Prose and Prosody

A serial fiction archive by Chris Rodriguez.

System Failure?

[BꜶD] #02 Shera is presented with a moral quandary, and responds without even thinking. 836 Words, ~4:11 on average Published on 2015-09-04 21:26:34 -0400

For me… And for them.

The pictures of their death were burned into Shera’s mind. That distinguished face, the face she’d only ever seen before in pictures and vids, with eyes open in frozen terror, drenched in long dried blood. A horrific way to pass away, and one none on the L3W15 should ever have to experience (as they told her numerous times through the course of the trial). It was only through a few accidental glances that she’d really looked at the photo; The blood alone made her sick to her stomach.

But then, the son’s death was so much worse. His…

The dreadful images vanished from her mind when a loud mechanical “KA-CHUNK!” sounded through the vents. The lights around her flared for a moment, and then dimmed greatly. The haze of orange fire-like force-field faded slightly, and then began to flicker.

Shera herself had had her eyes fixed to the vent since the noise began, but now began to look around. “A power failure?” She asked the fan, listening closely to be sure it was still running.

It was.

“What’s going on?” She said. A power failure would normally make the parts of the ship affected switch to an emergency generator within seconds, restoring the lights and other amenities people depended on for daily life. Sure, things like the vids and games and stuff might be out for a while, but the lights certainly wouldn’t stay dim for so long. In fact, the only thing that should have shut off in her cell is…

The screen… Shera thought, turning to gaze at the blank wall across from her cell… Except, it wasn’t blank. Where bright, unfeeling digits had mockingly counted down her final moments a few seconds ago, there was now an address: “SCR3-4MY”. A maintenance room one block over from her cell, SCR3-3CH… Shera had been there as recently as last week, for one thing or another.

Why…? she was apprehensively staring at the screen, lost in thought, when two things happened. First, the address disappeared, replaced by a big, bright orange, blinking arrow pointing down a hall to the left.

Second, footsteps started echoing from the other direction.

Her body seemed to react without her telling it: Her arms shaking themselves out and her legs rocking her back and forth like the runners from various sporting events she’d seen over the years. Her sweating palms covered themselves up as she balled her hands into fists, the metal ring on her right arm digging into the back of her hand as much as her nails dug into the front.

She counted the flickers of the force-field in front of her. Catching it at its weakest was very important: Going through the force-field when it was fully powered was enough to kill a person. Her left hand still throbbed from when it had grazed the field before… That was off-rhythm, though, so she pushed it from her mind.

“On… Off… On… On… Off…” Her voice barely audible over her heightened breathing, even to her. The footsteps had stopped, and were replaced with muffled voices and the occasional buzz of a locked door rejecting a key. As she chanted the rhythm of the flickering force-field to herself, her arms and legs began following suit: Tensing every time the force-field dimmed, releasing well before it flickered bright again.

It’s now or never, Shera!

As the field flickered again to its dimmer state, she pushed off with her right foot. Her arms crossed in front of her face, she dove head first through the orange haze. As she did, she felt some fraction of the full current of the force-field- 54 amps, the same number as a deck of cards, she remembered in that split moment- pass through each part of her body as it sailed through it. It was like slowly passing her skin through an open flame, but while her whole body had pins and needles.

It was the second most painful experience of her life. She fell to the ground, her breath caught in her throat, her muscles convulsing in spasms of pain and cramping variably. A silent plea: Please let me be all of the way through!

She lied there for a few more moments, the cramps and spasms gradually lessening as more time passed. She was reminded of the first night she got really drunk… Or rather, the morning after. When her head felt like a rotten egg sandwiched between to cogs, ready to burst at any moment. Only now, her whole body felt that way.

Standing was difficult, but she made it happen. With her first step, disorientation won out and she vomited up some red-tinged bile. After that, the world stopped spinning quite so rapidly, and she remembered where she was… And where she was going.

With a final look at the blinking arrow, she sped (or at least, walked swiftly) down the hall towards room 4MY.