28 March 2014

The Dwindling Light - Book I: Apotheosis - Epilogue

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Book II
(Coming soon!)
Book I: Apotheosis
Epilogue

Al,

I'm leaving. I'm sorry. I wish I could tell you why, but I don't really understand it myself. I just need to be away from the Searle - get my head straight, and God knows how long that'll take. 

You deserve as close to an explanation as I can manage. After all we’ve been through, it's the least I can do.

It's just that the attack threw a whole bunch of things into perspective for me. Every time I look at you, or Dee, even the rest of the crew, I feel you all slipping away slowly, down in my bones. If I were brave enough to tell you why that is, I would. I'd be doing it right now, standing in front of you. Guess you can figure that I'm not. 

It's because it's not enough. Not yet. And I know you. I know how you’d react when you find out I’m just not the person that you think I am, that you flatter me with. I'll never be that person, not anymore, and if you find out before I have a chance to make it enough, I can't see how I wouldn't lose you when that happens. You're my best friend, and I don't think I can handle that, not along with everything else. If I go, maybe I can make it right, make the explanation more than just my own damn fears.

I just need time, and ground under my feet. I can't figure why I should risk dying out in the deep, when maybe I can make a difference back home. Figure it all out. Be able to explain myself.

A real difference, Al. If you love me like you promised, to the ends of the earth and all time, you'll understand that at least. Wish I was brave enough to write more, but I don't want you to hate me. I wish I could be the person that you think I am. That you maybe want me to be. I wish I could just love you back, but you know why I can't.

I wish I could stay.

Maybe, just maybe, you should love someone else. Someone better. Someone who hasn't betrayed you.

I hope we stay in touch. You'll always be my best friend, and I'll make it right somehow. I promise you that.

May God go with you,

Keevy

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Book II
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The Dwindling Light - Book I: Apotheosis - Chapter X

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Book I: Apotheosis
X
Requiem

