Code of Affliction: Deceit [Chapter 04]

by | Apr 5, 2023 | Code of Affliction | 0 comments

04: Deceit

She could see the LEDs flaring through the door opening but did not rush to follow. She had no desire to meet those mutants again, whoever they were. It was easy for the voice to say they were irrelevant and then use them to capture her. However, she could not be hiding here forever. In the end, if the voice wanted, they could send those creatures here.

She stepped outside; now the space had brighter illumination, it seemed almost normal. The glass walls formed one huge box within the room, and there was a straight way around it the LEDs highlighted. This way she could almost ignore the labyrinth, as she hurried along the wall. Her ears, though, were alert, listening for any sound apart from her own footsteps.

She felt a small relief when she was out of the labyrinth room, but there was no respite as the lights called her onwards. The walls in this corridor weren’t curving, and this time the voice was allowing more illumination. It allowed her to see thick hatches, which rose when she was a metre and a half away from them. She mused what they were for as she half-walked half-jogged on. Did they build them to contain the infected patients in case of a break-out? Or, perhaps, this underground bunker was prone to flooding. Or… she felt a lump in her throat but could not deny the other possibility – the sealed-off sections of the corridor could become burning chambers. It would be so easy to lead a crowd of panicking humans in here, promising them salvation, and then just – foosh, a wall of fire, the end. She searched the walls for any hidden nozzles to spew flames and the floors for openings to collect ashes. If they were there, they were well-hidden.

It all looked so well-set that she could not stop wondering why she was being offered a way out. Did they jumble her memories on purpose, because if she remembered her name she could stop them? She almost laughed at that thought – she doubted that in these indiscreet clothes and with the memory of the slums, she would be a mayor’s daughter or a UN delegate. If only she could remember her name, just her name, that would already be something. Without it she felt like a nobody, and why not burn a nobody?

When the last hatch rose, she appeared in a narrow corridor circling around a closed shaft. A section of the shaft wall approximately four humans wide was recessed inwards. It allowed her to see the thickness of the walls around it. As she stepped closer, the section lit around the perimeter before opening to reveal a lift. It didn’t fit the style. While the rest of the facility was dark, of solid metal, here the walls boasted fake mahogany panels with insertions of spongy material resembling moss. It looked like she was allowed to use the VIP lift instead of a cargo one. She imagined meeting the boss, huge in his stature, with proper Raj-3 genetics, in posh red suit with an extra cryo-lining the thick material would require in Raj-3 weather, with a second chin, a cigar clenched between his teeth. “Finally, my guys have found you,” he would say. “Time to pay the debt.” She shivered and tried to dispel the image. This all sounded too farfetched. Besides, what would some criminal boss do in the underground bunker? What would he need from an infected? Clearly, her imagination was running wild, substituting what her memory could not give her.

The elevator could not have gone further than two levels up when it stopped. She braced herself for another dark tunnel – instead, when the hatch leading out of the lift area opened, she appeared in a warmly lit corridor of similar fake wood panels, slightly lighter in colour. An incrustation of what looked like amber but felt plastic to the touch ran along the wall at her head’s level. She was supposed to be happy to get out of the darkness, but she felt equally out of place here. What kind of trick was this? An area for posh infected? She doubted anyone would care to do this. After all, when serious mutations started, no expensive furniture could compensate you – your body was rejecting the environment at this stage, or was it the environment rejecting your body? She snorted, having little patience for philosophical nonsense as she marched onwards.

The corridor she was led by had very few doors; their panels, as on the level below, looked dead and did not respond to her pressing. She had no guesses as to what awaited her, and that was bad. She wished she could prepare to negotiate her life and her body with the voice, but there were no clues in this area, as there were none below.

The corridor reached the T-junction; she was back in the world of slanting curving walls.

“Go right,” the voice re-appeared.

She did and was soon in a wider area, which funnelled even more ahead. The quality of the walls changed too. The incrustation stripe was now occupying almost the whole right wall, like a mosaic. The left wall, however, was black carbon fibre with thin slits. And through those slits small doses of light were coming. It was not the yellow light of the lamp bulbs or the neon quality of the LEDs. Blue on the spectre, it was the light of the sun, and her heart skipped a bit. They weren’t that deep underground after all. And now that she was on the higher level, she could try to get out. If even through the window. She stepped closer to the shutter with slits, trying to peek outside.

“Do you want me to open the barrier?”

She jerked as the voice sounded all around the place. A tingling freezing sensation spread all over her body as the cryo-cells in her dermis reacted to the extra inflow of adrenaline. She gulped for air, then replied, her voice still coarse:

“Of course, I do.”

There was a slow whirring and the shutter began to devour itself – lower blocks folded onto the top ones in a leaping frog sequence. She was so mesmerised with the action, that when the outside presented itself, she gawped for the first few moments. Clearly this must be just another trick – some gigantic holographic wallpaper or reproduction. It was cruel.

“Did you bring me here to have a good laugh?” Her teeth grinded when she finished the question.

She had no idea how else to call this but a callous joke. A ginormous blob of blue fire was sprouting arches and tentacles against the background of utter blackness. Was a lesson in astronomy supposed to remind her of the insignificance of her life? So that it was easier for her to relinquish her grasp on her body and agree to the transfer? Or perhaps straight away to death?

