Chapter 2: Condition Blue

Voidsman Third Class Evelyn-Betty Walker’s eyes snapped open as a gasp of air forced its way into her lungs. She instantly knew that her Voidsuit’s life support systems had taken control of her phrenic nerve and injected stimulants directly into her spinal cord. But why?

“Explosion?” Walker thought, her eyes shifting, panickily looking for the source of the emergency. “There was an explosion. Where?”

Walker took a deep breath and scanned the compartment, searching for anything unusual. She accessed her Voidsuit’s networking functions with her neural link, feeling out for her shipmates. The engine-side or south bulkhead sustained massive damage. A hole had been punched through the ship’s side, leaving jagged steel edges curling into the compartment. From her vantage point, she could see a hull breach caused by a missile that had somehow bypassed the UNVC Sagittarius’ point defense systems.

She continued scanning the compartment, locating her shipmates. Their bodies were scattered about the floor and ceiling, attached by magnetic anchors that kept them from floating away in the zero-g environment.

“Mendez, Taylor, and O’Brian were against the wall when the explosion happened,” Walker thought as her Voidsuit began to replay the events of the explosion to her.

The Mark 1 Combat Voidsuit constantly recorded the wearer’s neural patterns and interfaces directly with the occupant’s brainstem. When it detected Walker’s concussion, it began recording her experiences to mitigate the effects of memory loss. When Walker started reaching for the memories of the event, which weren’t there, her Voidsuit began to feed her the experience of the event to her as recorded by her senses. The void corps referred to this as déjà vu.

Walker remembered hearing the command to brace for impact announced through their neural comms. Moments before, she had anchored her suit to an acceleration couch. Before she could blink, a massive explosion ripped through the bulkhead. The impact threw her and two other Marines across the compartment. One of her comrades slammed into Walker, yanking her off her anchor, which propelled her across the compartment.

Walker closed her eyes, reaching out with her neural link to feel for her shipmates again. Two responded, but Mendez was offline. The suit’s heads-up helmet display flashed Taylor and O’Brian’s vital information on the right side of her screen and information about damage to the ship on the left. The Voidsuit assessed the highest priority to maintain survival – a damaged hydraulic line in the southern bulkhead.

The automated triage system was decent at assessing priorities, but it was only as good as the information provided to it. If Mendez’s Voidsuit wasn’t broadcasting, then her Voidsuit wouldn’t take the data he collected into account.

Walker strained her neck, searching the area for Mendez.

‘VM3 Walker,’ Archer announced inside her head.

“Archer, good, you’re online. What’s the ship’s status?” Walker asked, even though her suit had already informed her. Sometimes it was good to have a second opinion. That, and maybe Archer had access to Mendez’s Voidsuit.

“Repair of the A4 hydraulic line is currently the highest priority in your compartment. You are the closest Voidsman; please direct your attention to the southern bulkhead,” the AI ordered.

To be a Voidsman was to be part of an elite group. They needed to be trained with specific skills and available to deal with whatever space threw at them at a moment’s notice. Everyone training to be a Voidsmen knew the risks of working in space and the type of life they chose.

Space flight took years to travel anywhere, even at hyper-relativistic speeds. For that reason alone, passengers and crew were stored much like cargo, connected to a Human Mind Register. HMRs varied in complexity and purpose, ranging from a black nothingness, where decades pass in the blink of an eye, to fully immersive virtual worlds shared with other passengers. Typically, the only people awake for the entirety of the trip were the principal pilot and a rotating crew of Voidsmen. Too many issues could arise during a 40-year voyage, such as computers failing and circuits malfunctioning during the transition into slip-space to not have a crew available at a moment’s notice.

Voidships didn’t rely on computers for complete navigation. The principal pilot manually controlled ships via a series of direct links connected to his muscle tissue and brainstem. A Voidship was a delicate machine; someone needed to be available for repairs when and if a situation arose.

Voidships fought under vacuum conditions. When forced into battle, all oxygen was compressed and stored in the ship’s core to maintain life support for those in statis. This exposed all the ship’s corridors and compartments to a hard vacuum. The safeguard also eliminated the possibility of explosive decompression and removed fuel for possible system fires. However, the Voidsuits kept the crew alive during combat operations.

