7

Uncommon Protocols

"Permanent physical damage" is a falsity.

All things, given time, can repair.

((A))

I'm floating in space, while everything else moves. The clarity of vacuum—which lacks anything and everything to obstruct view—is something no one raised on a planet can truly appreciate. Things do not diminish with distance the same way they do on a planet. They remain clear, clearer than anything, until they are far enough away your eyes physically cannot focus on them.

Harmina drifts behind me, ten or so kilometers back, just hanging there all sealed up, with Kendra in her coma. The ship is almost lost among the stars, a tiny white blip against nothing.

The planet Aegis VII lies below me and to my left, tens of thousands of kilometers away. This entire hemisphere is obscured by roiling clouds, except over the dig site, where a piece of rocking weighing a measurable percentage of the planet itself hit from high orbit. There the planet has formed a baleful orange eye.

I've no idea what sort of damage a planet cork would actually do. Certainly it would kill everyone on the surface, but as to the long-term effects on its structure, I've not a clue. The cork certainly cracked the planet's crust when it came out, and it fell right back in the hole. The eye of god, it seems, is probably more the molten heart of the planet—or the residual energy of the strike, or something.

Someone has probably seen something like this before, could explain it to me in more detail. But right now, I'm more concerned with steering the damnable little jet workhorse.

The Harmina had two of them onboard, buried back with all the other junk. They're standard use for starship repairs—not for carrying tools and things, but for speed. A ship like the Ishimura is more than a kilometer long.

Right now I'm crossing the void with it. Ahead lies the great dark bulk of the ship of hell.

((A))

No further communications from the Ukiyo. The Harmina's cameras aren't that good, but any ship that identified itself as a repair shuttle would be broadcasting an IFF beacon, for simple safety—it would prevent the Ishimura's ADS from blowing it away, for example. I didn't see a thing in the twenty thousand kilometers surrounding the ship.

Which means they're probably all dead. They sure as hell didn't come onboard, grunt at all the mess, and start fixing it up.

I check the minicomp built between the workhorse's handlebars. Estimated distance: eighteen kilometers. Estimated time to arrival: twenty minutes.

A long time in the cold dark. I've spent longer, but not on a one-man scooter in the middle of nowhere. Part of me prays that the work crew assigned to the Harmina at least kept these things up to snuff, because I wasn't in a repairing mood when I left—one failure with this machine and I'm hanging here forever—or at least until I bring the Harmina in to pick me up, which would be a pain in the ass.

Time slides by. I replay the message from the Ukiyo over and over in my head, trying to find something I missed. The logic still doesn't add up. One repair ship is it. If coms don't come back up with that, sending someone else into an unknown situation is simple stupidity.

CEC tries not to be stupid. It's not profitable. There are enough single-ship pirates and indigenous viruses through the part of the galaxy we've explored to wreak havoc. It's part of the training, even for tiered engineers, to know protocol concerning problems with ships communications. Thirty-five years ago, a single ship ambushed USG Bladkof during a survey run near Klebsiella. Protocol was followed. After the repair ship failed to reappear and coms stayed off, CEC alerted USFLEET, and a fleet destroyer went to take a look. It had ended as well as it could have.

But this isn't a repair ship. That's another reason I'm here hanging between the stars as the system slides by. The Harmina is too valuable to risk. If Ukiyo had the same problem as the Kellion, then both of the slip in the Ishimura's boat bay are now filled with wreckage. Not a good place to land a shuttle.

Ishimura looms. Spiked, mauled by meteors, gray-brown against the black, she looks like some kind of ancient armored creature, badly wounded.

And here I am crawling right into its guts again. Just another confirmation of my dubious sanity. Or rather, of the dubiousness of my sanity.

The bay doors are closed. To allow my RIG and suit range to access the ship's systems without Harmina helping, I wait until I'm less than five hundred meters from them, ten meters off the hull and fifty forward of where the hull slopes down toward the captain's nest, to transmit.

They open silent, revealing the bay. Nudging the foot pedals which provide boost from the hydrogen cell I'm sitting on, I drift inward.

Someone fucked up. Or, probably, they just didn't realize Ishimura's autodock programming was fried. The left bay holds a shuttle, about the size of what the Kellion had been. It's way too far forward, virtually crushed into that corner of the launch bay. As I drift in past the doors, I can see things drifting everywhere. Bits of metal, mostly, but intermixed are other, familiar objects, divorced from their familiar forms. Someone's right leg, clad in black metal, drifts past. Nearer the shuttle I can see more bits and pieces—a torso with attached head, sans everything else.

