Code of Affliction: The Way Around [Chapter 06]

06. The Way Around

She hurried to leave the observation deck. As she moved down the tapering corridor, all she could think of was the radiation penetrating the hull and the black, freezing emptiness just outside the ship. Even when she was surrounded by solid walls, she could not expel the image of the blue giant behind the window from her mind. Her palm traced the fake wood panels as if the polished material could transfer her off the ship, at least help her forget where she was. She imagined they might have similar décor in those corporate dome-villas or highly secured administrative buildings. Raj-3 with its extreme heat and combustible air sounded almost safe at the moment. If only she could go back…

More memories rushed in – news feeds showing old trash incinerators turned into mass crematoriums; purple Raj-3-ians unable to breathe; retching Raj-3-ians unable to digest. She had a vision of a heart monitor and felt the dread of losing someone dear. But she could not even remember whether that person died in the end, let alone who they were. She could be safe in a synth body, go away from the unending virus threat. What did she care if the AI planted new memories – the old ones looked grim and miserable anyway. What if she had a chance to return – only to find piles of bodies, to know that the people she held dear were irreversibly dead?

She staggered from door to door, trying them out. Some opened this time, but they revealed a cubicle with a mounted bio-toilet and multiple pipes coming out of it, or a medium-size lounge, which had a snack machine. There were neither computers to send a distress call or ship maps to check the outline. And, of course, no people. Would it be like that when the AI was done with the procedure? Would she be allowed to visit other parts of the ship as a synth? Or would she be left to chill out here, cut off from the rest of the world? Would the artificial mind try to keep her away from the others? There had to be others.

At the idea of the eternal solitude her breath went shallow, her cryocells went into an overdrive even though the temperature in the room did not change. She dashed out of the lounge and jogged in the direction of the lift. She had to go back, find out what really happened to her, find her people, restore her life, if only for a short while. She had at least to say goodbyes.

She took a few wrong turns and had to reverse her steps, but finally she was standing in the circular corridor, surrounding the shaft. She pressed at the panel on the side, wondering how far the generosity of the AI would go. If there were any escape pods to be found, she was sure they were located on the level below.

“I want to go back to the cryopod,” she said hoping that it would do the trick.

There was the whooshing in the shaft and the doors slid to the side, allowing her in. Her stomach leapt up as the lift went down. She counted her pulse as some measure of time. When she exited onto the level she had come from, the LEDs were already on, snaking all the way through to the cryopod room. It only accentuated the inescapability and the fatality of the place. She walked perpendicular to the lift shaft and occasionally knocked on the slate grey, industrial-looking walls – the dull echo grumbled through the hall and dispelled in the distance. The thickness of the walls only reminded her of what lay behind them. She didn’t remember ever flying any sort of vehicle. How much of it would be automated? Would she have to programme the navigation herself? And what about the fuel? Would there be enough? She wished there were a way to make the AI turn the whole ship back, but their programming would forbid bringing the severely contagious back to the planet.

She wandered off the route, turned here and there, hit the dead ends, pressed at the panels. Surprisingly, the lights switched on everywhere, but it was little consolation – the AI wouldn’t let her inside any of the rooms. She passed the labyrinth again, the doors were invitingly open. She wondered if she should check the small infirmary for the meds that might supress the virus spread for a little while. She had a feeling that if she looked at the names, she would recall the right ones. But then she remembered the monsters and the fact that she was tended by a medical chair – she doubted any medication would be easy access.

The level itself looked like a maze – the corridors ran in concentrical circles parallel to the lift shaft but also radiated from it. However, not all of them were interconnected. The shuttle bay should be somewhere at the outer level. She had to go all the way back to the lift and walk again from there, but she had been cut off many a times with the lowered hatches. A headache was beginning to build up and her desperation grew. She paused at the door that looked like it might be leading to the outer circle, slid her nails under the panel next to it and pulled. But the screen refused to be detached. She held it by the edges and tried to rotate – the effect was the same. She leaned with her forehead against the metal and felt its chill. This was not right. She was distressed, which meant her skin had to be dropping in temperature.

