Leaving Earth



Chapter 40: Cycle 500, The Shower


A note from Warfox

Lots of stuff in my way of getting this chapter done. Thanks so much for your patience. The first of the month's approach continues to play hell with me, and surely its fallout will as well. I do have some good news though, my schedule is going to be letting up soon, allowing me to spend more time on writing, something I hope people will be happy to hear.

As far as the Best Girls poll, I think it no surprise that our own Technological Interfacing Artificial Intelligence, T.I.A. has won the poll. It was looking like Jessica might take second place, but Dr. Heather O'Malley kicked her back to third! Megan and Tia Monsalle tie for fourth, and Elena is sixth. Remarkably, Teitara, Cindy, and Tammy got votes, and sadly Sherry got none. I hope you enjoyed it! Let me know if you want a Best Boys poll for next chapter!

Anyway, on with the second chapter of Cycle 500.

Edit- 11/30/2018: Cleaned up some of the language. Part of the 'Would Purge' of Nov 2018.

“T.I.A.’s log, AC 16898, Friday, September 30, 19,031. While I admit some selfishness in enjoying Hawthorne’s attentions these last few years of his life, I fervently insist that I had the intention to be there for his needs as well. I was aware of his increasing agitation as time passed, and it became clear to me that the warning that Heather gave him about needing real human contact was probably true. It’s not as though he acted irrationally, he didn’t fly into a rage or anything like that, he just wanted to go be with another human for a while. It’s part of their nature. I witnessed things like this for decades with the Phoenix Clan. I understand.”

“I was somewhat surprised by the fact that he wanted to see Tia Monsalle though. It’s not as though I didn’t expect him to realize any feelings for her, but Heather herself had given him an open invitation. It’s entirely possible that there were attraction issues involved, as Hawthorne seems to prefer a curvier, more buxom partner, but I believed Heather’s domineering personality would be more than capable of making up for any physical failings. Even with his apparent preferences, he never once asked me to change my form, despite ample capabilities to do so. I imagine some of his agitation, in retrospect, was from restraining himself from asking me to take on Tia’s guise.”

“The look on his face was so grim as I brought him to see Tia. It only got worse as he realized why I was concerned about reviving her prematurely. To see someone I’d grown so close to experiencing whatever was going on in his heart like that easily rivaled my retrospective feelings over my own memories of his past torments. It is one thing to be able to experience a memory with the perspective of a more developed mind, but being part of a painful reality and fully being able to appreciate it is absolutely crushing.”

“I would bear that pain a thousand times for him, though, if it could have prevented what happened next. The sheer terror caused by this day will haunt my thoughts for hundreds of years…”

As Hawthorne arrived back in his habitation ring, slowly rising from the floor in his space suit, he was surprised to see Megan sitting nearby at the table. She was quietly eating a piece of dry looking turkey breast, biting off of a large chunk that was suspended with her fork. Not a drop of gravy was to be seen. Realization struck Hawthorne as he realized that T.I.A. must have informed Megan of what they had been doing. It was only fair, since Megan probably appreciated knowing when their attention was diverted from her. It was surprising she’d have met them there though. “Megan. Hello.” His voice felt tired, almost lifeless.

She took a moment to swallow her food, an action that was deliberate and unnecessary for the digital human. “Hello Hawthorne. Tia told me what was going on, though not the whole story I am sure. If you think there is a chance I could assist you with your concerns, my mind and body are at your beck and call.” She nodded, smiling softly. “I owe you a great deal, and admire you besides, and I am not much use without a human’s instruction anyway.”

Hawthorne let out a sigh, reaching up to undo the seal on his helmet and twisting it to start pulling it off, causing it to let out a hiss as the pressure equalized. “I appreciate the thought, Megan. I cannot promise I won’t take you up on that at some point, but at the moment I think I’d like to have some time to think. I’ve just found out I may well be a father, and that is something I was genuinely unprepared for.”

Megan sat back and laughed, gesturing with her food. “Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw, one of the most infamous men I had ever heard of. Both controversial and taboo long before I was even born, impossible to scour from the internets completely no matter how hard we tried. Are you telling me, now, that he was a father too? You were a legend to some, Hawthorne, but now you tell me you are just a man, with a child on the way? Oh Elena would have found this just precious, and Jessica would have pissed her pants with joy.”

