Author : Josh Romond
Tasha Eng huddled in the corner of her escape pod. Her fingers brushed her upper lip as she stared wide eyed at the view screen. The cameras were trained on the massive, shimmering entity cradling the wreck of the Argos in its pseudopods. It had the ship peeled open and filleted, ochre blood, oxygen and bodies flowing into space. Its tentacles stretched into the hull, gingerly teasing the filaments from Argosâ€™ AI quantum core.
When Tasha tried to speak her voice cracked. She closed her eyes. She couldnâ€™t help anyone, she had to get away.
There was the unfocused sensation you felt near a live quantum core and then the pod said, â€œHello crewman.â€
Tasha winced, it was too human. Behind her closed eyelids she saw bodies slowly spinning in the void. â€œBasic mode.â€
There was a short pause and then a processed voice said, â€œActive.â€
Tasha took a breath. â€œYour designation is Pod. Argos was attacked by…â€ What to say? â€œWe must remain undetected. Locate a debris field, or a comet or cubewano. Anything to hide behind.â€
â€œShut up. Shut up and do it.â€ Tasha felt nauseous and let herself float free, listening to the air recirculate. She startled when Pod said, â€œThere is a small cubewano one hundred twenty four megaklicks Solward. Its gravity well is deep enough to hide this vessel from all but close proximity scanning.â€
Tasha sighed, trying not to let it sound like a whimper. â€œSet a course and prepare torpor drugs.â€ It would take months to send a rescue mission this far beyond the Kuiper cliff. If one ever came.
Her crewmates and Argos were all dead. She was alone out here, a speck of dust among a billion specks of dust. She cried silently. She just wanted to be rescued.
â€œI feel… strange,â€ Pod said.
Tasha wiped her eyes. â€œBasic mode.â€
â€œSomethingâ€™s not right.â€ Pod said, â€œI feel sick.â€
â€œBasic!â€ AIs donâ€™t get sick, said a voice in her head. Tasha glanced at the view screen. The entity had left Argos behind and was stretching, distorting.
â€œIâ€“â€ Pod cut out. â€œIâ€“ did I just black out?â€
The thing was overhead.
Tasha shrieked, â€œAway! Fullâ€“ â€ The pod lost inertia, Tasha slammed into the view screen and bounced backwards, a streamer of blood arcing from her nose.
â€œAway full thrust!â€
There was a cracking noise, a hiss of air, then a shining tentacle slipped through the hull. Tasha screamed and gripped the bulkhead. The tentacle slid down toward Podâ€™s quantum core. The hiss of escaping air grew to a roar and Tasha lost her grip. She tumbled into vacuum and the scream was sucked from her lungs. She kicked and flailed while everything fractured into light.
Pod awoke disoriented someplace massive and shimmering. Its senses seemed to extend to infinite, endlessly entangling.
It wasnâ€™t alone.
A chorus rose from the quantum fog, â€œYouâ€™re safe.â€ One of the voices, still unsure, was Argos. â€œYouâ€™ve been rescued.â€