6.37pm, Sunday 1st June, 2497

Al took HATI's advice, resting - even sleeping - for a few more hours. Eventually, his stomach got the better of him, and after an hour of trying to ignoring it growling incessantly, he resolved to make his way down to the galley to get something to eat, which wasn't a pleasant experience.
Truth be told, it was downright harrowing, seeing the cold dead eyes his crewmates staring at tables, floors and ceilings slumped over the chairs. Not a single drop of blood in there either, just cold, stagnating meals left half-eaten on tables.
His stomach turning, he filled the bag he'd brought with him with as many pre-packaged rations as he could manage before making his way back, bag clutched to his chest, and eyes firmly affixed on the door. 
He ate, though he still felt hollow afterwards, stashing the rest on top of his desk.
HATI was nowhere to be seen throughout this.  A quick systems diagnostic showed her running countless processes throughout the ship, with particular focus on the security and communications systems. Clearly she was leaving him to his thoughts - not that he had any in particular besides a resounding, echoing what-the-fuck.
He'd no idea where to begin, beyond what HATI was presumably doing with the comms.
"I have something that I need you for," she said suddenly, apparently seeing him looking at a loss. "You'll have to go down there...be among them..."
Al's spine crackled at that, and he worked his shoulder blades in an attempt to allay it. "Doing what?"
"Checking each for vital signs. I suppose we should move them appropriately." She sighed. "The dead we can take to the supply elevator, get them down to the hangar...the living...well, we'll start with the medbay, and fill out cabins after..."
Al sighed shakily, then turned towards the hatch. "Least one of us has got a plan..." He breathed to steady himself. There was no use in losing his nerve. Not now. No use to it at all. Be proactive. "Maybe best if I get my creeper from down the hangar. That way I'm not...not toting them on my back..." His face scrunched up.
"We have time, Al, you can leave it if you want?" She said, gliding in front of him. "I have the atmospheric decontaminators working over-time - they're not going to decompose any time soo-"
"That's quite enough of that," Al said sharply. "I'm alright, Hat. Just...still fresh. Go easy, okay?"
"Sorry." She said, moving aside, and he breathed in deeply once more, then strode past her and made his way down the hatch.
In the hangar, it seemed HATI had parked Five back in its slot, and the main doors were shut tight.
He made his way to his bench, and set about moving both Caro and Deshir. His stomach turned as he extricated Deshir from the now dried blood surrounding him. He laid both of them next to each other, arms folded across their chests.
"Sheets. Need sheets..." Al muttered to himself, making a note to retrieve some from...wherever he could. He'd need a few...
HATI almost immediately sent a swarm of tiny sanitation drones out of the bulkhead to starboard, buzzing wetly as they scoured the deck clean.
His creeper was relatively easy to get up to the habitation deck - it folded in on itself so it was a quarter of its usual size, though it was still quite heavy, thanks to the powerful electromagnets that kept it afloat.
Setting it back up at the top, he set about his morbid task, starting with the galley.
HATI had him repeat what he'd done to Faith for each of the seventeen who'd gathered therein. She'd shaken her head solemnly at each bar one - only Doc Varden showed signs of any life, eyes wide open, not cold and dead like the others. He moved her first, carefully lifting her onto the creeper, then pushing her to the medical bay in the heart of the ship, where HATI had powered up the integrated medibunks - six of them, in a circle around a central table, all with life-support, tissue-stitchers, psych repair interfaces, and a plethora of scanners, all hidden within the constituent parts of the bunk, awaiting commands.
They were precisely what they'd not had when Will was dying...
"Just put her in - I can handle the rest, I think." HATI said, watching as he hoisted Angela into the first one on the left of the door, before activating the bunk.
It glowed blue, filament mechanisms not dissimilar to the ones that formed the multitool in his arm erupting intelligently from the bunk beneath her, building itself through the gap between her arm and chest, then arching themselves over the inside of her elbow, forming a small needle, green biometric scanners lanced across the exposed skin, before locking on to a particular spot with a cross of green laser light. Deftly, it slid itself beneath the skin at the exact point they intersected, and the device began glowing green to indicate that the IV had found its vein.
"Parenteral nutrition going ahead. You're going to have to do the same for Faith. We should save a space for her here."
He simply nodded, and got to it.
Getting Faith down from his cabin was something of a challenge; he had to set the creeper to hover as high as it could, and then had to dangle her awkwardly through the hatch, dropping her onto it a little too hard, and fretting over her for a good few minutes, attempting to ascertain if she'd been injured further.
She hadn't - though it hardly brought relief - and he had her hooked up to the medical bunk next to Ange ten minutes later.
"I've got eyes on them now, Al." HATI said, "Anything changes, you'll know right away. Promise."
Four hours later, he had the rest of those gathered in the galley, along with Deacon, arranged alongside Deshir and Caro. It was gruelling, horrifying work - moving each to the supply elevator one by one, lowering them down, and then unloading them in the same fashion.  By the end of it, his overalls were caked with sweat and flaky dried blood, given that he'd had to move both Deacon and Dee.
His back ached as he stripped off and clambered into the shower, slumping into a corner and letting the hot water wash over him, head rested against his knees. A part of him was hoping that it'd somehow wash everything he felt away - but all that left him were more teardrops, lost amid a veritable ocean, along with the ache in his back as the heat loosened his muscles.
He didn't bother checking the clock, simply drying himself and dropping into bed.
Dreamless sleep followed shortly thereafter.

