleep, causing Shal-ra to smile sadly at her, noticing just how bad of a condition she was in. Maria didn’t really process why she was worried, almost like her brain had forgotten what had just happened to her. Now she was just sleepy. She just wanted to rest, not knowing that if she gave into that feeling that it would be her last. Where was this room, again? Where had the drones taken her… a medical bay of some kind? It didn’t look like hers… what did she need a medical bay for?

Oh, right. She was dying.

“Hey Shal-ra…” she said slowly. “I guess things got a little crazy, didn’t they?” Maria managed to put a tired smile on her face, her mind starting to piece things together again, the consciousness of her situation alerting her to the pain that her body was in. She winced, trying not to move too much so the blood wouldn’t leave her body any faster. “Sorry, I’m just kind of sleepy right now… but can you call me Maria? I don’t really like the name Eve… I don’t think I ever did, really.”

“I… O-Of course, Maria.”

“You… you said the mind uploading process… that it did work on humans, right?” she whispered.

There was a pause. “In theory. It works on the humans from my world… but I can’t be sure there would be physiological differences. I would have wanted to run some tested, do some models…”

“Don’t have a lot of time for that,” Maria said, a small smile staying in place as she shut her eyes. “Just… need to make it work. What… do we need?”

“I need you to stay with me,” Shal-ra said insistently into her ear. “I need those eyes open, alright?”

Maria forced her eyes open again. “What do we need to do to adjust it?”

“In the data I downloaded from you, I have copies of medical scans of your brain already,” Shal-ra said. “We just need to adjust the parameters of the scan to match. Issue is, it’s a complex math problem to do that, and we don’t have access to my computer, and you’re laid up here so you can’t use yours.”

“No problem…” Maria whispered. “Math problem… that’s all? Give me… numbers.”

Shal-ra hesitated. “Maria, it’s… really not something you can do in your head.”

She snorted. “People have always been telling me I can’t do things. Pretty sure they’ve always been wrong. Give me the numbers.”

She did, and Maria got to work.

Math. It was the thing she was always good at. The thing that her parents were always excited when they were teaching her about. The thing that had gotten her here when she had found the signal. Shal-ra was right… the math was difficult. Just not difficult enough. Even woozy and light-headed, Maria was able to put together the alterations necessary. 

“That should do it…” Shal-ra said, her voice alive with awe. That amused Maria… the idea that a computerized person could be envious of someone else’s math skills. There should be someting built into the mainframe cubes to provide that kind of mechanical assistance. Shal-ra had said that the technology had been fairly new when they had been invaded… it seemed to be lacking so many things that it should have. Maybe that was why. “Okay… I’m going to start the process. It might hurt a little bit at the start, but given the state you’re in, I doubt you’ll even notice it.” One of the mechanical arms of the bed she was in moved some cables around, attaching flat panels around them to Maria’s temples. “You just need to strap yourself in, and after that, the cable is going to dig into your head and start the scan, linking your neural activity to the console back over on your ship that you brought over. As soon as it starts you’ll be out like a light, and then all of the data from your brain is going to be uploaded to a shell program which will allow you to form a body with nothing more than your own thoughts. You’ll be out for a while, but I promise once this is all over, you’re going to feel like a new person. “

“Hope… not…” Maria said dreamily. “I finally… like who I am…” She paused. “Do you think God would disapprove of this? Am I meddling with something I shouldn’t be?”

“Maria, I don’t… I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

The Hispanic girl chuckled weakly. “I guess… no one is stopping me…” she said with a smile. “Think I’m gonna go with ‘no’, and not second guess anymore.” She nodded her head tiredly, almost letting her eyes fall totally closed. The feeling like she was falling in her head saved her though, shaking her awake for a brief moment. She shook her head to get a hold of herself. She was worried… she had been at peace dying when there was no hope, but now that there was a chance she was terrified it might not work. She didn’t know how the process was going to go. There could be complications, or it might just not work, but one way or the other she had chosen this for herself. It was her decision, and she would at least have taken control of the last moments of her life with it.

There was only one final thing that was on her mind while she was being hooked up to the machine. One question that she’d really pondered. What was a soul? Is it only something that inhabits a person when they’re living? When she died what was going to happen to her? Was this a death? Would her soul go onto Heaven, or would it inhabit her new, digitized body? It was a question that plagued her mind endlessly while she waited to give her final confirmation. But now she needed to take a leap of faith, one last jump of her own volition to find out the answer to her question.

With a final nod, she was ready for the process to start. She gripped tightly onto the chair, getting ready for what was to come. Even if it were to go wrong, she’d get to see the woman that she cared for as the final thing in her mind. She kept that image in her mind until a pinching sensation pricked into her mind and she felt the cold feeling of a cable starting to worm around in her head, and then her consciousness faded.

And Maria Keye breathed in and out for a final time, and her body went still.

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