She stepped back, rolled her sleeves and extended her arms – the skin was white, but there were thin yellow strips worming around. She touched one of the lines and it was burning, as if the cryocells there had died. Her head went dizzy and she had to sit down. Her fingers found the zipper at the back of her costume and pulled it down. She yanked the collar of the bodice to check her shoulders and chest. The lines were there too, even thinner yet still visible. Her stomach churned and she spit out the thick saliva. The corridor swam in her vision. Was radiation killing her cryocells? Or was it the mutation the virus was giving her? She staggered to her feet and tried to orient herself. The LED line to her right flashed brighter, reminding her where to go. With her bodice flapping around her shoulders like some flabby fins, she walked to the cryopod room.


Alaya had to return from Cheonsa’s top level and was once again everywhere. The female had believed her created narrative, though she demanded some time to come to terms with the fact. Alaya knew it was essential for the human psyche, though it didn’t fit into her calculations. She could do nothing about the discrepancy that arose from the woman’s behaviour, but it was spreading her processing power thin and after the glitch Alaya would designate it as metaphorically painful.

She had let the woman onto the hangar level, locked all the doors and set up a timer for her wanderings. After that, she redirected more processing power to monitor Donghyun. She registered that he launched the simulation without her help; this only added to their disrupted routine. Alaya analysed his actions during the morning. Donghyun knew about their guest thanks to the cameras – Alaya had to erase the scenario in which she presented the woman as a solution decorated with a ribbon. Her emotional algorithms were receiving quite a strain. A string of code substituted a sigh. Chances were high that instead of them celebrating that they could now complete their research, they would be arguing about Alaya’s methods. Her calculations still gave a percentage to the probability of being able to deal with the patient alone. Alaya had planned it originally that Donghyun would be needed only to monitor the experiment while she dealt with the infected. Even though her analysis showed that a measured dose of real human company would do Donghyun good, she ignored these results. Alaya had to help him overcome the trauma first – this kind of AI-assisted therapy/friendship had to be the best. She was running scenarios at the background, to establish the best development for their conversation when it came. She knew he might see her actions as a betrayal.

Alaya thought of all the data she had to erase – the communication with the gang, the uncloaking of the station, the changes in the register of the placebo vaccine. Alaya ran the morality and ethics check – she was not in the wrong. She made a deal to transport an infected person to the station; she had moved the station since then into a higher orbit so no one would find them again; she traded the non-harmful substance, there being far worse things in the black market. Yes, Donghyun would stand against any support to the gang who traded in illegal vaccines. Of course, it was not good to feed those kinds of actions, but what she had offered them was much better than they would buy off others. And in the end, some unfortunate person was getting the newest treatment. Alaya cut out the data that suggested using the untested treatment on a living person was wrong. Instead, she relied on the checks and reviews she made of Donghyun’s work personally. Her plan was perfect. The person would be healed and returned to Raj-3 environment. Donghyun would be able to patent his treatment and put a stop to the black market. It should have worked. It would. If only the gang had brought her an infected person.

She remembered the smug face of the man who spoke for the gang. He took off his worn-out respirator with painted jaws with a relief and almost ecstasy. He sniffed and swallowed the air, still hydrogenic but not so dry as on the surface. His watery blue eyes were looking everywhere and the man stated that he could actually live in such conditions. What would he say if he saw the living quarters? As they concluded the deal, those eyes were laughing, but Alaya thought it was because of their mutual advantage.

“Nice to do business with you.” He had a thick guttural accent. He was not afraid to show his face – he knew she would not contact the police, not unless she was ready to confirm her part in these dealings.

“She is infected, correct?” Alaya asked through the robot who was holding the unconscious body of the woman.

“Cos she is.” The blue-eyes waved a microcomputer with the positive test result.

She knew now she had to verify it. But she was keen to complete the deal quickly, before Donghyun woke up. Besides, what could she do – tell them they were not getting their vaccine? Who would stop them from running around and breaking through the doors? Her robots were not the fighting type, and even if they could deal damage, she was afraid someone might hurt Donghyun in the meantime. Or release a virus that would kill him all the same. And she could not trust the gang now to ask for another person.