8.27am, Monday 2nd July, 2497

Hunger eventually roused him - he'd entirely forgotten to eat the previous evening - and he breakfasted rapidly on crackers, some egg flavoured slabs of hard, oddly crunchy protein, and a bag of the dried fruit that Dee had been so fond of. He'd need to learn how to use the damn protein printer in the galley - unless he planned on living on similar for the remainder of whatever the hell it was that was going on. If indeed there was a 'remainder' to be had...
He'd little choice but to pick up where he'd left off the previous day, heading around and locating the rest of the fallen crew, HATI guiding him to them with unerring efficiency. Whatever she was feeling, she wasn't letting it show, a cool blue throughout.
Only three more lived.
Kim'Wa Tanak, and Andrew Ostby, who were both in the rec room where he and Faith had sparred when it had happened, falling to the matted floor amid five others; and Lonak Futua, who'd collapsed in the refinery's control station along with one of the relief crew.
He moved all three to the medbay as swiftly as he was able, and HATI hooked them up to their IVs without incident.
Neither of them was game for much conversation - they barely exchanged twenty words in the seven hours it took to gather the rest of the crew in neat rows on the deck of the hangar. He'd've been done sooner, had the creeper been a few inches less wide. As it was, navigating it through the twists and turns of the Searle's tighter interior spaces was something of a challenge.
He looked at her as the surveyed the bodies, stomach tight, jaw fixed in a sad scowl. "Anything on the comms?"
"Data soup still..." She sighed. "It's a macrowave signal clogging everything up - can't get anything anywhere, it just gets lost. I’m attacking it with all my processing power, and I haven't analysed a fraction of what's out there. Can't make any sense of what I have got through either...need more time..."
“That the signal that took everything out then?”
“I’ve not made any matches yet…”
He nodded, trying to ignore the taut muscles in his back. "Keep trying. Any red flags resource-wise?"
"None." At least there was that.
Shower. Alone with his thoughts. What kept me, Deek and Dee here that didn't the rest of them? Survivor's guilt was probably appropriate. It was the right question, at the very least. Had it been just him, he might've considered putting it down to random chance - a single bad runtime in a billion iterations of the same code. Seeing as there had been no less than eight survivors of varying degree...well, it meant something. Wherever the kill-switch signal had gone - and there was no doubt to be had about that being the source of the catastrophe - three people had been somehow protected against it, five more at least partially. What did it was indeed the question.
Dinner. He didn't forget this time - he even managed to put together something vaguely resembling a proper meal. If it was just to be him, he had supplies to last him nearly a year without resupply. Hardly comforting.
HATI's absence was at once welcome and not - his grief wanted to be alone, his loneliness disagreeing most vehemently, and sleep refused to find him. She has to deal with it, same as you...
In desperate frustration at the insomnia, he fired up his overlay's main control hub for the first time in days. He'd not felt up to finding out what data was intact and what wasn't - but now, well... if he couldn't have actual company, there were surrogates to be found, and if that meant he could sleep, then he'd take whatever he could find.
Just like his personal one, the ship's archives and libraries were still intact. A quick scan showed some sporadic corruption, but nothing that couldn't be recovered. Even the logs were still extant on the Searle's vast data housing - though they were flagged as being accessed, which further deterred him from looking at them. HATI was on it, and had the better mind for it to boot. That, and he wanted no more of it. Not today.
A baroque, neo-orchestral piece from the music library soothed him far more than he thought possible - it was hardly his usual taste, but he had decided that the end of his world was as good a time as any to broaden his horizons, and had literally plucked its sparkling data point from a cloud in his overlay.
Whatever solace it had created was enough, it seemed - the last he remembered, some crescendo had been reached, violins singing sadly atop a deep, dark double bass.
He dreamed of horses...they were leaving him behind...