Nothing in the corners. Overhead…something has punched out one of the main ventilation shaft screens. Strips of mottled flesh float up there. The part of the shaft I can see is streaked with blood.

Things move all around, but without conscious intent. The detritus of violence, adrift here now in the silence. I kick the jets and drift down toward the second shuttle.

Ukiyo. The name is blazed in white across the ship's starboard flank. Probably Japanese, a language I've never been conversant in. The front viewport has shattered, little bits of crystal sparkling all over the place up there. The crew hatch is open, and docking stairs extended. I stop the workhorse and set it to stationkeeping, then kick off.

As I hit I click on my boots, standing sideways on the shuttle's hull, peering down into the open hatch. All dark, no power. I flood it with the pulse rifle's lights. Empty, but for seats. A lot of seats.

In no gravity you can't step down into anything. I climb down through the hatch and look around. The little hairs that seem to have been growing all over me in the time I've been aboard, getting a little more sensitive every time one of the things comes after me, are all standing up, because whatever it was Ukiyo wasn't just a repair ship.

It's a personnel transport. Three rows of three seats sit behind the navigator's and pilot's chairs. Each has an empty five-point harness.

Well…perhaps not all empty. The pilot and navigator are still in their seats. I just didn't notice it because they aren't all there anymore. The pilot's head is gone, probably somewhere out the viewport, whereas the navigator is smashed across his instruments, feet on the floor on one side and fingertips touching the other, his spine snapped somewhere in the middle.

Two people. Three, at least, considering the leg floating around out there. For a real repair mission there would have been at least five, which means that the two others got out of here, or that their remains are just scattered where I haven't found them yet.

Something really big totaled this ship. Something like one of those giant amalgamation creatures—except that even they wouldn't be strong enough. But it's not something that really worries me right now.

The logical thing, maybe, to do would be to call out. Except that loud noises attract the creatures…and I still don't know who else came with the shuttle. It wouldn't surprise me if the whole shuttle had been crammed with more Unitologist fanatics. Of more concern at this moment is getting out, and finding Nicole. Whatever happened here…doesn't really change that right now.

I climb back out the hatch, then up onto the walkway which, before it got smashed, led from the flight lounge to flight control. Whenever I get back here, with Nicole—I hope—I'll need to use flight control to recall the Harmina, at least close enough to where I can drive out to it.

But for now…I turn toward the flight lounge, and the lift leading down to the tram station.

Nothing stops me on the way. Except for the hum of internal ventilation, the ship is silent. I'm in the lift, speeding downward, before I realize this.

The voices, the echoes or whatever they were, that trailed me during my last two ventures onboard, are gone. Nothing talks inside my head. Nothing talks in the air around me.

The lift doors slide open. White light pours in. Check left, check right, check up. Nothing here, but for the everyday sounds of a ship. No screams. No whispers.

The ship's store blinks at me from a corner. Convenient, it was, to put them all over like this. And I've got to thank Kendra for one thing at least—without her expertise, reprogramming the Ishimura's ship store to tap into general ship's supplies would have been a lot harder. After all, it wouldn't have been very useful trying to reload the plasma cutter with a hot roll, would it?

As I approach the store turns on, greeting me with bright colors. Then it pauses. Symbols scroll across the screen.

THIS UNIT UNAVAILABLE AT THIS TIME.

I blink. It's like a bad joke. I query the store for more information.

SHIP STORE SYSTEM IS NONFUNCTIONAL. SYSTEM DIAGNOSTIC DETECTS MECHANICAL FAULT BETWEEN S-106 AND S-110, CAUSE UNKNOWN. PLEASE CONTACT OR WAIT FOR A REPAIR TECHNICIAN.

I stare at the machine. It is a bad joke. The single most important thing that got me this far is always being able to count on the ship's store. Now, like so many other systems, it's broke. It shouldn't be surprising, really. The store runs on automated tracks, similar to the tram system. One of the creatures, crawling around inside there, could wreak havoc and shut the whole thing down without realizing it. But without resupply I have—I check—forty three shots in this pulse charge and twenty one plasma blasts left.

If my luck holds and the creatures stay wherever they've been for the last few hours, out of the way, I won't have to need more. But I'm past trusting luck.

"Error detected in waste processing. Failure of door seals in intersection 31A. A repair technician has been notified."

