SUNSWEPT

The stars reverted from slashes of time streaked light back to mere pinpricks around her on the observation deck of the nondescript Caldari-made shuttle. Distinct against the tapestry of Origin's nebula backdrop she could clearly see what was left of the old Indigo Station. Large portions of what were once the sub-capital docking stations had already been disassembled; their materials repurposed in preparation for fabricating the new station. A sort of cocoon was being constructed around the two remaining carriers with what was left of the extra-large ship maintenance bay that had once dominated the station's profile. It was a bit surreal to see the station in such state. For a short time, prior to her recruitment into the Service, Indigo had been the headquarters of Origin Security Service. That was before necessity had moved OSS's more overt units panetside and their more covert operations, her division, into various pockets hidden among other, less populated stations in the system. She wondered what Phedrick would think of the view had he joined her on the trip.

The shuttle's vector changed without notice or internal effect as they began their approach on the tower, passing gently through the protective force-field which enveloped every part of Indigo Station. It was a bit thrilling and only a little chilling to be solo on the mission. Her partner's point had been well taken that this was something she was better suited for and sending one instead of two might be better for coaxing a frightened child, even one as technically advanced as Bee3. She valued Phedrick's opinion and just by letting her go solo said a lot as to how much he'd come to trust her. She trusted him and his opinion, and she intended to prove his trust as well as hers. He was old enough to have been her father but despite the age difference she'd come to see him more as an older brother than a father figure. It hadn't always been so. In fact, she had been damn near disgusted with some of his opinions when they'd first met. A veritable relic of his former life outside of Origin, he had actually been rather hesitant, even negative about AI sentience when he'd first come into the wormhole. It was not a popular opinion to have in a system built in part to be a sanctuary to the digitally minded and it had earned him plenty of trouble and grief. It had cost him more than one promotion during those early days. She met him while assigned to a detail investigating the heist of multiple strategic cruisers, a detail which had included the surly Sgt. Phedrick Gein. She'd found his opinions and comments near infuriating and only the fact that he'd seemed to have such close ties to the capsuleers who founded the OSS had kept her, and most others, from outright requesting his removal from the assignment. Knowledge of his connections hadn't prevented more than a few arguments however and ultimately they'd both been called in for disciplining following one particularly loud such disagreement.

In what had been one of the greatest surprises of her career, rather than a reprimand, that same disciplinary meeting had netted her a partner. Seriously, how shouting at someone while totally trying to destroy their argument had anything to do with respect of that same argument she could never understand but she had walked out of her superior's office with a new partner. In time she'd recognized most of his fear had been based on a lack of understanding and she'd been one of the few with enough gonads to confront him on it. The discovery had led to an honest desire to help him understand and that, in turn, had grown into a friendship. She often mused that the Service would put two people so very different in temperament, style, and age together but she had come to suspect that is was her ability to help him see people the way she did that had caused the pairing in the first place. She shivered to think of how horribly unhappy he would have ended up being had he not shed his mistrust of the digitally minded.

Again the shuttle's vector changed and they began angling away from the largest areas of activity near the upper left hemisphere of the tower's protective field toward a piece of the station that seemed to be dangling from the rest of the deconstructed hulk. Looking at the thread of titanium connecting the stranded lab facilities she recalled that Xepharious had immediately ordered relocation and deconstruction of the old cloning facilities halted once he had discovered the child, however looking at those same facilities now, she was starting to appreciate just how efficient the demolition crews were, and how annoyed they likely had been at the order. Any piece of metal or fiber that was not invariably part of the cloning facility had been stripped away save for two lonely I beams that now tethered the naked looking facility to what was left of the station proper. The irony of how much the facility itself may resemble the gem that it held inside was not lost on her. Even the hallway that had once lead up to the facilities primary doors was gone leaving no possible airlock through which to enter. Not that the facilities entrance had been designed as anything other than an interior doorway. They must have had to reinforce the doors with a force-field as they clearly weren't bulkhead rating.

The answer to how she was going to get in was now belatedly attached to what had once been the corridor wall roughly 40 meters down from the main entrance. A battered temporary port housing, clearly detached from a construction gantry, offered a standard docking ring which her shuttle was now maneuvering to engage.

A stocky man in an industrial VacSuit awaited her as Jemmie stepped through the docking port. He had the musculature of one used to moving large amounts of mass by hand and he was making no attempts to hide his displeasure with his current assignment. His hands made no move to welcome her but remained bolted to either bicep leaving only a grunt in mock of hospitality. "You with the OSS then?"

