"You can reconnect me, you know," David said. "I'll keep watch over you as you sleep in a cryo pod. It will be easier for-"
"No, thank you David, I'd rather not."
She didn't trust the ship; she didn't trust David. She barely trusted herself not to go insane in the sunless hall that seemed designed by some night terror afflicted madman.
Such was her situation, on an alien vessel carrying who knows what manner of infectious cargo, with only an android for company. There were no Engineers on board, certainly none in the control room's cryo pods. No one to interfere with her quest. No one to ask what their plan had been and why it had changed, either. No one to spare her the nightmare of another leap through empty space.
"Are your rations sufficient for your journey?"
It was a rhethorical question. David knew there was no way for Elizabeth to have carried two year's worth of food and water, but before she could think of a suitably snarky reply, David continued-
"Mine are, but they're located in my body. Without them, I will run out of energy within the next five hours and thirty minutes. Give or take, depending on the conversation."
"You tell me which wire will keep your head going, and I'll reconnect that one. Only that one."
"Surely you don't think I'll hurt you?"
There was no response. Elizabeth looked busy with studying the ship's central control chair, but there was obvious meaning in the silence.
"Maybe I should hurt you", David went on. "It's not a kind thing to do, leaving me immobile."
"David, you've already hurt me. Two times that I know of. I don't trust you anymore."
"And yet you trust me to help you navigate the ship."
"I ... look, I will put you back together when we reach the Engineers' homeworld."
"Aren't you afraid I'll hurt you then?"
"Then it won't matter anymore. I don't expect to come back."
"You are a strange case, Dr. Shaw. I certainly expect to come back."
Then there was silence. Elizabeth resumed examining the ship's central control chair. Some things, she decided, she would have to figure out, and fast. The chair was one. The cryo pods were another- if indeed they were cryo-pods; Elizabeth had some doubts about their similarity to the cryo-sleep chambers aboard the Prometheus. In any case, both devices were meant to keep an Engineer- a human organism like herself- alive for extended periods of space travel. She hoped the chair would allow her to stay conscious and avoid cryo-stasis as much as possible. She hoped she could decipher how a cryo-pod could be programmed to wake up its occupant. She hoped she was aboard another ship.
She almost slapped herself out of that reverie. Was the eerie dark ambience taking its toll already? She knew that on Earth, people could go depressed from not seeing the Sun for half a year. Then what could two years, or more, spent inside the belly of some hellish leviathan do? The weird structures of the ship bore no resemblance to the clean, tidy design of human ships. Instead, they seemed engineered to evoke nightmares and primal fears of being consumed ... or worse. She had known worse that very day. What did it say about the minds of Engineers that they regarded ribs, spines, obscene shafts and denticulated crevasses, as ... comfortable? Or even soothing, maybe? She will have to find out, eventualy.
If she lived long enough. For all she knew, the rations that were meant to feed an Engineer could be poison for her- or, became poison by contamination with whatever the ship was carrying. This left a supposed cryo-pod as an option, maybe, but she would need to learn to operate one without David's help before her rations from the Prometheus ran out. The thought of un-natural sleep bothered her. Relying on something else to wake her up made her feel vulnerable, more exposed to the unknown dangers of the ship. And of David.
The only things she felt she could depend on were the rations she managed to haphazardly gather from the Prometheus life-craft.
Which were: one .45 caliber automatic, two boxes of ammunition, four days' concentrated emergency rations, one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamine pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills, one miniature combination star atlas and Bible, one litre of Hydrate-R-us multimineral water, one Pee Wee Purification kit, nine packs of chewing gum, one issue of profilactics, three lip-sticks, and three pairs of nylon stockings.
"A girl can have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all this stuff", she thought. Not the best kit for long term survival in hostile space however.
Also in her possession, a sturdy spelunking rope of thirty meters, an automatic belaying device, two ascenders, a bunch of carabiners and some cord. Of course, her suit, with rebreather and climbing harness.
And finally, her father's cross and Charlie's ring. The thought that these were useless tokens never even entered her mind. She'd have sooner lost everything else and her life, rather than losing these two items along with, she feared, her soul. She spun the ring around her finger. What would Charlie do?
Probably start randomly mashing the buttons near the central control chair. She smiled to herself sadly. Charlie could be so reckless at times. But, she knew, she wasn't fair to Charlie's memory; there was a method to the recklessness. Only looking won't take you very far. At some point, you must grit your teeth and touch. Try your luck. Leap into the unknown.
Elizabeth had looked at the chair long enough to realize that an Engineer would be almost completely encased in an exoskeleton for the duration of the journey. Even the face would be covered by an elephantine mask, and through that mask's trunk, she was sure, the Engineer would receive nourishment. She'd probably have to bite on the mouthpiece inside the mask, and ... wish for food? She'd just have to try.
But she was not Charlie. Elizabeth could not bring herself to accept anything from the strange ship quite so casually. Not without vetting, testing, examining. She decided to reach inside the mask's tube with a gloved finger; sure enough, there were the remains of something gelatinous inside. She carefully brought her finger out and, slowly, closer to her face. Whatever the gel was, it looked like at some time in the past it could have been food.
She was hungry. But she was not that hungry, nor that brave. Eventually she'd have to surrender when lack of rations would leave her no alternative but for now her instincts, and her sense, fought against any decision to try the Engineers' space cuisine. She opened a protein bar from her rations instead.