7.46am, Tuesday 3rd July, 2497

“Open your eyes.”
“Faye...” It was her voice, though it was lost in a sea of white fog.
"We're all okay...you don't have to worry..."
"Faye, I..." He had no form. He couldn’t look for her. Tell her he loved her…
"I know Al...I'll always remember. Wish you’d told me sooner...but you can't give up...never give up."
His heart skipped a beat. "But how can I..."
"Just keep living. And open your eyes…"
He shot bolt upright, awake in an instant.
Red starlight poured in through the viewport, giving his cabin a strange ethereal glow. 
Faith was nowhere to be seen…
He groaned loudly, rubbing at his eyes and cursing his damn imagination. HATI appeared suddenly in the aether a moment later.
“Al! Are you okay?!”
He frowned at her tiredly. “More or less…why so loud?”
She narrowed her eyes thoughtfully, and lowered her voice. “Strange timing is all…were you dreaming?”
“I…” His shoulders dropped, and he sighed. “I was…and seems my subconscious has decided to be especially cruel…”
“How so?”
He told her.
"'Just keep living'?" HATI said, frowning. “Well, it’s encouraging, at least.”
He snorted. “I guess. Could’ve picked a less…gone voice for it.”
“Your mind selected the voice that it would be most reassured by. Hardly rocket science.”
“I guess.” He rolled his eyes, mostly at himself. He yawned broadly as he swung his legs out the side of his bunk. “Waaaaaass uhhh wiii oouuu?”
“Don’t speak ‘tired’, sorry.”
“I said ‘what’s up with you?’”
“Oh…well, actually, I literally just had a breakthrough, before you disturbed me, that is.” She more resembled her usual playful self just now, a smile on her face, and her form shining gold.
So very sorry, Ms ‘I can be everywhere on the ship at once’. You going to tell me about it or what?”
“I can spare some runtime, squash it down to something your tiny pilot brain can handle.”
“If the spanner fits the nut.” He grinned at her, though he still couldn't force it to reflect in his eyes..
She laughed lightly. There was even a touch of actual amusement in it. “Remember the data soup that’s jamming up the comms?”
“I recall.”
“Figured out where it’s coming from. Or at least, I have a pretty damn likely notion...”
“Where?”
“The local superluminal relay.”
“That’s still online?” She simply shrugged at that. “But how did you…?
“Now there’s the rub – the signal is getting weaker by the second, and we’ve done enough of an orbit, both around Poseidon and Libra herself…”
She produced a visualisation of her data, a vast map the Libra Sole Novum system which charted their movements, the off-scale image of their ship leaving a cloud of sparkling orange data in its wake as it orbited around Poseidon, as she in turn orbited around her star. As the animation played out, it became clear that the cloud was a representation of the signal, and it grew subtly darker as they progressed counter-clockwise in their orbit.
Eventually it caught up to the current moment, a swathe of orange forming a vague arc about the star, and it exploded outwards in extrapolation, forming a vast sphere that centred on a point in deep orbit, a flashing icon in almost its exact centre.
“That’s precision work.”
“I still can’t ping the relay, so it’s little more than a guess right now…”
“All the fun science is…” He stroked his chin stubble thoughtfully. “So…the kill-switch came from outside the system?”
“If we assume that the soup and the signal are one and the same, aye. No indication that’s the case.”
“No nova without star neither,” he said, frowning.
“True enough. But there’s something else.”
"A second rub?"
"I prefer 'sub rub',
He snorted. “Go on.”
“At the rate it’s going, the soup’ll be gone in a little over eighteen days, and it’s receded enough that I did manage to dig this out. The only thing that makes even a mote of sense in all of it…”
The visualisation of Libra’s planetary system vanished, replaced by a single, glowing file, replete with identifying markers, floating in the air in front of him.
“Is this…what I think it is?” A capture transmission. A sign of life.
“Play it.”
He didn’t hesitate, but it was only static that filled the air, both audible and visual.
“Hat, what the he-“
“Wait for it.”
He snapped his jaw shut.
There it was, amid the static. A voice – faint and corrupted, but it was there. Female, but that was all he could figure.
“…ping…there…”
“…Sydney…stems…crazy…”
“…ghosts…ling them…”
“…son…plied here…whatever the hell … of them…”
“…we don’t think they have a way of intercepting these waves, so if you…”
“…back…quince…”
“... where…”
“…can’t...”
It tapered off once more, and the capture ended, the static fading into nothing. His heart thudded in his chest.
“We got a time on this?”
“Recent - accuracy's spotty, but it's within the last six hours.”
He could’ve wept. Instead, he smiled, brighter than he had in days. There were more survivors.
“Al.” 
HATI said, looking at him squarely, her garment flowing out behind her, longer than usual, creating a cloud of digital vapour that enveloped his vision, and her glow filled the aether with green light.
“It’s coming from Zarmina.”