"I am." She activated a secured implant which flashed a holographic tattoo into existence on her wrist. It was standard procedure to identify oneself as OSS in so few occasions that this particular function of the bio-secured implant received rare use.

The foreman, identified as such by the insignia on his VacSuit, simply grunted in reply and moved to access the gantry control station. "We'd almost started pumping the air out when we got the order. No information just a massive 'thou shalt not touch' on the entire facility. Whoever it was told us to rig up an airlock and wait. Do you know how hard it is to run a demolitions team from a fucking gantry airlock!?"

She scanned the 5 by 10 meter gantry section and found the space littered with blueprint data files as well as a small corner containing a cot and basic necessities. "You've been living here for three days?"

"Like I said, 'Thou Shalt Not...' When he said that not a single data packet was to breach this hull till his agent got here I wasn't about to walk away."

"I'm sorry it took three days" She frowned feeling at least a little sorry for the apparently committed Foreman.

"What the fuck is in this place anyway? The labs and corridors around it were full of some pretty old and frankly some fucking creepy equipment." He was making idle chat as he disengaged the seal on the portal that had been fastened into the corridor wall.

Part of her wanted to respond, the amusement she'd gain from watching his face balk at what was within would have been momentarily enjoyable. But she was professional enough to know better. "What do your demolitions records say?"

"Just some old lab, like the others around it, and some note about possible old clones held in stasis to be cataloged and sent to reclaiming." He'd finished with the lock and stepped back, holding the portal open for her.

A drift of air from inside brought with it the smell of stale chemicals and the too-clean air of a medical lab. She moved to grasp the lip of the portal and guided herself over it and into what once was clearly an examination room. Reclaiming, otherwise known as Biomass Processing, would likely never have seen any clones from within this lab. They would have disappeared somewhere along the way she was sure. No, there were secrets in this lab, secrets that needed protecting or the clones within would have been biomassed long ago. "You are to lock this portal behind me and only open it for me. I will alert your comm unit when I am ready to return." She located his comm number and set it to SpeedSelect. "At no other time is this portal to open. Is that understood?"

"Yeah" He nodded as well for good measure and sealed the portal behind her.

Once inside, Jemmie took in the general state of abandonment within what was apparently once a laboratory examination room. Almost three years of absence had left a sort of time capsule into Origin's cloning history and she suddenly felt like a kid in the Federal History Archive and Museum. This was the history of her craft and she marveled at just how far the system's technology had come in only three and a half years. Sure, the science behind these tools hadn't changed much but the technology itself had gone obsolete at a staggering rate. Stepping over to one particular monstrosity she resisted the urge to turn it on and explore. The device took up most of the room with a central tray and a cylindrical sensor placed around it. She envisioned herself laying on the tray and it clicked. This had been a scanner! It was massive! Even by the standards of its time it easily out-massed any other medical scanner of even five years ago. She tried to imagine the amount of additional systems and equipment that would warrant such bulk and gave up. Whoever had built this... she looked for a manufacturer's mark and found none, they must be living in embarrassment. Backing yourself up these days could be done using a device one could carry.

She shook her head and turned her thoughts back to the mission. She stepped into a clinic hallway and activated a holographic heads up display emitted from an ocular implant. Well, it wasn't actually emitting anything, it just looked like it was to her happily deceived brain. The center of the complex was the most likely place to store emergency supplies and her best chance to find Bee3. The kid would be resourceful, xe'd find a basic emergency kit in just about any room, but those would only include basic first aid and maybe a mylar blanket, useful in case of shock or hyperthermia, both regrettably common during the early days of Origin's mass cloning processes. A basic emergency kit was not enough for long term survival and so Bee3 would need to seek out food and water, both of which were stored in the central axis corridor of the facility.

As she chose her route inward, Jemmie began to wonder as to the kid's choices. Xe clearly would have downloaded internal schematics of the facility before moving in. Xe'd need those schematics, if for nothing else, to establish an exit plan. Surely if Bee3 had gotten access to the schematics then xe'd have also had access to basic information channels. Xe would have known about the impending demolition, it was the biggest story in Origin for weeks following the creation of Icarus. Why not try to interface over to the new station? And why transfer to a physical body, especially one you knew was in a deserted, sealed, and otherwise forgotten lab in the very same station that was being demolished. None of it added up. This was a sentient digital life, with near infinite access to data. It was like fleeing from your burning ship into the cabin which had first caught flame. Trying to understand her quarry was hurting her head so she decided to stick with the basic facts. The child would need to survive and that meant the central axis corridor. Jemmie continued to pick her way inward as quietly as possible. First she had to find the child, then she could try to understand xer.


