The Galapagos Incident
Elfrida had glimpsed the crowd inside the cathedral before Yonezawa pushed her back into the airlock. It was a vision of hell. How would she ever find Yumiko in that confusion?
But Yonezawa, floating in the airlock chamber in a puffy, fluorescent-yellow spacesuit, said, “She’s not here. She went down-rock before the nuke hit.”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, I’m going to look for her.”
“I’m coming with you.” Holding his helmet up to his jaw, Yonezawa spoke rapidly in Japanese. Elfrida couldn’t catch everything he said, but she caught the words “initiate launch.”
“Are you telling them to hold off?”
“I’m telling them to launch if I don’t come back in thirty minutes. There’s a lot of debris in orbit. It keeps whacking into the cathedral. I’m worried about our structural integrity.”
And I’m worried about that last PLAN ship, Elfrida thought. But there was nothing she could do except send supportive thoughts to Petruzzelli and the Space Force combat program.
They emerged into a sluggish cyclone of frozen corpses. Elfrida wished she had splarted them down instead of slinging them aside like so much detritus. Yonezawa started praying aloud. “We have to go,” Elfrida said edgily.
“We’ve been attacked before,” Yonezawa said. His voice shook. “Twice by pirates. Once by a splinter group of Russian Orthodox antinomians.”
“Uh, what did they do? Pray at you?”
“You better hope you never meet an Orthodox antinomian who bears a grudge over the filioque. But this is different. This is different.”
Elfrida initiated an infrared scan. It was no use. Even if Yumiko were generating significant heat, the sun-tube generated a Pollock-esque map of hot spots, any one of which could have been the phavatar or not. A radio scan similarly revealed nothing. If Yumiko was out there, she was keeping quiet. But Elfrida had an idea where she might be, one that made more sense the more she thought about it.
They progressed through the habitat slowly. This was mostly Yonezawa’s fault. Darting through freefall with spaceborn agility, he had no problem keeping up with Elfrida’s mobility pack, but he kept veering off to look at corpses. Elfrida held her tongue. After all, these were his friends and neighbors.
“Yonezawa!” she shouted in panic, realizing she couldn’t see him. “Where are you?”
“Over here! Have you got a weapon?”
“Have I …? No.”
“Who the hell,” he queried, “borrows a Marine’s spacesuit but doesn’t bother to borrow a weapon?”
“I wouldn’t know how to fire it if I had one,” Elfrida said. But he might have a point, she realized. If they found Yumiko, she might not be eager to come with them.
She triangulated on Yonezawa’s last signal and buzzed up (down, sideways) to the region of the habitat where the sun-tube had fallen. It bathed the still-intact houses in light angled like a sunset, but as bright as noon. She flew through shadows with edges that looked sharp enough to draw blood. There was movement everywhere: a mini-storm of frozen rice, an old woman’s corpse curtseying in a doorway like a cuckoo clock figurine. The flickers at the edges of her faceplate kept her on edge. The ubiquitous salad vines, which had combined Co2-sink functionality with in-a-pinch edibility, swayed in the vacuum, frozen brittle. They broke off when she kicked through them.
She dived over a wall into a spacious compound, and recognized it as somewhere she’d been before. This was the home and workshop of 11073 Galapagos’s swordsmith. Yonezawa emerged from the main house, waving two sheathed katanas. He threw one at her.
“Are you kidding? A sword?”
“I left my gun in the cathedral. If you don’t want it, leave it here, but I’m taking this one.”
Elfrida tethered the sword to her hip. In a Proustian moment, she remembered her grandfather showing her the family sword, explaining that his father had brought it back from World War II … No. That hadn’t really happened. The truth, as her father later confessed, was that a Goto had served as an officer in WWII, but had had his sword confiscated by the authorities after the war when strict weapons control regulations were enacted. So it had never passed down to his descendants. Anyway, Fuji had made a clean sweep of all Japanese family heirlooms …
She followed Yonezawa out of the compound, through a haze of real memories, false memories, and apprehension.
“This is what it must have been like after Fuji,” Yonezawa said, articulating the analogy that had occurred to her, too. The sun-tube burnt at the end of the street like a static river of magma.
“Except with less water,” Elfrida said. “It was the tsunamis that did most of the damage. That’s how my family was killed.”
“Are you Japanese?” His surprise was evident.
“Only half. Not really.”
“And you’re not a Catholic.”
“N—” She remembered the ceremony in the chapel at St. Peter’s. “Actually, I guess I am.” She had a sinking feeling, weirdly bordering on panic. “You baptized me.”
“Huh? We baptized your assistant, Shimada Yumiko.”
“It wasn’t her. It was me. I mean, there is no such person as Yumiko Shimada,” she further attempted to explain, wishing she hadn’t gotten into this. But she owed him the truth at this point. “When we say assistant, we don’t actually mean a person. We mean the machine intelligence that operates the android when no one is logged in. So it’s sometimes been her, and sometimes me, and for one short period it was my boss. So …”
“So all this time we’ve been dealing with an AI,” Yonezawa said in a dangerously calm tone.
“A weak, inhibited AI. That’s why we call them machine intelligences, not artificial intelligences. There’s a legal and practical difference. She has to obey orders.” Elfrida tried to make it sound better, while knowing that this was part of the problem, because not all of Yumiko’s orders had come from UNVRP.
