Read 90_Minutes_to_Live Online

Authors: JournalStone

90_Minutes_to_Live (3 page)

Taylor said the cockpits were empty; I know those eyes; the pilot’s dead;
g
e
t
o
u
t
,
g
e
t
o
u
t;
the p
i
lot’s dead—
it’s Linda
.

I twist round to look but that’s dumb. There’s no better way to see the pilot’s side than the mirror. She’s still staring at me. She’ll stare forever. She’s dead.

The thought slides around my mind like an ice cube in an empty tumbler; I feel its touch but it won’t sink in. It’s not real.

I guess I’ve known for a while now that I’d find her body somewhere aboard. But here she is, looking at me. Me, I just look back. I think about the way her hair tosses when she runs. Tossed when she ran.

I have to go around. Come at her through the pilot’s hatch.

I shake off her gaze, push through the hatch and swing around. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Take her away I guess. Put her to rest.

I open the door and there she is.

She’s buckled the harness across her chest; her head leans against the cradle. What’s left of it anyway. Linda never was the type to wait around for suffocation to set in and I do
n’
t
have to
l
o
ok
f
o
r
a
pis
t
o
l
on t
h
e
f
loor to
k
n
ow
w
h
a
t
h
a
ppe
ned here.

The world blurs for a while as I cling to the handholds outside the pilot’s hatch.

A million half-regrets flit through my head.

If only I’d kept her happier.

If only we hadn’t fought.

If only that goddamned Taylor-

If only-

But all that slides away and my eyes run dry as they catch sight of the floor at Linda’s fleet.

Six green lights blink away atop a small flat box that shouldn’t be there.

My God.

The pistol’s there too, and a wax pencil, and the pilot’s crowbar, chipped and a little bent from hard use.

God damn.

I look up again at Linda, at her light brown eyes with nothing behind them.

Something is written on her arm, big letters in red wax pencil.

They regrow
, it says.

God damn, God damn.
How long have I wasted? I’m such an idiot
.
A
lazy, sentimental fool. Fat lady ain’t singing. If there are two control boxes, there could just as easily be three or four. I could hunt all day and never find them all.

I drop down from the Betty’s side and dash for the stairs. God damn, God damn. Randy always told me this would happen one day. I let my guard down too early and the enemy kept moving. Probably by now, the one I killed has respawned.

I’m up the ladder and slinging down the hall, hollering into my Comms. “Jaz! You there?
S
m
i
t
t
y
?

T
h
e
e
m
p
ty ship echoes, a clatter of shouts and my own sharp footfalls but nobody chatters back.

And now here’s Smitty, jogging up to meet me.

“We got to
go!
” I shout, waving at him to turn around.

“No good,” he says, “Hatch is locked, and I can’t raise Jaz.”

I shoulder past him without explaining. Round the corner and bang on the hatch with my fists. “JAAAAZ!”

“Shhh!” says Smitty, “What’s that?”

There’s a clank. Another.

“No, no
no no
,” I say. “We’re right here, Jaz, just open the door.
Open the door!
” But there’s the hiss, the rumble and that little jolt severing one ship from another.

I swing over to the nearest window. God damn. There she goes, drifting away. Did she know?

“Suit up,” I snap at Smitty, pulling my visor down. It’s not too far, between the
Lancer
and us yet. Our suits will stand up to the vacuum; Jaz can swing around and pick us up. It might even be better this way; less chance the weaponized bots will leap the distance, from the
Hannah Lee
to the
Lancer
.

But then the running lights flicker and I see a touch of tumble in her flight path. That’s not Jaz’s hand at the controls. The lights wink out. I can hardly see the ship at all, lit by nothing but stars and the backwash of the
Hannah Lee’s
windows. A ghost of a ship.

“Well shit-” says Smitty, his voice small and tinny through the speakers.

“C’mon,” I say, snapping the seals back off my helmet again. “We got to finish talking with Taylor.”

There’s nothing else to do.

Taylor’s still awake on the screen when we get back. He’s quiet, till he sees us.

“I’m dead, aren’t I?” he says, straight off. It’s not really a question, so I nod.

“Linda, too?”

I nod again. He bites his lip.

“You remember?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

I wait.

“It was awful,” he says. “Me and Linda were so excited. So happy. We found the Betty,” he smiles, bitter. “We were rich,” he shakes his head. “We went upstairs to celebrate. Had a few drinks. A shower. Had a good time.”

I don’t meet Smitty’s eye.

“We didn’t even know anything was wrong, till Linda went back up to the controls. Nothing worked. No thrust. No attitude. Nothing.

“Figured it was a fuse,” Taylor’s resurrection shakes its head again. “I started down to look and I—I just stepped through the door here when
t
he
blo
w
o
u
t
s
o
u
n
d
e
d
,
t
h
e d
o
o
r
s
clapped shut.”