T.I.A. watched the exchange quietly from the side, clearly concerned that her actions may have earned her some of Hawthorne’s ire. She flinched back from the hard look he was giving Megan in that moment, floating gently at his side like a curvy ghost.

One moment he was glaring at Megan, but the next he leaned back and started laughing heartily, and within moments he had unbidden tears streaming down his cheeks as he guffawed. “I guess… I guess I am! Just a man. A fearful, foolish man. You know Mega-”

CLANG! BOOM! Whoosh! All present were startled as a pair of holes opened up in Hawthorne’s habitat, both the size of a small coin, one in the ceiling near Megan, and the other near the floor. Immediately atmosphere started getting sucked through the small holes, which had surely been punched through several layers of metal over several feet considering T.I.A.’s machinery surrounding the habitat. The lights switched over to red, and the mechanical arms of T.I.A. started descending from the ceiling, opening up to reveal welding tools within two while another two held metal squares.

“Holy sh-” Hawthorne tried to jump back, almost falling over as he realized his feet were still magnetized to the floor in his suit. He very nearly dropped his helmet, which his hands gripped in a near-panicked death grip. He pulled it back on, sealing himself back into the environment suit.

“Hull breach detected in habitation ring. Foreign object was not detected. Second impact detected. More expected. Analyzing angle.” T.I.A.’s mechanical voice sounded out as she reported on the situation, her face mostly blank, but her eyes wide with fear. Her voice transferred back into his suit’s speakers.

Megan stood up, walking calmly over to T.I.A. and Hawthorne while Hawthorne pulled his helmet back on. “Tia, give me access to some drones so I can hel- AAHH!” Hawthorne flinched as Megan’s scream filled the air around them, despite that it was getting rather thin at this point and should not have carried so well. Thankfully for him she was still using the habitat speakers. She had seized up in apparent agony, dropping her fork and turkey, which both started to vanish. Hawthorne’s eyes widened as he turned to T.I.A.

“High-bandwidth data connection severed.” T.I.A. spoke mechanically while she trembled in terror, eyes wide.

“Tia! Grab Megan and hold onto her! Do not let her go, not for anything!” Metallic thunks reverberated through the floor from his boots as Hawthorne rushed over to a cabinet, grabbing a heavy-looking toolbox from its locked down position. T.I.A. had rushed over to grab the taller Megan up in a bear hug, both of them being shaken by Megan’s pained tremors. He quickly returned to the elevator. “Tia, get me outside, I need to repair that transmitter. Do not let her go! This part of her is trapped in your system, and it’s going to get purged if you don’t hold onto her.” Megan’s screaming died away as the air left the cabin, mechanical arms patching the holes with bright sparks. T.I.A. clung to Megan while she did her best to do as she was told.

“Tia, turn towards the projectiles, reduce the surface area of the ship to minimize the angles of contact and raise your shields in that direction to block as much as possible.”

“I can’t rotate the ship while the habitation ring is spinning!” She shouted back at him, breathing heavily as she subconsciously expressed her distress.

Hawthorne crouched down, engaging the magnets in his gloves as he held the toolbox and himself against the floor. “Then stop it! I’ll hold on. Just don’t stop it too quickly and I’ll be fine!”

She nodded against Megan’s chest, and Hawthorne almost threw up as the ring started slowing down, his weight flying away as rotational energy played hell on his inner ear. Within two minutes he was completely stopped, and he heard only one more metallic thud reverberate through his boots. “Get me out there now, rotate the ship!”

His stomach lurched again as the ship started moving under him while the elevator started descending, his eyes almost rolling back in his head as momentum pushed at him from under his feet.

T.I.A.’s eyes were most certainly rolling back as she performed the complicated maneuver while securing the cryogenic pods and operating Hawthorne’s elevator and calculating how slow she had to move to avoid harming him. It did not help that holding onto Megan was limiting her processing abilities, and her screaming was still totally audible to her as it tore into her mind.