A tree floated between them. It was one of the sakura from the grounds of St. Peter’s, still in its planter, no longer anchored by spin gravity. Yonezawa dodged its branches, while Elfrida got tangled up in them.
“We could sue you,” cried Yonezawa, a yellow flicker against the blackness of space.
“You certainly have that recourse,” Elfrida grunted, fighting her way out of the tree, “under Section II(c) of the Asteroid Purchase Enablement Act. You should be aware, however, that court battles can be costly, and plaintiffs rarely win compensation orders without overwhelming evidence that the purchase decision was based on incomplete or biased assessment data.”
And this, in fact, was one of the outcomes that she was trying to avoid by retrieving Yumiko and her memory crystals. But Yonezawa didn’t know that. She felt worse than ever about deluding him. She realized that she had involved him in a mission to diddle the Galapajin out of what might otherwise be a fortune in compensation. (And now she understood dos Santos’s motives better, she thought.)
A long piece of photovoltaic mesh had caught on the steeple of St. Peter’s. It undulated in the vacuum like a flag.
“Why do you think she’s in there?”
“Because she is. I know it.”
“It’s not a church anymore. She desecrated it. It has to be reconsecrated. It’s filthy now.”
“Which is exactly why she would come here. She’s got a—a thing about Christianity. You and your friends filled her head with ideas, and I think she’s reacting to them. She—”
“Goto,” her radio interrupted. “Goto, this is Petruzzelli, do you copy?”
“I copy! What’s going on? Did you catch that toilet roll?”
“No.” Petruzzelli sounded wan. “We ran out of fuel. Well, we’ve still got some, but only just enough to get back. And plus, that acceleration burn was … really … tough. Now I know why they pay SF pilots the big bucks. Anyway, I just wanted to say the bleeper got away. It’s probably heading your way right now. So … I dunno. Sorry.”
“That’s all right,” Elfrida said stupidly.
She hovered above the denuded grounds of St. Peter’s. Where cherry trees and manicured shrubs had been, only rumpled green rubber remained. She remembered, randomly, that they printed it out of human skin cells.
If she used her mobility pack to escape, she could probably get far enough away to survive a second nuke.
She caught sight of him vanishing through the church doors.
“Tell your people to launch,” she said, catching up with him. “There’s another PLAN fighter coming.”
After the brilliant sun-tube light, the interior of the church seemed pitch black. Elfrida’s suit automatically engaged a night vision filter that turned everything shades of green.
Overturned pews, the altar cloth skew-whiff—nothing had been touched since Yumiko staged her Antichrist skit here, except that the pieces of the smashed crucifix had been taken away.
“Over there,” Elfrida whispered, touching Yonezawa’s arm.
In the corner of the sanctuary, a woman knelt with her head inside a box on legs. Elfrida remembered an old picture she’d once seen of a woman committing suicide by sticking her head in a domestic appliance called an oven. So this was Yumiko. She looked just as good in person as she did in the search space, except that her posture made her appear headless.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, vade retro me, Satana!” Yonezawa shouted. He whipped his sword out of its scabbard and swooped at her.
Without taking her head out of the box, Yumiko waved one hand at him. A lance of plasma seared through the vacuum and burnt into his torso.
Elfrida screamed. Yonezawa tumbled, propelled backwards by the needle-jet issuing from the hole in his spacesuit. Strings of blood globules traced his path.
His suit was so old that it didn’t have self-repair functionality.
It was so old that instead of enveloping his body with a mesh of shape-memory alloy, it enveloped him in an aerogel that was 95% air.
Yumiko waved her hand again, and flames rippled through the vacuum as the escaped oxygen caught fire. The flames raced towards Yonezawa.
“Conflagration detected,” Elfrida’s suit brayed. “Engaging fire extinguisher.” It lifted Elfrida’s hand and aimed a jet of foam at the flames, which fell out of the air in frozen chunks.
“He’s got a suit breach!” Elfrida chased Yonezawa’s still-tumbling form over the altar. “What do I do?”
“Well,” her suit said in its hair-stylist voice, “I recommend patching it.”
“Show me how!”
Her suit walked her rapidly through the patching procedure, which amounted to squirting splart on the hole. Behind his faceplate, Yonezawa’s face looked lifeless. Her suit estimated that he was still breathing, but that he had a punctured lung which was gradually filling with fluid. If he didn’t get help within minutes, he would die.
Elfrida looked up to see Yumiko floating over them. “Are you happy now, bitch?” she shouted.
“He was rude to me,” Yumiko said. “He used discriminatory language, and he ogled me when he thought I wasn’t looking.”
She had crumbs around her lips.
“What were you doing with your head in the whatsit?” Elfrida demanded.
“The tabernacle,” Yumiko said. She gave Yonezawa a kick, sending him to bob against the rafters. “I was recharging. I connected the photovoltaic array to the steeple; there’s a big battery up there for the gliders. It’s also wired up to the tabernacle, to provide round-the-clock climate control for the Host. Which actually doesn’t taste like anything.”
“You’ve got to come home with me.”
“I’m a robot. I don’t have a home,” Yumiko said. “Except, I guess maybe here. So no thanks.”
Several of the Stations of the Cross fell off the walls. The last remaining stained-glass window broke. Elfrida’s suit informed her that a wave of radiation was pouring over her.
“Oh my dog,” she screamed. “We’re being nuked.”
To read the other chapters of THE GALAPAGOS INCIDENT, click here.