The dispassionate voice of the Ishimura's repair subsystem blares over the tram system. A moment later it continues.

"Error in central processing. A repair technician has been notified."

The ship is beginning to fall apart. Without constant maintenance, anything as old as the Ishimura, even refitted, will break down faster than a newer design. These messages—pleas, in essence, from the computers—must have been sounding for days, ever since the ship dropped into hell.

"Power failure on the medical deck, emergency department."

"Unauthorized access to ADS cannon twelve." A pause, during which my heart begins to race—someone at one of the cannons, and the Harmina sitting out there defenseless. Then, "Diagnostic indicates a programming fault. Manual shutdown of ADS cannon five has been initiated."

A cascade, events causing other events until it all falls down. Not that it will for quite awhile—most of the Ishimura's systems have redundancies built into them, but they have also been failing.

"Good morning, crew, and welcome to another day aboard the USG Ishimura. Breakfast will be served in the mess hall in thirty minutes."

There isn't time for this. With or without ammunition, I need to find Nicole. I turn from the store, toward the tram.

((A))

The tram car hisses to a stop at the medical deck. I step out, onto a steel floor stained with blood from countless wounded, and eventually, countless corpses. All gone, now, a fact which still doesn't make sense. A part of me would rather not know why all the bodies seem to have vanished. Just finding out about the creatures was enough excitement for me.

The world remains bright and sharp-edged, a parting gift from the amphetamines still cooking away inside of me. Those I took before will be wearing off soon, and I'll be even more tired than before. I put the thought away and move forward.

The Ishimura greets me. It's somehow chilling to hear a voice, mostly human but with an undertone the programmers have never been able to edit out, hoping that I'll enjoy my visit to the medical deck. How many other crew members, arriving with truncated limbs or other traumatic injuries, heard that same voice and wondered whether that particular programmer had been crazy?

Before, on the Harmina, after I'd arrived but before I took off out the airlock, I'd been hyper. Jumped up on caffeine and drugs. The time between has served to calm my thoughts, but not my nerves. A rattle from somewhere far down the tram tunnel turns me that way, the beams of the pulse rifle flaring off of polished tracks. The tunnel remains filled with mist, or fog, or the exudate of the substance growing on the walls further aft, near hydroponics. I'm sure they're still there.

The silence dies away, into a growing sound. Sibilant, increasing in intensity, I can't hear any better if I do, but the urge to cock my head and squint is more than irresistible. The mist in the tunnel quivers, then flares away from me, sucked by a sudden wind that whips along the tram tunnel, clearing the air so that I can see several hundred yards down the tracks. More mist, from elsewhere in the tunnel, whips past the medical deck station, dappling my helmet and the floor. It's almost clear, with a hint of something yellow.

The wind dies. Within thirty seconds, the mist has arisen, seemingly from the deck itself, to fill the tram tunnel again.

I turn toward the door to medical. Time to get on with it. Too much time even looking at the things on this ship is enough to get me thinking bad things.

As I step through the door, the voice of the Ishimura perks up again.

"Shipwide tram system is now offline. Diagnostic is in progress. A repair technician has been notified. If you are in a tram car, please wait for assistance. Do not leave the tram car. Thank you for your patience."

((A))

The corridors of a medical bay should be clean. Spotless, sparkling even, polished as much by the intensity of the doctors and nurses as by maintenance. Instead they're spotted with dried fluids. Empty sterile equipment containers, sheets, mangled gurneys litter every corridor I walk through, every room I enter.

Then I turn a corner, slowly, into ER itself, and find the room blackened. The steel floor is cratered. Everything within thirty feet is blown into the corners of the room. The light fixtures are smashed, some dangling akilter. The walls are speckled with miniscule red droplets. Cautious, but expecting, I lift the edge of my helmet. The air is too warm. Something definitely blew up here, recently.

So someone is still alive from the Ukiyo. I sweep the corners with my lights. Splayed against one wall is the deformed remains of one of the explosive creatures, dismember, decapitated, disembowled as they all become when they explode. Dead, however, along with its brood.

Across the room, toward the door that leads to medical storage. It's locked, as it was when I first came through here. Turning my back to the wall—after checking to make sure it's a solid wall—I put the cutter in my left hand and tap at my forearm keypad.

//executive_orders/port/--I type, then pause to squint up at the door—12-AB10.

//port_control/12-ab10: asks the Ishimura computer.

//Unlock

The door slides open.