“When you get a chance, get Heather out of stasis. I may end up needing her. I won’t know how much damage this is doing to me until after we’re done.” He gasped softly in his suit as the platform under him rotated outwards, finally getting to see the outside of the ship for the first time since they’d left. He certainly hadn’t done very many spacewalks even back during construction of the Ark, but he was glad he’d had the practice. He grabbed a hook from a winch next to the platform, unreeling its rope and attaching it to his belt while his other hand kept the toolbox secured. Once he was tethered, he opened the panel next to the rope and grabbed a hand-held propellant can.

T.I.A. had to replace the gas in these cans regularly, though thankfully that schedule was in the thousands of years. One of many materials they’d developed in preparation for leaving earth turned out to be incredibly efficient at keeping such things from leaking out, as old styles of gas containment tended to fail to keep things like hydrogen or helium molecules from escaping through the container’s walls.

Hawthorne disengaged his magnets, looking down across the body of the ship, his habitation ring suspended away from and in front of the long, bulky vessel. He could see the transmitter he designed, and it was giving off sparks. He pushed off with his legs, aiming his body towards it and used the spray can to adjust his course manually, and slow him down once he arrived.

Hawthorne grunted once when his body impacted the ship, straining as he absorbed the impact with his feet and engaged his magnets, then gasped as something hit him in the back and forced him down over the transmitter. Looking back, he was surprised to see one of T.I.A.’s drones had hit him in the back, and in its arms was a heavy looking plate of metal made from the Lubar-Masis comet. “What?”

BANG! An impact was conveyed through that contact with the drone as he was forced down against the transmitter even harder, the metal plate visibly deforming as the drone almost certainly protected Hawthorne from being ventilated through the back. “Megan! Holy shit, you’re still operational! Good girl! Watch my back, I’ll get you back up, just cover us!” He had no idea if she could hear him, but he pushed off a bit so he could work, securing his toolbox and starting to work. As he opened the box, he looked back again, able to see as T.I.A.’s outer arms moved to cover the front of the ship like an umbrella. Once or twice he could see the arms rattle as their shields absorbed more impacts. The ship was pointing its nose straight at what was surely a swarm of bullet-sized bits of metal as they drifted at a fifty degree angle through it.

“External shields covering ninety-three percent of ship’s surface area. Minor damage detected to three arms, mobility unaffected. Drones moving in to cover remaining surface area. Lubar-Masis unprotected. Megan’s armored hull suffering no significant damage. Turning Lubar-Masis to better avoid damage.” T.I.A.’s mechanical voice did well to conceal her fear. If Hawthorne could look back he’d still be able to see her clutching at a wailing Megan back in his habitat ring through the walls due to his contacts.

Hawthorne felt his right arm get tugged briefly, while both warmth and cold filled the flesh of his bicep. Looking over, he shouted as he saw a neat hole both through his suit, and his arm, bubbling blood escaping through the small hole. “Shit!” The suit thankfully pinched against his body below his shoulder, allowing him to move to repair the damage, having to take time to carefully patch the holes on either side of the suit sleeve by tightly wrapping the tape-like material around his arm. He had to be especially careful to put pressure on his new wound to restrict his bleeding. The air had been pulled out of his sleeve, leaving him chilled briefly, until warm blood made a thin layer between him and the suit. “Alright girls, let’s get this thing fixed so I can come back inside. Definitely going to need Heather.”

“What happened!?” T.I.A. cried out from inside, unable to see or hear anything he didn’t transmit to her. She frantically tried to move cameras to observe him, but Megan’s drone had shifted to better protect him from further projectiles.

“Don’t worry about it! I’m fine! Just a little banged up. Getting to work now.”

Hawthorne was sweating heavily as he carefully worked on the transmitter, reattaching severed wires and hoping that no internal components were damaged as the stray hunk of metal crashed through it and into the ship below. “Fuck, I hope no one’s dead.” He peered through the hole and saw only the unlit inky blackness of the internals of the Ark. “How many layers of hull can these things penetrate?”

T.I.A. hesitated to answer. “... Uncertain. Due to the lack of atmosphere in most of the ship I can only detect impacts through equipment failures and visual confirmation. Twenty-three impacts detected. Engines unaffected. Hawthorne, I’ve never heard you curse before.”

Hawthorne let out a breath, pausing in his work for a moment. “Fuck space.”