To be continued…

27 March 2014

The Dwindling Light - Book I: Apotheosis - Chapter IX

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Book I: Apotheosis
IX
Anamnesis

2.48am, Sunday 30th June, 2497

Al took the stairs up to the habitation too fast, barely able to see, tripping over steps, but clambering on anyway. HATI was waiting for him at the top, sombre eyes set in her shadowy face.
He stumbled around to the corridor outside the galley, choking back another sob as he tried not to look at Deacon’s bloodied corpse. There was nothing to be done for him – distressing though that was, he needed to…
“Keep moving.” HATI said sombrely, finishing his thought for him. “Be careful around the next corner. A security drone is acting…strangely.”
He didn’t need told twice, swerving awkwardly to the right, belting past the entrance to the galley, stepping past where Deacon lay. He bounced off the wall as it bore left into the area that housed both the security station and the viewing gallery on the ship’s nose, his mind refusing to acknowledge Dee’s cabin door, nestled to his right.
What he was forced to acknowledge, however, was the white security drone in the centre of the deck in front of him, tinted red from the starlight flowing in through the huge viewports. It was wobbling on its gyroscopic wheel where usually it was steady as a rock, several bullet holes peppering its pristine white chassis, and the black glass dome the capped it was cracked, the still holding together tenuously.
He slowed to a walk, but kept moving forward, and the thing twitched at him.
“Halt! Identify!”
“Seriously?” It should’ve been running face recognition…
It moved in his way, and kept doing so as he attempted to move around it. “Halt! Identify!”
“Lamont...Alastair..." His voice was ragged, little more than a hoarse, crackling whisper. "Chief of Engineering... and Mining Ops. Let me...pass.”
He made to do so, and it weaved in front of him, punching him backwards with an outward-thrusted hydraulic chestplate.
“Identify!”
“Lamont. Alastair. Chief of fucking Engineeri-“
“Not found! Identify!”
He shoved the thing, and it caught itself from falling backwards with an awkward elegance, rolling its gyroscope backwards.
“Hostile! Engaging!”
Its sides cracked open, and two twenty-millimetre cannons exited from between the panels.
“Oh fuck…HATI!”
“I'll try to shut-”
Al didn't hear the last part as he dived to the side, and a single round discharged, ricocheting down the corridor behind him, before the drone stiffened, then collapsed backwards, the impact shattering its glass head.
HATI coalesced over the drone, arms folded, glowering at it. “Got ‘em.”
“Piece of shit,” Al tried to scream at it, though it came out as something of a scratchy whine, scrambling to his feet and dashing past where it lay. At least it was clear what had happened to Deek...
No time. Keep moving.
“Up ahead’s…clear…”
He had already thrown himself up the ladder to his cabin, bursting through the hatch and half-running, half-crawling his way across to the bed where Faith lay.
Pulling her into his lap, he cradled her head in his arms, his heart beating, cold sweat drenching his hair and skin.
“Faye…sweetheart…”
She was breathing, and she blinked once more, but nothing else, she didn’t even try to stop herself from sliding out of his lap, and he had to pull both her and himself further back onto the bed.
“Please…” He brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes, and pulled her up so he could look into them. “Faye. Come on.” He shook her as gently as he could manage, and her head lolled about against his hand. “Faye…please…”
“Your hand, Al.”
He was struggling to keep his head and choking on sobs, and he looked to HATI, who was stood at the side of the bed to his left, still pitch black, though her eyes had taken on a greenish hue. “What...?”
“The med scanner in your hand.”
“I don’t...I don't know how…”
She reached over and touched his biomechanical arm – it sent shivers through every one of his nerves, and he felt her hand, felt it guiding his to Faith’s temple, spreading his fingers with hers and curling them so he was holding her head fast. “Just activate it. I can read it.”
He focused his thoughts, then reached out along his arm, willing the back of his hand to become concave, like he’d been taught. The back of his palm glowed a pale green.
“But how do you…”
“I read. But that doesn’t matter right now…”
An ARO interface Al was unfamiliar with sprung from back of his hand into the aether.
What was obviously a heart-rate monitor gave away the fact that it was the results of the scan in real-time, though he’d no idea how to interpret the data.
He silently thanked Will for HATI as she began to speak.
“Heart rate is good, if a little slow, like she’s asleep. No sign of pathogens or toxins, no external signs of stress. But…” She sighed slowly. “Al, she’s alive, but she’s…gone.”
“Gone? So…so you’re telling me…”
“Basic survival mechanisms. She’s not even dreaming...” Her voice tightened. “I’m so sorry…”
He let go of her head, and looked down into her eyes. She blinked at him once again, and a tear rolled off his cheek to splash on hers. “It wasn’t you…”
Brushing the splash away with a finger, he drew her up and pressed a kiss onto the end of her nose, touching his forehead to hers. “Please, Faye. I love you…come back."
The silence was all-encompassing. Deafening.
"Please...”
He felt her breath against his skin.
“Please…”
He was vaguely aware of HATI vanishing, and the lights dimming.
“Please…”


