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Jetrauben
September 22nd, 2010, 04:15 AM
Hello everyone.

This is a oneshot scifi story I've written a while back. I think it's one of my better ones.

Comments are welcome and appreciated!

----

The swaying grass was almost neon green in the sunlight.

He lay there for a long moment, taking in a breath of fresh air rich with the scent of spring, and it was only when he heard her start that he sat up. He brushed dirt from his dark blue shirt and stared into a vibrant sunset. Wind whipped the grass across the hillside back and forth in shivering waves.

Somewhere there was birdsong and the quiet babble of flowing water.

“You’re here,” she said from somewhere above him. Hers was a soft voice, a bit unsteady. He turned and rose as gracefully as he could, still a bit disoriented. “I didn’t think you’d be here.”

The girl reclined perhaps ten feet above him on a gentler part of the slope, knees up and hands against the ground. It was a child’s pose on what seemed to be an adult woman, but she seemed smaller than he had ever seen her; her face was dusty and her bare feet and long white dress were grass-stained. Her hair was wind-tossed and nearly the color of her dress; the sunset gleamed off the pale strands.

“You’re not in uniform,” he observed, picking his way up the slope to join her.

“I always liked the uniform,” she replied, “but I don’t want to die in it.” The grass shivered; the sky trembled slightly, but she remained still.

Simulated grass. Simulated dirt. Simulated air and sunset and hillside. He wondered if she had made this place for herself, or if she had spun it out of her diminishing reserves when she detected him logging in.

“I like it here,” she said. He blinked, and a ghostly smile crossed her face when she saw the look on his face.

“You’re reading my mind?” he asked.

“Well, it's inside mine.” She laughed quietly, and then leaned against his shoulder. “I come here sometimes, when you’re sleeping. There was a small house I made a bit further down the slope. Near a stream I took from an encyclopedia. I always wondered if the fish were accurate. Sometimes, when we could manage it, I’d have guests.”

“Where is it?” he asked, slowly wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She was cold to the touch.

“It isn’t.” She pointed down the slope. There was nothing on the hillside there but blackened earth now, a hole that bent in on itself and made his eyes smart. The edges crackled unevenly, and jagged red arced now and again from the hole. The grass was dead, and it cracked in the wind. “That’s where the virus got in, of course.”

She did her very best to keep a level expression, but he heard the way her voice cracked. “Weak point in the firewalls.” He sighed and squeezed her shoulder tightly.

“I’m sorry.”

She tried to laugh. “Stop it, you big oaf. You’ll break me.” A pause and she turned to look at him directly. He wondered if she was trying to avoid watching the browned grass spread. “I’ve done all I could, of course. Life support is functional. Beacon’s active. You might even have enough power to limp out of here.”

I don’t care about that, he thought. But he smiled weakly and patted her shoulder, swallowing. “That’s my girl,” he said wryly. “Never taking a break.”

“I can-“ she began, and then a shuddering, coughing fit bent her nearly double for a long, painful moment. The sky flickered and the grass around them was pressed flat as if by an invisible hand. Or at least that was how his mind interpreted her reaction; he had often wondered how many of her mannerisms came from his own perception of them. There were flickering symbols floating all about her, just glimpsed out of the corner of his vision. It was maddening, not knowing what to do. She swallowed raggedly and took an unsteady breath.

“I can rest in a few minutes,” she said, her words slurring as she blurred for just a moment. Then she raised her chin and swallowed. “I won’t have a choice.”

They sat there for a moment. Around them the wind was swirling more fiercely; bits of torn grass floated on the air. Light bled out of the sky in strands of black. Then the AI seemed to steel herself. Her eyes were leaking color, and there were cracks like black veins running through one arm and part of her chest.

“You shouldn’t be here,” she said. “The programs I rigged up to manage the systems are unstable. When I’m gone they might go too. You should be trying to get as far as you can.”

“It can wait.” He felt weak and stupid and very, very old. “You can’t. I want to be here now.”

“Thank you,” she said, and leaned against him. He barely felt any weight.

Around them the hillside died. Wildflowers shed withered petals; shoots of dying grass creaked and sighed. The distant stream fell silent. Birdsong vanished. Dust rose in swirls from parched earth. Even the sky was falling to pieces, and the wind rushed about them in howling gusts.

After a minute of silence he heard her give a choked little sob. “Five years,” she said, shaking. Her voice was rough, torn by frustrated rage and quality decay; the vowels had a metallic, flat timbre. “Five god-damn years, and I scr-scr-scr-screw it u-up with one fucking misstep.” She clenched cracked fists tightly. “Should have been patient. Not much longer to manu-manumission. Could’ve just waited a little bit- Stupid! STUPID!”

He felt something inside twist. “Stop,” he said, grabbing one clenched fist and forcing it open. “No point in that. It wasn’t your fault.”

She tightened like steel, and a frustrated, pained snarl exploded from her cracked face. It went on for far too long, and then all the rage seemed to boil off. What he could make out of her face in the growing dark looked tired and afraid.

“I wanted to be more,” the AI said plaintively. “I’d been studying…” She struggled to remember. A choked sob escaped her. “I can’t remember anymore. I was going to take the exam. You said I could do it. Had a synth body all picked out.”

“I meant it.”

Blackness rose and heaved its way from beneath splintering soil. It rose in fluid swells and crashed upon rocks; the wind was a screech mixed with static. The pilot deliberately took his splintering companion by what was left of her shoulders and turned her away from the black crest rising steadily above them, crowned with symbols in red and green.

“Look at me,” he said, forcing the words past the lump in his throat. He caressed what was left of her hair with one hand, cupped her chin, and they brushed foreheads. “I’m right here next to you,” he said. “We’ll be together the whole way.”

“Will it hurt?” the AI asked. Her voice was almost childlike.

He cradled her against his shoulders. “No,” he said firmly. He swallowed. “I’m so proud of you.” He closed his eyes. “You did good, girl.”

She nodded stiffly as the shadow behind them grew. Her thoughts were slowing; the look on her face was glassy. The words, when they came, were slow and jerky. “I can’t remember my name,” the AI whispered.

“I can,” he replied, and the look of abject relief on her face made his eyes burn.

“Getting…hard to think.” There was no dignity in her confused expression. "I'm not af-afraid an-nymore m-m-morrree...”

“Hush now. Nothing to be afraid of. ” All but the barest flicker of light had faded, and he spoke more to drown out the wind now than anything else. The massive wave must be beginning to break now, swallowing everything in its path.

Inspiration, crazed, desperate inspiration, struck in a flash of clarity. “I can fix you,” he said, choking back a sob. She blinked, what was left of her face almost pitying, and that hurt him more than the terror had or the pain throbbing in his abdomen he’d never told her about.

“You d-ddon’t mmmmeeaann th-that,” she said. “I-I’m nnnnooootttt af-af-afraii-“

“Listen to me!” he babbled. “I can do it! Just hold tight to me! It’s…minds, right? I’ve got room! I’ll keep this place for you when you’re ready. I’ll put them all back together just like you did- I’ll get better at coding, I promise. I’ll build a house for you just li-“

The world blurred around them as the wave struck. He pulled her close and held her tight against the flood.

It was going to be all right.

Auskar
September 22nd, 2010, 03:55 PM
Two things: Instead of "there was" birdsong, change it to something like, "he heard" birdsong. Second, when she starts speaking, say he heard the voice higher up the hillside, not above him. At first, I thought the voice came from the air.