“I put on my mask. Ninety minutes I figured, plenty of time. We’d be fine.” Taylor breaks off for a minute. I wait him out. “I tried to fix
i
t
.
G
o
d
,
I
t
r
i
e
d
.
I
r
e
b
o
o
t
e
d
e
v
e
r
y
t
h
i
n
g
.
S
o
f
t
,
h
a
r
d
,
a
l
l
o
f
i
t
.
I
c
o
u
l
d
n
’t g
e
t a
d
amned
t
hing working.”

There’s something he isn’t saying. He’s looking at me now. Deciding.

“I think I might’ve killed us,” he says, “Cause every time I tried to fix something, it only got worse.”

He wants me to tell him it’s not his fault.
B
u
t
i
t
i
s
. It’s his f
a
u
l
t she was here at all. I didn’t want her to go. God, we fought about that.

“Linda said she thought it was the bots. That they’d turned against us.”

I nod. “She fought back.”

“That’s Linda.” Taylor bites his lip. Neither one of us says anything.

Behind the forty-four I can see Smitty’s eyes get big. His hand goes up to his mouth and I can see the nickel drop as he works it all out: the bots, the failures and the
Lancer
. He leans back against the bulkhead. Doesn’t say anything. A good kid, Smitty.

“There was nothing I could do,” says Taylor, almost begging. “I tried everything. Hard reboots. Manuals. The shit just didn’t work. Didn’t even respond after a while.”

He’s hit a groove; he can’t stop talking. I can see sweat standing out on
h
i
s
s
i
mul
a
t
e
d
s
k
in.

“The air went out. The grav turned off. The power went down. Then the backup. I was just floating in the dark. Just floating. Till you came. Just floating in the dark and wondering if Linda was going to make it, if she got down to the lifeboats, if she got away.”

I can’t look at him. Can’t look at Smitty. I stare at the orange gauge on Taylor’s empty air tank. Usually by now a resurrection’s gone off kilter, got so wrapped up in its own thoughts it can’t function and goes sil
e
n
t
for a final time. I wonder if that might be better.

“We were going to get married you know.”

“I know.” I say. It shuts him up. I force myself to meet his gaze.

Taylor looks at me for a while.

“You’re her father,” he says.

I nod.

“I’m sorry,” he says. There’s nothing more to say.

The lights go down. His face flickers out.

“It’s okay.” I say, to the empty space in the forty-four.

I flip down my faceplate and check my gauge.

Less than two hours left.

“So now what,” says Smitty, “We’re just going to sit here and wait to die?”

I turn and start to unclip.

“Here,” I say, pulling the hose free from my air can. “Take it.”

“That’s yours Sir,” Smitty says.

“I don’t want it.” I say. Everything I love is dead already. Without the tank connected, it’s already getting hot and stuffy in my suit. It’s much better this way. Better than waiting all that time.

Smitty will have twice as long now. Maybe long enough to outlast the attack. Maybe long enough someone will come by and rescue him.

“Fuck you sir.” Smitty says. He’s shoving the hose back on the can.

“Come on Smitty,” I say, but I’m too lightheaded to fight him.

“Respectfully, sir, I don’t intend to outlive you,” he says. Somewhere in my suit, a valve opens and I can feel the cool air rush up past my face. “You want me to live; you gotta save both our asses.”

Smitty stands up and strides out into the hall, leaving me sitting alone, watching the spots in front of my eyes. I follow him, jogging to catch up.

“Feeling better sir,” he says. It’s not a question. I don’t answer. He moves on. “Lemme get this right: the nanobots are bad.”

“Yes.”

“They’re killing the ship.”

“Yes.”

“And we can’t fight ‘em.”

“No.”

Smitty nods, once.

“Then we’ll run.”

“Taylor and Linda played this game once already,” I say.

“Yeah, but we’re gonna win.” He’s headed for the ballroom.

“Lifeboats won’t go,” I remind him.

“Not taking them.” We bust through the doors. “We’re taking
that
.”

The Betty.

Smitty pulls up his visor, seals in.

“Can you fly this thing?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say, hesitating. He cocks his head, asking
what gives
. I flick my chin toward the ship. “Linda’s in there.”

He nods. Climbs up to the pilot’s hatch. My stomach flip-flops, watching him lean in and haul her
b
o
d
y
o
u
t
.
I
t

s
n
o
t
t
i
l
l
s
h
e
f
loats out into the room and hangs in the air that I realize the gravity’s gone out, engines cut. We’re all freewheeling now, my feet whispering up off the deck unbidden.

I hold the banister and watch her drift—Linda—revolving slowly in the air, her long hair wrapping carelessly across the cavity at the back of her head. Peaceful.

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