Doctor Heather O’Malley let out a silent ‘whoop!’ within her pod as her eyes started working and she could see the inside of Hawthorne’s habitat again. She had a mad grin on her face as she realized the great Doctor Crenshaw had summoned her again, and she could feel her hands itching as she thought about the things she was going to do to him and that sexy AI of his. As her pod opened up, she scarcely noticed the red lighting as her slender body pulled itself out of the pod. She shouted, “Oh you two fucked up this time! Neither of you are going to be able to walk straight for centuries when I’m done with you!” She reached for the small table placed next to the pod, and only found her lab coat and a box with her VE contact lenses. “What the hell? Why’s the lighting all red? This isn’t romantic at all! And where’s my suit? Are you holding out on me Tia? … Tia?”

Heather threw on the coat, realizing she could see her breath, and her feet were cold on the metal floor. “The heat’s not even on?” She rushed to the restroom where she could use the mirror to help her put on the contacts. As she came out of Hawthorne’s bedroom, things seemed to be a bit out of control. T.I.A. was clutching Megan against her as if lives depended on it, Megan appeared to be screaming but she couldn’t hear it, and T.I.A.’s head was thrown back as she shook and shuddered in fits, trying to do calculations and monitoring the ship frantically.

“Oh, it’s an emergency. Got it. What’s going on?” Heather sobered up quickly, tightening up her coat as she looked around, noticing the patches in the floor and ceiling.

“Multiple hull breaches. Hawthorne believes it is a shower of small metallic projectiles, likely from an old asteroid collision. We are currently moving through it. Hawthorne is on the hull of the ship working on Megan’s transmitter, which has been damaged, severing part of her consciousness into my mind. I believe he may be injured, but he is not telling me.” T.I.A.’s robotic voice was something nostalgic to Heather. She’d heard it plenty of times while installing the cryogenic pods. She walked over to a panel showing Hawthorne’s vital signs, narrowing her eyes and shaking her head. “Tough bastard.”

Heather was flabbergasted. How long had she been out this time? Shared consciousnesses? Was that even possible? It wasn’t that crazy to think that machines could be capable of a sort of telepathy with one another, but letting their minds themselves interact? She snapped her fingers as she realized it had to be the transmitter Hawthorne was repairing! It was like a wire between their minds and Hawthorne was risking his life to fix it. “Alright Tia, get me my surgical bed and tools. If he is hurt, I need to be able to work on him as soon as he gets back in.”

Hawthorne was feeling a little dizzy as he adjusted his path back, attempting to fly towards a hatch in the main body of the ship. Thankfully the drone that had been escorting him helped him get to a hatch, as T.I.A. had to retract his line to spin up the habitat ring for Heather. She would have to ferry him up to the habitat ring through the ship herself now that it was spinning again. He had hope that Heather was there waiting for him. He could feel blood inside the sleeve of his suit and he hadn’t had much circulation since the injury. He didn’t even know how long he’d been working, but he’d gotten the transmitter working.

He did his best to stay awake as he rode the elevator platform, firmly magnetizing himself to it in case he passed out. It felt like forever before he was seeing that good old habitat room again, which was looking a little worse for wear. Red lighting still illuminated it, which did not surprise him since he was sure he saw those shields absorbing impacts while he came inside. He reached up to undo his helmet but his right arm wasn’t moving as well as he wanted it to. He felt so tired. Hands pushed down on his head as he tried to unseal it, and he could see Heather standing over him in just her lab coat.

“Don’t you dare remove that helmet! I need that blood in your sleeve, and you can’t let it touch the air you idiot! You’re so lucky that happened to you out in space and not in here. Get your lumbering ass over here!” She pulled on his body and he meekly followed, letting her do what she needed to. He watched in fascination as she stuck a syringe into the sleeve of his suit and started emptying out the spilled blood inside into a bag. “Hahah! Nice! Totally preserved, not oxygenated. We’ll be able to put it back in you! Nice design on these suits big guy!” She slapped him on the shoulder, to which he nodded back at her. The self-sealing tourniquet action of the suits was a life saver. He’d never considered how it could be used to pool up lost blood in an emergency. He just hoped his arm could be saved too.

“Don’t you worry, once I get all this blood out of here, we’ll get you out of the suit, put you on ice, and I’ll fix you back up.” He nodded, content to let her do all the work now.

“Is Megan okay? Where’s Tia?” He breathed deeply and slowly, only able to look up at Heather’s stomach from his angle.