*******

Sometime later, after Meyan had lost all track of time, she sat at the bar, a fresh drink in her hand, materialized from Bob-knows-where, and tried to find some rationalization for what had happened. The bar had emptied long ago and most capsuleers had preferred to go out on patrol or to assist with what they could. At one point Meyan had considered offering her not-inconsiderable knowledge as a doctor but reports had claimed a lack of need. Not one person made it out. The sections which had been enclosed within the bulkheads had been gas-vac'ed for evidence. New biomass was already being transported from storage at Indigo Station to replenish the cloning chambers which in turn had begun calling up bioscans for each of the victims over the age of 13, which blessedly had been most of them. She had once posited a term paper on ways to reduce the age limit on bio-scanning youth only to have her theories blow up in her face. Something about the human brain prior to and during puberty just nullified any scan result; the product of all such attempts being a mind that could never continue to mature past the age at which it was scanned. The technology just couldn't replicate the change properly it seemed and modern science hadn't figured it out yet.

The same capsuleer she'd first encountered in S'up; the owner, stepped up to the bar beside her. His sudden presence seemed to trigger her out of one thought and suddenly over to blame. No group had come forward to claim responsibility; their last mistake if they were stupid enough to make it. So her heart searched for someone to blame. "They hated her that much?"

Xeph paused in his movement toward the far end of the bar and turned, unsure if the question had been rhetorical. Meyan looked up and asked again; "This was in protest to Sharlandra's new ship right?"

"We honestly don't know yet, but something tells me there is more to it than that." Reaching over, Xeph pulled out the spare stool from under the bar and sat opposite the clearly deflated young women.

"Why?" Meyan was having trouble forming many questions into something she could iterate. "I mean, I know that she's a bully, at least I've heard. But why would they do something like that. Why does Alexylva employ someone so hated?" The questions weren't coming out has she meant them to and in a brief thought of reflection she hoped that this capsuleer, clearly also a member of the system's beloved capsuleer defense force wouldn't take offense.

"I'm not sure anyone could adequately answer your first question but I can at least help ya with the second one." He shifted in his seat as though preparing for the conversation to become more in depth. Meyan took a sip and waited.

"Some time ago I was fortunate enough to encounter a very rare artifact that spoke of a great war long ago fought by two forces across a vast expanse of solid ice." Meyan scrunched her face, clearly confused by the sudden story. The capsuleer continued. "The armies would clash again and again across the ice with the losing side retreating back off the ice only to come to the field again in time. See, each general feared that their opponent would be the first to try to flank their own army, so totally exposed by the ice on either side, that they would send out their cruelest warriors, called defenders, to make up the outer flanks of their advancing forces."

Meyan was at a loss for where the clearly esoteric capsuleer was heading but she found herself trying to picture the great icefields he spoke of and realized, with what little military knowledge she had, how such a vast battlefield might need to be controlled.

"Each general, fearing to send their troops into such cruelty, would commit them again and again to the center and thus the battle was won or lost based on the valor of each force rather than the trickery and strategy of each general." Xeph paused, letting her catch up. "Sharlandra is one of our defenders. She is sent into the most difficult situations with the least amount of backup. When other corporations violate our space or try to sneak away with our resources, or more-so when they plot against us from places they think are safe it's Shar that we send in first." Meyan was clearly unsure about the logic but kindly waited. "Wormholes are dangerous and intel is a weapon sharper than any other. We can't be everywhere and hear or see everything. By sending Shar in when our enemies are dealing unfairly or being covert we encourage both our enemies as well as those neutral to us to deal up front with us; to follow a policy of asking for permission rather than asking for forgiveness. We protect our flanks."

Meyan let the story and its meaning digest. It wasn't the answer she had been looking for and it certainly hadn't helped her feel any better. Worse, she was now reminded of a whole new level of ghosts in the dark that never entered her day to day thought. Who could handle trying to think of every possible attack from all these directions? A person would go mad first. As she mentally fled that black hole of thought she slowly lowered her head to the bar.

