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Dec 09

She: Genesis Ex Machina

The figure floated within the chamber, its seemingly peaceful sleep jarringly incongruous with the context it slept in.

Unconsciously she took two steps back, her skin crawling. That just wasn’t right, in a visceral and indefinable way. As horrifying as those other people tubes had been… this was worse.

She glanced around herself, her movements bird-like, anxious. “Hello?” she called again, but there was no answer. She saw no movement, no people. She started weaving through the chambers on the floor, but she had a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach. Where were they?

There was a round column in the center of the room, and the big machine to which all the chambers’ tubes and cables connected was right next to it. Everywhere else were the chambers. She tried not to look into them, but it was hard to avoid. Many seemed to be empty. She passed a few with smaller, toddler-sized children inside. And another where she couldn’t help but to stop and stare, trying to make sense of what she saw. After a moment she realized that this one was not yet fully developed – still a fetus. It was so surreal she felt, for a moment, that her mind disconnected from her body.

She passed another which appeared to contain a mass of tangled limbs pressed against the glass, so tightly that their shape seemed to conform to the chamber walls. Some of the limbs were making jerky, weak movements. Others… she shuddered. She saw signs of decay. The moving limbs would be still soon, too.

She wondered how many people were in there, but the thought made her queasy, so she put it firmly out of her mind.

She approached the big central machine, but couldn’t make sense of it. It’s workings appeared to be entirely inside its metal casing, and she’d never seen anything like it before. It was just a squat box with tubes and cables coming out of it.

And it had a screen. Her breath caught – in that moment, she knew what screens were for.

She touched it, hoping the screen would come to life. It blinked on, displaying an unevenly lit flow-chart. More characters… letters, words. The letters she was well on her way to remembering; but many of the words remained unfamiliar. Gamete Collection? Biometry?

She tapped Biometry, and an array of numbered boxes slid onto the screen – hundreds of them, it looked like, as she scrolled through several screens. She tapped one at random, and a new screen slid into view; Vital Signs, including meters for Heart Rate, Ambient Temperature, Core Temperature, and Oxymetry. There seemed to be a few buttons at the bottom of this screen, but the flickering display obscured the words. One looked like Nutrition, she thought. Another she couldn’t make out at all. She tapped it, hoping that the screen it opened would edify.

A harsh, repeating beep sounded, and the screen turned red, with BIRTHING in big block letters displayed above the Vital Signs meters. Panicked, she rapidly tap-tap-tapped the screen, but it didn’t respond. The numbers on the Vital Signs meters were slowly ticking upward. What had she done?

She turned, trying to determine where the warning beep was coming from. Following the sound, she weaved her way between the chambers until she found one with a small, blinking red light near its top. She peered inside, blocking the light with her hands as she tried to see through patches of frost. He seemed asleep, like the others, curled in a ball upside-down in the fluid. She couldn’t see any sign of harm, but she wasn’t entirely certain that harm would be immediately apparent, either.

She waited several minutes, but aside from the beep eventually falling silent, nothing further seemed to happen. She returned to the machine’s screen, but it remained unresponsive. The Vital Signs were still creeping upward.

What now?

Whatever she had done, it’s results weren’t apparent, so she supposed there was nothing she could do but focus on finding those other people she had spoken to. They clearly weren’t here. Maybe they had left? Should she try to find them? Try to call them on the speaker again?

She decided it made more sense to stay here. This room was easy to find; a smaller room out in the halls might not be. She scanned the nearest walls for a speaker panel – now that she knew what to look for. She moved toward the central column and began to walk around it. A few steps along, and she came to a set of double doors. A closet? The column wasn’t that big – it would make for a fairly small room. She touched the doors, but nothing happened.

She had other priorities for the moment, and decided she could investigate the doors later. She continued around the column, at last coming to a panel set in the wall, similar to the one she’d left behind in the fitness room.  Although it was more complex, with more buttons and a blank display screen.

She began pushing buttons. “Hello? You there?” She heard nothing, not even static. The weight of her isolation crushing in on her, she thumped the panel with a fist. Nothing. Forcing herself to focus, she leaned in to examine the panel. Right. There were more buttons, but the button she’d used on her fitness room speaker had been in the bottom right corner. She pressed it, and got a squeal of feedback.

“Hello?” She waited. Still nothing.

She traced her fingers over the buttons. This seemed like a ship built for quite a lot of people – it would make sense to have many speakers they could use to communicate. But one probably wouldn’t want to talk to all of the speakers all of the time… so there must be a way to choose which set of speakers to talk to.

She looked at the buttons again. She thought she could make out markings under some of them… lettering? But it was so faded it was illegible. She squinted, trying to force the letters to come into focus, to reveal their secrets. She pushed the top-left button, and then the bottom-right. “Hello?”

Silence.

She was beginning to think that a lengthy, methodical, trial-and-error process was her only option, when her gaze came to rest on one button in the bottom row. Its lettering, although greatly faded, still had enough form for her to make out: A L.

All?

Taking a chance, she pushed the button, then the bottom-right one. “Hey! Can you hear me?”

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