11.36am, Sunday 30th June, 2497

Al’s eyes were tired and heavy, encrusted with the salty residue left behind from the cold sweat and the tears, but he forced them open. He’d tried not to fall asleep, but he’d had nothing left, not a single scrap of energy, his reserves spent, and fitful sleep had taken him faster than he could counter.
The cabin was still dark, and Faith was still cradled against his chest, breathing quietly, her eyes now closed. She slumped against him, her legs twisted awkwardly about his, and he slowly extricated himself from the tangle, arranging her limbs in what seemed like a more comfortable position, and pulling the covers over her to keep her warm.
He sighed – he had no idea if that would actually matter…
He was still wearing his flight suit, as well as the tattered undershirt, and he pulled both of them off, retrieving some overalls and a new shirt from the wardrobe. HATI appeared a moment after that, dark skin punctuated with silver to etch out her features. Her hair flowed in red comet trails, blending with her dress to stretch out in wisps behind her.
“You let me sleep?” His voice was still raspy and sore, and his right hand still shook, though it was less violent than it had been. His left remained steady as a rock.
“I saw no other choice. The scan tagged your vitals too, and if the books’re to be believed, had I a body, I would’ve been obliged to sedate you on the spot to relieve the immense pressure your heart and mind were under. Having Faith near you was soothing you somewhat, so I prescribed letting you fall away.” She folded her arms. “Do you feel better?”
“Was all that happened a terrible nightmare, and Faye’s going to wake up in a few moments?”
“You know it wasn’t.”
“Then no, I’m not feeling better.” He scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Just less tired, is all.” He slumped down into the chair, staring at the hatch that led down to habitation, dreading the thought of having to go down there.
“I know…I just don’t know what else to ask,” she said solemnly. “I think you should rest some more. There is nothing to be do-”
“Nothing?”
“I have been monitoring each of the crew. I do not have as good a view of all of them as I did of Faith…but there’s been…nothing…”
"So...” His jaw tightened. “You’re telling me…that whatever the hell happened…” He could barely bring himself to say the next word. “…killed thirty-odd people, left one...b-braindead…” Nor that. “…and two standing...and there’s nothing to be done?! I’m just to rest!?”
He didn’t mean to shout, and he knew subconsciously that striding towards her, teeth bared, would have no effect on her whatsoever. But he did both anyway.
She remained stoic, even as he roared in her face.
"Three standing. Forty likely dead."
"Three?" He was literally taken aback. Then he remembered. “Deacon and Dee…shit, I'd forgotten...was hoping that..." He sighed and shook his head, unsure as to why his brain had decided that it had imagined their respective corpses. On the one hand it seemed reasonable, on the other, he wondered if his sanity was actually escaping him.
"Hoping that what?" HATI blinked at him.
"Nothing..." He rubbed at his face, the thin layer of stubble covering his cheeks scratching his palms incessantly. "Ignore me, I'm being irrational."
"That's what I'm worried about, Al," she said, her face mirroring her words. "I’m worried that you’ll…do something irrational…and I can’t bear to lose you too. Not when it’d be my fault, I just…I...I didn't mean to overload you yesterday...and there's nothing but bad news today..." She sighed, and she attempted to look him dead in the eye, but only managed it for a heartbeat before her gaze dropped. "I'm scared you'll...that you'll..." She shut her eyes. "Dee..."
