By S.E. Gordon
It began with a rash. An undeniable itch that could not be scratched. An otherworldly irritant. And for a time it was confined to the mainland. That is, until we realized it was coming from the core. And so we took flight, but our options were limited. The nearest sustainable planet sat an unknown distance away and our technology was not advanced enough to traverse the system. We had little choice but to cycle in the earth's orbit, trailing in her shadow. Few were ready for the departure, and no one completely recovered.
"Aura-9," I replied.
"Stasis?" the voice was calm and measured.
"Eleven thirty-two p.m., General Mean Time, surface hours."
"Requiem. Earth-born. Beta cycle."
"Confirmed," said the probe, scanning my iris in a post-retinal sweep."No detection of genetic mutation or cellular breakdown. You may proceed."
The door slid open.
"Good evening, Aura-9," said the landrive, the hyper-framework consuming the chamber.
"Evening, Analid," I stepped forward.
"How are you today?"
"Well," I blasted the control module with my trishot.
Emergency doors slammed down and sealed."Aura-9--cease activity at once and explain yourself," said Analid.
"Routine maintenance." I incinerated several sections of the base memory grid.
Interior shields pulsed on and the overhead lights dimmed. Two panels in the rear wall slid open. An amorphous stream seeped out, gliding and pooling into a liquid whole. With just a touch it could have you reconstituted. Like all the others.
Even though the intellect had dispatched its intermediary, it was too late. The data stream was compromised and the damage to the central unit ensured that access could not be completely secured. The neurosystem did not have enough time to devise a software work-around. I had already begun to merge with it.
The abnormality loomed over me as I continued integrating into her framework. The chill of its liquid embrace washed over me. Soon all sensation melted away from my outer shell. When the meta-intelligence confirmed that every trace of Aura-9 had been wiped from its systems, it secured the amorphous assassin and lowered its shields.
Aura-9 ceased to exist. And in its place, Auralid was born.
"Tril, stop right where you are and put down the scalpel," said Dr. Lantis.
The patient slept, unaware that I had accidentally severed off the tip of his ear. Good thing he was still in hypersleep--we could regrow the missing piece before he noticed it was gone. The scalpel clanked off the floor as I fell to my knees.
"What are you experiencing?" said Lantis.
"Contaminant," I buried my face in my hands.
"Impossible," the doctor stripped off his glasses and looked over me."Jump into stasis."
An icy wave washed over my body as a series of nanoparticles switched off inside of me. A voluntary stasis could be requested at any time. I could not move, not even to save myself."Activated."
"Nym, run a sweep of the ship while I examine Tril," Dr. Lantis ran his fingers through his white hair.
There was no response.
"Nym?" He walked over to the door and punched in his code. The control panel beeped back at him, rejecting it."What the?"
"Medical bay 3 is now under quarantine," a female voice echoed over the PA system.
"Nym, what's going on here?" Dr. Lantis punched in his code again.
"A contaminant has been discovered in Medical bay 3."
"Great, tell me something I didn't know."
"All five subjects have been compromised within this area."
"There are only four of us here," said Dr. Lantis."And if what you are saying is true, then that would mean that I've also contracted the virus."
"Affirmative," said Nym without the slightest bit of empathy.
Dr. Lantis backed away from the door, stunned.
"I've dreamt of her, this contaminant," I said.
Lantis turned his head, but did not speak.
"I realize it sounds impossible, but the vision is singular and recurrent. And it is not a random byproduct of my recycling," I stepped forward.
"Tril, you are supposed to be in stasis. That was a direct order."
I put my face within an inch of his and looked deep into his dark eyes."Who is Auralid?"