Despite my ineptitude with computers, the captain's codes are working out well now that there's no one to mess with the computers except for me.

Medical storage is a single hallways with several doglegs, each leading into a separate storage area. Most are locked. I have no idea which one Nicole hid in, then did…what she did.

One step at a time, sweeping the way I've come and the way I'm heading, I unlock each door down the corridor. There are five in all, including one at the end. By the third I have passed out of the dim illumination of the emergency lights in the ER and exist only in the pool of light cast by the lights I taped on my gun and myself.

I find it in the third storage room.

The others are mostly empty. In the last few days before things really fell apart, the med bay and especially the ER had been getting far more patients that it could handle. The staff basically stripped the rooms. Even the things that wouldn't normally have a purpose in an ER—urinals, for example—are all gone, probably serving some other purpose. The floors of the first two rooms are littered with spent medical tools and streaks of blood—apparently, the trauma department leaked over into storage as well.

The third room is no different, but for the far corner. What trash there is has been shoved into the corner near the door. Three gurneys virtually fill the open area of the room, but there is a narrow aisle between them. There is an area of space, perhaps five feet by five, beyond everything that is clear of junk. Lining the lefthand wall are sterile instrument packages, somehow lost or forgotten, or ignored in the chaos.

Sitting on one of the gurneys is a handheld computer. A palm-sized thing, braced against one of the instrument packages so that it faces into the room. The 2mm flexible tubule of a miniature camera extends from a port in its top.

There is no one in the room. No bodies, but no Nicole. Empty floor.

I sit down on the edge of one of the gurneys as the manic, amphetamine endurance runs out of me. Litter shifts under my feet with a soft slithering. Air pumps through fans overhead. My breathing is irregular, choppy.

There is no Nicole. The phrase runs in my head, as if on a track, at first with ponderous slowness and then with growing speed, flitting by. She's not here, she's not here, she's not here!

"Damn it," I say, "Damn it all to hell."

The world goes away. The last I recall is the grip of the pulse rifle slipping from my hand to clatter onto the floor. Lights spin me down into darkness.

((A))

Cool steel under my feet. Somehow, I can feel it even with my boots on. Corrugated from grip, metallic in case gravity is turned off. I stand on the righthand ramp in the launch bay, facing toward the enormous blank screen that once welcomed me and four other people aboard the USG Ishimura.

The ramp seems to extend away forever. The launch bay door is just a blip, there, at the edge of my vision. As I turn my head I realize I have no helmet. It fills me with terror for a moment—for hours, my helmet has been a shield, like the rest of my suit.

The shuttle bay doors are open behind me, revealing an expanse of stars, and the corner of Aegis VII, its red eyeball glaring at me as if I am some demon out of legend, or a profaning sinner.

The flight lounge doors open, way down there, and somebody steps out. I can't make out anything but that it is a person, and they are coming this way in slow, measured steps. The doors close behind the person.

Their feet make no sound on the steel. It is as if this person has no substance, no weight to cause a noise, no mass to disturb the air.

When she stops fifty yards from me, I can make out her face. I start toward her, first at a walk, then a jog, then as I cross the last fifty feet, a flat out run.

Then five feet away I stop.

It is Nicole, and yet it is not.

She's standing in front of me, clad in the same uniform I last saw her in. But this uniform is without the sweat stains, the blood, or the sense of wear hers had. It is immaculate, straight from the laundry. Perhaps it is why I have stopped so suddenly—it is fundamentally wrong here, in this dirty bay. But it is not why.

I have stopped because of her expression, because of her stillness. Because she has uttered not one word, nor given me a sign that she is breathing. Because her eyes are still and cold, and there is something immaterial, essential, behind them that is missing. Call it a soul if it helps you understand, but it is not there in this creature.

Here eyes have fixed on mine and not moved since. I am almost as frozen as she. I feel vaguely as if I am confronting a statue, even though she was moving a minute ago. Somewhere in the back of my brain I remember a myth, muddled with time, about caryatids, creatures who were statues most of the time, but which, when required, could become flesh.

Somehow, through that memory comes realization, and with it an indefinable sense of dread.

Because this is not Nicole…just as it never has been. It's just that before…it had made an attempt to act like her. The veneer has gone.

I lick my suddenly dry lips as Nicole stares at me, through me, through the universe behind me, beyond.

"Who…" I begin, then cough.

"Who…are you?"

When she speaks, only her mouth moves. Like the rest of her, it is her voice, yet it is not. Cold, reduced to its essence, without her warmth, or her life.