Most crew members were locked inside g-force pods connected to the Human Mind Register, performing various ship functions. Some aided the ship in calculating maneuvers and trajectories for combat procedures as living processors. A skeleton crew of Marines and Voidsmen were kept under twilight conditions and could be mobilized in seconds if needed for combat or to repair the ship. When faced with the decision to repair the ship or the crew, the ship’s onboard AI took over, helping to remove human emotion from the equation by providing clear means of triaging the situation. Even the best Voidsmen might be tempted to save a friend, but what good did it do if they failed to stop a critical system breach that killed the rest of the crew?

Voidsmen Walker kicked off the bulkhead pinned against her, sending it flying toward Mendez’s lifeless suit. Mendez was facing her, but the opaque Voidsuit hid all clues to his condition. She pushed her body away from the wall, reaching out to Mendez. She grasped his shoulders and spun him around, revealing the human interface access port on his lower spine. Quickly, she pulled a connector from her suit and linked it to Mendez’s, accessing the suit’s damage control systems.

Archer called out again, “VM3 Walker, the A4 hydraulic line is–”

Walker cut him off, “The fourth redundant line to the auxiliary thrust vectoring can wait.”

Piggybacking off Walker’s Voidsuit, Mendez’s condition was broadcast to the ship and added to the triage list. He sustained massive internal injuries and was only being kept alive by his rapidly failing secondary circulatory system connected directly to his brain. If his life support weren’t augmented immediately, it would fail, and he would die.

Walker held tightly onto Mendez as she propelled off the bulkhead toward Perez, who was regaining consciousness in his Voidsuit.

“Good timing,” Walker said as she bounced against the adjacent wall. She quickly anchored Mendez near Perez.

“I just… need a moment,” Perez said with slurring words. His mind grew clearer as Perez went through his own déjà vu experience.

Walker was able to sense him through their Voidsuits network again. She could tell he was in pain, but his Voidsuit was doing a good job managing it. Even with a fractured, nearly shattered femur, he still had full mobility. However, it didn’t prevent him from further damage if he moved about. Walker knew if he remained stationary, medics might be able to save his leg. If he moved about, odds were they would have to amputate whatever was left when they removed his Voidsuit.

“O’Brian, are you good?” Perez called out as Walker connected Perez’s life support systems to Mendez’s.

‘No, not really.’ returned a thought from O’Brian, ‘My neck is broken, I’ve lost all voluntary control from the neck down… and I’m pretty sure I shit myself from the smell in my suit.’ O’Brian’s Voidsuit returned him to consciousness and connected him to the network.

“Ok, Archie,” Walker said, blinking excessively as she assessed the situation, “here’s the plan. Piggyback these two to buy Mendez time. Then brace O’Brian’s Voidsuit so he doesn’t kill himself with that broken neck. After, I’ll fix the A4 line before collecting these guys and moving them to an acceleration couch.”

She didn’t wait for a response to put her plan into motion, starting with linking the two life support systems. But as she did, a soft white light flashed, encircling her vision like a tunnel. Walker took a deep breath, closing her eyes. This had happened to her before in another stressful situation. All she needed to do was calm her heart rate, and the feeling would dissipate. She opened her eyes – the tunnel disappeared, allowing her to return to the tasks at hand.

A soft tone filled her auditory senses… it was her grounding tone. This was nothing more than a simulation.

The fog of Condition Blue faded from Walker’s mind. Her eyes opened, feeling her body floating in the plasticene of her acceleration tank.

“How many simulations has it been? Was that the first one?” Walker’s brow furrowed as she thought, trying to recall everything that happened within the simulation. She stretched out her fingers, feeling the thick polymer swish between her digits. No matter how many times she had been in the tank, the sensation of the plasticene always unnerved her slightly.

“No, I’ve been in here for a long time,” she recalled, her words moving her lips without a sound.

Her mind had been engaged in dozens of simulations since she entered the tank. Each one left behind residual effects, like a ghost memory, and it was starting to become difficult to differentiate each experience.

“How long was I under in real time?” she wondered. A shiver ran down her spine when she thought about perceived time. How old was she now? She’d have to do the math sometime. There was perceived age, network age, and deficit age depending on where one was and who was asking. “Four more years of this will be brutal,” she grumbled.

Her sense of self was growing difficult to maintain. She could feel the next simulation being uplinked into her brain, replacing the physical input her brain was receiving from her body with a digital avatar. Suddenly, she was no longer floating in a tank with dozens of wires connecting to her internal organs and brain. Instead, she was wrapped in her Voidsuit once more, on an away mission to sabotage a Toliman weapons station.

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