The Ship of the Unforgotten - Chapter 27

Camp NaNoWriMo

Lydia Jackson was all but beside herself. She’d been fighting off maintenance bots for hours, trying to keep them away from the systems and from Pixton, but defending an area in zero g was like nothing she’d ever trained for.

The foreign AI didn’t act anything like she’d have expected. At first it would send bots at them randomly, singly or in pairs. Usually they’d be larger ones, and their purpose wasn’t always clear. They might have been sweepers or polishers for all Jackson knew.

They’d lumber awkwardly to the hatch through the main hall of the ship, feet or wheels or appendages or treads magnetized to keep them on the ground. They’d open the hatch, every time. She’d started out trying to keep it locked, but there was no way to keep them from unlocking it. They had clearance for all areas of the ship, and Pixton had so far been unable to revoke that clearance.

Once inside the hatch, they’d simply shove whatever obstructions she’d managed to move into place and everything would tumble away. She gave up that plan before they started directing it to fly towards her where she waited in cover at the back of the room.

As soon as they were in the hatch frame she’d open fire, and that’s where the real trouble would occur.

She’d had to learn in a desperate hurry that guns with recoil send floating people spinning in unexpected directions when fired. It was a nightmare. She had despaired at first, but practice and timing allowed her to make some progress. She gave up on the gun quickly; she was going to run out of ammo, which she had precious little of, and it wasn’t doing much good. Instead, she started keeping the desks and chairs back by her, and when the AI sent more bots after them, she would brace against the back wall of the room and launch the furniture at them. It took a few tries, but she got the technique down well enough that she could knock the bots out of the door and off their feet back into the enormously long corridor. They’d tumble helplessly through the air for the whole length, effectively putting them out of commission for hours.

She had just gotten comfortable with that steady rhythm when the foreign AI, apparently having had enough, sent a set of three.

She tried slamming the first one back and through, only to have the other two brace it and keep it from tumbling. “Oh CRAP!” she yelled, more to vent her frustration than anything, but also to let Pixton know that they might have some trouble. Assuming she wasn’t so lost in what she was doing that she couldn’t hear her.

One, then two of them made it into the room. Some part of her brain recognized that these ones looked a little different than the menial labor bots it had sent so far. It wasn’t until it got within a few feet of her that she saw the hypodermic needle it had in place of its right forefinger. Her eyes flew open in panic. “Pixton!” she called. “Jenny, a little help? Please?”

She pushed off the wall, sailing through the air clumsily, twisting to face the opposite wall. She grabbed for a handhold to stop herself there; all the walls in the area had plenty of them, designed as they were to house people and do it without gravity. Once she had herself semi-stabilized, she was able to grab the gun from her holster.

The other problem with shooting in weightless conditions, she’d found, was aim. It is remarkably difficult to aim properly when you have, not just no solid footing, but no footing at all. She fired anyway, and managed to disable one of the bots with a lucky shot—one among almost a dozen—that landed in a vital housing.

The stopped her tumbling against the wall again and grabbed a chair. “Pixton!” she yelled. Suddenly the hatch to the server room burst open and Pixton flew out, another chair in her hands, and all but tackled the nearest bot. It tried to stab at her with its injection-finger, but the needle embedded itself in the base of the chair and snapped off, liquid floating out of the broken reservoir.

Jackson quickly worked her way to the side wall and kicked off, sticking as close to the wall as she could without running into anything. She reached out and grabbed the hatch that Pixton had flown out, and lined up on the bot she was wrestling with. “Pixton! On three!” she yelled.

Pixton looked back at her, eyes widening as she saw her. The security specialist readied her own chair like some bizarre over-sized broadsword.

“3!” Jackson cleared her mind and focused her attention.

“2!” She readied her chair, leg muscles tense.

“1!” She launched directly to the far side of the bot that Pixton had damaged. Pixton was swinging her chair low, so Jackson aimed high; the two chairs collided with the thing, and Jackson used her own momentum to direct the bot right out the doorway. One down, two to go. “Watch the needles! They’re some sort of veterinary bots or something, and I bet we really don’t want whatever they’ve got in those drug reservoirs.”

It took them almost 20 minutes and they were both sweating with exertion, but finally they got rid of the last of them.

“This … is ridiculous,” Jackson panted. “There has to be something we can do. If you can’t secure the door, can you … at least do something about the bots themselves?”

“That’s it!” Pixton exclaimed, then kicked off along the walls until she disappeared through the hatch again, back to her screens.

“What, what’s it? Pixton? Pixton!” Jackson sighed and grabbed some water, locked the hatch again, and settled back to wait for either news or another attack.