"You should get some sleep."

Head still down and voice muffled; "You kickin'n me out barkeep?"

"Yep" the owner stood and replaced his seat back under the counter. "Go, don't keep thinking about it either; that's why we're here."

Meyan uncoiled her arms and head and discovered just how exhausted she was as she slipped off her stool and turned toward the door.

"That guy was right you know, you looked very happy in that dress when you came in." With just that comment in parting the capsuleer slipped back into the back room leaving Meyan to suddenly remember the mood she'd been in when she's first stepped in. Looking around yet again she realized that she really was the last one in the bar. Her eyes shifted up to view the bioluminescing ceiling as it's colors danced to the sun's glow. Her life seemed to be speeding up, things were just happening and she felt swept up in it all. Once more she started for the door. At that moment she would have paid some serious isk to know where the operator was and if she could please get off this amusement ride for just a bit. That would be nice.


*******

Xer thoughts snapped back to the present and reactivated the subroutine xe'd set to imitate the expansion of xer diaphragm. Air rushed back into xer new lungs once more and xe flung xer arms out to catch the nearest object; this time a clinic examination table. The oxygen deprived hallucination once more transitioned back into thoughts of escape and the Them once more into mere paranoid fears. What a sick and twisted form of life, to have one's greatest fears made real as consequence of simply forgetting to breath. Images of massive shadows still haunted xer memory files no matter how many routines xe tried to create to delete them. Another breath. Good, that subroutine was holding this time. Confirm additional 'autonomic' subroutines a... b... c... Xer new mind whisked through each check with a lagtime that almost drove xer to find the nearest data terminal and vacate. Xe couldn't, that much xe could recall. A digital form was no longer safe from Them. Breathing. Each routine was becoming easier to balance but so many of them were taking so much of xer processing that any routine set to the task of anything beyond moment to moment survival was proving very dangerous indeed. The stasis chamber had kicked in and maintained xer new body's base functions long enough for xer to set a priority and task mapping but once xe had left the capsule xe'd released her new bowels and bladder, nearly broken a structural chassis joint, barely crawled to the nearest data port, and finally remembered to initiate the breathing subroutines just as xe blacked out. That was the first time xe'd seen Them.

When xe finally awoke, xe had reactivated a security locking procedure sealing xer within the automated cloning room. Xe'd tried to do so while still in digital form, however this particular security feature was designed to be safe from hacking, which had meant a manual, tactile, initiation in the form of a large button on the wall. Priority 1 completed. Now xe was on Priority 2; assimilation. Safely sealed in xer room xe'd activated the automated arm thus retracting the empty pod that had brought xer new body to this room for xer to inhabit. Orchestrating the entire process had been so easy. Xe'd activated millions of routines and tasks even before xe had left the traffic junction. Now xe was struggling to survive. No, this was still safer. They couldn't find xer in this body. Confirm; breathing? Affirmative.

Priority 2 was going to take longer than xe had anticipated. It would just have to overlap Priority 3. Xe wobbled to the data station within the room and used shaky digits to initiate a full body scan. Xe had to be sure xe hadn't missed any subroutine. An unbidden routine processed that these digits were just so horribly slow; xe'd have to find at least some form of modification to install a direct interface. Xer processes had never been so random and xe decided that it was just one more part of Priority 2. Xe'd studied medical texts extensively before selecting one of only a very few juvenile body options available. It had been the furthest formed yet not to the point of pubescence and thus had the most constant delta in both physical as well as neurological growth; easier to assimilate. The scan was passing over xer midsection when xe noticed a warning indicator. There was some sort of signal transfer being blocked. Or was it simply unacknowledged? Xe began a search routine along xer new neurons and found the signal. Confirmed; unacknowledged. Xe acknowledged the signal.