A brief shock almost had her drop the bar. She looked again, closer- mold. What scared her was just mold. Good, old fashioned, home grown Earth mold. Pity for that bar of protein, as it was now inedible ... but an idea flashed in her mind.
Elizabeth suddenly felt generous. "David, how much time have you got left?"
"Five hours and twenty-three minutes. Why are you so cheerful?"
"I just found something useful, I think."
"Well, I am glad that you are happy", David said sweetly.
"I'm not reconnecting all of your body functions, David. Just what's needed to keep your head operational."
David seemed disappointed, but replied "there's two cables near the spine. They're not fiber-optics. And there's a pair of pipes for cooling liquid between them."
Elizabeth knelt beside the android body, and reached for David's head. She grabbed him and turned him so as to see the inside of the throat. It was a huge jumble of delicate wires, and several resistance structures, now torn apart. She doubted she could ever put all that back together even if she wanted to. What was available in David's toolbox, and her own two hands, couldn't hope to approach Weyland's industrial refinement. There was however an eerie resemblance between the human anatomy and David's innards. Optic fibers mostly clustered together, like the nerves of the spinal column. Cooling fluid and electric cables in place of arteries and veins. While unsettling in its mockery of life, the structure's familiarity allowed her to guess what she needed to connect to keep David's head powered on.
"Make sure you connect the sheaths of the cables together firmly," said David, "or else superconductivity won't manifest itself. That would make me hot under the collar."
"That was a pun," said David.
"Does it matter which cable I connect to which?" asked Elizabeth.
David made a worried face before attempting to respond.
"Just joking with you," said Elizabeth. "I really hate puns."
"In that case I will avoid them. But do make sure to connect the cables the right way around."
"They're colour coded, there's no way I can misconnect them."
"Really? What colours?", asked David.
"Does it matter?"
"No, but I decided to practice asking useless questions."
Elizabeth took a moment to feel offended at the suggestion then replied "orange and brown."
David smiled. "Thank you. Ah yes, that's better. Estimated lifetime on current charge, 79 years under normal usage conditions."
He looked happier; whether he actually could be happy was outside Elizabeth's knowledge. But there was still something awkward about David's torn throat, cables sticking out all over. It managed to look even more unnatural than a talking severed head.
"Wait just a moment," Elizabeth said, as she left David's side. She quickly returned with a nylon stocking, which she wrapped around David's neck like a scarf. It helped conceal the android's insides. It also looked terribly silly, but that made a reassuring contrast with the rest of the ship's interior.
David was not amused.
"I wouldn't know much about fashion, Dr. Shaw, but I do know that I'd prefer a keffiyeh."
Elizabeth needed a moment to remember where she had heard that word before. It was a name for Arab headgear.
"Since when do you prefer anything? And why a keffiyeh?"
"Do human beings need to offer reasons for all their preferences? I know that your attachment to Dr. Holloway was not reasonable."
"David, you're not fit to judge that," Elizabeth answered abruptly. His words had hurt. Not because they were true, which they were. Maybe it was Charlie's confidence that first attracted her to him, but she never cared to intellectualize attraction, nor, later, love. No, David's words hurt simply because, Elizabeth felt, they were meant to hurt. How strange, to ascribe malice to a machine.
"I am sorry Dr. Shaw. I didn't mean to cause offense. I just wanted to point out that human beings like without having tought why."
"We still ask each other why, though. Why do you want a keffiyeh?"
"If you must know, it's from a film I like about a character I admire, Lawrence of Arabia. The reasons for me liking the film are too convoluted to interest you."
"Ok, then, if I find enough cloth I'll make you a keffiyeh, just like the one Lawrence wore," said Elizabeth. She wasn't likely to act on this promise; where could one find useable cloth on an alien ship? Still, she decided that she needed to answer, to make peace with David. It was pointless to stay mad at a machine, and maybe, she thought, she had simply misunderstood David's intent. Perhaps he wasn't quite competent with all the hidden, nonverbal aspects of communication that carry feelings from person to person.
"Thank you, Dr. Shaw. Why did you like Dr. Holloway?"
"My reasons for loving Charlie are too convoluted to interest you," Elizabeth replied cheekily and returned to her rations.
She opened another protein bar. It felt stale- or maybe she just missed proper food already- but it was on the right side of edible.
"I think I'll start a garden," she said after a while. She grabbed one of the boxes in her backpack. Airtight and transparent, corrosion resistent, plastic. She placed a few shavings of the moldy protein bar in it. Then, with great care, she approached the ship command chair and extracted a drop of the gel in the trunk, placed it near the mold, then closed and stirred the box. If the mold died, or grew abnormally, then the ship's rations weren't safe. If the mold showed no sign of harm ... well, she could only hope the Engineers' rations were good enough for her as well.
She curled, she supposed for comfort, close to David. She'd have to wait several hours for her guinea pig to grow- or not- in the Engineer food sludge. The ship, meanwhile, would know what to do. There was no need for Elizabeth Shaw to be there, for a while, so she retreated into natural sleep. And dreams of Charlie, of Earth, of the Sun. Dreams of home.
David meanwhile dreamt in his own way. Sensors shut down, he entered a slow, meditative state, ruminating the events of the day. A few things stood out in the comotion. Among them, orange and brown. Completely useless pieces of information. He knew what the various subsystems of a robot and connections between them were. Even so, he had never looked inside himself, not literally. Neither had someone else looked and told him what they saw. He found the idea curiously fascinating.