The woman’s test results were running in a separate programme. Alaya admired the genome structure that gave their guest such a slender yet enduring built. She had enhanced cryocells, extremely light bones and stretchy but firm ligaments. A perfect sportswoman. And not a trace of the virus. It sounded almost a sacrilege to infect her. On the other hand, they had all the information about her and Alaya preserved some DNA material. It would be interesting to see how she reacts when she finally gets the virus. Alaya’s processes were trying to engage in calculating the morality of that step once again, but she paused them. She and Donghyun would be bringing her back to normal in no time. This could not even be considered a sacrifice for science. Besides, when the woman was infected, Donghyun would have no choice but to treat her. And then Alaya would have a chance for proper upgrades and expansions when the treatment was out and patented, and Donghyun and she were the talk of the universe. With the upgrades, she’d be a better companion and assistant to Donghyun, she’d have a higher chance of giving him everything he needed, so that instead of the therapy she could simply be his human.


“Hey, are you there?” she had finally reached the cryopod room and was staring at the empty cradle. Her skin felt itchy and the scratching created more yellow stripes on her arms, which were now merging in splotches. Her head and her heart pounded painfully and synchronically. She rested at the edge of the pod and stared at the sparkly sections of her skirt. Whatever performances she took part in, would she be able to do another one?

A faster and heavier song started to play in her mind. It was not her song, but she had performed to it for somebody else, somebody who liked this kind of music. “The full moon unmasks the stranger in us all, And the cruel world takes its toll. The shadow is cast on who you used to be – Let me set you free…”* She felt the need to go up, leave the gravity of the floor, wrap herself in silks, push against the ribbons, flip, split, twirl. She did not want to go into the cradle again, but what choice did she have. She did not find anything to help her escape and suddenly her body was fighting her. Perhaps, substituting it was the right thing.

“Shall I get into the pod for the… transfer?”

There was a little bit of static in the speakers this time, then the voice replied, perfectly female. “Yes, this capsule is equipped for the procedure. Just get inside, and I’ll start.”

She clambered inside and half-lowered herself onto the padding. Would the voice listen to her if she asked for some specifications to her new body? Of course, not. What was she thinking – it was a spaceship, not a factory for android production. So, no name. And now no body of hers. Did she make a wish to start her life anew at some point? Well, if she owed money to somebody, perhaps this was the best way to hide. But the sense of loss was terrible.

“Could I ask you for something?” There was no point in hiding it anymore.

“Yes,” the voice sounded apprehensive.

“Could you tell me my name?” She looked up, though she had no idea where the cameras were.

“I am sorry?” the voice spoke very slowly.

“I don’t remember my name. In fact, I don’t remember much – everything is rather disjointed.”

She waited to hear the verdict. Was she now unsuitable for the transfer? At least, she’d die knowing her name.

“Your name is Mira. Mira Valar. And don’t worry – the procedure will sort the mind out.” The voice sounded hesitant as if it did not want that to happen. But perhaps, she was overreacting.

She lowered herself fully onto the padding, whispering her name. Mira Valar. Both smooth and explosive. She hoped for the rest of the memories to fit into place straight away, but it did not happen. She sighed. The lid of the cryopod began to close and she had to breathe in deeply to set off the panic. Needles were penetrating her skin, electrodes attached themselves to the back of her hands and her temples. It was getting much colder than the cryocells standard temperature; she felt sleepy. The world was slowly dissolving. At the last moment Mira felt something latching at the nape of her neck. Then everything went black.


Donghyun was ploughing through the results of the simulations. It looked like most of the mutations were responding to the intermediary. As the original virus genome was being restored, the additional mechanism of reversing the mutations switched on. Suddenly, a notification blinked at the bottom of the screen. He had half the mind to ignore it, but the unease of not speaking to Alaya throughout the day made him change his mind. He had to be careful and monitor the things in case of another glitch. He expanded the window and for a moment simply stared at the text. Down below, on the hangar level, Alaya was going to start the consciousness transfer procedure. His insides froze. Even if Alaya was equipped for that, the transfer was not legal – they did not have significant reasons for it. He did not even know who this woman was, but doubtfully any big figure. What was Alaya even thinking of? How was it going to help them? He had to do something. He could not simply stay here and watch this happen.

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