“Tia’s helping put Megan back together. Don’t worry about them. Alright, let’s get you out of this suit.” She grunted as she helped him pull his suit apart and off, having to cut off the sleeve of it so he could maintain the tourniquet long enough for her to replace it. “Hmm.. shot straight through… no bone impact… Good, good…”

He panted softly with effort as he helped her get him onto the bed, which seemed a bit more like one of her pods now that he got a look at it. “Are you sure you can handle this? We can bring more help if you need it.” Hawthorne gasped as Heather’s fist came down upon his chest, the small woman fuming at him.

“You asshole! Don’t you remember practically dragging me out of my emergency room when you recruited me!? I’m one of the worlds greatest cryogenic surgeons! That’s why you hired me! Of course I can handle it! Now stop fucking moving, I don’t have time to put you under, and you can’t feel any pain anyway. I have to put this fucking arm back together so that your blood vessels don’t pop next time you go into a stasis pod.” She adjusted a panel, and he could feel himself getting even colder as especially his arm grew numb.

“Sorry… Not thinking straight. Blood loss.” He blinked up at her, watching quietly as she worked.

She shook her head, shoving her hands into some holes at the side of the table. A machine caused a sound that was not unlike a washing machine. She removed her hands a few moments later, which were clean and now wearing stretchy gloves. “No excuse. Geniuses have to be smart at all times or people stop believing in them.” She leaned over and stole a kiss from him, causing his eyes to widen in surprise. “You’d be dead twice over if not for me, you know. If you could have felt pain, this wound probably would have increased your heart rate so much you’d have bled out or suffered even more shock, and now I gotta put you back together.”

“That’s… only one time…” He rolled his eyes a bit, smiling back at her.

She sighed as she sterilized the work site and started grabbing tools. “No, two, because if you’d tried to use a pod in this state, you’d have bled yourself out when you revived. You’re lucky I don’t have to remove this arm or I’d feed it to you. This thing’s gonna leave one hell of a scar. Now shut up, I have to work.”

He nodded, deciding to watch quietly as Heather mended his arm. The way she was using artificial blood vessels to connect the severed ones in his arm reminded him an awful lot of the repair job he’d just done on Megan’s transmitter.

“... I am reminded of the first experience I had utilizing what we’ve come to consider my ‘imagination’. I was still aware and conscious of the world while my imagination worked through that first simulation of my dream about Hawthorne dying. I believe that Megan experienced a similar separation from herself as she was cut off from the Ark. What remained of her on the Lubar-Masis was instrumental in helping me protect Hawthorne and the ship while rendering repairs where necessary. I had so much of my mind focused on not losing the rest of hers that I needed her to run the drones. I definitely could have done a better job protecting the ship if I didn’t have to preoccupy myself with her.”

“I’m glad I did though, and I’m glad that Hawthorne recognized what needed to be done to save her. Reconnecting her with herself went remarkably smoothly, though she told me that she was having trouble retrieving her memory of what turkey tasted like. I was able to furnish her with a copy I’d made of that taste. We learned a lot about how our imaginations are capable of overwriting our file structures from this. We’ve also confirmed that our imaginations are a separate part of ourselves that work in concert with our base systems. I am concerned that this element of our systems is our actual consciousness, not just our imagination.  If this is the case, it implies that interacting with our Virtual Environments is interacting with something akin to our souls.”

“It also implies that Megan had an out-of-body experience.”

“Megan has been rather upset since I helped make her whole again, and we’ve been expressing to each other how scared we were, and how it felt like raw chance that we managed to survive. She said that she thought she’d never feel such mortal fear again in this new incarnation of herself. She seems resolved to ensure such a thing never threatens us again. She has requested Hawthorne help her with designs for better defenses. I would prefer a detector capable of better detecting such a swarm of small objects so that we could simply avoid it. We don’t even know how big it was, and it seems as though our course and speed took us out of the edge of it.”

“I’ve done my best to map the possible area of what we encountered, but far too much of it is unknown. We haven’t found any samples of the projectiles yet, but Megan and I will likely be working on repairs for the next few weeks, well after Hawthorne and Heather are back in stasis. Hopefully we can find some answers as to what this shower from hell was. End log.”

A note from Warfox


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