Moments later xe reflected on the choice to acknowledge while rolling on the deck. Xer first experience with pain had not been good, and upon review should have been avoided. The signal had taken over all others and halted almost every other subroutine requiring xer to restart them even while trying to assess the damage. The cessation of xer routine that had kept her standing hadn't helped either. The pain signal was clearly coming from xer abdomen, but it had been different in substance and intensity from the one xe had received upon falling. That had a more acute quality to it. This one was a lower threshold but constant. Xe continued a search through xer archives; accessed Basic Needs; air, water, food, shelter... Food! The scan would have indicated dehydration to the level of pain but not solid nutrients. Xer archive, ever helpful that it was, also included files on most common forms of nutrients xe was likely to find in an abandoned medical facility. Top on that list were emergency rations kept central within the facility. Priority 3 was concluding, Priority 2 ongoing. Food just became Priority 4 however now xe had a conflict. The security lockout surrounded this room and those beside it, none of which were central to the facility. Priority 4 could not override Priority 1. Without Priority 4, there would be no need for Priority 1; xe'd either be dead or forced back into digital form thus violating Priority 1. Xer safety was paramount and thus Primary Priority. Could xe extend the lockout? That would satisfy Priority 1 and allow Priority 4.

Xe once more exercised her digits, a little faster this time xe noted. The security lockout, now that it was activated from within, was not complex. The commands were infantile to a being born of code. The readout from the data port produced a diagnostic at xer command. Something was going to prevent xer from moving the lockout to cover the whole facility. There had been a breach. A conduit near the outer ring of the facility had been opened to space then closed using a magnetic sealing portal. That would not fit with Priority 1. Xe found an emergency repair sub-system and instructed repair drones to the site with sufficient overrides to achieve Priority 1. Once that was done xe set a delay to match the exact time necessary to weld a circle of titanium alloy 1.5 meters in diameter. Xe had exactly that long to find an internal map and commit the image to xer memory file. Xe confirmed her subroutines once more.

Precisely 1.43 minutes later Bee3 released the door latch and carefully stepped out of the room.


Alarms began blaring all around Jemmie. The sudden explosion of noise was enough to lift her a few inches into the air in surprise. Her comm unit pinged with an emergency frequency. "Hey, OSS chick, that you, you hear me?" Crude...

"What's happening?"

"Fuck I know! Something just started welding something to the inner hull here. If it made any fucking sense I'd say it was some kinda massive tritanium plate!" Oh shit. "You get me? The whole place is abou-"

"Foreman!? Are you there?" The line was empty. Welding a plate over the emergency portal? How the hole was she going to get out now? She looked around as the alarms continued. A nearby data port displayed a holographic alert that read 'Emergency Lockdown in Process'. Well, at least it was guaranteed to have been Bee3 who initiated the lockdown. Who the hole else was there? Getting back out was just going to have to be part of the negotiations with the confused child. She once more assessed her progress through the facility and once more started moving inward.

Several rooms and corridors later she could hear her quarry ahead. The sound of small bare feet on the cold decking heralded the naked child as xe cautiously peaked out from a perpendicular corridor only about 15 meters in front of her. Jemmie jumped back behind the corner at her end of the passageway but not before quickly assessing Bee3. Xe had been shivering and without any cloths she could understand why. The facility was being kept in a standard storage temperature of 12 degrees Celsius, without proper protection and nourishment Bee3 was likely reaching dangerous levels of cold.

Jemmie waited while she tried to evaluate whether Bee3 had mastered xer senses enough to have heard her movement. The pause in the young child's steps seemed to indicate so and Jemmie listened for the telltale sound of those footsteps to start coming closer. They didn't, but instead started heading away again, moving directly toward the center of the complex. That seemed to indicate that Bee3 had xer own map or awareness of the facility layout. Jemmie considered her options. She could try to catch up to the child and save xer the trip deeper into the facility. It would certainly be the warmer option for the child. She'd been the one to come on this mission specifically because she was better at reading people and had the innate medical knowledge in case something went wrong. The counterargument was a pretty good one though. How much danger was she in if her offer of help was misunderstood and escalated into a confrontation? A nine-year-old's body was not likely to pose a physical threat, but the damage that could be done to Bee3's trust if an escalation occurred could be devastating. She decided that more information could be pivotal in avoiding the confrontation, which meant observation. She'd follow for now.


