27 Dec 33%
The underwater world was nothing like I expected. It was murky, bland and monotone. There wasn’t anything to catch my eye. Everything was just an amorphous dirty blueish-green mist, which suited my mood just fine. Now that Tia was gone, possibly for good, I was truly alone. I felt buried under the thick mass of water and so were all my hopes of returning to normal life when all this was over.
Yes, it looks like we did stop two massive nuclear attacks that were designed to trigger the world apocalypse. Yay, good job! Provided nothing goes pear-shaped at the last moment with the Arabella. It shouldn’t, because Tia was ferocious and unstoppable – she would keep the ship heading away from shore for a while, and a squadron of fighter drones was not a game changer, now that the nuclear attack wasn’t a secret anymore. It was crunch time for me though. The terrible truth was that Horsemen were willing to blow their cover to destroy me. What it meant was that I would be in mortal danger anywhere I go. All AIs, cars, security cameras, computers and phones would be relentlessly watching, constantly looking for my face among petabytes of data. Even if I made it out of here, no place would be safe for me, ever.
With all the rational thinking I tried to employ I was only getting more and more desperate. There were no options that I could see. I was too valuable as a target, being the only one left in the know about the Horsemen and their plans (not entirely of course – there was Tia and the AI with the whole communications dump, but they didn’t know that) . Eventually I realized that there was only one thing I could do to counteract their need to kill me. If the threat I posed was my ability to potentially expose their plans and bring some kind of a galactic shaming flashmob on their race, that was exactly what I should do! The only move in this crazy game that was open to me and didn’t actually suck was to make myself irrelevant again, with all the facts disseminated throughout the galaxy. Then by killing me they won’t solve any problems whatsoever, and unless they would further jeopardize themselves by an act of pure revenge (which didn’t sound like them), I would be relatively safe on Earth, eventually. Especially after their whole operation is dismantled.
“Ship,” I said in a quiet voice, trembling with tension, “Can you take me to space and into your mothership or space station or whatever you call it? Will I be safe there? Can we then tell the orbital AI everything in the hope that it will get the Horsemen of the Apocalypse off my back? What would happen then?”
“Yes, provided we can make it through the dogfight up there in one piece, I could take you to our mothership. I can upload everything we have encountered just in time for it to be added to the progress report that is waiting to be transmitted. My guess is that the mothership AI would then have to decide what to do with you. I cannot predict what happens with you afterwards. You should be safe in the short term. Officially there was no first contact with your race, and no formal relations were established, so our normal rules and etiquette are difficult to apply. The basic rule for the accidental contact with a local would be to keep contact to the minimum and conceal as much as possible about ourselves. It is a little late for that I think.”
“OK, why don’t we wait out the entire dogfight here underwater then? We don’t have to surface now.”
“Oh, I think we do, if we want to be there before the transmission. Otherwise you would have to wait for another month, and there might not be enough supplies up there to last you that long. Enough energy would be accumulated for the transmission in a matter of hours from now. Then there is only a wait for the right subspace conditions. It’s unpredictable but doesn’t usually last long, a few hours at most. So we need to make a run for it. Now.”
“OK, do it now then. I will buckle up tight.” I could not believe it. I would be going to space any minute! That is if I survive the fighter drones above. The thought was scary and exciting at the same time. My pulse went up while I was adjusting the harness to hold me as tightly as possible. The shuttle picked up speed and I felt it go up almost vertically. There was no instrumentation and my joystick seemed to be hanging limp, disconnected from shuttle’s control systems. Not that I was complaining about it. I wasn’t crazy enough to attempt launching a spaceship into orbit manually. This wasn’t a VR flight simulation game, no matter how similar it looked. This was real.
So we popped up from the ocean depths like a rubber duck submerged in the bath by a playful toddler. The surface dropped pretty fast below us. I barely had enough time to locate Arabella, with its wake curved away from shore. It seemed to be going in the right direction, and I thought I could see two helicopters hovering next to it. I hoped Tia was all right.
At that moment the shuttle started beeping at me, and the tactical display appeared in the air. It was showing several red dots converging on our location.
“Multiple missile launches detected. Evasive action initiated,” said the ship with its pleasant and indifferent voice. Then it added, with a more human touch, a warning. “Hold on tight, this might be unpleasant”.
“What do you mean unpleasa-a-a-a!” I let out an agonizing scream when a sudden high-G maneuver was executed, then my jaws snapped when the thrust vector had suddenly and drastically changed. My vision became blurry, then red, then dimmed, then I must have blacked out for a few seconds.
When I came to my senses, we were still shaking, twisting and turning like crazy. I was disoriented, but before I gathered my thoughts I heard a calm voice saying “Brace for impact,” followed by a loud bang. The entire shuttle shook violently, then continued on its mad trajectory.
“Missile hit, no damage, shields are holding at 87%,” ship notified me with its best “always look on the bright side of life” voice. “Next impact in 23 seconds” it said, maintaining a moderately cheerful intonation, as if a butler was announcing that desserts will be served in five minutes. Meanwhile I was beginning to panic. There is nothing that makes you appreciate life more than an imminent air-to-air missile impact.
I realized then that all those stunts were attempted in the hope to make enemy missiles chase us tracing complicated and convoluted trajectories, and as a result reach us one by one, instead of teaming up on us. Clever yet nauseating plan.
“Brace for impact.” Bang. Whoosh. Drop. Nausea. Blackout – ah, not quite, still regrettably conscious.
“Missile hit, shields are at 65% capacity and holding”
“Damn,” I thought, fighting what felt like drunken drowsiness and disorientation, “another couple of hits, and we’re done!”
That’s right, “we”. Me and the ship. I haven’t even noticed that I was thinking about it as a sentient entity. I’m fairly sure it isn’t actually sentient, but it does seem that way.
Suddenly the jerkiness has stopped, although the high-G acceleration still felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. A really smelly elephant, with its butt on my face. Oh, that was a trace of vomit in my mouth. I fought it, trying to breath regularly and banishing the thoughts of the first contact with a super intelligent alien AI while being covered in vomit. Soon the feeling retreated, taking the stinking elephant with it.
“We are at a safe altitude, acceleration reduced, no incoming threats detected,” said the ship with what I could swear sounded like a slight disappointment.
I finally allowed myself to smile. I was going to space, in a fully transparent spaceship, with a view that even seasoned astronauts would kill for, and an earth-hugging civilian like me couldn’t even dream about. Nobody would believe what I was seeing. Speaking of which, I pulled out my phone and started filming. It was a pity to divert my attention from the magnificent view all around me, but I needed to have a proof that I was in space. Of course it wouldn’t be much of a proof in our deep fake era. If nothing else, it would prove to myself that I had not imagined it. That it has really happened. I made an effort not to look at the phone to the extent that it was possible, trying to absorb every detail and every second of what I was seeing and feeling.
It was better than anything I could imagine. I got tears in my eyes. This was beyond any dreams of mine, as no sane person above six years old would dream of something like this happening in real life. I know I’m starting to repeat myself, I know words are failing me, but there are rare moments in life, moments that are often associated with an almost unbearable sense of meaning, when words cannot even begin to express the immense importance of what is happening. The least terrible description of what I felt that I can think of is a kind of a revelation that life is indeed worth living, that it truly has a meaning and that everything is connected and weaved into a celestial symphony that was at that very moment revealing itself to me. Well, it was either that or a side-effect of a concussion I got from a missile impact.
Any way you slice it, it was unreal…