My reaction to a voice in my head that was distinctly not mine was probably not what you’re expecting.
I didn’t startle. I didn’t jump or jolt.
I was wrung out. Exhausted to my core. A part of me expected that I was going to die there, lost and alone on the surface of a strange planet.
It was something I accepted until I heard her voice.
Mother? I don’t…how?
You should know, whoever it is that is listening, that my thoughts weren’t that clear. I didn’t think those words specifically; remember, I didn’t have to. But it didn’t matter, Mother knew what I wanted to ask, she probably knew before I did.
Within the maelstrom of confusion and fear inside my head, her voice was clear and crisp.
I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about this. But when I altered the nanites in your eyes I created a few that were transmitters and receivers. I knew that what we were doing was going to be dangerous and I needed a failsafe.
To her credit, she let me feel my indignation, but it was probably because she knew I wouldn’t be mad. And I wasn’t. How could I be?
Look at it my way; I was just about to give up. I was about to lay down and wait until I died and instead I had an AI in my head who, as far as I was concerned then, could basically give me superpowers.
It didn’t matter how much of an invasion of my privacy it was, how much of a violation of my body. It was survival and I was grateful for it.
Stand up, Karla. I know this will be hard but together we can make our way back. I’m not…I’m not running at one hundred percent capacity. In the transfer I lost some of myself but together we can make our way back.
Sweat beaded on the back of my neck and I froze with one knee on the ground, halfway through getting up.
Mother? You’re okay, right?
Yes, Karla. I’m fine. I just needed a moment to sort myself out. Now, how about we get back home?
I nodded and forced my way to my feet.
This won’t do. Let me help.
As Mother finished speaking my vision went pitch black and for a moment I was completely blind. But I didn’t panic, Mother must have held that at bay, because I’m sure I would have.
And then the world lit up.
Instead of iridescent blue lining everything, suddenly the world was a shimmering purple. I could see every detail, every line in every leaf. There was enough contrast and lack of background light that I could see further than before.
Let me guess, another part of the spectrum? I asked Mother. With the ability to feel shocked seemingly gone from my system, I reverted back to my usual programming: smart ass.
Ultraviolet. With the contrast this provides we should be able to make it back to the lander before our air runs out.
What do you mean ‘our air?’ it’s my air.
That’s true. But without air, you die. And without you, I die. We are in this together, Karla. We are in this together. Together. That beep is a warning about your air supply.
‘I fucking knew it!’ I said out loud, ‘Okay. Together. Let’s go.’
I trudged forward, my body was exhausted but I had a newfound sense of purpose driving me on. It wasn’t only that I wanted to live. That was obvious and not as much as a factor as you might imagine; it was Mother.
I wanted her to live. I wanted to prove to her that I could get her back.
I wanted to prove to her that I wasn’t only a piece of meat. Not just a horse that she could saddle and ride back to safety.
I was going to get us back.
Spite can be a great motivator.
Oh, I realise the irony now. Don’t you worry. In not wanting to be a horse, but in wanting to get her back, I essentially made myself a horse.
Yes, very stupid of me.
But at the time it was the drive I needed, and it worked. For almost two hours I worked to extricate us from that forest and when we finally burst through into the clearing I collapsed onto my face, overcome with exhaustion.
I’ve always wondered if Mother didn’t alter my brain chemistry during the walk. I was like a robot taking one step after the other, removing obstacles with a mindless precision.
I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. And if I assume that she did, if she hadn’t of, would we have gotten back?
Fuck, I don’t know.
It seems like every two minutes I’m cursing Mother and then the next two I’m justifying her actions. It’s incredibly frustrating to me. I can’t imagine how boring it must be for you to listen to.
Mother drove me, or I carried her. In the end the result was the same, we got back.
The clearing was deserted. The lander sat dark and forlorn in the centre, not a glimmer of artificial light came from it.
‘Shit.’ I muttered and I managed to muster some form of energy and jog to the airlock.
‘Everything is dead.’ I said to Mother as I tried and failed to access the airlock.
I don’t understand. The lander should have protected them from any magnetic burst…
Mother trailed off and the confusion in her voice sent a chill down my spine.
How do I get in, Mother?
She didn’t respond. There was silence in my mind but for my own internal voice screaming at me in panic.
I kicked the airlock. I threw my body against it. I screamed and railed at the fact that safety, or at least more oxygen, was on the other side of that door and so were my crew.
Karla, pry the panel loose. There is a failsafe switch for this very circumstance.
Really? Really Mother? This circumstance? This exact one? Thanks for letting me know before I acted like a manic trying to get in.
What a smart ass.
I flicked the switch and the seal that held the airlock shut loosened. I was able to slide the door open and slip through. I closed the door behind me and sealed it. Once in It was simple to open the internal door and shut it quickly. As long as there wasn’t a leak somewhere else in the lander, there should be enough breathable air inside for me for a while. And if not, there was always the oxygen refills for the suits.
How much air do I have?
Less than forty-two minutes.
I nodded my response and walked past the storage room that held the oxygen and into the belly of the lander.
It was dark inside. The only glow emanated from the soft blue emergency lights that ran along the top of the corridors. There was no noise. No sound except for my own ragged breathing.
I crept through the lander like a stranger stealing into someone else’s house. It didn’t feel like I belonged there. The lines of the ship that I had come to know, the rooms I had called home, now seemed sharp and foreign.
It felt wrong.
I didn’t call out. I didn’t yell for my crewmates to find out where they were. Terror had trapped my voice inside of me, holding it in a cage that I couldn’t break free of. Mother was silent and in my fear I almost forgot she was there.
I made it to the command deck.
It was empty. Nothing looked out of place. It was like everyone had cleaned and tidied before they left.
Yeah, in my head I had already decided that they had left. It was something I knew the moment I laid eyes on the lander. A sinking feeling in my stomach. Dread that spread like claws around the back of my neck.
Mother and I were alone, truly alone.