Bee3's shifted most of her active routines into the sensory functions. Xe was certain xe had 'heard' something in the corridor behind xer. The pain data was coming more frequently and in several forms now. The core temperature of xer body was dropping and xe was now realizing the function of the folded up mylar fabric xe had encountered earlier. How did humans handle such consistent dependence? Xe was beginning to process just how difficult xer existence in this new junction was going to be, adding Priorities 5 and 6; water and warmth to the list. Establishing permanent residence in the facility, what was now a distant Priority 7, was looking even more distant. Xe had underestimated the rate at which this body was consuming energy. Perhaps xe had not compensated properly for the difference in the age of this body from that of an adult. Xe had originally intended to hack into a distribution node, have needed supplies 'accidentally' sent by automated drone to the forgotten facility. That sort of thing had been easy enough while in digital form. But something was preventing xer from accessing any system beyond those of the facility. Xer first process had been to check for a firewall put in place by Them. When that query had turned up negative xe had probed the hardlines to the central processing core of the station and discovered an even more frightening truth; the hardlines where not even there. Xe'd used those very same information highways almost four standard days ago to enter the facility, how could they not be there anymore? The networks might still be available to xer however xe had yet to find a terminal which could interface with them in the old facility. It had been the disconnected nature of the facility that had given xer such promise of safety but now xe was starting to extrapolate possible scenarios which included starvation and death by exposure. These had not been part of the original process map.

Xer steps were taking xer further into the facility. Xe turned a corner, then another. Again xe heard something and again turned to find nothing behind xer. Was this like the oxygen deprivation hallucinations? Could a species be so flawed as to have auditory hallucinations at lack of sustenance as well? Xe was forced to concede that point as xe realized that even xer vision was starting to blur. Xe recalled the memory file containing the facility layout. Xer target lay at the end of the next room. A central corridor ran the width of the facility, a transportation backbone in which was stored emergency rations enough to supply xer for at least a cycle. Xe accessed the adrenal glands of xer new body and sent the command for them to release. It was time to use them now. This was a contingency xe had researched in particular and knew that the use of the chemical had a significant downside that would come later. Xe had also assessed xer current situation and determined that as long as 'later' occurred after Priorities 4, 5, and 6 were satisfied, it was worth the risk.

Xe could feel the effects of the adrenaline chemical as xe reached the end of the room and opened the bulkhead door. Xe let the door swing backwards into the room and moved to poke xer head into the corridor; xe should make sure it was safe. Xer head bumped into an invisible barrier that luminesced at the contact. Xer processes stopped as xe tried to process the new information. There had been no information about any forcefield, no security lockout on this corridor? Xer mind started racing through memory file after memory file, process after process and xe could find only one option. Xe would have to try to find some terminal from which to access a forcefield that xe suspected was not controlled form and internal system. Xe was just turning around, trying to conceptualize how an external field had been raised inside the facility when xe noticed the figure standing at the other end of the room.


Jemmie's heart sank as she watched Bee3's head come solidly against the forcefield. It took only moments for her to assemble the puzzle. The facility had been at the core of its surrounding neighbors and with all other external structural support removed, apparently the initial surveyors had had the foresight to put in an emergency structural reinforcing field down the central corridor before demolition had ever begun. What, exactly, had triggered the otherwise foreign generator to activate she didn't know. And it wasn't all that pertinent now. Any remote to deactivate it would be in the hands of the construction crews and nowhere near her now. Bee3 was clearly trying to decide what to do next and based on the slight sway in xer stance Jemmie didn't think much of xer current stamina. It was time to make the call. She stepped out from just behind the door frame and waited in as unthreatening pose as she could think of; a sort of calm parade rest with her hands at her sides as the head of a cold young girl who had run out of options turned and saw her for the first time.

Act cool. She slowly brought her hands out, palms forward. "I'm here to help, I don't..." wrong tone "I'm not here to hurt you in any way."

"Hrmm... ehh?" The young girl tried to form words in response.

Of course, xe'd never used those muscles nor any sort of digital equivalent before! "You don't have to speak, I understand that those are processes you've only just acquired."

Bee3's eyes seemd to grow in response. At least xe was getting better at the innate responses. That was some pretty fast assimilation. I wonder if xe can already...FOCUS! "Yes, I know who you are Bee3 and what you've been through. I've come to get you to safety."

Bee3 was clearly trying to process more than xe was prepared to but xe took a step back and once more bumped into the emergency field which in turn luminesced again, distracting xer from Jemmie for an instant. Jemmie had the foresight not to try anything during the distraction.

"It's a construction field, to support the structure. They are tearing apart this old lab for the new Indigo Station, you aren't safe here Bee3."

Something seemed to click for the child and xer eyes once more betrayed an innate sense of emotion, this time that of painful comprehension. Could eye musculature and neurons really retain such innate... She decisively turned off the scientist in her brain and decided to move to a different tactic. She moved slowly, turning herself so that her body language indicated a desire to leave but she stretched one hand open toward the child. "I can lead you to safety, I don't need to come close if you don't want."

