Eric had come back to himself.
He felt oddly calm, as though he had been thrust into the center of an apocalyptic maelstrom. The eye of the storm. The stairs creaked and groaned under his weight as he tread down them, exiting the control tower once more. Again, he had been given purpose. He had been connected to another living entity. At least, in his mind this Artificial Intelligence was alive, in some capacity. And even if it wasn't, well...
What difference did it make anymore?
At his core, some small but powerful part of Eric knew that he no longer cared enough about his own life to fight for himself, to survive for himself. It just wasn't enough. Why that was, he wasn't sure he'd ever find out, but it was the truth and even if it could be fixed, there wasn't time to fix it. So he latched onto this being, this one responsibility. His feet hit the deckplates and he surveyed the cluttered makeshift storage area at the base of the tower. For a moment, he found himself wondering what it must have been like here.
Theseus Station was obviously an old, unhappy place, cobbled together from whatever people could find. It seemed like whatever open space there was had been used as storage of some kind, like pack-rats who shoved stuff everywhere without much regard for organization or cleanliness. He wondered who had started this place, what its point of origin in history was. It seemed like it might have originally been a research outpost. It was far enough out there and isolated enough for it. Probably, as the company or government-funded group that started it either folded or lost interest, they sold the installation off.
Obviously, someone thought they could make money by turning it into a refit and repair station. This led Eric down another thought path: what kind of people willingly went to live out here, at the edge of known space? What drove them? He couldn't imagine many, if any of them, had been here because they wanted to be here. It was why he'd chosen the job he had. Ironically, although Search and Rescue was high-intensity and required a lot of precision-based, under pressure work, it called to people who weren't very well-adjusted.
Who else could you find to live on a ship for six month at a stretch where, at any second, you might have to board a burning ship or any of a dozen other nightmare scenarios? Eric realized that he was still standing there, that his mind was drifting. Not good. He took a moment to check over his gear. Running a suit-check, he looked over his SMG and then his pistol. Both were in good shape and topped off for ammo. Speaking of ammo...Eric checked over his pockets and found a half-dozen magazines for the SMG, another three for the pistol, plus the two grenades he'd pocketed. Not exactly a whole lot to work with.
The suit-check came back clean. His suit was functional, power only down to seventy percent and intact, though it warned him that there were many signs of stress all over it. Not much he could do about that right now. With a heavy sigh and leaden heels, Eric set off out of base of the control tower, fixing the map of the installation and his specific destination in his mind. The AI Core was positioned quite a ways away unfortunately, and he had no idea what kind of obstacles lay between him and it. The AI had tried to be helpful, but given its severe lack of power, it could only do so much. Eric jerked slightly as he remembered that.
He was on a time limit.
How could he have forgotten that already?
He checked his chronometer and saw that he now had about forty five minutes to get there. With this in mind, Eric set off down the corridor he was in, jogging to its end, trying to maintain silence but having to sacrifice it for speed.
All around him, Theseus Station breathed with ominous life. While before the hum of power and the whisper of oxygen were comforting, they now seemed to have taken on a darker quality. It was almost as if the installation itself had come to life and was hunting him. He had the sudden strong impression of traversing the bowels of some great, malignant beast. Eric shook his head, focusing. His thoughts and his emotions were getting away from him. He couldn't fail in his task. He knew that. If he failed to save the AI, then he'd fail to save himself, because he would be back to square one, having no one and nothing to rely on.
YOU ARE READING
The twelfth novel in The Shadow Wars. Eric Starck is a man adrift. After fighting in the Systems Wars that ravaged the galaxy, he's spent the past three years drifting from one job to the next, never quite feeling comfortable. The latest in a long l...