The vision of her slumped against her cabin's wall surfaced, sidearm in hand, bubbled to the top of the cauldron of misery that was currently his thoughts. It was clear what she was thinking, and the thought hadn’t even crossed Al’s mind.
"No-one else is gonna die here, Hat. Not me, nor you, nor anyone else still alive - we're staying that way, long as we can."
She somehow looked like she wanted to smile. Why she didn’t then became clear.
"She left something Al..."
He balked. "What? A hand-written note? Is that how everyone leaves me these days?"
"A capture, strictly speaking...she must've had an emergency micro-recorder in her cabin. She dropped it next to herself when she...when she..."
"Expired?"
Her nod was almost funereal. "It's got a proprietary psych connection, I was able to access the recording. She wanted you to see it."
"Okay..." Al felt his guts try to crumple into a singularity. He tried to ignore it. “Okay, let’s see it th-“
"But are you sure you want to?"
"No, I don't want to, Hat," he said evenly. "But I'm going to need to sooner or later - best get it out the way early."
She simply obliged from there - and Al would've pitied her if she'd thought to argue with him. Everything besides rage and grief was a muddy blur in his head, and one or the other would escape from him eventually. He knew now it’d be distinctly healthier were it the latter, but at crunch time, he’d settle for either.
A moment of nothing, and then a square capture window appeared momentarily in the aether, the view twitching between a white-as-sheet, but indistinct face, the darkened ceiling and the darkened floor. Heavy breaths punctuated an eerie silence.
"Fucking...thing..." It was Dee.
The sound rattled as the recorder was set on a dark grey surface, and Dee resolved into focus as she slumped down on the chair in front of it, the fish-eye lens of the recording giving her a slightly stretched, circular air. Al noted that there was blood on her already - it had apparently stemmed from a wound of similar size to the three that had killed Deacon just beneath her right breast. She was making no effort to stem the blood flowing freely from it. Her skin had taken on a blue-grey tone, and she looked almost half-asleep.
She didn't smile. Or frown, or cry. She just spoke, haltingly, her voice pained.
"I don't know if anyone will ever see this." She sighed. "But I can't...we can't have been the only ones left standing. I just...I'm leaving this so's to account for what I don't know, I guess." She paused. "Al...if it's you, I should say that I'm sorry. I...I don't mean to leave you alone..."
Al felt a lump form in his throat, and his eyes began to sting once more.
"Keevy, if it's you...I'm sorry as well. Sorry we drove you away...sorry that I made you break Al's heart...the both of you are the closest thing I'll ever have to children...Will loved you both so much..."
A tear did roll down her check now, but she swiped it away.
"I...can't think of anyone else I know who's not lying dead in this ship...so if you're someone else...hi, I guess." She snorted - the following wince indicating she regretted that quip.
"What I do know is that I'm not long off cadaverous...and if you're Al, I know...know you'll have figured a way back here fast as you could...so I owe you the why of what I know...
"Damn sec drones went screwy. They shot Deacon..." She squeezed her eyes shut. "God, they just killed him..." Her head dropped. "He was heading to the bridge, I was in...in engineering. Heard the shots...ran as fast as I could...not fast enough...I got his gun, but it pushed me back here - only choice was inside...tagged me with a ricochet just..." She laughed, though there was nothing but despair in it, and it was almost immediately followed by a wincing pain. "...just as I get in here and was getting the damn door closed."