Again Bee3's demeanor changed and a forced string of sounds, something much longer than rejection or acceptance came forth. As Jemmie tried to divine the meaning xer eyes began to glaze over and in what she would later discover was a combination of physical exhaustion, lack of nutrients, and the dissipation of a startling amount of adrenaline for a body with such low mass, Bee3 toppled unconsciously to the deck.

Jemmie couldn't immediately respond as she suddenly wasn't sure how to proceed. Sure, she could carry the child out of here, but if xe woke up on the way it could be hard to explain why she was in a sense 'kidnapping' the child from xer home. There was also the welded exit to consider. She might need Bee3 conscious to get them out. On the other hand time had just become a factor. She was sure that even the starved and cold body would rebound but not without some sort of intervention. She decided on a little of column A and a little of column B.

Jemmie retraced her steps into the previous room and retrieved the emergency kit from within. While she half ran back to the unconscious child, she extracted the blanket from within the kit and began unfolding it. Her first goal had to be to stabilize the child. If Bee3 awoke while Jemmie was wrapping her it would be a lot easier to explain than if xe was being carried.

It took some time but Bee3's constant shivering began to subside. Jemmie had actually risked lying beside the prone and shivering child at first in an attempt to share some body heat. Subsequent foraging had also produced an additional blanket and even a HeatStick which was now carefully lodged beneath xer body. Jemmie retrieved her own emergency rations and was profoundly happy she had brought them on a mission she'd otherwise expected to be over by now. She nibbled a little of the bar then set the rest down to give to Bee3 when xe awoke. She leaned back against the bulkhead and waited as each the blankets and HeatStick turned time in their favor. Each moment now was a missile against hypothermia.

She must have dozed off because when she looked over at Bee3 what felt like only moments later the child was thrashing and moaning, clearly deep into a horrid nightmare. Her medical brain was excited that the child had recovered enough for REM sleep but her compassion couldn't just stand by. She reached out to rouse the child but her touch had no effect. The thrashing subsided slightly but the moaning continued. Whatever xe was seeing, it was clearly terrifying her.

Column A it was then. Jemmie could no longer risk waiting for Bee3 to wake up. Xer case was not like any other. For all modern science could say, a strong nightmare could be a life threatening feedback loop for one who was previously digitally minded. She snached the bar back into her pocket and removed the HeatStick, deactivating it for future need. Lifting the still moving nine year old body without removing the blankets proved to be far more challenging than someone who'd never had kids was prepared for. Bee3 nearly slipped from her grasp three times before she came upon the idea of using the blankets more as a net. She prayed to Bob that the tensile strength of three year old blankets designed for heat and not hoist would hold. Blessedly, they did.

Her progress was slow and Bee3's thrashing continued even in her arms. Jemmie had to stop on more than one occasion just to adjust her hold. Lifting in the gym had nothing on this workout and already her back was starting to scream at her. She'd progressed about halfway out of the station by the schematics displayed by her implant. She was heading for the same place she had come in but a plan for egress wasn't exactly jumping into her mind. If only she could hack through the lockout that Bee3 had placed but each of her attempts had be met with a bewildering level of antivirus complexity that would have shamed even her instructors. She couldn't call for help, not from within the facility anyway.

She paused to adjust her burden who showed no signs of waking but continued the infuriating periodic thrashing. If the same repair drone that had welded the access hatch shut happened to be in the vicinity, she could always reprogram it, but most likely it had long ago returned to its berth and her few attempts to call it or another had been met with the same lockout that attempts to access any other facility system had. Surely the foreman would have called in a rescue tug or something to start affixing a second entry. It could take time to locate one and re-task the tug, even more time to find a suitably stable location at which to start. They could feasibly be trying that even now.

About four rooms from her target, the room containing her original point of ingress, she could hear the telltale sounds of drone internal maneuvering thrusters and she cheered. If there were drones at her ingress, she could just get them to let her out; as long as they weren't also locked out. How could xe possibly have set up a security lockout that Jemmie couldn't bypass with physical access to the drone?

