#TeamSFHorror - Part Two: SteelSmithe - @AllanFisher

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To Distraction - Part 2 - krazydiamond


Consciousness was gradual, Kalla's senses and memories flowing across her mind like fine grains of sand, leaving her shaken and raw.

Hale felt the tears on her face as the plug disengaged. The feed tube was mercifully already gone, allowing her body to curl, hugging her knees and rocking as she tried to banish Kalla from her mind.

My god, she thought, biting back a sob. That pack of eggheads promised a full immersion experience, but nothing had prepared her for that. Each sensation sank its claws into her skin, pulling her so deep she couldn't separate the reality from the illusion, which made Kalla's demise all the more disturbing.

Why would the interface conjure an experience that ended in death? The experience had lulled her into a sense of false peace, of awe and wonder as she saw an alien world through alien eyes, while an ominous note hummed in the back of her mind. She'd lived in Kalla's skin to the end, through her unraveling mind, sensing the beasts creeping closer and closer to devour her.

Hale shook herself, forcing her legs over the side of the pod. The effort telegraphed the exhaustion throbbing through her muscles and bones. How could she be so tired? Standing ended in a stagger as she left the rec room on wobbly legs, threatening to give out on her every step of the way.

The eternal fluorescent daylight of the Ulysses furthered her disorientation. Systems, she had to check the systems. How long had she been under?

Hale leaned against the bulkhead wall of the corridor, letting the smooth surface anchor her until her head stopped spinning.

"I'm never doing that again," she muttered. Eff the VRI, eff the eggheads, eff the whole damn ship. She'd read Moby fricking Dick ten times over rather than experience that shit again. "Never again," she muttered. Her tongue felt thick in her mouth, fuzzy, and speaking gave her a whiff of her own dragon breath. Whatever was trickling down the back of her throat through that lovely little joyride certainly wasn't minty fresh.

"Systems check, come on Hale, systems check," she repeated the mantra, dragging herself along the wall until she made it to her destination. Focusing on the readouts was a challenge for her fatigued brain, but forced herself through the motions. Of course everything read out normal. It always read out normal. She could have left it for months and it would read out normal like clockwork because it was clockwork that ran the ship, in gears and circuits and empty robotic faces and HOLY CRAP.

Hale blinked at the time read out.

"That's not possible," she said, even as the digital numbers ticked onward despite the jolt to her sensibilities. Two days. She'd spent two days in the VRI. Two days without food or water or taking a piss. Why didn't she have to piss now? Hale gave her crotch a speculative glance, pondering the significance of her quiet bladder.

She didn't feel hungry, though the gummy feeling in her mouth begged for a drink. Mostly she felt that all consuming exhaustion and a grainy trickle in her joints each time she moved.

My blood is full of red dust.

She shook her head at that errant thought. Sleep, that's what she needed, and maybe a bucket of water. Though she couldn't decided if she wanted it on her or in her. The desire to rinse out her mouth finally drove her to her feet again. Her fingers trailed all the wall as she headed for her quarters.

She never noticed how her footsteps echoed before, the sound bouncing through the ship. Hale stopped, listening to the empty sound. For a moment she felt a flicker of Kalla's loneliness, secluded, cut off from her people, wandering alone across the sands. Death nipping at my heels....

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