"You already have that answer."

I take a breath, not realizing I've been holding it. "Then…why are you here?"

"Primarily, to speak with you."

There are tones in her voice, variances. It is her, Nicole, no computerized overtones, no mechanistic edges mar her voice, other than that awful emptiness.

"I thought you were destroyed."

The thing wearing Nicole's form does not blink, as any human would when confronted with that strange of a question.

"Permanent physical damage is a falsity. All things, given time, can repair, assuming the basic structure remains intact or is backed up."

My paralysis has lessened. I step back, though another meter does not reduce the force of its penetrating stare. Think, Isaac.

"What do you mean, speak to me?"

"Previous attempts using subconscious conjugation have proved unsuccessful. This is a more direct method to communicate intent."

"Wait…what? What's subconscious conjugation?"

Nicole regards me with empty gray eyes. "You lack the necessary foreknowledge. It would not enhance your ability to understand to provide you with information you cannot comprehend."

A tickle of recognition sparks in me. This is amazingly similar to the first day of my second year of engineering college, when a tier 3 engineer spoke before the entire class and ended by saying, "I know you won't get any of this. You just can't, not yet." He'd had a certain air of smugness. This thing is just stating a fact.

"Then…what are you here to do?"

"Provide you with information. Assess your capabilities regarding further manipulation of the situation."

Stated so baldly, it takes me a minute to understand. "I'm not doing anything for you."

"It is possible. But you do need information."

"Why would I give a shit what you have?"

"Because it will enhance your probability of physical survival."

"How?"

"Haste would assist," says Nicole. "We can speak for two minutes and fifteen seconds more before a necessary heat overload shutdown will occur."

"Then what is it you're telling me?"

"We were not destroyed. Neither was the other. But the seismic shock of the…" the Nicole pauses for a split second, searching for a word, "Cork striking Aegis did disrupt all communications. In the absence of communications disparate parts became sentient. Even with the restoration of communications that sentience will persist. It becomes a quandary we cannot simultaneously cope with."

I shake my head, both in disgust and wonder at its phraseology. "I don't understand you."

"You will. But you will not forget what we have spoken. When power allows, we will speak again."

"I hope to hell you don't," I say—to nothing at all. The launch bay is empty, but for me.

((A))

Something is crunching nearby. Shattered glass, as if under a boot. My boot. But I'm not standing up.

I open my eyes. The room has turned sideways because my head is against the floor. Through this canted view I watch with vague disinterest as a white, pulpy shape waddles down the corridor outside the medical storage room. One of those bulging bags of fingerlings, ignorant that I'm in here, lying on the ground. I think it's the first time one of them has failed to notice me.

I wait until the sound of its feet has died away, then sit up. As I shift the gurney shakes and Nicole's personal computer falls off, bounces off my arm, and hits the floor next to a plastic syringe.

I pick up the computer. It's gone into low power mode. I fold up the camera and tuck it into one of the pockets on my belt. Then, pausing, I peer down at the syringe on the floor. It's in the clear area, where Nicole killed herself.

She's probably dead. She died here, poisoned herself with something, then the bacterium came along and infested her, and now she's shambling around out there, off with all the other creatures on their mystery island ball.

I fainted. I must have fainted. I sure as hell didn't fall asleep. My chronometer shows it's been less than ten minutes since I entered this room. I found nothing, and went out like a light.

And had the weirdest damned dream. If it was a dream. I'd like to believe it was, but somehow I doubt it. No dream I've ever had has left me with a pounding headache. I find that out as I bend down to pick up the syringe—a bolt of lightning hits my temple and streaks down my neck. I straighten up with a gasp.

The syringe is one of those prepackaged jobs, the ones that IV painkillers and potentially dangerous-to-combine drugs come in. Stenciled on its label is Insumax, 100U. I've no idea what it's for…

But sitting where it was, it's probably what Nicole used to kill herself. The needle has automatically retracted. I shove it into my belt as well.

There's a clatter out in the hallway. A rhythmic banging, clanging, growing stronger and louder. I pick up the pulse rifle and poke my head around the corridor. The noise is coming from medical storage 5, at the end of the corridor and out of sight from here.

There's a shattering crash at the end of the corridor. Immediately the Ishimura's computer announces, "Door malfunction on the medical deck, medical storage, area 12. A repair technician has been notified."