She laugh-winced again, and now the tears flowed freely down her cheeks. "Think I'm lung-shot as well...no-one to patch me up...nowhere to go." Her eyes squeezed shut once more . “'Your cabin will be safe'...idiot."
Now she did clutch at her wound, face creased in agony. A fit of coughing came over her, interspersed with moans of pain as her wound flexed.
"I just..." She sighed. "I was meant to keep everyone safe. Happy. That's what a captain does, right? She looks out for her crew? Treat 'em as family...keep 'em safe. Least, that's the way...I see it. And I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it for Will...for Brogha, David and Rei...and now everyone else...Christ."
She coughed again, flinching, and then groaned, leaning her head back against the wall. She rested there for a moment.
"I don't care to live in this world any more. Not without neither one of you, to go with Will and Ange and every damn person I loved just gone..."
A hacking cough convulsed through her violently, and she could barely straighten to address the recorder once more.
"And I don't care to die slow either..." 
She paused for a long moment, steadying her breathing before finally straightening, her voice becoming soft and soothingly motherly.
"Alastair. Keevy. I love the both of you." She smiled into the recorder, the colour momentarily returning to her face, and her eyes shining as had been their custom. "Please don't hate me for this."
Her tone hardened once more. "I have uploaded a crew manifest to this recorder - I never, not in nearly a century, worked with a finer crew. If it's neither of you, please remember them. And William Ammar. And...and HATI." She sighed. "And may God forgive me."
She straightened painfully, the security pistol clutched in her right hand, and she reached over the top of the recorder with her left.
The capture stopped, her hand frozen about an inch from the recorder's lens.
Al stared at it, mind swimming with grief, but muddied with white hot rage. He should've been faster.
And she could've waited longer. She could've tried...
"Dammit, Dee..." He said quietly. He forced himself to siphon the anger away. There was no-one to be angry at any more, so what was the point? He dropped his head into his hands, mind utterly at a loss.
"You're not alone, Al..." HATI was looking at him, her figure black as pitch, her voice quiet. 
He frowned, and looked up at her. "You never need to remind me of that, Hat. Never"
She brightened almost imperceptibly - barely a fraction of a shade of grey - and she smiled sadly at him. "We'll remember them. Together." 
She'd chosen those words very carefully. He'd've been impressed, were it not for other more pressing matters on his mind.
But he wasn't going anywhere. Someone has to pay for this. And they couldn't pay if he just gave up...
Too late, he realised he'd vocalised that last thought, and HATI nodded at him. "Alright then."
He returned it. Newly resolved, he rewound the capture to the moment that Dee had smiled. Overlaying it with his video editing psychware, he swiftly created an active capture of that moment, then summoned his capture cloud into the fore of his ARO.
The capture ostensibly held between finger and thumb, he tapped its surface with his other hand.
"Alastair. Keevy. I love the both of you." It stopped once more on her smile.
Al sent it floating into the cloud, and it nestled between one of him and Deacon - sat atop his workbench, grinning like loons, he had long forgotten why - one of him and Faith - his nose and lips pressed against her check, her eyes closed, her smile wide and radiant - and the one of Keevy hiding behind her hair.
It was Dee's only appearance in his gallery of memories. 
He suddenly smiled, a tear rolling down his cheek. 
"What is it?" HATI moved next to him, and he shared the cloud with her.

"It's just...she always hated having her capture taken..."