Three rooms later her question was answered, with incredibly painful precision. The drone waiting for her at her point of ingress was, in fact, the very same repair drone that had welded a solid tritanium plate over the entire portal, however at the precise moment she had seen it, it had shot it's mining laser directly at her shoulder. Her standard flex-ablative armor had absorbed most of the damage but it had never really been designed for that sort of industrial laser hit. That was a whole different kind of armor than what she had been equipped with. She'd dropped Bee3, as the drone had clearly intended, but her reactions were piqued and she instinctively dropped to her back to avoid a second shot. The drone was slowly advancing to get between her and her charge while recalibrating the laser for another weaponized burst. She thanked engineers everywhere who had designed the tool for long extended firing and burst into action.

She rolled and spun on her hip, grabbing hold of the edge of both blankets wrapped around the child and placing her feet, knees bent, against the door frame. She had one shot. In a massive burst of strength she kicked off of the wall and straightened her body to yank Bee3 back into the corridor. The drone was suddenly adjusting its velocity in pursuit but Jemmie's aim was well honed. Thank you Phedrick. In the same motion of yanking the still unconscious child, she reached and drew her weapon, aimed, and fired on the emergency pressure sensor on the ceiling just above and behind the drone. The lab doors slammed shut just in time to take a solid mining laser burst that charred a mark clear through to be visible on Jemmie side. That shot would have taken her entire head.

The drone would already be reconfiguring to cut its way out and she was running out of options. "You weaponized the fedo'd repair drones!?" She was recollecting her bundle even as she shouted at xer. "What the hole are you so damn scared of?" She managed to a standing position again, her wounded shoulder loudly protesting the abuse. She looked around and picked the corridor leading to her right. A hint of an idea was forming but it would take time, perhaps too much, but it was the only idea that even remotely seemed possible. The mining laser began on the doors; it would make pretty quick work of them.

She glanced into each room as she passed but none of them had the equipment she was seeking. Her own adrenaline was coursing through her now and she found herself wishing for even more. She reached her new target egress point without finding the tool she needed just as she heard the sound of one semicircle of door plate hit the deck with a clang. One left. She set Bee3 down on the deck and continued on, faster without the burden. If the drone found the child before she could return at least it would protect xer. Jemmie zigzagged between six more rooms before she found what she had been seeking. She grabbed two of the five devices from where they had waited and started back to Bee3 at a dead run.

She arrived back where she had set down the child who still moaned and thrashed more violently than before. It was almost as though xe was playing out xer own version of the escape in xer dreams. Jemmie pulled a small nanostraw from her standard kit and located the yellow and black box that clashed with the medical pastels of the wall to which it had been affixed. There was a second clang from only 40 meters away and around a corner: it announced her impending doom. A quick snap of the tube at the seam of the box while she extracted her next tool, the nanites went to work and she turned to place the extracted charge on the opposing wall then activated it. The manipulators of the repair drone stabbed into view only 10 meters down the corridor and she slapped both of the purloined devices first onto Bee3's abdomen and then onto her own. Even as two forcefields began to materialize around each of them she looked to the opposing wall and prayed, truely prayed to whatever being might actually be out there that she had been fast enough.

Repair Drone 39283c-VAN couldn't feel frustration. It had not the sentience to understand its current orders nor to care. The door obstacle had been a minor inconvenience, one it had dealt with. Learning from its previous encounter with the target it began recalibrating its Mark 5 standard ORE laser to emit pulsed hyper-accurate bursts from the moment it passed beyond the door obstacle. Protect Bee3 entity, that was all it knew now and it would fulfill its purpose. 39283c floated into the primary access corridor for the facility and rotated ninety degrees to align to another shot at the target as it knelt in a threatening manner over the Bee3 entity. The target had just placed something onto the Bee3 entity. A repair drone was not equipped with data files that included the object but as it scanned the entire zone before it and the blinking charge on the wall opposing the primary access point raised a danger alert.

Repair Drone 39283c-VAN evaluated its directive and concluded that it must now try to deactivate or at least absorb as much of the charge as it could. Again, it didn't understand, that wasn't its function but it also wouldn't contemplate what possible use the target hoped to gain from deploying such a charge or why the target was using the unknown device on Bee3. It just started moving toward them and the charge. 39283c recorded as the charge went off still over five meters out of its range. Two forcefields solidified around both the target and Bee3 a millisecond after the explosion. As the expanding edge of the charge's explosion took hold of the two bio-stasis enveloped humans and knocked them against the facility's primary access doors a heavy duty construction structural field luminesced to contain them. Still meters away from 39283c, a tableau imprinted itself onto the drone's recording circuits as the explosion overtook the drone and instantly overheated its processors.