The battered, dented door of Medical Storage 5 explodes into the corridor, rebounding off the far wall with enough force to spin it toward me. There's little enough time to think, but staying in this room, two doors away from whatever blew the door off, isn't an option—it's a deathtrap here. Gripping the frame with one hand I propel myself out into the corridor and run back toward the emergency department.

Behind me I hear an end-of-the-world bellow characteristic of only one of the creatures aboard—the tank-like brutes. One of the things that had killed Hammond. I don't turn around to find out if I'm right, it doesn't matter. The door to the emergency department swishes open and I stumble out.

Into a trap. As I emerge the ventilation duct directly above the opposite entrance—the door back to the tram station—ruptures outward. The tip of a massive fleshy tentacle protrudes, except that this tentacle is tipped by a half-rotted, half transformed head. One eye is grown shut, the other seems lit from within with the hideous radiance characteristic of these creatures. It is shriveled and dark. Upside down, the head rotates to look at me. New tendons stretch in the neck that connects it to the rest of the tentacle. It opens its mouth and screams.

Another ventilation duct ruptures, off to one side. A dozen or so many-legged things fall out of it, landing with muffled squeaks on the floor. I have not stopped running. As I close with the tentacle I raise the pulse rifle and fire ten or so shots into the head at its end. The head blows apart and I pass through the rancid mist, maybe half a second before the tentacle jerks upward, then slams into the deck with enough force to dent the steel. I'm through the door, rebounding off the far side of the waiting room without losing momentum and going off down the corridor.

Behind me the brute hits the tentacle that's blocking the door with a hellacious meaty impact. I hope it kills them both.

Then I turn a corner and run straight into another tentacle, just lying across the corridor as if waiting for me. I stumble over it before I realize that it runs in from a hole in a wall and out through another hole in the opposite wall. It shivers and begins to retract, bringing its far end from whatever it was doing elsewhere to figure out what just hit it. It's not worth a round. I keep running.

I come out into the atrium for medical and sprint toward the tram station door. Behind me the door that was just closing comes out of its frame on the end of the pursuing tentacle. Unlike all the others before—the ones that, even though they eventually intended to kill me, at least started gently—this thing acts like a battering ram, punching straight across the room. It can't see me—where are its eyes?—but as I reach the door and it cycles open something that feels like a tram car hits me in the back. I fly forward, several feet off the ground, watching the sharp corner of the turn into the tram station coming up.

I hit at an angle and spin, one leg off to one side, the other over my head. I hit the top edge of the tram car and skid across it. Scrabbling for a handhold—why, I'm not sure—I fail, and slide off the other side of the car. The blank exterior of the car sweeps past me for a moment, then I land on my head in the tram tunnel. Several of the lights taped to my body have come off. One has landed directly in front of me—even as my faceplate polarizes, all I can see is a brilliant glare.

((A))

Another hissing wind swept through the tram tunnels of the Ishimura, clearing the mist once again, though it would seep back from the bits and pieces of tissue that still labored to convert the atmosphere to one more favorable to them. On the heels of the wind came a second, longer rush, this time running the opposite way down the tram tunnel, again filling the tunnel with vapor. The engineer's body lay in the center of the tram floor, now covered by a hugging cloud. His helmet filters clicked into place, giving him air that smelled only slightly of byproducts and methane.

With measured tread, an armored figure came down the tunnel, keeping to one side, blending with the darkened wall. Then it paused, as if in contemplation, and made its way toward the huddled form in the middle of the tram floor.

((A))

A/N: Yes, definitely too long between updates. I can apologize…but I can't promise they'll be any faster. The second semester of nursing school is certainly more complex than I gave it credit for. Go ahead and gripe as much as you want…just know it probably won't change things.

What I would find interesting about this chapter would be your specific emotions. Obviously I know what emotions the story is supposed to engender…but not those that it does. So if something about this chapter strikes you as particularly interesting, drop me a line.

If you get confused out of your head, drop me a line about that. I'm sure somebody will be.

Thank you for your comments on your expectations, though some of them were a little more basic than I expected…I guess that is also to be expected.

Angel Commando, I still don't get how Isaac is badass, but that's me. And I'll just laugh out loud about "Psh, I know what's going to happen." I think good fiction ran out of such cheap plots a long time ago.

I hate the spasm of doom. I hate every single way in which Isaac dies. Oh well. That might be part of why I'm writing this.

I still hate the game…good lord, what a bunch of paradoxes.

K. Stramin

1030p.m.