I Am Not Dead [T]
It was, as well. Most alarm clocks use sound to wake you up – and that was what had woken me every day until now. Today, however, something different had woken me: the heat.
You see, I'd woken up and found myself inside a half-destroyed spaceship on a collision course with a star, something that understandably upset me a little. I didn't even really know why I was here: last thing I remembered, I'd been aboard a mercantile vessel carrying crude oil to the United Sirian Republic. To my knowledge, nothing had happened that could possibly have led to me being stuck in this tiny shuttle, bound for fiery death in the belly of a sun.
Still, here I was, and, being a fairly light-hearted sort of person, I hadn't yet committed suicide. After all, there might be some way out of this mess. It was unlikely, I grant you, but if it turned out to be impossible I was dead anyway, so it wasn't as if I had anything to lose.
“Right,” I said aloud, “let's see if I can't shift this ship.”
Sure, the controls weren't responding, but I was an engineer, after all, and that meant I could at least try and get the engines working to pull myself out of the star's orbit. First, though, I had to find the engines – this was clearly an escape shuttle of some kind, but beyond that I had no idea about its design.
To this end, I opened the first door I saw, which happened to lead into a bathroom; that was no use, so I crossed the cabin again and opened the other door.
“Ah!” I said. “That's more like it.”
Beyond was a small cubby-hole of a room, full of pipes, wires, pistons and large quantities of mechanical debris: exactly the sort of environment in which I was most at home. Put me behind the controls and I could just about avoid crashing into a moon; put me behind a motor and I'd happily convert it into a small helicopter in half an hour.
I found a diagnostics unit and plugged it into the engine feed; the little blue screen lit up, and told me baldly that three of the engines were missing and the remaining one was very badly damaged.
“Ah,” I said. “That complicates things.”
The ship was going nowhere, it seemed – or at least, nowhere except into the star. I mopped the sweat from my brow and wondered what to do next; already the temperature seemed to have risen by several degrees, and it was clear that I didn't have much beyond fifteen minutes to think of a way out of this mess before I was boiled in my own skin.
I wasn't really expecting to see anything, but I looked around the room with a sense of desultory hope; much to my surprise, I saw a metal orb lying on the floor, about the size of a basketball, with a flat screen on one side. A robot of some kind.
Picking it up, I turned it over until I found the panel concealing its 'On' switch; I flipped it open, pressed the button and shut it again. A moment later, the screen lit up with a large smiley face and the robot flew into the air to hover in front of me.
“Hi there!” it said cheerfully. “I'm Eddie, and it's my job to see that you're all happy!”
My heart sank. Not a repair droid or anything, then – nothing that could fly outside and fix the remaining engine.
“You're a companion droid?” I asked.
“Well, sure, if that's what you want to call me,” he said. “But feel free to just call me plain old Eddie. Well, what's going on, friend?”
“We're in a spaceship on a collision course with a star and I'm going to die in the next twenty minutes.”
“Sounds like we're in a real pickle!” he said happily. “Boy, if I was programmed to be anything other than happy I'd be terrified!”
I sighed. Eddie was turning out to be a lot less helpful and more irritating than I'd thought. Still, at least he'd be incinerated soon enough.
“Well, since you're here now, maybe you can tell me something about this ship,” I said, walking back into the main cabin. “Do you know whose it is? Why I'm here? Whether it can be repaired or not?”
“Gee, that's a lot of questions,” noted Eddie cheerily. “But I've only got one answer: no! I've been deactivated for a long time. Apparently I annoy people!”
“Really. Never would have seen that one coming.”
I stared out of the window at the approaching star, blinking sweat from my eyes and thinking hard. There had to be a way out of this. There had to be. I refused to accept that I was going to die here.
I checked the thermometer. Forty-two degrees. I wasn't sure how much I could stand before I fell unconscious, but it wouldn't be long before I found out.
“Eddie,” I said quietly, “are you sure you know nothing about this ship?”
“Nothing at all!” he replied. “Anything else I can do to help? You seem kinda down – shall I play some relaxing music?”
“No! This is not a time to relax!”
I seriously contemplated turning him off, but held back: I thought best when I had ideas to bounce off someone, and Eddie was the only other person here – even if he was wholly artificial.
“Well, how about I run some calculations about when your body will be overcome by the rising heat?” he asked. “Anything to help!”
“N— Actually, yes. How long do I have?”
“Calculating now,” Eddie told me. “Hmm... According to rough estimates, you have twelve minutes and nine point five seconds until you die.”
“You call that a rough estimate?”
“I know, I know, but sometimes we have to make do with inexact figures,” Eddie said. “Just look on the bright side: this way, there's a little magic and mystery in it!”
“I really don't want magic and mystery right now,” I told him. “I want a way off this ship.”
“Well, I could fly out the airlock and look for help,” Eddie offered, “but I don't think I'd find someone and get back in time.”
“You can navigate in space? Don't you use compressed-air thrusters?”
“I have jets too,” he explained. “I can also ride the solar wind and am fully capable of functioning in both extreme heat and extreme cold!”
So Eddie could escape the star. Was there a way he could take me, maybe?
“What's your maximum haulage capacity?” I asked. “I mean, if I could put together some sort of sealed pod...”
“Sorry!” he burbled. “I couldn't possibly carry more than 13.4 kilograms. Doing so would put untenable strain on my couplings!”