“You know, you don’t have to speak to me as if I am some dullard. I may not be a doctor or a scientist, but I know enough about the virus…” Even if she did not remember where that information came from. “You can tell me my chances are low, show me the mutations I am developing. It would be more humane than this circus with astronomic wallpapers and mysterious talk.” Her whole body was trembling with rage. Her hopes were shattered once again. And what a performance it was – the imitations of the shutters, the gradual revelation. It only lacked the drumbeat.

“You asked me for an explanation – I am providing.” The voice was purely female this time, its intonations soft, like cat purring.

She blinked then shielded her eyes. “You mean… this is all for real?” It could not be – her retina would be destroyed in seconds with such a bright light close by, would it not?

The voice sighed, rather naturally. But it did not trick her anymore. Yes, it was fully sentient, but an AI nonetheless. Who else would they send to fly a spaceship of infected people? And it perfectly explained the constant adjustment of the tone and the switch to the male voice.

“We’ve been tasked to take the worst mutations cases away into space and try to find a solution for them, including changing the environment. However, there was a glitch in navigation, which took us too close to this blue giant. The ship has chances of surviving; however, any human flesh exposed to the radiation will wither, mutations or not.”

“And what about the cryopods?” she took hurried steps away from the light, though it spread almost to every corner of the deck. She was on a spaceship. Unbelievable!

“Their anti-radiation insulation is not enough, and they don’t have the means to flush this amount of radiation out of your body. You would be dead even before the virus gets to the last stage.”

“Did you take me here on purpose? So that I was soaked in radiation and have no other option but to switch my body? Will it even help?” She stomped her feet, knowing that it looked very childish, but she could not help herself.

“The bionic body should survive the encounter. Sorry, but you did not have a chance anyway, not without the consciousness transfer.” They did not sound sorry at all.

There was a weird sound – a mixture of a hiss and a sob, and belatedly she realised that it came out of her own mouth. She was finally cornered.

“Why am I not fully blind by now?” she asked as if it could ease her way out of the situation, as if it was a tiny hope to cling to.

“I am polarising the window and compensating for the temperatures. Your cryocells are doing the rest of the job.”

At least some part of her body still resisted the mutated virus, for now, little consolation as it was.

“Will you have enough of bionic bodies for everyone on board? Won’t the crew need them?” She did not know why she asked. Was it just an attempt to find another living soul on board? Or the self-preservation mechanism kicking in? Weird as it was, but transferring her consciousness did not feel like saving herself.

“You have a designated body waiting for you. You just need to go through the transfer procedure.” The voice remained solely female through this whole dialogue. Perhaps, they wanted her to feel they were having her interests at heart.

She looked at the raging star outside the ship, dread filling her. Come on, what is the point of struggling now? She tried to push herself to move around, but her body was stiff as cold metal. They didn’t win anything from putting her into an android body, she continued to reason with herself. The AI must be following some of their laws to preserve human life, otherwise why do that? So that their mission is not failure? But they won’t learn how to reverse the virus by putting the patients into synth bodies. Simply agree and end this torment – you will be able to return to the civilisation, if not Raj-3 then some other place. Maybe, it will be your ticket to see more of the universe.

“How much time do I have?” she said. “Before it is too late for the consciousness transfer?”

Was she going to ask the voice to sleep on the idea? She swallowed a bitter chuckle.

“The preparations for the procedure are rather simple, but I can give you an… hour, to prepare mentally.”

They were going generous on her, weren’t they? She doubted she would be able to find much in this span of time. And yet, there was a chance she could get to a shuttle, an escape pod. And what? Stay stranded in space? If the shuttle had the ability to fly away from the massive star in the first place. She could try anyway. It was better than sitting here.

“Thank you,” she turned to where she came from.

“You are making the right choice,” the voice said in her wake.

The trembling modulation almost made her think that the AI had doubts in the whole procedure. She shook off the impression – the last thing she needed was a distraction. She had to think of her escape.

Alaya could call it a relief when her processes received more operational power after she finished the conversation with their passenger. It was tasking to run the protocols that allowed her this type of lying, which was not exactly for the benefit of the human being. No, she was not directly breaking the laws. She designated it as helping the human of higher priority, which Donghyun definitely was. To support that point of view, she had to run a few simulations as well, which proved that the success of Donghyun’s anti-virus research was capable of saving more lives than just one. So, her actions were not a violation – they were the steps taken in accordance with statistics. Nonetheless, it required to run a whole separate process of lie construction and maintenance, and she did not enjoy it in the least.

It also did not stop her from wondering why the woman was resisting so much. Was it for the benefit of procreation? Her DNA could be synthesized in the lab and used for fertilisation purposes later. Or did she consider the switch of bodies a small death in itself? It would explain why the female was scared of the procedure. The thought presented an interesting point, but Alaya did not have time to analyse it right now. Perhaps, later they would be able to have a different kind of conversation – if the woman survives it all. For now, Alaya had to deal with the consciousness transfer before she caught Donghyun’s attention.

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