“Damn.” I paced up and down a little, but the heat was getting to me; I couldn't think straight. I tore off my shirt, used it to mop as much sweat from myself as I could and threw it down on the floor – but it didn't help. It was just so hot – and since this was space, there wasn't even a hint of a cooling breeze. I felt like I was being baked; in fact, I was being baked, I thought bitterly. I was going to die, and there was nothing I could do about it.
“Nine minutes until you perish,” sang out Eddie merrily. “Temperatures are climbing towards fifty degrees Celsius.”
“All right, all right!” I cried. “Shut up!”
There had to be a way out. Maybe I could—
I straightened up slowly. Of course. There was a way I could get out of this – sort of.
“How much spare memory capacity do you have, Eddie?” I asked.
“Oh, a colossal amount,” he replied. “I had twelve fully actualised personalities, eleven of which were deleted by my first owner. Ha ha! He went mad, you know.”
“OK,” I said slowly, and started searching for a medical kit.
“What are you doing?” asked Eddie.
“Looking for a medical kit,” I answered.
“Hoping to patch yourself up after we burn? That's the optimistic spirit I'm looking for!”
I didn't deign to answer that, and remained silent until I'd found what I was after. Then I opened it up, rummaged around within and pulled out a little sterile ampoule.
“What's that for?”
“I'm taking a blood sample,” I said, attaching a needle and pressing it into the crook of my elbow. The low pressure in the ampoule drew out the blood without my input, and when it was full I pulled it out, unscrewed the needle and sealed it. “Eddie, I have a mission for you.”
“Oh, boy!” he cried ecstatically. “I just love helping out!”
“Good. Now, how do you switch between loaded personalities?”
“Simple,” he said. “Just ask me to.”
“Excellent. Here, open your storage compartment.”
A little panel opened up in Eddie's side, and I placed the vial of blood in the little cavity within.
“Thanks. You can shut that now. Where's your computer port?”
“Here!” An arrow appeared on his screen, pointing to the bottom right corner; I drew a cable out from its spool on the main ship's computer and connected it to him. I took a second cable and connected it to the main port for my neural implant, just behind my ear.
All right. This was it. I took a deep breath, and downloaded.
Surprisingly, I didn't feel anything except the wire getting slightly hotter as the data surged down it; I would have expected some sensation after all. But no; there was nothing.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Eddie, his processor humming as it struggled to cope with both the heat and the sudden influx of alien information. “What's this?”
“I'm copying my personality into your memory,” I informed him. “In a moment, I'm going to activate it, and then I'm going to fly you out of here and get a body cloned for myself from the blood sample.”
“Hey, what a smart idea!” said Eddie. “But don't swabs from the inside of the cheek work fine for cloning purposes?”
“Shut up. It's a clever plan. I've also downloaded my bank account details, so I'll be able to pay for the clone when I get there.”
“That sounds swell,” remarked Eddie. “Glad I can help. Oh, and by the way – the data transfer is complete.”
I unplugged him, and asked how long I had.
“Three minutes,” he told me. “There was a lot of data there.”
I nodded. The heat was such that I was finding it difficult to breathe now; the air seemed to be clogging, forming into thick, hot lumps that stuck in my throat.
“All right,” I said. “Activate your new personality.”
“You got it!” he said chirpily. “See you later.” Then, in what was unmistakeably my voice: “Oh my God, this is weird.”
“You're telling me,” I said. “I'm talking to myself.”
“Huh,” said Robot Me. “Look, I'm – you're – we're running out of time here. Can you put me in the airlock?”
“Oh. Uh, yeah.”
It was a bizarre experience, talking to myself like this; Robot Me floated along beside me as I walked over to the airlock, making observations about my – his – whatever – new body.
“I can't feel the heat,” he said. “It's amazing. I mean, I know the temperature, because I have a thermometer – but I can't feel it.”
I could. Every movement was an incredible effort in these conditions, and as I reached for the release for the inner airlock door, I felt my sweat-sodden clothes constricting my limbs like pythons.
“Jesus,” I gasped, heaving with all my might on the handle and barely moving it. “This is...”
I couldn't finish the sentence. I needed all my strength to pull the release – and I mean all. When the door slid open, I fell over backwards and almost didn't get up again.
“Oh, God,” whispered Robot Me. “I look terrible. You look terrible. Seeing myself like this...”
If I'd had the leisure to do so, I might have pondered which of us was the real me at this point – but I just didn't have the energy. I pointed breathlessly through the door, and he drifted in.
“Goodbye, me,” he said, as I pulled myself to my feet and prepared to push the handle back again. “I... We won't die. You might feel like we do, but... we won't.” He bobbed in midair in agitation. “God, I don't know what to say. I'm a scientist, not a poet.”
“It's OK,” I panted, “I... know exactly... what we mean. I'm you, remember?”
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “I guess you would know.” He paused. “I won't delete Eddie,” he went on. “I think I'll keep him after this.”
“Deserves it,” I agreed breathlessly.”
“Yeah. Well... there's only a minute or so left. You should let me out now, or I'll be too close to escape the star's gravity.”
He was right; I needed to let him go. Besides, there were black spots flickering on my vision and I didn't want to black out before I'd blown the airlock.
I pressed the handle, and the door slid shut. I looked at the screen on the other side of the perspex for a moment, at the face that was no longer smiling, and sighed.
Then I opened the outer door, and Robot Me was sucked away out into space.
I'd done it. I closed my eyes for a moment, then made my slow way over to the bridge, right in front of the large window overlooking the star. With an immense effort of will, I stood upright and squared my shoulders, staring defiantly out as the burning field thickened and darkened to black.
I wasn't dead, I told myself as I fell. I wasn't...